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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.)

 

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?

Election Day

November 8, 2016

WebVotingSticker

Click either sticker for a rant about their meaning.

Lesser and Greater Evils

August 10, 2016

Image from O’Hehir’s article in SALON

A short post to offer some informative links (the phrases in red) about Trumpageddon:

Back in June I surmised that Americans might have, in essence, a national death wish, a desire to just blow up the system out of spite, frustration and boredom. Now Andrew O’Hehir has offered a similar, though more complicated, argument in Salon. “As I see it,” he writes, “Trump is on a suicide mission, acting out a deep-seated national desire for self-destruction that runs alongside America’s more optimistic self-image and interacts with it in unpredictable ways” (my boldface). Definitely worth reading.

To that I’ll add a link to an On the Media radio show/podcast in which host Bob Garfield interviews Nathan Robinson, editor of Current Affairs. (The linked page contains a transcript as well as the audio clip.) For those who refuse to vote for either Trump or Clinton, Robinson provides a strong argument for choosing one or the other to avoid a repeat of the 2000 election, when progressives’ votes for Ralph Nader led to the victory of George W. Bush (who, to this point, may be the worst president in U.S. history—a record Trump would have no difficulty in toppling).

“The basic premise” of Robinson’s argument “is that we should think about voting differently. The way I think of voting is that you should think about the potential consequences of your vote. That’s the most important thing. Voting isn’t necessarily a way to say who you are and what you care about. It’s something that has consequences” (my boldface).

Robinson continues, “If 500 Nader voters in Florida had changed their minds we probably wouldn’t have had the Iraq war, so I think those consequences are the most important thing. You know, people are critical of the term ‘lesser evil’—well, you just want us to vote for the lesser evil. Of course we do, because you want less evil in the world.”

My take on the issue is simple: If you’re a grownup, and not suicidal, you should face the fact that the election is not about you or your ideological or moral purity. It’s about who will run the United States and possibly, or not, blow up the whole effing planet.

VotingStickerWe had an election this week in Philadelphia. A special election to fill three vacancies in the state House, two of which arose because the incumbents quit after pleading guilty to corruption.

This event produced a grand Y-A-W-N in the city. The media ignored it, and the outcome was predetermined. (Local Democrats, with a huge registration advantage, automatically win any vote with such little publicity.) Besides, most of us don’t even know our representatives in the state House, and as far as we can tell, their only function is to send us a boastful newsletter just before the next election. As for corrupt officials, they’re as common here as in Iraq, and perhaps cheaper, and we don’t expect new ones to be any less venal.

Nevertheless, stifling my Y-A-W-N, I wandered over to my polling place about 11:30 in the morning. It was deserted. They told me I was the 19th person to come in since the polls opened. Explained one attendant who was eating a pastry, “We don’t even call this light turnout. It’s dim turnout.”

For the 30 seconds I spent in the booth, I received the sticker shown above—a more than adequate reward. I chose the Spanish version because I’m trying to learn the language. Combining this with the sign I encounter frequently, “NO TIRE BASURA,” I’m up to six words total. It’s a start.

But I was upset about being number 19. That’s worse than dim turnout, it’s like Milton’s description of Hell: “No light, but rather darkness visible.”

For an election pitting Luigi’s Pizza against Pete’s Famous Pizza, my neighborhood would have several hundred voters by late morning. Everybody knows Luigi’s would win—it’s predetermined by the crust—but people would show up at the polls anyway.

So I went into my typical funk about the trashing of American democracy. In my view, we can survive Donald Trump and Fox News (which treated the recent Republican debate like a game show), but what we can’t survive is indifference.

Okay, you’re heard that before. Everybody complains about the apathy of the American public. And the counterargument seems like a good one: If the choices are Tweedledum and Tweedledee—or, say, Trumpledump and Christiedweeb—indifference is a rational response, isn’t it?

I disagree, and here’s my reasoning.

Imagine your typical city neighborhood, which averages 60% turnout during presidential elections, 40% in midterms, 20–27% in mayoral elections, and way, way less in off-off-season polls like the one we just had here. On average, then, a lot more than half of the people don’t vote. Now suppose that, in the next election, the neighborhood’s turnout jumps a modest 15% for no obvious reason (no candidate from the dominant ethnic group, no hot-button issue on the ballot). What will happen?

The local politicians will suddenly get very interested in that neighborhood. They’ll start to ask what’s going on there. They’ll stop by and talk to people. They’ll want to know what issues the community cares about.

This imaginary scenario leads to my slogan, with apologies to Field of Dreamers:

VOTE AND THEY WILL COME!

It doesn’t matter if, at the moment, you can’t tell a Fiorina from a Cannoli. Vote in reasonable numbers and they will be forced to address your issues. Vote especially when the slick pols and the talking heads don’t expect you to.

After all, we citizens have just two things politicians care about: (a) votes and (b) money. For those of us with little cash to spare, votes are the only weapon, and if we don’t use that weapon to defend ourselves, we’re choosing to bend over and take it up the … wherever (to use a famous Trumpism).

Sure, I understand all the points about the influence of big money, the rise of the oligarchy or plutocracy or whatever you want to call it. I also sympathize with the rage that leads people into the streets to scream and throw rocks at the cops. But when we throw rocks, we’re not hitting the moneymen and asshole politicians who run the system. As soon as we go home, those bigwigs will go back to ignoring us unless they think they’re losing money or votes.

Thus, no matter how oppressed or depressed the community, I get upset with locals who complain but don’t bother to vote. Despite Republican efforts to suppress turnout, most people wouldn’t have any trouble voting if they made an effort.

It’s the one defense we have left. Nobody’s forcing us to be helpless.

According to Google Translate, the slogan is even simpler in Spanish:

VOTA Y ELLOS VENDRÁN!

Plus, you get a nice sticker. Feel free to print this one and glue it to your shirt. Do correct my Spanish if I got it wrong.

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