Monday, November 15, 2004

Another Break from Reality - My Report from The Lord of the Rings Oscar Party, 2004

I have a bunch of started-not-finished projects at my Web site. Notably, I've been taking lots of digital photos over the last two years, and it's my intention to put a selection of them up at my Web site. Well, I should say that most of them are already at my Web site, but I haven't added any commentary to them.

Tonight, I finally finished writing about going to Hollywood last February for Return of the One Party, the Oscar watching party for Lord of the Rings fans. So that's one trip report down, and about another six to go!

Sunday, November 14, 2004

A Break from Reality - Some Recent Movie-going

Between lots of travel and the election, I didn't really go to the movies very much this fall. I think the last movie I saw in a theater between summer and November 6 was Garden State, which I liked quite a lot. I've more than made up for that over the last week, having seen The Incredibles, I <Heart> Huckabees, Alfie, and Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason. And, over the next week (or whever they reach Pittsburgh), I plan to see Kinsey, Finding Neverland and Sideways. I might even drive across town to see Vera Drake as I'm a longtime fan of Imelda Staunton and Mike Leigh.

I have to admit that while all of the movies I've been to were watchable and diverting (probably necessary given life's recent stresses!), none were as good as they could have been, which was frustrating. All of the movies more style over substance, but they also lacked something in style.

The Incredibles was great to look at and had well-cast voices. I loved hearing Holly Hunter as an animated character-that was long overdue. But it wasn't nearly as sharp as, say Shrek, and devolved into a few too many chase sequences.

I <Heart> Huckabees sounded like a wonderful idea (I love weird movies), but it didn't hold up to the high standards of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. If you like Jude Law and Naomi Watts, it's worth seeing because both turn in excellent performances. But the lead, Jason Schwartzman, didn't give any evidence of actually acting in this movie - he just sort of schlepped on through. And both the script and the direction go in some curious directions.

Alfie, Alfie, Alfie...Jude Law was a great Alfie. But the movie just didn't work. The melancholy level felt much higher in the remake than in the original. The women were mostly cyphers.

The Bridget Jones sequel had reviews that were all over the place, edging more on the negative side. I liked it, though it wasn't quite as sharp as the first movie (which I'd liked quite a lot). The director general had an interesting visual sense (the skydiving sequence looked glorious, as did most of the Thai photography), but then lost her way (the skiing sequence) at times.

I was at the first-ever Pittsburgh Creative Nonfiction Literary Conference this weekend. I was reminded of how much I enjoy this particular genre and how much I enjoy talking with its proponents. I even got a book on working your way out of writer's block, which I plan to start reading soon.

Monday, November 08, 2004

When the Democrats Asked, I Answered!

Here's how I answered the Democratic post-election survey

1. How did you participate in this election?

I worked hard for John Kerry by volunteering in July, doing database work and helping out at several rallies. On election day, I was a poll watcher for

I gave several hundred dollars to Democratic candidates and progressive 527s this year.

I created a number of Web sites, including:

I voted and made sure my husband and daughter did, too (my husband always votes, but this was the first time our 24 year old daughter had voted in a federal election).

2. Is this the first time you participated in election activism?

No. I worked for a moderate Republican Congressional candidate in Massachusetts in 1974 (who was doing well until Nixon resigned) and for a Democratic state rep candidate in Pennsylvania in 1996 (who also lost).

I also worked some for Clinton in 1996. I would have worked for Clinton in 1992 and for Gore in 2000 if I'd had the time.

I've been giving money, almost always to Democratic candidates, since about 1984, but usually no more than $100 total over the course of the year. When I lived in Massachusetts I donated to Kerry's campaign so I've been on his mailing list for a very long time!

3. How would you like to continue to stay involved? (Volunteering, phonebanking, fundraising, local organizing, etc.)

I will keep up with Web sites. In the wee hours of November 4, I bought the domain, a Web site dedicated to seeing Rick Santorum be defeated in 2006. I'll also keep the "facts" Web sites updated.

I'm going to attend local meetings of Democracy for America in Pittsburgh.

I've volunteered to Americans United for Separation of Church and State to look into starting a Pittsburgh local chapter.

I'm willing to do work for the Democratic party. I'm a registered Independent, but am considering switching to the Democratic party given my general disgust at the behavior of the current Republican party.

I would like to try to get activist groups to rethink their use of databases. It's 2004 - we should be using databases much more smartly than I generally saw us using databases. I did like Bottled Lightning very much and thought it was an effective tool.

I would also like to work with people to make sure that elections are fairly run. There are still some outstanding issues that we should continue to publicize (not enough voting machines in some areas, voter intimidation, et.c.).

4. Did you feel the actions you took were effective?

Up to a point. My town, which usually goes Republican, voted for Kerry by 1,000 votes.

