Monday, July 28, 2014

Preview Chapter: "Foresight", Chapter 9

A while back I wrote a short novelette.  It took me a very long time to write it, but I have written almost as much on this squeal in the last year as I wrote entirely for "Hole in a Field".  To show that I have been doing something with the little mystery I created I present you with a sample chapter for what will become "Foresight" (Ironic).

Chapter 9: Things not of this World
            I felt them moving across my skin the ends of each step the lightest of pinches.  Too many to count.  The room was lit by moonlight and they glistened.
            The room rolled and shimmered.  It crawled.  The collective foot falls of thousands of them made a constant *hisssss....*.  My skin would shiver if it were not paralyzed with tension to keep from upsetting those hundreds already journeying across my body.
            Then he emerged from the door.  He was cloaked so that no flesh showed, nothing showed only the voice was detectable, "You look unwell my friend."  It wasn't said in a known language, it was spoken in the words of primeval, the base code of the universe, understood by anyone, like you would understand yourself, or the things you wish to do.
            "I am covered in insects," I said.  "I was woken up, by being covered in insects."
            "I do remember such feelings well enough," the Cloak said.  "I apologize.  These things... a product of my disruptions.  I did not intend to cause you harm."
            "Can you get them off me?"
            "Not without some complications," the Cloak replied.  "Something from where I am from."
            "Okay," I said watching the door.
            The was black and had no handle and was in an arch, as if someone was going to partition my room into two smaller rooms and decided to start with the door and frame.  The Cloak pushed it a crack letting light and noise through the crack.  The light was harsh and yellow and blinding to my sleep widened pupils.  The sounds like a thousand clicking tongues and fingers strumming to hear the rattling click of keys on a keyboard.  Sound without meaning.  Just discordant noise.
            Then another shadow entered the room and started slurpily-crunching its way around the floor.  blinded by the harsh yellow I saw it more as a mishmash of parts then a complete whole, a broad back like a big flat turtle, but the limbs were shiny like a carapace, and the head looked like a worm or snake with a face that opened like a orchid with a half dozen little tongues clicking out to pull in the bugs around my floor.  Then the thing moved to my bed, I closed my eyes and felt its front limbs holding it up on the bed, and little by little the tiny pinches disappeared replaced with a hot dry breath and the occasionally wispy lick of a tongue tube on one last patrol for centipede.  Then the beast dropped off and shuffled into the yellow and clicking.
            "Better now?"
            "Why does it do that?" I asked sitting up and taking a more firm grasp of the Cloak standing gormlessly in my room.
            "Each time I move in an out the natural world gets a sort of burst and tends to construct that energy making copies of the vermin that happen to be around."
            "A clone army of centipedes," I closed my eyes, and let my mouth and tongue wag as I shook my head and rubbed and scratched at every inch of myself.  "The most unsettling thing a person can wake up to."
            "Again, I--"
            "Apologize, yes, I know.... Thank you," I said.  "This is really just part of my life.  How can I be of service?"
            "Something is happening," said the Cloak.
            "Okay," I replied.  "What?"
            "I know you cannot hear or feel it my friend, you are not as sensitive as many who work for you.  But I can hear it in the Room that Hangs in Darkness, I can hear it at the Everywhere Motel.  There is a sound more and more of your people will start to hear."
            "What does it mean?"
            "Unknown," the Cloak replied.  "I hear it like distant screams, so loud as to be garbled, so distant as to be faded.  And the universe has a lot of background noise to bother me with."
            "So you hear a noise from over a hill, but the water fall you are standing next to keeps you from hearing the message clearly."
            "That analogy would be apt, yes."
            "Well, what you are hearing, does it sound like a roaring cheer?"
            "Cry for help?"
            "Is it the sound of someone crying in pain?"
            "At first I thought so," said the Cloak.  "But it has changed.  Now it sounds more like... a growl.  It sounds like hunger."
            I looked at him in the darkness, my composure came back to me then.  I got up and began to get dressed, making sure to keep the light low and aimed away from my guest.  Fumbling with my silver key necklace being tangled for a second with the tie.  "Has anyone in the organization already been bitten?"
            "The Growling... Have any of the people I am in charge of fallen victim to this thing."
            "Some have, yes," the Cloak said.  "They have walked into the mouth that is growling and are already being chewed."
            "Anyone else?"
            "No one directly working for you," said the Cloak.
            "Odd way to word that," I replied.  "Are any of my people proximate to this right now?  Anyone who can be warned?"
            "Perhaps," said the Cloak, "Though it is being managed for now at the expense of those they are working with."


