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October 29th, 2002:

Overlooking the obvious

Tony Adragna points me to this Tim Noah piece, in which Noah attempts to uncover the reason for all those nice obits for Paul Wellstone that various right-wingers have been writing:

Conservatives grieve Paul Wellstone because there is little or no chance that anyone as far to the left as Wellstone will be elected to the Senate anytime soon. Since the start of the Clinton administration, the main Republican project has been to maintain the fiction that an overwhelmingly centrist Democratic Party lies to the left of the American mainstream. Without Wellstone, that point will be a little harder to argue.

Hello! Do the words “Senator Hillary Clinton” mean anything to you, Tim? John Cornyn has been running ads linking Ron Kirk to Hillary Clinton since at least September. And then there’s this Kennedy fella from Massachussettes, I hear the GOP thinks he’s pretty liberal, too. I guarantee, if there’s one thing the GOP is not worried about right now, it’s running out of liberal bogeypeople to use in their mass-mailers.

Maybe it’s just different here in flyover country, but I honestly can’t ever recall seeing a political ad or reading a scare quote in the papers from a Republican that invoked Paul Wellstone’s name as That Which All Right-Thinking People Must Stand United Against. For one thing, I just don’t think Wellstone was all that well known. For another thing, the great Clinton menace was more than enough red meat for the purposes at hand, with Ted Kennedy serving as the steak sauce if a little extra zest was needed. Senator Wellstone’s tragic and untimely death will not change any of that one bit.

Alison and its aftereffects

In 2001, Houston Press writer Richard Connelly and his family were flooded out by Tropical Storm Allison. More than a year later, his house was torn down after they got a FEMA buyout. Allison has had a huge effect on his neighborhood, which is not very far from my own. Take a moment and read both stories. Here’s an excerpt from the first one, titled “Wading for Godot”, to whet your appetite:

Everyone has had a Bizarre Moment in life, a moment when you just step back and ask, “How the hell did I get in this situation?”

Often it’ll come when you’re attending the wedding, say, of two people you thought you knew well. Then the preacher announces that the loving couple have written their own vows, and that those vows are based on Time in a Bottle and the rest of Jim Croce’s works.


My own Bizarre Moment came sometime in the predawn hours of June 9, courtesy of Tropical Storm Allison.

I was standing in the middle of my living room, taking a leak. While normally pissing in the living room would be considered a social faux pas among the Smart Set — unless your name is Jackson Pollock — Miss Manners might have given me a pass this time, seeing as how I was thigh-high in fetid, brackish water that had spread throughout the house. Wading back to stand over a commode that was itself under water seemed somewhat pointless at the time.

I’m standing there whizzing, surrounded by large pieces of heavy furniture floating leisurely about as if on a pleasure cruise. Outside, my wife’s car — the one that just got $300 in repairs — sits totally submerged, its burglar alarm gargling pitifully underneath the waves.

The rain continues to pound down in vicious sheets, showing no signs of letting up before we all go under. The only place to sit that’s above water is a wooden barstool currently occupied by my fitfully dozing wife. My nine-year-old son is back in our bedroom, using our mattress as a raft to keep above the waves.

He’s been occasionally nodding off; in the interludes he has been trying to distract himself by singing loudly to the new CD we have been playing incessantly lately.

So there I am, pissing in the living room, watching the incoming water slowly cover up more and more books and doodads and keepsakes, a raging river outside where our street used to be, my wife trying to sleep without slipping off her chair into the gross indoor lake, and I’m suddenly listening to the disembodied voice of a nine-year-old belting out Springtime for Hitler.

Bizarre Moment? Geez, I can only pray that my life never gets more bizarre than that.

Judge declines to intervene in Burdine case

Federal Judge David Hittner has declined to force the appointment of Calvin Burdine’s appeals lawyer to his retrial case, agreeing with the argument that forcing the change would enjoin the trial. Looks like I called that one wrong. The ACLU is appealing the ruling, which may delay the start of the retrial.

While I understand Hittner’s ruling, I have to ask: Doesn’t it make sense to close off this potential avenue for appeal now? The whole reason for this retrial is that Burdine got essentially no representation in 1983. Is it in anyone’s interest to risk another retrial? Unless I’m missing something, it looks to me like the reason that attorney McGlasson needs to be appointed by Judge Hoffman to represent Calvin Burdine is that it’s the only way McGlasson can get paid for the work, as Burdine is indigent. The lawyer who is representing him now has agreed to work pro bono. Is it worth all this trouble to avoid paying the defense attorney?

“Can we count on your vote?”

I spent two hours last night at the Houston headquarters for the Tony Sanchez campaign. I’d volunteered to help call supporters to remind them to vote. It was a good night to make phone calls – it was raining and flooding around town, so most people were at home. Here’s a report of my evening.

The headquarters are in a union hall in between downtown and the Third Ward. The first thing I noticed were a lot of vans in the parking lot. The Sanchez campaign has boasted about renting every van in the state. There was definitely evidence to support that claim.

There were about fifteen people making phone calls while I was there. Several of them were speaking Spanish to the people they were calling. We were primarily calling heavily Democratic areas – this was about getting out the vote, not changing minds. The script we used mentioned all four top-of-the-ballot Dems – Ron Kirk, Tony Sanchez, Kirk Watson, John Sharp, in that order.

I was calling people in Precint 195. Precint data from the 2000 election can be found here, from the County Clerk’s web page. In 2000, this precint of about 2500 registered voters had a 48.6% turnout. Over 90% of them voted straight Democratic – the final tally in the Presidential election was 1175 votes for Gore, 10 for Bush. This was a receptive crowd for the message I was delivering, to say the least.

I spoke to about 35 people (not counting answering machines). I kept tallies as requested by the vounteer coordinator. About half had already voted in early voting. Three people I spoke to were ineligible to vote. Three or four told me that they’d already voted, then hung up before I could confirm who they’d voted for. (None was rude about it – they all said something like “oh, I’ve already voted, thanks”.)

Only one person expressed no interest in voting. One person specifically said she was not voting for Tony Sanchez (I didn’t ask about the other candidates). Twenty-five had already voted or were planning to vote for the Democrats.

This is basically anecdotal evidence, so take it for what it’s worth. My impression is that I was pleased by the effort and commitment I saw. One woman I spoke to said that she’d not yet received her absentee ballot – she was basically homebound, so she had to vote by mail. We sent a volunteer that same night to her house with a ballot, since today is the effective deadline for getting them in the mail.

If the key to getting elected is getting your base motivated and turned out, then what I saw was good for the Democrats. The people I spoke to were definitely into it.

Early voting continues to be heavy. The numbers for the first week, at the bottom of the linked page, for the 15 most populous counties, are 350,214 so far in 2002, compared to 322,095 for 1998.

Webhost update

According to my webhost, everyone on my server has been moved to a new box. They’re still not sure why the old one was failing, but so far everything looks good on the new one. Thus, I can post normally again, and comments should be working as before.

By the way, the change occurred yesterday around 1:30 PM Central time, so if you tried to get here around then you would have been unsuccessful.

Anyway, things should be back to normal here. Thanks for your patience.