Saturday, November 12, 2016

A Truly Democratic Election

After this week’s unfortunate incident, by which I mean the election of He Whose Hands Must Not Be Mentioned, I’ve had enough of American politics. The war in Eastern Ukraine hasn’t been in the news much in the past couple years. It’s turned into a frozen conflict—a stalemate between two rebel enclaves and a Ukraine that can’t take them back without starting an all-out war with Russia.
Since I’ve done a couple metaphysical interviews with the rebels before, I thought I’d pop over and see how things are going. As you may remember from previous posts, a metaphysical interview is where instead of talking to someone, you speculate about what they might say. This is a legitimate journalistic technique now. Half of what you find in the media was made up too.
I met my old friend Pavel in a café in Donetsk, the capital and largest city of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic. The café was in what seemed to be the trendiest district of town, by which I mean only half the block was bombed out or boarded up.
Scenic Donetsk

“So how are things?” I asked Pavel.
“Excellent!” he said. “Granted, our people eke out a grim existence in the face of unceasing war. But the Donetsk People’s Republic is no longer a miserable enclave run by thugs and populated mostly by people too old to flee. We are now a truly democratic country. We just had our first truly democratic election.”
“Pavel,” I said, “I was here the last time you held a vote, and someone could only call that ‘democratic’ if they were lying through their teeth.”
“Not this time.” He grinned. “This time we used truly democratic procedures. We took them from the birthplace of democracy, the United States.”
“Usually people say the birthplace of democracy was Athens. It was, you know, a democracy two thousand years before the US came along.”
Pavel snorted. “Getting people together, debating the issues, and having them vote—that is not true democracy. Let me show you how true democracy works.” He took out an iPad and brought up a map of the enclave overlaid by a grid. “First step was, we divided the Donetsk People’s Republic into squares.”
 “Why would you do that?”
“The United States is divided into states,” said Pavel, “and most of them are square, or pretty close. So we just used squares. It was easiest. Now the first step in the election is the primary race.” He tapped his tablet and an overlay appeared on the map, showing a road that wound through the grid. “The race starts here, at my cousin Iovan’s farm.”
“It starts at one farm.”
“It starts in that square. But there are only a few villages, and everybody but Iovan either fled the war or refused to go to the caucuses—something about the vote being a mockery. So the first step in the primary race ended up being when the candidates try to convince Cousin Iovan to support them. The ones he supports get momentum.”
“This is good because…”
“Momentum propels things forward. That means the candidate can skip some of the later votes. But if they lose momentum, they have to go back and do the previous votes again.”
“Um, Pavel,” I said, “that’s not an election. That’s Snakes and Ladders.”
Pavel frowned. “I thought it seemed familiar. Doesn’t matter. The primaries are only the first stage. The candidates who win them go on to the campaign.”
“Dare I ask what the campaign is like?”
“It is very democratic. The candidates hold rallies and debate each other. Newspapers make endorsements. Vladimir Putin makes an endorsement too, only he doesn’t tell you what it is. He just has hackers steal information about the other candidates and release anything that might be embarrassing. Then after the campaign is election night. We hold a vote in each square, and the candidate who gets the most votes, gets all the votes from that square.”
“That’s kind of weird,” I said.
“It was fun!” said Pavel. “Counting votes is so boring. One candidate gradually gets ahead—yawn. This way, you get to watch squares flip over on election night. There is very complicated strategy too, because there are safe squares and swing squares. The candidates cannot just try to appeal to the voters, but must devise a Path to Victory. Who will win the crucial swing square of Five Villages Near the Don River Plus the Southeastern Corner of Komsomolske? That one was a real nail-biter.”
“I’m glad you enjoyed yourself,” I said. “So what was the outcome?”
Pavel looked down at the table. “The outcome was less fun. The winner was Bobov the Angry Clown.”
I coughed.
“Bobov has a popular TV show. He tells racist jokes while scantily-clad women dance around. Many voters thought he was a real man, very virile. Probably because his wig is shaped like a giant pair of testicles.”
“You’re telling me that people voted for a clown.”
“Actually, most of them voted for someone else. But Bobov won the most squares. His voters were more efficiently distributed. See, his opponent won most of her votes in this one square here.”
“That square says ‘City of Donetsk’.”
“That is where the city is, yes,” said Pavel.
“And that’s where most of the people live, right?”
“I think I can guess why she won most of her votes there.”
“But it is only one square,” said Pavel. “Bobov won lots of squares by very narrow margins. So he won the election.”
“That’s crazy,” I said. “How much did he lose the popular vote by? Was it close?”
Pavel shrugged. “We don’t know. We didn’t finish counting. Once it was clear Bobov won, why bother counting the rest of the votes?” I stared at him in shock. He fidgeted with his napkin. “I mean, we’ll get it done eventually. Maybe sometime in December.”
“So you had a truly democratic election where a bunch of votes haven’t even been counted because they don’t matter. That’s what you’re telling me?”
Pavel crossed his arms. “I am deeply offended by your skeptical tone. This was a truly democratic election where every citizen of the People’s Republic could vote. Unless they had been convicted of a crime. Or had unpaid parking tickets. And they registered at least six weeks in advance, and brought two pieces of photo ID, plus a valid credit card. The credit card is for age verification purposes only.”
“If that’s how you ran your election,” I said, “it doesn’t surprise me you ended up electing a clown. Did he even have a platform, or was he running as a joke?”
“His core policy is to build a wall on the border with Moldova. He wants to stop Moldovans from coming in and taking our jobs.”
“Yeah. Pavel, your enclave doesn’t border on Moldova. Moldova’s like five hundred miles west of here.”
“Our voters know that!” said Pavel. “Of course they do. I mean, they know now. Right after the election results were announced, everybody got out their phones and googled ‘Where is Moldova again?’”

