Near Yellow Mountain

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Election Day - Another Sad Story

When I lived in Shanghai politics was a common topic during group lunches with the local staff. There was a lot of curiosity about US politics and a certain suspicion about the reporting of US elections by Chinese television. My local team seemed to know and care more about US politics more than most Americans. Chinese TV does a great job of pointing out the negative aspects of the US system. Of course the behavior of our politicians makes the job easy for them. 

The current state of the US political process is a head scratcher for many foreign observers

I am glad my friends in China aren’t being forced to watch the madness of the current senatorial campaign in North Carolina. I have been home much of the past few weeks and experienced the non-stop barrage of mudslinging back and forth between the democratic incumbent and her republican challenger. According to the local newspaper, literally tens of millions of dollars have been spent so far in the “campaign”. I have not heard one positive statement about what either candidate will do. They only talk about alleged misdoings and character flaws of the other candidate. My phone rings multiple times a day with automated campaign calls. Makes me wonder if my friends in Shanghai weren’t right about certain benefits of a one party system. No, I am certainly not advocating that but our system clearly needs an overhaul.

More mud than issues in North Carolina
One of my favorite election conversations was more about linguistics than political drama. I had a great Japanese teacher. She always sought to make the lessons practical by discussing issues of the day. One morning during US “election season” my first year in Japan, she began the lesson by asking me about the “upcoming erection”. Given that “L” as we know it does not exist in Japanese and is normally substituted with the “R” sound; election is normally pronounced “erection” by Japanese English speakers. At first I was quite surprised by the question but then after looking directly at the very proper Japanese lady before me, I realized this was simply a manifestation of the “substitution of R for L phenomena”. Nevertheless my attempt to keep a straight face failed and my sensei immediately realized the pronunciation error and the meaning. She smiled and lamented the problem of speaking about the topic in English. I was lucky to have heard this first from my sensei so I was prepared not to laugh on Election Day when I was asked the topic by others.

The vexing problem of the "L" has many manifestations
The year in question was 2000 which of course was the year of the Bush – Gore debacle.  I remember starting a meeting with customers who told me Gore won and it had been announced on TV. I got home and found that nobody had won and I spent the next few weeks trying to explain our convoluted electoral process to my Japanese friends who seemed to take comfort in the fact that our political process seemed as screwed up as Japan’s.

It is hard to keep a straight face when asked; “don’t you have an erection in the US today? Or as in 2000, “wow, the US erection really lasts a long time.” Explaining the nuances of the “hanging chads” and the election equivalent of a food fight in Florida was tough enough but many were surprised to find out that the candidate with the most votes doesn’t necessarily win in our “democratic” process. While nobody came out and compared our 2000 process to a third world election, I had the feeling many were simply too kind to state the obvious.

Given the current state of our political process maybe we should all be seeking medical attention because our “election” definitely lasts more than 4 hours.