Friday, July 25, 2014

Fixing the Florida Legislature, pt6

This continues from Part 5.
Or to start from the beginning, here is Part 1.

            In the last entry we used this map.
Still just links to the nursing site.
            And we yielded this chart.
Region                       Seats
-> North West:            11
-> North Central:        15
-> North East:             15
-> East Central:           36
-> West Central:          45
-> South East:             20
-> South West:            12
-> South:                     46­­__
Total                            200

            This was to determine how seats in a hypothetical 200 seat parliament would breakdown in the State of Florida.  But how would those seats break down by party?  Well, there is no easy way to answer that.
            While it is true that Republicans and Democrats are by far the most dominating parties in Florida, with no third party candidate holding any state office, those are not the only parties, they are just the only ones who can win.  As I covered in part 1, the state is carved up to insure each district is distinctly in the favor of one party or the other, and on the macro scale very much titled in favor of Republicans, but part of the glory of parliament politics is that you can have more than two viable parties.
            Currently there are 13 minor parties in the state of Florida, and as I pointed out before in Part 3 more than 20% of people have no party affiliation.  You have America's Party, Constitution Party, Ecology Party, Socialist Workers, Green Party, Independence Party, Independent Party, Justice Party, Libertarian, Socialism and Liberation (the Socialism and Liberation site which is linked is not the same as the dead link on the Division of Elections site list), Peace & Freedom, Reform, and the Tea Party (which considering that their name is supposed to be an acronym, should be listed as TEA or Taxed Enough Already Party, though that linked website seems to be run by a crazy person and I am unsure of his validity, even though it is the listed link for the Florida Division of Elections).

There are more than 3,000,000 voters in Florida that are neither Republicans nor Democrats, and yet there are no 3rd party representatives in either the House or Senate.  Hell, there are more registered Democrats but far less Democratic representatives... That is CORRUPT.
            That also ignores how people just do not bother to vote in state elections.  72% did vote in the 2012 election which was a high for Florida in a historical sense (64%), and compared to the national average of about 60%.  But that is not even 3/4 people who could vote.  It also ignores felons and illegal immigrants which are barred from voting.

