Monthly Archives: November 2020

Where Were You When…?

“Where were you when…?”

There are events that so significant, so momentous, that they sear themselves into the psyche. I say ‘sear’, because these moments are often negative events, such as the Challenger explosion, or 9/11, but these events can also be positive, such as the first person on the moon[0], or the one that happened yesterday morning, the 2020 U.S. Presidential Election being called for Joe Biden & Kamala Harris[1].

For us, this was a momentous and significant occasion. We had been on tenterhooks for days[2], perhaps for years, ever since the unexpected upset of Hillary Clinton by Donald Trump in 2016. The presidency of Donald Trump was an exhausting one, with endless breaking of norms, rampant illegality, and cruelty.

We had an endlessly raging sense that this was not normal, and it was difficult to focus on other things, when there could be a new evil or stupid thing being done each day or week, that could potentially harm thousands or millions of people. Earlier in the week, it had become clear that barring a catastrophe, Biden would win the election, so my tension level had gone down significantly (especially when it became obvious that Fox News and the Bush/Rubio wing of the Republican party would not support such an illegal seizure of power as Trump was contemplating).

But it still felt odd, and somehow wrong, to focus on other projects until this was well and done. The actual calling of this election for Biden was an important step on this road to normalcy, and perhaps also an indication that we could take our eye off the ball and relax for just a second…[3][4]

For us, this happened when we were out in the wilderness, in one of our favourite spots, when S’s watch buzzed, and showed us the following message:

Where were you when you first heard?
Where were you when you first heard?

…indicating that the newpaper(s) of record were now willing to put their credibility behind the fact that Biden was going to win this election.

We expressed our happiness a little bit, and then immediately wanted to check which state it was that had made the difference, and it turns out that it had indeed been Pennsylvania, as had been suspected all along[5]:

With Pennsylvania called for Biden, the election is over.
With Pennsylvania called for Biden, the election is over.

While looking at this map, we encountered some other people coming the opposite way on the trail, and perhaps cathartically, or just to have some human connection to share this experience, I made hand motions and cheered, to which they replied that they had also just heard.

Admittedly, people who drive to an art gallery in the wilderness so that they can go walking on a trail will tend towards certain demographics, but it is telling that within minutes, we all knew this most significant bit of news, suggesting how much everyone around the world was on tenterhooks.

Here’s hoping that we remember this moment as a turning point. Keep pushing my friends, this is not over yet.

[0] (It feels like there’s a whole book to be written about why all of my positive examples (and many of my negative ones) have to do with space flight/exploration/travel…probably having something to do with space travel representing all of humanity working together to solve a problem…a super-poignant one for me was the landing of ‘Curiosity’, I remember exactly where I was, and how verklempt I was that this little robot[6] had gone so far (560 million km, to land so exactly (within 2.4km), and they cared so much about it that they had altered the orbit of the Odyssey orbiter (not done trivially) so that they could check on Curiosity immediately after landing…There are also probably comments about how the advent of television makes these moments possible, such that all of humanity can experience something in real time, and so viscerally through the visual medium.)

[1] It will remain to be seen whether this moment is as changing of the course of history/presaging a new era as the other ones mentioned. For the sake of the planet, we hope so.

[2] The election was officially held on the Tuesday, and it was finally called on the Saturday morning.

[3] (The link is people dancing on and around a car to the tune ‘All I want for Christmas is you’, along with commentary that contrary to when this song is normally heard (endlessly in retail areas in the month(s) leading up to Christmas), it was actually pleasurable, and led to people being verklempt, because of the incredible catharsis and sense of relief: “this was the first time i heard this song in 2020 and it was absolutely the best possible occasion
🎁”

[4] Remember, there are two senate runoff elections happening in Georgia that will decide things like how much healthcare Americans get for decades to come, and there is still the ‘lame duck’ session where Trump will have some power to cause damage. There will likely be an unimaginable amount of money flowing into that election, and the most incredible GOTV campaign that you can imagine, both of which you can help with.

[5] fivethirtyeight.com had given a 36.6% chance that Pennsylvania would be the tipping point in this election, but that was the chance of Pennsylvania being the one state that was closest to the edge, once all the votes were counted, which has not been determined yet. But being the state that pushed the ‘called count’ over is probably good enough for Gritty fans.

[6] A tiny capsule, flying through the immense void of space, carrying so many of humanity’s hopes and dreams with it, and trying so hard to do its job as best it can…

The End of the Beginning…

Winston Churchill said after the Second Battle of El Alamein[1] that “…this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.

This morning, the first minor outlets started calling the U.S. Presidental Election for Joe Biden. I remember seeing the first indication that Biden had actually taken the lead in Pennsylvania just after 9:30am:

The long-anticipated lead for Biden in Pennsylvania finally happens:
The long-anticipated lead for Biden in Pennsylvania finally happens:

This had been predicted by many observers, and we had been seeing the slow march in this direction for days, as the mail-in votes in Pennsylvania were being counted:

The day before, when Biden was still catching up:
The day before, when Biden was still catching up:

But it’s one thing to know almost for certain that something is coming, and another thing entirely to see it actually happen.

If there’s one thing that I feel that we’ve learned during these last 9 months of pandemic isolation, it’s that there is a significant difference between understanding something intellectually, and the full-on emotional experience.

People were saying that this election might not be decided until late this week, and that it might be a nail-biter…[2]

…similar to ‘life will not go back to normal until there is a vaccine, and that will not happen until late 2021 at the earliest’…a nail-biter that one is living through is very different than one that one is merely discussing in theory. I would posit that people around the world lost a significant amount of sleep (and not just those counting ballots) from the stress over the starkly divided U.S., perched on a ‘knife’s edge‘.

