Monday, November 01, 2004


In 2001, one of my office mates dressed as a zombie bin Laden for Halloween. He was most put out when he lost the costume competition to a graduate student dressed entirely in purple with a BART ticket stuck to his forehead. What's purple and commutes? An Abelian grape! Yes, they staff entire departments with people who (like me) think that joke is funny -- or at least, a sufficient majority to clinch a costume competition.

And you do know what you call a baby eigensheep, right? I know I can't hold a candle to the former Iraqi foreign information minister when it comes to entertaining the world at large, but I do amuse myself.

Lots of things are different three years later, but both bin Laden and the Abelian grape joke are still around. And so are we.

I, and many other people my age, grew up half-expecting that nuclear war was inevitable, and that my mark on the world would ultimately be an ashen shadow on a brick wall somewhere. We saw the duck and cover films and laughed, knowing how ineffective that would be. I wonder if Cheney realizes how ludicrous that seemed then, and how equally ludicrous it seems now to make a nuclear scare into a campaign point? Things have changed, and now it seems likely that, for a whiel at least, we'll continue to kill each other more rapidly by accident with our vehicles than on purpose with our weapons. But the box is open, and there's no putting knowledge back into it. If some smart, determined person gets the backing of a large enough other group of people, I'm sure that person can kill a lot of people, or at least make the world a less pleasant place in which to live. Do you suppose we'll wake up some morning to hear that some leader, a person of focus who wishes to destroy his enemies and will not vary from that task, a person who is certain that God is on his side -- do you suppose that some day, such a person could come to command an organization, even a country with nuclear capabilities?

And yet, we're still around.

By flu, by car, by bomb, or by falling airplane parts, whether we're uninsured or have the best coverage in the world, whether Bush wins or Kerry wins or the election is declared a draw and the government is replaced by a military triumvarate -- we all will die eventually. How much land does a man need? Not very much in the end. Sometimes it seems like we're in an awful rush to get to the end, as though this were all some sort of race to be won.

And yet, we're still around.

Happy Halloween. Vote on Tuesday, however your conscience may dictate. And drive safely.