[late-winter forward]

Today my alarm went off an hour late. I got up, made my coffee, took my shower, checked the clock to see if it was time to go, and suddenly noticed that it was 9:03, not 8:03 like it was supposed to be. I guess somehow yesterday morning as I was whacking at my alarm clock to make it please … stop … beeping!, I must have moved the alarm an hour forward.

So I called in to work and explained, and no one seemed to mind. Except that now my whole day is shifted an hour forward. I ate lunch at 1 instead of noon, I’ll have my afternoon coffee at 3 instead of 2, and I’ll go home at 6:30 instead of 5:30. It’s like I’m living in a whole different time zone, like I’ve gone to Newfoundland for the day. Maybe I should try putting on a Newfie accent.

[electronic voting]

My friend R over at Ambiguous.org has for a while been talking about the dangers inherent in new electronic voting systems, which could potentially be hacked. Well, R, you are now joined by this New York Times article:

For more than a year, [leading electronic-ballot manufacturer] Diebold … has been fighting conspiracy theories popularized on the Internet that say its Jetsons-at-the-polling-place wares serve as cover for an ongoing effort to stuff electronic ballot boxes on behalf of the Republican Party.

Diebold executives, along with outside computer security experts who are seeking to fix the voting machines, say the conspiracy theories are bunk. The company’s chief executive, Walden W. O’Dell, did not help matters, though, when he sent out a fund-raising letter for the Bush campaign last summer saying he was committed to “helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes for the president next year.”

Sure, it’s an administration with a fuzzy record on fair balloting. And sure, it’s an impossible-to-audit new voting system developed by a company committed to this administration’s reelection. But surely democracy is too precious to everyone involved for them to tweak it. So let’s all just trust the powers that be to guarantee our freedom, safety and democracy. Because the price of freedom is eternally trusting our leaders. Isn’t that how it works?

[why it matters]

Yet another reason why no set of contractual agreements can substitute for the legal protections of marriage:

[Rosie] O’Donnell said she decided to marry [long-time parnter Kelli] Carpenter, a former dancer and marketing director at Nickelodeon, during her recent trial in New York over the now-defunct Rosie magazine.

“We applied for spousal privilege and were denied it by the state. As a result, everything that I said to Kelli, every letter that I wrote her, every e-mail, every correspondence and conversation was entered into the record,” O’Donnell said. “After the trial, I am now and will forever be a total proponent of gay marriage.”

Rosie O’Donnell to Marry Girlfriend [Yahoo/AP]

[look in the last place you left it]

NASA Rover Drills Martian Rock for Water. In a related story, Alan Greenspan suggests paying for tax cuts to the rich by cutting Social Security. And in yet another related story, the United States feels a new sense of urgency in the hunt for Osama Bin Laden. (What is that, like when you have to pee and then it goes away and then it comes back again?)

Boy, our government sure is good at findin’ stuff! I bet they get that Plame leaker any day now, and also whoever’s been stealing Democratic memos in the Senate. You know, if they can take time out from defending us against queers and all that.

(And by the way, could there possibly be a better name for the Senate Seargent-at-Arms than Bill Pickle? No, there could not. I sense the ghost of Dickens past in this!)


The brewing crisis in Haiti has made the headlines in recent days, as has Bush’s reluctance to get involved militarily. But a story you almost certainly haven’t heard of — I only just learned of it myself — is the ongoing genocide in Darfur, a region of southern Sudan. Sudan’s government in Khartoum is Arabic Muslim and for decades has been waging a slow, grinding war against the black Africans in the South, who are mostly Christian or follow traditional tribal religions. The war has gained some attention among right-wing Christians in the U.S. who sympathize with their beleaguered brethren, and antislavery groups have made some noise about the horrific human trafficking that goes on, as blacks from the south are sold to Arabs in the north in a trade that most of us imagine ended by the 18th or 19th century. (A while back I read that singer Perry Farrell went to Sudan and put on an impromptu concert for a group of freed slaves.) But the Sudanese civil war has never made much impact with the mainstream American press.

While trekking in Nepal I met an Irish woman, Louise, who’d worked with an NGO in the region, helping to build schools and clinics. She told me that they build two of everything; that way, after the Sudanese army comes flying over in its aging Soviet Antonov airplanes and throwing bombs out the windows, you still have one school and one clinic left over. The war goes endlessly on because the Sudanese government does not want to give up its oil-rich territory in southern Sudan.

