Saturday, January 30, 2010

December Commies

The Commie Awards are given each month for the best comment on this blog. The monthly awards are the time for you, our reader-respondents, to shine. A special guest is chosen each month to present the award so the winner will feel extra-special.

After a month-long power struggle, we've finally...uh..."chosen" a guest presenter for the December award.

Before he was internationally infamous, our presenter looked like this: affable, business casual, and very proud of his own funny jokes. The kind of man you would like to have for a boss--if his pen name weren't Joseph Stalin.

The nominees for December are:

KP for disappearing during the month. Good choice.
Leon Trotsky for being a loser.
James Goldberg for failing to accept Soviet realism.
The Jews for involvement in various conspiracies.
Peter for his thoughts on the Apocalypse.

All the nominees have been killed, exiled, or ordered to be killed in exile.

And the winner of the December Commie Award is....

...Joseph Stalin!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The NoMass Party

For those of you who hate the news, this blog brings an important update: Republican Scott Brown recent(-ish)ly won a special election for the Senate seat vacated by Ted Kennedy's death. This was a huge setback for Democrats, many of whom are reported to have "cried like colicky babies" because the loss of this one seat robs their party of its sixty-seat Senate "supermajority."

This, as it turns out, is a big deal, because as a democracy, the United States' official position on minorities that constitute less than 40% of the elected population is "Sorry, suckas." Brown's victory has upset the balance of power by shifting Republicans from "suckas" to the strong minority block needed to keep a filibuster on the floor, thus bringing Democrats' plans to a halt (which is, quite frankly, where the party's plans spend most of their time anyway--but I digress).

People whose salaries are paid by the Democratic Party aren't the only ones upset by the victory, though.

"It's definitely time for a change" says Vermont resident Walt Thompson. "I'm worried about how our country will turn out if Massachusetts keeps wielding so much power--have you ever seen how Boston is run?"

Thompson is not alone in his concern. A recent survey indicates that 38% percent of Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine residents are "seriously ticked" that their neighbor to the south has taken the limelight once again, and that an additional 17% are "moderately pissed off."

Channeling the rage: Emily Belanger

That's where activist Emily Belanger comes in. She's the brains behind the newly-minted NoMass Party, which she claims will be the first viable third party in America in over a century. "The problem with recent attempts to form third parties" says Belanger, "is that they all try so hard to have a national appeal. What good is that? Even if you get 5% of the vote nationwide, that's still zero seats."

Belanger's plan for the NoMass Party is to focus exclusively on five small, independent-minded New England States: New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. Assuming roughly equal votes for Republicans and Democrats, the NoMass Party will need only 40% of votes in each voting district to secure the region's 10 Senate seats and 12 seats in the House of Representatives. This seems particularly possible, since the area already has a strong history of electing independents--according to Belanger, talks with Joe Lieberman (I, CN) and Bernie Sanders (I, VT) about joining the NoMass Party are already underway.

The NoMass Party's core electoral strategy focuses on five states.

Is Belanger's plan viable? We checked with Ramesh Chatterjee of Rajput University to find out. He supplied us with the following numerical breakdown of the possible road ahead for the NoMass Party:

7.7 million residents in the five target states
2.3 million likely voters in the 2010 elections in the target region
900,000 votes needed to secure the 40% which is likely to seal across-the-board victories
=0.3% of the U.S. population's support needed to win 10% of the Senate and 12 key House seats for NoMass.

What would the NoMass Party do with 10 Senate and 12 House seats?

"We'd be the most powerful party in the country" says Belanger, with an offhanded sort of confidence. "Republicans and Democrats are famously unable to agree on anything. We'd be the dealmakers, offering our deciding votes for one party on one issue then the other on another in exchange for their support on some of our core issues. We won't pick favorites. In each case, the party willing to offer our constituents the greatest concessions will win."

All this sounds great for the party's planned 900,000 supporters in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, and Rhode Island--but what about the rest of the country? "Losers can't be choosers" says Belanger, "but I think they'll be better off after NoMass moves the center of political power back out of Massachusetts."

"After all," she adds, "have you seen how they run things in Boston?"

The Brothers Brar

Confession: I have never read The Brothers Karamazov in its entirety. It is entirely possible, in fact, that no one living has read the book in its entirety--even those who turn every page have, I suspect, let their minds wander for paragraphs at a time, the way I tend to skip out on hours of what's going on in my immediate surroundings to think about food.

I like the idea of the book, though. Though I haven't actually read it, I'm struck by the concept of exploring a given time and place through the trajectories of different brothers. Where do they go? What do their choices say about what the crises of their time were? About what universal human questions mean in a specific time and place?

