Monday, December 31, 2012

The Year In Review of Funny Pictures

I mess about on ICanHasCheezburger, okay?

These are the best ones I made for 2012.

Some were political.

Some were funny.

Some were inspired.

And of course, the best one I made all year:

See you all in 2013!  I gots more planned then.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

What Romney Didn't Want: A View Into Presidential Character

I've wanted to write for a long time about the Presidential Character.  And the recent revelations about Mitt Romney's failed 2012 campaign is a good time to do it.

When I'm talking Presidential Character, I'm looking at the definitions created by political scientist James David Barber who developed the four types of Character based on Active/Passive and Positive/Negative traits: Active-Positive, Active-Negative, Passive-Positive, and Passive-Negative.

As a good example, look to the first four Presidents:
George Washington was, believe it or not, Passive-Negative.  P-Ns only become Presidents because of a sense of duty, not any desire for the office.  They're wary of executive power, and not thrilled with political negotiating.
John Adams was Active-Negative.  A-Ns are aggressive, uncompromising, unhappy both personally and professionally, but do relish a good amount of executive authority and do seek accomplishments to fulfill.
Thomas Jefferson was Active-Positive.  Optimistic, forward-thinking, capable of overreach, reveling in the ceremonial aspects of the Presidency, A-Ps are just as aggressive as A-Ns but more capable of compromise and reaching goals.
James Madison was Passive-Positive.  P-Ps are optimistic and friendly, but unfocused, more akin to being a caretaker letting the People's Business do its own thing.  Things can happen during their tenure but more often the Passive-Positive President is not leading the charge.

There is no bad precedent: Negative or Passive are not bad traits per se.  It all depends on the timing:  Washington was perfect as a Passive-Negative because as the first President under the Constitution it was up to him to define the limits and powers of the office.  By being that self-controlling, he stabilized government and gave it time to settle down.  An Active-Positive at that time could have led to chaos and constant in-fighting against the Congress: an Active-Negative could have made himself dictator out frustration.  On the other hand, Madison as Passive-Positive happened at a bad time: the War of 1812 happened under his watch, something an Active-Negative could have avoided, or an Active-Positive could have managed to greater success.  Passive-Positives could be successful during tenures of great upheaval: sometimes through luck, but most times because such passivity actually makes them flexible and capable of making sound deals with Congress or foreign nations. To that, look at Ronald Reagan: He campaigned as a radical anti-government conservative but in office his P-P nature made him amenable to government's effectiveness, which lead him to revoke his anti-tax stances and eventually pursue ground-breaking treaties with the Soviet Union.

That said, Active-Negatives tend to be very bad for the nation over the long haul: SEE Hoover, Herbert; Johnson, Lyndon B.; Nixon, Richard; Cheney, Dick (I would contend that Dubya himself was a Passive-Positive, allowing an Active-Negative like his Veep Cheney far too much power in his administration).

So what does this all have to do with Mitt Romney, the Man Who Will Never Be President?

Because his circle of insiders - his son Tagg, for example - are now claiming after his 2012 election debacle that Mitt Romney never wanted to be President anyway.

At first glance this looks, walks, and quacks like a case of Sour Grapes: he lost something of "value", so now they're claiming he never wanted it.  But the more you look at it, the more you see how this can fit into the Presidential Character grid that Barber devised.

I wanted to write about Romney's character - or lack of one - a few months back when I wanted to discuss this Presidential Character idea then.  I wanted to point out that Romney's constant flip-flopping on the issues made it impossible to determine just where on the charts he fit.  But then I realized he had a constant - his ever-fixed mark of the massive tax cut - and realized Mitt fit on the chart after all.

Mitt Romney, if he had won the Presidency, was going to be a Passive-Negative.

To refer back to Charles Pierce's Esquire article:

Willard Romney didn't want to be president. Willard Romney expected to be president, and that was his real undoing...
It has been years, probably, since Willard had to go to all the emotional fuss and bother of actually wanting something. If there was something that caught his eye -- a slow-moving company's fat pension fund, a nice house in La Jolla, the governor's office in Massachusetts -- there would be a deal to be struck and whatever it was that should be his would be his. This is not a man who tolerates disappointment well, not because he burns with ambition and avarice -- although he profited for years from very effective simulacrums of ambition and avarice --but, rather, because he rarely has experienced disappointment in his life. He does not want. He expects.

That fits the P-N psyche pretty well.  Passive-Negatives run out of a sense of duty or obligation.  For Romney, it has to do with the legacy of being George Romney's son: his father was an active political figure, running for all the right reasons (George Romney fit well to the Active-Positive if only he had bested Nixon in 1968).  It has to do with Romney being a major political figure within the Mormon church, an Americanized religious off-shoot of Christianity still looking for a President to validate the church's success.

