It’s Bad to Be Right

Categories: A Day in the Life, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Tags: ,

Maybe I should’ve made numeric predictions after all.

What’s utterly hilarious to me about the current political situation is how the script of what’s going on ratchets back and forth so quickly. Two weeks ago, this was Hillary’s nomination to lose. Now people are depicting her as some sort of underdog candidate who came out of nowhere to triumph against incredible odds.


The thing is, it’s still probably the Dynasty’s presidency to lose. And I really don’t see them going down without a fight. It occurred to me yesterday for the first time (you heard it here first [TM]) that if Obama seems poised to actually grab the nomination, they will probably shoot him before the convention. When the two big people you’ve been compared to are JFK & MLK, and the person you actually most resemble is RFK, those just aren’t good odds.

But don’t worry, it’s just a wingnut lone gunman. Scout’s honor. I love this country (TM).

Despite my lampoony cartoon today and the incredible details of the exit polling, no one really asked the question how many people were impacted by yesterday morning’s papers’ top story being the trumped-up showdown between the US and Iranian navies in the Strait of Hormuz. It was well-documented that many people decided yesterday who they’d vote for, making the day’s news pretty significant. And Hillary’s late campaigning was playing a whole lot of the fear card, which seems to be as close as she comes to having a theme (“Eight More Years of Bill” coming in a close second). And if you don’t think Hillary Clinton and the Dynasty can coordinate with the US Navy, you’re really not paying attention.

What’s interesting about this race is that while everyone’s claimed that it’s going to be a sudden burst of voting, it’s still a pretty protracted process. Everyone just started earlier. It’s a lot like malls starting to put up Christmas decorations in July… it doesn’t mean Christmas will get done differently, it’ll just start sooner. Michigan is next week and has been so utterly desanctioned that the media isn’t even acknowledging that the state (America’s 8th-largest) is voting at all. Then we have Nevada and South Carolina, the latter of which will bury John Edwards for good (not that it’s good so much as permanent) when he gets third-place with about 20%.

The thing is, Super Tuesday is still a full month after New Hampshire, and more than a month after Iowa. In 2004, it was six weeks after Iowa and four after New Hampshire. So functionally, Iowa has been pushed back a week and then everyone jumped forward. Oh, the momentous change!

Granted, four years ago a lot fewer states were clumped on Super Tuesday, and even fewer in 2000. But the election was over a week after Super Tuesday last time, with everyone else dropping out. You have to go back to 1992, in the early days of the Dynasty, to see a primary process that was still up-for-grabs post-Super Tuesday.

But, I maintain, the Republicans will break that streak. The factions, both regional and issue-based, will continue to divide them until the Convention, leaving a tremendous amount of time for the Democratic nominee (who will be sealed up at Super Tuesday) to take the lead in the general election.

So very little has changed since my pre-Iowa thoughts, except that the Dems will be a little closer for a while, but probably still end up with Hillary. Not that long ago, almost no one took Iowa that seriously. Rudy and Hillary are still hoping this ends up being true. It probably will be, all told. Heck, if Dean hadn’t whooped, Iowa would still probably be seen as entirely meaningless.

I’m getting all of this political posting out of the way now, since I won’t even be in country for Super Tuesday. I’ll be trying to find a paper in New Delhi that’s covering the story. And while it will probably be a disheartening Hillary-romp that I won’t be sad to miss, I will miss the pundit head-scratching as at least five distinct Republican candidates win primaries.

In the meantime, watch the media trying to consolidate behind the Hill’. She has Fear and Tradition in her court, classic bastions of the American voter. And she’s now, almost unthinkably, grabbed the “underdog” label. And if there’s something Americans like voting for more than a pure winner, it’s someone who has made themselves look like they’re in a trite kids’ underdog sports movie. Only in America would people buy that someone so steeped in power, influence, and string-pulling as Hillary Clinton is reminiscent of the Mighty Ducks or the Bad News Bears.

It’s bad news, all right. Makes me wonder why I let myself hope in the first place.



Categories: A Day in the Life, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Tags: ,

Yesterday was rather surreal, all told, and a good bit volatile as well in the face of some long odds and a decent amount of personal boredom. I am in what I might describe as a sort of fugue state these days… the interim between December trips with families and the trip to India, the limbo between status quo and change at work, the suddenly discombobulated outset of an election that may not be signed, sealed, and delivered after all.

I spoke aloud while walking to lunch yesterday, saying that it seemed like “you can see the seams on the Metaphor today”. My perception of the planet we inhabit (and indeed, likely, all physical planets and realms) is that it is part of the grand Metaphor of the universe. None of this physical stuff really exists, which is why I find the physicalists (“realists” in some circles) so laughably ironic, believing as they do that the Metaphor is all that really exists. I could write a book on my theology that stems from things like the Metaphor (hey, I might), but a thumbnail starter sketch might look a little like “The Matrix” of movie trilogy fame, but without the machines and the enslaved humans and all the violence. And without the real world behind the shadow world being, itself, a physical domain. That part really didn’t make any sense.