That core seems to be what's driving Ranbir Singh's The Brothers Brar. The book starts in rural Punjab on the eve of Indian independence, in a family where the fourth of seven sons is about to be born. Subsequent chapters jump back and forth in time as you watch the lives of the boys unfold. The old ways of life are collapsing and in their place communism, religion, and emigration are options. I'm only about a fourth of the way through the book and already the world's a stage for these characters: one is moving from post-doctorate to post-doctorate appointment, trying to find a place for his science in the U.S.A. One has risen in the communist party ranks and is moving all around India, though tensions with the government are rising. Another married a foreign girl, but can't seem to stay away from India and is still fiercely loyal to the family. One is still making his living off the soil, but is beginning to think about moving away from the family land and the obligations that go with it.

It's a pretty intense read, and a good catch-up for anyone who wasn't paying close attention over the last half-century. Makes me wonder: with so much excitement just a generation or two ago, what's next for those of us who are still young? What paths will history offer to our brothers and sisters and us?

Monday, January 11, 2010

Winter vs. Summer

People who prefer winter to summer are insane. This is what I and the man who works construction year-round decided while waiting for our daughters to get out of kindergarten today.

The reason why such people are insane is that even in hot climates, temperatures only rise high enough to damage the skin or increase the risk of dehydration. If you have enough water and some covering, you may be uncomfortable, but you will be fine.

Cold, on the other hand, is the primal hand of death. We bundle up in winter not just for comfort, but for survival. When your body begins to shake at the cold, it is a warning that your body competes in these temperatures with oblivion. If you were a pioneer and had not gathered sufficient fuel for the winter, spring would serve only to help thaw your corpse.

Those of us who still trust our inner selves know this instinctively every time we step out into the cold.

This is not to say winter is without its advantages: for example, regions with harsh winters tend to have fewer insects than tropical areas do (sometimes, the primal hand of death works to our advantage). But if, deep down, winter doesn't scare you--well, maybe you should get a job in year-round construction in Utah or Minnesota or serve as a missionary on the streets of a place where temperatures are low and the hours of darkness are long and hopefully your survival instincts will kick back in enough that you will stop taking the insane side of the winter vs. summer debate.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Swine Flu Warning for Al Qaeda Terrorists

"Most terrorists" says Dr. Ibrahim al-Bakr, of the Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province Institute for Disease Control, "don't realize that they are a top risk group for pandemics." And, yet, according to Dr. al-Bakr, the poor sanitation and nutrition available in al-Qaeda leadership hideouts combined with the relatively large number of international contacts kept through the world al-Qaeda network is a recipe for contagion disaster. "With contacts in Africa, the Phillipines, Europe, and the United States, al-Qaeda is like a trawling net for the world's diseases. Terrorists may think that they are only carrying bombs, but they are also carrying germs--most often to their own comrades and leaders" says al-Bakr "Along with the elderly and pregnant women, I would put high-ranking terrorists at the top of the list for swine flu vaccine. And yet, for political reasons, they never come to my office."

Scattered reports indicate that top al-Qaeda leaders may already be suffering the consequences of their lack of careful healthcare planning. "Do you want to know why Osama hasn't put out a video in years?" said a Taiban operative who wished to remain anonymous, but would like to say hello to his wife, Aaila, and sons, Yeslam and Tim, "It's because he's been dealing with one bug after another, and it never seems to let up. Last time we tried to make a video, his voice kept cracking--you can't denounce the United States when you sound like you're going through puberty. American teenagers do that all the time, and who pays any attention to them?"

Another contact, closer to Bin Laden, said "I think he might have H1N1, but he gets angry when anyone suggests it because of the 'swine flu' nickname. I'm worried about him. He doesn't always drink enough liquids, and that's very bad when you're sick like this."

In rural Pakistan, there is no "other white meat" but H1N1
cases are still on the rise.

Is it possible that Bin Laden might succumb to the flu pandemic? We met up with Taliban commander Tariq Khan, who was on a scouting trip in Peshawar, to ask him this question. "Obviously, we're concerned about his health" the commander confirmed, "we can dodge the world's most powerful army, but viruses are a whole different challenge. His spirits are good, though."

What's the Al Qaeda plan if Bin Laden does succumb to disease? "He says that if he dies we're to hide the body well," says Khan, "and perhaps the United States will eventually bankrupt itself looking for him."

In the meantime, Dr. al-Bakr warns all terrorists of any rank to wash their hands regularly, cover their mouths when they cough, and (preferably in times of health as well as when they feel sick) avoid showing up to work.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Best Compliment EVER

"If I had picked this up in a doctor’s office, I would have wanted to steal the magazine and bring it home."

-A friend on a draft of one of my essays (an extended version of another blog post)

Officially speaking, I don't endorse theft, but that's one of the nicest and most encouraging things anyone has ever said to me.
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