I shook my head.
“So the last step in our truly democratic election was,” Pavel said, “we called up Putin and asked him to annul the whole thing. But it turns out he is a big fan of the Bobov Show.” Pavel forced himself to smile. “We are determined to work constructively with our new leader.”

“Good luck with that,” I said. 

Friday, June 24, 2016

Breaking News: Britain Chooses Picture as Leader

British voters yesterday chose a print of a late-nineteenth-century oil painting to lead their country for the foreseeable future.
The picture shows a white family at a table drinking tea. A portrait of Queen Victoria hangs on the wall. Golden-tinged sunlight streams in from a window, through which a carefully-tended garden is visible.
The picture has been criticized for romanticizing the past. Its detractors claim its appeal is based mostly on nostalgia and selective forgetting. The picture’s leadership ability has also been questioned, on the grounds that it is an inanimate object that cannot act or make decisions.
“This is a glorious opportunity,” said Boris Johnson, one of the picture’s most prominent supporters. “But let’s not rush into any drastic changes. It’s not like any of us has a plan. Let’s just gaze at the picture and feel wistful for a while, and I’m sure someone will think of something.”

52% of British voters chose the picture, while 48% voted to retain the current system of electing leaders who try to find out what the consequences of their actions will be before doing them.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The wisdom of Cato the Elder

The Roman senator Cato the Elder was not a very nice man. When he was young he fought in the Second Punic War against Carthage. The war devastated Italy, and Rome was nearly defeated. But it finally prevailed and imposed a peace treaty on the Carthaginians that basically came down to “All your empire are belong to us.”
Cato the Elder was opposed to the peace, because signing a treaty with Carthage had the logical implication that Carthage still existed. He was convinced that Rome could never be safe until their old enemy was completely obliterated and the land sown with salt so that nothing would ever grow there again. The rest of the Roman Senate did think that national security sometimes requires a pre-emptive strike, but they were a bit reluctant to go along with a pre-emptive massacre.
So Cato developed what was either an obsession or the weirdest form of Tourette’s in history. To hound the Senate into agreeing with him, he ended every speech he gave – regardless of what subject he was speaking on – with “Ceterum censeo Carthaginem esse delendam”: “Also, I think that Carthage must be destroyed.”
For instance, here is Cato taking part in a debate over Rome’s sumptuary laws:
My fellow senators, while there is some merit to Appius’s points, the text of this bill as it stands is sufficient to address the matter. The provision allowing travel in a carriage drawn by two horses within a one-mile radius of a city, when attending religious proceedings, will certainly accommodate Appius’s concerns. Moreover, the bill does not prohibit anyone from traveling within one mile of a city in a carriage drawn by a single horse, and surely one horse is enough to pull even our dear friend Appius. [Chuckles.] So all told there is no reason for the proposed amendment, and I would recommend that we pass the bill in an unaltered form. Also, I think that Carthage must be destroyed.
Then there is this Valentine’s Day poem:
Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
You are my wife,
And I love you.

When I am down, you order my slaves
To make me my favourite meal;
You always seem to be able to tell
Just how it is I feel.

You’re so pretty and kind,
So charming and coy,
And also I think that Carthage must be destroyed.
There’s also this inscription, from a t-shirt found in the ruins of Cato’s villa:

Nonetheless. I’m starting to think that Cato’s strategy wasn’t as crazy as it sounds. Because if I were a U.S. senator, I would end every speech at every public appearance with: And also I think we should not sell assault weapons to every random person who wanders in off the street.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

And the nominee is...

As you've probably heard, now that Ted "Jesus Is My Co-Pilot" Cruz and John "Comparatively Moderate" Kasich have dropped out of the race, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee is sexist billionaire Silvio Berlusconi.

