Monday, January 29, 2007

Democracy Inaction

(with apologies to Jon Stewart, of course)

Sure, the process is futile, sure it's a choice of dumb or dumber, Pepsi or Coke (when the choice I really envision is between whiskey and mother's milk), the evil of two lessers, a military- or prison-industrial complex with or without emission controls. So yeah, I'm cynical, I'm jaded, and I have never been much of an activist. But there are certain things you must do to earn your complaining rights, and I've been slacking. What's more, if you're, say, under 50, then you should realize that you're paying for the retirement and medical insurance of your parents, while pretty much abrogating your own. Because those are the people who complain. If you want some of that good pander, you have to do your duty and bitch about what you ain't getting.

I've always voted, but one thing I've never done is write my congressman. My friend (our very own) hipparchia made the point that it's about time we all embraced responsibility as reasonably intelligent people. She's begun a campaign to write every member of the congress, and I support it. I encourage you to contribute your own letters, or else visit, copy and paste and badger your representative. It's your civic duty. And if you don't accept that it is, then you should at least do it to cover your ass when it comes time to make your complaints. That's what motivated me.

Here's my letter to Senator Kerry:

You will perhaps be pleased to know that I voted for you in your last Senate run, and also in your more recent presidential bid. My condolences on the outcome of the latter. I thought your views on a "Manhattan Project" for alternative energy were wise (though understated), and though I wish you targeted us better, I thought that you were in a unique position in that race to capture us voters who believe in both sound budget policy and individual liberties. Again, my condolences--we're all worse off for your defeat.

I am writing because I feel it's my civic responsibility, and one I've forestalled for much too long. I am a 34-year-old research scientist with a young family, and, I think, exactly the sort of person who is under-represented in the political process. Although I vote (registered as unenrolled, but courting Democrats), and although I follow politics with some interest, I have little time for telephone polling and the like. And although I am fairly jaded about the process, I am not without hope. I am a member of the blogging community, and converse regularly with many political activists in that arena.

Getting to the point, here are the priorities that this constituent envisions for the upcoming congressional session:

  • Avoid a war with Iran at all costs.
    The administration is making similar motions now as it did in the run-up to the Iraq war. Please Mr. Kerry, insist on the congress' unique right to declare war under the Constitution. Do not let this president act to invade another country.

  • Get out of Iraq as soon as possible
    I remain disgusted with the disingenuous talk about timetables or set deadlines. Immunize yourself from these idiotic slurs, please, especially since it's the language of your opposition. Criteria for withdrawal are certainly reasonable. Please take the initiative to define them concretely. (The president hasn't.)

  • Energy independence
    The president's ethanol initiative is foolish, and amounts to little more than a sop to the industrialized farming lobby (which, I am sure you are aware does not reside in Massachusetts). I encourage you to fund research in solar, wind, hydroelectric, and geothermal power. Coal may work as a stop-gap, but it is damaging to the environment, and contributes to global warming. "Clean coal" still contributes to atmospheric contamination in the form of CO2, and conversion of carbon to carbonate (the product of scrubbing technology) is not very energy efficient, limited so by the laws of thermodynamics.

    Energy independence also means conservation (not an easy sell!) and it also suggests making it more affordable to live closer to places of employment. As it stands today, living in a city like Boston means either living beyond one's means or living in crime and disrepair. Although I'm not ideologically disposed to promoting urban welfare, I have to admit that it makes more sense than sponsoring highway development over the years.

  • Sponsor more R&D, especially R&D outside of the Department of Defense
    Massachusetts, with possibly the strongest technical university system in the country, is in a special position in this regard. Housing can be an economic pillar only so long as there is space for new homes, or as long as we can afford the commute. Meanwhile, manufacturing continues to decline. One reason the U.S. has been competitive in the twentieth century is that we have fostered entrepreneurialism and because we have a superior secondary education system. New technologies need to incubate in this country and grow into real industries to support future economies--this should be a national priority.

  • Repeal criminal acts against civil liberties
    Although I realize Democrats have been in a minority for the last several years, your priorities have nonetheless been skewed relative to my own. Medicare legislation, for example, was threatened with a filibuster, but the enemy combatants act rolled through. This is unconscionable. Between this act, the extralegal detention of inmates in Guantanamo Bay, the USA PATRIOT act, and wiretapping withouth a warrant, the congress has abandoned its vigilance under the Bush administration. Now that the Democrats are in a majority, reverse these intrusions now. Please.

