It’s October 11th, and it’s the Monday closest to the date Columbus landed in the New World. In Berkeley (and in some other places, too) that means it’s Indigenous Peoples Day. The city adopted the holiday back in 1992 as part of its response to the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s arrival. It set off a lot of chortling, even among some Berkeleyites; note also that Malcolm X’s birthday, May 19, and International Women’s Day, in early March, are also local holidays here; what I like about all that is it’s a real-life attempt to try to look at history from a different perspective. (And I admit that I wasn’t sorry to see Columbus knocked off his pedestal; I’ve always had a chip on my shoulder that Leif Ericsson doesn’t get enough press, though he does get an officially designated day, too — October 9).
Never mind what the president actually says during his joint appearances with Kerry: Are the words really his? I have missed out on the fever of speculation about the humplet that appears on Bush’s back in some video from his first stammering, mumbling, slurring encounter with Kerry. The Washington Post points out 1) that Bush’s people only grudgingly give a straight answer to questions about the bulge and 2) that a new site, Is Bush Wired?, is dedicated to explaining the bulge.
My question: Does it really matter. What difference does it make that Bush has a voice in his ear telling him what to say, if he does? I suppose it would confirm the view of people, like me, who have come to believe he’s some kind of idiot (emphasis on “some kind,” because I persist in believing he’s not as stupid as he looks). But I can’t really think of anything that would make my opinion of Bush lower than it already is. People who like Bush — a species of citizen with whom I’m personally unacquainted — are going to be inclined to ask why it’s a big deal even if someone’s talking into his ear. Reagan fans don’t think less of Dutch even though he nodded off in public and had to be prompted by Nancy from time to time. So why shouldn’t W get a little help, especially when he’s up against a silver-tongued intellectual like John Kerry?
Happy Birthday, Eamon (he’s celebrating his 25th birthday at Japan’s Disneyland; ust talked to him on his cellphone, and he’s waiting in line for the Peter Pan ride; he says the crowds there — it’s a holiday called P.E. Day; yes, physical education day — are really intense). Anyway, Ea-chan, I can hardly believe it’s been 25 years since I watched you born at the little cottage on Prince Street.
My friend Garth has an important and timely contribution to the national dialogue over the presidential election (see shirt, left). I couldn’t agree more. This is actually art for a T-shirt he just made up, and my very own size XL version is in the mail (though I know I may have to contend with passers-by, even here in Berkeley, who feel that this is a crude way to express one’s sentiments; and I’d probably hesitate to wear one to a Bush rally, say, or in the state of Kansas. (Speaking of Bush rallies and appropriate apparel for same, NPR did an interesting story this morning on how the president’s campaign is apparently using Secret Service agents and White House staff to hassle and intimidate people engaging in outrageous acts like wearing Kerry or pro-choice T-shirts and to keep such hooligans from attending presidential events.
Salon.com ran an excellent piece Thursday (it may be a registration required kind of thing) by a jazz pianist from Oakland who decided to volunteer for Kerry in one of the swing states. He wound up in Pennsylvania, and spent a week calling undecided voters and visiting bingo games and senior centers to talk to people. What I like about the piece is partly the passion that drove him to make the trip in the first place and partly his empathy for some of the undecided:
“What is touching about some of these undecided seniors is the responsibility they feel about collecting all the information before making a decision. ‘Well, Al and I are planning on watching the debate and reading some more and then we will probably make up our minds.’ Or ‘we just don’t know enough.’ It is the older generation’s inbred sense of the importance of a vote. It is a precious thing, to be cast with care and deliberation. Most of the seniors are leaning toward Kerry, but most are not excited by him. …
“… Elsa is 90 and undecided, although it says on the phone list that she is a registered Democrat. ‘Well, I don’t really know. I don’t like Bush, I know that.’ I ask her what she is concerned about. She hesitates and I tell her about my concerns about the war and that our young men and women are dying in a needless war. Elsa starts to cry. Her voice breaks up. ‘That’s about it … that’s what gets to me. Oh my.’
