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In the midst of America’s absurd, untenable political situation, my wife’s refuge is to watch MSNBC every night, where the anchors tell her over and over again how absurd and untenable the situation has become. That has a certain reassuring quality, she finds. For me, it’s just too repetitive and depressing.

One of my own escapes is to read books that have nothing to do with the present-day USA or its foibles. For instance, I just finished Joyce Cary’s novel-cum-memoir A House of Children (1941), in which he describes vacation stays with relatives in Donegal. Lots of scenes about boating on the water, gossip about the older girls’ suitors, night-time swims in the lough, donkey-cart rides with a hired hand.… A fine respite from the 21st century—until I come upon passages like this one, which describes the children’s reaction after a play they have produced proves hilariously inept:

There was great applause, and Frances came to congratulate us. But we had lost heart. We were not only ashamed and disappointed; we had suffered a shock. Deeper than the sense of failure, there was the feeling that we had misunderstood the situation; that plays were not so easy as they seemed. With this went, as always, the feeling that life, too, was not so easy as it seemed. Like most children when they fail in a grown-up enterprise, we were subdued and secretly frightened; we wanted to get away by ourselves, preferably out of the grown-up world and back into our own refuges, the school-room or the kitchen. [Chapter 48]

Immediately, on reading that, I was back in the USA, wondering how much of our present state could be characterized as shock and shame at the failure of our self-conceived, long-running play called “American Democracy.” Are we frightened that it’s not as easy as we thought? Would we rather retreat to our refuges, like the couch and TV?

Actually, despite time spent on old British novels, I’ve been doing something useful lately, namely, volunteering for Fair Districts PA, an attempt to stop gerrymandering in my fair state of Pennsyltucky. After ranting for years about people who don’t bother to vote, I’ve decided to help address one of the conditions that discourage voting. This does require certain compromises on my part. I’ve always been annoyed with the inefficiency of volunteer organizations. Also, any cause that counts Arnold Schwarzenoodle among its supporters is inherently suspicious to me. But I do believe that if we can do away with legislative districts that look like this—

PA's 7th Congressional District

—we’ll have less need to run away from the grown-up world and hide in our refuges.

By the way, that district shown above, PA’s 7th Congressional District—known as “Goofy Kicking Donald Duck”—is served (if that’s the right word) by the estimable Pat Meehan, who has voted to repeal Obamacare, to defund National Public Radio, and to ignore requests for President Twitterman’s tax returns. With borders drawn so well to suit their needs, he and his fellow Goofies can be re-elected forever.

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.