Blog Archive

Blog Archive – October, 2018

Will Democrats’ “Getting Out the Vote” Work?

October 28, 2018

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

          There’s a big push underway- it appears to be primarily a Democrat plan-- for GOTV. GOTV is not a videogame; it’s the acronym of Get-Out-The-Vote. Behind this drive is the conviction: ‘If registered Democrats will simply get off their butts, drag themselves to the polls and check boxes for everyone running in their party’s column, this will restore democracy to America’; at the very least it may halt the Trump bulldozer from grinding it deeper into the dust.

            Those embracing GOTV’s strategy and volunteering to work for a campaign are equipped with an array of 2018 genre phone apps. With these gripped firmly in our hands, we can identify, locate, and meet would-be voters, then with one click instantly convey results to a tally center. One of these apps allows phone canvassers to override unanswered calls and jump in when the algorithm stops at a real voice-- someone has picked up! Seeing their name on our screen, we start our pitch.

            Even with this discriminating process, before we’ve finished identifying ourselves, respondents often ring off. But look! My computer indicates one real person seems willing to speak to me! She’s Lorraine, age 55, registered ‘D’. She stays with me for seven whole minutes. This, even though she initially appears diffident, declaring “I don't intend to vote. Have you seen what’s going on there?” she exclaims.

            Is she speaking about the murdered Saudi journalist, the thousands of Honduran hopefuls trudging northwards through Mexico, or NBC network’s threat to dump host Megan Kelly? I’m unsure what to reply and, sensing my hesitation, Lorraine elaborates: “The bombs; explosives in the city! Evacuations of CNN! Are you not watching the news?”

            Mention of these bomb threats seems to remind her that “there’s a Muslim terrorist camp only half an hour from here”. I ask for details and share my recall of a similar report in my district last year, rumors that proved unfounded. Then Lorraine admits she’s unsure about her claim. “It was a while ago; but some car full of ‘people’ was pulled over and there was a big drug bust”.

            I steer the conversation back to GOTV, to the promising Democratic candidate for our district in the state senate race. Although the name is unfamiliar to Lorraine she finally appears interested: “What’s her position on abortion?” When I reply and elaborate on the candidate’s support for the New York Health Act and school finance reform, my potential voter turns less disputatious.           

            Has she met the candidate? Did she see last night’s debate? No reply. Now Lorraine moves the discussion to the governor’s debate, barking about De Blasio (mayor of New York, not currently up for reelection), rather than incumbent governor Andrew Cuomo. Although she names his opponent (Molinaro). I can hardly keep up with her. This woman is not stupid, and, allowing for some factual confusion, Lorraine is better informed than many.

            And she cares; I can tell.

            Lorraine’s not alone in her confusion. Now she starts blaming Obama for the immigrant influx. The Obama administration raised her property taxes, she charges. “$5000 a year now.”

            My I’m-not-voting respondent is angry at the Democratic Party. Even though, like many Americans who feel similarly, she’s a registered Democrat. “There’s no leadership.” By now Lorraine is subtly pleading with me. (Tell me something to believe in, I hear in her voice.)

            She has run out of people to attack. At some point Lorraine actually praises the current White House occupant for what she sees as forthrightness. Although she doesn’t name any specific statement of his, she feels he’s clear-minded.

            What can we learn from this?

            For how long should I engage?

            To end the conversation, I share with Lorraine my own apprehension about the Party; I cite reports of corruption and the irresoluteness I see at the local county level and with the National Democratic Committee. Then I rally; I tell her why I personally am making these calls to support this state senate candidate. I finish upbeat-- “Well it seems you really care Lorraine; I do hope you’ll vote on November 6th. Will you?” Lorraine mutters “Yes, I‘ll vote.”

            How should I register this on my app’s 1 to 5 scale?

[ Will Democrats’ “Getting Out the Vote” Work? ]

What Is It About Bears?

October 22, 2018

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

My editor at Natural History Magazine once remarked how, whenever their cover features a bear, sales rise. A koala bear, a young panda, a sunbathing polar bear or a menacing American grizzly; it doesn’t matter. People like bears.

            Occasional attacks on humans and the aversion of many people to any form of wildlife hunting notwithstanding, bears are irresistible. However vulnerable we may be, humans can’t shake our unparalleled attraction to these bulky, really quite graceless creatures.

            We are smitten not only by pictures of bears; we’re enthralled by the sight of live bears. Whether on two legs grabbing berries or bounding across meadows on all fours, bears in the wild are especially mesmerizing; more than deer who, although not necessarily faster than bears, quickly disappear into the foliage. Our ursine creatures seem to prefer open spaces, even during daylight hours. A spectacle for any passerby.

            I’m talking personally only about black bears here; they’re the ones I encounter in my neighborhood.       

            This year we’ve seen more than usual wandering close to our homes. And we don’t live in Montana or Alaska where grizzlies roam. I’m in upstate New York, hardly two hours drive from New York City with its all-night sidewalk cafes and 24-hour home deliveries!