And also, I would say, without quite as much rule-bending as “The Matrix”. The point is that the Metaphor probably only hangs together on rules and boundaries, a playing field of sorts for the moral and spiritual progress and lessons of the Metaphor. Why do you think there are “laws” of physics in the first place? Does it make any sense that there would be rigidly definable and discoverable laws in a universe randomly created by happenstance, luck, and flying asteroids? I ask you.

I’m getting a little lost here, or at least bogged down. It’s easy to do in a fugue state. Regardless, yesterday had moments where it looked like the tapestry that holds the Metaphor together was visible, as though one could actually see behind the curtain and watch the strings being pulled. Of course one never can actually physically see behind the Metaphor (there’s nothing physically there to physically see), but it seems that way. And days like that, one has to wonder if things are unraveling, or it’s getting urgent to start really seeing things.

Today is different… soggy, ambivalent, quiet, and yet highly pensive with that small highlight of hope and uncertainty that seems innately tied to both Tuesdays and election days (one being a function of the other, after all). Emily tried hard (probably without trying) to talk me out of any enthusiasm about Obama last night. He is well-connected with Washington tradition, steeped in special interest, lobbies, and big bucks. I could see a lot of pressure being placed on someone younger and with demographic differences from our last 40-odd presidents to conform and demonstrate that “he’s not so different after all”. Those who view the world racially would characterize his term, his life, his success as a referendum on whether his race could lead this country at all. Preposterous on all fronts, but you know that’s how the media would handle things. Like judging all white males on Hitler or on Kant (those are meant to be incomparable polar opposites, in case you’re not sure where I stand on those historical figures)… the truth is always in the middle, in the gray, in judging individuals by themselves and their actions alone.

But it’s a lot of pressure that would be on Obama, to not rock the boat and to instead pave the way for others like him by appearing “reasonable,” “moderate,” and other mild adjectives that involve preserving the status quo march toward full-scale plutocracy. Most presidents have caved under far less pressure, with far less riding on it other than personal plunder. And it seems like his status quo march is already well under way, pandering to the lobbies and holding back on sweeping specifics.

Nevertheless, Obama has upside. “Upside” is usually a term applied to baseball prospects to indicate that they have a high potential. Some pitcher with raw power who can’t find the plate, who can throw 102 with no control has a lot of upside. Yes, they’ll probably walk more than they strikeout next season and linger with a 6.02 ERA in AA ball. But that kind of raw talent can be crafted into something under the right tutelage, molded into someone like Randy Johnson, who might aim for 99 instead of 102, but with pinpoint control. Whereas a finesse pitcher who is playing well now, but has already learned 5 pitches has little upside. He’s a known quantity. He might be better overall than the pitcher with upside, but that upside gives the wild fireballer more potential.

So then it’s an issue of how much you want to gamble. And a lot of people like to gamble on upside.

This may make Obama sound worse than he is, in part because most minor-league baseball prospects have upside. But I can’t remember the last time I felt like a presidential candidate who got more than 10% of any vote had a lot of upside. Edwards may be slightly better overall, but I don’t really see any upside that he has. Most of his stuff is out on the table, including voting for the Iraq War and running with John Kerry. These are indicators of a total lack of upside.

Whereas Obama has almost nothing on the table, didn’t even get to the Senate till after the Iraq War had started. He’s like a long line of people who we don’t really have any idea what he stands for. But unlike most of them (such as, say, Colin Powell), the indicators are really good with Obama. He has fervently made the war and opposition to it an issue (again, gulpingly admittedly without committing to actually ending it). He has spoken with glowing rhetoric about change and hope. He has not been in politics long. He does not think Islam is the greatest threat to humanity.

It’s not a lot to go on, but it’s a lot of upside. Enough to make me actually hope that he wins New Hampshire and gets the jump on this whole nomination gambit. In large part just to stop the Clinton/Bush royalty from having a shot at extending the dynasty. But also because of that lingering upside.

New Hampshire is allegedly known for its independents, stemming from its strong sense of independence. Don’t Tread on Me started in New Hampshire, depicting the United States as a sort of crotchety agitated snake in perhaps the most accurate zoological representation of this country in history. I think it was a rattler, but I envision the USA more as one of those constrictors that goes around squeezing things to death and swallowing them whole, until eventually one can’t even see the outline of the enormous thing just swallowed. Always consuming, at a rate that seems to defy what an individual could want or need. Maybe that’s why Mexico’s flag has the eagle nabbing a snake. Rise up Mexico, and put your northern neighbor back in its place.

In any event, it’s interesting that the state that has the most and most disproportionate influence on our presidential selection process, crying out about its independence, has managed to give us such mainstream moderate plutocrats. Yes, they voted for McCain instead of GWB in 2000 and Tsongas got the nod because of geographic proximity (though Clinton’s strong showing while being from far away was what really launched him) in 1992, but NH has hardly prevented the rise of the two-party monoliths of mediocrity. And when “Independent” is a proxy word for “Libertarian,” I get plenty spooked anyway. Maybe they’ll like Huckabee’s so-called “Fair Tax” that gives everyone income tax-free and only goes after spending. Yes, there is some mild concession credit to the especially poor to prevent it from being the Most Regressive Tax Ever, but the fact that the poor spend 150-300% of their income annually while the rich spend maybe 50% really indicates the unfairness of this plan. But it sounds right up New Hampshire’s alley.

