Words, Words, Words

November 26, 2000

I did go to see a movie today, after all. Not the one I meant to see on Thanksgiving, but Unbreakable, by the creator of The Sixth Sense, which I heard called "the best superhero movie ever". That's a pretty defensible opinion. The story is about Elijah Price, a man who is born with very fragile bones, who is called "Mister Glass" in the schoolyard because he breaks so easily, and who becomes obsessed with finding someone at the other end of the human extreme, someone who is literally unbreakable. When a commuter train derails and every person on board is killed except one, one person who walks away without a scratch, he thinks that he has found his "unbreakable" counterpart. Samuel L. Jackson gives an amazing performance as a zealot who leads David Dunne to discover the truth about himself, and to find his place in life. It's the canonical superhero origin story. And yet, if it weren't for Price's childhood obsession with comics and the fact that he owns a comic book store, it could almost have been made without mentioning comics at all. There are no silly costumes, no impossible physics, no ridiculous supervillains, no violence more extreme than a wrestling match. Shyamalan takes the essence of one medium, grafts it into another medium, and produces a story that is a seamless whole. The ending is disconcerting, but in retrospect thematically consistent with the rest of the movie, even if it does change how you have to think about it. Pretty impressive. And Jackson's performance is amazing--there's a scene of him hurrying down a flight of concrete stairs which is one of the most suspenseful things I've ever seen in a theater.

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I am thoroughly disgusted with Katherine Harris, who refused to delay two hours to allow Palm Beach County to finish its recount, and refused to accept any partial results. This is so absolutely contrary to what the Florida Supreme Court said about the allowable limits of her discretion that she must know it's going to be struck down. This is among the rankest of all the partisan abuses that have come out of Florida in the past few weeks.

George W. Bush must be held accountable. I am just barely old enough to remember Watergate, of the last generation that considered Richard M. Nixon to be a truly evil man. I had not until now thought I would ever encounter another political figure who could arouse such animosity. George W. Bush is a villain and the country will be gravely wounded if he is ever allowed to enter the White House. Our country has survived evil before; we will survive evil again, if need be; but I very much hope it does not come to that.

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Below is the text of a letter I sent to the Washington Post today:

A technician from the Votomatic company testified on Firday before the Palm Beach canvassing board that loose chad can pile up within their machines, making it impossible for voters to punch a hole in their ballot. Simply speaking, if there's no room under the ballot for the chad to come off, it won't come off, and you'll get a dimple. This has been well known for decades, ever since the beginning of punch card voting. That's why manual recounts are necessary in close races, and why dimpled ballots must be presumed to be a valid vote.

Mary McGrory, I would hope through ignorance, misstates the facts in her Nov. 26th column, in which she writes, "A dimpled ballot is best described as incomplete pass. A voter makes a stab at the little rectangle of paper known as a 'chad' and for some reason loses heart, or interest, and fails to punch it out." While this scenario is not impossible, it doesn't seem particularly likely, and it does not explain why in Florida counties using punchcard ballots the number of ballots showing no vote for President--except for an imperfect perforation or dimple--is so extraordinarily high.

George W. Bush has been making much of the "unfairness" of conducting hand recounts only in selected counties, even though he has repeatedly chosen to refuse a statewide hand recount. A greater unfairness would be if each voter in Broward, Palm Beach, and Dade lost a tiny fraction of their vote because they were forced to play election lottery with unreliable machines, a game other Florida voters in predominantly Republican counties did not have to play. I believe that in every close election it is necessary to have at least one count that counts all the votes. Without a hand count that won't happen.

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