The big difference keeping Mitt from qualifying for Active-Negative was all of Mitt's flip-flopping.  A-Ns, if anything, do have a core set of values outside of political ambitions: even Nixon for all his paranoia and loathing had his limits.  Romney's lack of core values - he honestly did not care one whit about abortion, or war, or poverty, or employment, or governance, or people in general - made him oh so very Passive in that regard.
(And at least Passive-Positives are well-liked.  Passive-Negatives?  Unless you're George Washington or Ike, who both earned respect enough to be liked, you're sh-t out of luck).

And what would that have meant?

Think George W. Bush's passive nature in office: he kow-towed to the "experts" in his administration, especially Cheney who quickly pushed his own secret agendas on the nation's energy policies, the nation's economic policies, and then the nation's war policies when 9/11 happened.  But at least against that, Dubya still had some semblance of leadership: he showed pragmatic concern for the GOP to pursue a moderate immigration policy (the Far Right refused), and he pushed for tolerance for Muslims and other faiths at a time the neocon's obsession with waging holy war in the Middle East led to a lot of bad feelings among the Far Right.  And at least during his first two years, before Cheney sunk his hooks further in, Dubya allowed more sensible figures in his Cabinet (Powell at State, O'Neill at Treasury) to craft policy.  Look to Powell's (and Condi Rice's) handling of the Spy Plane incident with China.

Mitt Romney would have filled his administration with the pushiest, meanest set of political hacks - hello, neocons - that dotted the edges of the Dubya administration.  He would have had to: the Far Right in the Republican Party would have insisted on their due, and Romney would accept it because Romney wouldn't have cared who was in charge at State or Defense or anywhere else in his Cabinet.

The Character of any President matters based on the times we as a nation are in.  We are still mired (2012) in a jobless recession requiring serious government intervention and jobs stimulus.  We are still mired in one ground war - Afghanistan - and still trying to clean up the messes of the other - Iraq - while at the same time juggling the political instability of the entire Middle East.  We're in the times where an Active-Positive President would be the most value.  Even an Active-Negative (as long as the Negativity was channeled elsewhere, say, resolving the professional hockey lockout) wouldn't be that damaging.  But a Passive-Negative?

Mitt Romney would have wrecked the United States.

In a way, it's a good thing Mitt really didn't want the Presidency.  He could have ended up being the first President to have been successfully impeached out of office (Nixon resigned, and both Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton stayed in office).

P.S.  That said, how does Barack Obama rate on Presidential Character?

He fits the Active-Positive chart: the reason he lacks more success in an era that needs an A-P President is due to an obstructive Congress.

In the meantime, I seriously recommend James David Barber's text Presidental Character: Predicting Performance In the White House (4th Ed), 2008, ISBN 978-0205652594.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Io Saturnalia!

Tis the season to remember your Latin!  ...which means that I should write that as Satvrnalia: no U in the alphabet, and I am already substituting the I for J for the Jo part of Io Satvrnalia.  (label/tag will remain with the U because, well, modern Intertube traditions and all that).

This video is but a tourist-y Disney-fied version of Satvrnalia of course (the Romans were a bit more into the, ah, festive parts of festivities), but it's as best a representation of the holidays I can find.

So find a fellow Pagan and together tell Bill O'Reilly to STOP his War on Satvrnalia!  Io!  Io Satvrnalia!

Monday, December 24, 2012

How Went the Year 2012?


1) I'm still looking for full-time employment.  I have a contractual will-call job at least, which keeps me active and up-to-speed with the technological needs of my information-based profession.  I did get about six different libraries interviewing me - two of them with follow-up interviews! - which is a vast improvement to the number of interviews I had in 2011 (one) and 2010 (one).  And I still have an interview scheduled for this Friday, with one of the libraries that interviewed me with a follow-up, so I'm hopefully in good standing with them (fingers crossed for luck).

2) My guy got elected to President.  The Far Right's attempts to paint Obama as a "failure" and a "disaster" went nowhere.  And the one place at the federal level where the Far Right still holds any power - an unbalanced U.S. House - is one vote away from falling into chaos.

3) A lot of great genre movies - The Avengers, Dark Knight Rises, Wreck-It Ralph, Brave, Skyfall - this season.  I'd love to see all of them nominated like crazy for the Oscars this year... but noooooooo, it's all gonna be Lincoln and Zero Dark Thirty instead.  Sigh.

4) Too many shootings.  And even now, there's reports that someone shot at firefighters responding to a New York state neighborhood fire with two firemen dead and two others wounded.