Believed to have originally run for office just to gain immunity from corruption charges, Berlusconi presided over a period of serious economic decline in Italy. This was either because he was an idiot, or because he was too busy dealing with a string of scandals to do any governing. His nadir came when he was investigated for child prostitution and - oh, shit. This is really embarrassing. I got that wrong - he was misgoverning a completely different country. 
Let me start over.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Breaking News: Potter defeats Voldemort

Last night, in a battle fought across the country, the young wizard Harry Potter delivered a resounding defeat to the Dark Lord Voldemort.
Potter was widely considered too young and inexperienced to be a serious threat to He Who Now Can Be Named Freely. He was dismissed as the talentless son of James Potter, a longtime enemy of the Dark Lord. It was noted he spent most of his younger years gallivanting around on fast brooms rather than studying, and often said he was nothing but a pretty face with unruly hair. The Death Eaters led a whispering campaign claiming that Harry was just not ready to lead the resistance, and that the Order of the Phoenix was a shattered husk of what it had once been.
Nonetheless, over the past few months Harry demonstrated a cleverness and tenacity that surprised even his supporters, and with the help of a few exceptional friends and a shocking defection from Voldemort's ranks managed to turn the tide of battle at the last minute. The scale of his victory was remarkable. Voldemort's hold over the country was utterly destroyed and only ninety-nine Death Eaters survived.
A triumphant Potter extended an olive branch to the defeated, saying that Voldemort's minions "are not our enemies, but our neighbours."

The ex-Dark Lord could not be reached for comment, but sources within the Death Eaters report that he has resigned from the leadership.

Friday, October 16, 2015

A metaphysical interview with Thomas Mulcair

Last on my list of interviews was Thomas Mulcair, the leader of the New Democrats. It took a while to get hold of him, because when I called his campaign office a recording said the line had been disconnected. Eventually I tracked down his campaign manager, who turned out to be crashing on a buddy’s couch for just a week or two until he got some things straightened out.
I was supposed to meet Mulcair in the parking lot of a Wal-Mart on the south side. I stood there wondering why he would choose this place, until I was distracted by the sound of an engine sputtering. An ancient Winnebago came down the road, painted bright orange, with Air Mulcair emblazoned on the side. The motor stalled every time the camper turned left, but it managed to coast almost all the way to me.
Thomas Mulcair got out, his face plastered with a smile that looked like a cross between a game-show host and rigor mortis. He sauntered over and shook my hand energetically, rather like the Cat in the Hat might.
“Mr. Mulcair,” I said. “It seems that your proposed budget, which makes only small changes to the tax structure and social spending, has failed to impress leftists. Was this a strategic calculation to win over centrist voters in Ontario, or are you taking a principled stance against sacrificing fiscal responsibility for redistribution?”
With his teeth bared and his cheeks scrunched up in a massive grin, his reply went like this, “pollscannotbetrustedanywaybreakthroughin905upcomingtookmoralhighroadasalwayscanadasnextgovernment.
“Are you okay?” I asked. “It kind of looks like you smiled so much your face got stuck that way.”
photoopneedbaby,” said Mulcair. “zhuli!getmebaby!” He waved his fist at the Winnebago. “BAAAABY!
A staffer ran out of the camper, carrying a nonplussed-looking baby. She handed it to Mulcair, who cooed at it and kissed it as well as he could without breaking his rictus grin.
“Sorry,” the staffer whispered. “If it’s time for a photo op and he doesn’t have a baby to kiss, he sometimes loses his temper.” She surreptitiously wiped some spittle from Mulcair’s beard. “It’s been a long campaign.”
“Tell me about it,” I said.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

A metaphysical interview with Justin Trudeau

After my unsatisfying interview with the Prime Minister, I met with Justin Trudeau, leader of the Liberal Party. That didn’t go much better.
To start with, he wanted to meet me on a beach in Cuba. When I got there he was lying on his side in the sand, wearing nothing but a red Speedo, long curls hanging over his face. His jaw didn’t so much look chiseled as like it had been carved out of granite to be a Pharaoh’s tomb.
“Mr. Trudeau,” I began.
“Call me” – he brushed some sand off his abs – “Justin.”
“Okay, Justin. The Liberals have proposed a loosely Keynesian budget, trying to soften the oncoming downturn with deficit-funded spending on infrastructure. Do you think this country is really that desperately in need of infrastructure? One might argue that we’re in pretty good shape already, and that increasing spending might lead to a lot of unnecessary and wasteful projects. Like that train line to Pearson Airport that no one ever uses.”
“That’s an interesting question,” he said, “and I love answering interesting questions because of my intelligence and experience.” He pointed to the book on the sand next to him, which was titled Advanced Vector Calculus. “Just some light reading, to rest my brain. Given that it’s an election, I would read something on economics or political science, but, you know, I read them all already. All the books.” He stretched languidly. “Yep, I’m that smart.”
“Sure, okay,” I said. “I wasn’t questioning that, since the perception you’re inexperienced is basically just the product of Conservative attack ads.”
“Oh, I’m” – he gave me a sort of come-hither look – “experienced.”
“But you didn’t actually answer my question.”

“Didn’t I?” He winked. “I don’t know how I forgot, because I love talking about my erection.” There was a really dumbfoundingly long pause before he finally added, “of infrastructure.”