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Club Deuce is dead. First Hotel Clinton and now this — weep for the last nail in the coffin of slummy old South Beach.
It’s about that time, every four years, when we begin to look at the dysfunctional methods by which we elect our presidents. We get the obligatory crop of articles about the idiotic electoral college, but of course the problem extends way beyond that.
A couple of weeks ago I was exchanging heated e-mails with a good friend who’s supporting Nader, and of course she was advocating for opening our process up a lot more to third parties. That would certainly be a step in the right direction, but it’s credulous to think that that would bring about any real change. Third parties are successful exactly to the extent that they drain votes from whomever would be the second choice of their voters, usually splitting the vote and handing the election to the least-favored candidate. Some envision a true multi-party system, with five or six factions forced to form ad-hoc coalitions, and nobody operating under the illusion of having majority support. But this is the system they have in Europe, and politics do not work demonstrably better there than they do under our system.
But look: we’re living in a time of some pretty big changes right at this moment, and thinking big about our political system doesn’t seem as out-of-bounds as it might have before. So there are two questions to tackle. One, if we were starting with a clean slate, what sort of system would we want to put into place. Two, how to go about enacting that system.
So, election theory gets extremely thorny extremely fast, with various systems having their various pros and cons (note: the system we currently use is generally considered the least ideal for elections of more then two candidates). Let’s take as our starting point the system that Ze Frank used (transcript here)for electing the winner of the “I Knows Me Some Ugly MySpace Contest” (the silliness of the candidates has no bearing on the validity of the process). The election takes place in two rounds. In the first round, each voter gets ten votes, to be distributed as they choose among the candidates. Take this election as an example. You might choose to give five votes to Obama, three to Nader, and two to McKinney. You might give all 10 to McCain. Whatever. Votes get tallied, results announced, and a run-off election is held with the top two candidates from the first round. This time of course everyone just gets one vote. Under this system, even if you put all 10 of your votes in the first round toward a looser, you have a viable second choice you can vote for in the run-offs. Under this system, the influence of each party is clearly demonstrated even if it does not produce a winning candidate, and that in itself is a boon for democracy.
The classic objection to this system is that voter turnout is already low in our country, and asking voters to turn out twice is unreasonable. The obvious solution to this is internet voting. I’ve argued here here that the concerns over security are at least as easily overcome as security concerns surrounding paper ballot voting, but suffice it to say that if online banking can be secure there’s no reason online voting can’t.
So assuming that’s the system we want to go with, the next big question is how we get there. Since the electoral college is written into the constitution, it’s not going to be by bringing a trial and getting it to the Supreme Court. Procedures for amending the constitution from Wikipedia:
[A]mendments may be proposed by the United States Congress or by a national convention assembled at the request of the legislatures of at least two-thirds of the several states. To become valid, amendments must then be ratified by either the legislatures of or ratifying conventions held in three-fourths of the several states[.]
That’s quite a hurdle, and don’t expect current politicians, who have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo, to go along easily. What’s required is a major grass-roots effort. Since the hurdle for the state-originated amendments is higher then for the Congressional route, what’s required is an effort directed at congressional candidates. Get a movement going, get candidates in close elections on board, and who knows — one day we might actually fix this thing.
Update: Kottke points to another alternative voting scheme that attempts to do something like what I’ve proposed, but in one step: Majority judgement.
An off-hand list of authors that David Foster Wallace mentioned admiring during an interview, which has been dominating my reading list recently
“Leyner and Vollman and Daitch, Amy Homes, Jon Franzen, Lorrie Moore, Rick Powers, even McInerney and Leavitt” (Source. BTW, I’m just finishing up my first Mark Leyner book, was somewhat disappointed with Amy Homes, and have become a big Franzen fan.)
More fun with Broward County lawns. Left to right: Poseidon, a deer, two lions, and a crude Michelangelo David with a fig leaf.
Who’s the best interviewer on TV or radio? Charlie Rose? Larry King? Please. To some extent it’s a subjective question, your answer possibly skewed by your preferences in guests. For me, the answer lately has been Fresh Air’s Terry Gross. Her bio talks about her empathy with her guests, and that’s certainly a big thing, but the thing that is key to her success is a palpable curiosity that is rarely matched by television and radio personalities. Nothing is more disturbing then listening to an interviewee say something super-interesting, and the interviewer goes down to the next question on their little piece of paper, as if they had cotton in the ears. I’ve seen Charlie Rose actually cut people off sometimes (and here I’m not talking about political interviews, when cutting people off is not done nearly enough, at least in this country). Gross is right there with a spot-on followup question, inevitably better then the one I was hoping she’d ask. Too, her interviews have a satisfying quality, such that when she does 18 minutes with someone, she almost always seems to have gotten the best 18 minutes out of that person there was to get.