            Now there really is no way of knowing how many people refuse or neglect to vote because they see it as pointless or dislike that only the major parties win.  At least you can't tell this without research (that I am willing to do if someone pays me).  But you have to assume that a system in which someone from the Green Party or the Socialists Could win, then they very well Will win (at least occasionally).
            These lesser parties will still not win in great numbers because they lack the national support network of the big two, but they will often enough to grab a few seats, and in some cases they could devastate a big party's chance of taking real control of the state.  The TEA Party could split the Republican party in Florida (though that in turn might make the Republican's a moderate enough choice to draw in more Independents, again there is no clear way to tell).  What could also happen is that several of the third parties could mold into only a handful of larger third parties which would again undercut the big two.
            Now I also mentioned that this in some ways might hurt Florida, the reason is this: on the national stage Florida would be alone, other states would not understand the system, and as a result might have less trust in electing Florida's political representatives to President, or helping them get leverage in the Federal Congress.  Florida currently cultivates certain candidates, you start them off in the House of Representatives, if they show an aptitude you might run them for the Senate position.  Those offices might then be the guys who get drafted to run for the Congress in Washington.  At least that is the hypothetical way of doing things.  If Florida has a fundamentally different system than other places it might hurt the state's credibility as a proving ground for national candidates to the big two parties.
            To put this in perspective, the only other state that would have anything resembling this new Florida Parliament would be Nebraska, which has a unicameral and non-partisan state legislature, it is also the smallest with only 49 members (but there are also less than 2,000,000 people in the state so smallness is less an issue).  Nebraska has not had a serious Presidential contender since Williams Jennings Bryan, who was a third party candidate that supported a more democratic system (more so even than what I am suggesting for Florida).  He was trounced while running for office by bank lobbies because of his ideas on the Gold Standard (a thing we no longer use, but his system might have been worse... So, who knows if that was fair).  Point is, not a lot of executives are elected from states that have unique systems.
            In my mind this is a very thin criticism, I only mention this because I think that it will be a refrain argument from those currently in power as to why they should be allowed to stay in power (the same reason things like the NCAA still exists, people don't want a better system because the old system has a reputation they are holding up as to why they should keep their reputation, rather circular logic).  I actually think the parliament has broader appeal to small parties (which are fringe) and moderates than the current system, because it would allow them to elect candidates that are less likely to pay lip service or simply vote their conscience.  And really if you think that potentially losing a presidency is a reason to derail effective state government, then you are almost certainly someone who thinks they will be running for President one day with Florida as your home state.
            Right now I do not really understand how certain groups vote certain ways because many candidates either do not follow thru with their promises, or are so unwavering that it actually handicaps progress toward those goals (a mentality of, "better nothing than a compromise," a deeply stupid position to take).
            If I were to add one more thing to the system it is this, compulsory voting.  The best way to make sure the system is representing people, is to make those people participate in the system.  It will be difficult, we need to extend early voting, we need to make election days holidays, and we need to make sure that precincts are logically drawn out (good god if anything in the American system's traditions that is more obviously corrupt than the suppression of voter turn out by restricting these things I couldn't find it).
            Ideally the end of the road is a near 100% turn out, with numerous parties that can serve to counter the big two, a system that cannot be unfairly allocated thru creative map manipulation.  How could this not a dream come true for those who want a better democratic government in Florida?

Just for Reference, this is the current Senate map by party.  Those blue districts in the middle of the state are so twisted that they look like little monsters.
            If you have a criticism of what I have written, please comment.  If you like what I wrote, please share this on your various social networks and +1 it on Google+.  I would like more people to be aware of the failings of not only Florida, but State Governments all over the US, and this is as best attempt I can muster to illustrate the problems while still having enough humor that people can stomach reading the whole thing.  Thank you.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Fixing the Florida Legislature, pt5

            Continued from Part 4.  This entry is the most direct sequel to its previous part, so please try to remember Part 4 for context, otherwise this will just be a lot of meaningless math... Still kind of is meaningless math.

            After looking at some basic information, like how many seats should exist on this hypothetical parliament, and how many people are in Florida (roughly) I needed to pick a map.
This is the map I went with.
            I came to the conclusion that this is the map that should be used for parliament administration in Florida, mostly because it already exists which means I did not have to draw a map myself.  Instead piggy backing on the hard work of others who put a great deal of thought into their decisions in order to provide proper medical care.  I am going to use it to continue lecturing on politics.

Step 4: How many people are in each Zone?
            As you can see there are 8 zones each having a different number of counties, each with its own range of population, if you want to look at each counties population HERE YOU GO.
Rounded to the nearest thousand.  (Keep in mind, I am not a census taker, these are all from wikipedia because... I am not being paid to do this.)
-> North West has 12 counties with a total populations of 1,007,000.
-> North Central has 18 counties (which seems excessive but they are rather tiny) with a total population of 1,383,000.
-> North East has 6 counties with a total population of 1,434,000.
-> East Central 8 counties with a total population of 3,405,000 (Orange county alone has more people than the entire North West zone).
-> West Central 10 counties with a total population of 4,304,000 (Hillsborough county has more people than the entire North West zone).
-> South East 5 counties (seems trim but Palm Beach has as much area as the five smallest counties in North Central combined) counties with a total population of 1,941,000.
-> South West 5 counties with a total population of 1,172,000.
-> South 3 counties with a total population of 4,409,000 (Miami Dade and Broward are both very populated, crushing numbers of people by the standards of Florida.)

