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Shocked!

February 19, 2017

Change Seven magazine has posted a guest blog entry of mine about surviving a (Trumpian) shock to the system. Here’s the link.

The general theme, in keeping with the magazine’s name, was “change,” and I started to ponder how our former ideas about change seem both still-relevant and terribly quaint. The old term “future shock” popped into my mind—which was kind of like reading a letter you wrote as a teenager and realizing that, back then, you understood far more than you do now.

The original gerrymander in Massachusetts

The original gerrymander in Massachusetts

At the second meeting of the #WritersResist group in Philadelphia, I learned about Fair Districts PA, a group determined to convert Pennsylvania to a nonpartisan redistricting process before the 2020 census.

Every ten years, after the national census, states redraw their district lines — both for the state legislature and for the U.S. House of Representatives. Under the current system in most states, those in power in the legislature gerrymander the districts to make sure they stay in power. We get districts shaped like this (from the U.S. Department of the Interior via Wikipedia):

pa_uscongressionaldistrict12

 

Besides perpetuating one-party control, the “safe seats” contribute to gridlock on both a local and a national scale. If lines are drawn to make sure that those with certain views get reelected (and reelected and reelected and reelected), they have no need to listen to any dissenting voices or consider any compromise.

Although the USA is not the only country to allow gerrymandering, the practice is particularly egregious here, and the Supreme Court’s rulings on the subject have been indecisive.

I’ve long bemoaned Americans’ lax voting habits. There are two principal ways to influence politicians: money and votes. Most of us don’t have the first, and too many of us throw away the second.

Obviously, one way to encourage voting is to make the districts fairer. If we eliminate automatic winners, people will be more inclined to think their votes count for something.

So do check out Fair Districts PA or a similar group in your own state. And vote!

(I’m still fuming at my friends who didn’t bother to vote last November.)

 

Dogs Welcome

January 26, 2017

It should be obvious from the picture at the top that dogs are already welcome on this blog—in fact, they run our operation, compensated with the occasional biscuit—but the heading of this post refers to a story of mine, “Dogs Welcome,” that has just been published at Change Seven.

Here’s a link directly to the story. I’m billing the piece as a useful escape, totally irrelevant to contemporary political concerns. It never once mentions President Twitterman. On the other hand, it features a character who shows a bit of compassion for others, so perhaps that’s not untimely.

Thanks to editor Sheryl Monks and other members of the Change Seven staff, and also to members of the Working Writers Group, who helped me see what was wrong (a lot!) in an earlier draft of the story.

The magazine invites contributors to do a guest blog post on the subject of change, and mine will be up soon. In the meantime, check out Katrina Denza’s post called “This Is What Democracy Looks Like”—a reflection on the Women’s March in DC.

 

Writers ResistYesterday in Philadelphia, an event called “Writers Resist: United for Liberty” filled to overflowing a 300-seat auditorium for more than two hours of readings about freedom of speech, racial justice, economic justice, and more. It was linked in spirit to the New York event sponsored by PEN America, but it had a uniquely local flavor, with passages from historical speeches and writings set in Philly. The organizers (and who knew writers could organize so well?) were Alicia Askenase, Stephanie Feldman, and Nathaniel Popkin.

There’s a good write-up at Philly.com, and many ongoing comments on the Facebook site and Twitter feed (@ResistPHL), as well as photos and videos. Most important, the plan is to carry on with further events and actions, beginning next month.

I can’t add much to the eloquence of the other voices, so I’ll simply quote three passages that I found most moving—ones that didn’t have specific connections to Philly but shared a universal resonance.

The program concluded with poet Tom Devaney reading Langston Hughes’s stirring poem “Let America Be America Again,” which includes these lines:

O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

A dream that’s never quite fulfilled but that we can, we must, keep aiming at—that states it perfectly.

Valerie Fox read a translation of Bertolt Brecht’s poem “When Evil-Doing Comes Like Falling Rain,” a reminder not to let ourselves be anesthetized by the quantity of outrages:

The first time it was reported that our friends were being butchered there was a cry of horror. Then a hundred were butchered. But when a thousand were butchered and there was no end to the butchery, a blanket of silence spread. When evil-doing comes like falling rain, nobody calls out “stop!” When crimes begin to pile up they become invisible. When sufferings become unendurable the cries are no longer heard. The cries, too, fall like rain in summer.

Finally, here’s a quotation that connects with my frequent screeds about American voting behavior. Kelly McQuain read this passage, among others, from Elie Wiesel’s 1999 speech “The Perils of Indifference”:

In a way, to be indifferent to [human] suffering is what makes the human being inhuman. Indifference, after all, is more dangerous than anger and hatred. Anger can at times be creative. One writes a great poem, a great symphony, one does something special for the sake of humanity because one is angry at the injustice that one witnesses. But indifference is never creative. Even hatred at times may elicit a response. You fight it. You denounce it. You disarm it. Indifference elicits no response. Indifference is not a response.

Let’s say that one more time in capitals: INDIFFERENCE IS NOT A RESPONSE.

 

Twitterman Landslide!

January 3, 2017

The results are in from our runoff poll! Our incoming president has his proper moniker:

2,469 votes for “President Twitterman”

1,389 votes for “President Pootinesca”

That’s an overwhelming margin—one might say a mandate—for Twitterman. Henceforth the orange fellow in the White House shall be known by that name.

kremlinhack4However, some members of the Gridleyville Board were disturbed by anomalies in the voting.

For one thing, this blog has a known readership of 11 souls. Even though individuals were allowed to vote multiple times, it’s a bit surprising that 3,858 ballots were cast.