Her choice in guests in my opinion over-relies on the film industry (and I just flat don’t understand why she doesn’t regularly feature contemporary visual artists), but otherwise it is pretty excellent. She doesn’t do political figures, but frequently features experts who have vital information that ought to be factoring into our political decisions.
A few recent Fresh Air segments I do not recommend to be missing:
- James Bamford on the National Security Administration, including how the NSA refused to share information with the CIA before 9/11, about absurdly misused computer technology, and on systematic eavesdropping on conversations between soldiers in Iraq and their wives.
- Jane Mayer on the Bush administration’s anti-terror policies.
- Your man Krugman taking a bow for his Nobel and breaking down the deal with the Current Financial Crisis (although in this regard almost better to check out Another Frightening Show About the Economy on This American Life).
- Michael Pollan on food and US food policy.
Some older things I’ve recommended previously:
- Philippe Sands says Bush administration officials, including Bush and Cheney, have a decent chance of being tried for war crimes at some point in the future!
- Everything you know about Iran is wrong!!
The Obama tax calculator. Frankly, this is what I like least, and find most cynical, about the Obama candidacy: “vote for me, and I’ll give you money.” This sort of thing exposes the weakness in the very idea of a popular democracy, and I wish that a candidate with Obama’s rational appeal (not to mention with Obama’s near-lock on winning) would resist engaging in that kind of pandering.
Salon predicts another election disaster in Florida. Actually, the trouble has already started — lots of people have reported the early-voting problems the article references (why anyone would want to vote as soon as possible escapes me), we have brand new voting machines, droves of new voters, and this cockamamie new “no match, no vote” law (which is almost like Charlie Christ looking for a way to make himself less popular (but nevermind, because I got my address change in, so I’m good to go)).
I came across this old nugget while doing research for my forthcoming comprehensive appreciation of Missy Elliot’s work. This track, credited to Notorious B.I.G. (his second posthumous #1 hit single, an all-time record), is really a Puffy vehicle, and one of the strangest bits of art to make it onto MTV in the 90s. We open with a parody of a climactic moment of a golf tournament, Puffy playing a Tiger Woods character, cut to a “conventional” rap video, back to a bit of golf footage, back to rap video, then to some home-video of Biggy rambling, then cut to more rap video footage, now with a primo verse of posthumous Biggy spliced in from some abandoned track* (this is far and away the highlight of the whole thing), and then back to the previously scheduled song. The hook is lifted from a Diana Ross track (re-recorded), but what holds the track together is the line “more money, more problems,” repeated in the golf skit and in Biggy’s candid monologue.
When I saw this video in 1997 I loved it immediately, and for two reasons. One was the (* not so conventional, really) completely new vision of a bright shiny approach to hip-hop. Credit for this of course goes to Hype Williams, who directed the video, and who’d certainly directed equally eye-popping videos before. This one, though, sunk into my consciousness as much as (and just before) Missy’s I can’t Stand the Rain. The 90’s were a desolate time for rap, where the gangsta (sp?) ruled, and it was all about pictures of yourself and your crew in baggy denim and Timberlands in a bleak urban landscape, and all about your flow. It seems quaint now, but the idea that rap could be Glam again (like it had been in in the mid 80s) struck like a hammer. So did Mase’s lackadaisical flow, which seemed like a challenge to the silver-tongued MC’s of the day (e.g. DMX, who you may not remember being that fierce, but really, he kind of was) that ruled in those days, and of course Puff Daddy’s rapping was that much closer to a joke from a conventional perspective — dude got over purely on personality, and plus being the dude who’s business acumen built the building in which the party was taking place.
But much more then that, what hit home was the song’s frank discourse with reality. The toss-off line “more money more problems,” which the posthumous Biggie attributes to Puffy (who’s really creating the song, follow?), seems to accuse the whole post-barter system of human trade of being a way of keeping the little guy (ie the black man) down. Success = problems, or so it sounded to me at the time. I don’t think anyone cared at the time whether this very real critique held any merit — what was so powerful was that it sounded true, and that it helped break the mold of a pop-song, propelled it into something that looked like a particularly biting form of social commentary.
