Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Bugging the Neighbors

The strangest thing happened to me the other day. Husband, dog, camera, and I were walking through the neighborhood. Objective: exercise, "quality time," and maybe a shot or two of autumn creeping into the Columbia River valley on a lovely September morning. (BTW, if you’ve looked at the Welcome Screen today, you know Mt. St. Helens is in the news…suffering some minor geological hiccups. If it blows up, I’ll let y’all know, since, if it wasn’t for some ill-placed trees and houses, I’d be able to see it from my front yard…)

Anyway, walking along on our little field trip, I spotted some unusually pretty mums in someone’s front yard. Halted the dog/husband parade, whipped out my camera, and started to frame the picture. And this woman comes striding out of the garage, practically vibrating with annoyance. "Can I help you?" she challenged me, clearly pissed off and completely paranoid about what my motivations would be for taking a picture of her yard. I stammered that I was just going to take some pictures of her flowers. Outrage and suspicion still played on her face. I said, "Well, I don’t have to if you’d rather I didn’t…" Satisfied, I suppose, that I wasn’t doing anything nefarious, she dismissed me by turning on her heel and marching back into her garage. Right neighborly woman! Needless to say, her flowers had lost their appeal, and husband, dog, and red-faced wife resumed their walk, properly humbled and embarrassed. I couldn’t say for sure that I haven’t been reported to Homeland Security.

Husband pointed out later that Bitchy Neighbor could have been feeling sensitive about the "Bush/Cheney ‘04" poster in her living room window. I hadn’t even seen it at the time, but I DID see it when dog and I walked past the same house this morning. And all I could think was, "What have we done to each other?" Is this where the contentious political climate in this country has taken us, that such an innocent interaction between people who live in the same neighborhood can be perceived, with good cause, as a threat?

I’m sure I’m at fault here. I’m just NOT up with the times. When I do crawl out of my hole and interact socially with people, I find that I’m still coming from somewhere in the seventies. Those days when we were all a little nicer, a little freer, and a little less likely to suffer from the unreasonable fear that our troubled times have imprinted upon us. I guess I don’t really blame Bitchy Neighbor for her actions. Actually, I am sure that I breached 21st century etiquette…I should have knocked on her door, introduced myself, and asked her permission to take pictures of her yard. And it never crossed my mind. In the end, which of us is really the bad neighbor?

Didn’t learn my lesson, though. I took THIS picture in a different neighbor’s yard…though these flowers were more attractively located on the STREET side of their privacy fence. Happy September in the land of the free, the brave, and the paranoid…

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Another Live Meeting....

On Wednesday night, I was blessed with the opportunity to have yet another face-to-face meeting with an AOL journal friend, Marcy of An Apple a Day. We have met once before, when Marcy and her husband Rick sought out my booth at the Washington County Fair, so I already knew they were really sweet people. Busy, exhausted, and harassed as I usually am when I’m working, we didn’t get nearly enough time to talk at the fair. So we made arrangements to meet for dinner at a later date, after my season started to wind down enough for me to catch my breath.

We met at a local watering hole—a place that had started out life as an old General Store turned tavern, and was bought and revived by some famous local Portland microbrewery entrepreneurs back in the eighties. The hubs and I go there a lot, and it just happens to be geographically about midway between where Marcy and Rick live and where we live. We had a great time (sans Conversation Police)…drank some wine, ate the pub’s famous greasy fries (well, at least I ate them, Weight Watcher’s be damned for the evening!) They told us some wonderful stories, including the one about how they were once in the restaurant business. That’s the funny thing about meeting another AOL journaler in person. When you sit down and actually have a conversation, you discover so MANY things that you have in common that you never would have guessed. But it figures that you would…the journals have a way of bringing people with similar interests and backgrounds together.

We did have such a fun evening. Talked like we had known each other for years. But, stupid me, I forgot to bring my dang camera! Duh! Well, we’ll just have to make another date so I can get some pictures. Thanks to Marcy and Rick for being…well, for being Marcy and Rick! Hope to see you againsoon.

BTW--Thanks to Robbie and Kathleen for their instructions on the picture issue.  Success!

Saturday, September 25, 2004

As Mumsy so sweetly reminded me (in the comments of my last entry), today is the 1-year anniversary of my journal. I knew the day was coming up, but I thought I’d be too busy to make an entry. We’re in the middle of doing another event (the First Annual Oktoberfest at the Columbia County Fairgrounds)…more l-o-n-g hours with little to show for them. At least we aren’t getting drowned this weekend. Yesterday was just a beautiful day to look out the window of Big Red and see NO PEOPLE at the event. * Sigh! *

So, anyway, one year ago today, I opened the Pandora’s Box of AOL journals. LOL! I shouldn’t really call it that…nothing bad has come out. Except maybe the guilty feeling that I’m spending too much time here that could be better spent on something else; like housework, WORK work, exercising, reading Shakespeare…all the self-improvement crap you never do anyway. The wonderful things about having this journal far outweigh the bad. As I’ve said several times, the community aspect of journal land took me completely by surprise. I didn’t even know that I was looking for a "gang" to belong to, but there you were. And you turned out to be exactly what I needed to help me make great strides in my struggle to "crawl out from under the weight of a bunch of bad years" (part of my original blurb in my "About Me" section.) That is why I chose the picture above. I felt it captured the idea that this first year of my life in journal-land was a group effort, pieced together by all the wonderful people I have come to know and care about since I started writing here one year ago today.