(And don’t get me wrong, I want to trim the IRS and decapitate tax loopholes as much as Huckabee… I just might instead replace the status quo with a 10% income tax at $50,000+ a year, 25% at $100,000+ a year, and 50% at $250,000+ a year. And abolish for-profit business, taxing 100% of would-be “profit”.)

In any case, I’m going to stop short of making predictions this time around, maybe just because of the mood. I still think Hillary has a good shot to bag this one, or maybe to overwhelm Super Tuesday even if she doesn’t. But I’m really hoping to be wrong about that, and that we will at least have someone who has some potential in the running. Hey, if it’s Obama vs. “Fair Tax,” I might even care about the general election this year.

But I’m getting way ahead of myself. For now, I’m just going to squint and try to see the seams. Bait my breath over early returns that should leave New Hampshire before I leave work. Pause to ponder why everyone shaved massive amounts of facial hair yesterday (or at least, confirmed and documented, myself, Mark Samburg, and David Letterman, the last two in major public displays).

Shedding weight? Dropping anchor? Going younger, slimmer, more hopeful?

Maybe it’s just time to make cuts.


It’s Good to Be Wrong

Categories: A Day in the Life, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Quick Updates, Tags: , ,

And now I’m back. From outer space. If by “outer space,” I mean “a cabin in the woods with the Garin Clan.” And I do.

As far as Iowa goes, Henry Clay once said “I’d rather be right than President.” (Incidentally, the second quotes-Google search for this sentence brings up someone posting the coveted Feingold-Kucinich result on my Presidential quiz.) My phrase would be something more like “I’d rather be wrong than clairvoyant.” Which may seem to undermine the whole process of making predictions, but perhaps it’s part of the preparation principle.

The preparation principle is pretty basic and possibly almost universally held as a belief structure among people. It’s approximately If one is prepared for something, it won’t happen. Now most people might tack on a “bad” to this. As in “if one is prepared for something bad…” These people are optimists. In general, I think that the universe sees preparation as an exercise in prevention and thus works swiftly to prevent the prepared-for. Sometimes. In some ways. I don’t want e-mails talking about how someone brushed their teeth or combed their hair this morning and then still had a meeting or went to work.

The point is, I was really really wrong about Hillary Clinton. And this makes me really really happy. So bring on the saucy remarks about how I jumped the gun and spoke too soon… I’m happier than you are.

On the other hand, if you flip Ron Paul & Rudy Giuliani and give Huckabee a much bigger bump, I was pretty close on the Republican side. Not that this is where I’m putting any hope or much interest. And if Huckabee gets anointed, it’s going to be awfully hard for him to win, methinks. Although Obama v. Huckabee might be some kind of bizarre dogfight. I don’t anticipate a ton of turnout there.

But fortunately, my anticipations tend to be wrong. And while everything I can see leads me to believe that Obama is only fractionally better than Clinton or Huckabee, fractionally better is about fifty times more significant an improvement than I’ve seen from a mainline Presidential candidate since… Mondale? Really in my lifetime, functionally, since I didn’t start following Presidential elections till 1988, and Dukakis really seemed a buffoon. So that’s pretty exciting, all around. It would be a lot more exciting if he hadn’t equivocated on the idea of a full pullout of troops in Iraq by 2013, but at least he didn’t vote for the war in the first place (yes, I realize this is a technicality – he wasn’t in the Senate at the time).

Back to work now, and much more later. Today seems awfully surreal already and on the way toward the swirlier. The year already feels very old. Maybe that’s why I shaved today.



Categories: A Day in the Life, From the Road, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Tags: , ,

But way back where I come from
we never mean to bother
we don’t like to make our passions other people’s concern
and we walk in the world of safe people
and at night we walk into our houses and burn.
-Dar Williams, “Iowa”

I neither come from Iowa nor the hyper-isolationist East Coast that Dar Williams is referring to in this song and I remember thinking when I first heard this song how emotionally broken those regions are. Not that the West Coast is probably much better, but it has a slightly higher portion of betterness, I would imagine – people willing to take risks or embrace their freedom to a certain extent. This isn’t meant to be a condemnation of other coasts or regions or my friends who come from them. Just a common critique I have of general tendencies, which becomes quite revealing when analyzing the two states which, in the next six days, will anoint the new so-called leader of the so-called United States.

Despite everybody’s dead-sprint to the front lines of the primary/caucus chronology in this young year, Iowa and New Hampshire will still have an insanely disproportionate impact on the election of the President, as they have for decades. A large portion of voters are undecided up until the day of the election, annually amazed at just how poor their choices are yet again in any given year. And almost all of America wants to back a winner more than they want the next President to be good, so those undecideds immediately bum-rush whoever seems to be the most likely winner.