5. Was it a good experience for you?

Mostly, yes. I met some terrific activists working for Kerry and working for MoveOn. I'd work for Kristina Petronka, Jonathan Lyons and Lindsay Patross any time!

Of course, the outcome was a disappointment...

6. How would you make it better?

Use databases, telephone banking and mailings more intelligently.

7. Please share other thoughts and comments you have about the 2004 election and what Democrats and the Democratic Party should do going forward.

Resist the temptation to become Republicans. I always thought Clinton had a great vision of the party - responsible government and personal responsibility.

The Republicans used to always say that the Democrats were the "tax and spend" party. However the Republicans are, more dangerously, the "spend and spend" party. The Democrats have to resist the temptation to play the "we won't tax you either" game. Instead, Democrats should talk a lot more about responsible government and taxation.

Still promote progressive ideas - health care in the richest country in the world should be more available to the working poor. Discrimination against any group is evil. Science is more important than superstition - we can only continue to be the most advanced country in the world if we promote advanced ideas.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Reflecting on America's Choices

There was a lot of doom and gloom yesterday on many of the blogs I read regularly. While I am more pessimistic about the short-term future of the country, I hope Kerry's loss will energize progressives to organize. We've done a lot over the last two years, but clearly we need to do more.

There's also beyond sour grapes about Kerry's loss on the part by some. Yes, clearly elections are still somewhat screwed up in parts of the country. This is unfortunate and needs to be fixed. But I do not believe the extent of dirty tricks in this election erased enough Kerry votes to prevent Bush's popular and electoral victory.

Here's the problem - four years ago, Bush absolutely did not get the popular vote. Florida was kind of dicey. So we had every right to be pissed off, not just at Bush but at the process.

This time, in addition to the minority and majority election judge every poll gets, there were all kinds of independent observers, from groups like MoveOn, Election Protection and from foreign countries. So while there was probably some vote fraud, and some voter intimidation, the evidence that it was pervasive just isn't there. Sorry. I'd like to say it was there. I'd like to blame it on Diebold. But I need evidence, and it just isn't there. If Diebold was doing some sort of massive fraud, someone would have noticed.

We lost, plain and simple. It's painful, but it's true. And, speaking as a person who worked hard for Kerry on this campaign, I'm disappointed. But his concession speech was because he is a realist. When I got up at 4am on November 3 and did the math, it was clear Kerry's election wasn't going to happen.

I am offended by people on the left calling Kerry a coward for conceding. He is not a coward, but he is a realist. Waiting until all the provisional ballots were counted isn't going to matter.

It doesn't mean that we shouldn't be pissed off about the election results, but it means we need to avoid too much hang-wringing and assuming Bush only won the election because it was rigged.

But here's what we've got to watch for.

For one thing, the politics of fear clearly beat out the politics of reality. That's frightening, because history shows that countries often go down the authoritarian path when the government knows that works. As clear-thinkers, we need to deal with the facts.

An oddity of our electoral map that sort of plays into the fear thing - did you notice that the states that had the highest number of 9/11 deaths (New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, California and DC (and those blue-leaning northern counties of Virginia)) all went Democratic? As many people (including Jon Stewart) have observed, the folks with more direct experience with foreign terrorism on our soil did not vote for Bush!

For another thing, the social/culture war is doing more damage to this country than the Islamist terrorists have done so far. I don't accept that I am less moral than Dick Cheney because I approve of gay marriage and birth control - I haven't used a multinational corporation to rape and pillage my government. I will never accept that my beliefs that people must be true to themselves and responsible for themselves makes me less moral.

This event has the chance to energize progessives, and if Bush and buddies behave as badly as I expect they will, it'll piss off the right-leaning moderates, too.

We need to have our eye on the 2006 elections. There are now a couple of Senators actually to the right of Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania's awful (as opposed to kinda bad) senator. We need to help Americans understand that regressive politics are very dangerous for our country (as if the war in Iraq shouldn't be enough evidence of this fact).

I'm not optimistic over the near term, but I'm not heading for Canada. Yet, anyway.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Oh Well...

I had a bad (and temporary) case of irrational exuberance yesterday afternoon. Nothing like having the rest of the vote come in to really throw cold water on my hope that we'd have a new president today.

I guess the main bad news seems to be turn out. I kept hearing and seeing that turnout was really big, and might trend towards 120,000,000 nationally. It looks more like about 116,000,000 or so voted. And the youth vote was the same 17% this year as it was four years ago. It did seem like more young people got involved, but maybe they didn't wind up voting.

It looks like it's gonna be a long four years...

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Before the Election Night (Hopefully VICTORY) Party!

I won't be blogging for a bit, as I'm going to a party.

Earlier today, I posted about possible problems in Allegheny County. The main problem seems to be about how provisional ballots are being handled. The rumor is each precinct only receiveced 12 provisional ballots. This in a year where many people's new registrations were lost or screwed up with. So that's the main screw-up - all else seems to be OK.