Thank you all for reading. Thank you for caring. Thank you for making this day a special milestone for me.

Lisa :-]

PS--As a "Birthday Gift," would someone please give me instructions on how to wrap text around pictures?  Everybody else seems to know how to do this, but it's frustrating the h**l out of me...

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Married TOO Long?

Between Thanksgiving and Christmas of 1975, the husband and I became a couple. We’ve spent the last almost 29 years…at first, growing up, and now, growing old together.

One of the more interesting aspects of being with one person for so long, is how the personalities become so intertwined that it’s hard to determine where one ends and the other begins. We tend to finish each other’s sentences. Or we’ll open our mouths to say exactly the same thing at exactly the same time. Or one of us will say something a split second before the other one was about to say the same thing. Invariably, when this happens, we’ll look at each other and laugh, "Oh, God, we’ve been married TOO long!"

Would that it was only the good aspects of each other’s personalities that we’ve absorbed over the years. A more disturbing metamorphosis has also been taking place. We have started to sport each other’s boogers and warts as well. Fighting has become interesting…I look into the eyes of the "enemy" and find I’m looking in a mirror. In the heat of battle, a grenade comes flying over the fence that looks very much like one of my own. And I’ll look down and find I’m shoveling ammunition from a crate stamped "Republic of Matt." "I’ve been mad for three days…Couldn’t you TELL?" he says, lobbing a small bomb that I used to use on him just after we were married. "You just do what YOU want to do, and you never think of anyone else!" Another one of my own grenades goes whizzing past my head…

I have met the enemy, and he is me.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Walking the Straight and Narrow

Twenty years ago, I tried to reinvent myself—into a fundamentalist Christian. The whole "born-again, baptized-in-a-swimming-pool" experience. I know now that what I was looking for was community. Unfortunately, I never really found it among those people…in large part because I could not align myself with their politics. I am just NOT a political conservative. Never have been, never will be. It used to bother me, a niggling burr in the back of my mind, that they preached about gaining political power and "winning the country for Jesus." But I was convinced that what they preached was so judgmental, narrow-minded, and just basically unconstitutional, that their movement would never be able to gather much steam outside their own little circle.

Our pastor actually stood in the pulpit one Sunday shortly before election Day 1984 and admonished us to go to the polls and "vote for the Ronald Reagan of our choice." I hated Ronald Reagan...for reasons I won’t go into here. But, to the Fundamentalists, he was only a few rungs down the ladder from Jesus Christ Himself. He made bold promises to the Christian Right during both his campaigns. "Churchy" people were convinced that Reagan was "God’s man in the White House." But Reagan never really acted on those promises once he secured the office. I’m sure he knew that, in those times, fulfilling a right-wing Christian agenda would have been a huge political liability. It’s rather convoluted that the only thing to LIKE about the Reagan presidency was that he lied to a portion of the electorate to get their votes, and then didn’t so much as throw them a bone once he was in office. "Christian Right" politics remained on the fringes of the conservative movement, until lately. In the last few years, they’ve gained a tremendous amount of momentum. I’ve been puzzling over the reasons behind this. What has changed in our world that we are suddenly willing to hand the ultra-moral minority huge chunks of our freedom? I think the September 11th attacks have had everything to do with our society’s shift to the right.

The United States was set upon by a truly frightening enemy. An enemy completely outside our frame of reference, with no geographic borders, no traditional military structure, no moral imperative against killing innocent non-combatants, and, indeed, no particular reverence for any human life, including their own. Oh, yes, terrorist warfare has existed for centuries, but it was never waged against US, so we have studiously ignored it. Now we are wounded, frightened, and largely impotent against this threat. What do we do? Who do we turn to for help? Let’s think…some very ancient, mystical force…oh yeah! God! We are a large scale case of the man who’s driving down the highway and sees a semi coming straight at him…and though he hasn’t darkened the door of a church in thirty years, he shoots skyward a desperate bargain with the Almighty. "If I get out of this alive, I’ll (fill in the blank…)

The folks who don’t go to church, cheat on their taxes, spice up their dreary marriages with a little "on the side" action, idolize rich spoiled media stars, provide the vast audience for "entertainment" that flaunts violence and gratuitous sex… They’re looking at the ashes of the twin towers and thinking maybe they had better hedge their bets against the "Sodom and Gomorrah" aspect of the situation. Will they haul their butts to a church on Sunday, or fork some of their cash into a collection plate? Will they honor their marriage vows? Will they make the tough changes to their own lives? Of course not. How much easier is it to throw the weight of their gelatinous mass behind movements to limit someone else’s rights, or stand in judgment of someone else’s behavior, than it would be to actually give up their own pet sins? If you can make points with God without making any personal sacrifices, why would you not? And so, we are witnessing the uncanny strength of political movements that have their roots in the Christian Right, because the "hypocritical majority" believes that backing THAT horse might save us from suffering future firestorms from heaven.

