Thursday, November 9, 2017

Record or Assist

It was cold and rainy on election day Tuesday but at least I had the opportunity of working inside all day, although I walked outside several times to introduce myself to every observer, volunteer and candidate out there doing hard duty handing out sample ballots, blue for democrats and green for republicans, to voters as they walked up to enter the local high school to vote. All were unfailingly polite.  

Inside, there was a stark difference in what I perceived my duty to be as an inside poll observer and what my republican counterpart's assigned duty was. All day I stood or sat near the check-in table and watched for problems voters encountered in being enabled to cast their ballots--wrong precinct, no longer living in the district, their name spelled wrong in the voter rolls, their sister voted previously in their name because the staffer couldn't decipher the Asian name properly, the voter couldn't understand English and required assistance but couldn't write either and thus couldn't sign her requires-assistance form--and followed them discretely to the chief's table to stand by and listen to the problem's resolution. Almost always there the situation was resolved in favor of the person being entitled to vote, sometimes after a call being placed to the registrar. Three provisional ballots were cast (the aforementioned sister/brother mix-up, for instance), often the voter was sent to one of the other two precincts to vote and rarely the voter was turned away, usually after being registered on the spot to entitle them to vote in the next election. I never felt the need to intercede with the election officials in support of a voter and only made one or two suggestions to them all day, and asked them questions about situations or procedures several times. I often spoke conversationally with the officials to varying degrees during slow moments, having introduced myself to each of them and made a point of remembering their names. It was an efficient organization with heart there.

The other poll observer had a different reason, obviously, for being there. Aside from getting up occasionally to go outside to make a call on his cellphone I assumed or use the facilities or stand in order to stretch his legs, he sat in a chair within 3 feet directly behind central check-in person and furiously thumbed his I-phone all day, doing his best mark on his "app" (I presumed it was a registered voter list or perhaps a list of persons that party had contacted during the campaign) the appearance of every voter who checked in as they announced their name and the name was repeated back to them by the staff member. Never did I see him wander around the voting room by the officials' tables except to plug in his back-up battery, nor did I see him converse with the staff except in the course of a situation arising out of him placing his chair initially so close behind the check-in person's chair that that officer complained that the observer was in such proximity with him that he was uncomfortable and felt interfered with in the performance of his duties. He literally couldn't get up from the table without the observer moving his chair back. (He also conversed with staff in the course of graciously being offered a donut or two during the long day.) The chair incident produced the day's only "drama" as my friend across the aisle, Joe, termed it. 

The staffer who felt Joe was too close to allow him to do his duty properly requested him to move back permanently and the observer refused, saying he couldn't hear the names as they were announced otherwise and to do his "job" he needed to be right there behind the staff member. Thus the right of the observer to be able to see and hear everything being done and said at the check-in table clashed with the right of the staffer to be free of interference or influence in the performance of his duty, and this stand-off at the fulcrum point of the free and transparent operation of our basic voting rights pulled in the Board of Elections Directer and Mr. Dan Dodds, who I presumed was the roving Republican operative assigned to that district.

In my opinion, Mr. Dodds was a pissant, and I watched from my perch five or six feet behind the check-in table where they had set up a table for the observers as in the back, the twenty-something tall gaunt man argued down in an angry voice, with much finger jabbing interspersed with backhanded slaps across the sheaf of important papers he was clutching for awe-inspiring emphasis, with the diminutive fifty-something Director who was standing her ground even as, at one point, the rover had a metal chair slung menacingly over his shoulder as he gesticulated. In a word he was, in my opinion, nasty.

Order was restored to the process with a compromise as the two came out and together moved Joe's chair to a spot about 32 inches behind the staffer's chair and declared that that was the redline, for both of us. Joe tried his dictated location and claimed that he still couldn't hear but Mr. Dodds spoke to him like one would rebuke a dog, telling him to do his "job," to get busy with his "app," and that that spot was "final." Then Mr. Dodds stalked out, obviously an important personage with more places to be on that day.

The rest of the day was long and uneventful for us. Joe liked history, and had brought two books to read, and we talked history and books sometimes. I tried to time our quiet discussions for when a crowd of voters came in and he tried to time them for when a voter was spending an inordinate time at the table, indicating a problem. I offered him a cracker smeared with spicy tuna from a small tin I had for lunch, which he declined, and he had a bag of nuts in his pocket which he would occasionally go into the hallway to nibble from, of which he offered me none. We got along famously, and I even told him that I had observed that the voting machines were set at zero that morning before the polls were opened at 6 a.m., something he hadn't observed in person, as that apparently was on both our checklists.

During the long day I had the opportunity to reflect upon which course of inside poll observation action was better--to record on your hand-sized computer every voter who comes in so that at HQ they can selectively utilize their phone banks to get out their voters, or to look out for problems as they develop inside the voting area and follow them through to their resolution, thus allowing as many voters presenting themselves to vote as possible. Since the permissible number of inside observers is limited, doing both is well-nigh impossible. I'm not surprised at the very different choices each party made in this election, and I wonder what it augurs for the future of voting and inside observing.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

