Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Resistance is Futile

Polls just closed here, NPR is calling a few things, and I'm not even going to pretend to have any idea what's going to happen, though certainly "Dollar Bill" Jefferson had the money to litter our already too-littered little city with signs.

That said, I do want to pass along my voting story. First off, I should mention that ever since I've been voting in New Orleans, we have always had electronic voting machines, and I've never had trouble before. That "before" pretty much gives the story away, doesn't it?

Here's how the machines here work: the whole ballot appears before you, not on a screen, but on a big piece of paper over, well, I don't know exactly what, but when you touch the little box next to a candidate, a green "X" lights beneath the paper that can be easily seen through it. You hit everything you want, check to make sure your little Xs are all in the right places, and hit the big orange vote button. The machine makes some distinctive clicks, a little read-out at the bottom says "Vote registered," and your little Xs go out.

In I go and stab all my little boxes (a congressional race and a bunch of amendments), and the little Xs came on, but when I looked back, no Xs. Huh. I punched the first one (congress) again and the light came on for a couple of seconds and then went out. Same with all the others. My votes wouldn't stay lit.

So out the curtain I go and tell the poll worker. Happily, professorial scheduling allows me to vote in the middle of the afternoon, not to mention the fact that New Orleans has a third of its usual population, so the poll workers weren't exactly overwhelmed. The poll worker asked me if the upper light was on, to which I responded, eloquently, "Huh?" She pulled the curtain back and pointed at a white light up at the top of the machine and asked if it was on. I admitted that I hadn't actually paid attention.

She did something behind the machine, and it made that distinctive "vote registered" click. The light she pointed out went on, and little Xs lit up all over the board, above all the various choices. This time, when I stabbed my boxes, the Xs above the choices went out, and my Xs stayed on. I hit the big orange vote button, got the clicks, saw "vote registered," and went on my merry way, full of fervor for democracy.

Okay, actually not. While I'm pretty sure my vote registered, I'm wondering about the person before me, and I'm wondering about that distinctive clicking after I'd stabbed a bunch of boxes. Did the person before get their vote registered? Did I get to vote twice? Was it just a minor glitch, and everything's hunky-doory? I don't know, and that's perhaps even more disturbing than the possibility that the voting could have been fucked up. It's one thing to have a fucked up vote that we then spend days or weeks or months arguing about, fighting about, going to court about, etc. That's bad enough, but how about a fucked up vote that we don't even know to fight about? Without a paper trail, without anything to check the machines against, there's no way to look for mistakes. And machines ain't so great at noticing their own mistakes.

Perhaps I jinxed myself, but like I said yesterday "trust the machines ... the machines know what's best ... obey the machines ... "

Monday, November 06, 2006

Hey You! Yeah, You, in the Other 49!

It's Election Eve, and everybody's talking about a wave of Democrats knocking Republicans out of control of the House and possibly the Senate. Personally, I prefer the term "surge," like the one that broke the levees and flooded my house. More evocative, don't you think?

Unfortunately, I also think the levees that Republicans have built around their indumbents through redistricting are much stronger than the levees around New Orleans. While the country seems to be waking up to all the myriad reasons to run the bastards out of town on a rail, I'm not sure how convinced I am that it'll happen. Confident enough to have twenty bucks riding on the Dems taking the House, but hey, it's only twenty bucks and I have an insurance check coming.

I just re-read that and realized I typed "indumbents." Is it possible to type a Freudian slip? That's too good to fix.

So the buzz is all about the surge, and I want to take just a few minutes and remind everyone who might read this tomorrow that, wherever you are, your vote has a real impact on New Orleans. Here are a few of the ways:

1. Despite the fact that lots of indumbents are claiming to have helped the Gulf Coast with appropriations of "$100 billion," please remember that most of those people are also the ones who decided that Louisiana would be the first state required to pay back federal emergency loans that have always been forgiven in the past. As for what party those people mostly belonged to, here's a hint: they're represented by an elephant. Also, the actual number is $88 billion and only about half of it has made it.

2. Wetlands absorb storm surges. The more wetlands you have in between, say, New Orleans and the coast, the less storm surge makes it to New Orleans. Protecting wetlands falls to the EPA under laws voted on by Congress. Do I have to actually mention that the party with the vastly better environmental protection record is often represented by the color blue?

3. Let's say a storm surge makes it to New Orleans. The last thing we need is a giant canal that funnels it straight into the heart of the city, but that's exactly what the MR-GO is. The people of New Orleans have been trying to get the thing closed for years, but that decision is up to Congress, and oil companies lobby hard to keep it open. Why does somebody from Montana determine if a canal in New Orleans stays open or closes? Beats me, but that's the way it is. I would have really, really loved to see people all across the country asking candidates, "Will you vote to close the MR-GO?" just to witness the befuddlement.

4. Congress will soon be voting on an oil tax revenue sharing plan. The basics: when you drill for oil in this country, the money you make is taxed. If that oil well is on land, half the tax goes to the feds and half to the state the well is in. If that oil well is out in the Gulf and the canals and pipelines servicing it go through Louisiana, all that tax money goes to the feds and none to Louisiana. Not only is that unfair, but we could really, really use that money to fix the damage done to the wetlands.

