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From The Onion

Upcoming Election Deduced from Sports Illustrated Content

LINCOLN, NE—Football fan Ben Pellett first became aware of the upcoming presidential election Tuesday, thanks to a tangential reference to it made in the Sept. 28 issue of Sports Illustrated. “One of the columnists said that picking who’ll dominate the NFC North would be ‘tougher than predicting the winner on Nov. 2,'” Pellett said. “At first I had no idea what that meant, but then I realized it’s been a while since we voted for president. I asked my roommate, and sure enough, there’s an election this year.” Pellett added that he thinks both the Vikings and the Republicans have what it takes to go all the way.

I’ve been reading an odd assortment of books lately — ones that have been hanging around my shelves for awhile that I don’t want to bother shipping to Russia or storing. However, I’ve run across a pair of books by Octavia Butler (from the rarefied category of African-American women science fiction writers) that were really good and eerily prescient.

The story takes place in California in the late 2020s. Global warming has rendered most of North America a desert. Poverty has grown, and desparate people do unthinkable things to one another to try to survive. Public services have become fee-for-service, so that people are reluctant to call the fire department or the police when they need them because of the expense. The middle class and the rich wall themselves off in their cul-de-sacs for safety, and their children are rarely allowed to leave the gates because they will be mugged, abducted, raped, sold into slavery, or killed by the people outside.

Hoping a tough leader will bring stability, the people elect a Christian fundamentalist president whose minions enslave vagrants, petty criminals, and non-Christians into work camps where they are raped, beaten, and tortured. Their children are taken from their parents and “adopted” by Christian families.

To me it sounds like the far right’s vision of the future. I think these books demonstrate, better than most post-apocalyptic distopian novels, the possible repercussions of privatization of public services, the gap between rich and poor, and theocracy. The results are terrifying and destructive not only for those who wind up on the bottom of the heap, but for everyone. Being well-off doesn’t do a whole lot of good when it’s too dangerous even to leave the house. And some of it is happening already.

If you’re looking for a kick in your ass and a good read, check out Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents.

I’ve heard a lot about the great benefits that Nordic countries provide parents: generous paid maternity and paternity leave, free child care…

Check out what new mothers in Finland get to take home with them. Don’t get scared by the long words with all the vowels, just look at the pictures!

There’s even an outfit for baby wizards!

Actually, there are a lot of problems with sports. Not playing sports, mind you — we wouldn’t have an obesity epidemic if more people got off the couch and tossed a baseball around. The problems are with professional and college spectator sports as an industry: commercialism, anti-intellectualism, sinkholes of public money, and a culture of violence and misogyny, to name a few.

What I’ve been thinking about recently, though, is the problem with the sports fan mentality as it applies to politics. I was speaking with my roommate a few days ago, who had some new insights about swing voters. She was saying that a lot of people will wait til the last minute to decide, and vote for the candidate they think is going to win, because people like to back a winner.

It dawned on me that a lot of people think about politics the way they think about sports. They back a team because it’s from their area or the college they went to, because their friends or family do, because they like to root for the underdog. A team can have different players, different coaches, even different locations year-to-year, but these things are irrelevant. Deciding which team to back is an emotional decision, not based on facts or details.

People uninformed about political issues will back a candidate or party for similar reasons. They vote for the guy from their state, they vote for the party their family has always voted for, they wait to see who’s winning to make their decision.

Republicans understand this well. They have simple sound bites that appeal to simple thinkers. Rather than discuss the nuances of an issue, they zing the competition with a below-the-belt remark, chant “USA! USA!” and the crowd roars and does the wave.

The problem with this is obvious. A vast number of Americans are unable to think critically about important economic and foreign policy issues. They pick their team for superficial reasons and yell “You suck!” at everyone else.

Attention sports fans: turn off ESPN and start reading and thinking. And then go for a run.

I just realized that I haven’t posted in nearly a week. That’s no way to treat my enormous, dedicated audience of readers! :-)

It’s been a relatively uneventful week. Saturday was International Run Against Bush Day, which had turnout of about 300 on The Ellipse, at which I added five miles to my tally. Other than that it’s been work, more running, and thinking about what I’m bringing to Russia, because my stuff ships on October 6!

