the diary thing 
fl - flagI'D PROBABLY END UP VOTING FOR RALPH NADER this fall if I were an American, not because I support the Green Party platform so enthusiastically -- actually, much of what they propose to do makes Reagan-era "voodoo economics" seem plausible and well thought-out -- but because the main parties are running their campaigns with such naked cynicism, such plodding, graceless calculation that voting, now more than ever, will feel like the risible choices of a Nielsen family: "Survivor" or "Big Brother"? Bush or Gore? "Friends" or "The Sopranos"? Cheney or Lieberman? It's hard to believe the future of a nation hangs on so scant a range of alternatives.

The papers were full of stories about Kennedy's consideration of Connecticut governor Abraham Ribicoff for the attorney-general's post he ended up giving to his brother Bobby. Apparently, even Ribicoff thought that, with a Roman Catholic in the White House, America might not be ready for a Jew in the cabinet as well. Somehow Gore's decision, made forty years later, is supposed to seem brave and groundbreaking, which only goes to show how much the WASP country-club mentality still rules Washington. At this rate, hydrogen fuel-cell cars will be touring the vintage auto circuit by the time a black or a woman rides in the big seat in Air Force One.

I can only imagine that, on some level, Gore's campaign team were weighing the possibility of losing the votes of those political coelocanths who quake at the prospect of a Joseph Lieberman in the oval office. These are the people -- not all of them Montana militiamen with copies of The Turner Diaries in their fanny packs -- who regard the WASP oligarchy as the last bastion of Christian defence against a New World Order run from Israel. 

I can only imagine the scene a week or two ago, in some late-night room on the Gore campaign trail, the vice-president off somewhere trying to get Eudora to work on his new laptop while his campaign team chew over the rumours that Dick Cheney will be joining the relay at the GOP convention in Philadelphia.

"It'll be alright if we can stress that Lieberman's a social conservative," one party operative mutters, his mouth full of Krispy Kreme.

The atmosphere in the Gore War Room is tentative. From a dark corner the old vet, a pinstriped veteran of countless campaigns, belches soundlessly and speaks up.

"I'd be careful. There are still some swing states that ask you to check the boxes 'Christian, Catholic or Other'."

The young turk, a hot young p.r. officer hired on from one of the movie studios, has been listening silently, lying on one of the single beds pushed to the wall of the motel room, his eyes closed, one hand massaging the back of his neck as he smokes -- he'd always thought that election campaigns would be a smoker's paradise, but most of the other men and women in the room never touched the stuff or quit years ago. He sighs loudly, stamps his feet against the carpet and bolts upright, exhaling violently from his American Spirit.

"I don't see what the fuss is all about. Are we going to poll the Freemen compounds every time we make a move?" He looks around the room, his eyes burning. A head or two lowers in shame, or fatigue. "In any case, he's an Orthodox Jew. That's practically Episcopalian as far as most voters are concerned." 

I WAS A LOT MORE EXCITED about the elections during the primaries, and even planned to put up a site devoted to U.S. election watching, from the perspective of the cynical, the disinterested, the wry spectator. I may still do it, but right now my fervor has waned, and without a John McCain or an Alan Keyes to make things interesting, it looks like little more than a ghostly dance around the issues from here to November. Could be worse -- could be a Canadian election.

Here in Canada, the traditional conservative party -- the oddly-named Progressive Conservatives, or Tories -- have imploded since their eighties zenith of power under Brian Mulroney, and barely won a handful of seats in the last election. Mulroney, a pro-American Prime Minister who judged the tenor of the times aptly and won office in the go-go eighties boom with a promise to tether our economy to the American juggernaut, has left the country with an ugly morning-after, especially as revelations of his nasty pork-barrelling and corruption have surfaced, and a natural Canadian anti-Americanism has revived in the wake of NAFTA. (It seems that almost everyone who thought NAFTA was a good thing had it confused with a fever dream of duty-free cross-border shopping.) 

A new federal conservative party -- the even more puzzlingly-named Reform -- has decided to abandon its old Prarie power base if it hopes to move from official opposition to ruling party, and to overwhelming indifference has re-fashioned itself as the Conservative Alliance party, but only after someone figured that the Conservative Reform Alliance Party didn't look so good as an acronym. They've turfed their old leader, a eugenist's son named Preston Manning, in favor of Stockwell Day, a young Prarie preacher who believes the earth is 6,000 years old. Yes, I'm scared.

On one hand, the spectre of American-style "moral" campaigning, and the introduction of phrases like "family values" and "less government" -- phrases twisted and wrung-out so as to become near-meaningless -- into Canadian politics frightens me. On the other hand, the Alliance (Alliance with whom? Alliance of what? Has the language of politics finally divorced itself, not only from meaning, but from syntax?) is so clearly driven by a hunger to drive out the federal Liberals and form the government that they're clearly willing to do anything -- say anything, pretend to be anything --  to win an election, and if no particular policy on any issue forms itself until they find themselves in power, all the better -- just do what you want and call it a "mandate from the voters". It's worked for the Republican congress time and time again.

Is there any subject less substantial than politics? At least the stock market performs in a manner more or less measurable by the yardstick of money. In politics, the consequences of a political moment, like McCarthy or Johnson's Great Society or Watergate or Reaganomics, can reverberate for years, and it's only when the snake gives a final shake of its tail that we know what it all meant.


