I Do Declare: Election hostility is a matter of “it has always been thus”

You would think this year’s election was the most contentious, most divisive, most acrimonious of any election.

You would be wrong.

I did a little digging and found out that, when it comes to elections, rancor and spite is the order of the day.

To give you a bit of perspective – and hopefully help you regain your equilibrium – here are a few samples of previous U.S. presidential elections:

  • The 1800 presidential campaign between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams got heated up quickly. When Adams called Jefferson “a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow,” Jefferson retaliated by hiring a sleazy journalist names James Callender to smear John Adams in the press. Callender wrote that Adams had a “hideous hermaphroditical character” and spread the false story that Adams wanted to start a war with France. Jefferson ended up winning. Adams left before Jefferson’s inauguration. Though the two eventually patched things up (and wrote inspiring letters to one another), they wouldn’t speak to each other for 12 years.
  • George Washington spent his entire campaign budget on booze. True story. In 1758, when he was running for the Virginia House of Burgesses (the first legislative assembly of elected representatives in North America), he bought 160 gallons of liquor to serve to voters on election day. (Some say this wasn’t his fault. Apparently the custom of buying votes with booze was an English tradition brought over to the colonies.) Later, when he was running for his second term, Washington declared that someone running for president should not be too eager to seek it. Despite his earlier booze-vote-buying, he declared that campaigning was vulgar and undignified and that “the office should seek the man” rather than the other way round.
  • Now and then, one party will accuse the other of pulling voters from death records. The election of 1872 went one better when incumbent Ulysses S. Grant ran against a corpse. Grant’s opponent, Horace Greeley, died before the election was finalized. Grant won anyway, so there wasn’t as much controversy as there might have been had Greeley won. And because he cast it when he was still alive, Greeley’s vote did count.
  • When incumbent John Quincy Adams was challenged by Andrew Jackson in the 1828 election, the campaigning got personal. Jackson accused Quincy Adams of being a pimp for the Russian czar while serving as American ambassador. Quincy Adams in turn called Jackson’s wife a slut and his mother a prostitute. Jackson ended up winning, but he refused to pay the customary visit to the outgoing presidential when he came to Washington, and Quincy Adams refused to attend Jackson’s inauguration.
  • The election of 1892 was the first time a voting machine was used. It was actually invented years earlier, but candidates resisted using it because it precluded their ability to gain votes through wheeling and dealing.

I Do Declare: Hurricane season is milking 2020 for all its worth

Earlier in the archives, I introduced you to Mike and his spaghetti models, and it looks like we need to get reacquainted because, I kid you not, there’s another hurricane in the works.

This one is named Zeta – we’re into the Greek because we ran out of English names – and at first I was really worried because I thought we were at the end of the Greek alphabet too. (Turns out Zeta is only the sixth letter, but still!)

(c) NOAA. Screen grab from Mike’s page.

Hurricane Z is in the Gulf (as of Monday morning) and will be blasting by my home, the great state of South Carolina, on the back side later this week.

And that’s just not right. Not when Halloween is days away.

Yes, it’s true that hurricane season lasts through the end of November, but let’s be honest: We consider this a technicality and don’t expect to be picking up storm debris along with the ghost and goblins displays in the front yard.

On the other hand, we’re still in 2020, and if this year has taught us anything, it’s that we should not let down our guard until the ball drops at 11:59 p.m. on December 31.

In the meantime, I recommend that you bookmark Mike’s page and follow him on Facebook (as Mike’s Weather Page) and on Twitter (as @tropicalupdate). He has up-to-the-minute info on everything weather related. Consider donating (PayPal and Patreon links on the left column) if you can, because he’s an enormous help and deserves our support.

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Unrelated, but still interesting, note:

Grammarcat insisted that I mention the headline is correct with “its” (the possessive form) rather than “it’s (contraction of “it is”). I had an internal debate on this and finally located a site that spelled out the differences and spent some quality time there. This, of course, is what we grammar nerds do for fun and is also why God invented the internet.