What will they do when THEIR pet vice becomes the "sin-du-jour" to be outlawed by government proclamation, at the behest of the Christian Right?

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Another Washout


It’s 9am on Sunday. My eyes feel like sandpaper, and my body feels like the Tin Woodsman’s before Dorothy plies his joints with oil. I’ve spent the last two V-E-R-Y L-O-N-G days primarily sitting under a nylon canopy in the rain. Or the wind. Or the rain and wind. Hoping to sell delicious pastries to festival patrons...who were all smart enough to remain in their nice, warm, DRY family rooms eating chips, drinking beer and watching football. When I’m not cozying up to one of my pieces of equipment trying to get warm, I’m running around in a frenzy trying to keep said pieces of equipment from being drowned in the torrents of water that periodically sloosh down from the top of the canopy when the rain collects to the point of overflowing. In approximately one hour, I will have to drag myself out to the festival grounds for another seven hours of that, and then spend an hour and a half trying to pack the soaking wet shreds of my business into the van and trailer without killing myself. And then a two-hour, damp, drizzly drive home. Are we having fun yet?

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Ten Things That Drive Me Crazy

Everybody has been doing assignments and lists and whatnot.  I've been in a rather testy mood the last few days, so I thought I would share with everyone this list of things that drive me nuts (or would if I wasn't already nuts...)

  • Laundry products that come with an oversized lid to use for measuring the amount you need…then you find out that way down inside the cap, where you can barely see it (and forget seeing it at all if you’re over forty) is the "fill line." So, as the soap company undoubtedly planned, you have been using twice as much of the product as you need, therefore having to buy it twice as often as necessary.
  • Those, "Can you hear me now?" Verizon Wireless commercials…since most of the time the answer to that question on MY Verizon phone is, "What? I can’t hear you. Stand still…"
  • Customers who walk up to my counter, point at one of my pastries, and ask: "Are those any good?"
  • "Full service" gas stations (we don’t have self-service gas here in Oregon) where they make you get out of the car and go into the building to pay for your gas. (Undoubtedly to increase their chances of selling you some of their incredibly overpriced merchandise in the convenience store…)
  • When all the crap that my husband stashes on his sun visor in his car pelts down on my head when I pull the visor down to use it…causing me the double traffic challenge of trying to fend off falling pamphlets while being blinded by the sun.
  • Hairballs. ‘Nuf said.
  • Hairspray, make-up, hand lotion, or some other messy fluid leaking all over everything else in my overnight bag.
  • Campground showers (or hotel showers, or ANY showers) that go from scalding to freezing to scalding again, without ever finding a bearable temperature in between.
  • Drivers on the winding roads to the coast, who slow downto 35 mph for every curve, hill, and bump in the road on the two-lane, floor the gas pedal to 75 mph the minute the road widens to four lanes to permit cars to pass them…and then literally SLAM on their brakes as soon as the passing lane comes to an end.

And, last but not least, my ULTIMATE pet peeve...  (Drumroll, please.......)

  • The forgotten art of the use of the apostrophe in the English language. Apostrophes show possession. They show contraction. They ARE NOT used in the formation of plural words. And of course, the exception that makes the rule---the word "its" as in, "Belonging to it," does NOT have an apostrophe. "It’s" means, "It is…" They taught us this in grade school grammar class… In fact, first through eighth grades USED to be referred to as "grammar school." I'm afraid it's no accident that this term has gone by the wayside...

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Lisa meets Lisa

You have probably been wondering where I’ve been the last five days. Oh, I have been busy! Doing an event in Eugene. Fighting with my husband. Driving to California to meet Lisa.

The highlight of this time, and definitely the only part worth talking about, was the California/Lisa part. For those of you who might not know, Lisa (cw2smom) is an Aol Journaler who lives in California. She just recently lost her dad, after immersing herself in one of the most soul-wrenching, difficult, selfless and ultimately triumphant acts on the planet—helping a loved one die at home. Having done the same with my dad, I had been trying to stick with her through it, and impart what few tidbits of wisdom and insight my experience had provided.

