29 November 2008


Roger has lived in Elkhart, on and off, for the last 65 years. He collects disability (about $750/mo.), lives with his ex-wife (different bedrooms) and his daughter, pays $300 for rent, laundry, and groceries, and drinks vodka to keep a buzz. When I mention that I have a glass of wine from time to time, he says, "What kind? Mad Dog? Wild Rose?" Then he offers that he's stopped drinking those because he's an alcoholic, once he starts he won't stop, and he doesn't like having a hangover.

I love walking our dog.

22 November 2008

Saturday Morning

Last Saturday I cleaned the garage. This Saturday I enjoyed reading the things I found on Nick Bostrom's site. Good times.

16 November 2008


Brent: 1
Garage: 0


14 November 2008

Poll Watching

A few, delayed for obvious reason, thoughts and observations from my day of poll watching for the Obama campaign:
  • The only line we had all day was at 6:00 AM when 43 people were waiting when the doors opened. Otherwise traffic was steady. The precinct at which I worked had double the turnout from the prior election.

  • One of the clerks, when telling people how to complete their ballots, told them that if they marked straight party ticket they should also mark separately for the presidential election. I asked her why and she said, "I want to be sure it gets counted."

    Me: "Supposing they mark Libertarian on the straight ticket vote, but accidentally vote Republican on the presidential line. Which gets counted?"

    Judge: "Well, let's just stick the ballot in the machine and see if it spits it back out as unacceptable or not. That should tell us."

    Me: "No, it doesn't -- it just says the ballot isn't spoiled. It does not tell us whether straight party takes precedence over individual choices, or vice-versa."

    Judge: "See? It's fine."

  • Without exception the people who showed up to vote but found out they weren't registered were black. So what channels of communication were missed when Indiana went around telling folks they needed to register to vote? TV? Radio? Newspaper? At some point individual responsibility comes into play, but the fact that 100% of not-registered attempted-voters were black is a little worrying.

  • Two people showed up with expired IDs. The one the election inspector knew, a white man with an ID eight-months expired, was allowed to vote. The other, a black man with an ID one-year expired, was not allowed to vote. Is this race? Who you know? It is not expiration date -- Indiana law is clear that valid IDs must "either be current or have expired sometime after the date of the last General Election (November 7, 2006)" (http://www.in.gov/sos/photoid/).

  • Absentee and early ballots go to the precinct where the voter would have voted had they waited to vote until election day. I never knew that. I was also delighted to be able to drop my own ballot in the machine.

  • At one point, when the absentee ballots were being processed, the optical scanner was spitting out ballots that the judges both agreed were not spoiled. So they began manually copying those ballots onto new ones. This caught the attention of the poll watchers of both parties. My colleague called the Obama campaign and someone came out and asked to see where Indiana Election Code says that copying ballots is legitimate. This caused a small uproar. Finally a call was placed to the elections board and all was resolved -- the ballots were copied, and the originals marked so that should a hand recount would consider the originals instead of the ones that were scanned.
In short, I'm generally of the following impressions:

1. Election work is kind of fun. I'll probably do it again sometime. Maybe even at the next election.
2. Race was more apparent for me in this election than it is at just about any other time.
3. I could do a better job than some of the other workers. Are conceit and accuracy mutually exclusive?

12 November 2008

James Sanders, 57

On October 31 I stood in line for an hour and a half before I was able to cast my vote for Barack Obama. While in line, I spoke with Henry DeJesus, whose mother was Puerto Rican and whose father was a black man. Henry was pretty convinced that Obama, if elected, would be shot—that the CIA and the Secret Service had a ready-made excuse in the reappearance from time to time of white supremacists. “Well, we can't get them all,” Henry imagined them saying. But Henry was casting his vote for Obama regardless. That's the kind of defiant hope that resonates with me. That hope that manifests itself in our acting, despite the unlikeliness that anything we do matters, despite even the expectation that our actions will, ultimately, be futile. It's the reason that I, too, voted for Obama though I know that he'll disappoint. It's the reason that I continue to go to church though I rarely feel like I've encountered God.