            Overall this yields about 19,055,000 people (again my original number was 19,060,000and I admitted it was a bit rough, as are these, we'll stick with the 19,055,000 for the last little part below, for a slight increase in accuracy).

Step 5: How many seats does each Zone get?
            This is easy, you take the population of the Zone, you divide it by the population of the state, and you multiply it by 200 (the hypothetical number of seats).  To be completely clear there is some rounding involved in this system, some of these ended up with .3 or .54, in which case I just rounded off to the nearest whole number, this is about getting as good a system as reasonably possible, not quibbling over margins looking for an unattainable perfect system.

Region                       Seats
-> North West:            11
-> North Central:        15
-> North East:             15
-> East Central:           36
-> West Central:          45
-> South East:             20
-> South West:            12
-> South:                     46­­__
Total                            200

            How will these seats breakdown in an election?  And what is one issue that might cause trouble if this system were adopted?  I will continue with Part 6.

            If you have a criticism of what I have written, please comment.  If you like what I wrote, please share this on your various social networks and +1 it on Google+.  I would like more people to be aware of the failings of not only Florida, but State Governments all over the US, and this is as best attempt I can muster to illustrate the problems while still having enough humor that people can stomach reading the whole thing.  Thank you.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Fixing the Florida Legislature, pt4

Continued from Part 3

            I have tried to establish 3 things to this point, one per blog.  1) the current Florida government is laid out in a fashion that is undemocratic and corrupt.  2) a new system that is more democratic is possible once you move away from emulating the US federal system.  3) a parliament like those found in many other countries is a good model to emulate.
            To illustrate how a parliament would be put into effect in Florida all that is really needed is to 1) figure out how many seats you want to work with, 2) determine the population of Florida, 3) divide the map of Florida into zones, 4) determine how what percentage of people are in each zone, 5) use that percentage to determine how many seats a zone will get, 6) have the parties create a list of candidates, and then 7) have an election.  Clearly the last two steps are not going to happen, that would demand participation from the parties and the state government, and as we have established, those are corrupt and not going to change for the benefit of the people.  But this is an intellectual exercise that I can point to when anyone asks, "Well, if you know better what would you have us do to fix things?"

I'd say, "Let's at the very least get rid of all the black magic," as a possible fix, but since black magic isn't real I almost prefer corrupt individuals to keep wasting their time on it, instead of figuring out how to work the system even more.
Step 1: How many seats do we want?
            This is actually one of those great questions when creating any representative body, currently the United States' Congress has 435 seats, but had less than 70 when originally created, and only had 13 under the Articles of Confederation.  The number only became fixed at 435 when they all had the collective realization that they would run out of chairs in the Capital building if they kept trying for some sort of perfect representation model.
            The more members you have the more accurate your proportion system can be, if you have 100 members then you can dived things along percentage points rather elegantly, one percent of the vote means 1 chair.  If by contrast your zone ends up with 17, then how do you distribute 5% fairly?  5% of 17 means somebody will only get .85 of a seat.
            Florida has a population of 19,560,000 people (roughly), so you are going to need a good number of people to give a flexible number of seats to work with.  There are currently 40 Senators and 120 House members, so 160 might be a good number to go with, but (to look back at Part 3) Austria has a population almost half our size but has 62 Federal and 183 National seats for a total of 245.  In my mind, I think the difference should be split, and we should look at 200 seats, that means a candidate would need at least .5% of the voters to get a single seat, that seems like a low barrier to entry, but at the same time that is still nearly 98,000 votes per seat.

Step 2: What is the population of Florida?
            I already mentioned that, 19,560,000 (roughly).  The Federal Government takes a census every 10 years and Florida already uses it as a guide to redraw lines, instead it will now just be used to allocate seats.  Done.