Well, last week, as Lisa was wading through some last loose ends related to her dad’s passing, she and I got to instant messaging one night. She said, "Wait, you live in Oregon, don’t you?" I typed back in the affirmative… She proceeded to tell me that she would be spending a few days with family just outside of Brookings (a coastal town at the far southern tip of Oregon, a few miles from the California border), and it would be awfully nice if we could get together for coffee or something. Well, I live about as far from there as you can get, and still be in Oregon…just a few miles south of the Washington border. Which would seem to have put the kabosh on that idea… But, as luck would have it, we were going to be in Eugene for an event on Sunday… almost half-way there. The next thing I knew, I was planning a five-hour drive south from Eugene, for an afternoon rendezvous with a friend I had never actually met. And yet, I felt so drawn to her, by virtue of our similar experiences with our dads.

Okay, long explanation for short trip. But it was SO fun. The quirky Oregon weather cooperated beautifully. It was sunny and warm…the ocean was, naturally, gorgeous. And Lisa and her friend Trish were SO gracious and made me feel like we had known each other for years. Lisa treated me to a great Mexican lunch, and we sat at the restaurant and talked until we were afraid they were going to kick us out. Then we went down to the harbor and wandered around in the little shops…found a great place where the proprietor made home-made candles, right there in front of the customers. I admired a great pair of glittery tapers, decided I couldn’t really afford them…only to have Lisa hand them to me as a gift when we walked out of the shop!

Our last few hours together were spent at the beautiful seaside home of her aunt and uncle, who were also gracious and sweet. I got to hear her uncle’s story about refurbishing an abandoned lighthouse, which we could see through binoculars from their deck overlooking the ocean. And they showed me the wonderful earrings her aunt makes to sell at craft shows.

Unfortunately, at 6 pm sharp, I had to tear myself away…I felt like Cinderella running out of the ball! But I had a REALLY long drive ahead of me, in my husband’s car (which I HATE driving…but that’s another story.)

So, anyway, here is OUR chapter in the book of "Real Life Meetings of AOL Journalers ." Very much a success. I highly recommend it!

                       

 

Friday, September 10, 2004

Another Political Rant (You knew it was coming...)

I have tried as hard as I possibly can to stay away from the media lately. To put it bluntly, I don’t know how much more of the bullshit I can listen to. I’m sorry, that’s a nasty word. Let’s try something else. Cow patties. Horse pucky. Buffalo chips. Moose muffins. Merde de vache. (C’est la meme chose, but most people won’t know that…)

The Republican National Convention shamelessly exploited 9/11. As if President Bush has been the most shining example of leadership and determination in the face of this horrible threat. As if the Republican party has a monopoly on patriotism, homeland security, and good ole American values. As if the war in Iraq had ANYTHING to do with the War on Terror.  No matter how many times George Bush, Dick Cheney or Don Rumsfeld look into the camera and solemnly mourn the young men and women who have "given their lives in Iraq for the cause of the War on Terror," it doesn’t make it true. And they know it.

I invite any and all Republican-leaning voters to really take a look at Iraq. What have we done to that country?

PLEASE don’t forget the genesis of this debacle. President Bush was focused on invading Iraq from the moment he took office. We have the voices of several administration insiders telling us as much, in so many words. In this respect, the 9/11 attacks were manna from heaven for the president.  (And I am NOT implying that he somehow caused, or allowed to happen, the events of 9/11 for his own political gain.  But, 15 months down the road, his organization was savvy enough to make use of the situation that had presented itself...)  All he needed to do was find any credible connection between the deaths of these thousands of innocent Americans, on our own soil, and the Sadaam Hussein regime. He threw the massive force of the entire administration, diplomatic corps, and intelligence community behind uncovering Sadaam’s link with Al Quaeda. And they couldn’t find it. Don’t you remember? They couldn’t find it.

THAT was when they dug up this whole WMD thing. That was when they began to suddenly hop up and down about Sadaam not complying with UN weapons inspections, which were part of the treaty ending the first Gulf War.  From that fact, they drew the conclusion that, since Sadaam didn’t want inspectors in his country, he must be doing something dastardly. Trumped that up to read that Sadaam certainly had stockpiles of biological and chemical weapons, and was probably working on a "Bomb." Escalated that to the release of some intelligence from somewhere that Sadaam had WMD at his disposal, battle-ready within 45 minutes, which would constitute some kind of immediate danger to the continental United States. What????

This is what is known as "The Politics of Fear." The Bush administration purposely and calculatedly scared the CRAP out of the American People. Manipulated a constituency who were still reeling and shell-shocked from the horrible, unthinkable events of September 11, 2001. Please, people, don’t forget that, at the time of the invasion, the administration itself admitted that they had found NO link between Iraq and the toppling of the Twin Towers. With a weak bit of sleight of hand, perpetrated on a nation that was hurt, angry, and spoiling for a fight, they turned THEIR agenda into our agenda. The invasion of Iraq never had any more substance than that.

It can be argued that Sadaam was a cruel, despotic criminal dictator who needed overthrowing. I don’t disagree. But was it our place to do so? If the Iraqi people weren’t oppressed enough to foment their own rebellion, did we have any business going in there and doing it for them? Without the blessing of the UN? Without a broad-based coalition of like-minded allies to assist in the overthrow and share the burden of reconstruction?