Thus people like John Kerry come out of nowhere and get nominated to be President, despite having no personality and no chance of defeating George W. Bush, just based on a handful of people in Iowa. (And, perhaps, I must duly admit, the media’s willingness to sink someone who isn’t towing the party line by trumping up one small whoop to the level of certifiable insanity.)

My personal schizophrenia should also be noted here to provide context for my comments. I am well convinced that there are no viable choices in either party, and that it’s possible that Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul are actually being paid off by the establishment to seem far crazier than they are to make their reasonable perspectives seem like unthinkable lunacy to the mainstream of America. Once again, as in 2004, we will have an incredibly unpopular ongoing war with no actually anti-war candidate. No one willing to go any further than saying it wasn’t an ideal choice to start the war, but hey, now that we’re in it we might as well stay till 2025 or so.

But (the other half of my schizophrenia here) I also have an insatiable interest in the machinations of politics, and am always drawn back to political analysis despite my confidence that it’s all rigged, irrelevant, and incredibly depressing. I will inevitably watch hours of political television coverage tonight, despite the fact that the candidates are functionally interchangeable and all will continue to run the country into the moral and economic ground.

So back to the show. Regardless of which side of the schizophrenia I’m on at a particular moment, it’s abundantly clear that Hillary Clinton is the inevitable winner of both the Democratic nomination and the Presidency. The name-brand recognition, the rose-colored memories of Bill’s eight-year reign (which only looks good when comparing it pound-for-pound to the reign of King George II), the utter lack of experience of any rivals (not that she actually has much political experience beyond a marriage), and the fact that she has seemed to be a front-runner from the outset (remember the back-a-winner psychology of the American voter!) will all combine to propel her to relative landslides in both races.

I’m still on vacation in Shaver Lake till the weekend (and we’re finally getting snow today!), but were I to have access to write a Duck and Cover today, it might go something like this:

Duck: Are you ready for the coronation of Queen Hillary I today?
Turtle: Don’t you mean caucus?

Duck: A ceremony by any other name would appoint just as well.

Turtle: Could you get any more cynical?
Duck: Just wait.

The real question is who she’ll beat and whether Iowa and New Hampshire will combine to create a Republican front-runner who is chosen by tiny states to become unstoppable, or whether the party’s complete disarray will lead to the first watchable convention since 1968. I realize I’m reviewing things I discussed in my last post of 2007, but when I logged into Facebook this morning, so many of my friends were listing statuses that showed baited-breath anticipation of hope and optimism related to this race. And here in the extremely Republican Garin Clan, there is slightly less interested interest in a variety of candidates on that side. So I feel compelled to spend today reviewing why I don’t share the enthusiasm and any more than politically academic interest in today’s events.

But we started this with Dar Williams and her discussion of how emotions in the Midwest and Northeast lead to people not taking risks. I’m not saying that we could guarantee that if Nevada or New Mexico carried the opening primary with as much respect and homage as people currently confer to Iowa and NH, results would be a lot different. After all, my favorite case that Steve Rabin and I used to run was that we should have a one-day national primary (a case which debuted with a 4-1 win in the semifinals of a tournament in New Hampshire). The whole progressive drag of small state primaries deciding for the nation is a completely busted system. But we still have people in especially low-risk states trying to evaluate how they can best go back to their friends and say they backed a winner.

I feel like this post is rolling around a lot of things I’ve said in the past and I keep flitting wildly between the two sides of my schizophrenia. At this point, I’m just going to go ahead and bank my predictions and move on…

HClinton – 36%
JEdwards – 29%
BObama – 27%
JBiden – 3%
BRichardson – 2%
Others – 3%

MHuckabee – 27%
MRomney – 24%
RGiuliani – 20%
JMcCain – 13%
FThompson – 10%
RPaul – 4%
Others – 2%


Follow Me Down to the Rose Parade

Categories: A Day in the Life, From the Road, Tags: ,

I’ve never been much of an Elliot Smith fan, but I feel like I could really hang out with him today. I mean, not literally. I obviously couldn’t literally hang out with him, because he killed himself. And that’s really another post altogether.

Somehow I missed the Happy New Year train.

Happy New Year.

Today, believe it or not, I’m even almost objecting to the use of that phrase. I know I have a bit of a reputation as a contrarian already, but I’m really not sure that’s the best thing to hope for from a year. When was the last time someone wished you a Thoughtful New Year? Or how about a Peaceful New Year?

I recognize that I’m straw-manning this situation a little bit, because obviously the etymology of the “Happy New Year” construction is about the day of New Year (actually “New Year’s Day”)… the phrase is actually meant to signify “Happy New Year’s Day”. This simply puts the phrase/day in line with almost every American designation for holiday greetings, save for perhaps Christmas. And wishing someone a Thoughtful or Peaceful day is a little ridiculous, or at least would get Americans to look askance at you.