This really strikes home in the middle of Biggy’s verse, when we’re treated to a brief shot of a party with several dozen women dancing, while the song tries to to sell the idea that its grandiose concept is based on a seed in B.I.G.‘s words. Of course, this leads us to an inevitable conclusion: that Biggie’s death was somehow the result of his success. More money leads to more problems, most money leads to getting gunned down by a never-to-be-identified assailant. That is some strong medicine, and in terms of the alleged exploitation of the Notorious B.I.G.‘s death for commercial gain, challenges even the sappy ballad I’ll be Missing You.
So there it is: a weird/powerful truism about social politics delivered in a catchy, post-modern package that uses parody, found video, and cutting-edge video techniques (and let’s not sell Hype Williams short for a second — check out the shots of Puffy and Mase in the yellow suits — I mean, what the hell is that?!), all montaged together with an off-handed mastery (check out how some of the transitions are deliberately not on-beat) to create something that felt so like the future that it could never really be the future. Just like all videos for pop singles, it was dug, and it was forgotten. And so it goes. Somewhere out there there is a list of videos that really truly did something new, and this one belongs on that list.
Correction: While the single and the album it appears on were released after Biggie’s death, the song was almost certainly created while he was still alive, with everything as it appears except the 2-part golf skit.
30 Rock S03E01 on Hulu, a full week before the on-air broadcast. I take back whatever smack I may have talked about Hulu in the past. This is the future of TV.
Um, so the underlined things in all the stuff I’ve been writing are hyperlinks, and they usually point to things that I thought were worth reading or whatever. Most of y’all never click them, and that’s fine, but it bears mentioning. Here are some things that are also probably worth reading:
- Malcom Gladwell on genius. Honestly, I’d point you to anything Gladwell wrote. If you haven’t read his books, run, don’t walk. (And/or at least check him out talking about spaghetti sauce.)
- Maureen Dowd on Colin Powell’s justified indignation towards the McCain campaign. I generally find Dowd way overrated, but this is a really good column.
- John Swansburg on what happens when a big group goes out to eat (i.e. the bill gets bloated and the whole thing sucks), plus three strategies for approaching the situation.
- Irene Dieter on whether Nader cost Gore the 2000 election. I’ve been having an e-mail debate about this with a friend, and this is the latest link she sent me. I still say the voters who voted for Nader in Florida are as much to blame as anything else.
- Wikipedia page on Go, the greatest board game ever.
- Gizmodo on Brian Eno’s iPhone app. Of which there’s not much to say more then, if you needed one more reason to take the $80/month plunge…
- Jeffrey Goldberg on the BS that is the screening process at airports. I actually have yet to read this, but since re-discovering the Atlantic recently I’ve been having a blast over there.
A certain shady South Florida “museum” has been sending me spam at regular intervals with the following message affixed to the top of the message:
This e-mail has been classified as WHITE MAIL by AOL (America On Line).
This mail is originated by a 501©(3) non profit cultural organization and cannot be considered as Spam. You have the right to be DELETED from our mailing list sending back this email with the word UNSUBSCRIBE on the subject. This mail has been sent with the authorization of AOL (America On Line) and according the U.S. laws. Thank you.
Is it just me, or is this weird three ways to Sunday and back? Anyone seen anything like this or have any explanation whatsoever?
We begin at Gallery Diet, with Samantha Salzinger’s spectacular photos. By the way, I just built her a website. Anybody else want one? Get in touch.
Peggy and Harumi make stones at Mark Kowen’s show at Dorsch.
The rest of the gallery is filled with several dumptrucks worth of sand dunes, and a catapult/crossbow type device where you can launch someone else’s stone after you’ve made one of your own.
In the smaller space, an impromptu Classroom. The schedule is filling up.
Hernan Bas delivers new work at Snitzer — several spectacular large-scale paintings, and a large series of fairly abstract pencil drawings.
Clifton Childree’s installation at Locust Projects, the result of a two-month residency. Try to stop in at Locust if you haven’t seen this — they’re open Saturday afternoons until 5.
The chicken person, unmasked!
Looked like break-dancing to tribal beats to me. Major festivities in the streets despite a partial ban on alcohol. Apparently word got out (perhaps partially my fault), and during the September gallery walk crowds of fools showed up with the sold intention of getting drunk for free, got all sorts of rowdy, and knocked over a sculpture in World Class Boxing, resulting in aforementioned ban. I don’t give it more then one more month.