There is a stock question that is put to the principles of any conflict. A woman contemplating divorce is encouraged to ask, "Will I be better off with him or without him?" Voters in national elections are admonished to answer the question, "Am I better off than I was four years ago?" Better off. Should we ask the Iraqi people, "Are you better off than you were before the American invasion?" What do you think their answer would be? They have gone from living under the suppression of the corrupt Sadaam regime, being afraid that they might "disappear" in the night, never to be heard from again… To a world where they could get blown up on any street corner on any given day. To a world where they are afraid to venture from their homes to go shopping, go to work, or send their children to school. To a world torn apart by the warring factions made bold by the absence of any real, credible government, ready to erupt into civil war, if it hasn’t already deteriorated to that point. And a US presence that promises to "stay the course," even as it makes preparations to hand a shattered country over to a powerless interim government, upheld by a slipshod, unprepared military.

In Iraq since March of 2003, one thousand five Americans have died; 1136 total "coalition" lives, all lost because of the determination of our "Oil President" to establish a strong presence in the Middle East, source of too large of a percentage of the life’s blood of our military-industrial complex. And Iraqis? Between 11,000 and 14,000 have perished. We don’t even know the exact number. The latest official death toll of the 9/11 attacks stands at 2880. Have we paid "them" back yet? Have we wrung enough blood from these people who had nothing whatsoever to do with the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001?

And do we now reward the "Commander-in-Chief" of this abomination with another four years as "leader of the free world?"

Thursday, September 9, 2004

Why I Love My Journal...Reason #752

About five minutes ago, I had this great revelation. Another reason to love this journal.

I realized, in all the 32 years I have been writing journals, that I turned to them when I needed to write. When I was troubled, or searching, or wrestling with demons. A very small percentage of my old writings are cheerful or uplifting. "Less than desperate" was about as high up on the cheer-o-meter as I ever got. Good times, times when I was happy or felt fulfilled, produced years-long gaps in my journals.

Now, with a place to write, where it feels more like writing letters to friends, I write about the good things. About the fun things. About the everyday things that make my life different from everyone else’s, yet underscore my kinship to other women, other writers, other dreamers. I write stuff that actually doesn’t send me back down into the emotional dumps when I go back and read it a few months down the road.

This is a new experience for me (relatively, since I’ve been doing this for almost a year, now.)

And, you know what? It’s NICE!

Tuesday, September 7, 2004

Projects

  

I adore big windows. I crave natural light. I love to invite nature into my home through large expanses of glass. That is why I was so hot to have a six-foot patio door in my dining room. So now I have one. And it is swiftly lining up under the heading of, "Be Careful What You Ask For, You Might Get It."

Ah, the marvelous properties of natural light!  Every crumb, animal hair, or dust-bunny---on furniture, floor, or upholstery---fluoresces like dandruff under a blacklight. Okay, I’ll admit, I haven’t dusted in awhile. But between that and the "construction" dust, in the bright white daylight, it looked like everything in the room had been flocked (as in, like a Christmas tree…)

And then, you have to realize that where there’s a window, there’s a view. I now have a spectacular "view" of three weedy gardens, a four-foot mountain of dirt, and the gravel "parking lot" where Big Red the Concession Trailer and our smaller travel trailer live during the off season. Yay. I suppose this isn’t ALL bad. Maybe it will be just the kick in the butt I needed to get out there and start spending some "quality time" in the yard. But I’m kinda stumped about how to screen out the view of the trailers. I feel like I’m living at Big Jim’s RV World…

We have done a LOT of DIY (DUI???) home improvement work over the years. If there’s one thing I should know by now, it’s that there’s always a downside to the project once it’s "in the can." Six months down the road, you find that those beautiful skylights get full of pine needles and bird crap. You finally get rid of the shit-brindle-brown, seventies vinyl flooring in the kitchen, and discover that your brand shiny new WHITE vinyl showcases every footprint, dog slop, sliver of bark dust, and coffee ground---the ones that you could leave on the old floor for days and never see. That Pergo that you coveted for so long and looks SO 21st century…ooops! You’re living on an ice-skating rink! Your most massive pieces of furniture glide effortlessly across the floor, with barely the touch of a finger. Which is handy when you WANT to move the furniture, but not so great when you try to lean on the arm of the couch and it goes sliding across the room. (My niece and nephew thought it was really cool, though…) And speaking of Pergo, it also wasn’t too great to discover that I had to get down on my hands and knees and buff it after mopping, or it would dry hopelessly streaked.

Yep, home improvement is pretty much a crap shoot. There’s no way to get the low-down on the downside of a project before you do it. Is the guy at the home center going to tell you that Pergo is a pain in the butt to clean? How would you know that putting a giant window in a room would turn it into the Munsters’ parlour? "Hey, honey, why don’t we cut a giant hole in the wall and see if we like it?" You just rolls the dice and takes yer chances.

