Archive for January 2009

Catching the Midnight Bus to Hopetown

map of inauguration crowds

Attending the presidential inauguration was a little like getting a tattoo: the pain was temporary and the memory lasts a lifetime. I was awake for 32 hours, on my feet in 20-degree temperatures for 12 hours, and I’m thinking I may regain the full use of my legs by sometime early next week.

So was it worth it? In a word, yes.

The students were fantastic. The student organizers of the trip made all the right calls and everything went incredibly smoothly. The crowds were intense but happy and helpful, despite many snafus and lapses in communication on the part of the DC authorities. Crowds of thousands spent many hours milling around, looking for streets that did not end in barricades and entrances that were actually open.

By the time I actually made it to the National Mall, there were no University students or staff to be seen (most of the other staff reported the same thing; the students did a good job ditching the old folks). I was on my own in a crowd of over a million people.

I staked out a nice spot under the second Jumbotron, with a view of the Capitol building on the left. No one was sitting; there was no where to sit. It was only 8 am.

Over the next three hours, a little feeling of camaraderie was struck up amongst the people in my little section. A tall hippie guy with a white ponytail had lost his busload of students from Western Massachusetts and was hanging out on his own, reaching above the crowd with his long hippie arms to take pictures with other people’s cameras. People were sharing their snacks, their pocket hand warmers (THANK YOU, blonde lady from Connecticut) and their stories about what they thought the election meant, why they wanted to be there, and what they thought would happen next.

I mostly listened. At first I was a little sad that I wasn’t there with a group of friends, and a little jealous of the students who were. But I eventually came to appreciate my situation — alone but not alone in a crowd of millions. The whole occasion became very quiet, personal, and introspective for me.

Listening to the talk of the people around me, and then the speech, I came to a simple conclusion: it’s no longer adequate to be a pointless person, a useless person. We all must be of use. I just don’t know how yet.

For the busride down, I had with me David Hackett Fischer’s Pulitzer Prize-winning history of Washington’s Crossing. The spot where George Washington crossed the Delaware is about about ten miles from my house. So when President Obama closed his speech with this quote from Washington to rally his troops, I felt a special connection (and I’m not ashamed to say I teared up a little):

Let it be told to the future world … that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive…that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet it.

It’s time for me to start coming forth.


Get on the Bus! Inauguration or Bust

I’m heading to D.C., baby!

Three busloads of students from the UofR will be leaving Monday for an all-night road trip to the nation’s capitol, and I’ll be along for the ride as one of the “event managers” (read: “chaperones”). Our 150 students will be joining a crowd of 2-4 million citizens of the world along the National Mall, all eager to witness history in the making, and all needing to use the same subway cars and porta-potties.

My main task will be to make sure that all 150 students find their way back to the buses and back to Rochester. That sounds a little daunting. But as the President-elect himself might say, if we just stick together and look out for each other, no-one gets left behind.


The Goddess Watches President Bush’s Last Speech (so you don’t have to)

In five days time, we will all wake up in a world where George W. Bush is no longer president. 

The wreckage from these past eight years is quite staggering. The Center for Public Integrity lists 128 failures of the Bush administration and offers a handy online tool that lets you sort, rank and suggest additional failures. It’s a game the whole family can play.

Some of my personal favorites (and by “favorite” read “soul-crushingly sad”):

  • The United States has seen no reduction in greenhouse gas emissions since 2000, and is on track for a 16 percent increase through 2030. 
  • The Bush administration has shown nothing but disdain for science, leaving positions like the director of the FDA and the surgeon general unfilled for months. Reports of political interference with science were rife, for example a National Cancer Institute report that was edited to (erroneously) link breast cancer to abortion.
  • White House officials routinely used unofficial email accounts that were not archived automatically in accordance with the Presidential Records Act. Thousands of email messages were “lost.”
  • That whole “false premise for going to war” thing.
  • And don’t even get started on the economy!

With all that water under the bridge (and over the levies), Bush delivered his last speech as president yesterday.

8:00 – Smirking, winking, ugh.

8:03 – Three minutes in and he’s wrapping himself in the sadness and bravery of 9-11. “Most Americans were able to return to live much as it was. I never did.” I’m sure that’s true, and I am unendingly grateful that there has not been another terrorist attack. But just as my cold heart is about to give him just a tiniest bit of credit, he leaps into Iraq and the “War on Terror” and I want to bang my head against the coffee table.

8:08 — “You may not agree with some of the tough decisions I’ve had to make but I hope you’ll agree that I made the tough decisions.” ‘Cuz he’s the decider.

8:10 — “I’ve often spoken to you about good and evil, and this has made some uncomfortable. But good and evil are present in this world, and between the two of them there can be no compromise.” So if you’re good, you’re good. If you’re evil, you’re evil. Where exactly that leaves the U.S. policy on waterboarding and torture, Bush does not take the time to elaborate on this occasion.

8:14 — I’ll say this for our 43th president: he’s brief. G.W. — over and out!