5) The Mayans did not doom us.  Which is kinda okay, because the real Mayans never wanted the apocalypse anyway: it was some crank Eurowhite guy trying to sell his books.

6) Breitbart's legacy - a website smear machine - is going through some rather public splits right about now.  Schadenfreude, thou art pretty tasty during the holidays...

How was the year for you?

Friday, December 21, 2012

Apocalypse Why

It's just to note that today is WELL PLAYED MAYANS DAY we've been worried about since, oh, the Mayans forgot to make a follow-up long form calendar for the one expiring today.

Personally, I only found out about today back when I was a huge fan of The X-Files (aka a Philer, and a 'Shipper to boot), when the Mayan Calendar date was a plot point to the series finale.  But before that I've borne witness to such end-times embarrassments as Y2K, Harmonic Convergence, the Jupiter Effect, and the Tampa Bay Bucs winning a Super Bowl.  Not to mention a constant stream of predicted Raptures and Armageddons by various religious leaders screeching about War, Plague, Anti-Christs and hangers-on.

Just to note, before I go any further, I do not blame Mayans (and yes, they are still around) for the hype and hoopla.  This is all from some New-Age crank selling books.  But that comes later...

Look at that end-time embarrassments list regarding Dates Predicted for Apocalyptic Events on Wiki, this is something stretching back to even before Christianity was a gleam in Mother Mary's eye.  And it's not even including the mythology of various pantheons - such as the Norse and their Ragnarok - spelling massive catastrophe for not only humanity but the Gods as well.  This seems to be a hard-wired element of the human psyche: the expectation that at any moment, especially a moment that higher powers decided to create clues for announcing such doom, the world will end.

So, the eternal question: Why?

This is an even bigger question considering the age we live in.  We have enough human history now, enough recorded moments and documented failures of apocalypse - I've lived through (from 1970 to now) what I count to be more than 40 (I gave up around 2006)! - that I'm just sitting here asking "Why are people still buying this sh-t?"

Making it worse is noticing how the SAME NAMES keep cropping up on the list of predictors: David Berg, Harold Camping, Pat Robertson, Ronald Weinland, even a psychic debunker like The Amazing Criswell made an End-Times prediction for FSM's sake.  You would think after getting the FIRST and what was supposed to be ONLY prediction of THE END wrong, nobody would let them come back and make even MORE predictions ("Okay, so last Friday didn't work out, but I guarantee JEBUS is gonna show up at Mardi Gras like three years from now and order some Hurricanes!").

Insert head-desking here.

Why?  Why are these guys still out there?  Why are they still allowed to spew predictions they've already proven they're not good at making?

It's not that I blame the First Amendment, the right they have to say whatever they believe as long as it doesn't incite to riot.  After all, these End-Time predictors are global (Japan, China, Uganda, etc) in places that don't have as much free-speech rights.  And there are a ton of First Amendment users who abide by the common-sense principles of not saying anything stupid that can come back to haunt them later.

What I blame are the con artists who found in religion a near-perfect scam.  Look at how nearly all of these seers of prophecy are religious leaders or spiritualists of some form.  All they gotta do is whip up some frenzy, get the True Believers thinking they and only they are special enough to survive the Wrath of God, and get them involved with money work and more money to get a cozy little life-style going (NOTE: I am not a huge fan of wealthy priests claiming to serve God while owning four-car-garage mansions.  Living the good life while supposedly helping the impoverished reeks of hypocrisy).

Thing is, these "religious leaders" have to give these Believers something to fear: the expiration date.  You gotta give 'em an End Time to actually be worried.  And so they offer up a date, something that fits well into the numerology of faith (the number of years since the birth of the Messiah, the numbers of the Beast, the anniversary of a significant event).  And now, you've got the attention of the faithful who'll make sure to advertise everyone's doom, safe and satisfied that the Good Lord spares the True Believers (SEE Rapture, The; something that caught on in American Christian theology in the 1830s).

And then the day comes and goes, and for some Godforsaken reason none of the True Believers seem to get really p-ssed off.  Oh sure, the "outsiders" aka the People Who Didn't Buy It For One Second may laugh their asses off, but they're not in much of a position to sue for emotional damages or anything.  If anyone's got to be angry at the likes of Ronald Weinland - a "pastor" who predicted TWO different End-Times in 2011 AND 2012, and is still ballsy enough to "amend" his deadline to 2013 now that we're 10 days away from that year - it ought to be the people who bought his Rapture story and got suckered.