I do recall one project that turned out perfectly, though. In one of our homes, we had to replace the old, worn out carpeting in the living room and hall. We chose, on purpose, a shade that was the exact color of cat puke. It was called "mollusk"…kind of a brownish, grayish, not-too-light neutral. It was perfect. Never regretted that purchase for a second.

Saturday, September 4, 2004

Summer's Last Hurrah (Hooray...)


I’m sitting here on my back deck (albeit wrapped in a sleeping bag for warmth), my face to the gold feather clouds of the sunset. Well, they were gold, but they’ve since mellowed to peach, then rose, then dusky gray…most of which I missed, because the minute I sit down to write, there isn’t a human or animal in this house that doesn’t need something from me… Summer exited the western valleys of Oregon abruptly two weeks ago, with the torrent that washed out my last event. Mornings and evenings have turned cool and misty. Afternoons have gone partly cloudy, and we’ve hardly got through a day in the last two weeks without at least a tiny shower or two spitting down on us. It’s always a relief to move out of the brown and dusty days of summer, and into the more breathable air of autumn. Trouble is, it’s happened about a month early this year. Makes one wonder what the winter will be like. Then again, we had summer weather—sunny, dry, and nearly 90 degrees—this past April. So it looks like we’re paying the piper for that now.
We made the mistake of going to Home Depot this afternoon. Started out innocently enough, picking up some things to make a new sign holder for the banner for my booth. Then, we thought we’d cruise on over and see what they had available in French doors… What was I thinking? This is a holiday weekend. The LAST holiday weekend of the summer. It cries out for a project…a last hurrah before battening down the hatches against the coming monsoons. We’ve been planning a "someday" project of putting a sliding door in our dining room, leading out to what is actually the main part of our yard, which, due to weird placement of the house on an odd-shaped lot, happens to be on the side of the house. Well, darned if old Home Depot didn’t have a great deal going on a "sliding French door." An Anderson door, no less. To make a long story short, husband is now beavering away, removing the drywall from the entire north wall of the dining room.
Yes, I know, it’s a rather LARGE undertaking for a spur-of-the-moment Labor Day home improvement project. But it seems to be making him happy, and I’m sure I’ll enjoy it once it’s done. Unfortunately, I know months will pass before that eventuality. He starts a project, gets it 85% finished, and then gets distracted by something else, loses interest, or quits because he’s never done this before and is not sure how to proceed (whereupon one has to wonder why he started…) And then we’ll just live around it until I completely freak out and nag him to for god’s sake, finish it or hire someone who can… Can’t possibly complete a project without paying obeisance to the family dynamic: I am the bitch, and he is the long-suffering husband. I don’t bother about it anymore. I just get into character, say my lines, and get it over with. I know it’s the only way things ever get done around here. I learned WAY early on that trying to do a project together is the fast track to divorce court…
Well, it’s mostly dark now. I can just see the silhouettes of the spires of the big fir trees up on the hill, against the deep teal sky. Chirping of happy bugs can be heard coming from my potted geraniums (gerania?) to my left. Husband has filled two huge garbage cans and scooted them out to the garage…with what, I’m afraid to look. Guess I’d better go inside and see how he’s doing. (Making the zipping-lips-and-throwing-away-the-key gesture…)
I had thought I was finished here…but I had to share that husband just walked by and asked when I was going to be done with my boyfriend online, so that he can go to "Home Depot.com" and ask how big a header he’s going to need….

Thursday, September 2, 2004

Ooooooh! Aaaaah!

 

Here’s something to rest your eyes on that isn’t one of my long-winded rants…

It’s dahlia season. Dahlias…botanical fireworks.

Wednesday, September 1, 2004

Electoral College Rant--Le Fin

(I know I said I'd post the conclusion of this "tomorrow..." but I finished writing it, and I just wanted to get the hell rid of it so I can get off my butt and focus on something else tomorrow...  LOL!)

The original Electoral College system, the one our founding fathers wrote into the Constitution, had the state legislatures choosing the electors. A vote of the people had absolutely nothing to do with the process. The state legislatures were charged with choosing civic-minded gentlemen of high moral standing and good educational background, who would then get together and come up with the names of two candidates. The names would be sent to Washington, the one with the majority was named president, and the runner-up became vice president. If no one got a majority, the decision was thrown to the House of Representatives, because they were the body most closely representative of the people.

Much of the "power" over this process was delegated to the states. Later, it was the states that began instituting provisions for awarding their electoral votes based on popular votes, in response to pressure that the presidential election should more directly reflect the will of the people.

The system as it stands now is neither fish nor fowl…it isn’t what the founding fathers intended, nor is it a direct election by popular vote. Actually, it is kind of a mess. Especially the "winner take all" provision--I’m not clear on the genesis of that morsel, but it’s a ball-breaker. So, when Constitutional scholars admonish us not to fix it ‘cause it ain’t broke… Well, I beg to differ.