America's Coming Back

Against my better judgment and against all my wishes, I signed up to work in the gubernatorial race in Virginia for democratic candidate Dr. Ralph Northam, who is a fine man and a moderate in the recent trend of winning democrats in turning-blue Virginia.  I was gun-shy because I have worked intensively in two campaigns in my life, Hillary Clinton in 2016 and George McGovern in 1972, thinking they were transcendent times, and the result each time was a devastating defeat resulting in utter disaster (an effing moron winning and a president resigning in disgrace).  (5 a.m. somewhere in Virginia yesterday.)
But I volunteered to register voters and make phone calls last month, I sent out e-mails and undertook training to be an inside poll observer this month and yesterday I put in a 16-hour day working at Precinct 1 in Manassas Park.  When I got home from my exhausting day I was astounded and gratified to learn that already Northam had been declared winner and the democrats had won the other two top state spots of lieutenant governor and attorney general.  Maybe the country has awoken from its self-induced stupor.  (Taking training at the George Mason School of Law, trying to quell my gag-reflex.)
The day was interesting watching rough looking voters in not-quite-Northern-Virginia not-really-Tidewater-either file through all day.  One man angrily asked if we were "letting all them illegal aliens vote" and another angrily objected to the check-in election worker call out his name out loud, as is required, due to "privacy" concerns, and the local roving Republican operative showed up to angrily berate the local Board of Elections chief in strident terms over some supposed infraction of the rules or the law with much finger jabbing towards her face and hand slaps on the important papers he was holding, obvious anger and disdain infusing his body and soul, a tall twenty-something man towering over a diminutive fifty-something woman as he gesticulated for show, in his mind's eye a projection of power.  Dan Dodds, you're a querulous a**.  (Just like your hero, who is a train wreck.)

When the long day was done it was Northam 669, Trump surrogate Gillespie 295, with similar showings for the rest of the top of the ticket.  Make America great again.  (Campaigning a year ago, before the fall.)

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

New York Strong

New York Strong.  New Yorkers aren't afraid.

My heart goes out to the five killed Argentinians, Belgian and two others, and the injured.  The New Yorkers' response on the scene, protecting school children and assisting the injured, and later, conducting the nearby Halloween Parade shortly afterwards, was strong.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Pay Attention

It took over two years after I received a substandard performance appraisal (now corrected) at the at the hands of a cadre of managers all a generation younger and in my opinion interested in maintaining their own positions rather than in advancing the interests of the agency, which I complained about, and I was forced by the hostile work environment there to precipitously and prematurely retire less than a year after that, I agreed to a Settlement Agreement which mandates in part in Section VIII d that "...the FTC will ensure that all current FTC employees, who are or were managers within the Division of Financial Practices between August 2015 and the present, will complete EEO and diversity training, including training addressing age discrimination." That training is today, and I hope that my former managers are attentive, take notes, pay heed and act accordingly.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Worst to First

DC has plenty of free expansive memorials like the Washington Monument, dedicated walkways like the Tidal Basin and museums like the Smithsonian Portrait Gallery.  It has a permanent presidential portrait gallery with one or more painted picture of every past president except Obama (it's coming), so to get an image of the current and worst president by far already, you have to go to the Smithsonian gift shop and buy a postcard.

But on the west end of the third floor of the old converted Patent Office building, you can see plenty of images of the best president, Lincoln, including busts, a life mask and a cast of his hands.  In contrast to the current era of divisiveness fostered by the current White House occupant, Lincoln kept our nation together, ended the intractable problem of slavery, reinvented American liberty with his Gettysburg Address and showed a way to the future with his astonishing 2d Inaugural Address.

You can find a portrait of the worst president, until Trump, Dubya; his "W" moniker stood for Worst.  He had all the worst impulses of a miscreant schoolboy, flippant ("Bring 'em on!"), irreverent (Doin' a heckuva job, Brownie"), intellectually lazy (he depended on Cheney's viewpoint of the world) and totally unprepared, in his own way, for the demands of the office ("Mission accomplished!"), his unfunded tax cuts and endless wars has impoverished the country but in contrast to the abysmal "presidential" performance we've seen this year, Bush the Second now seems positively presidential in comparison.

But then you can pause in the marble hallways to linger over several likenesses of the Father of our Country.  Washington won a guerrilla war against the greatest power on Earth, gave up the mantle of military power voluntarily, took on the country's first presidency under its new constitution and established many important protocols for the office and then retired after two terms, setting yet another lasting standard for the peaceful transfer of power.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Make War No More

I went for a walk through the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden on the Mall recently, reflecting on the increasingly bombastic war of words between our president and the dear leader of North Korea, two fat little men with delusions of grandeur and total lack of consciences.  I labeled this artwork Attempt at Decapitation.

Could words alone lead to devastating consequences?  This piece I named War with North Korea.

It happens in schoolyards, and these cunning megalomaniacs demonstrate the guile and silly word escalations of schoolchildren.  I called this statue The Battle.

The faux deity who has killed his half brother with a chemical agent and executed his uncle by shooting him with an antiaircraft gun, and the lazy grifter who has assaulted women, lambasted gold star families, disparaged war heroes, praised neo-Nazis, assailed the free press and displayed shocking ignorance and startling narcissism are two scorpions in a bottle with everyone in the world watching anxiously.  Meet The Victor.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Columbus day

it was a tranquil Columbus Day in Westover.  The weather was 80 degrees and sticky by noontime, when I had a Polynesian Pizza at the Lost Dog Cafe.

The Lost Dog was crowded and I watched many more people stream in for lunch.  It's at the west end of the Westover market area, but there's a new anchor point at the east end of the strip, the Italian Store.

It was packed with people ordering pizza or gourmet deli sandwiches, shopping for pasta or canned sauces or sitting at the multiple eating perches or tables to enjoy the store's fare.  It was like an Arlington happening inside this former 7-11 store.

This block-long commercial venue has its old standby mid block, Ayers Hardware Store, but has new aspirants for most successful venture such as the aforementioned Lost Dog and Italian Store, plus the Westover Beer Garden and Market with its local bands and the Sunday Farmer's market with its fresh produce and products.  It's a gem of a tiny commercial center, with a school, library, post office, drug store, hamburger place and an ice cream shop right there too.