Could it be the embarrassment of admitting you got suckered?  Could it be the Belief is strong enough to ignore the doubt of the failed seer?  In a sane world, anyone having predicted an End-Time that does not come about ought to be removed from the stage, mocked for all time, made to refund any moneys made from selling doomsday materials - Books!  Recordings!  Beach towels! - and forced to repair broken-down casino slot machines on Indian reservations as a reminder that the odds are not ever in their favor.

For myself, I've seen enough, read enough to know that the End of the World on a global scale is more in the realm of science, not Faith.  End Times on a personal matter such as a death in the family or that of a friend, that IS Faith, and one that ought to be a guiding point in each of our lives but in our own ways.  My End of the World isn't going to match yours, I know that.

And the question of why that is doesn't bother me at all.  Because in my worldview, God is not going to end the likes of us.  We're too good an audience to God's everyday delights.

And thus endth the sermon.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Wrong Kind of Anniversary... Again

It is now four years to the day since I lost my full-time job as a librarian.

I've found some part-time jobs here and there, and I currently have a contractual job with an IT vendor needing desktop support... but it's not a full-time, 40 hours a week, with benefits type of job.

This year (2012) saw a lot more interviews by libraries than I've had since 2008 - six separate libraries interviewing, two of them interviewed me twice - and one can hope that the coming year will see more opportunities and with any luck an actual hire.

But in the meantime... still job-hunting... still trying to get around my writer's block to see about getting something published and marketed... still...

Monday, December 17, 2012

Top Ten Reasons Why The Mayans Are Not Dooming Us Friday 12/21/12

Here, straight from Xunantunich Belize near the center of all things Mayan, is your list of Top Ten Reasons the Mayans Are Not Dooming Us this Friday Dec. 21st, 2012!

10) The Mayans care not about ending the suffering of Detroit Lions/Cleveland Browns/L.A. Clippers/Toronto Maple Leafs/Houston Astros fans any time soon.

9) Mayans had nothing to do with Twinkies (tm) being no more.  Blame that on the corrupt CEOs at Hostess Inc who mismanaged the company into bankruptcy.

8) Mayans are still around.  If they had any sense regarding any prediction of apocalypse, they'd have fled the planet long ago in their ancient rocket ships

7) Misinterpretation of the Mayan calendar.  It's really a recipe sheet for the MOST INCREDIBLE BANANA NUT MUFFINS YOU WILL EVER HAVE IN YOUR LIFE!  ...what?

6) The Mayan calendar's power source has run down, that's all.  We need to replace it with a Baghdad battery.

5) Didn't anyone read the Terms and Conditions agreement in the bottom left-hand corner?  This thing hasn't been valid since Cortes voided the warranty.

4) Planet-destroying Aliens do not go by the Mayan calendar, they go by Stardate.  Duh.

3) The so-called Calendar is really a promotional poster for an ancient Mayan drama about a weather priest forced to live the same sacrificial day over and over and over again.  It was called "Lowland Paca Day"

2) It's just a BLEEPING calendar!  We can get some astronomers and chronal measurement professionals together and make a BLEEPING PC/Mac app for a new Mayan calendar starting on this Saturday!  C'mon people get working on that app!

And the Number One Reason The Mayans Are Not Dooming Us this Friday Dec. 21st, 2012:

1) Disney is making a new Star Wars movie.  Disney will not allow some f-cking catastrophe to end the world before even pre-production is finished.  Even the Mayans know not to f-ck with Disney.  They go after day care centers for God's sake.

(had to write this, because the madness of the other major news story right now is too rage-fueling for me to cope)

Friday, December 14, 2012

What the Second Amendment Has Become: A Death Note On Everybody

Update Below

The Second Amendment has gone from being an 18th century constitutional concern for well-regulated militias to basically a license in the 20th-21st centuries for individuals to go on goddamned shooting sprees.

We had a shooting spree earlier this week in Oregon at a shopping mall, during the busiest time of the year Christmas season (here's your War on Christmas, Mr. O'Reilly), with a gunman using a military-level semiautomatic rifle that was once banned during the Clinton years but allowed back on the market during the Bush the Lesser years.

And just right now, as I'm writing this, we're getting reports of a shooting at an elementary school in Connecticut, with 20-27 deaths reported, most of them KIDS.  There's a whole school a whole COMMUNITY of survivors now, traumatized, friends they just spoke to minutes before now dead...  It's said that childhood ends when you learn what death is... and these kids just learned death in the most horrifying way...

This is after a mass shooting in Aurora Colorado at a movie theater.  This is after year upon year of yet even more shootings in public places and gatherings, where most law-abiding non-gun-owning Americans would like to gather without fear of GETTING SHOT AT.