But I don’t want this blog to become one of the “Today I got up and had some cereal” variety, so I’ll tell a story. I’ve been sharing some stories about my Grandpa on another discussion group that I’m on:

Both of my dad’s parents are salt-of-the-earth country folk who never cease to be amazed by all life has to offer. It’s sweet. One time when I was visiting my grandparents, Grandpa and I were heading into town and Grandma asked if we could stop by the grocery store and pick up some cereal. So we go to the store, and Grandpa’s like, “Um, I’ve never done the grocery shopping, so I don’t really know what to do here.” (Which I think is not true, but whatever.) So I say, “OK, let’s go to the cereal aisle. What kind of cereal do you like?” “Well, I like raisin bran.” “OK, there are a couple different kinds of raisin bran.” So he picks up the Kellogg’s and says, “I think this one is probably the best. Two Scoops!”

I should write to Kellogg’s and tell them that their marketing has been very effective on my Grandpa.

New Voters Project has gotten Bush and Kerry to agree to an online youth debate. I wish they’d involve some third-party and independent candidates, but if we can at least get a bit of lip service to some real issues instead of sound bites, it’s a step in the right direction.

The debate will be in three main phases: submit questions for the candidates, vote to pick the 12 best questions and finally, read the candidates’ responses.

To submit a question, click here.

I have to admit to a major gap in my education: I never took high school American History. Fortunately I have friends to fill me in on the important bits that I missed. From my morning e-mails:

“On this day, in 1859 in San Francisco, Joshua Norton declared himself Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico. One of his first acts “in office” was to abolish the Republican and Democratic Parties.

“He continued to make proclamations throughout his reign. These included commanding that the Golden Gate bridge be built and one about the name of the city, “Whoever after due and proper warning shall be heard to utter the abdominal word ‘Frisco,’ which has no linguistic or other warrant, shall be deemed guilty of a High Misdemeanor.” Penalty for noncompliance was $25. Newspapers of the day printed his proclamations (and even made some up which were not from Norton!)

“During his daily patrol of the streets of San Francisco Norton made certain that all sidewalks were unobstructed. He reviewed the police to see that they were on duty. He checked on the progress of needed street repairs, inspected buildings under construction, and in general saw to it that all office city’s ordinances were enforced.

“During one of the typical anti-Chinese demonstrations so common at the time, the emperor gave the local populace a lesson in the practical application of civics – and prayer. Sensing the dangerously heated tone of one particular meeting, Norton is reported to have stood up before the group, bowed his head and begun reciting the Lord’s Prayer. within a few minutes the agitators retreated in shame without putting any of their threats into cruel action.”

For more information about Emperor Norton, please see:

For all who are interested, I will be hosting House Parties and Marathons for “ReDefeat the Republic”, which calls for an immediate re-institution of the Nortonesque Benevolent Dictatorship.


I leave for France (for two weeks en route to Russia) on November 4, two days after Election Day. This fits in nicely with the stereotype of the American left being a bunch of Francophiles — escape to France right after the election! I’m not embarrassed. I think it’s great.

Anyway, I just discovered a great factoid about France: the price of baguettes is determined by law. Isn’t that fabulous?

I just got a book called “The European Dream.” It compares the American Dream* with the Western European standard of living and seeks to demonstrate that European social democracy produces a better quality of life than does our unfettered capitalism. I haven’t started reading it yet, but I’ll let you know how it is.

* There are alternatives. Check out the Center for a New American Dream.

Yesterday I decided, with 7 weeks til Election Day, it was time to really get serious about my fundraising efforts. It’s also time for me to get serious about working out after a somewhat lazy summer. So I’ve decided to combine the two. I’ve pledged to run 100 miles between now and November 2nd. That works out to be about 5 three-mile runs per week.

You can sponsor my efforts by visiting the Run Against Bush site and entering my name. Where does the money go, you ask? From the website:

Our mission is to defeat Bush in 2004. All the money we raise will go to this end.

We are an independent grassroots organization, and after administrative costs, we will distribute all proceeds in a manner that will most efficiently support John Kerry. Our current plan involves donating to:

1. The DNC and swing state democratic committees.

2. Voter registration and get-out-the vote organizations.

3. Media campaigns in swing states devoted to highlighting the voices and reasons of our team members.

Just got back from a three-mile run. 94 miles to go.

About This Blog

I'm an American who started blogging when I moved to Russia in 2004. Eventually I moved to Sweden, where life is pleasant but uneventful, and stopped blogging for lack of interesting things to say. And then I joined Facebook, which further destroyed any motivation for blogging. Maybe someday I'll start blogging again, but for now, this blog is dormant, an archive of The Russia Years: 2004-2008.

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September 2004