I Do Declare: a total of ten hours by train and six hours by car to tell someone you don’t know that she’s a blessing is not too much

I’m just back from a quick weekend trip to the beach. Our party of six did a five-hour ride on Amtrak to Rocky Mount, NC, then rented a car for a three-hour drive over to the Outer Banks.

A beach trip like that might seem a bit of overkill, considering all six of us live in Charleston, where a trip to the beach is measured in minutes instead of hours and doesn’t involve anyone yelling “All Aboard!” (unless you want to, of course).

But it’s the journey, not the destination, as they say.

It’s also the insights that you pick up along the way. Insights you’d never pick up at home. Like the one that hit me after I returned the rental car.

After a few days in Nags Head – by which I mean dangerously strong surf, biting winds, and fabulous food that made up for the less-than-welcome beach – we did the return trip: three hours by car, then I dropped everyone at the Amtrak station and went to Enterprise to drop off the rental and call for a taxi to take me back to the station. (Yes, Enterprise does provide free shuttle, but not during after-hours, which it was at this point on Sunday.)

The taxi service said they’d send someone but weren’t sure when the person would get there. Hopefully soon, might be forty-five minutes, could be an hour or more. I started thinking up contingencies in case I didn’t make the train. Because I’m a professional worrier (and pretty good at it), this was a serious concern, and I launched into full-on fretting mode.

But then – surprise! – the taxi pulled up about two minutes after I parked. I was so grateful that I jumped in and said to the woman, “Thank you so much!”

She didn’t say anything. Nor did she talk on the way to the train station. I could see her eyes in the mirror. Tired, sad, a little apathetic.

When we pulled up to the station, I said, “You were such a blessing to me today.”

The woman shrugged and mumbled something like, “Uh.”

The fee was 9.65. I gave her a twenty.

She groaned and said, “I only have ones to give you.”

I said, “No, keep the change.”

She just looked at me dumbfounded, so I said it again: “I mean it. You were a blessing to me today, and I appreciate how quickly you got there. Thank you.”

I got out of the car and went into the station. A quick glance back. She was still staring at me, confused.

That was an interesting encounter. I thought about it on the way home. I fell asleep thinking about it. And I woke up this morning with an insight.

You see, I don’t think it was my double-paying the taxi fee that puzzled her.

Maybe she didn’t hear “thank you” or “I appreciate you” very much and wasn’t sure how to respond. (I’m guessing that when it came to paying the fee, riders usually only said something about the high price, if they said anything at all.)

Maybe she wasn’t used to being called a blessing.

And sure, maybe I’m over-thinking the encounter (I’m as skilled at over-thinking as I am at worrying), but when you get an insight, you might as well entertain it for a while.

I don’t think it was an accident that I ended up in her taxi. I think it was part of the journey-not-destination that she and I are both on, where we gain valuable insights in the most unlikely of places and use them to grow: For me, it’s seeing blessings instead of worrying and fretting; for her, maybe it’s believing that blessings are real and, in fact, sometimes come in the form of her.

I can’t help hoping and praying that the woman also thought about our conversation. I wouldn’t even mind if she was irritated or rolled her eyes when she thought about it.

I just hope she heard the truth: “You were a blessing to me today.”

I hope it gets stuck in her head and echoes every day.

I hope it takes root and grows.

I hope it becomes part of her self-talk.

I Do Declare: The U.S. Navy could use a dose of my dad’s humor on its 245th birthday

The following is an excerpt from a book I wrote with my dad. The full title (shown in the image to the left) is, “If You Can’t Pay Attention, Take Notes: A Navy Brat Reflects on Brathood, the First Line of Defense, and Why You Don’t Wash the Chief’s Coffee Cups.”

That title almost constitutes a whole chapter by itself. Dad would have approved.

Dad loved the Navy. He was a natural storyteller, and sea stories were his favorites. He retired as Chief Radioman in 1978, and he died in 2017. A lot of sea stories were told between those years.