Every year, we've got a body count of gun-related deaths in this country equivalent to a goddamn civil war in some Third World nation.  As of 2009 (for statistics, it takes awhile to tally up numbers), the United States had 15,000+ homicides with 9,000+ caused by guns/firearms.  That's roughly 60 percent of violent deaths due to guns.

People kill people, you say?  True.  But it's also true that GUNS MAKE IT TOO GODDAMNED EASY.

Dear National Rifle Association:


We need gun control in this country.  We need laws restricting gun ownership, not making it easier.  We need to restrict ownership the same way we restrict car ownership, to make sure people are insured, licensed to use 'em, tested with exams to make sure there's no goddamn loose screws in their heads.  We need to restrict gun sales to ensure that gun sellers are NOT selling or passing on firearms to unqualified would-be buyers (Dear God, they're selling 'em online exactly BECAUSE online sales are unregulated.  NONE OF THEM CARE FOR SAFETY OF OTHERS, JUST THE GODDAMN SALE).

We need to establish ACCOUNTABILITY with guns much in the way we have accountability for car drivers, employees in high-risk industries, what have you.

We don't need civilian militias anymore.  The frontiers are closed.  The borders have guards now (even with the illegal immigrant issues, so shut up).  We have an organized permanent military (the Founders may have feared the threat of tyranny from such a thing, but for the most part the military traditions of answering to civilian rule have reduced that risk to nothing).  It doesn't take days to answer to a threat anymore, it takes minutes for law enforcement to respond.  The NEED to own guns has gone down as crime rates have gone down (violent crime in particular has dropped).  Just what the hell are you afraid of, gun nuts?  (answer: other gun nuts, usually)

It is time, it is WELL PAST TIME that we as a nation rewrite that Second Amendment, and make it damned clear that while gun ownership is possible it MUST BE REGULATED to ensure the safety and protection of ALL Americans, including the ones who DON'T OWN GUNS.

What's more important, National Rifle Association: an 8-year-old's life that could have become a doctor or a teacher or a parent or a President, or a goddamn lump of metal that has only one purpose - to kill?  Which do you worship more, you sons of bitches

Update: David Frum is angrier about it than I am:

A permissive gun regime is not the only reason that the United States suffers so many atrocities like the one in Connecticut. An inadequate mental health system is surely at least as important a part of the answer, as are half a dozen other factors arising from some of the deepest wellsprings of American culture.
Nor can anybody promise that more rational gun laws would prevent each and every mass murder in this country. Gun killings do occur even in countries that restrict guns with maximum severity.
But we can say that if the United States worked harder to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people, there would be many, many fewer atrocities like the one in Connecticut.

And I'll say: I'll accept no lectures about "sensitivity" on days of tragedy like today from people who work the other 364 days of the year against any attempt to prevent such tragedies.
It's bad enough to have a gun lobby. It's the last straw when that lobby also sets up itself as the civility police. It may not be politically possible to do anything about the prevalence of weapons of mass murder. But it damn well ought to be possible to complain about them - and about the people who condone them.
Fuck you, NRA.  Fuck you.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Saturnalia Wish List of 2012 That Even Mayans Would Like

Heya!  Once again, every reader from Japan, Russia and elsewhere linking to this site for the "funny Iran military" pictures on that Iran Day Six article, as part of our effort in the WAR ON BILL O'REILLY'S CHRISTMAS we here at this blog celebrate the life-affirming pagan holiday known as Saturnalia! The day where fully expect the Mayans to show up even though their calendar ends on 12/21.  Okay Mayans, you're bringing the homemade brew and you know it!

Anywho. As part of tradition, I'm posting my wishlist to The Roman Lord of Time (hi there!) in the mad hopes that the pagan gods will once again after thousands of years notice us tiny insignificant lifeforms, and smite our enemies and grant us boons.

So here's the wish list!

1) A freaking full-time job.

2) No, seriously, a full-time job.  It's been 4 years since I lost my job as a librarian, I've been looking for anything related to my skill sets, only just recently getting a part-time on-call job working desktop support, but it's been hard as hell to find anything thanks to a Congress that refuses to do any kind of Jobs Stimulus package to encourage more hiring and boosting of the economy.  It's not the deficits or the debt that's the problem, you Beltway morans, it's the LACK OF JOBS!  THE LACK OF WAGES TO PAY FOR SH-T LIKE COLLEGE LOANS AND MORTGAGES AND KIDS' SCHOOLING AND HEALTH CARE!  /rage

3) 50,000 people buying my ebooks!  If I can't have a job, at least a boost of income from ebook sales...

4) Grover Norquist forced to watch as dreaded TAXES GO UP, and the universe failing to implode, demonstrating once and for all THAT HE'S AN IDIOT.