A note from the semi-nearby town of Livermore, which has a brand-new ceramic mural celebrating literary, cultural, and historic figures at the entrance to its brand-new library. Just one thing: many of the names of the past luminaries — 11 out of 175 — are misspelled. The one example I’ve seen repeatedly is “Eistein.” Now the library, which shelled out $40,000 for the work in the first place, is paying the artist another six grand plus expenses to come back out here from her home in Florida to fix the spellings. The artist says the locals are disrespecting her piece and missing the whole point: “The importance of this work is that it is supposed to unite people.” Yes, even bad spellers have a place in the human family. She continued: “They are denigrating my work and the purpose of this work.” Nevertheless, she’s going to take the money and fix the thing.
Wired News is starting a two-week series of reports on a trip down the Mississippi River by one of its writers. Having just driven a relatively short section of the river with my dad, and having had a blast doing it and writing a little about it, I’m envious.
Saw just a little bit of the Edwards-Cheney joint appearance. The last half hour or so. Actually, Cheney wasn’t as Emperor-like as I expected. And Edwards was somewhat annoying — flagrantly ignoring the questions posed, offering generalities where specifics were probably available and would have been welcome (for instance, on a question regarding the government’s proper role in combatting the relatively rapid spread of AIDS among black women in the United States, Edwards started by talking about AIDS in Africa, apparently because that was what Cheney did). Without waiting for the quick poll numbers, I’ll predict Cheney is viewed as the “winner” because he didn’t hem and haw and stammer and grimace and flinch the way W did against Kerry; and because Edwards, whom the Republicans spun as the masterful trial lawyer and therefore intimidating foe, didn’t destroy Cheney.
For SpaceShipOne’s second X Prize launch on Monday, someone gave me a VIP pass that allowed me to go pretty mucn anywhere I wanted around the event site (except to the restroom in the building where the press conference was held afterward, but that’s another story). Since I was getting the VIP treatment, I also got a bag that was about half chock full of what’s commonly referred to as swag. My swag included an X Prize hat and a bag of commemorative X Prize M&M’s (the Mars Co. came in as a sponsor after the SpaceShipOne astronaut, Mike Melvill, let go a handful of M&M’s in the cabin during the weightless portion of his flight in June). These aren’t like the M&Ms you can buy in the store. These are special-edition M&M’s: an assortment of odd colors (a sort of aqua blue, white, and gray, with green-ish printing; I’m not getting the color scheme) and they’re imprinted with a little image of a spaceship on one side and the official slogan of the event (“Go.”) on the other. They’re nifty. And if I was half as industrious as I should be, I’d have posted them for sale on eBay already (nope — nobody’s gotten to that yet, although bidding is up to $182 or something on an autographed X Prize press kit). But they are also, well, ugly. It’s the color. Red and brown and yellow and green and the rest of the traditional M&M palette I can buy. Gray, looks like you’re eating something out of an ashtray.
OK. It’s done. The launch went flawlessly. I filed my stories and think I got it right the first time through (rereading the first breaking story I filed, I actually kind of liked the way it read. It was direct and not too jazzy but still reflected the excitement I felt as the stuff was happening).
So now I’ll get ready to go back home. Maybe back up I-5, or maybe a less direct route up the east side of the Sierra or something.
But, the difficulties of breaking away from my old desk habits and actually going into the field aside, this has been a wonderful story to get to cover. My only regret is not having gotten closer to some of the key players; it’s painfully obvious out here how hard it is to get on the inside of what’s going on. Of course, Rutan is known to want to keep reporters at arm’s length; also, by the time I was working on the story, the project had drawn a lot of attention, the Discovery Channel filmmakers had gotten the real inside track, and I was just one among hundreds of people to descend on the scene of the action. Lesson: Get in early. Now I have to think of the story I need to get in early on.