  • Universal Health Care
    Although I am not a zealous user of it, health care is something that frequently occupies my mind. Although I don't like government planning, a widespread insurance model is nearly the only thing that makes sense under the circumstances. Even if the opponents' view is true, that U.S. medical care is superior, then still the universal insurance model should hold. A possible way to communicate this is to discuss how (1) the public health is best served this way, (2) the risk is shared to the highest degree (which is the entire basis of insurance), and (3) it will reduce administrative costs for insurance users. Reports have shown that Medicare, which includes the population most likely to be sick, is more cost efficient than private plans.

Thank you for your time, Senator. I hope that you represent me well in the new session.




JohnMcG said...

Think it bodes well that my new senator's e-mail address is still "" according to her barely cobbled together website?

I suppose it's better than no e-mail address, which is how it was before.

Anonymous said...

What!? Another vain, self-indulgent Wikifrayster who thinks that one may "get to the point" of a business letter no earlier than the third graf?

(Ender was the first.)

TenaciousK said...

What!? Another sarcastic, self-important anonymous critic who considers him/herself a rhetorical expert?

(Misterioso was the first)

Keifus said...

Hey anon, if you can't do better than disagree with my paragraph order, then that's a weak criticism indeed. I can't see why you bothered. Couldn't you find any typos or dangling modifiers to really nail me with? (Sentences ended in prepositions?)

I think the capsule view of my actual political philosophy is pretty uninteresting by this point. If there's a story around it, then maybe I'm doing a little better.


Anonymous said...

keifus et al.--

Do you want someone in a senator's office to read your demand/request/suggestion/question or not?

If you do, state it immediately and keep any elaboration thereafter succinct.

That's truly elementary. You needn't take my word for it; look around the internets.

(If you have no reason to write to a senator, don't.)

august said...


I respectfully disagree. Staffers care about the voting patterns of constituents, and Keifus's past support will make them more likely to read the letter. Paragraph 2 strikes me as relevant as well -- it establishes Keifus as a family man (true) and a responsible citizen (er..). A mere list of bullet points reeks of a form letter.

Ender's letter, we now know, was in fact read at Slate. Perhaps your epistolary criticism is too elementary?

Keifus said...

Ah the letter itself you meant. I revised before I sent to his holiness, actually. No doubt it'll be skimmed and then round-filed (if it's even skimmed), but, to paraphrase Opus the Penguin, what matters is that we all took part in this magical process.

If I cared, I'd ask about that chip on your shoulder.


rundeep said...

Keif: Opus is a puffin, not a penguin. Can't believe you didn't remember that. Good letter.

Anon: "internets?" Rita won't let you get away with that one. Probably you'll lose TU status for that.

And I love your suggestion that staffers really don't give a shit what constituents have to say. That so makes me want to keep voting -- for candidates in another country.

TenaciousK said...

Hi Rundeep!
I think anonymous would like Keifus to say something in the first sentence that will allow the reader to summarily ignore the rest of his letter ["Ah, another peacenik complainer..." (crumple, shoot, score!)*].

It's a silly way to make a point, when you're making a point about a topic people already have strong feelings about. Anonymous provided a great example of this him(her?)self, actually - once the words "vain, self-indulgent wikifrayster" appeared, they became easy to ignore.

Or make fun of. Either way...

*Actually, the sequence of events is probably more like 1)add his name to the list for "Iraq constituent letter", 2) paperclip together and place in the bottom drawer of the filing cabinet - the one labelled "Constituent letters" in the now burgeoning Iraq section.

It's too well written to just throw out - they might want to lift a quote for political purposes, should they need some grist for campaigning, or grandstanding, or something.

[sigh...] work calls.

TenaciousK said...

Oh, and RunDeep, I'm pretty sure you're mistaken about Opus

twiffer said...

uh, rundeep, opus is a penguin. if he were a puffin, he'd be able to fly (for starters).

for shame.

dear anon: what would you consider a valid reason for writing to one's senator and representives? personally, i cannot think of a better one than disatisfaction with the state of the nation. moreover, elected officals are not business people. they are public servants. it's part of the job to correspond with those they serve. even if someone writes just to say hi. discouraging people from attempting such correspondance is bad for the republic and smacks a bit of dishonesty.

switters said...

Hey, y'all! Looks like Slate's broketed again. Whoa!

I've never voted, never written my representative or senator, never went to a town hall meeting. Never. Nothing.

Does that make me a bad American? Sure. Does that make me a bad citizen? You bet. Do I care? No way!

Great letter, Keif. Name the place and time and we'll do the mildly drunk in public thing at your (wife's) earliest convenience.

Hi, anonymous. I don't know if you remember me, but if you could, could you somehow get this posted over at the in someone's diary? Awesome! And thanks! ("internets"? Quit stealing from us, punk.)

