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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.)

 

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.

 

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?

Bluster’s Last Stand?

November 9, 2016

Waking after the long election night… What, is the world still here? There are people who still dare to go out on the street? They’re, like, heading to work or something? Really?

So I manage to walk the dog, make breakfast and pick up the paper. There I find a column by Helen Ubiñas headlined “Stunned at the Victory of Self-Destruction.” (An updated version of the printed column is here.) Her take on the election corresponds to what I wrote on June 3 about a national death wish. She talks about “the xenophobia and sexism and hatred and racism Americans either embrace or are willing to overlook to send a message. And that message,” she adds,

is one of self-destruction, because although Hillary Clinton has her flaws, her many, many flaws, the message we are sending by being so willing to make a carrot-colored caricature the president of the United States is that we are willing to throw our country under the bus, that we are willing to be the world’s punchline, that we are willing to make a man with zero political experience and less global respect the 45th president of the United States.

Yeah, that says it. My image was a flaming explosion, an Armageddon, but the bus metaphor is good too. I am feeling rather squashed right now, and some of my friends seem to be having trouble breathing.

Wasn’t it ironic to hear that this election was about “change”? When it simply reversed the previous change? How many more times will voters be able to feel like conservatives simply by choosing the candidate who’s sane and competent?

By IProspectIE (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

photo by IProspectIE, via Wikimedia Commons

Dreading the possibility of a morning like this, I’ve been toying with the idea of moving back to the land of my ancestors (some of them), and living quietly in a stone cottage, enjoying the fruits of the land (see picture) around a wee turf fire. I won’t really do that, of course, but it’s a consolation to have a refuge in mind.

More consoling is the fact that a large majority of those who are not white males voted for Hillary. So did a huge percentage of voters 18–29, and a smaller but clear majority of those 30–44.

These people are the dominant electorate of the future, folks. And they showed their disgust for the vile orange pussy-grabbing dictator-worshiping sexist racist fascist charlatan. (Oops, I was trying to be less polemical than Ms. Ubiñas.)

Trump voters in the near future

So what I’m saying is: there’s a good chance this is Bluster’s Last Stand.

Another, less direct comfort comes from nearly a century ago, in a passage by the English writer Ford Madox Ford. In his novel Some Do Not…, the first of the Parade’s End trilogy, set in the years surrounding World War I, protagonist Christopher Tietjens is accused of hating his own country because he detests virtually everyone in charge. His accuser is the young woman he cares for more than anyone else, so he replies honestly:

Don’t say it! Don’t believe it! Don’t even for a moment think it! I love every inch of its fields and every plant in the hedgerows: comfrey, mullein, paigles, long red purples, that liberal shepherds give a grosser name … and all the rest of the rubbish … and we have always been boodlers and robbers and reivers and pirates and cattle thieves, and so we’ve built up the great tradition that we love … But, for the moment, it’s painful. Our present crowd is not more corrupt than Walpole’s. But one’s too near them.

Maybe it’s the same now. Are we just too near the current boodlers to see things in perspective? Maybe Donald Trump is no worse than George Wallace (who wasn’t, however, nominated by a major party) or Huey Long (who got shot before he could be nominated). Maybe Sean Hannity is no crazier than Father Coughlin. Maybe the Alt-Right media are no more scurrilous than Marcus Pomeroy, who wrote of Abraham Lincoln in 1864: “The man who votes for Lincoln now is a traitor and murderer.… And if he is elected to misgovern for another four years, we trust some bold hand will pierce his heart with dagger point for the public good” (quoted in Don E. Fehrenbacher, “The Anti-Lincoln Tradition”).

I hope those maybes are true. I hope.

Election Day

November 8, 2016

WebVotingSticker

Click either sticker for a rant about their meaning.