Canal Water Review

"To teach superstitions as truth is a most terrible thing." Hypatia "Yeah. That pretty much sucks canal water." cwr

Friday, November 12, 2004

Sisters are where you find 'em

Texans--and probably most Southerners--have interesting habits of annexing folks into their families. All sorts of fictional relationships can get created because of relative age status, proximity, distant marriages, and such. I have had "Aunts" who were really cousins, but who were sufficiently older than I that my mother decided that it was inappropriate for me to call them by their first name without the honorific of "Aunt So-and-So." I have had "Aunts" who weren't related by blood or marriage, but who were sufficiently close enough friends of the family to deserve the honorific of "Aunt So-and-So," even though it took me years to figure out how they weren't really my relatives. Still, that often made their children my "cousins."

Perhaps one day I'll sit down to try to figure out for myself how really big and diverse "all my family" really is and talk about my "brother," the "child of my heart," my pseudo-grandchildren, and the really interesting addition of my husband's step-siblings. For now, however, I want to focus on my "cousin" who is more like a "sister."

When I was 9 years old, we moved to a much nicer house than the tiny little post-war housing that had been my home for much of my life. This move put me in a new school district, so I had to make all the transitions associated with that. One more or less comforting thing about the move is that my parents bought a house right next door to some old family friends. The couple next door were, of course, called "Aunt" and "Uncle." Both had come from the little part of East Texas where Mama grew up, and they had all dated and gone to church together forever.

Of the two (and eventually three) children next door, all, again "cousins," the oldest daughter was closest to my age. We had played together and gone to church together when we lived in the old neighborhood. We saw each other frequently at family events, because two of her uncles had married two of my aunts--and family reunuions and special occasions meant everybody was invited. So we knew each other, loved each other before the move to the new house--and I was really glad to have a friend in the new neighborhood.

My "cousin,"--let's call her Louise--is about 18 months older than me. Because of the peculiarities of the school years of the two school districts, I either had to skip half a grade or go back half a grade when we moved. Happily, my parents opted to get me moved up in school, so I entered the new elementary school with a slightly older crowd of schoolmates. It was good to have Louise around--now just one grade ahead of me--to help me fit in a little better.

The thing about Louise was that she was also the closest thing that I would have to a sibling. We spent the night at each other's house. We borrowed things from each other. We eventually had to have a little sibling rivalry. Well, a lot of sibling rivalry. I was certainly jealous of the things she got to do. I was jealous of her clothes. She was definitely prettier than me. And--here's the kicker--she got piano lessons. Oh, how I wanted a piano! How I wanted to be able to play one. How many hours I spent trying to teach myself on Louise's piano to play "Swans on the Lake."

Junior high and high school led us into slightly different circles of friends. Her parents decided to stay at the old church in our old neighborhood. My mother chose a church closer to our new home. Louise and I both sang in the school choir, but I was taking a heavy load of science and language classes, while Louise was preparing herself to major in music. And those 18 months meant a lot during the teen years. She could date a long time before my father ever decided to let me out of the door in the company of raging male hormones.

But the close bond was still there. I was a bridesmaid in her wedding. She was matron of honor in mine. I was matron of honor in her second wedding. At some point we decided not to jinx each other any more, so I didn't attend her third wedding and she didn't attend my second one. Those were the weddings that were winners for both of us, so we still occasionally thank each other for staying home.

Those early marriages were tough ones, more so for her than for me. I still sometimes shudder to think what this gentle woman had to suffer. Physical abuse and outright terrorism from the first. Mental abuse from the second. And I still keep an eye on the third husband--just to make sure. I was off being a student and researcher for those early marriages. So I still sometimes kick myself that I was too absorbed in my own life to be around for her in those days.

These days we see each other rather rarely. As often as I go back to my hometown--to see my mother, to do some work--Louise lives on the other side of a really big city and has quite a busy life herself. We sometimes see each other around holidays. Sometimes we're lucky and can fit in an afternoon here and there.

This last trip to Houston was extra special. I went in the middle of the week to do a workshop. Just by luck, I found Louise's younger sister at home next door (the Aunt and Uncle have died and the younger sister now lives there--but is out and about quite a bit). It's November already, and I still hadn't been able to make the connection that would get last Christmas' presents delivered. (Yes, that sound weird, but we do things that way.) So I found the younger sister, dragged her over to Mama's house to pick up the presents, and sent my love to Louise.