They asked me to come down and watch the parade
and to march down the street like the Duracell bunny
with a wink and a wave from the cavalcade
throwing out candy that looks like money…

It’s not that I don’t have hope for the new year of 2008, or even the new year day of 1/1/2008. See? But there’s something a little bit off right now, and it feels important to detect what that is. The TV is telling me it’s the Year of the Rat, though they note that this doesn’t get underway till February 7th. It makes me look up to the television to see tens of American girls whose lives are peaking at this moment. Their televised appearance in formal gowns and dresses, high atop flower-adorned vehicles, will be the highlight of lives specifically designed to aspire to the life of a princess. They will never be closer than today. And when you ask them along the course of the next 30 or 50 years, they will mention their marriage (until it goes sour) or the birth of their child (until they rebel), and it will probably not be till 2067 or so that they turn over in their aging recliner and whisper softly to their granddaughter that “Don’t tell your mother, but the day I was in that parade was the best day of my life. My whole future was in front of me and I could’ve been something or done something. Promise me, promise me now that you’ll do something different.” And the granddaughter, age 7 (or maybe realistically it’s a great-granddaughter, with the speed that most Rose Parade highschool queens run at) will blink and promise and have no idea what grandma is talking about and go watch a movie about princesses and sigh softly to themselves.

But today, Miss Wherever, enjoy it. I can see that the biggest thing you’re concerned about is worrying whether you’re being too ardent or too reserved in your exact waving technique. By the end of the parade, you will have resigned yourself to however you have the stamina to acknowledge the crowd, but for now the anxiety about proper waving technique is probably ruining at least half your happiness on what you will look back on as the pinnacle, the apex, the Best Day of Your Life.

The day that they told me the best way to be part of the Wheel of Fortune crowd, and maybe even get called to play on Wheel of Fortune, was to demonstrate mindless, even vapid enthusiasm during the taping of the show was a big one for my perception of the world. It came another step full-circle when Emily & I, together with some of the Garin clan, attended a taping of The Price is Right 5 years ago. Now as I listen to the commentary, I am reminded how much of the world has this mandatory vapidity check at the door. Even CNN, still wearing its “most trusted name in news” label that was accurate in the mid-90’s, has hired an army of smiling toned young people to convey the collapse of various aspects of the planet with a smile and a nod to advertisers and the incredibly insipid tactic of faking impromptu conversation between anchors. Reading informal inter-anchor dialogue off a teleprompter must be one of those truly surreal experiences for its participants.

I’d say it’s a sight that’s quite worth seeing
it’s just that everyone’s interest is stronger than mine

This post is starting to feel more like fragments of a story than any sort of nonfiction presentation of the realities of my (or other’s) life. I’m sure the story has been written already and maybe in many ways, probably often with a strange moment of seeming redemption where the person who has devoted their life to the false prophets of fame and fortune quietly accepts their role as a middle-income middle-interest middleton who can be Happy Just the Way They Are. Alternately, maybe one of them has the ending I would write, where they spend one afternoon or dark night of the soul facing everything they’ve committed to and believed in and then, just before dusk or dawn, decide to willingly (metaphorically) gouge their own eyes out with a pitchfork, and undertake a dedicated regimen of controlled-substance-consumption, or obsessive collection of Pokemon cards or beanie babies, or maybe setting a goal for themselves of sleeping with as many people as possible before they die. And then, if we’re going for maximal irony, even this wanton goal is upended by either some unexpected death or even more damningly a small but important reminder of their “real life obligations” that puts them right back where they were at the beginning of the story, spending almost the entirety of their days quieting the voices of disappointment in the back of their head.

This is the point in the narrative where I usually feel strongly impelled to write some trite reassurance to my friends and cohorts that I am not actually feeling this dark and melancholy, and that sometimes I let my mind run away with my emotions and wind up in a place that I don’t really feel. I’m going to go ahead and take a pass on that opportunity.

It’s not that I’m chronically unhappy, or even particularly unhappy at this point in my life. (Dammit, this isn’t taking a pass after all.) It’s just that being thoughtful about the human experience, especially in the happiness-obsessed nation called the United States of America, always leads me to a realization of just how short we are of the way things should be. And observing this shortness, exploring it, trying to absorb it and put it on display, this process looks very sad. It is, however, deeply hopeful in the end. One could give up, stop caring, decide that humanity/America/vapid individuals are not worth saving, and then turn away and write about something “happier”. My sadness is my hope. My anger is my clinging to this planet and its meaning. I know Elliot is sponsoring this post, but I feel like I need to shout “If you’re not angry, you’re just stupid, you don’t care” from the rooftops most days.

