Three Band-Aids + a Tourniquet – Part Three

A band-aid is a beautiful thing: sterile pad ample enough to cover over a wound and protect it from infection until it heals. A tourniquet is entirely different. A rag, a shirtsleeve, a whatever’s available to put pressure between a torn arm or leg and a person’s torso. A stopgap measure to staunch bleeding. An acknowledgement that conditions are grave and medical support remote. A gamble to buy time until the body can be tended, even at the increased risk of losing the limb.

In the first of this three-part post, The Awkward Poser made the case that the United States deserves a new, proscriptive Constitution, and then proposed to warm-up that process by reinvigorating the amendment process. The second post described three amendments to champion as band-aids: the ERA, the 28th, and uniform Federal elections. Today, I take on the electoral extremity in need of a tourniquet in our beleaguered Untied States: the Electoral College.

Winners who lost: Jackson, Tilden, Cleveland, Gore, Clinton

The Electoral College is not the worst compromise in our Constitution (fractionalizing men as 3/5 deserves that honor), but it is one that plagues the twenty-first century. Five times, in over two hundred years, the man selected as President by the Electoral College lost the popular vote. Two of those elections occurred in this century, and in 2016 the Electoral College voted contrary to the popular wishes of the largest percentage of voters ever. (Hillary Clinton received 2.8 million more votes than Donald Trump.)

Losers who won: JQ Adams, Hayes, Harrison, GW Bush, Trump

Today, a voter from Wyoming has more than three times the influence in a Presidential election than a voter from California. Given the ongoing shift from rural America to urban America, and the demographic differences between people living in rural versus urban states, the disproportionate influence of rural white voters will only increase.

How can we level the Presidential electoral playing field? The obvious answer: to abolish the Electoral College and direct elect our President, is logistically impossible. Eliminating the Electoral College requires a Constitutional Amendment; Constitutional amendments require a minimum of ¾ of the states for ratification; and there are too many low-population states who enjoy an Electoral College advantage for that to happen without the kind of horse-trading that might occur at a full Constitutional Convention.

However, there are three possibilities short of that, any of which could lessen the Electoral College’s rural tilt.

One: Expand the House of Representatives

This is a feasible, but non-serious proposal. True, expanding the number of Congressional Representatives would tilt the Electoral College towards larger-population states. However, we hardly need more members of Congress feeding at the public trough with notable ineffectiveness.

Two: National Popular Vote Bill

The National Popular Vote Bill states that the electors of a given state will vote for the winner of the national popular vote, even if that candidate did not win the majority of votes in that state. In theory, if states that cumulatively possess 270 electoral college votes pass the bill, this bill will ensure the winner of the popular vote becomes President.

At present, the bill has been presented in some form in all 50 states. It has passed into law in sixteen states with a total of 196 Electoral College votes (all of which, incidentally, voted for Biden in the 2020 election anyway).

This sounds like a great idea, but I have doubts. A state law is less fixed than a Constitutional Amendment. What if, say, Texas passes the law and in a future election the people of Texas majority vote for a different candidate than the national majority vote. And Texas’ 38 electoral votes will determine which candidate becomes President. What is there to stop the Texas legislature from rescinding that law between the election and the time the electors meet? As a Lone Star might say: darn little.

Three: Electoral College Proportional Voting

A third approach, and one I think most deserving, is for all states to adopt the Electoral College allocation used in Maine and Nebraska. At present, the election winner in 48 states gets 100% of that state’s Electoral College votes. That is not a Constitutional requirement; it is a state determination. However, in Maine and Nebraska, two Electoral College votes go to the candidate who wins the most vote in that state (i.e. the ‘Senate’ electors) while each additional vote is allocated according to the winner of each congressional district. This can result in a split Electoral College vote within the state. (In 2016, Clinton won Maine’s popular vote and the district that includes Portland, while Trump won the 2nd district, which covers primarily rural areas of the state. Clinton received three electoral votes, Trump one.)

What appeals to me about spreading this methodology across all states is not just that it decentralizes the Electoral College, but also that it would bring Presidential candidates into areas of the country where, right now, they never even campaign. No Presidential candidates ever come to my home state: reliably blue Massachusetts. The Democrats own us; the Republicans have no chance. But if the electoral vote from, say, the politically blended area around Worcester was up for grabs, it is likely that both Republican and Democratic candidates would make their way to that district to solicit that vote.