If America truly believed in bringing democracy to the oppressed, Sudan would be a fine place to do it. Its military is weaker than Iraq’s was, and the government’s crimes are current and glaringly obvious. But we don’t, because our government is concerned neither with spreading freedom nor with protecting Americans. As far as I can tell, our current regime is largely interested in increasing the power and wealth of its leaders. And so, despite our professed desire to spread democracy and defeat terror, Sudan remains completely off the radar.

[he’s gone and done it]

A lot of people seemed surprised when the president of the United States declared today that he is backing a constitutional amendment to define marriage as between a man and a woman. But no one should be surprised. This is not a president who concerns himself with individual rights, and this is not an administration that wastes time on empathy for those whose views it does not share. Should we be shocked to learn that the administration that insisted on taking the White House despite losing the general election, then gave us the Patriot Act, the Guantanamo imprisonments, and perhaps 15,000 Iraqi dead, is now looking to enshrine discrimination in the Constitution?

For a lot of people, gay marriage is not an easy issue. I have a hard time understanding why, but I recognize that many Americans are deeply uncomfortable with the extension of the term “marriage” to homosexual unions, even when they are willing to countenance civil unions that provide the same rights. Americans were also uncomfortable with miscegenation, but we now recognize that the laws prohibiting interracial marriage were wrong and immoral.

Some argue that this is different — that while race is inescapable, there is nothing that requires an individual to enter into a homosexual union. But there was never anything that required people to enter into interracial unions, either — nothing but love and individual desire and the sacred right of each person to decide for herself when she has found the person she wants to marry and share her life with.

As with the random imprisonment of Arab-Americans and legal Arab visitors, as with the Patriot Act’s provisions for spying and harrassment, as with so much that this president has done, what we have here is a struggle between collective squeamishness and individual freedom. And as usual, George Bush Jr. has come down in favor of fomenting mass nervousness at the expense of personal rights.

Why would anyone expect any better?

[democratic wedgies]

The Republicans have been taking a bit of a beating lately. But I’m beginning to think they’re just sharpening their wedges to divide the Democratic party from centrist swing voters.

The first wedge is already being deployed to ensure that Kerry, not John Edwards, gets the nomination. By engaging Kerry in a bit of sparring, the Bushies have made it seem like Kerry is already the nominee while diverting media attention from Edwards. The Republicans think they can beat Kerry, who has leaned left for most of his Senate career. Edwards, by contrast, has so little record that there is nowhere to attack him, and his populist message and folksy Southern style undercut Bush’s similar charms. Our political system is perverse enough to make Edwards’s inexperience an advantage, just as Bush’s was in 2000, and the Governator’s in 2003.

I imagine Republicans rubbing their hands with glee as they watch gay marriage sashaying into the center of the national debate. Much as I would like to see gay marriage legalized and gender-based discrimination eliminated from our legal system once and for all, a recent CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll found that a mere 32 percent of Americans share my view, while 64 percent believe that “marriages between homosexuals … should not be recognized by the law as valid.” A Democratic candidate might bridge that gap by saying something like, “While I support gay rights, I believe that each state must make its own decision.” But I fully expect Kerry to alienate both supporters and opponents of gay marriage with some sort of tortured locution, followed by a retraction, followed by a counter-retraction.

Republicans are likewise drooling over the prospect of a national debate about Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, who was thrown out of office after he violated a U.S. Supreme Court order to remove a giant statue of the Ten Commandments from the courthouse steps. CNN/USA Today/Gallup found that a mere 19 percent of Americans dug that little decision by the Supremes, while a whopping 77 percent disapproved. A similar poll found that 70 percent of Americans would approve of a display of the Ten Commandments in a school or public building, but only 33 percent would approve of a monument with a verse from the Koran.

Guess what, folks? We live in a Christian country.

Democrats need to realize — and accept — that most of this country disagrees with them on religious and social issues. Bill Clinton was able to lead because he veered to the center (or the right), angering many long-suffering Democrats who wonder why their party has gone limp on traditional liberal social values, including strong separation of church and state and vigorous defense of minority rights. The answer, in part, is that these views simply don’t jibe with what America believes. We live in a country whose majority is still of the opinion that the world was created by God in six days and that the Devil is real. Like it or not, America is a Christian polity with conservative Protestant values that have always clashed with our egalitarian and libertarian strains. Democrats will win not by railing against those tendencies, but by sharing in the small-c-conservative values of honesty, fiscal responsibility, fair dealing and compassion — concepts the Bushies barely even acknowledge as existing. America may not be ready for gay marriage, but it’s ready for honest leadership, a balanced budget, help for those who are suffering in this economy, and a foreign policy tempered by compassion and wisdom.