I wonder if Elliot Smith and Ani DiFranco ever met. They seem finely attuned to have one of those profound love-hate relationships that leads to torrid romance, incredible blowout fights, and ultimately some sort of suicide pact.

and when I traded a smoke for a food stamp dollar
a ridiculous marching band started playing
and got me singing along with some half-hearted victory song

I’m working on longer pieces (outside the bounds of this blog) about the nature of rite and ritual and how our personal desire to fill our lives with such lead to us slowly carving meaning out of our lives with a spoon. Today, I think my take-home message about New Year’s is about the problems with its rituals and traditions. The entire point of a New Year is to embrace the new, the unexpected, that which we can change. And yet what defines 12/31 and 1/1 for people? Doing the same thing over and over again. The same toasts, watching the same shows. Followed by the same morning and the same (you guessed it) Rose Parade.

I was personally soaring at the idea that our TV somehow couldn’t get Dick Clark’s special last night, given that it’s both (A) a three-hour-old broadcast appearing on tape and (B) the exact same thing every single year, for years on end. All of these traditions proudly talk about being the 94th Rose Bowl or the 119th Rose Parade or Dick Clark’s 35th New Year’s Rockin’ Eve. How can it be reassuring to do the exact same thing every year to embrace a brand new year of opportunity and possibility? Why not make it a tradition to do something you’ve never done every single year?

Emily and I got into a bit of a fight about how overt I was in my opposition to watching an East-Coast broadcast. But really, I can think of very few relatively trivial things that get me so profoundly angry as West-Coasters starting their new year by watching a three-hour-old taped film of what happened in New York City. I mean, blind-rage, literally-seeing-the-things-in-front-of-me-with-a-tinge-of-red-that-must-be-some-sort-of-squeezed-blood-entering-my-eyeballs angry. The entire point of observing a new moment, a turning over, a changing, and actually seeing something that happened far away, three hours ago, and is not really happening now (or even close to now) and this being the seminal moment of change and turning. I feel my soul frothing at the mouth just thinking about it.

And yes, I hear you. The New Year moment itself is no more meaningful, really, than any other second. After all, in my very last post I decried New Year’s Resolutions as getting in the way of valuable and important change 98.08% of the time. But symbols and metaphors and emblems are important and do have a certain weight or value. After all, this whole planet, really, is just an exercise in metaphor. And so that moment of crossover, of turning, is an important reminder that we’re living a complicated life with an open future and that we have an incredible amount of control over the future that we create for ourselves.

There are still hours left in your New Year’s Day. Go do something different. Don’t start a new tradition, but do something important you’ve never done on a New Year’s Day. Embrace the open future symbolized by the four numbers 2, 0, 0, 8.

Thoughtful New Year.


Snow Chance

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, From the Road, Keepin' it Cryptic, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Tags: , , ,

It’s the last day of the year called 2007. I am the last one awake in a cabin at Shaver Lake, California. Most all of the Garin Clan is here, save one component family. It is late, and there are less than 24 hours remaining in this annum.

I am writing mostly to check in. It’s been a difficult last few weeks of the year, and this blog in particular has demonstrated that with sparse updates which bear out the frustration of the time. Being sick was debilitating and working through it doubly so. Wrestling with the nature of my job and some of the people I work with wrecked much of my motivation to create or explain.

There is hope, as there always must be, for 2008. There’s a reason we pile the expectant and expected holidays in the middle of winter, and it has very little to do with the weather. Here indeed, we came for the snow, but there is little about. You can call it global warming, but the snow in Boston was allegedly record-breaking for December, they tell me. There’s a reason that people started calling global warming “climate change” instead. The mistake that the last 12 generations of weather-doomsayers made was predicting that things would go in one direction or the other. Saying that things will go in both directions saves us from any contrary evidence. Even the scientific method has been beaten back by propaganda and marketing spin. At least in 2005, everyone banked on more devastating hurricanes. That was a sure bet for 2006-7.

But nothing is sure, as that does a pale job of illustrating. This was meant to be a personal check-in and I’m already off on my high horse about political issues. And ones most of you don’t agree with me on, to boot. That’s no way to end a year. Maybe I’ve forgotten how to write these things. Or maybe the laptop in a foreign house is just no place to be coming back to a familiar venue.

My Dad and I have a running debate about how many units of housing there are per person in the United States. Or, hopefully, the debate is about how many people there are per housing unit. I guess that’s part of the debate. Regardless, it has occurred to me already on this trip that we have utterly forgotten vacation rentals, timeshares, and other such pseudo-units in calculating the equation. How, after years of Pismos and Aspen (PIRG) and a couple cabins at Shaver (Garins), not to mention an entire childhood on the Oregon coast (Seaside) this factor eluded me is beyond me. But it’s not beyond me anymore – vacation rentals must be a huge part of the equation. Em said NPR told her it was in the “high millions” a few days back. Borrowed housing, borrowed time. It’s a great opportunity, like “being in the Real World” noted one of the Clan as we entered the house. Most of my readers won’t need the explanation that this was a reference to a TV show. The Real World is a TV show. Being there is like being on TV. Are we getting somewhere?