Here’s one of them:

~ ~ ~

My dad always had a way with vehicles. A magic touch, you might say. And it wasn’t just a matter of making it run smoothly; his ability to acquire vehicles for little or nothing was an art.

Take that time he found a jeep in perfect running condition. Not bought, not borrowed: found. And then he got to keep it, courtesy of the U.S. Army. It might have been his best auto purchase, considering there was no purchase at all.

But I’ll let him tell the story his way:

I had been transferred from the main communications centers to the harbor entrance control post. That post controlled all the shipping and boats, including fishing boats, in and out of the harbor of Da Nang.

Transportation from our barracks to the post was “iffy” most of the time. The buses were usually broken down or if they worked, then they couldn’t find a driver. We ended up walking the three miles almost every day.

After I’d been there about three months, I found a jeep.

I was walking to work with Bill, a guy who worked in Operations. Same building where I worked, down the hall from my office. We stood watch together a lot, so we usually made the trip to the post together.

This one day, we were walking along, and as we rounded a corner, we saw an Army jeep on the side of the road.

We thought it was odd. Here’s this jeep out in the middle of nowhere, just sitting there. Bill and I walked around it and looked it over good just in case it was booby-trapped. We didn’t find anything, so we got in and hit the starter. What luck – it cranked right up!

We didn’t know why anyone had abandoned the jeep, but we were going to take advantage of the free ride.

Then we went about two feet and realized why it was just sitting there abandoned. The tie rod had come loose, and the front wheels were headed in different directions.

Good thing we had left the barracks early that morning – since it looked like the bus wasn’t going to make it again – because we had time to run back and get some bailing wire to tie up the rods. We did, and we fixed it up.

But then Bill and I got to thinking. The Army might be coming back for it, possibly with their motor pool – or worse, with armed guards – and it wouldn’t do for us to have it in our possession. So instead of driving off with it, we left it there.

When we got off work the next morning, we saw it was still there. Now most of us in the Navy didn’t have a terribly high opinion of the Army, but we knew that even they wouldn’t take twenty-four hours to fix a jeep. So we drove it back to the barracks. We figured they’d come looking for it and we’d let them know we fixed it.

They never did, though. We drove it back and forth for several days until it finally ran low on fuel.

We took it over to the Navy fuel depot. A supply clerk filled it up and noticed that it was an Army jeep, not one of ours.

I started to pay for it, but the fellow said he’d charge it to the Army.

“No, that’s all right,” I told him. “I’ll pay for it.”

“Nope. It’s the Army’s jeep. They’ll pay.”

What the heck, I let ’em pay. Who am I to argue with military protocol?

So we kept driving it. Then about a month later, Bill took it into town. He stopped in at the club, had a few drinks, and ended up staying out past curfew. The MPs arrested him, and he called me for help.

By this time, he was in deeper trouble than just staying out past curfew. He was a sailor driving an Army jeep with no papers, and no one believed his story about finding it on the side of the road and fixing it.

I caught a ride over there after my watch was over, and I explained everything to the provost marshal.

At first the provost marshal didn’t believe me either, especially when he found out I was a radioman. Not that a radioman can’t know how to work on cars, but this man just wasn’t buying the story.

I told him all about my background working on cars and all, and he finally took my word for it. But he was still fit to be tied.

Turns out the jeep had already been marked as transferred stateside and taken out of their inventory. It would create a lot of paperwork and probably start an investigation if they acknowledged that it was still in Vietnam.

He sat there, his face getting redder and redder, and he glared at both of us. Finally, he passed sentence.

“Just keep it!” he said. “But don’t tell anyone around here where you got it.”

We agreed. He closed the case. Then he had his motor pool fix the front end for us.

And we had free gas for the rest of our tour. All we had to do was pull up to the depot and tell them to charge it to the Army.

~ ~ ~

Want to read more? You can find it here.

I Do Declare: The bots are connecting some weird dots on my job searches

The artificial intelligence (AI) bots are mucking up my job search and, I suspect, trying to mess with my head. True story.

