Jewish World Review Oct. 25, 2004 / 11 Mar-Cheshvan, 5765

Jeff Elder

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Consumer Reports

Why do we vote on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November?; the 'lost generation'; more


http://www.jewishworldreview.com | Q: I'm a middle school teacher in North Carolina. One of the students asked why the general election is always held "on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November." - Stephen Sorrell

A: The Federal Election Commission gives these reasons for the timing of Election Day:

—Why early November? For much of our history America was a predominantly agrarian society. November was perhaps the most convenient month for farmers and rural workers to travel to the polls. The fall harvest was over, but the weather was still mild. Spring was planting time and summer was taken up with working the fields and tending crops.

—Why Tuesday? Since most residents of rural America had to travel a significant distance to the county seat in order to vote, Monday was not considered reasonable as many people would need to begin travel on Sunday. This would, of course, have conflicted with church services and Sunday worship.

—Why the first Tuesday after the first Monday? Lawmakers wanted to prevent Election Day from falling on the first of November for two reasons. Nov. 1 is All Saints Day, a holy day for Roman Catholics. And many businesses did their accounting on the first. Some lawmakers feared that the economic success or failure of the previous month might influence the vote of the merchants.

Does your vote really matter?

The FEC passes along these examples of elections when a vote or two could have made a huge difference. How would you feel if you failed to vote in one of these elections?

—In 1989, a Lansing, Mich., school district proposition failed when the final recount produced a tie vote, 5,147 for, and 5,147 against. The school district had to reduce its budget by $2.5 million.

—In 1994, two candidates tied for the seat in the Wyoming House of Representatives from the Jackson Hole area, with 1,941 votes each. A recount produced the same result. One was finally declared the winner when a Ping Pong ball bearing his name was pulled from the governor's cowboy hat.

And then, there's always the presidential election of 2000.

SOURCE: Federal Election Commission

———

Q: What was the "lost generation," and how did the term get started? - Edward Robinson, Smyrna, Ga.

A: This phrase attached itself to Ernest Hemingway and other expatriate writers in the 1920s - and by extension to all the restless young people who emerged from the horrors of World War I and plunged into the Jazz Age.

It is said to have been born one day when Gertrude Stein's model-T Ford started running funny. The author, who lived in France, took the car to be serviced at a garage.

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She chatted with the garage manager about the caliber of his mechanics. They are all very good, the manager said, except the ones about 22 to 30. Those were ruined in World War I, and could not be taught anything.

Looking at the moping mechanics who should've been in their prime, the garage manager shook his head. "C'est une generation perdue," he said.

"They're a lost generation."

Stein became a mentor to Hemingway and other American writers in Paris.

Hemingway, too, had been in World War I, as an ambulance driver in Italy. He'd been badly wounded by shrapnel hitting his leg, and suffered a near-death experience that haunted him. Hemingway described that experience to a friend this way: "There was one of those big noises you sometimes hear at the front. I died then. I felt my soul or something coming right out of my body."

After listening to Hemingway speak of the war and noting the aimlessness and disillusionment of millions of young men in France, Stein related the garage manager's words to the young writer. He made a note of the insightful phrase.

With the help of F. Scott Fitzgerald, already a famous novelist, Hemingway's first novel, "The Sun Also Rises" was published in 1926. The book was about jaded and hard-drinking expatriates after the war.

To open the book, Hemingway used the phrase "You are all a lost generation."

The brilliant novel was a runaway success, hitting home with many people still struggling to make sense of the war. The introductory words came to symbolize Hemingway, Fitzgerald, John Dos Passos, e.e. cummings, Archibald MacLeish, Hart Crane and other writers of that era, many of whom were based in Paris. By extension many other young Americans abroad, particularly those with literary or artistic inclinations, came to think of themselves that way.

In what sense were they lost? They wandered Europe, looking for ... something. Spiritually they seemed to have difficulty subscribing to traditional values. (Jake, the hero of "The Sun Also Rises" describes himself as a "lousy Catholic," and there's an almost comical passage in which he tries to pray.) Millions of young men had done what authorities had told them - believing they were doing right - only to die in trench warfare or witness unspeakable horrors. So why should the survivors believe the authorities now and buy into the traditional American value system?

They were simply detached - from America, maybe from everything. Consider what Bill, Jake's fishing buddy in "The Sun Also Rises" says to him:

"You're an expatriate. You've lost touch with the soil. You get precious. Fake European standards have ruined you. You drink yourself to death. You become obsessed by sex. You spend all your time talking, not working. You are an expatriate, see. You hang around cafes."

Hemingway was amazed at how the concept of a "lost generation" took off. He even later tried to distance himself from it. In letters to his editor, Max Perkins, he stressed that the point of "The Sun Also Rises" is that people might suffer, generations might come and go, but the earth endures. That was the point of the title, which was taken from the Bible.

"There was no such thing as a lost generation," Hemingway wrote Perkins. Stein's comment was "splendid bombast."

Too late. He had already, in the minds of many, captured a generation.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Brittanica, Hemingway Resource Center

———

QUICK QUIZ

On pro basketball:

1. Wilt Chamberlain, like Shaquille O'Neal, was notorious for his poor free throw shooting. Was The Stilt MUCH worse than his rival, Bill Russell, from the charity stripe?

2. For whom is Lakers player Luke Walton named?

3. What do NBA stars Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, Tracy McGrady and LeBron James have in common?

4. How many future NBA players were on Muggsy Bogues' high school team?

5. Whose first name, in its full form, is Chukwuemeka?

———

ANSWERS:

1. No. In their careers, Chamberlain shot .511 from the line, Russell .561.

2. Maurice Lucas, who played with Walton's father, Bill.

3. They went straight from high school to the NBA.

4. Four: Bogues, Reggie Lewis, David Wingate and Reggie Williams.

5. Emeka Okafor, the Charlotte Bobcats' heralded rookie.

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Jeff Elder is a columnist for The Charlotte Observer. Comment or try to stump him by clicking here. If you send him a great question, he'll send you a Glad You Asked T-shirt.

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