            My Catskill neighborhood proudly identifies itself as trout country. But our bears are not here to catch fish. Fields and forests are their habitant. Our bears are all black, usually not more than 300 pounds (they can go up to 500). And frankly, they’re common. They are often sauntering from yard to yard in search of food; or they’re simply curious, appearing to be in no hurry at all. The wildlife service says our region has abundant natural food sources for bears. But I suspect that the growing number of apiaries cultivated by retirees who moved here from the city draw bears into our villages. Last spring one was shot by a neighbor while it ravaged his dozen beehives.   

            Do you know bears have their very own adjective? Ursine. Cool. And their own candies:--gummy bears. Rather pricey varieties too. Commercial spin-offs exploiting our affection for bears are legendary. And they’ll continue. Nearby in Pennsylvania, for example, bears are a lure for the Milford annual film festival. (No bear films there; only the wooden sculpture outside the theater is as close as a bear gets to that event.) 

            Bear hunting is reportedly important to our economy. It’s part of the state’s tourism pitch, promoted by the Department of Environmental Conservation. The 2018 hunting season is still underway; in 2017 though, 1,420 New York black bears were killed, with the heaviest harvest in counties around me: 151 in Delaware; 147 in Sullivan; and (closer to NYC) 167 in Ulster County. This, out of an estimated state population of 6,000-8,000. Nationwide, black bears number around 900,000, a population that is increasing annually.

            Anecdotally, from sightings around my own neighborhood, black bears seem plentiful. In August a mid-size ursine creature with a long neck trotted casually along the riverfront of four coterminous family lawns; two days later a mother and three cubs had to be chased off a nearby porch. On a morning walk last month I initially took the black, furry creature sauntering down the middle of the road ahead of me to be a lost dog. It seemed unconcerned about whom it might encounter. “His mother mustn’t be far away; keep your distance”, I cautioned myself. Earlier in the season a big adult followed by a smaller bear scampered across the road in front of me towards an open meadow. My most memorable sighting occurred at midday when I was on the highway en route home from the city; I slowed to watch a huge black animal followed by two smaller ones galloping towards me. They crossed two highway lanes, the grass strip between, then two more lanes onto the verge above me. It must have been autumn because their black coats glistened in the sun, and under their fur, their fat-laden shoulders and haunches shook as they leapt along.

            There must be many bears roaming around at nighttime here; I often see fresh bear scat in the grass, easy to distinguish from what deer leave. “A bear’s presence is easy to determine”, a longtime resident instructed; “its droppings emit an overpowering stink”.  

            I am reminded how fondly we regard our bears when I and friends pause in our local library to admire a photo just posted. It’s a family of four bears—local inhabitants. A surge of envy overtook us when the owner of the pictures identified the three cubs as same ones she photographed last May when they were hardly the size of puppies.

[ What Is It About Bears? ]

For Those of Us Who Believe

October 01, 2018

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

For those of us who watched with innocence, then passion, then consternation, the results of the 1991 senate hearing for supreme court nominee Clarence Thomas; for those who championed film stars, then ordinary women daring, finally, to call out Harvey Weinstein and a stream of male predators; for those who watched with confidence the rise of #MeToo; for those of us who wrote poems and songs and opinions hailing a real cultural shift in female-male dynamics; for those of us still unable to admit being sexually abused; for those of us who finally confessed some discomforts to our lovers; for those of us who overcame difficulties to tell our sons and our daughters about those endemic secrets; for those of us who believe openness and dialogue are healthy and transformative--: we now fear we were misguided.

            The misogynist and white culture of privilege in the U.S.A. was again evident during the recent senate hearing to evaluate Brett Kavanaugh for the U.S. Supreme Court.

            The end of Friday’s judiciary committee hearing suggests accommodation was reached by member senators. But to do what? Demonstrate a real solution was found to test the veracity of the parties involved and affirm that senate confirmation is a noble process? The delay (to call in the FBI) may allow more time for Americans to debate and for our infotainment industry to distract us from the urgent, decisive elections just weeks away. (This while a narrowly circumscribed FBI investigation is conducted in secret.)

            Committee senators have cast their vote; the number in Kavanaugh’s (and Trump’s) favor suggests the nominee’s success. Whether confirmation would drive outraged citizens (Democrats and others) on Election Day to determinedly ouster stalwart Republican office-holders remains to be seen. If Kavanaugh is rejected, there will be a lot of satisfied women and men on one side, but maybe many more recalcitrants on the other. Again, how this will manifest on November 6th is uncertain.

            Simply from the way these hearings evolved –a spectacle L.A. Times' Lorraine Ali descrives as unmatched raw politicizing -- I wonder if the process we have witnessed actually reinforces how deeply misogynist and white male-privileged American culture is. From the arrival of nominee-Dad with teenage daughter, his awesome welcome into the hearing, adorned by senate sycophants, proceeding through rumors, press reports, to a face-off-- testimonies by the ‘injured woman’ and the defending nominee—wrapped up with theatrical declarations by the candidate’s partisans and a phony compromise to bring the curtain down on Friday’s performance, America remains far, far from gender equity and open democratic processes. END

 

[ For Those of Us Who Believe ]


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