Then, there are the doom-sayers who are convinced that the country will go to hell in a handbasket if we abolish the Electoral College and allow the people to vote directly for president. They predict everything from the anarchy of dozens of small political parties fragmenting the vote to the point where there is no chance for a presidential candidate to garner a majority, (undermining the president’s ability to govern), to the increased chance of a military coup or counter-revolution occurring, should the result of a popular election be disputed.

I think those arguments are a bit…far-out. Our two-party system is pretty deeply entrenched. In fact, most of us wouldn’t mind if a credible alternative managed to break through the ranks. Our current Electoral College system effectively snuffs any third-party movement in this country. The funniest thing about this is, one of the original purposes of the Electoral College was to foil the formation of political parties altogether. Well, THAT hasn’t worked, has it? Now, it's being used to "protect" our two party system.  Since partisan politics have become the "law of the land," maybe we need to encourage the possibility of a little competition for the two we have, just to give them something to think about…

And a military coup, or violent insurrection resulting from a disputed presidential election? Come on. This is America in the twenty-first century. Not some shaky, fledgling third-world democracy. We have more than 200 years of democratic tradition propping us up. I hardly think we are going to take up arms and storm Washington if we don’t like the outcome of an election.

BUT…

My research showed me that several models of replacement systems have been put forth, and none of them are practical, practicable, or affordable. Multiple run-off elections, "Instant run-off" elections, where the voter indicates his first, second, and third choice for the office…I’m not sure the American people would have the patience to deal with such things. The first and largest challenge to be overcome is the fact that any move to abolish the Electoral College would face all the tough hurdles of any potential change to our constitution: A long, hard fight through Congress, past which it could only advance to the people by a two-thirds majority vote. And then the people themselves have to ratify it by a two-thirds vote. Yikes!  It could be done, I suppose. And I don’t dispute that it probably should be done. But, for that reason alone, it probably won’t be done.

Here’s MY thought (and Jackie’s, if you’ve read the comments on the last "installment’) Changes can be made to the way the STATES apportion their electoral votes, much more readily than the Electoral College can be completely abolished. I know, the states have already MADE changes…which have only added to the problems presented by the College. But, still, it seems like the path of least resistance…

Why can’t the states apportion their electoral votes based on the popular vote? If a candidate gets 40% of the popular vote, they win 40% of the electoral vote of that state. What’s with this "winner-take-all" thing anyway? That’s the source of a lot of the problems we’re experiencing, and it isn’t a provision of the federal Constitution. Two states—Maine and Nebraska—apportion their electoral votes in this manner. This would be at least a baby step in the right direction.

AND... here’s the solution that I came up with originally: That the total electoral votes be apportioned to the states based on their percentage of the TOTAL popular vote of that election. Example: Fifty million votes cast in the election. Alaska turns in one million of these. They get one-fiftieth, or 2%, of the electoral votes. In these days of instant transmission of information, how difficult would this be?

We might not get instantaneous results that Tom Brokaw and Dan Rather could report on the evening news, but we’d get results that were much more reflective of the will of the people. If Oregon did a spectacular job of educating the public and getting them out to the polls, and a "battleground" state like Michigan didn’t, the number of electoral votes each was rewarded would reflect this. If each churned out, say, two million votes, each would get the same number of electoral votes. Instead of Oregon getting its 7 and Michigan getting its 17, regardless of how many people actually voted. Though this would still involve amending the Constitution, it would solve the problem of how to replace the Electoral College system with something that wouldn’t fundamentally affect (and therefore try the patience or the attention span of) the every day voter. We would go to the polls on one day for one election and vote for one candidate. The only thing that would change is the way that vote is counted once it is placed.

This would, at the very least, force the candidates to address the entire nation during their campaigns, because they would never really know where the biggest concentration of electoral votes would be coming from.  It would make them take us ALL seriously, think about ALL of our problems, as they would have to do as president. And it would make the electoral vote much more reflective of the actual popular vote. Does it work for you?

Electoral College Rant---Chapter Deux

The 2000 Presidential election was a disaster. We had the winner of the popular vote losing the election. (This has happened before in our history, but never accompanied by the kind of additional controversy we had in 2000.) We had the United States Supreme Court making decisions it had no business making about ballots and recounts in a sovereign state. In the eye of the storm, we ultimately had the electoral votes in a state governed by the brother of one of the candidates, heaped onto that candidate’s pile of spoils, taking him to victory. Despite serious charges of obvious irregularities in both the vote itself, AND the counting of the vote. (Does anyone else see this as, shall we say, less than a coincidence?)

There was a flurry of activity following the botched 2000 election, not the least of which was a resurgence of calls for reform or abolishment of the Electoral College. The bugaboo is, the Electoral College is not an easy dragon to slay, simply because its existence is written into the US Constitution. Legislation to amend or abolish it cannot even leave Congress without a 2/3 majority vote in favor.