Like many these days, I have turned job searching into a primary activity, and the job posting sites have became acutely aware of this. Lists of companies looking for someone like me land in my inbox all the time. And I do mean All.The.Time.

That’s not the problem. The problem is that the specific jobs included in the listings are getting more and more … how shall we say? … outside of my wheelhouse. And by that, I mean sometimes the job post and I are not even on the same boat, nor indeed even on the same planet.

I’m a writer/editor. I work with words. The job market for me is not hard to understand. Content manager, copywriter, copyeditor, technical writer, proposal manager, reporter, grants writer: These are the types of job postings I expect when I open the email.

But not long ago, along with writer/editor jobs I started to get job postings like the following, which I am not making up:

  • Home Care Aide
  • Paint Shop Manufacturing Engineer
  • Border Patrol Agent
  • PT Night Trash Collector
  • Special Agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation
  • Restaurant Biscuit Maker
  • Naval Aviator

Now, these are fine jobs. But trust me when I say there is nothing on my resume that would point to my being qualified for any of them.

Unless Monster, Indeed, Glassdoor, LinkedIn, et.al., were just throwing things out randomly to see what would stick, I figured there had to be a broken algorithm somewhere. I bent thought on how to fix it.

Earlier in my career I did a bit of programming and database work. One thing I learned is that when you’re troubleshooting a database because it has – and please forgive the jargon here – gone all wonky, it helps to start with a simple question:

What does the database think I’m asking it to do?

That often helped me track down the error and fix the code. I tried applying that logic here.

Q: What do these job sites think I’m looking for?

A: Uh…haha…no clue.

And then I gained some insights into this mystery when I came across the new docudrama “The Social Dilemma.” If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend. It’s up on Netflix, which gives this description: “This documentary-drama hybrid explores the dangerous human impact of social networking, with tech experts sounding the alarm on their own creations.”

I found it both eye-opening and chilling. But I also think it explained a lot, especially when I learned just how much the AI bots were tracking my online movements and storing them as data.

Sure, I had an inkling this was going on, what with having a conversation – in the presence of my smart phone or smart TV – that I was thinking about going to Home Depot and then :::BOOM::: a Home Depot ad pops into my Facebook feed within minutes.

That can be a bit unnerving, depending on the details of the conversation and how much of a smarty-pants the smart devices are, but overall, I get it. The closer you target, the more likely you can close a deal, which means you need to gather data so you can zero in and hit the target. Sure, fine.

Except that these AI bots – at least according to this film – are measuring everything: the people I’m friends with, the lists I follow, the videos I watch, how long I stay on a certain site before scrolling to something else, my Google searches. And then they use these bits of data to come to conclusions about me, which might be wildly off-base.

Take the time I spend on a site, for instance. That’s easily explained. If I pause for an unusual amount of time it’s probably because I stumbled across a bizarre political story and I’m shaking my head in disbelief, whispering “What The What…?”

My Google searches, though. This might be where it starts to go off-rail, because connecting those dots would draw a totally different picture.

You see, I write historical novels. These often require some digging, hence the occasional online searches that can be … well, let’s just call them a bit odd.

For example, when I was writing my book “Turning August,” which is set in Germany during World War II, I needed to find out a wide range of details, such as the euthanasia program, how fast one could travel from Munich to Berlin in a 1940s vehicle, images of members of the Resistance movement, and which French cities were bombed first.

For the cover photo shoot, I ordered a vintage 1940s needle/syringe and an authentic Wehrmarcht uniform on eBay. (I worried what my credit card company thought of me and wanted to send them a note of explanation: “Don’t judge me! These are just photo props!”)

My current work-in-progress is set in the Renaissance period. Thanks to Google, I can tell you where Cordoba is located, when Isabella and Ferdinand took over Alhambra, what happened when Columbus sent his brother to talk to Henry VII about funding his trip to the new world, how long it takes to sail from Marseille to the Port of Palos, exactly how fast a peregrine falcon can fly, and the French word for balcony.

