Ron Seybold's Sandbox

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A fine caucus mess, thank you

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The evening offered us a few minutes of playing time on the professional’s election court. In the dark of the Texas March 4 night, we Democrats gathered at the Renaissance Retirement Home to help retire our despair about my country. Our country, with the hope of including everybody and ending this Red-Blue state disease. So all 454 of us milled around the high-end rest home in my neighborhood from 7 PM onward, learning what it’s like to participate in a caucus.

The whole process was already ridiculed in the media. Reporters who are more schooled in politics than I claimed the “Texas Two Step” was tough to comprehend, plus a way to put Obama ahead on delegates in a state where he’d likely lose.

Those two theories turned out to be true. It turned out to be even harder to get a warm place to caucus.

The Renaissance facility, which sprawls over a full three blocks, had been adequate for more minor elections. But in 2008 with two popular Democrats tussling in a very close match, both the building and its manager mocked the needs of politics. Few of us were sure of the process, and I felt an undercurrent of fear that one side, Hillary or Obama, would be harried into an unjust portion of the rest home to caucus. Three different people made announcements in the common area to explain the upcoming steps. None of them spoke loud enough to be heard by those on the edges of the common room. Worse, their messages were contradictory. Nobody sounded overwrought about the confusion.

Within 15 minutes of the caucus start, the manager was sending more than 400 of us out into the parking lot to caucus. The needs of the Fire Marshall trumped the needs of the Two Step democracy. So scores of us went into a cooling Texas night with weather far better than that in Ohio, or even in the northern sections of our own state.

In time, the caucus attendees gathered on the driveway outside the rest home front entrance. Blocking a fire lane, but something the building manager could claim ignorance of. While we waited I got to know some neighbors. Precinct 328 isn’t all that big.

Two sets of plastic tables went up after a shift in voting rules. At first, it was, “you sign in, we elect a precinct chair, and then you express your preference for candidate.” Everybody groaned. So it became, “No, you sign in and express your preference. Then you can leave, and the combined group elects a chairman and secretary.” Nods of asset, amid cell phone calls to the family back to the house. “Honey, can you guys feed yourselves?” Or, “Tell the babysitter I’ll be home an hour later. I know, she’s got a chemistry test in the morning. Sorry.” And then shouted across the crowd from father to mother: “Be sure she practices her guitar,” and “How are you on your homework for tonight?”

All these families signed in first and “voted” for Obama — because we were segregated on one side of he driveway from the Hillary supporters. The votes got totalled and Obama carried the evening by a margin of 2:1.

Now more drama, to elect the precinct chair. Three nominees at first, two from the Obama camp. More on-the-fly decision about how to elect people among 300 or so remaining caucus members. “By acclamation” is decided, and so we shout out our preference when Joe McClain, Obama man, takes the chairman’s post. A suggestion floats: why not make the Hillary candidate the precinct secretary? Another hurrah to get on with the rest of the evening.

And it crosses my mind that Hillary might have to accept a secondary spot on the ticket, much as the caucus member did last night.

Now comes the results of the votes, which determine how many of the 63 precinct delegates are Obama’s and how many are Hillary’s. We must come up with 42 people who will attend the next caucus, on 7 AM on a lovely Saturday late in March. 61 people offer to sacrifice such a Saturday, with 13 more as alternates. We’re supposed to have one alternate for every delegate.

Delegates now must come out of the pool of people who have warm enough jackets to stand in the cold. Although we now only number about 100 or so, nobody at the rest home invites us inside. I suggest as a joke that a set of canopies over the Academy Sports store parking lot will do just as well next time. Maybe better, if we can get a band and roasted corn vendors on the site, too. But 90 minutes into our evening, a few big bags of Doritos and Hershey Kisses come out onto the Obama table. The snacks are at least some substitute for postponed suppers.

People nominate themselves by writing their name, address, phone and e-mail on blank sheets of paper, writing on the backs of one another in some cases. Pens run dry, others get offered. The light has failed — none outside of the narrow entrance to the rest home — and I hold a fellow’s cell phone with its screen turned on, so he can write down his nomination info.

At last, the final division. Who will commit firm to caucusing on the Saturday, and who is an alternate? I am invited to use my stage voice to project to the 70-plus, “If you’re really, really eager to be a candidate, line up on that side of the driveway. If you’re not so sure, line up on the other.” Delegates on the left, alternates on the right.

Finally, we count off on the left, to ensure we have 42 delegates. And I’ve been swept away by the emotion and hope and the faces of the “young, and young at heart,” as Obama says in his speeches. I am in the “really, really” line of delegates, and turn out to call out my number 26 as we count off.