            _____

To be sure, all of this is shenanigans against the obvious right thing to do: direct elect our President by popular vote, with a run-off if there is no majority victor. But as long as the Electoral College remains intact, or at least until a new Constitution is enacted, let’s put a tourniquet on a system that is bleeding the entire idea of democracy dry.

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Three Band-Aids + a Tourniquet – Part Two

I recently made the over-the-moon suggestion that we reinvigorate the Constitution. First, by amending it. Eventually, by replacing it. This post offers three band-aids. Amendments past, present, and future, if you will. Each of which takes a step toward making our government more reflective of, and responsive to, the people it serves.

Band-aid number One: Revise and pass the Equal Rights Amendment.

At this time, the ERA has actually been approved by the minimum required 38 states. However, the time restraint on achieving those passages has expired. Write your congressional representative and get Congress to modify the ERA legislation to enable passage.

Band-aid number Two: Pass the 28th Amendment.

“Congress shall make no law that applies to the citizens of the United States that does not apply equally to the Senators and/or Representatives; and, Congress shall make no law that applies to the Senators and/or Representatives that does not apply equally to the citizens of the United States.”

This amendment is so obviously fair, yet it wallows in Congress: a political body disinclined to put restrictions on itself. So far, twenty states have passed legislation or ballot initiatives calling on Congress to pass this amendment and deliver it to the states for ratification. Contact your representatives to make it happen.

Band-aid number Three: Create a Federal Election Amendment.

“The regulations and requirements for electing any person to an office of the Federal government shall be determined by the Federal government.” Or some such language that attorneys and scholars might draft.

The Constitution, among its many compromises between states’ rights and federal authority, gives states the responsibility (and power) to determine how to run elections. Although this might make sense for state and local elections, it is clearly a nightmare for federal elections. Fifty different sets of registration deadlines, identification requirements, absentee regulations, polling locations, polling hours, postmark dates. Is there any place on earth where so many different sets of rules are used to select someone for one particular elected office?

Our most recent Presidential election is a potent example of how ridiculous is the current patchwork, and may be the reason the nation is ripe for this amendment: right now. Having so many different sets of rules did not, in the end, favor one party or candidate over another. Rather, it favored obfuscation and confusion. Some might argue that was exactly the point. But obfuscation is not the point the Constitution is trying to protect.

The desire to create a level playing field to elect Federal officials can, and should, appeal to all political parties. The array of organizations invested in voting practices runs the ideological gamut, from Stacy Abrams’ Fair Fight, to the non-partisan League of Women Voters, to the American Conservative Union. That diversity actually boosts the strength in achieving an amendment.

Having the same rules for Federal elections in every state does not determine whether voting is easier or more difficult for individuals. It only means that everyone’s hurdles are the same. Congress would establish rules for Federal elections, the Supreme Court would verify their legitimacy, the Executive branch would implement them. Given the current composition of our Federal government—a Democratic House vis-à-vis a Republican Senate and President backed by a conservative Court, a citizen’s requirements to vote could be arduous. The point of the amendment is not to guarantee that voting be easy or difficult; only that the rules be the same everywhere.

I am not an activist or political organizer. I don’t even belong to a political party. But in the new year, after the Georgia special election determines the composition of the US Senate, and establishes DC’s power balance for the next two years, I plan to circulate the idea for a federal election amendment to organizations center, left, and right. Like the 28th amendment, it makes perfect sense. Also like the 28th, I don’t imagine our leaders will enact it unless ‘we the people’ demand.

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Letter to a Friend who held an Extended Family Thanksgiving

Sunday December 6, 2020

Dear Anna,

I was baffled after our phone visit yesterday, and your detailed recount of Thanksgiving. I listened to what happened to you and your family: how you decided to celebrate in person together; all took COVID tests in your respective states and then flew from California or drove from DC and New York to Massachusetts. I heard the terror in your voice when your son received a late test result by email after you’d been together a few days. Positive. I followed the frenzy of everyone immediately separating and then fleeing on Thanksgiving eve to places of quarantine. I even laughed at how you divvied up turkey to the departing couples, and discovered none left for you and your husband, alone and by yourselves when Thanksgiving arrived.

“We did everything right.” You said at least three times as you explained where each couple has landed, ten days later, asymptomatic all. And in the moment of conversation with a friend, a person I care about and want to support, I did not chide or correct. But afterward, doubts nagged. About my responsibility as your friend. Because sometimes being a friend means delivering difficult news. And if you honestly think you did everything right, maybe a true friend has to step up and set you straight.