Given my overactive online researching, I really shouldn’t wonder that the AI bots are confused about my capabilities and interests. Though I am curious to see what pops up next. Sword-carving apprentice? Lady-in-waiting? Falcon trainer?

After being invited to apply for Border Patrol, FBI Special Agent, and Naval Aviator, I’m up for anything.

Even making biscuits.

~ ~ ~

Update: Moments after I posted this, another email dropped in with new jobs, including this one:

  • Firearms Instructor for the Department of Homeland Security

Seriously, bots, you’re starting to worry me.

I Do Declare: The Autumnal Equinox is upon us and it’s time to turn, turn, turn

As soon as the calendar says it’s September, I start getting impatient for autumn.

When we close the books on August, effectively saying “seeeee-yaaa” to summer, what’s needed right then is a celebratory moment (especially as 9/1 is my unofficial new year).

Why wait? What else is there to do but bring out the pumpkins and winter scarves and apple cider?

Yes, autumn is my favorite, but there’s something elegant and serene about the changing of all the seasons.

Unlike calendar months, with their brusque starts and ends (Not ready for October? Too bad, it’s here.), seasons get eased into.

Introspection and meditation abound. Journal books get filled with thoughts of what has passed and hopes of what will come.

The chill of winter thaws before a flourishing spring that lounges its way through summer until it gears up for the autumn harvest, which gives way to the chill of winter … and so on.

And each season has its own distinct personality. The poets and writers have always known this and have metaphored* the heck out of them. (*Grammarcat will forgive me for verbing “metaphor.”)

Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this sun of York. (Shakespeare, from “King Richard III”)

In the spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love. (Alfred Lord Tennyson, from “Locksley Hall”)

Summertime and the living is easy. (George Gershwin, from “Porgy and Bess”)

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.
(Shakespeare, from “Sonnet 18”)

Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower. (Albert Camus)

Trivia time: equinox and solstice

The seasons are also known by their equinox or solstice status.

The equinox (from the Latin meaning “equality of day or night”) occurs twice a year, at the onset of spring and autumn. In each case, the sun crosses the equator and makes daytime and nighttime roughly equal. The spring equinox (or vernal equinox) occurs around March 21, and the autumnal equinox (or September equinox) occurs around September 22 or 23.

The solstice (from the Latin solstitium, made up of sol – “the sun” – and sistere – “to make stand still”) represents the exact moment when the sun reaches its northernmost point (June 21, the summer solstice and the longest day of the year) or southernmost point (December 22, the winter solstice and the shortest day of the year).

Another turn around the sun

Besides their Latin language background and an opportunity for contemplation, the changing of the seasons also serves as reminders – primarily that life is cyclical.

The reminders are inherent, like the air we breathe. To acknowledge or study or attempt to control them, we must draw attention to them. And in doing so, we see that their truths are eternal:

  • That time is fleeting – and increasing in speed. The days stretch out, weeks drag on, months take forever. Finally a year has passed. Then you notice that today is the first day of autumn, except that yesterday summer was starting and a week earlier than that you were heralding the start of spring and that was practically minutes before you felt the first nips of winter. If nothing else, the changing of the seasons reminds us that time moves on – but it does not stop.
  • That this too shall pass. Or as it happens in some years (2020 especially), these too shall pass. As mentioned above, time does move on. And there are times when we are so glad that it does. We all have moments – well, more like days, weeks, months – when we’ve been pushed to the limit. The seasons remind us that often things happen only for a season and that in time, things will change. Thank goodness!
  • That there’s a season for everything. Sometimes no matter what you do, you can’t make it work. Then later, without much effort, the whole thing comes to fruition. What was that about? Just this: Things happen in their season. Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 goes into this in great detail. So does the 60s band, The Byrds, with their hit, “Turn! Turn! Turn!” Whichever version you choose, it’s really the same message. When it’s time, it’ll happen.

Tomorrow is the first day of autumn. The Autumnal Equinox. A nip in the air. Time for bonfires and oyster roasts and hot chocolate.

I’m ready.