5) A nice stocking stuffer would be this GravityLight thingee someone's trying to market.  For $5 a pop, you get a light source off of an LED light (the wave of the future) by using simple mechanics (pulley/gears) to charge up the light.  No batteries, no outlets, no burning of carbon fuels like oil or coal, just human energy lifting the weight up and viola!  We live in amazing times.

6) Yo, Obama!  If you need a reference librarian to shelve books in the West Wing, CALL ME...

7) That the civil war ends in Syria as soon as possible with as little loss of life than has already been lost; that Egyptian democracy endures on the streets as peaceful protests end the threat of dictatorship and Islamist extremism; that Iranian politics give way to moderate leadership more keen on economic and social well-being for their citizenry than on aggressive nuclear baiting against the U.S.,

8) That the traffic I got on this blog during October and November (2000 to 3000 views!) keeps up and I get some honest-to-Mithras comments for a change...

9) That voter suppression efforts that the GOP tried to inflict on people this election cycle get blocked, banned, and richly denied in order to ensure ALL voters have their rights protected for all time,

10) That the upcoming series of movies in 2013 - Star Trek Into Darkness, Man of Steel, Iron Man 3 - not suck.  Please o PLEASE SATURN LORD OF TIME, LET THESE MOVIES ROCK N ROLL...

There.  Oh, and again, make sure you forward any bills for your annual sacrificial bull get sent to Mr. O'Reilly care of Fox Not-News.  BWHAHAHAHAHA.

Enjoy the season!  ...and the countdown to the Mayan calendar continues...

Friday, December 07, 2012

Changing the Senate AND Changing the Veep

I mentioned earlier I had some ideas about fixing the Senate, especially when we consider how undemocratic that body of legislature is today.  What had been a balancing force between states and regional politics has altered into a logjam of political ideology, because the number of states have grown and the population difference between large states and small now unwieldy.

At the same time, I've had some issues regarding the Vice President, that it is for all intents an archaic office with only three functions: being the tie-breaking vote for the Senate (as President of the Senate), service as replacement/back-up to the sitting President, and of course protecting the space-time continuum.

So, like all mad scientists, I figure why not solve both problems with one solution?  (either that or create a giant monster, but for that I need a government grant)

First off, let's look at the office of the Veep: why does it exist, really?  Back in the beginning of the Constitution's formation, the Vice President was the second-place runner-up for the Presidency.  The Roman concept of co-consulships had appealed to the Founders, but they figured a true executive had to be in one person, so to the winner..  The consolation prize for getting second place was getting the President of the Senate, a body that was designed for even-number membership no matter what, meaning the need for a tie-breaker vote.  The Vice-Presidency was there to establish a chain of succession in case of emergency (which would get tested by 1841), and to grant the Senate body a slightly better rank of value over the House (and the Speaker of that body).

However, party formation f-cked that idea up by 1800.  The Founders didn't count on party factions trying to run on two-person tickets to secure both the Presidency and Vice-Presidency, creating a major constitutional crisis that had to be fixed with the Twelfth Amendment.  Now, the runner-up didn't get the Senate tie-breaker seat: the President got a loadstone around his neck in the form of a Veep who had no constitutional office within his own administration while the Senate got someone who answered more to the White House than the Capitol.

The thing is, a Vice President isn't really needed.  In terms of creating a succession chain, the Twenty-Fifth Amendment already establishes the means of determining who can replace the President if death, illness, impeachment and/or criminal prosecution happens.  And it can be tweaked as needed (for example, there is an ongoing push to revamp the succession among Cabinet members to have more national-security type offices - such as the newest one Homeland Security - get priority over other Secretaries such as Education or Housing/Urban Development).  What IS needed even if a VP is no longer part of the Executive branch is a tie-breaking vote for the Senate.

What's also needed for the Senate is a means to counter the unbalanced power that the smaller populated states - such as Wyoming or Montana or Delaware - have over the larger populated states - California and Texas and New York et al.  A handful of senators from enough small states can thwart the political will of senators from larger ones: in essence, a minority of the population can completely stymie the interests of the vast majority.  While the rights of the political minorities ought to be protected, that shouldn't come at the expense of the majority... EVERY... FREAKING... TIME.

More senators elected from the larger states might help counter that: it's been suggested before, so hello Professor Larry Sabato.  Another suggestion was to make ex-Presidents into permanent standing senators representing the whole nation: while it gives former Prezes something to do, it's not exactly a democratic answer (and having a Senator Dubya or Senator Jimmy Carter doesn't look too helpful, ya)... but the idea of nationally elected senators is more promising.

