The 2004 presidential election was for me an exercise in endurance. I watched the election returns on a laptop screen from a hut at Discovery Bay, New Harbor, on the continent of Antarctica. There were nine of us there. There were only supposed to be four. Five of us were stranded by weather, straining the resources of the small science outpost. The helicopters couldn't fly. We were stuck in an Antarctic white out for what turned out to be 10 days helping to deplete the camp's food and fuel at more than twice the rate calculated by the team doing science there.
In a remote survival situation, one is very careful to assess the import of any item upon which one wishes to comment. Typically, anything not related to the improvement of the immediate situation falls into the category of triviality. The outcome of the 2004 presidential election would not immediately increase or decrease our food and fuel stocks, so we refreshed the web page on the laptop without comment. What was obvious was that there was enough food for all of us to persist for a couple weeks, and in that time the weather was bound to clear and the helos were bound to resume flying. Meanwhile we would finish the Oreos and the canned soups and the packages of hot chocolate, and would wind up defrosting the emergency stocks which had been laid in the prior year. They were out in a "bear box" sunk into the permafrost.
There are no bears in Antarctica, so the bear box served only to keep out prying humans.
The camp leader asked Henry Kaiser (Executor of the Henry J. Kaiser foundation, rock guitarist and film producer) and I to go out and take an inventory of our food supply. We did, and in the process I sliced open my hand on a sharp metal fragment in the bear box and commenced bleeding all over the pristine Antarctic wilderness, forever mingling my DNA with the eons of nothingness and the millions of years of dinosaurs before, and thereby subjecting myself to punishment by the U.S. government of something on the order of 10 years in jail and twenty-five thousand dollars in fines.
Dug was with us. At the time he was a combat nurse on leave from Afghanistan, taking his R&R in the frozen south. He calmly dressed my wound, told me how to handle it going forward, and went about his chores.
After a while it became obvious the election situation was going to be a repeat of sorts of the 2000 vote count fiasco. This time in Ohio instead of Florida.
Henry cooked steaks we found in the bear box and seasoned them with Thai spices. Turns out Henry is a gourmet chef and we all benefited from his skills. He's also an aficionado of old movies and 1950's TV series, and had brought a collection of DVDs which we savored after dinner.
As the storm battered our hut the wind shifted to a direction that prevented the exhaust from our diesel-fueled heater from exiting the furnace. Thus the hut filled with diesel exhaust. Threatened with suffocation, we were forced to open the doors and let in the frigid air until the winds shifted.
As day and night are indistinguishable in Antarctica, our days were metered only by our camp manager declaring nightfall and bedtime. And then by the subdued movements of those who had not fallen asleep so as not to awaken the others.
After some immeasurable period of time, John Kerry conceded to President Bush. The population of New Harbor greeted the news with indifference. Henry made oatmeal for breakfast. The wind had made a mess of our supply yard where we kept large cardboard and plastic boxes called "triwalls" tied down to boulders with cargo straps. The boxes contained scientific supplies, tools, some foodstuffs, and waste containers. At New Harbor all waste from all sources has to be containerized in 5 gallon plastic buckets, sealed with several layers of tape, and labeled for shipment back to North America.
The most noxious job in camp is one of cleaning out the latrine, which in part involves capping off the 55 gallon drum of urine before it reaches the critical level. This is the level beyond which if the drum is filled and frozen, the frozen contents will cause the drum to burst. Thus, the urination procedure in camp involves first checking the level of the "pee barrel" with a calibrated stick to make sure your deposit won't raise the content level above the critical mark, and after making that judgment, either peeing into the appropriate funnel or first capping off the 55-gallon barrel, rolling it to the supply yard and replacing the barrel with a new empty one, and then urinating. Given the severity of the individual's urination urge, the motivation to perform the barrel swap could vary from low to non-existent, which could result in negative consequences for the population.
The task of swapping out the shit bucket requires slightly less physical exertion - as the bucket contains only 5 gallons as opposed to a nearly full/frozen 55 gallon drum. But depending on the severity of the individual's evacuation urge, bad consequences could arise almost immediately if the fill-level of the bucket is not first checked. And then is raised the issue - how many people are actually certain of the volume of matter they void during defecation - and can that judgment be trusted? (Upon this one cogitates while seated above the bucket.)
These items went through my mind as I pondered the 2004 election results in silence while swapping out the shit bucket. I did it even though the bucket wasn't entirely full, and even though I didn't need to use it for any reason.
It seemed the only way I could center myself when facing the inevitability of another four years with a man at the helm I felt was better suited to a position managing the main Phoenix, Arizona Walmart branch than the highest office in our land. And yet, I am a firm believer in democracy. As the people had spoken, it was my duty to dissent and then support the process.
After 10 days the helo landed and brought us back to the "civilization" of McMurdo station. There, in a slightly less restrained atmosphere the political views of my camp mates became clear and I was in a minority of supporters of the democratic candidate.
Thus for all to witness - the wonder of the American system of government. Nine people with vastly differing political views band together in a remote Antarctic science station and support each other when the environment necessitates it. And they argue their views fiercely when the environment allows.
I left the ice at that time praying, "Keep Dug and his unit safe in Afghanistan."
I believe he is now in medical school in New York.
Despite guarantees my federal income tax burden would increase, I supported and voted for Barack Obama. Those who felt fear of taxation would sway my vote missed the point entirely, as apparently they did for a majority of America.
Though I am not a registered Democrat, I realize that during my tenure here at E2 I have blogged nothing but liberal viewpoints. Had the Republican party shown the wisdom in 2000 to choose the 2000 version of John McCain as its candidate, you'd have seen me supporting him and appearing to be a conservative.
But I cannot fathom the depths of evil perpetrated upon our country's good name by the fetid jackals currently inhabiting the White House, and look forward with radioactive, purified, molten glee to noon on January 20th, when the end of the reign of our empty-headed dunce-in-chief ends my servitude as shit hauler, and the administration of Barack Obama makes me a free man again. Free to travel the earth without having to endure the perpetual scorn of the rest of the world. Free from the polite recriminations of my European colleagues who ask me time and time again, "What happened to you people? Don't you realize what you have done?"
Free to remind those who scorn our processes that we are just as likely to show bouts of genius-like brilliance as school-yard bullyism, and that we are indeed the beacon of freedom in the world.
Free to remind those who would threaten us that it is far more profitable to join us than fight us.
Free to remind our allies that having friends in the world is something we value.
Free to plop down my passport in front of the border official of any country and remind them - yes it is us who put men on the moon and put an end to slavery and tyranny in the civilized world. It is us. We are Americans. We may go crazy occasionally, but we are still capable of great and simple goodness. We are not torturers or imperialists or slaughterers of children in the name of God as oil. That is not us. That is not me.
Free at last. Free at last. Dear God, I'm free at last.