:o)(<-----extremely rare smiley face in one of my posts. You're welcome.)

TenaciousK said...

Well, one person's puffin is another's "svelte buoyant waterfowl"*, or even "red-nosed magellanic flatfanny".

Hell, I'm not even sure I know what I am most days.

*couldn't find an image of the strip, only a dialogue:

Panel 1- Caller: Hello, I'm calling from the Bureau of Nosy Statistics. Would you answer some questions?

Opus: Certainly, madam.

Panel 2- Caller: What is your weight? Height? Pants size? And sexual preference?

Opus: 36 pounds. 2'-11". I don't wear any pants. Svelte, buoyant waterfowl.

Panel 3- Caller: Thank you.

Opus: My pleasure.

Panel 4- Opus (thinking to himself): They're either going to arrest me or fire her.

Hi Switters!

Anonymous said...

The point is not that one should refrain from writing to legislators but that one should give oneself a prayer in hell of getting one's demand/request/suggestion/question read.

If you folks think that self-indulgent (yes!) rambling constitutes a good letter to a legislator, much less a letter that his/her staff might find useful, you're deluding yourselves.

But if it's not a serious enterprise, if you don't really care whether your take on an issue gets read, then by all means, disregard the advice; don't bother to become a savvy, grown-up constituent. Make those staffers skim and skim in search of your point.

I understood Dubya himself to have coined the term "internets."

Keifus said...

What is it with you, anon? I mean, this thread is already a good two days past it's expiration date, and here you are keeping it alive, just by being an obnoxious pedant about everything.

So, uh, thanks, sort of.

(skim and skim? I mean, there was a bulleted list for god's sake)

switters: I really appreciate that--really!--but man, I've staked a lot of my reputation (uh...) on being emoticon free.

Actually, that's not entirely true. What I like to do is disperse them secretly in the body of my writing so that they look like normal punctuation to all but the paranoid. Anybody find theirs?

Slate's broke? Damn, and I was feeling potentially lucid today, too.


Anonymous said...

A Google Web search turns up abundant references to "Opus the Penguin" from authoritative sources.

And about two minutes into a Google Image search, I found a Berkeley Breathed strip wherein Opus asks another character, "Are you a penguin too?"

TenaciousK said...

That's pretty good, anon.

Of course you could've just clicked on one of my links, like the Wikipedia entry on which the comic of which you speak is plastered right up top, but God knows I wouldn't want to spoil your fun.

If you want to make yourself useful, see if you can find the comic where Opus refers to himself as a "svelte buoyant waterfowl". I couldn't find that one anywhere, and I'd like it.

It came out in 1983, if that helps...

Anonymous said...

He doesn't call himself a svelte, buoyant waterfowl. That's his answer to what his sexual preference is, as he answers each question in turn:

Panel 2- Caller: What is your weight? Height? Pants size? And sexual preference?

Opus: 36 pounds. 2'-11". I don't wear any pants. Svelte, buoyant waterfowl.

TenaciousK said...

Yeah - I lifted the misinterp. from the wikipedia page and ran with it (#@&%# Wikipedia!).

But really, I don't need your help anymore - I found one that's almost as good (and one that casts an amusing modicum of uncertainty). I came to crow about it when I read Topazz's note about Iso's son.

Prodding the anonymous poster doesn't seem all that entertaining anymore.

rundeep said...

Oh, come on, on days when really serious crap is happening, prodding a tedious pedant like anon (who sounds eerily like my ex-fiance) is all we can do to keep the world turning.

My bad. I remember that there was a debate in many circles re: Opus' origin, and my recollection was that someone in the strip at some point identified him as a puffin (which he definitely resembles more closely than a penguin. And the characterization did change over the first few years to his current look).

Falling back on the "it's a Bush joke" is the kos rhetorical equivalent of "Oh yeah?" so I guess I shouldn't be surprised.


TenaciousK said...

Yeah, well, it doesn't seem like so much fun anymore. On the plus side, I did find some great cartoons to link to when I'm inclined, including one of my all-time favorites; even it doesn't seem as funny as poignant today.

The Wikipedia paragraph that threw me off:
Opus' appearance has changed dramatically since his inception - he originally looked like a common penguin, but between 1982 and 1986 his nose grew dramatically (developing its signature bump in the middle, of which Opus is very self-conscious). Mike Binkley, during one Sunday strip, points out the fact that Opus more closely resembles a puffin. (In the final panel of the same strip, Opus responds by telling Binkley that he looks like a carrot.) In Opus' own opinion, he is a "svelte buoyant waterfowl".

But it's just not so fun today. And now Schad says he's taking all his toys and going home. What a bummer.

Thanks, though, RunDeep.