Nationally-elected senators would have the appeal and support of the nation's majority of voters (meaning those residing or sharing in the values of the larger states), providing a counterbalance to those senators from smaller (or more partisan-leaning) states.  Creating these new offices would also provide a start-point for those politicians tempted to run for higher national office (ahem, President) who may not be able to appeal at their residential state's level but at the national level (for example, a moderate Republican residing in Alabama able to run, or a centrist Democrat from Vermont).

Ergo, we can do this:
  • Drop the Vice President office.  Presidential campaigns are now free to pursue a life of political fulfillment without juggling the demands of party factions.
  • Create electable offices for the U.S. Senate for nationwide representation.  Make it an odd-then-even number of open offices to be filled for each of the Senate election cycles: three open seats for the first cycle, two (or four) open seats for the second, and then two (or four) open seats for the third.  You end up with seven (or eleven) National Senators.
  • Have it so that the incoming Senate body votes between the incoming National Senators (who will not vote, as they are the candidates) for the office of Senate President (what the VP is supposed to be).  This is where the odd total number works: the appointed Senate President does not sit on committees but presides over the body, enforces decorum, and casts any tie-breaking votes as needed.  This might also provide wacky hijinks if say the Senate body is mostly one party but the national senators from another: trying to see who gets picked as Senate leader would be fuuuuunnnny (or of course create another constitutional crisis, but then again every action has its own unplanned consequence).
  • Every new incoming Senate gets to vote on the Senate President.  It's possible for that person to just serve the two years: it all depends on that person's performance and/or the makeup of the new Senate.
  • Insert the Senate President into the chain of succession as part of the Twenty-fifth.  Placed below the President and above the Speaker of the House, where the VP currently has the spot.  This means whoever gets chosen by the Senate to serve as Senate President has to fulfill the office requirements (over 35, resident of the nation 14+ years, must be a natural-born citizen).
  • The remaining nationally elected Senators get to sit on committees and vote as regular members of the Senate.

Viola!  The National Senators replace the office of Vice President, and nothing gets lost.  The President no longer has to worry about a Vice President that could serve as a loose cannon or represent an inter-factional force against her (or his) own interests.  The Senate gets to choose their own Senate President who got elected on his/her own terms.  And the interests of the nation's majority has a better chance of getting heard and resolved.

Add this to the other proposal of increasing the number of senators elected from the ten or fifteen most-populated states (Sabato argues for 2 additional, but I feel 1 addition fits within the election cycle), and we reduce the damage that can be done by a small-population Senator even more.

This is a do-able amendment idea that can fix a lot of what's wrong with the U.S. Senate: the other fix - getting rid of Secrets Holds and weakening if not eliminating the filibuster altogether - has to be done by the Senators themselves.

To quote the wise man: What do you think, sirs?

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

We Need More Wallpapers for Saturnalia

On a whim, to see about spicing up my desktop screen with a Saturnalia wallpaper, I Googled (using the proper search engine to ensure trademark protection) "Saturnalia wallpaper" and got... not a lot of images I could use for a desktop.

I has a sad.

So, ergo and ipso and pre facto, I'm on a push to design a new Saturnalia wallpaper, once that's festive and colorful and fun.

So... what are the primary colors associated with Saturnalia...?

Lemme know please and thanks.


Monday, December 03, 2012

Killing The Gerrymander

Not a huge fan of the gerrymander.

Because it does these three things:
1) promotes one political party over the other by crafting "safe" congressional districts where registered voters are a majority/plurality over opposing parties, with such safe districts that incumbent officials can rarely be removed from office through honest vote;
2) distorts honest representation of communities by dividing them up and sharing them out to outlying, more sparsely populated areas that could now overwhelm that portion of a large community;
3) simple unfairness: a state could have one party with a larger registered voter base but - thanks to gerrymandering - the smaller party can retain control of local and congressional offices... and worse carve out supermajority control of state-level offices disproportionate to actual representation.  This could allow the more extreme positions of that minority party to pass legislation harmful (at least spiteful) to the actual majority of state residents who would oppose such laws.

Basically, gerrymanders create wasted votes.

First Problem is... the parties in power don't really want to see gerrymandering go away.  Let us be honest here: this IS one of the few times that claiming "both sides do it" is accurate (ask Florida Democrats, ask Illinois Republicans).

Second Problem is... how the hell can it be stopped?  The carving out of districts has to happen: democratic/republican government has to allow regions - cities, metropolises, counties - to provide local representation.  Each representative required to stand for a certain number of the populus, and done so at equal numbers so that one official does not represent a handful while another represents a vast number.  So districts have to get made.  But the people tasked to map them out are still people: biased and favored at best, corrupt at worst.

