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By Nathan Bierma

Content & Context

The Books & Culture Weblog


"Voting is more an act of devotion than an act of democratic input," a libertarian Web site once wrote. "Voting is the holiest ritual in America's civic religion, and not much else." And yet, the opportunity to choose is cherished wherever it is given, whether in an environment of oppression or apathy. In Afghanistan, millions of people voted in the country's first-ever presidential election last month. In the United States, the presidential race looked to be headed for another virtual tie after the candidates met in the last of their debates. Meanwhile, voting proceeded in Belarus amid allegations of corruption, and planning continued for elections in Iraq and municipal elections in Gaza and the West Bank. In France, candidates for the 2007 presidential election began campaigning on the printed page, with over half a dozen books by presidential hopefuls in bookstores. The Nobel Prize foundation made its own choices, including the Nobel Peace Prize for Kenya's Wangari Maathai, the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

For all the divisiveness of the U.S. presidential campaign, there emerged from October a united nation—Red Sox Nation, euphoric about its team's first World Series win since 1918 (and maybe wondering what to cheer for now). It takes an implausible feat to break an 86-year-old curse, and that's what the Red Sox pulled off in their comeback from a three-games-to-none deficit against the Yankees before sweeping the Cardinals. Air traffic controllers in the Boston area were on the lookout for flying pigs.

Jacques Derrida, the philosopher who said of his school of deconstructionism "that it never proceeds without love," died in October at the age of 74. Christopher Reeve, who played Superman in the movies but lived the last years of his life paralyzed from the neck down, died at 52. Pierre Salinger was the press secretary for John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. Cardinal James Hickey, longtime head of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., was an advocate for the powerless in a center of power. Janet Leigh played the victim in Alfred Hitchcock's creepy classic Psycho. Rodney Dangerfield, whose self-deprecating one-liners became a classic stand-up act, died at 82. In fond obituaries, he got plenty of respect.

Other October headlines:Fossils of tiny human cousins discovered - Cassini spacecraft takes tantalizing photos of Titan - NYC subway turns 100 - Martha Stewart goes to prisonYasser Arafat hospitalized - Ichiro sets record for hits in a seasonOregon man's television sends distress signal to Air Force base- Hikers complete first-ever trek of U.S. Pacific coast

ELECTION ROUNDUP: Crunching the numbers, from the Washington Post and SlateWhy is the country still tied? by David Brooks in the New York Times - Endorsements: Chicago Tribune for Bush; Washington Post for Kerry (more) - Campaign 2004: the end of voter apathy, from the New York Times - Beliefnet's Stephen Waldman on Bush's faith here and here in Slate; more from the U of Chicago's Martin Marty Center and from David AikmanDoes George W. Bush go to church? from the New Republic - Jim Wallis versus Jerry Falwell on values and the election from Sojourners—The brand names voters associate with the candidates from Landor Associates - Missouri as an election bellwether from the Atlantic Monthly and Chicago Tribune - Four fateful elections from Smithsonian, and why this is or isn't the most important election ever, from the New York Times -How did we get the Electoral College? from The Week - Can a president create jobs? from the New York Times - How does the federal budget really work? by P.J. O'Rourke in the Atlantic - Power in politics and literature by Julia Keller in the Chicago Tribune


From the Washington Post:

AMATITLAN, Guatemala — When a global glut drove the price of coffee beans to a historic low five years ago, Julio Flores almost shuttered the hillside coffee farm that had been in his family for four generations. But today Flores's farm is prospering as soaring demand for premium coffee brings new wealth to the old fields of Central America. … Flores said what saved his farm was a clearer understanding that First World consumers want only the best beans in their cappuccinos and lattes and that they are willing to pay for it. So he stopped using chemical fertilizers and pesticides, planted avocados below the 4,500-foot elevation that is generally required for the best beans and tended more carefully to his mile-high coffee plants. … "A revolution has taken place in five years," said William Hempstead, a director of the Guatemalan National Coffee Association, which has been helping farmers increase quality to further distance themselves from such mass producers of commercial grade coffee as Vietnam.

BANGOR, Maine — This city of 32,000 is used to diverted flights. Nestled in the northeastern corner of the country, Bangor International has made a cottage industry of taking in flights that run into the trouble over the Atlantic. It has a runway more than two miles long, a U.S. attorney's office and FBI agents who live within minutes of the terminal. For airline pilots, the combination makes Bangor a favorite unscheduled landing spot. The incidents are so common that local nurses say they often treat patients from the diverted flights: an assaulted flight attendant, a heart attack victim, a woman in labor. … Bangor International also plays a small supporting role in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as flights ferrying troops to and from the Middle East often stop here to refuel and allow service members to make a quick call home. Many remember their touchdown here fondly because it is the last or first chance they have to step on U.S. soil.


Nathan Bierma is editorial assistant at Books & Culture. He writes the weekly "On Language" column for the Chicago Tribune.

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