What fun that Baby Sister called Louise, who immediately called me to find out how long I would be in town. Unfortunately, not long. So we decided that she would come to Mama's to spend the night after she got through with her busy day. (I said that this husband was a good one, didn't I?)

Louise timed her arrival just right, so I got to see the end of Survivor. And then the fun began. We had not seen each other for more than a year. I think the last time we were together was the family reunion in May, 2003. We had lots to catch up on. My health. Her health. My family. Her family. The election. Her jaunts around the country and England. The new movie stars she had met. (She was excited that she had met Pierce Brosnan; I was much more impressed that she had hung out with Vincent DiNofrio.) My work, which is ever so much more boring than the fun she's been having. Plans for retirement.

It's in the nature of our relationship that long absences don't stop the flow of talk or affection. There's never a need to offer excuses about why the Christmas presents didn't get delivered for 11 months. (Sometimes it's me, sometimes it's her. [Shrug.]) It's in the nature of the relationship that we can talk about taking a road trip together and each lay out exactly what our little foibles and non-negotiable quirks are likely to be, swearing that we will each accommodate the other's "issues," and knowing that we will have a blast--just being together.

We talked until 4 in the morning--which made our marathon about 8 hours long--and could have talked for more if we weren't two middle aged women who need to sleep at some point.

I think this must be what it's like to have a sister. I think I'm very lucky to have Louise for a sister.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Bipartisan governance?

John Harris and Helen Dewar, of the Washington Post, write that Democrats are skeptical of Bush's offer to govern in a bipartisan fashion in his second term. Ya think?

At this point, I'm nearly ready to call for a pox on all their houses. I am a strongly partisan Democrat, but I am not an idiot. I am also, I believe, more than just a little patriotic. I know that there are issues that transcend my own personal interests, that are better for the whole community than they are for me. I don't think that that applies to far too many of our leaders these days.

Even so, just picking on Bush for a minute, I am reminding myself that, yes, he did manage to govern in a bipartisan manner in Texas. Of course, he started out with Democrats in leadership positions. Bob Bullock was lieutenant governor; Pete Laney was Speaker of the House. Both presided over narrow Democratic majorities in their respective houses and made a concerted effort to include Republicans in leadership roles. For every committee, when a Democrat was chair, a Republican was vice-chair, and vice versa.

The story has it that when Bush was first elected and had his first meeting with Bullock, Bullock said something to the effect of: "Boy, we're gonna **** you six ways from Sunday." Bush's reply was said to be: "Well, if you're gonna **** me, you're gonna kiss me first." And then he kissed Bullock on the mouth. Bullock was said to be delighted by Bush's response, and the two got along rather well after that.

But Bullock and Laney were clearly moderates who helped Bush be moderate. They handled things in a bipartisan manner, and that meant that Bush had to be bipartisan. When Bush won his second term, Bullock was dead, we had a Republican lieutenant governor, and Republicans had gained control of the Senate. The trend against bipartisan governance in Texas was already well underway when Bush was elected President. It's very partisan in the Texas legislature now. So much so, that the last session was even more brutal than anything that went on in Washington.

I'm not thinking that there is a lot of hope for bipartisan action in Washington. There is very little of that hope for Texas.

This is not to say, however, that Democrats were always so clean and pure in their own governance when in power. Redistricting, for example, is a partisan activity, brutally controlled by whichever party is in power--including Democrats. Rumors of dead voters, even current conflicts over possible election fraud, are nothing to laugh at.

When the minority membership in a house is comparatively large, there is the potential to block the more extreme actions of the majority--and even the less extreme ones. The result is gridlock. To some extent, gridlock in Congress is a good thing for this country. It takes time, thought, and even some compromise before policy that affects us all is made or changed.

Unity in Congress can sometimes lead to poor policy, such as when the Patriot Act was passed in the aftermath of the Attacks. Some of the provisions of that law were unneeded by law enforcement, some eroded civil liberties in an unacceptable manner, and others simply expanded fear when courage was needed. Had there been less unity, some of these problems might have been solved as Congress worked out the details.