Some solutions are in place in various states, with hope that they can reduce if not end the threat of the gerrymander altogether.  Some states have non-partisan independent committees assigned the task of mapping out redesigned districts every Census count (10 years), and to do so without party consideration.  Other states - like here in Florida - passed state amendment laws forcing the state legislature (most state gov'ts control the process) to draw districts with strict limits - only by population density, must be reasonably shaped (rectangular as much as possible), etc. - to reduce the most blatant aspects of gerrymandering (the stretching out a district in bizarre shapes to provide the "safety" of that district).

But even these options have their limits and flaws: the Republican-held Florida legislature was still able to figure out how to carve out enough safe districts under the new rules to keep a solid GOP majority in both state houses, despite the fact there are more registered Democrats in this state.  So clearly, more needs to be done to kill the gerrymander.

Some ideas I've been mulling:

Increasing the number of representatives to Congress/state offices.  I've scoffed before at this idea of making more seats in the U.S. House to make Congress more responsive to the voters.  But now I think the guy who suggested this - professor Larry Sabato - might be right.  Not so much the need to drop the number of people represented from roughly 650,000 per district down to a more manageable 150,000... but because increasing the number of districts makes it harder to shape them into gerrymandered districts.
Look at it like this: Florida's got 27 Congressional districts right now.  Say we doubled that number to 54... and still requiring that districts have to be carved out based above all on population density as the state amendments require.  It makes it suddenly a lot easier for urban, densely populated areas to get more districts; and makes it a LOT harder to carve out those districts to share with the sparsely populated areas.  Ergo, fewer gerrymanders.

The cap on the number of representatives at 435 total isn't set in stone: it was capped back in 1929... back when the U.S. population was 123 million... we've nearly tripled that by now at 330 million for 2010.  An argument can be made that the cap set 100 years ago is no longer feasible and should go up.  Trick is, by how much?  There are only so many office spaces in D.C. to go around...

I would argue for a change in base representation, where the smallest populated states get one representative and that's it.  I'd suggest bumping that up to two representatives for the smallest states, just to give every state some diversity in representation.  Then I'd take that divided number of the fifth-least-populated state (currently South Dakota at 824 thousand or so) and use that (412,000 or so) as a basis for district drawing for all other states (dividing Wyoming as the least-populated would have given us district sizes at 284,000 which might be going too small).

Let's do the math for the most-populated state (California, 37,692,000 or so) with that 412,000: we get 92 representatives compared to the current 53.  It's not that huge a boost (close to double the current, yes, but not over).  For Texas (25,675,000) they get 62, over the 32 current.  By the way this is tracking out, it looks like a 42 percent increase of representatives per state.  Not sure how it will total up in the House, but I figure it's an extra 182 seats, minimum.  Can we afford/handle a 618-seat House?

Creating more districts does make sense as well at the state level... except in New Hampshire, they have 400 members for a state population of 1.3 million.  Florida's got 25 million residents, at least our house numbers (120) seem more sensible although a slight increase to say 150 reps is doable. 

Another option might be to create a Lottery system of randomly dividing up the registered voters per seat.  Get rid of districts for a state, change it over to just seating at Congress, and then allow for the technology to randomly assign a House seat per voter.  Your neighbor may end up voting for a candidate for Seat 12 while you get to vote on who gets Seat 24.  And your friend down the street gets Seat 5 while her neighbor gets Seat 7.  No-one gets to say who gets assigned to a Seat vote.  No favors.

This has the advantage of getting rid of "safe" districts altogether.  It also forces the two parties to run candidates for EVERY seat rather than selectively put their energies into those "safe" districts.  It also prevents parties from putting up candidates who might be extreme enough for that "safe" district - hi, Steve King of Iowa! - but who can end up being toxic for statewide voters as a whole (note the lack of super-crazy Senators: yes, most are partisan but even the most partisan of them aren't as wingnut as some of their House counterparts).  But the disadvantages are huge: this does have the effect of eliminating genuine community representation.  Local issues - trade vs. tourism, for example - will diminish as state issues dominate.  And there runs the ever higher risk of rigged lottery disbursement of voters.

Those are pretty much the two ideas I've got going.  If anyone else has sensible suggestions, please leave a comment here on this blog.  (again, if the Blogger system is NOT favorable to your login needs, let me know through other means such as my direct email, thanks) 

Also, if anyone else out there is coming to this blog via the Iran Day Six entry I wrote 3+ years ago... why are you still linking to that article?  Is it the pictures I have on that entry?  Is it the article itself?  I'm still getting steady traffic thanks to that one article, I'd like to know why...