Please keep all that in mind when you cast your primary vote.

[tongue sandwich]

A New York moment:

Today during the lunch rush in a deli near Union Square, I watched an Indian counterman banter with customers in English, then do it just as well with other customers in Spanish. Then his Hispanic comrade, who was on the phone, leaned in to ask, “Yo, pita bread issoyo?” Issoyo is Korean for “have.”

“No,” responded the first counterman. “We’re all out.”

In other words, I just watched an Indian and a Hispanic using a mix of English and Korean to talk business. In Manhattan.

I love this city.

[zen and the art of office drudgery]

I don’t like my job, but there are days when I find it tolerable and days when it makes me want to rip the heads off of cute furry things and scream like Howard Dean after a bad caucus. Today was one of those days.

The problem comes down to the fact that I have three bosses. There is the Director of Marketing (we’ll call her Boss #1); then there’s the man who hired me (Boss #2), who is nebulously in charge of the marketing department, but less in charge than Boss #1. And then there’s the woman they hired (Boss #3) who is in charge of my little subgroup within marketing, and who is theoretically the person I report to. (There’s also a Senior Vice-President of Marketing, but she just gives me restaurant tips.) Having one boss is bad enough, as those of you lucky enough to be employed already know. Having three bosses who don’t talk to each other enough is like living one of those nightmares where you can’t find the bus to the airport.

So for the last, oh, three months or so, I’ve been hard at work (between bouts of web-surfing, granted, but still) developing a style guide for the marketing department. It’s been a complex process, but at last it was nearing completion. Two weeks ago I had a draft ready, which I handed out to all of the people in my subgroup, as well as to each of my three bosses, and then I went to work incorporating the edits they gave me.

Then on Thursday afternoon Boss #3 shows up at my desk and asks me how the Style Guide is going. I make the mistake of telling her it’s basically done, which leads into my suddenly needing to print the 200-page fucker and get our production department to make 20 copies for mailing to all marketing staff nationwide on Friday. I spent the rest of the evening and most of this morning in a pitched battle with Microsoft Word, struggling to the death over the matter of cross-references in the headers. But at last Demon Word was vanquished, the document was printed, the copies were made, the envelopes addressed and handed over to the mail room.

Five minutes later I’m paged by Boss #1, who has decided that the Style Guide can’t go out because half of it isn’t a style guide at all, but rather a procedure manual. And we wouldn’t want to mix up our styles with our procedures, would we? Because after all, Boss #1, in her copious spare time, is developing her own Procedure Manual. This has apparently been the case for as long as anyone can remember, though no one has ever seen a draft of this manual. Which is why Boss #2 (remember him?) was pushing throughout this process to get all this procedure stuff in there. (The fine distinction is one I’m still trying to work out, and will probably spend the next six weeks exploring to nightmarish depth.)

And so I rush to the mail room and retrieve the copies.

Then Boss #3 spends an hour in Boss #1’s office trying to figure out what should be in the Style Guide and what shouldn’t. Neither Boss asks me to sit in. Instead, I then spend another hour sitting with Boss #3, going page by page through the Style Guide and deciding what to keep and what to cut. Like all conversations with Boss #3, this one winds up with me questioning her logic and finding out she hasn’t really got any. Still, I’ll give her credit for going in to Boss #1 and taking the blame for having directed my project into a black hole of obliteration. (Okay, a gray hole of 50% obliteration, but still.)

When I started this job, which mostly involves editing engineers’ resumes so they can be added to proposals no one reads, I remember thinking that it was a perfect example of Marx’s paradigm of alienating labor, where the worker is completely isolated from the product. But somehow this particular project has managed to go vastly beyond mere alienation and into the realm of meta-uselessness. I have now spent two months developing guidelines for writing the proposals no one reads, and then it turns out that these guidelines can’t be used because they’re part of a different book that doesn’t exist.

It makes me miss the solid reality of the the dot-coms.