Anna, dear friend, you and your family did not do everything right. In fact, you did wrong. In drawing together a family flung across four states during a pandemic you violated the law and health guidelines. You invited danger and disease among your family, and exposed others in the process. The fact that it appears your family suffered nothing more than an abrupt end to your reunion and a misdistributed turkey is pure luck. The kind of luck that more often falls upon families of privilege, like yours, and contributes to the arrogance that we are above this disease, that the rules of public safety don’t apply to us, that our individualist desires take precedence over the common good.

You asked about my own Thanksgiving. I enjoyed a long walk outside with a friend, and spent the evening on a binge watch. Not a traditional Thanksgiving, though memorable in its singularity. You and your family also created a memorable Thanksgiving, and for years will tell of the celebration aborted by a positive test.

As your friend, I hope that you and your family shape that story to include the fundamental truth that you were ethically wrong to gather during this pandemic. That “doing everything right” after the fact cannot counterbalance your initial, wrong choice to come together. That you will acknowledge your selfishness, learn from it, and not put personal desire over collective wellbeing again.

You are not the only family who made wrong choices this Thanksgiving. Millions of Americas did, as evidenced by the soaring caseload, hospitalizations, and deaths from coronavirus we chart every day. I would like to reach out to every one of them in the hope that they learn from their indulgence. But I am not their friend; I do not have their ear.

However, I am your friend, and hope to remain your friend. I hope that you receive this letter in that spirit. I hope you reframe your Thanksgiving story from, “we did everything right,” to, “what we did was wrong, and we learned from it,” and in the future, act accordingly.

Your friend,

Paul

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Three Band-Aids + a Tourniquet – Part One

If the recent Presidential election, the deadlocks in Congress, and the politization of the Supreme Court teach us anything it is simply this: our government is gravely ill.

True, the election met two important attributes of democracy: it was robust, in that many people participated; and it was fair, despite numerous attempts at a judicial coup. Therefore, I am disinclined to declare American democracy dead. But it is severely wounded.

I have long advocated for our country to adopt a new Constitution. A remote prospect considering a vested minority (i.e. rural white people) wields disproportionate power under the current system. The citizens from low-population states are unlikely to accept wholesale, equitable change until it is forced (i.e. revolution).

I recently watched Heidi Schreck’s What the Constitution Means to Me (Amazon). Despite finding it an uneven piece of theater, I recommend it to anyone interested in the state of the United States. For nestled into the two-thirds point is a critical idea: the U.S. Constitution is a restrictive document, while more recent democratic constitutions are prescriptive.

What does that mean: a restrictive document? It means our founders’ principal focus was to limit the ways government can interfere with its citizens. Our Constitution enumerates specific individual rights: free speech; assembly; bear arms. It also establishes executive, legislative, and judicial checks and balances (in addition to fifty-odd state governments), all of which present obstacles against individuals or factions achieving outsize power. The system makes sense for educated, affluent, land-owning white men reacting to the restraints of an absolute monarch. But by fractionalizing slaves as 3/5 persons—while being completely silent about women and indigenous people—our Constitution didn’t protect the majority of people living in our country even when it was ratified in 1787.

Back in the days when civics was taught in school, we learned what a noble thing is our Constitution. I still believe that. It is a remarkable translation of Enlightenment ideals into government form, an important step away from the divine rights of kings. Given the dichotomy between America’s libertarian nature and the reality that democracy is, by definition, messy and inefficient, the Constitution does a good job at creating a workable government that rests loosely on our backs. What it doesn’t consider—and we never explored in school—is that government might be something more than a necessary evil to be kept at bay. That it might actually provide useful support and services to its citizens. That a Constitution can enshrine individual rights, and also prescribe a government’s responsibilities towards its citizens.

Herein lies the struggle between personal freedoms and collective support that plagues the United States and has turned the world’s oldest functional Constitution into a dinosaur. We are no longer a million people spread over raw land with limitless expansion; we are over three hundred million, rubbing up against each other at the extents of our domain. We are no longer self-sufficient farmers; we are economically, socially, and culturally intertwined. A few preppers among us may have stored up enough to survive alone; none of us has the ability to thrive alone.