Second, Twitterman’s total amounted to 64%—eerily similar to the percentage won by Vladimir Putin in 2012.

Third, more than 3,000 of the votes have been traced to keyboards using the Cyrillic alphabet. We do have Russian speakers in the USA, but the sheer volume of Cyrillic-flavored votes has raised suspicion.

Finally, our agents have confirmed that one of the Cyrillic keyboards was connected to a monitor with the following sentence on its screensaver:

Умереть, капиталистические собак!

which, loosely translated, means “Die, capitalist dogs!”

Although the evidence is merely circumstantial, we can say with high confidence that certain high-ranking officials in the Kremlin deliberately intervened to sway the election. Apparently they conceived a deep hatred for the name Pootinesca. Perhaps they objected to the conflation of Vladimir Putin’s surname with the noise typically made by old fat men after a heavy meal. Or, if they themselves are fine diners, they may have recognized the similarity to puttanesca, the popular pasta sauce whose designation literally means “in the style of a prostitute.” Whatever the motive, they programmed their system to cast thousands of ballots for Twitterman and approximately half as many (as a cheap cover-up) for Pootinesca.

After deep deliberation, the Gridleyville Board has therefore approved sanctions against the Kremlin. Once each day for the next month, we will send the following stern message to Moscow:

Плохие русские, плохие русские, пло-o-o-o-хо!

which, loosely translated, means “Bad Russians, bad Russians, ba-a-a-a-d!”

Yet—it should go without saying—as true Americans we must honor our democratic process, however corrupted it may be.

Therefore, long live Twitterman!

With dedication and good luck, he may well become the greatest Twit ever to occupy the White House.

votebuttonResults are in for the presidential name poll posted on December 30!

In an effort to find a proper moniker for the incoming U.S. president, some voters chose among the options offered, some proposed alternatives. A total of six votes were cast, and since this blog has eleven total readers, including bots, the percentage who bothered to vote was nearly identical to that in the November election itself. We find that encouraging.

The vote resulted in a tie, with two names collecting two votes apiece. This calls for a runoff—also encouraging, because it prolongs the excitement!

Now, the original poll asked participants to vote by comment, which was a bit difficult. To register a vote, you first needed to have a sign-in recorded and recognized by the system. Then you had to go through the elaborate motions of typing a name on your keyboard. The setup deliberately mirrored the two-step process of regular voting, in which you first have to register and then, on the day of the vote, you have to show up, sign in, push some buttons and pull a lever.

In fact, five of our six voters circumvented the standard process, casting their ballots by Twitter, Facebook or, in one case, vocally. We Americans just can’t seem to follow the rules, can we? Nevertheless, in a true spirit of liberality, we decided to count those votes without penalty.

Perhaps the laborious effort required to cast a ballot is what discourages so many American voters. Therefore, for this runoff, we’re experimenting with a simpler poll format, in which you merely have to move your index finger twice. The two remaining candidates are listed below. Remember, the point is to choose a surname that, when combined with the title “President,” won’t make us hyperventilate or curse uncontrollably.

Click the circle next to the name you prefer, then click the Vote button. It’s easy!

Besides its simplicity, you’ll note that our runoff format has other important characteristics:

  • It’s like a sports poll in that you can vote as many times as you like. Hence it gives an advantage to fanatics and those with nothing better to do with their time, kind of like a primary election between no-names running for Register of Wills.
  • It resembles a Russian election in that, after you vote, the information disappears into the cyberether until the authorities (in this case, the Gridleyville Board of Directors) announce the official results, which may or may not reflect actual votes cast.
  • It reflects the typical democratic process in that it makes not one iota of difference for the long decline of Western civilization.

So hurry up and vote now! The polls will be open for an unpredictable amount of time.

We wish the best of luck to both candidates.

Presidential Icon?In the spirit of public service, I’ve been working on the proper way to refer to our incoming president, the man gifted to us by the deep wisdom of American nonvoters. Among the great majority of liberals, it seems that his surname can’t be combined with the word president without inducing profound metaphysical shudders as well as clinical symptoms such as hyperventilation and coprolalia. That’s a lot of people who will be getting sick. If you believe the opinion polls (have they ever failed us?), liberals in the broad sense now constitute the mainstream of the U.S. population. Most people won’t accept the dreaded L-word as a label, but they are tolerant and broadminded enough to qualify for it, and hence they may soon display the signs of existential illness.

To avoid traumatizing so many people, we need to find another name for the individual in question, one that will prove appropriate for at least four years.

So far, the principal solutions have come from rhyming slang, to wit, President Drumpf, Dump, Rump, Rumpffff, etc. Even to my 14-year-old mind (a characteristic I share with many of his supporters), this has begun to seem childish. We need a more thoughtful substitute relating to the man’s character, or lack of same.

Along those lines, here are a few possibilities:

  • President Biglywiggly
  • President Goldilux
  • President Nukem
  • President Pompadour
  • President Pootinesca
  • President Twitterman

Let me know your thoughts. Can you suggest any names to add to the list?

Perhaps we should take a vote. If the November pattern prevails, 45 percent of us won’t bother to cast a ballot, but a small, committed minority is all we need to declare a mandate.

As another option, we could use an icon or emoji in place of a name. If Garry Trudeau stays true to his tradition, he’ll come up with a clever one for Doonesbury. In the meantime, my initial graphic suggestion appears at the head of this post. Again, other ideas are welcome. Should we vote on an icon, or fail to vote and let mine win by default?