When the topic of church came up, James Sanders would start quoting the Sermon on the Mount. James went to church every Sunday until he was 17 when he started working. When I told him he couldn't serve both God and money, he said, “You got that right. I started making money and never went back.” But he still remembered the Sermon on the Mount. Or at least little bits of it.

On the day Barack Obama was elected president of the U.S.A., I worked in my local precinct, noting voter names as people came to vote. I saw very nearly all my neighbors, or a representative from their household, come through the doors. James' wife, Paula, stopped by at mid-morning and voted. Janet from across the street voted. Jay and Gabe, Dee and Denny, Matt and I-can-never-remember-her-name—they all came in and voted. And I felt like I was doing something worthwhile with my time that day. So when I returned home I was ready to watch election results, hopeful as to the outcome.

James, like Henry, was certain that if Obama got elected it would only be a matter of time before the Secret Service decided to go have coffee one day and leave him unprotected, and that would be that. James was also under the impression that he could not vote in the election due to having served time in prison—an impression that is not true in Indiana, it turns out. He was, over the summer, also of the impression that he would not live to see the election—another impression that was not true.

James had served several years in prison on a felony drug conviction. He yelled at his kids and beat his dog. He cussed too much, smoked too much, and drank too much, having once told me his goal was not to let lung cancer beat him—he was going to die of cirrhosis. He was insanely proud of his kids, friendly and outgoing. He was more effusively grateful than anyone else I know; strawberries given in June would be praised through October. He was welcoming to just about anyone who showed up on his porch while he was there, and inviting them to stop by at any time. And when the neighbors were gathered on his porch, which they were most days during the summer, he never had anywhere else to go. Nothing was as important to him as sitting there talking.

And he could talk. And talk. Much of the conversation included stock phrases, repeated.
“Big brown bug bit a big brown bear made the big brown bear bleed blue blood ... that's the B's ... bet you can't do that, and I ain't got no teeth.”

“The hell you say.”

“My daughter got her first paycheck last week, and you know what she paid me? She paid me no attention.”

“It's it and that's that.”

“I am just sick and tired of being sick and tired.”
And when I heard the wailing and the sirens, I knew. And I put on my coat and shoes, and headed over. The rest of the neighbors were already there, comforting the 2nd grader as best as they could. All of us, though we knew it was coming, a little stunned. Stunned by the election results; stunned by James' death.

Paula came out, said “He's gone,” and gave hugs. Ja'mia sat on the porch clear-eyed, flanked by Janet and Sherry. Watching a 2nd grader process her father's death is a difficult thing.

“I called 911 four, no, three times. Once when he had a seizure, once when he fell, and one other time. I guess I won't need to call anymore, because he's dead. But I'm not gonna cry. Daddy told me to help momma and not to cry, and I'm gonna obey.”

And Sherry turned her head away and wiped tears from her eyes so Ja'mia wouldn't see them. And Brian cleared his throat and spat. And Paula said that James had told her that day that he was going to go after the election and she had said, “Oh, come on, James, you been talking like that all summer,” but that this time he was right.

On the night that Barack Obama was elected president of the U.S.A., as all the networks were showing footage of celebrations in Grant Park, Nairobi, and Ebenezer Baptist Church, James Sanders, 57, died. So instead of celebrating the concession speeches and the victory speeches, I spent the night with the neighborhood grieving.

I like to think he was watching the election results, staying alive until the election was called, then deciding that he could leave. And I felt a symmetry in the wee hours of November 5. I've not been particularly happy with the way the nation has been run the last eight years. And I got the sense on that evening that James and the nation in which he lived were sick and tired of being sick and tired no longer.

Rest peacefully, James Sanders.

Ezekiel the Observant

Based on Ezekiel 4. To be told just prior to serving Ezekiel Bars.


Most of our problems result from not paying attention.

Adam ate from the tree. He was not paying attention.
Cain offered to God vegetables grown in the cursed earth. He was not paying attention.
My ancestors complained about Manna; Samson ate honey taken from a carcass; Jonah complained about the cucumber vine--they were not paying attention.

As a child, I learned that details matter.

"There is no forest without the trees," my mother would say, "and no people without the law."

I became so consumed with detail, that my friends gave me a nickname.

Ezekiel the Observant.