Yet, we cling to a document that, despite the noble opening, “We the people,” protects our autonomy more than it promotes our community. Our Constitution is increasingly irrelevant compared to ones adopted by other nations. Constitutions that acknowledge government as an active participant in their well-being, and require it to provide, by right, basic human services: food; shelter; healthcare. True, the United States has woven an uneven safety net (Social Security, unemployment insurance, worker’s compensation are all variants of socialism: individual contributions pooled to distribute in common when required). But our imagined ethos as rugged, generous individuals who stand alone, yet will extend a hand to help a brother in distress, prevents us from acknowledging reality that we cannot stand alone, and too often only extend a hand when it reinforces our own stature. Thus, we are unwilling to create a government—and a society—that takes care of everyone, regardless of race, gender, or creed, according to their need, simply because we are all here.

In theory, our Constitution can evolve as society changes. That’s what amendments are for. Past amendments expanded rights beyond white males: the thirteenth amendment freed the slaves; the nineteenth gave women the right to vote. Through most of our history, the Constitution has been amended every decade or so. But that process has stalled as our political discourse has grown more partisan. It’s been more than fifty years since the Constitution was amended to expand any group’s rights.

So, what are we to do? One option, of course, is revolution. That worked out pretty well for the guys who penned the original Constitution. However, history teaches that peaceful transformations are much more effective than armed conflict in creating real change, and so I continue to seek out peaceful ways to share the bounty of America. What I suggest, unlikely as it may prove effective, is that we reinvigorate what we’ve got: our exiting Constitution. First, by going through the process of creating and ratifying amendments. Then, when we once again taste how we the people really can determine our form of government, hold a Constitutional Convention and thrash the entire thing out anew.

The chance of success in this approach? Near zero. But the catastrophe that awaits if we keep trying to define society today through the prism of eighteenth-century gentry, is too great not to at least try. Coming up, The Awkward Pose will suggest three band-aids to initiate the process of making our Constitution a living document once again. After that, I’ll suggest a tourniquet to help staunch the electoral bleeding that is contributing to the divisive wounds of our nation.

I hope you read on. More than that, I hope you work for peaceful change.

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My Jane Austen Life

The prospects of Mr. Bennet’s five charming daughters, destined to be destitute upon their father’s death given the patriarchy of British law, improve considerably when the wealthy bachelor, Mr. Bingley, rents Netherfield estate in rural Herefordshire and invites them to a country ball. Sparks fly between Mr. Bennet’s eldest, Jane, and Mr. Bingley; while second daughter Elizabeth is quite put off by Mr. Bingley’s closest friend, the considerably wealthier Mr. Darcy. When Mr. Bingley’s sisters, Caroline and Louisa, invite Jane to Netherfield for dinner with intentions beyond dessert, Jane is caught in a rain shower, develops a bad cold, and is forced to remain at Netherfield. Dutiful Elizabeth makes a recuperative visit where she meets the aloof Mr. Darcy once again, thereby establishing the particulars under which the events of Pride and Prejudice unfold.

In the twenty-first century, any self-respecting publishing house would toss aside a novel whose plot hinges on such a flimsy device. Why would a young woman, regardless how severe her cold, remain at the home of a relative stranger for several days, when her own home, warm bed, loving sisters, and eccentric parents are only three miles away? That’s right: the distance between Longbourne and Netherfield in Pride and Prejudice is a mere three miles.

Most of us, in and out of our cars all day, don’t give traveling three miles a second thought. Our vehicles take us, effortlessly, to work, to the grocery store, to the gym. I have a friend who drives five miles to simply reach the park in which he subsequently takes a walk.

However, three miles in 1813 rural England, before motor vehicles or paved roads, was a sizable distance. Although the Bingley’s might have delivered Jane back to her family in a carriage, nursing a sick neighbor in situ was both chivalrous and a welcome diversion in a world that hadn’t gotten around to inventing movies and Instagram.

I often marvel upon the delights of Pride and Prejudice, predicated by a measly three miles, as I go about my own life. As a man without a car, the distances I travel are significantly abbreviated compared to motorized folk. Under my own power, transit times run long, and weather is a factor.

The ride to my boyfriend Dave’s house takes me through beautiful New England drumlins and forests, past ponds, through quaint towns. But it takes four or five hours for me to pedal there. I do it in daylight, since bicycling at night outside the Cambridge/Somerville/Boston triangle feels dangerous, no matter how many lights I wear. I endure the prevailing wind, though I try to avoid rain, and always steer clear of snow. Of course, it is no hardship to go the distance for my special someone. Yet, back in the days before pandemic, when friends invited friends to dinner, I would often bunk on a suburban sofa rather than pedal home in the dark.