Having said that, however, I am a little sick of the disunity. Certainly, I am tired of the bickering and posturing that has no substance. I am tired of spin that tells me dark is light, bad is good, and up is down. And it comes from both parties. There is jockeying for power, when good governance should be the goal.

I admit to naivete here. Idealism. Too much faith in humanity. Perhaps I'm just too committed to hope and progress.

But, here's the deal. I didn't vote for George Bush. I didn't want him to win. I thought John Kerry was a better person, a better leader, and a better policy maker. But, since Bush won and Kerry didn't, that makes George Bush my president, too. As much as it galls me to even say that, yes, he's my president. And, by golly, he should also represent what I stand for. He should also see that my needs and concerns are addressed.

So here's what I want.

  • Truth.
  • Transparent government.
  • Respect for opposing positions.
  • Fairness.
  • Honesty.
  • Concern for the good of the nation, not just personal or partisan gain.
Is that too much to ask?

Wednesday, November 03, 2004


Around 10:00 last night, my grandson opined that Bush would win and that his vote had counted for nothing. I reminded him that we vote for three reasons:

  • to win;
  • to reduce the margin;
  • to make our opinion heard.

After he went off to bed, I called my mother to see how she was holding up. She was not optimistic, but her thought was that Kerry is a good man, so why should we want him saddled with the mess that Bush has made of both domestic and foreign policy? Her thought was that things are so bad in this country that it's a mess we shouldn't wish on our best friend. Why should someone we support have to struggle to clean up something that is so impossible?

I held on until 2:00 in the morning. I went to bed with some small sliver of hope in my heart, but it took a long time to get to sleep. All this morning, I've looked for more of those slivers of hope, driven in large part by the strength that Kerry's lack of concession provided.

There was hope because neither pollsters nor network news organizations have standing under the constitution to declare the outcome of an election. Only the final vote tallies in each state will determine who the electors are for each state and only the votes of the electors will, in the final moment, actually determine who has won the election. I know that the science of polling can tell us a great deal. I also know that the networks have their own agenda (without even hinting at partisanship here). And I know that there are comparatively few votes left to count no matter how much closer they might make the race or how unlikely they are to change the outcome.

But there is something unseemly about declaring an election over before all of the votes have been counted.

And there is something sickening when one man can make the ultimate determination of the outcome by conceding the election.

Still, that's where we are. The election is over because John Kerry has said that it is.

Although, of course, it's not. The votes still have to be counted. The electors still have to meet. What fun it would be if there were some interesting changes in outcome over the next few days as those votes are counted. There are, after all, still a million and a half votes yet to count in Florida. What if Florida shifts? Will the concession then count?

Whatever. Shrug. Hmph!

What matters to me right now is how I will find the will to have any hope for the future of American society. The country will continue. Democracy may have been bruised, if any of the allegations of fraud turn out to be true, but the Republic still stands. The society, however, is starting to become something that I really, really, really won't be liking.

And, as I look down the road, what I see is less acceptance of difference, more distance between those who have and those who do not, more emphasis on survival of the fittest, continued decline in civility. I see back alley abortions, guns and circuses, further decline in public health, town square religiosity hiding gross hypocrisy, the dumbing down of America, more war on science.

When I was younger, I could say, "My grief is my sword," and continue to fight for what I believe in. On a day like today, I'm just tired and sad and wondering whether idealism is even possible.

Maybe tomorrow I will feel stronger. The battle cry is now, "Don't mourn, organize!" But--for a while--I'm just going to be sad.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

The joy of voting

Oh frabjous day! It's E-Day in America!

Election Day has to be one of my favorite days of any year. It's all about all of the good things that America stands for: freedom, government by the people, change for the better, hope for the future.

Not that this presidential campaign reminded us of all of those things, not that some of the redistricting shenanigans of the 78th Texas Legislature (and The Hammer) gave us much confidence in those things, not that the media (so-called liberal and/or otherwise) gave us any insight into our best hope for the future of the country or the planet. Nope, not so much to be happy about there.