Towards the end of the night, a legion of cyclists showed up, their rides chained up in twos and threes up and down 24th. Check: one of the three bikes pictured has brakes.
Colin Powell famously endorsed Barack Obama yesterday. He joins a pretty impressive list conservative leaders who have abandoned McCain over the last few months, notably (to me, anyway) including George Will and Christopher Hitchens.
So, it looks like Obama’s a lock, and some reasonable folks are even talking about a 350 electoral vote sweep. But let’s breathe deeply — it doesn’t matter by how much Obama wins. It doesn’t even matter how great of a president he is. Eventually (read: 2016), Republicans will come back into power. The thing to do now, with the Republican party in the shambles it’s in, is to be reasonable. Don’t make Karl Rove’s mistake and start thinking about a “Permanent Democratic Majority.” Not only is it a fantasy, but it’s the stuff that moronic policy comes from (sorry, Turd Blossom).
The real question we should be asking ourselves (and this goes for Democrats as well as right-minded Republicans) is, “how can we help the Republican party become less dysfunctional.” How can we help them from nominating fools like George W. Bush in the future? There are lots of questions with easy answers floating around these days, but I haven’t heard this one asked yet, much less answered.
A recent car accident took out my car, and I’ve been using my parents car, as they were out of the country. They returned on Wednesday, but I’d decided to try living completely without a car. I’ve been commuting mostly by bike for about a year anyway, and this seems like the next step. It’s an ideal time of year to try it. I’ve figured out a lot of the practicalities of getting around on a bike, such as dealing with breakdowns (knock on wood) and hauling moderate loads.
But of course there’s a big difference between getting around mostly on a bike and relying on it as one’s sole transportation. There are rainy days, large packages, and days when you just don’t wanna. But part of the joy of riding is overcoming obstacles, so I’m looking forward to dealing with all of that. Let’s try it for a few months and see how it goes.
Honestly, dealing with the Bush presidency has been a lot easier then it’d otherwise be by the Daily Show. It’s been especially great for the last few months, when the shows are uploaded nightly to their Hulu page, available for convenient and legal watching the next morning, no cable required. The show has been on the air with Jon Stewart since 1998, picking up Emmys, accolades, and scads of viewers — it’s indispensable.
So why the 4-days-a-week, when-we-feel-like-it schedule? Wouldn’t the show benefit from borrowing a slightly less anchor-centric approach from the real news shows, and go on a 7-days a week rotation? It’d give some of the other folks on the show a chance to host once in awhile, which would be interesting in any case. (“John Oliver, sitting in for Jon Stewart.”) A recent New York Times profile reveals that Stewart, “functions as the show’s managing editor and says he thinks of hosting as almost an afterthought,” which is a clue. But come on, after 10 years, there have got to be other folks on staff that can do this stuff. The Daily Show is Comedy Central’s cash cow, so they sure could afford to bring on more writers, put them on 7-day rotations, and get this going. The result would be maybe a little less consistency, but I actually think that would be a cool thing.
It’s interesting that Stewart has been making occasional comments about their scheduling on the air lately. During the crash, he said something about how the show was scheduled to be off the next week, but they decided (graciously) to come in and do it anyway. When Congress was off for Rosh Hashanah, he again pointed out “We’re here — I guarantee you the Daily Show has more Jews then Congress!” Well, I say that the Daily Show has gotten big enough for them to figure out how to do it every day. They need to abandon their fears of being less then perfect without every member of some imagined indispensable core team, and give some other folks a crack.
I suggest we assign economic recessions male and female names like we do with hurricanes. It would make each recession more specific and memorable (a la “Hurricane Andrew”, rather than “The big hurricane around 1992”)
A recession is like a hurricane in many ways: It travels a deadly path from one financial sector to another, destroying all profits in its path and affecting the health and wealth of everyone remotely near to it financially. It leaves financial ruin and financial injury (poverty; layoffs) in its wake which take many years to recover from.
The beautiful photography of Elizabeth Weinberg.
Ex-CIA Operative Discusses Iran. Another essential Fresh Air interview, in which Robert Baer, on who’s autobiography the film Syriana was based, discusses Iran. Extremely credible, he claims that Iran’s intentions are not really counter to the United States’ interest, and highlights some of the opportunities that the future holds once the US gives up on trying to beat “democracy” into the Middle East.