5. The Senate has approval and consent over the President's nominee to head FEMA. Congress recently passed a law laying out the minimum qualifications for the job, but Bush signed one of his hundreds of signing statements saying he feels free to ignore that law. I'd prefer it if you would vote for the person who would make Bush obey the law rather than just rubber-stamp the next Michael Brown - thanks!

Just a little reminder from F&L that, whether you like it or not, New Orleans is still a part of the U.S.A. and we're still all in this together.

Not that any of this really matters, because the winners are really going to be picked by the voting machines. Trust the machines ... the machines know what's best ... obey the machines ... resistance is futile ...

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Saints, Sinners, and Rollergirls

I tried to get a picture of the skeleton faces and bloody prom dresses as they skated by, bent low, arms swinging, pushing and shoving for position, but the light just didn’t work out. It could have been because I just couldn’t squeeze myself into a decent enough viewing spot to get a good picture, or perhaps I am simply not tech-savvy enough. Either way, I have no Rollergirl pictures from the special Halloween bout for you – my apologies.

Months ago, Gav and I discussed picking up tickets to a couple of Saints games, namely the Washington and San Francisco games. Pre-season hadn’t even started yet. At the time, I even imagined that perhaps the Saints would do well enough to desperately need a win against my utterly dominant hometown team. All I can say about that now is, our predictions are all 100% accurate until the season actually begins. But we waited too long and can’t get tickets now.

So what do these two things have in common, besides physical contact, high speeds, risk of injury, and arcane rules puzzling to the novice spectator? The similarities between roller derby and football are remarkable - as Concerning Pudding’s Brooke drunkenly enthused, “It’s the football I always wanted to play!” Though she now denies it vehemently, we here at F&L know the truth. That aside, what I’m really driving at is the fact that both sporting events sold out, and that’s pretty remarkable.

I don’t think I’m the only one in town who has noticed that everything around town from the big events – Mardi Gras, Jazz Fest, Saints games, etc. – to the little ones – Morning 40 at Les Bon Temps, my classes, etc. - have been just as crowded as ever. It is, at least, a definitive fact that the Saints have NEVER sold out a season before. Hell, part of the reason everyone around here hit the bars on Sundays is because it seems like half the time the Saints were blacked out. For those of you who grew up in places like northern Virginia, “blacked out” refers to when an NFL team doesn’t sell out a home game, and then the local broadcast network doesn’t show it on tv. You can, though, catch it on satellite in a well-equipped bar. I know, for folks in the D.C. area this is a foreign concept, but really, even a couple of years ago that still happened around here.

Now, while I can’t prove that all events are just as, if not even more, crowded than they were in prediluvian (I just coined that neologism) times, that will not stop me from hypothesizing on possible explanations.

Certainly there’s something to the idea that, as Spike Lee succinctly put on that Monday night when the Saints first returned to the Dome, “This is all they got. It’s three hours of this and then back to the FEMA trailer.” No doubt, we New Orleanians will take our fun when and where we can get it, no questions asked. As for those who thought we shouldn’t celebrate the Saints coming back to town when so many of us are still homeless and displaced, unless you’re one of us (and I didn’t hear of any New Orleanian complaining) you can go to hell.

It could be that those of us here feel an obligation to drive as much of the economy of the city as possible, to make up for those that aren’t here. That’s a lot of drinking, eating, and partying on everyone’s shoulders, but if there’s any people up to the challenge, it’d be us. Also, there’s nothing like total destruction to light a fire under your butt about doing things. That “Oh, I’ll catch Voodoo Fest next year,” excuse rings a little hollow when nobody around here yet trusts that there will be a next year, at least not as far as our little city is concerned.

But while it’s true that New Orleanians love a good time, there’s more to it than that. Some have suggested that there’s nothing like winning to bring out a crowd, and that’s definitely true, but it’s not just the Saints that New Orleanians are jumping up, getting out and spending money for. Plus, the Saints were breaking ticket sales records before a game had been played.

There’s an old Saints p.r. slogan you still see around town on bumper stickers and the like, back from the days when it seemed the Saints could always find a way to lose: “You gotta have faith.”

You want to know why I think the Saints and the Rollergirls sell out? Why, even though there’s only a quarter (okay, maybe a third) of us that there used to be, we’re still getting what’s left of our city to chug along as best we can? Because we do have faith. We might not have homes to live in or the jobs we had a year ago; we might not have working street lights or decent roads or reliable water service; we might be missing the friends and relatives that used to make up the community of people we saw every day, but we have faith, faith in this city and faith in each other.

(And trust me, it’s not faith in government, be it local, state, or federal. If anything, New Orleanians have even less faith in those peculiar institutions than the rest of the country. Not that I can imagine why.)

No, it’s the city itself we believe in, our dear, odd, eccentric mystery of a city. We believe it will pull itself up, brush itself off, and dance again. Can I explain why I’m sure this will happen, why I know New Orleans will one day be its old charming self again? Nope. Can I point to anything that convinces me that this will happen, despite all the misery I see every day? Not really.

Sure, there are plenty of little things; signs of slow recovery are everywhere, from the pothole around the corner that finally got filled in, to the walls in my house, to the Saints winning in the Dome, but what convinces me that any of it will last, that all the horror won’t just happen again? Nothing, actually, but then that’s the very nature of faith, isn’t it? You don’t know; but you do believe.