But sometimes I just can't help myself. In spite of all the mud and vitriol and general crap flying around, come E-Day, I am one happy person. I get to think about the people for whom I will vote. Some I know, some I only know something about, but it's always fun to mark my ballot and think: "Yes, Margaret, you're a really fine judge, and I'm proud to vote for you," or "Well, Rhett, you're a fine fellow, and, while you stand absolutely no chance of winning, I'm proud of you for standing up for my values and my interests."

See, on E-Day, we take our stand. Win or lose, we get to say what we think ought to be said about what our country ought to be and what it ought to be doing.

Of course, we can say these things on any other day. Letters to the editor, letters to elected officials, visits with those same officials, and a whole host of other fine activities. But nothing feels quite as good--to me--as marking that ballot.

I marked my first one in 1968. In that, my first campaign, I learned the sad lessons that came with a favored candidate who couldn't make it through the primaries and another who was assassinated in that fevered year of anger and division in our country. When I voted, I had to use an absentee ballot because I had moved to another state but not yet established residency. It was still important enoughto me to vote that I made that effort.

In 1972, I missed the election, because I was overseas. I read about Watergate from 8000 miles away and cried, "What's happening to my country?"

In 1976, I happily voted for Jimmy Carter, although my interest in politics was still comparatively low.

By 1980, my interest was getting higher, but I was out of the country again. At least this time, I managed to get an absentee ballot all the way in East Africa so I could participate. No late night television returns, however. I found out that Reagan had won when I walked past the USIA office and saw that Carter's picture had been removed from the front window.

Back home in 1984, I was becoming more active in politics. Not enough to get involved in campaigns, but definitely enough to be an active watcher--and happy to be able to go to the polls on E-Day. I actually enjoyed watching the convention on television.

In 1988, I was in full campaign mode, working in campaigns, making every effort to help my candidate win. It didn't much matter in the end, but it was good to watch Ferraro's acceptance speech with my mother, who was on the other end of a long distance telephone connection, and it was certainly nice to be voting for a woman on the ticket.

By 1992, my life was changing and there was a little less time for campaigns, although I still supported those that I could. It was nice to win.

In 1996, I was completely out of the campaigns. I had more family responsibilities, more work responsibilities, and less time than ever. But E-Day was still a good day to feel once more part of the vital energy of the country.

When 2000 came, I was terrified of a Bush presidency and worked as many campaigns as I could. I screamed at the television, spent hours looking at the tracking polls. I went to the polls on E-Day, carefully voting in each campaign, silently greeting each candidate with my recognition of their record or their platform. I stayed up all night afterwards, watching the back and forth in Florida, and was all but immobilized by the long drawn out aftermath of the election.

Now comes 2004. The Bush presidency has been all that I feared and worse. I voted early this time. I am somewhat sad that I won't be going to the polls today, because E-Day is such a wonderful day. I like seeing my neighbors--most of whom won't vote the same as I do--and sharing the experience of being part of the wonder that is our country. I like knowing that my neighbors and I, even though we don't see eye to eye on everything, still have the luxury of freedom to express our views and our desires--without fear that we will be harmed for doing so or that we will face harm in the aftermath.

But this year, it also seemed important to vote as a family. So My Prince and I and the grandson, who was casting his first vote, all trekked down to the early voting place and cast our ballots at the same time. We all voted the same on some things and differently on others. The grandson got a big laugh out of cancelling out my vote on a county-level issue and an even bigger laugh when he realized that Grandpa had voted the same as he did. I blew a raspberry at both of 'em--and we went off to dinner and fun. That, too, was part of the fine thing about E-Day--disagreeing on the issues but still living in harmony.

Voting has always been important to me. It has often been a joyful experience. I am worried about the outcome of this election and will no doubt be up all night, hoping against hope that it will all be over sooner rather than later. Hoping that really hard, since I'd rather lose than see the country torn apart any further than it already is.

And that's the thing that bothers me most about this election. There is always a lot at stake in an election--budgets, policies, life, death. It's always a whole lot more than signs and flags and buttons. But always, every time we vote, something else is at stake, and that is democracy itself. How we conduct ourselves in the days to come really matters, I think. Will we continue to cherish the "will of the people"? Will we respect our electoral processes and accept what they tell us about what the voters have decided? Or will we pervert the process and destroy the foundation of our nation?

Maybe voting was the really easy part. Maybe democracy is what's really hard.