In my quest to educate myself about the College, I’ve called up several articles from different viewpoints. One thing I’m now convinced of, major objections to the Electoral College system don’t come primarily from one party or the other. They may come from whichever party feels most injured by it at a particular time…but the beauty of the Electoral College is that it is indiscriminate in whom it screws. It doesn’t come down more heavily on the side of Democrats or Republicans, conservatives or liberals. This fact alone gives it a certain appeal…

Oddly enough, in my research, I came across articles written in October of 2000, slamming the Electoral College because of a potential problem looming for the 2000 election: George Bush was the projected winner of the popular vote, but it seemed likely that Al Gore might take the election without winning the majority of the popular vote, by virtue of having slim popular vote leads in eleven "swing" states. In an op-ed piece for the Daily Herald (a string of suburban Chicago newspapers) Burt Constable wrote,

If most American voters cast ballots for George W. Bush, but Al Gore still manages to end up in the White House, folks would suspect the election was fixed.

But that scenario is possible unless we fix our flawed Electoral College system. By barely beating Bush in 11 key states, Gore could capture the 270 Electoral College votes needed to lock up the presidency, even if the overwhelming majority of our nation's voters select Bush.

(I wonder, after what actually came to pass, did he jump up and scream that the election had been fixed?)

Just to prove that Mr. Constable’s pre-election predictions were not as off-base as it would seem, this was written by Steven Hill, western regional director for The Center for Voting and Democracy, also in October of 2000:

So George Bush may win more popular votes nationwide, but Al Gore could win more popular votes in enough key states to amass enough Electoral College votes to become president. If that happens, count on a big disconnect between an already disengaged public and our national politics.

AFTER the election, Hill wrote this:

Democrat Al Gore won more votes than Republican George Bush in the national popular vote. But Bush may be on his way to the White House.

Blame for this democratic anomaly rests squarely with that 18th-century anachronism, the Electoral College. The Electoral College is a clumsy device that never would be imitated by a state for electing its governor -- or by a town electing its dogcatcher. It has been the subject of more proposed amendments than any other part of our constitution, but like an appendix, we keep it because it hasn't ruptured... yet.

(At least I give this guy credit for the taking system to task regardless of whom it screwed…)

The main objections to ditching the system seem to come from people who are, or would like to project themselves as, Constitutional scholars. These folks have a tendency to hold the Constitution in such reverence that they believe nothing short of an act of God should change a word of it. They explain away the outdated reasoning behind the system with statements like,

"The fact that the Electoral College was originally designed to solve one set of problems but today serves to solve an entirely different set of problems is atribute to the genius of the Founding Fathers and to the durability of the American federal system." (From the essay on the FEC website, by William C. Kimberling, Deputy Director, FEC Office of Election Administration.)

Kimberling’s article itself states the constitutional controversy that that lay behind the formation of the Electoral College System:

"In order to appreciate the reasons for the Electoral College, it is essential to understand its historical context and the problem that the Founding Fathers were trying to solve. They faced the difficult question of how to elect a president in a nation that:

  • was composed of thirteen large and small States jealous of their own rights and powers and suspicious of any central national government
  • contained only 4,000,000 people spread up and down a thousand miles of Atlantic seaboard barely connected by transportation or communication (so that national campaigns were impractical even if they had been thought desirable)
  • believed, under the influence of such British political thinkers as Henry St John Bolingbroke, that political parties were mischievous if not downright evil, and
  • felt that gentlemen should not campaign for public office (The saying was "The office should seek the man, the man should not seek the office.")."

Okay, now, which of these points isn’t completely archaic (or downright laughable) in the United States of America of the 21st century?

Remember, our Founding Fathers had their roots in the "class" system of Europe, primarily England. They were born Englishmen, and became Americans by virtue of the American Revolution. Not long after their own revolt, they witnessed the disaster of the French Revolution, which put too much power directly into the hands of an uneducated and long-oppressed populus, with the ultimate result of ensuing anarchy, followed by the rise of a military dictator who became the scourge of Europe. 

The platform of our government was freedom and democracy, but not pure democracy. Not the "one man, one vote" definition of democracy that we think we have in this country today. The government was set up in a very complicated fashion, with its three branches, and the checks and balances thereof. But it was really more set up to carry out the will of the states, and thereby the will of the people in an indirect way.

Don’t forget, the original Constitution provided for senators to be appointed by the state legislatures, NOT by popular vote. I think if you told James Madison that old Clyde from up in the shack on the hill was going to roll on into town on election day and scribble his "X" on the bottom of a ballot for the senate or the presidency, Mr. Madison would faint dead away. Government was a gentleman’s business, which our Constitutional framers took for granted would be kept in the hands of gentlemen of means and education. I don’t think they consciously kept power out of the hands of common people. I think they simply believed that the choices involved in a society’s attempt to govern itself were important enough to require a certain degree of education and aptitude for complex reasoning. I can’t really argue with that, given what passes for political rhetoric and "important" issues, these days…

Okay, enough for today. Tomorrow I’ll wrap up and put forth some suggested alternatives…