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Stateside with Rosalea: Thanksgiving

Stateside with Rosalea

Let the games begin

I spent Turkey Day at home this year enjoying the delights of the Norse god who has moved in with me. A couple of days earlier I'd paid two burly Sikhs to carry him up the stairs and over the threshold into my apartment, and now his perfectly symmetrical face beams at me from the kitchen. His hose is a bit long and I tend to trip over it, but nonetheless the thing I was most thankful for at Thanksgiving is the TLS I now have in my life.

Yes folks, I've finally bid the tacky laundromat scene goodbye and bought a kind of pumpin' and spinnin' cousin of a wet/dry vaccum cleaner - a Thor Laundry System, which uses the same drum for washing and drying, and needs no special plumbing, electrical work, or vent. Webvan excepted, it was my first foray into the land of online shopping and I must say it wasn't such a bad experience. I'm just one of the many in this nation who are consumer stay-at-homes. The cocoon effect that 911 has brought out will no doubt spur yet more growth in online shopping for Christmas. According to a retail sector analyst on PBS Friday's 'Wall Street Week', apparel sales for anything other than comfort clothes like bathrobes and slippers will be down because people aren't going to the malls as they used to. But 'tis the season for "patriots who like fun and games" if you look at the action figures, toys, board games and video games hitting the market, he said.

Anyone who likes fun and games should be keeping an eye on San Francisco politics for the next year. The city's Supervisors might even like to invest in a Norse god or two of their own as the dirty laundry brigade launches a major assault in its War on Electoral Reform by discrediting people who can expect to benefit from it - either directly as elected officials or indirectly by having the policies they endorse succeed as propositions on the ballot paper. Policies such as this November's narrowly defeated propositions to create a public power utility. One was so narrowly defeated (533 votes) and the circumstances surrounding the vote counting were so controversial that it was positively presidential. The controversy involved a large number of postal ballot papers that were removed from the counting house to a nearby auditorium as an anthrax safety precaution. A state-level investigation could find no wrong-doing.

Only in the job a couple of months, the Director of Elections, Tammy Haygood, is already holding press conferences about an even bigger controversy - the report released last week by California's Secretary of State into irregularities in last year's election in SF. According to the SOS press release, a random sample review of 21 out of 647 precincts shows an average discrepacy of 8.8 percent between the number of ballots on file and results reported in the official statement of vote. The media are already zeroing in on the battle that was fought for District 7, where Tony Hall won the December runoff by 39 votes. He was originally a distant second, with about half the votes of the person he had to run off against, Mabel Teng. Hall's reaction to the investigation, as reported in the 'LA Times', was to say: "It's just another attempt to try and manipulate the will of the people."

It's a brave person who tries to make any sense out of San Francisco politics, there are so many games being played. Since he took office in 1995 California's Secretary of State has intervened or provided assistance to the city's Department of Elections in six of seven years. It is very volatile territory in which to stage any ballot about changes to the voting system, such as Instant Runoff Voting. Earlier this year I was involved in a series of community discussions about different voting systems, and the degree of suspicion about and reluctance to consider anything other than the status quo is pretty daunting even among the non-cynical.

People in the States like good old-fashioned coat-peg politics. By coat-peg politics I mean one of those coat-pegs that have a big hook and a little hook beneath it. Sometimes the blue (Democrat) coat is in the minority and is hanging on the little hook while the big hook is occupied by the Republicans' red coat. And sometimes it's the other way around. I think that coat-RACK politics are better - where you have the red coat at one end of the rack, the blue coat at the other and a number of other coats ranged between them or further to the left or right of them. It makes it easier to see who is in who's pocket, for one thing, and it gives voters a wider choice, for another. I also think that it is healthier for a nation to acknowledge that life isn't just a matter of "us" and "them", which is the attitude coat-peg politics institutionalises. I'd even go so far to say that attitude is why the US behaves like a schoolyard bully instead of as one player among many on the international stage.

For any US readers who might take umbrage at being called the schoolyard bully, please understand that I'm refering to its foreign policy, not to its people. I could not give a better description of the folks I've met here - yes, even in Blue-leaning California - than the one David Brooks gives about the people he met in Red-leaning Franklin County, Pennsylvania: "People place tremendous value on being agreeable, civil, and kind. They are happy to sit quietly with one another. They are hesitant to stir one another's passions. They appreciate what they have."

Brooks's "report from 'Red' and 'Blue' America" is in the December 'Atlantic Monthly', and is called "One nation, slightly divisible". Using poll data as well as anecdotal reporting it gives some interesting insights into such things as the failure of Gore's class-divisive election campaign. The conclusion seems to be that Middle America is happy with its lot. The last thing it wants is complications. A good deal of what almost seems like stupefaction, the way Brooks reports it, stems from the strong role that religion plays in people's lives. And I can assure you it does - it is perfectly usual for my workmates to meet with friends at lunchtimes for bible studies. Furthermore, I work with a cross-section of ethnic groups and this involvement with religion crosses all those ethnic groups and many different flavours of bible-based religion.

Which brings me to Sunday, which it is now and wasn't when I started writing this! The news is out - sitting in a research lab somewhere in Massachusetts, under 24-hour security, with only one person having the key to the room, is the first viable egg-implanted-with-DNA "pre-embryo" - capable of being used to grow a new organ for the person whose DNA it contains. Actually it would be a good deal easier just to put the egg into a woman's womb and grow a clone of that DNA donor but that wouldn't help the person needing the organ transplant much. Read how to do it in the latest 'Scientifc American'. Gives a whole new meaning to "grow your own", doesn't it! - Lea Barker
Sunday, November 25, 2001

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