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from Bubbles = Tom Digby



Issue #22

New Moon of October 12, 1996

Contents copyright 1997 by Thomas G. Digby, with a liberal definition of "fair use". In other words, feel free to quote excerpts elsewhere (with proper attribution), post the entire zine (verbatim, including this notice) on other boards that don't charge specifically for reading the zine, link my Web page, and so on, but if something from here forms a substantial part of something you make money from, it's only fair that I get a cut of the profits.

For more background info, details of how the mailing list works, etc., look at issue #Zero.

If you email me a reply or comment, please make clear whether or not it's for publication.

Today as I write this is traditional Columbus Day. It's rather controversial nowadays, although in my grade school days it wasn't. We were taught that "Columbus discovered America", period. The "Indians" (so called because Columbus thought America was India) weren't really mentioned all that much, just sort of background. We were a continuation of European culture, so what was in America before that didn't really matter. The native people may have been harder for the settlers to clear out than the trees and underbrush because trees and underbrush don't fight back, but they were little more important than that. Or so said various small-town teachers in Florida in the late 1940's and early 1950's. Our attitudes have changed quite a bit since then.

The timing also reminds me of this bit of silliness from the computer boards:

Topic 898 [words]:  Screwing Up Columbus 
Started by: Tom Digby (bubbles) on Sat, Dec 11, '93 
        19 responses so far 
 You're probably all familiar with that grade-school mnemonic about 
 what European culture thinks of as the discovery of America: 
      In Fourteen Hundred Ninety-Two, 
      Columbus sailed the ocean blue. 
 But legend has it that one kid greatly annoyed his or her teacher by 
 coming up with: 
      In Fourteen Hundred Ninety-Three, 
      Columbus sailed across the sea. 
 Of course this can be continued with the likes of: 
      In Fourteen Hundred Ninety-Four, 
      Columbus sailed and sailed some more. 
      In Fourteen Hundred Ninety-Five, 
      Columbus sailed and that's no jive. 

  How long can we keep this up, adding successive years and perhaps 
 getting a little silly, regardless of whether Columbus lived that 
 long or not? 

"How are you planning to vote this time?"

"Probably pretty much the same as last time. When I show up at the polling place and sign the book, they'll give me a punch card ballot. I'll take that into the booth and stick it in a holder that has the names of the candidates and such lined up next to various places I can punch holes. After I've punched the things I want to vote for I'll drop the card in the ballot box. How are you planning to vote?"

The upcoming elections remind me of an idea I had some years back: Perhaps people should be allowed to register to be represented in various legislative bodies by interest group rather than by geography. Suppose one seat in a legislative body was there to represent all homeowners, another was for low-income people, still others were for particular ethnic groups, and so on, with voters who belonged to more than one such interest group having the choice of which seat to register to be represented by. Geography wouldn't matter, so long as the voter lived in an area the legislature had jurisdiction over.

In practice I wouldn't define the groups formally. I'd just number the seats and let people register for whichever seat number they wanted to tie themselves to. If someone wanted to change their mind, they could re-register at any time voter registrations are allowed under the present system. Over time certain seats would become associated with particular interests and people would register accordingly.

Proportional representation ("One man, one vote") shouldn't be a concern as it is with districts. If Seat 9 has 100,000 voters while Seat 2 has only 100, anyone in Seat 9 who places a high priority on personal voting power could "move" to 2. Thus things would tend to even themselves out. And if inequalities remain, those who decide to remain with high- population seats have made their own decisions.

My first thought for this was for the second house of bicameral state legislatures where both houses are now apportioned by population. One house would still give voters equal representation by district, while the other would represent any interests (ethnic groups, labor, etc.) enough voters give priority to.

Other variations are of course possible, such as electing some members of a body this way and some another way.

If you want to keep geographic districts, another idea I've had would be to have districts drawn up by a committee composed of losing candidates from the previous couple of elections for that office. If some group managed to get districts gerrymandered in its favor, then that group's opponents would be more heavily represented on the committee for the next election. Thus any abuses serious enough to cause any particular interest group to feel discriminated against would be avenged the next time districts were drawn. Sort of the old principle of checks and balances.

There are of course engineering-type details to consider. For example, you probably want to limit it to candidates who make a credible showing. But at the same time you don't want to exclude any reasonably plausible candidate. If it's done right I think it would reach some sort of equilibrium with reasonably fair districting.

Left Behind at the Starting Gate

In the fall of 1957 I was a senior in high school. October 4 was a Friday, and there was a dance that night. As usual, my ride to the dance had the car radio on. But what was unusual was one item on the news: The Russians, or maybe the Soviets, since practically nobody made the distinction then, had launched an artificial satellite: Sputnik.

It wasn't much, by today's standards: Just a radio transmitter that went "Beep, Beep, Beep". Some local ham operator claimed to have picked up the signal. I tried, using an old shortwave radio we had, but to no avail. Perhaps I wasn't trying at the right times, or perhaps the radio, which was older than I was, wasn't sensitive enough. Whatever the reason, I had no luck with it.

I had mixed feelings. Even then I was heavily into science fiction, and this was science fiction made real. But it wasn't ours. The Bad Guys had beat us to it. We had lost the race. Even though it wasn't much by practical standards, it was an important symbolic achievement.

We played frantic catch-up. We'd been working on a similar program called "Vanguard". Launch day finally came. More disappointment. The rocket blew up on the pad, or maybe got a few feet into the air and then blew up. Whatever the details, it didn't get anywhere near orbit. A few months later, around the spring of 1958, a program called "Explorer" that used converted military ICBM-type rockets finally got us onto the playing field.

We also played catch-up in other ways. More money went into education, to produce more scientists and engineers. Our own space program expanded. The Space Race was on, and as the increased educational effort began to bear fruit we eventually pulled into the lead.

We crossed the finish line first with the Moon landing in July of 1969. Some of us wanted our runners to keep going, but most of the crowd want home. We'd "won", and that was enough for them. As evening came sales at the concession stands were hardly enough to pay for the floodlights.

Yes, there were occasional minor events after that: The Mars lander, flybys of the outer planets, and so on, to this day. But with no opponent to challenge us on the field, there is no race to draw the cheering crowds. The shouts of the faithful few echo off of mostly-empty grandstands.

As elections approach I'm reminded of something I came up with a couple of Presidents ago, to the standard generic Alma Mater tune ("Far Above Cayuga's Waters"?):

                      ELECTORAL COLLEGE ALMA MATER

     Electoral College, we all sing this song to thee:
     You are small in some ways but you're big politically.
     Electoral, Electoral, Alma Mater dear, 
     Evermore we'll sing thy praises, each election year.  

                                        -- Tom Digby
                                        Nov 13, 1988?

                                  -- END -- 

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