Of course the real world is not a TV show, and little could be less like a TV show than the real world (Brandzel’s theory of my life duly excepted). But that pioneer of reality television has brought us an ever-cascading series of series that package the life of aspiration into narrower and more expensive boxes for people. It’s not to say that what we’re doing here (here, as in at the cabin) isn’t great, but it gets me thinking late into the night. How long has the American economic bubble of housing and consumerism been kept afloat by houses intended only for brief visits? And where do these fall in the overall picture as it slides down the screen?

Already three legs into what I tongue-in-cheekily dubbed the EmStor Winter World Tour 2007-2008, I realize I’ve reported on naught so far. It’s been a whirl of hellos and goodbyes, lights on trees and in bags and in skies and on screens. I can no more recount the details on this particular night than I can attempt to sum up the year that falters and fades this very eve. I will say I have had a great time so far and expect much more. That goes for the Tour and the year, and perhaps every day therein.

My expectations rarely are as well developed as they are on this particular cusp. I think it comes with getting older, being a little more conservative, feeling like on has a little more to lose and things to really hope for. I guess that’s the opposite of at least part of the popular perception, but it’s where I’ve been for awhile. Youth is as free as the openness of the future, which tends toward the vast. With age comes a more finite vision, and that specificity lends itself to careful prodding of the future, squeezing it and shaking it like so many wrapped gifts, and having something fixed in mind when tearing open the package. Watching my nieces and nephew this Christmas, I was reminded of my own time when I simply tore at the package in blind blank anticipation of what lay within, letting the surprise hit me at once instead of feeling it out.

I’m sort of walking away from a chance to do that now (or technically soon), instead choosing the more sedate (but wiser?) method of analyzing, holding on, weighing, and deciding. There’s no telling whether that’s the right call (and this fact, in itself, gives me a bit of that bald open future rush), but I feel confident that this is the decision that leaves me the least likelihood of immediate and irreparable regret. What a sad standard that is. It sounds so safe, so sedentary, so moderate. But I used to weigh debates by the better worst-case scenario. And how better to view that than through regret? And yes, I must dance this cryptic dance a few more days until someone gives me the official signal to speak. But many of you know already.

I think this post may exhaust every category I have for this blog. At the very least, it’s exhausting me a bit. Or maybe that’s just my age, or the significance of a year (which I’ve always revered), or the cancer seeping into my legs from this laptop.

You already know I don’t look to 2008 with the aura of political hope. Many do, and I bid you all the best of luck. How you will react to the inevitable crowing of Queen Hillary I from the House of Clinton remains to be seen. Had two royal families ever conspired to take turns with each other and steal the word “demos” from the Greeks, we may never have had experiments in voting and the current widespread form of government in the Western world. But they weren’t as clever as the modern plutocrats, and so we get to test the experiment a little late in the day. I think anyone who knows me knows why I can’t stand Hillary Clinton (well beyond the royalty thing). She will probably start as many unending wars as her predecessor, combining the general Bush/Clinton hawkishness with a unique desire to prove that women aren’t “weak”. And her ability to prove that being someone’s wife is a higher credential than any other experience, leadership, or character for a woman….? That will set everyone back a good few decades.

Whether she gets to kick around Mike Huckabee or Mitt Romney or Rudy Giuliani will probably not be decided till summer, or whenever the Republicans are having their convention. While Hillary will lock things up with a 5-point outright win in Iowa (she has a role-model martyr without having to die, after all), the Republicans are facing a scenario I first anticipated over a year ago with all of the colliding early primaries. They seem almost destined to have the first undecided (read: meaningful) convention since the infamous Chicago ’68 sham put on by the Democrats. Rudy’s fading and the Huckster’s coming on strong, and Mitt may enter the convention with the most delegates but the startling reality that the Republicans will never ever nominate a Mormon to be their horse. The party bosses are most likely to close in behind Giuliani, depending on how 9/11-crazed people are and just how many decomposing corpses are exhumed from Rudy’s closet. Huckabee will possibly be standing out as a clean bit of contrast and the only mainline traditional Republican in the bunch, so he could end up with it. But McCain has enough followers and Thompson enough watchers to almost guarantee that this convention will see no one close to the magic number going in. It will be exciting to watch, and even more interesting to see the various implosions of the party as they try to consolidate and can’t and end up spending months running 2-3 people against Queen Hillary I.

The most interesting thing to see will be whether the Republicans, after the shellacking of ’08, will be able to convince King Jeb I to return the favor King Bill I dealt King George I and jump in 4 years early in ’12. Unlikely, though… it’s far more dignified to let the monarchs have 8 years to reign. Even if it turns out the way King George II did.

So, no, my hope for ’08 is not political in nature. It is wrapped up instead with projects and possibilities, travel and even turmoil. 2007 has been good, but has felt like a long extended period of practice. 2008 will hopefully feel a bit more of a game. With any luck, that would leave 2009 as the beginnings of a real showcase or tournament.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. I don’t really do resolutions, being open to the future and all. Anyway, if a resolution occurs to you, you should probably start doing it right away if it’s a good one. Which means that only 1/52nd of the time that really leads to a New Year’s Resolution. Anyway, the last thing I need is to be making more commitments and promises at a time like this. Let’s just agree to hope for today and leave it at that.