Now I’ve done it, gone and participated in the electoral process, closer than ever. Not since stuffing envelopes for McGovern in 1972 have I dipped this deep into a messy system. And my time out in the dark last night might make as little difference as that envelope stuffing I did more than 35 years ago. I don’t expect much more out of this experience, except another round of stories about that upcoming Saturday. It’s unlikely I go to the statewide convention in June, mostly because I don’t have that day available. It will be enough for me to get to vote on 40 propositions in that long Saturday.

Will it matter much? Not in the end, considering that the media talk this morning is of superdelegates putting Obama or Hillary over the top. Texas was whisker-close, a massive tumble for a Hillary campaign here which had a 20-point lead in the state less than six weeks ago. Travis County went just as heavy for Obama as the 328th precinct. We always vote for the most liberal candidate. Yes, the L-word, that’s the majority of us.

Today I get a message from Obama’s campaign, telling me about The Math. Only 611 unpledged delegates are left up for grabs. One quarter of them go off the clock, so to speak, on April 22. Obama’s folks would like another $25 from me, please. Maybe not just now; there’s November to consider.

But this was the first time in eight presidential elections I found a candidate with enough passion and intelligence and eloquence, and very little baggage, to spark a return to a level of hope. In my home the vote was split between the feminine and masculine candidates, but we will coalesce around the Democratic nominee. I hope that the passion of our caucus mess, stepping into something with that Two-Step, will show the rest of the country’s Democrats, and the undecideds, how to do the same.

More than ever, on this sunny day, I feel like I’ve backed a favorite team which lost a close game. The papers talk of McCain “clinching,” a verb I associate with basketball coverage and playoff races. Whatever it takes to keep people like me returning to the process, I suppose. The negative ads and messages are surely in the works, but on that chilly Texas night I was warmed up by hope of real change.

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Written by ronseybold

October 5, 2008 at 12:19 am

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Never mind Gustav, Ike has spike

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Two weekends ago, we braced here for Hurricane Gustav — or to be more accurate, the influx of evacuees from that storm. Now the real deal is upon us here in Austin, as Hurricane Ike is about 12 hours away from landfall at one of our favorite spots, Galveston’s Seawall Boulevard.

Abby and I have spent many loving nights at the San Luis Resort and Hotel. Just across the street from that retreat, debris is being tossed into the air and onto the the boulevard this afternoon. They expect 110 MPH winds at landfall. Up here in Austin, it’s a beautiful day with 95 degree temperatures and light winds with scattered clouds. And no lines at the gas stations or Walmarts.

Like with Katrina three years ago, the local (Houston) newspaper storm blog is the best source of eyewitness details like giant balls of fire ants floating ashore, the mass exodus of mammoth cockroaches from the seawall beach, or BBQ parties on Postoffice Street in downtown Galveston with those riding out the storm and ignoring the mandatory evacuation orders. Those BOI — born on the island — say Ike looks tamer than Hurricane Alicia in 1983.

Hard to say now, but meteorology scientists are camped out in Brazoria County at shoreline to measure winds at the landfall site. “Landfall is not well understood,” one scientist said. They’ve brought three trucks of equipment and labs to study the calamity.

While I write here, the sky grows thick with clouds and the wind has turned to blow out of the north. Storm winds from that direction. We expect lots of rain and high winds. Tie down the lawn chairs and turn off the sprinklers.

Written by ronseybold

September 12, 2008 at 9:22 am

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He knew it right after the birthday song

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I sang for my brother Bob’s 50th birthday last month, a moment of tears and joy. My wife leaned over to me and said, “Out of everybody in this room, you have known him the longest.” A happy, proud moment indeed.

I thought of that moment with Bob once again today, while I listened to a podcast about The Last Lecture. The lecture performance by Randy Pausch, the professor dying of cancer, was immortalized by Wall Street Journal columnist Jeffrey Zaslow. Zaslow wrote the column the day after the lecture, and within 24 hours, by way of ABC.com, a million people had looked at the WSJ video of the lecure. A book followed, and the lecture has become viral in its Internet penetration (head to thelastlecture.com to get started). Here’s the lecture in its fullness if you haven’t caught the wave yet — entitled Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams.

The Last Lecture Video

Zaslow talked with Tara Parker-Pope of the NY Times about the book that resulted from that column, the book Zaslow co-wrote with Randy as the professor was dying. Parker-Pope asked Zaslow in her blog Well how soon he knew that what he’d seen and written about was so special.

Right away, Zaslow said. He’d driven 300 miles to see the lecture, since his WSJ editors were a little leery of the $850 airline ticket the writer would’ve had to purchase. There were 400 people in the lecture hall at Carnegie Mellon, and “all of us had a feeling we were seeing something astonishing.” Randy delivered on the lecture on his wife’s birthday, and made it up to her in a grand gesture.

There’s the moment when he brings out the cake for his wife, for their last birthday together, and he asks us all to sing to her. I’ve never had an emotional Happy Birthday sung to equal that. And I think everyone in the room would agree.