I went back to the polling place to pollwatch for a little longer. A new Republican showed up, she almost got hysterical with the MoveOn people ("You're not here legally!" she yelled, and was reminded by a Republican politician that we were!). She didn't last long. I think she knows they're on their way out. I HOPE!

Wow - Kerry in a Landslide?

I don't like to use the "l" word (landslide) but man oh man...

What prompts this is watching the voting in Western Pennsylvania, which is already exceeding 60% of the eligible voters voting (election officials predicted 60% total for the day, and it's not even 3:30 yet!).

I did some pollwatching for MoveOn.Org in Mt. Lebanon, a Republican suburb of Pittsburgh. There was a very steady stream of voters there all day. Only a few
glared at us (we were wearing Kerry/Edwards stickers) but most were very nice. Two Republican candidates greeted voters for nearly an hour.


As soon as the candidates left, the Republican pollwatchers (except for one) left! So for most of the afternoon, there were 2-3 Democratic pollwaters, 2-3 pollwatchers. Very interesting. We only had one person who complained about a voting irregularity (their son was in Japan, had requested an absentee ballot and never got one).

At one point, I called liberal friends around the country to find out how their voting was going. Leslie Turek was a pollwatcher in the Manchester, New Hampshire area. She reported unprecedented voter turn-out, high visibility of Kerry supporters and almost complete invisibility of Bush supporters. Peggy Thokar voted in suburban Massachusetts, and said she was voter #800(!!) at around 11:30. Marc Gordon said there were more voters than usual in northern Virginia, and John Pomeranz, also in northern Virginia, used that wonderful term "unprecented turn-out." My brother, who lives in southern Maryland, said it was quiet at 11am and they voted quickly.

I tried to reach Jim's uncle who lives in Florida, but it turned out I didn't have his number in my cell phone correctly.

It's interesting to check things on the Internet. I tried to check the blogs I always check - Talking Points isn't accessible. Taegan Goddard's Political Wire isn't accessible. Making Light isn't accessible. But the Kerry blog and daily kos were both going great guns. Hopefully they're just very busy and not having some sort of denial of service attack.

We have unplugged our phones after getting 7 recorded messages from and 2 from the local Democrats. Enough already! You can always E-mail me.

What Allegheny County Is Doing Right

As I've already voted, I want to write a bit about what was working right this morning. My earlier post was a reaction to County Executive Don Onorato's contention that very little was going wrong. While I take that with a grain of salt what he said about the newly registered, those of us who've been registered for a while shouldn't have a problem.

Jim, Leslie and I got in line at about 10 to 7 this morning. For our precinct, we were voters 5, 6, and 7. Two other precincts vote in the same location, and there were maybe about 25 people in line at 10 to 7.

The voter rolls looked easier to read, and the scanned signature of the voter from a previous vote was included. I think that's a very good idea and should help prevent fraud. Some of the records had a special text flag - either ABSENTEE or CHECK ID. I was relieved to see this, as that, too, should help prevent fraud.

We had finished voting by about 7:04. Three more votes for Kerry/Edwards!!! The line outside the voting place had grown to about 60.

Since we were so early, we didn't have to run any kind of gauntlet because none of the candidate's poll watchers were there yet!

It Looks Like New Voter Registration Is Screwed Up in Allegheny County

NBC has reported that people in Allegheny County have reported more problems voter registration problems than almost anyplace else in the country.

Map of Pennsylvania showing places reporting voter registration problems. (This map was working at about 5:30am, but died at about 5:50am - check back later because Allegheny, Westmorland and one of the Philly-area counties have many more voter registration complaints than anyplace else in the state (yes, I know they're also the highest in population).)

Our County Executive, Don Onorato, doesn't seem to think this is a real problem. He blames it on the intensity of the election.

Unfortunately, the facts will not bear this out (and I hate to say this, because Onorato is a Democrat and Allegheny County is quite Democratic).

I spent some of the summer doing volunteer work for Kerry. People were calling the office complaining that they hadn't received their voter registration receipts even though they had recently registered. We've also heard about some Republican dirty tricks (people thought they were signing a petition but their registrations were changed to Republican), and, to be fair, some Democratic dirty tricks in other parts of the state (older people being called and told that Bush would do away with Social Security).

I'm going to spend a few hours today as a MoveOn poll watcher today. I hope things will not be too screwed up, but, at least for the new voters, I'm not very optimistic. And it sounds like Onorato has his head in the sand just like Bush does with regards to problems on his watch.

If you've been registered to vote before this year, you're probably fine. If you registered to vote for the first time this year, you might not be able to vote, but please try to! If you have any receipt of any kind from when you registered, bring it with you just in case. And help the rest of us fight for a fairer, uniform voter registration system in the future. This is a complete embarrassment for a "modern" country like the US.