Keep checking back, because I really owe you more details. As they say on the TV shows, “stay tuned”…


Winter World Tour 2007-2008

Categories: A Day in the Life, Keepin' it Cryptic, Pre-Trip Posts, Quick Updates, Tags: , , ,

As I’ve often been known to say, change is the only constant. This has perhaps never felt more true than this week, which is simply over-brimming with upheaval and possibility. Forget ungainly metaphors about baby steps and windows and doors. Every door and window in the whole house has burst open and is flooding. Equal parts elation, nervous apprehension, and general anticipation.

As I told one of my assistants today, “I am an emotional ocean.”

Sadly many of the details are not public yet and I do still have to try to play ball with a world that thinks privacy is not an outdated relic. So it goes. What I can announce, however, is the EmStor 2007-2008 Winter World Tour.

I feel like we should have a corporate sponsor. Y’know, if I weren’t a Non-Profiteer and believed in that sort of thing.

The EmStor 2007-2008 Winter World Tour

21-25 December 2007

Albuquerque, NM

Parents, Nuevo Friends

26-28 December 2007

Berkeley, CA

Work, Beth Visiting

29 December 2007
6 January 2008

Shaver Lake, CA

Cabin with the Garin Clan

7-22 January 2008

Berkeley, CA

Work, Little to Report

23 January –
10 February 2008

India & Nepal Trip

Featuring 7 hours in London, partial Garin Clan

Yeah, you read that last part right. India & Nepal. For 2.5 weeks. With a stop in London. Oh yeah.

Most all of this (and more things TBA) have just materialized in the last 48 hours. It’s kind of incredible. 2008, you are looking mighty mercurial. But exciting. Very exciting.

The downside of all this is that I have to jettison tentative plans for judging at the Brandeis 2008 debate tourney (8-9 February 2008), as I will still be in India. And I may also have to forgo a President’s Day Weekend jaunt to Chicago, though that can be delayed instead of cancelled since it’s not as temporally tied as a debate tournament. Although, who knows… maybe I’ll be up for more travel just 10 days after return. Chicago, you may make the Winter World Tour yet.

So, I’ll see you when I see you. Not a ton of these have the options of meeting up with people that, say, Boston & Chicago have. But certainly Albuquerque, starting tonight and for the next four days, will be a big opportunity for hanging out. Frontier, luminarias, and Pac-Man, here I come! Only 7 more work hours until almost non-stop holiday fun of one kind or another…


The Beat(ing) Goes On

Categories: A Day in the Life, Quick Updates, Tags: ,

I am still sick. Quite sick, in fact. No more sick, perhaps, but certainly no less.

Today, possibly, my head will clear enough for me to begin a deluge of posts that, like so much nasal discharge, has been welling up in me for the past 9 days.


My voice is shot. I lost it fully once, for nearly 48 hours. It came back. I then lost it, functionally, for 3 or 4 days. I’ve been fighting it, persisting, forcing it to do my bidding at work and through Fish’s visit, but the larynx is waving a white flag. It is done.

The doctors (since I know you’re asking) analyzed this as allergies exacerbated by a possible cold. They assigned me to take something that wouldn’t show results for 2-3 months. I don’t think feeling like this is going to be viable for 2-3 months, but I’m hoping the idea that this will go away before that date is implied.

The most important day of the entire year at my division of my workplace was Friday. The second most important is Monday. The third most important was Thursday. So I have been persisting, enduring, and blowing out my voice further.

I guess I have always been a little sickly, a little prone to colds and ear infections especially. Anything which gives me the deeply reviled sore throat. My larynx took a beating throughout high school and especially college. I probably lost my voice once a semester on a debate weekend. I tended to have an excellent (maybe undefeated) in-round record with a lost voice and something like an omnidefeated out-round record with same. They are different worlds, and in the latter one is expected to project to an audience beyond the judge, partner, and opponents. Or maybe judges felt a little twinge in the back of their mind during out-rounds: if he loses, he can stop debating and get some rest.

Rest doesn’t really help this one. I feel very tired most of the time, but lying down upsets the careful balance of sinus/nasal/eustachian canals and prompts one side or the other to hurt badly and everything to get clogged. It takes about 45 minutes to recover from the intense pain of having lied down. At least I can sleep now, unlike the first 48 hours of this thing.

So I must be getting better. Just older. As one ages, one’s body starts reminding one of its existence. I think I’ve lived a life as oblivious to my body as possible, except when facing obviously risky situations (e.g. riding bicycles, swimming). I don’t think of myself as corporeal, and the more I have to, the more weighed down I feel by existence. And sometimes plain freaked out. But more and more (I know, I’m not yet even 28), my body will say Hello. Or yelp for Help. And it will take longer, longer, longer to recover from illness. Many people, one who I work with closely, in their 40’s and 50’s seem to take weeks to recover from colds. Sometimes literally months. It’s unimaginable, but it seems to be the future.

It could be worse. But I’m really ready for it to be better.

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