Emotion rings in lots of songs delivered to people we love. It took Bob and I 50 years together to get that moment of my own tears. “And many happy returns of the day,” is the old saying attached to birthdays, a message that wishes for many more. I wish this for my brother and others I love so long.

Written by ronseybold

August 4, 2008 at 9:23 am

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Hard-wired History

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One of my dream writing projects, after finishing my novel Viral Times, is to pen a story of the HP 3000’s history, some 36 years and counting, a lifetime in the computer business. I’ve been on the scene for more than 23 of those years.

This week the juggernaut of Computerworld posted its Unsung innovators: 10 people who shaped the computer industry article. It’s the stuff which a good history relies upon as background, as well as turning points to compare against.

The article also includes a link to Seven Tech Titans of Today. For a writer who cut his teeth on community journalism, practiced in the fields of the Hewlett-Packard customer base, this is fun stuff. It makes it clear who the step-father of the Internet is, anyway.

Written by ronseybold

December 3, 2007 at 12:20 am

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Late night, lights-out heartbeats

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This has been the week of late nights for me and my wife. Abby and I watched basketball again deep into last evening, instead of going out to the movies. NBA playoffs, and the little David of the Warriors, bottom-seeded, fought the Goliath of Dallas. Top-seed vs. 8 can be of little interest. But not this series.

And so nearly three hours later we’re still naked and breathless on the bed — in front of the TV, watching an improbable upset unfold. Those Dallas desires for a playoff title lay as tangled up as our bedclothes. The Warriors, riding “The Force” that their coach invoked (Baron Davis, mostly), won and went up 3-1 in a best of seven series. No more losing for Dallas now, unless they fold up for the season.

After 45 minutes of channel bouncing, from TNT’s after-game coverage to the podium interviews on ESPN, then back, then forth, we turn out the lights. Abby’s heart is still racing. These Dallas Mavericks took our Spurs out of the playoffs last year, overtime in a Game Seven. We get to watch them suffer now. Oh the humiliation of being taken down by a bottom seed.

Hearts a-pounding, Abby cues us up our Sabrina DVD , drops the veil over the TV tube. Around our heartbeats together, all we can hear in the darkness is Audrey Hepburn’s voice narrating the movie with a fairytale opening, “Once upon a time, on the north shore of Long Island…”

Out in California in Oakland, the Warriors fans probably fought to fall asleep too, imaging a fairy tale that would let their doormat of a team sweep out the reigning conference champs. As John Saunders said on the Sports Reporters yesterday morning, Dallas may have won 67 games in the regular season, but they need to win three more very soon, or they’ll be done.” It might be too much fairytale to believe. But I’d rather be waking in Oakland this morning, or the postcard-clean island of Alameda just offshore where my friend Guy Smith lives, than rolling over to hit the buzzer in Dallas. Two time zones away, and the difference between hope and desperation.

Written by ronseybold

April 30, 2007 at 9:14 am

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Three things to keep out of your mouth

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Especially during the recent cabin-fever ice storm era here in Austin, you might be inclined to “treat” yourself with some bad foods. You might say, “oh, but it’s the only thing in the house.” Even that’s not a good enough excuse to consume these three foods:

1. Donuts
2. Alfredo sauce
3. Processed cheese

So says Chris Carmichael, trainer to Lance Armstrong during No. 1’s seven straight Tour de France wins. Carmichael has a poppin’ Web site with lots of free information on nutrition and training.

His bottom line on these three “worst” foods? Donuts will always leave you hungry, alfredo sauce is a heart attack on a plate, and any cheese that’s processed has something in it called alginate. Guest nutritionist Erika Highstead says “Alginate is used to waterproof and fireproof fabrics.”

On my own list I’d put bagels (really high Glycemic Index rating, poor fiber), ice cream (no matter how good it tastes, you gotta carry that fat up the hill) and root beer, a liquid that’s like a mainline of sugar. Thank goodness they only make it in 12 oz cans! (Oh — you mean there are 2-liter bottles? Uh oh.)

Written by ronseybold

January 18, 2007 at 9:19 am

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The $4,000 pen

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No kidding. The most costly item in the new Paradise Pen “Giving Manual No. 5” is a Cartier La Dona Menagerie Fountain Pen. Gold plated. Inspired by a necklace Cartier made in the 1940s for La Dona, “the Mexican Marilyn Monroe.”

“The second offering in the Menagerie Collection signed by Cartier.”

The necklace requested by La Dona was a crocodile. “Pen nib engraved with a crocodile head and the year 2006. Exotically expressive,” says the Paradise Giving Manual, which is something like Levenger meets J. Peterman.

Yes, there are under-$100 items in the Manual. But not many.

Written by ronseybold

December 12, 2006 at 9:11 am

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