Why do I choose to put this restriction on my ability to travel through the world? I know how to drive. I can afford to own a car. There are the faux-noble reasons: that traveling within the world is a richer experience than traveling through it; that cycling is meditative; that it’s sustainable; that I’ve integrated fitness into the fabric of my life. But there are also the ignoble reasons: an antsy temperament that chafes behind the wheel; a guy with lots of time thumbing a world that worships busyness; an individualist temperament that’s borderline peculiar. There’s no mystery as to why I had to go much, much further than three miles to find a boyfriend.

Ultimately, I love how traveling by bicycle slows me down and sets me apart from a world that, as far as I’m concerned, is frantic for no reason beyond infatuation with speed.

We love Pride and Prejudice because we admire Elizabeth Bennet’s fiery independence and Mr. Darcy’s quiet generosity. We mirror ourselves—our better selves—in these substantial people of substantial character. So I can be excused for organizing my life to be a bit more like theirs as I take my sweet time in getting from here to there. My head fantasizes as my legs spin in pursuit, however slowly, of my Jane Austen life.

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HOW I BECAME A 23-YEAR-OLD WOMAN

Greetings Readers. This week’s post is written by an engaging author and good friend, Chuck Latovich. Chuck recently published his novel, The Girl in the Boston Box, a ‘Mystery Times Two.’ Any lover of history, Boston, or thrillers will enjoy it. I asked Chuck to share with Awkward Pose readers his challenges in writing the book. Please enjoy his perspective on a middle-aged gay male author creating a young straight female protagonist.

            __________

THE GIRL IN THE BOSTON BOX is available on Amazon, IndieBound, Apple Books, and other channels.

            __________

When I start to write a novel, I have goals in mind, over and above the simple objective of getting to “The End.” With my mystery, The Girl in the Boston Box, I wanted to expand my technical repertoire and compose a third-person narrative. Eventually, I chose a structure for the book that was a combination of techniques. The novel’s subtitle is “A Mystery Times Two” because I have two storylines that compliment and enlarge one another (and eventually converge). One of my narratives is in the first person, with a main character not too different from me: a middle-aged man, gay, single. Easy to write, and a style I’ve employed before. The other narrative, told in third person, is that from the viewpoint of a young woman in her early twenties.

Those parts of the book were my biggest challenge since, obviously, I’m not a young woman, and the character was a major part of the book. To make her believable, I began with external details, like choosing a name popular for those in her generation, (“Caitlyn”), and identifying some of her cultural touchstones (Harry Potter). Concrete items, and all fine and good.

As for her inner life, I started by giving her a personality that will propel the plot (she’s a snoop, of sorts). Moreover, so I could be in her head with some kind of comfort, she has experiences akin to mine. Caitlyn walks where I have walked, lives where I have lived, uses with technology that I have used. She occasionally meets people with characteristics similar to people I know. Therefore, she feels what I have felt, and I hope that provides some verisimilitude.

As for deeper aspects of her psyche, I imbued Caitlyn with a few of my hang-ups and habits. For example, I projected my Catholic upbringing onto her. In one sequence, after her second sexual encounter in a week, she ponders questions about morality while she rides the subway. Could other passengers sense that had just had sex? Is sleeping with two different men over the course of the week irresponsible or immoral? I’ve had those thoughts. After a while, Caitlyn brushes them away, but the fact that she ponders them at all tells us about her earliest values and morals, and I hope deepens her.


These traits are the ones that I was aware of. I’ve wondered, however, if someday in the future, I will reread the book and, with some distance, realize that other quirks of mine were made part of her personality almost unconsciously. Writing a novel is a fascinating exercise in self-revelation and self-discovery; a story becomes a key to understanding a writer in ways that they may not recognize while they are in the process of creation. Of all the books I could have produced (in theory), The Girl in the Boston Box is the one that’s emerged. Sigmond Freud could have a field day interpreting it: my creative dream. What might Caitlyn reveal about me that I might not have realized as—occasionally inspired and typing so fast—I wrote her?

To protect a surprise in the book, I won’t share here the impact of one formative event in Caitlyn’s life (unveiled at the end of Part One), but I eventually grasped that it connected obliquely to something from my own past. With time and distance, it’s likely that I will identify other commonalities. It’s an interesting prospect for me, but although I can imagine an insight happening, it’s premature to speculate too much about what it might be. Maybe I will look at Caitlyn’s interest in hidden rooms and think, as I do now, “That’s a device.” All front and center. But maybe, instead, I will find something more revelatory, or symbolic, in her fascination.

