31 October, 2008

Welcome to Hell

On this All Hallows Eve in Florida we are beginning the steep, hellish descent into the infamous Republican 72 hour pre-election horror story. It's going to be especially unpleasant in this important battleground state, with 27 electoral votes to the winner. The only thing in mom's mailbox today? A handful of fear-mongering fliers against Sen. Obama from the Republicans and various special interest groups. Nearly ever commercial on television tonight have been political attack adds, my "favorite" featuring a menacing voice-over as the camera creeps towards a framed photo of Obama and his former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Yeah, they went there. Playing the socialist/radical/leftist card? Check. Playing the race card? Check. Playing the red state versus blue state, us versus them card? Check. Playing the fear card? Check. Actual positive, policy-centered arguments supporting McCain? They'll get back to you on that. From here until Tuesday it's going to be ugly, swinging hard towards the now infamous Rove-ian tactics. How will I cope? By wading into alligator-infested waters, because big reptiles are far better creatures and make better company than political operatives. I'm going down to the south-west edge of the Everglades, one of the most unique, beautiful and most endangered ecosystems on the planet, to go kayaking in the peace and quiet of the mangroves and go slogging through the cypress and sawgrass. It's a small remainder of an ancient watershed that has so far managed to persist despite our best efforts to divert, drain and destroy it. Looking out over the expanses of sawgrass dotted with cypress hammocks I am always reminded of the subtlety of Japanese landscape paintings. The place can be so subtle that it annoys the average tourist, used to more "grand" national parks like Yosemite; they whine and complain that there's "nothing to see," completely blind to everything in front of them. We're going to a more remote area thankfully and the loudest sounds should be ospreys, herons, the sound of my paddle in the water.

I need this. Tuesday's going to be a long night. (sigh)
PS: Never to be forgotten, R.I.P. Studs. One of our true greats.

30 October, 2008

Go Broward!

South Florida is not a bastion of cutting-edge thinking. Maybe it's our proximity to the Bermuda Triangle, but this place can be crazy-making, especially when it comes to politics. So the story I just heard really surprised and thrilled me. The Broward County School District - the city of Ft. Lauderdale is in Broward - managed to register about 3,600 eligible students to vote and during this weeks early voting used field trip funds to bus students to the polls to give them a chance to vote. Nobody forced them to register with a particular party and the district broke no laws, so don't even try to paint it as something nefarious. Young and new voters are important groups in this election. What a great way to help students get into the process. The students interviewed, proudly showing off their "I Voted!" stickers, said the same and said they might not have registered and voted if not for their schools' assistance. One of the school board members believes Broward is the only school district in the country to have done this. I hope he's wrong about that and that Broward's success can be replicated nationwide in future elections.


29 October, 2008


In the U.S. these days there are more than a few things to bring out the raging pessimist in the best of us. Even many children, as much as I love them, can be a bit disappointing with their pleading that reading gives them headaches, against playing outdoors and lack of curiosity. However, not all of them are lost.

My mother, former classroom teacher and now media specialist, helped organize a civics project for third, fourth and fifth grade students at her school. Since the beginning of the school year she's worked with the classes on issues related to the election and civics. Don't freak Fox News, she's not indoctrinating! They talked about issues, candidates, how the students and their families feel they will be effected and what they want. One class hammered my mother with a slew of theoretical situations in a discussion on how you qualify for citizenship by birth: "What if your mother is a citizen, your father isn't, but you're born on an airplane over the ocean coming to the U.S.?" Students were encouraged to talk with their parents and to read and bring in articles on the campaign. Many did, filling a bulletin board with news and opinion articles they read and reported on, using comments from their parents as starting points for class discussions. Students were asked tough questions about issues and asked to think critically - something almost lost in our training to the test educational system. In recent weeks, students wrote a letter to either Sen. Obama or Sen. McCain; the choice was theirs and they were encouraged to write for themselves, not their parents. Monday the school will hold their own election. Teachers will use that to teach everything from math to history.

My mother was in charge of copying the letters (for school archives) and sending them to the two candidates. Some of the letters featured the beautifully non-linear thinking of children and didn't quite manage to make a point. Some were achingly real: "My parents can't afford gas/food/to keep me in aftercare." All were incredibly sincere and impressive for a group of elementary school students. I don't know if it means anything, but far more students wrote to Sen. Obama, based on the weight of the envelopes. A few of the letters to McCain actually attacked his position on the issues. It'll be interesting to see if the school gets any kind of response.

All the kids are interested in seeing if the results Monday come close to the results on Tuesday. To have children so involved in and aware of what's going on, asked to really consider the candidates and the issues and to watch them get so excited about the process has given me hope. I hope, in the future, we can turn education away from training and back towards critical thinking. For now, I'm pinning my hopes on these kids.


28 October, 2008


I tell you! People these days! You risk a major international incident by flaunting international law and invading another country to go after an al-Qaeda operative to help out the neighboring country, and the operative's home country, which you also invaded and how do the folks in that initially invaded country show their gratitude? They denounce you. Imagine that. Shocking. I say you pack up your toys and go home in a snit forthwith.


27 October, 2008


In case you've not heard, there seems to be some sort of election in eight days. I know, I know: "Who knew?" All you have to do is vote. Simple. I've done it and so can you...well, most of you. If you can, do. Otherwise, for the next four years at least, I'll kindly ask you keep your mouth shut because you will have squandered your voice. Don't just complain about things. DO something.
And, trust me - Palm Beach County voter speaking here - every vote counts. Or, at least the supervisor of elections here got in some practice recently with a triple recount in a judicial race. Fingers crossed Florida will somehow be surpassed on electoral screw-ups this time! (sigh)


26 October, 2008

U.S. Raid on Syria?

UPDATE (10/29): I was a little curious about this myself...

I am very concerned about news just breaking here on MSNBC claiming that U.S. forces entered Syria from Iraq yesterday via helicopter and killed 9 people in a raid on a building in the town of Sukariya, about 10 miles from the Iraqi border. The U.S. military is not confirming anything yet. With only 9 days left until national elections here, you have to question the timing of such an operation and wonder how this might effect this could have on the election, not to mention recent Turkish-mediated Syrian-Israeli negotiations, British-Syrian talks, a host of issues in Iraq, the status of Iraqi refugees currently in Syria and the broader Middle East. Syrian officials in Damascus have called the American Charge d'Affairs in to explain the whole thing. Not sure how the Syrians will respond, but given a number of factors don't expect things to go boom. I guess somebody decided that since the Pakistanis have not responded with violence (at least not towards US troops) to our cross-boarder raids from Afghanistan, though to say they are not happy with them is a rank understatement, the same thing would work just fine in Iraq. One more time neo-cons and fans, Iraq is not Afghanistan and no country takes kindly to other countries ignoring their territorial sovereignty. Not a way to win friends and influence, people.