Un-Flattering Politician Photo of the Week

President-elect Obama in Hawaii

Yes SIR, Mr. President, sir!

The Obama presidency is truly groundbreaking. Barack Obama will be the first African-American president, the first president from the state of Hawaii, the first president to use email, and the first president with six-pack abs.


40 Questions for 2008

Happy New Year! Before 2009 gets too far underway, time to take an annual look back at the year that was by answering a few questions with this handy meme:

  1. What did you do in 2008 that you’d never done before?
    Saw the Decemberists in concert, hired someone, watched fireworks from a boat, installed kitchen cabinets.
  2. Did you keep your New Years’ resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
    Of course I didn’t keep my New Years’ resolutions (does anyone?) but I will absolutely make more for this year. One must live in hope.
  3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
    A couple of co-workers had kids this year, though one of them didn’t atually give birth, being a man and all.
  4. Did anyone close to you die?
  5. What countries did you visit?
    Just Canada. Wow, that’s kinda sad. No offense to Canada.
  6. What would you like to have in 2008 that you lacked in 2007?
    A proper vacation.
  7. What dates from 2008 will remain etched upon your memory?
    January 3: Iowa caucus; October 29: Phillies win the World Series; November 4: Election night
  8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
    I‘ve hired myself an assistant at The Workplace, though I probably shouldn’t count that yet since it isn’t officially official. Still, the thought of being able to give half my work to someone else fills me with the kind of glee usually reserved for six-year-olds on Christmas morning.
  9. What was your biggest failure?
    After more than two years, we still have not published a single thing using our content management system. It’s really annoying.
  10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
    Nope, not even a cold or a papercut, for which I am very grateful.
  11. What was the best thing you bought?
    A 1920s dining room set from Craigslist for $250. Sweet.
  12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
    President-elect Barack Obama!
  13. Whose behaviour made you appalled and depressed?
    Illinois governor Rod “Bleeping” Blagojevich.
  14. Where did most of your money go?
    Usual stuff: mortgage, food, electricity, gas, shiny baubles.
  15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
    President-elect Barack Obama!
  16. What song/album will always remind you of 2008?
    “Valerie Plame” by The Decemberists.
  17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
    * happier or sadder? Happier. * thinner or fatter? The same. * richer or poorer? The same.
  18. What do you wish you’d done more of?
    Running, reading, taking pictures, playing my guitar, camping, travelling, going to the movies. Oh, and blogging. Definitely blogging.
  19. What do you wish you’d done less of?
    Worrying/stressing about knucklehead stuff.
  20. How will you be spending Christmas?
    Down in Levittown, PA again. You can take the girl out of the suburbs, but you can’t take the suburbs out of the girl.
  21. Who did you spend the most time on the phone with?
    Mr. Goddess.
  22. Did you fall in love in 2008?
    I fell in love in 1990, and it took.
  23. How many one night stands in this last year?
    This year marked the 18th year of my one-night-stand dry spell.
  24. What was your favourite TV program?
    I have developed an unhealthy obsession with West Wing reruns this year. I’m nearly finished with Season 4 on DVD. My goal is to finish all seven seasons of the perfect fantasy presidency before the perfect reality presidency begins on January 22.
  25. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?
    I don’t “hate” anyone. I’m a lover, not a hater.
  26. What was the best book(s) you read?
    John Adams by David McCullough.
  27. What was your greatest musical discovery?
    Not so much a discovery but a deeper appreciation of The Decemberists.
  28. What did you want and get?
    President-elect Barack Obama!
  29. What did you want and not get?
    A kitten, but that may been soon rectified.
  30. What were your favourite films of this year?
    As usual at this time of year, there are still a lot of late releases and”awards movies” I haven’t seen yet. But my favorites so far are Iron Man, WALL-E, and Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist.
  31. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
    I turned 37 this year, and went to a swanky restaurant with Mr. Goddess.
  32. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
    I don’t know: the presidential election, a Phillies World Series win, and now the Eagles have somehow made it into the playoffs? I think this year had it all covered.
  33. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2008?
    “Work-friendly” jeans and turtlenecks, if that qualifies as a concept.
  34. What kept you sane?
    Mr. Goddess, Friday night political shows, Sunday morning coffee.
  35. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
    President-elect Barack Obama!
  36. What political issue stirred you the most?
    Energy independence. So much else hinges on this one thing: growing the economy, national security, saving the planet. Stuff like that.
  37. Who did you miss?
    Friends I can’t keep in touch with via Facebook or Twitter.
  38. Who was the best new person you met?
    Believe it or not, Mr. Goddess and I have started playing bridge on Sunday nights. I know, it’s very Harvey-Wallbanger-and-deviled-eggs, but it’s also very fun and the new bridge players are a fun
  39. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2008.
    Nothing gets better by putting it off till later.
  40. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year?
    We are the champions, my friends
    And we’ll keep on fighting till the end
    We are the champions
    We are the champions
    No time for loser, cuz we are the champions
    Of the world.

    – Queen