I’ve concluded that using the third person for Caitlyn may be symptomatic of being just a little removed from her inner life, but in light of our differences (hers and mine), that seems appropriate. Third-person narration made me more comfortable in my pretense. And while I can already appreciate the technical lessons Caitlyn has taught me, it’s possible that in a few years, I will have the ability to dig deeper and appreciate what she teaches me about myself.

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STATS USA

More than 330 million people live in the United States (link)

Who are these people, over whom our next President will preside? Consider this random, though vetted, assortment of statistics about our country. (Note: * indicates that I adjusted a statistic by one percent—never more—for consistency in this listicle.)

1% of us controls 29% of our nation’s wealth: over $25 trillion (link)

2% of us live in some form of public housing (link)

3% of us are undocumented (link)

4% of the entire world’s population lives in the United States (link)

5% of us worked from home before the pandemic (link)

6% of planet’s land area is within the United States (link)

7% of us are either agnostic or atheist (link)

8% of adults are officially unemployed (link)

9% of us over the age of 12 have used an illicit drug in the past month (link)

10% of us never use the Internet (link)

11% of us, among LGBT, are married (link) *

12% of us live beneath the poverty line (link)

13% of American adults hold Master’s, Doctorate’s or other advanced degrees (link)

14% of Americans smoke cigarettes (link)

15% of us pay more than 50% of our income for housing (link)

16% of us take three or more prescription drugs every day (link) *

17% of American workers are employed by local, state, or federal government (link)

18% of children aged 25-34 live with their parents (link)

19% of the world’s oil is produced in the United States (link)

20% of us live in multi-generational households (link)

21% of Americans are covered by Medicaid (link)

22% of us attend church every week (link) *

23% of us get the CDC suggested level of exercise (link)

24% of the world’s total energy is consumed in the United States (link)

25% of American households own a cat (link)

26% of us are enrolled in some form of school (link)

27% of American adults live alone (link) *

28% of workers use all of our vacation time; the rest of us leave some on the table (link)

29% of us never attend church (link)

30% of the world’s wealth is controlled by Americans (link)

31% of us die at home—a sharp increase over the past generation (link)

32% of our children live in single-parent households (link)

33% of registered voters are Democrats; 29% are Republican, 34% are independent (link)

34% of American adults hold a college degree (link)

35% of us shopped on Black Friday last year (link) *

36% of American workers have not taken a vacation in the past two years (link)

37% of us are prime working age 18-44. (16% are over 65, 24% are under 18) (link)

38% of American households own a dog (link)

39% of us live within fifty miles of an ocean (link)

40% of us are working from home during the pandemic (link)

41% of us have a friend or relative who identifies as LGBT (link)

42% of American adults are obese (link)

43% of us live in a household with a gun (link)

44% of us are considered ‘low wage earners’ with median annual income of $17,950 (link)

45% of us eat out at least once a week (link)

46% of us, among Black males, are arrested before age 23 (link)

47% of our families have only one child (link)

48% of American adults have heart disease (link)

49% of American adults are married (half of those will get divorced) (link) *

50% of Americans control a mere 2% of our nation’s wealth (link)

51% of us subscribe to Netflix (link)

52% of American adults have smoked marijuana (link)

53% of adult Americans have a job (link)

54% of us skip breakfast at least once a week (link) *

55% of us do not know how to swim (link) *

56% of us own stock (link) *

57% of us are NFL fans (link)

58% of us have less than $1000 in savings (link)

59% of us enjoyed Coca-Cola during the last month (link)

60% of everything we buy is made overseas (link)

61% of us take a summer vacation (link) *

62% of American households subscribe to Amazon Prime (link)

63% of us drink alcohol (link) Cheers!

64% of us have never traveled outside the United States (link)

65% of American adults own their home (link)

66% of American adults use at least one prescription drug (link)

67% of eligible Americans are registered to vote (link)

68% of Americans do not have a will (link)

69% of us have sex by the time we are nineteen. (link)

70% of us consider ourselves Christian (link)

71% of Americans are financially struggling, or worse (link)

72% of Americans with college degrees get a full night’s sleep; the amount of sleep decreases according to level of education (link)

73% of Americans access You Tube, more than Facebook (69%) or Twitter (22%) (link)

74% of us have read a book in the past year (link)

75% of us wake to an alarm clock, and 57% of those hit snooze at least once (link)

76% of Americans own some kind of pet (link)

77% of American households put up a Christmas tree (82% of them are artificial) (link)

