There was an excellent Frontline on tonight, Part 1 on NSA collection of US communications (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/united-states-of-secrets/). For reasons I won't elaborate now, it reminded me of Election Day 2008, a day of pride. I first posted this on an earlier blog site (November 8, 2008 at 1:25pm).
I spent last weekend, Nov 1 and 2, working on a big project. I took a break late Saturday morning to priority mail my ballot back to Nashville; I signed an oath, that among other things attested to my having filled the ballot out "in secret" -- I thought that was interesting. Priority mail cost me $4.80, but well spent, even though Nashville is solidly blue within a solidly red state -- hardly seemed that my vote would make a difference, except to me. By Sunday morning I knew that the project would turn out well, but it was going to take much of my Sunday too. I looked at my calendar and I had no appointments on Tuesday -- so I emailed my boss and asked for Tuesday off -- as Clint says, you've "got to know your limits", and not just to survive, but to remain civil. He blessed it, his second-in-charge blessed it, and I had myself what Julia Cameron calls an Artist's Date.
Tuesday, election day, I headed out to the National Archives, which friend Kurt had suggested. It was quiet in DC. I walked into the Archives behind a school group from Columbia, TN -- cute, and while the adults were getting them in some semblance of order, I jumped ahead. I imagined that the kids were going to head straight to the Rotunda, so I ducked into a side vault, and sure enough they passed right by, as did many others, all to return later :-) I was in a room with documents, maps, news, paintings on the American Revolution, with the most significant original document on display being the American copy of the Treaty of Paris (1784). I knew where it was before I got there, because group after group of school kids, tour guides leading the way, would stampede around me into the back, huddle around a case, and then stampede back on their way to another conquest. Like a lot of things, the star of the show wasn't the most interesting; a large 1775 map of the colonies showed no signs of Tennessee or Nashville -- just Virginia and Carolina extending westward, with indian tribes throughout and First Nations west of the Mississippi; on a 1796 map I found both "Tannessee" and Nashville; the Mohawks weren't happy with the 1784 Treaty of Paris, as it negated earlier assurances and (of course) they weren't parties to it. I'm part Iroquis BTW, of which the Mohawks were one tribe -- 1/32 in blood, but more like 1/3 in spirit. Vermont, where my mother grew up, and though it wasn't one of the original 13, had to get yanked back in line, after the Treaty was ratified, by George Washington himself.
I went to the Rotunda; as you enter there is an original 1297 Magna Carta -- Latin on animal skin :-), then you enter the main Rotunda, dark to preserve the Charters of Freedom, the ink on each faded beyond my ability to read them. Murals on the walls show the participants of the congresses that signed the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, even those that didn't sign it -- you wonder why some wouldn't -- fear, principle, like George Mason? It's a beautiful and moving place.
The Public Vaults of the Archives have a lot of interactive exhibits -- some familiar stuff, but listening to Lyndon Johnson wear down Senator Richard Russell to serve on the Warren Commission (http://www.maryferrell.org/wiki/index.php/Formation_of_the_Warren_Commission ... last on the list of "LBJ Phone Calls") and JFK talking to Gov. Barnett of Mississippi over James Meredith's enrollment at Ole Miss (http://www.jfklibrary.org/meredith/chron_main.html) don't get old. Interactive exhibits involving great arguments and investigations from history (SC refusing to pay federal tax under Jackson, Titantic, UFOs, Kent State, Pumpkin Papers), while navigating the original documents, really intrigued the AIer in me. But personal stories -- soldiers, immigrants, Japanese-American internment -- this was the most touching, and this idea of archiving personal stories, or at least the information necessary to reconstruct the story, is something that resonates with so many -- you see the same theme at the Holocaust Museum, the American Indian Museum -- its an aspect of the "Memories for Life" UK grand challenge for computing research (http://www.ukcrc.org.uk/grand_challenges/current/index.cfm); I recall CMU CS researchers are empowering children in poor neighborhoods to record and archive the stories of their elders. At the Public Vaults I read that those that traveled overseas on passport would likely be there at the Archives, and I was reminded, I think, that my father had gone to the Archives to retrace his father's steps to Scotland to find his father (quite a tale there!) -- My father searched places like the National Archives, the Archives of the Latter Day Saints, the Scottish archives, old newspapers, 16 mm film, and more.. I'm 1/4 Scot by blood, and 1/2 in spirit BTW. I went with my father to Scotland a few months before he died, just after he'd put all the pieces of his history together -- its on computer and floppy that I can no longer (easily) read. Apparently, we are in a transition of great information loss with all this rapidly changing technology. But I have hardcopy :-)
When I got out of the Archives, I was far from done for the day -- lunch at National Galleries (the best Caesar dressing, real plates, good cup of Joe!), the East Building exhibit of George De Forest Brush (http://www.nga.gov/exhibitions/brushinfo.shtm), the Library of Congress on colleague Steve's recommendation (The Jefferson building is fantastically beautiful, and I'm sure that Madison's statue might induce swooning by those so inclined, but it will have to wait -- I was sure to get a library card, and I'm going back as a researcher -- I'll be able to count that trip as work! :-) I ended the day at Union Station, on the recommendation of friend Vivian -- quite a place. I'd been doing a lot of walking and was beat (it was an eight hour day), and was looking forward to a metro ride, but the Union Station Metro was a Zoo, and I hadn't had my flu shot, so I walked to Foggy Bottom, after dark, remembering some earlier times, talking to my wife on the phone about the election, which I hadn't thought of all day, but no news yet ... when I got back to Arlington I made a final check with my wife on the election, still not much, then headed up to the apartment. I zoned out in front of some DVD on my laptop in the kitchen -- no TV and no Internet and not good cell. I was in a twilight state, now in bed, about 11:00 PM when I heard hoots and hollers, honking horns, yells from the street 18 floors down and from other apartments I imagine -- what a wonderfully moving feeling that was, and I went to sleep.