But it now looks like we have a way forward. The current numbers are juust over the biggest barrier, and the overall trend is good. Barring some catastrophe[3], Joe Biden will be the next president of the United States, and as he alluded to in his ‘not-quote-a-victory-speech-speech’: “We believe when the count is finished we’ll be the winner“, that it is time for the country (really, the world), to come together to heal.

“What brings us together…is so much stronger than anything that can tear us apart.”

We need to keep up the pressure, so that our politicians implement what they said they would do, and we need to watch for shenanigans around every corner (and do everything we can to win both Senate seats in Georgia), but there is light at the end of the tunnel…and if we play our cards right, we[4] could end up with a president that can bring together a consensus on programs that rival the New Deal in scope and progress.

Stay safe and keep pushing…

[1] The Second Battle of Alamein (and indeed the entire African campaign and WWII) are fascinating in their own right, but are far too large and out of scope to address here.

[2] To be precise, fivethirtyeight.com predicted that:

“…it wouldn’t take that big of a polling error in Trump’s favor to make the election interesting. Importantly, interesting isn’t the same thing as a likely Trump win; instead, the probable result of a 2016-style polling error would be a Biden victory but one that took some time to resolve and which could imperil Democrats’ chances of taking over the Senate. On the flip side, it wouldn’t take much of a polling error in Biden’s favor to turn 2020 into a historic landslide against Trump.”

While many were undoubtedly hoping for the latter, undoubtedly record Republican turnout meant that we ended up with the former.

[3] #knockonwood

[4] I wonder if this is how empires happen…that those in the hinterlands are so affected by the decisions made, or the culture projected, that they start to identify with the leaders, rooting for them as they root for themselves…

On Tenterhooks

In just over two days, Election Day in the United States will have drawn to a close. Normally, I would say ‘the election in the United States will be over’, but as anyone who is reading this knows, these are not normal times.

I was talking with a friend of mine on Friday, and he asked me how I was doing. I told him I was ‘really tense about Tuesday’. He looked over to his other screen, and said ‘89 to 10‘. We both immediately knew what he meant. The situation in the U.S. is so pervasive that not only has it overloaded[1] numbers, but days of the week.

Pennsylvania is the key.
Pennsylvania is the key.
'89 to 10'.  We both immediately know what it meant, and where the information came from.
’89 to 10′. We both immediately know what it meant, and where the information came from.

To give you an idea of how people are feeling,

Problematic Jim Jeffries commented on the Daily Show[2] that just being able to name so many members of the U.S. administration, including people in such insignificant jobs as ‘Deputy Press Secretary'[3], is a sign that something is terribly wrong. The whole point of a representative democracy is that we don’t always need to know the names of the people in positions of power, that there is some trust that they will do their jobs properly.

That does not seem to be the case at the moment.

Norms are being violated all over the place, the president has called for active voter suppression on election day (never mind the concerted and constant Republican efforts to suppress the vote and gerrymander a victory), and it is now looking like their strategy will be to attempt to declare victory on election night, after the votes cast on election day have been counted, but before the absentee and early voting votes have been counted, kind of a Florida 2000 writ large…

Pennsylvania is the key.
Pennsylvania is the key.

Graph from 538's ' Why Pennsylvania’s Vote Count Could Change After Election Night'.

All of this is a recipe for civil unrest and violence.

There was disturbing news today about a caravan of pickup trucks flying Trump/Pence flags who worked together to attempt to run the Biden/Harris bus off the road in Texas. Even more disturbing was that the President expressed his support for this.

One other friend of mine opined today that he now understood what he now understood what it felt like to be Polish on March 3, 1933[4].

It is no wonder then, that the rest of the world (and probably much of the U.S.) is on tenterhooks, waiting for the result…a result that may be inconclusive, or swing back and forth for days, with large numbers of people yelling and committing violence, attempting to muddy the waters and intimidate a result.

So, what do we do?

For people currently residing in the United States, especially those with the power to vote (and those who can vote from overseas), there are various ways to make one’s voice heard, the most important at this moment being voting or helping others vote.

But what about all the rest of us, those of us who will be affected by the results, but have no direct say over the outcome[5]?

Well, we might have to accept that there’s not a lot we can do about U.S. politics…but…

…We can donate to NGOs that promote justice in the world (such as the SPLC & the EFF), you can promote justice at home (remember, ‘All politics is local‘), and you can help remind people online that they are supported, and that there are other people out there who believe in a better world.

I guess that’s what I’m trying to do here today. You are not alone. ‘Peace, Order, and Good Government‘ may be a Canadian[6] saying, but I feel that most people in the world would want/prefer this. Working together, we can make this happen, and sooner than you might expect.

Stay safe out there.

-Nayrb 🙂

[1] ‘Overloaded’ in this context meaning the computer programming term, where you modify your code so that you can use something like the ‘+’ sign to add things that your computer doesn’t normally know how to add, such as ‘a + b = ab‘.

[2] He is known to be problematic, so I’m not linking it. Caveat Lector.

[3] …including their married and maiden names!

[4] A Google search for ‘1933 election’ brings up the March 1933 German federal election as the first hit. That alone should give you an idea of that event’s importance.

[5] There are a whole bunch of interesting arguments that are out of scope, about this lack of representation. Some of them are ‘taxation without representation’ arguments that are fascinating, but are out of scope.

[6] Apparently, it’s a common (natch) Commonwealth saying, appearing in multiple Commonwealth constitutions and other places. Note that it contrasts with the ‘Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness’ from the U.S. Declaration of Independence, but one could easily argue that these are much more difficult to achieve with ‘Peace, Order, and Good Government’.