78% of us speak English as our primary language (link)

79% of us work in service industries (20% manufacturing, 1% agriculture) (link)

80% of American households own a washing machine (link)

81% is the proportion of a man’s wages that a woman earns to do the same job (link)

82% of us eat chocolate on a regular basis (link)

83% of us live in urban areas (link)

84% of American adults have a high school degree (link)

85% of us, among adult women, bear a child during our life (link) *

86% of us have Internet access in our homes (link)

87% of us have air conditioning (link)

88% of us have flown in an airplane (link)

89% of us get our news online (link)

90% of us eat ice cream (link)

91% of us do not get the CDC recommended amount of fruits and vegetables every day (link)

92% of us have health insurance (link)

93% of us have never served in the military (link)

94% of Americans have access to a car (link) *

95% of us have some form of bank account (link)

96% of us own a cellphone (link)

97% of us eat meat (link)

98% of Americans have had sex before age 44; 95% of us do it before marriage (link) *

99% of us have indoor plumbing (link)

100% of us deserve to be treated with dignity, respect and equity.

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Agenda: 11/4/2020

“Racial Barrier Falls in Decisive Victory”

New York Times front-page headline, November 4, 2008.

How’s that working for the 105 Black and Brown people killed by police since Obama was first elected?

“Clinton has the Edge One Day Before Election”

USA Today front-page headline, November 7, 2016.

How’s that working out for those who dreamed of crashing through the glass ceiling?

We might know who won the Presidential election this time tomorrow. We might not know for weeks or months. Regardless whether the winner is Red or Blue, my agenda for tomorrow will be the same.

Don’t get me wrong, the two Presidential candidates are very different. Joe Biden represents a return to established political norms, an atmosphere of civility, maybe even empathy. If we give Donald Trump four more years, what little democracy this country has left will be so thoroughly gutted this could well be our last Presidential election. The choice for anyone who values the messy chaos and inclusivity of democracy is clear.

Yet whoever wins, or if we embark on perilous post-election confusion, our agenda for 11/4 and beyond remains the same because neither of these candidates will take us where we need to go on sustainability, equity, and justice. These are, after all, eternal goals, never fully attained.

The outcome of today’s election will inform our tactics, but the election of one candidate or another will not permanently recast our political landscape. Any more than electing Obama ended racism. Or that Hillary Clinton’s candidacy leveled the playing field for women.

So don’t stay up all night watching returns. Get a good night’s sleep and wake refreshed, ready to carry on the November 4 Agenda:

Balance our Planet. Work to minimize the environmental destruction human activity creates on mother earth.

Balance our Humanity. Work to distribute our physical, economic, cultural and political resources equitably among all people.

Be kind. We are all imperfect, yet we are all here, and we have to learn how to get along.

Happy Election Day!

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Victor Frankl’s Meaning in the Moment

The world is in a bad state, but everything will become still worse unless each of us does his best. – Victor Frankl

Victor Frankl was a twentieth century Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist, a Holocaust survivor, and founder of the logotherapy—healing through meaning—school of psychotherapy. Dr. Frankl wrote 39 books. His most influential, Man’s Search for Meaning, is a memoir/manifesto of his time in a German concentration camp.

Why am I pondering this Jewish intellectual during the final push of our Presidential election? Because I need to take a breath from the daily rancor and consider the bigger picture of the society we have created.

Back in 2015-2016, traversing America on my bicycle, two observations about Donald Trump were abundantly clear:

First. The media made the man. Sure, Trump loves to cry ‘fake news’ and protest against the media. But each time he does, Donald Trump ensures his position as top news story. The master of consuming all the oxygen in the room—and in our country—is genius at maintaining his spot as headline of the day. The media is not President Trump’s enemy: it’s his accomplice. Actually, it’s his benefactor.

Second. The country ate up the Donald because he provided a rush of adrenalin excitement missing from most of our lives. President Trump claims credit for many things, but I’m convinced his most important leading role is: Drama-in-Chief. The man literally provides the populace a reason to get in the morning just to see what craziness he’s tweeted overnight.

The United States might be excused, in 2016, for electing continual soap-opera drama. Things were pumping along pretty well and government didn’t seem all that important to a citizenry increasingly smitten with the diversions that Amazon, Google, Walmart, and Facebook delivered. A buffoonish President would provide droll amusement. But the aftermath of our complacency is all around us: over 200,000 coronavirus deaths; shattered international stature; expanding economic inequality; and state-sponsored brutality against pesky citizens who refuse to remain silent to injustice.