The Observant. Observers notice detail. And, of all the Observers--seers, prophets, dreamers, priests--of all the Observers, priests, it seemed, were the most respected.

So I became a priest.

I devoted myself to the teaching and keeping of the law; to maintaining the boundary between sacred and profane, between clean and unclean.

Then one day God spoke to me.

The instructions began reasonably enough
: build a little Jerusalem out of brick, set a little siege wall against it, and a little siege ramp, and a little siege camp, and little battering rams all around. These, while not exactly your run-of-the-mill instructions, aren't especially peculiar by God's standards. And the detail suited me.
So there I was, making little models in the mud, when God told me to lie on my left side. For 390 days. One day for each year of the punishment of Israel, God said.

And then I to turn over to the right side for 40 days, and lie with my face set against mini-Jerusalem. One day for each year of the punishment of Judah, God said.

And, to ensure that I didn't weaken and fail to honor the command, I was supposed to tie myself in place.

So I lay down, and realized that 430 is a lot of days, and, if God's math was right, a lot of punishment. More punishment, perhaps, than would be reasonable for a people that had already lived through so much. Besides which, I had not a thing to eat. And then God spoke a third time.
Gather wheat, barley, lentils, beans, millet, and spelt, mix it all together, and eat it as barley cakes, God said. Half a pound each day, God said.

And bake it with human dung.

Human dung! How absurd. How inappropriate. How ... unclean.

I have always paid attention to the details.

I know what a siege looks like, and I know what an army encampment looks like.

I know about the deceptiveness of spelt--how it grows everywhere but yields little, and how miserably difficult it is to hull.

I know what it is to harvest wheat, millet, beans, lentils, and barley.

I know how much work it will be to prepare half a pound of barley cake each day for the next 430 days. I know how dessicated my throat will be from eating it.

I know what it is to be a captive in a land not my own.

And I know what the law says about the presence of human fecal matter in the camp.

Quote: "You shall have a designated area outside the camp to which you shall go. With your utensils you shall have a trowel; when you relieve yourself outside, you shall dig a hole with your trowel and cover up your excrement. Because Adonai your God travels along with your camp, to save you and to hand over your enemies to you, therefore your camp must be holy, so that God may not see anything indecent among you and turn away from you."

"There is no people without the law."
So I reminded God of this--not only the fact that no human dung was to be in an army camp, let alone to be used as fuel for food; not only the fact that God's very law decreed this; not only the fact that I had been Observant my entire life, but also and especially the fact that the reason for disallowing human dung in the camp was that God was present to save us and hand over our enemies to us.

And here I am? Lying on my right side, setting my face against Jerusalem for 40 day-years after doing the same to Israel for 390 day-years?

Here I am? Tied to the ground, immobile, unclean, taking upon myself the complete and utter defeat of our people despite the promise of God's presence in our camp, despite having plenty of water and food to eat, and despite being Observant?
Here I am? Eating food cooked with human dung?

I pointed this out to God.

And God relented.

I used cow dung.

Creative Commons License
Ezekiel the Observant by Brent M Graber is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.
Based on a work at www.madgrab.net/2008/11/ezekiel-observant.html.

Ezekiel Bars

Here's a recipe for some tasty bars. The next post contains the story that must be told before serving these.

Ezekiel Bars (recipe based on this one)

1 1/2 c. Bob's Red Mill 10 Grain Cereal
2 c. whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/2 c. butter
1 c. dark brown sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 c. milk
2 eggs

Preheat oven to 375°. Lightly grease two 10x15 baking sheets. Set aside.

In a bowl sift the flour, baking soda, and salt.

In a larger bowl cream butter and sugar until smooth, then blend in milk and vanilla. Beat eggs and add. Stir flour mixture into the egg/butter/milk mixture. Add the cereal and mix well.

Divide the batter between the two baking sheets. Spread. Bake 10-12 minutes. Let rest before serving. Cut into 4 cm. squares. I cannot stress this enough: the pieces must be precisely 4 cm. x 4 cm. or it will taste just awful.

05 November 2008


Here's the kind of thing that gives me hope:
Where voters said race was important, they voted for Obama. Those who said race wasn't important also voted for him—in relatively the same percentages.
(from Slate.com, their emphasis)