"The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by an endless series of hobgoblins."
- H.L. Mencken

"Won't the real Dick Cheney please stand up?" It's not the wittiest political jibe I've ever heard, but it cracks me up every time. I can't wait to hear Mark Russell pound it out on PBS, even if I won't be watching.

IS THERE ANYTHING LEFT TO SAY about "Big Brother"? I actually have nothing to say about "Survivor", since I've barely watched an episode, but I've seen a few "Big Brother"s, even though the show is excruciating, and the daily recap on Salon is far more entertaining. 

Okay, I have one thing to say about "Survivor": Richard is an asshole. I'd run a mile over busted crack pipes to get away from someone like Richard.

Voting off Jordan, the nasty stripper-girl, made one thing obvious -- "Big Brother"'s viewers are mostly women, and if there's one thing women can't stand, if my thirty-plus years in the male viewing stands count for anything, it's a flirty cocktease who thrives under a horny male gaze. Moreover, I'd bet that college coeds make up a healthy proportion of the voting viewers, as who else could find the patience to sit through five minutes of Brittany's squirming, nasal self-regard.

Most episodes are like being in the common room of Thwartmore Hall on a Friday night, when most of the dating couples are at the pub and the couches are full of girls in track pants eating microwave popcorn and watching Say Anything. The estrogen in the air will be thick as egg whites, but if a stray male, tellingly unattached -- say a bush-league emotional manipulator trying to cut a few notches on his bedpost, like Josh -- happens into this environment, the cozy nest of gossip and winsome self-pity will curdle like month-old skim milk. 

The only person on the show who seems to be a card-carrying adult is Cassandra, and we don't see much of her most days. Cassandra, I suspect, is mentally living off-campus. George is a townie, while Karen is the needy mature student who tags along to the pub after class, drinks a bit too much draft and complains about her husband and kids -- the reasons why she didn't go to college when she was young.

I actually like shows like "Big Brother", if only because they remind me why I like to stay at home.

TOO MUCH TIME ALONE AT HOME. Maybe it's becoming something of a problem, I can't be sure anymore. I've never exactly been a social butterfly, but I seem to recall a time, not too long ago, when my social skills seemed more adept. 

Evenings out are becoming more work, it seems, as my pool of small-talk has dried up past negligible levels, and every night out happens only after months of good intentions and promises to get together. Half the evening seems to be spent catching up, re-establishing a bond that might once have been effortless to maintain. It's worse at home, if a friend drops by, where I've retreated into my shell, and I find myself standing around nervously, flinching at a goodbye hug or kiss on the cheek, my eyes wandering to the kitten when I can't think of anything to say.

Our poor friend V. -- over six months pregnant and feeling a bit at sea with it all -- was over the other day, and I don't think I said more than ten words to her. I assumed she was here to see K., and besides I was deep in shut-in autism. "Is Rick mad at me?" V. asked K. later. I wonder how many of my friends think I'm mad at them, just because the lines tying me to the dock are getting mighty frayed of late.

I'm a sluggard at answering e-mail and I'm only at ease on the phone chewing out my ISP or nagging a client for an overdue cheque. I can only imagine it getting worse when I buckle down to work on the novel. Time for the cork-lined room, I imagine.

SPEAKING OF PROUST -- as I'm sure you knew I was -- I've discovered my "madelaine", and it's stewed rhubarb.

The unusually cool, wet summer has knocked the usual crop schedule out of whack, where it hasn't ruined crops altogether -- berry farmers are looking at bankruptcy, plums have developed some kind of blight, and 2000 might be the worst year for wine in decades. On the other hand, we've had poppies into late June, radishes late in season, and our weekly organics box, while lacking any apricots or nectarines this year, delivered a bunch of bright red rhubarb when by all rights rhubarb should have gone all tough and stringy.

If anyone has ever grown rhubarb, you know it as the broad with a red stalk, like red chard, that sprouts from the mulchy remains of last year's plants before the snow is off the ground. Tender yellow-green leaves grow broad practically before your eyes, and by late April you can start harvesting the stalks for pies, jams and -- my favorite -- stewed rhubarb.

I was a horrible, picky eater as a child -- my sister was sure I'd end up with scurvy -- but a few healthy, unprocessed foods made their way through my diet of Eggo™ waffles and Beef-a-roni™, stewed rhubarb from the garden prime among them. My mom was getting a bit spotty in the kitchen by then, and her pie crusts could be anything from flaky to military-grade, but any way she ended up making stewed rhubarb made me happy, even when she barely stewed it at all, and left big chunks of tart, green, fibrous stalk in the stringy, pinkish-red porridge.

I'm sitting here right now with a bowl of stewed rhubarb, mixed with a dollop of raspberry puree K. made the other day, and I'm in heaven. It's tart and nearly texture-less, only slightly sweetened when cooked, so a bit of sugar is necessary, along with a bit of water, when you stew the chopped stalks down in a saucepan. I've made two more batches since the bunch that arrived in the organics box, which is the most I've had in twenty years, probably. Suddenly, I'm back in the kitchen at 41 Gray Avenue, my chin barely above the table, while the dishwasher my brother bought my mom chunders away next to my chair, slowly leaking steamy hot water onto the linoleum, the smell of dishwasher detergent filling the room.

writing ©2000
Rick McGinnis
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