I consider it a dangerous misconception of mental hygiene to assume that what man needs in the first place is equilibrium or, as it is called in biology, ‘homeostasis,’ i.e. a tensionless state. What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task. – Victor Frankl

Since the end of World War II, the mantra of American corporations and government has been “Take it easy.” Their purpose, to woo us into a tensionless state. Relaxed folks make for docile, pliable, complacent citizens. The elemental idea of a consumer society is to turn human beings into passive resource receptables, while in truth, the healthiest humans are the most active. Not just with physical movement, but with purpose.

As to the causation of the feeling of meaninglessness, one may say, albeit in an oversimplifying vein, that people have enough to live by but nothing to live for; they have means but no meaning… The truth is, man does not live by welfare alone. – Victor Frankl

It is particularly difficult to feel engaged and purposeful when almost all of our interactions are filtered by a screen, when autumn’s chill beckons us to hygge, when it’s always easier in the moment to watch something rather than create something. In hunter/gatherer days and agrarian days, we did not have to search for meaning: the imperative to survive thrust meaning upon us. But today, when our capacity to provide the essential components of life are more easily met, the most fortunate of us are in the awkward position to have to seek out meaning in life. We have to choose the hard stuff, both in physical exertion and social interaction. We have to actively extend ourselves in a society that constantly preaches us to remain cocooned.

Please, struggle against this entropy. Shake up your mind. Shake up your body. Get out do something meaningful. Engage with somebody new. A good way to start: walk to the polls and cast a well-considered ballot.

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Vote Yes on 2

The Awkward Poser does not stump for any particular candidate; my politics are too idealistic to descend into that fray. But I am a strong advocate for anything that strengthens the underlying principles of democracy: civic participation and robust, informed voting. In that spirit I hope that all Americans will vote this November 3—and that everyone in Massachusetts will vote ‘Yes’ on Question 2: Ranked Choice Voting.

Ranked Choice Voting is exactly as it sounds: instead of voting for only one candidate running for a particular office, each voter has the opportunity to rank as many choices as she wants (first, second, third). If no one in a multi-candidate election receives a clear majority of number 1’s: the number of 2’s, 3’s, etc. are proportionately accounted such that the person with the highest total ‘ranked choice’ is the winner.

Advocates of ranked choice voting claim that it helps curb the influence of special interests, enables greater participation of independent candidates, and helps to elect candidates who best represent the full populace. Detractors say it is overly complicated and confusing.

I fall firmly in the first camp for one simple reason. For over thirty years I have lived in a city that uses a form of ranked choice (proportional representation) and have witnessed the benefits of living in a community where people are invested in electing their officials.

Across the United States, 45 percent of all local and state elected officials run unopposed. The percent of competition in primaries, where voter turnout can tally below 4%., is miniscule. Cambridge, Massachusetts presents quite a different picture. In 2019, twenty-one candidates ran for nine City Council seats; eleven people ran to be on the six-member School Committee. Aspirants run active campaigns, videotape pleas on local CCTV, and plant yard signs galore. One local political junkie hosts a build-your-own-ballot website (cambridgecouncilcandidates.com) that enables voters to find the cocktail of candidates that most closely fit their personal agenda.

As a longtime Cambridge resident, I am accustomed to the guffaws of practically everyone who resides beyond the seven square miles of our People’s Republic. It’s easy to poke fun at our immense public education budget, our Smokey Bear attired park rangers, our Peace Commissioner. The place is certainly guilty of being precious. Yet, how many cities of 105,000 residents can boast of having over 130,000 jobs? A median family income north of $125,000 per year? A pre-pandemic unemployment rate below 2%? And not one, but two of the world’s most prestigious universities? It must be easy, you say, to have honest and generous government under such fantasy conditions.

But what if we flip that argument on its head? What if the bubble of benefits that constitutes life in Cambridge is due, at least in part, from having an electoral system that challenges and engages our citizens? A system that leads to fair elections, in which people feel heard, and elect local officials whom we believe represent.

Cambridge does not have sound government because it is such a nice place to live. It is a nice place to live because it has sound government.

Let’s extend that logic to our entire state. Massachusetts voters are fully capable of understanding and executing ranked choice voting. Once we begin to realize the benefits of this fairer electoral system, I am confident that we will see participation among voters—and candidates—increase. That may not be in the best interests of today’s vested politicians. But it is in the best interest of democracy.

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