Step 3: How do we divide Florida into zones?
            This might shock a few people, but Florida is already sectioned off into zones by numerous governing entities, crusading organizations, and crazy people like me.  None of them use the same zones ultimately, but comparing them gives us all a good range of possibilities to work with.
Here is one with only 3 zones used by the Florida Prison facilities.
            I hate this one for multiple reasons, primarily that 3 zones is too few for the prison system let alone a voting system.  Look at the vast size of zone 3, imagine some poor fool whose family lives on the East coast, but he is imprisoned on the West... Think he gets a lot of visits from his family?  Think that helps with becoming a reformed citizen?  Well it will be pretty shitty at creating a coherent area to advertise and mobilize votes in too.  (Here is an unrelated video about why prisons in the United States and Florida in particular are bad).

Here is a map by... Somebody.  For... Some reason.
             I actually think that this has a lot of the same problems as the Prison map, this is not a good number of zones.  Especially the purple area, the East coast has a much higher population than the west and they have very different voting patterns (and different television markets, Sarasota, the second county from the top of the purple on the West Coast for instance, watches Rays' baseball games, the East coast watches the Marlins.  As silly as that may sound, parties would have a hard time finding a good time to buy commercials for the election targeting sports fans if this market split existed).

Here is how the Future Business leaders of America see Florida.
            This is actually pretty good and 5 would probably be the minimum number of zones the breakdown would need to insure that no region of Florida is being overlooked with representation.  But the Red Region would still have counties on both the East and West sides of Florida.  And the panhandle is distinctly larger than the others with one key issue: it is in two time zones.

This map is used for Nursing Administration in the state.
            Since it is already used in some governing capacity it would be the easiest to integrate into existing documents.  It breaks thing up into regions that are distinct from each other, and somewhat internally harmonious.  There might be some wiggle room around the edges, I bet Citrus county is more tied into Pinellas County than to Taylor, but this looks pretty good.  And I believe the split in the Panhandle does run along the timeline break (if not that might be an issue to be targeted for fixing).

This is the last map I found from the Libertarian Party of Florida.
            This is probably the most regions that could be reasonably carved out of Florida before things start to get too targeted.  It works well enough, but having there be 11 zones (an odd number for dividing things) seems a little silly, and the way they chose to number them is also off (we would obviously change that for simplicity of reading, but this one's presentation is pretty rough and contributes to me not liking it).  I can also see that their Region 3, while internally consistent will be under populated compared to 1, 2, 7, 9, and 10.  I would say this is a little too much division, but I included it to illustrate some different ways things could be done.
             Overall I think that the Nursing map is the best bet, it has 8 zones, none of which reach across the width of the state, none of which have strange overlapping media markets (that I am aware of).  I will continue along the steps using this map in Part 5.

The "winner", I'll be using from now on.

             (If you have a criticism of what I have written, please comment.  If you like what I wrote, please share this on your various social networks and +1 it on Google+.  I would like more people to be aware of the failings of not only Florida, but State Governments all over the US, and this is as best attempt I can muster to illustrate the problems while still having enough humor that people can stomach reading the whole thing.  Thank you.)

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Fixing the Florida Legislature, pt3

Continued from Part 2.

            Parliaments work very much like Congress but with key differences in how votes are tallied, how seats are allocated, and overall produce a much closer voter representation than congress can.  Here is how they work.
            First you take the area you are working in, in this case Florida, and you divide things along existing lines into about a dozen large zones.  Each of those zones has their population measured, and they receive a percentage of the seats in parliament equal to their percentage of the population, so if there are 100 seats and an area has 8% of the population they will get 8 seats.
            The big difference comes next, instead of voting for a candidate, people vote for a party.  Each political party has a list of candidates for seats (again in this case it would be 100, or just 8 in this particular zone), people vote for the party, and the party gets a percentage of the seats based on what percentage of the votes they get, so if in the zone that has 8 seats the Democrats get 25% of the vote they get 2 seats and the Republicans get 75% of the votes they get 6.  You can even have third parties, Florida has a huge number of Independent voters, and if they all decide to go for the Libertarians then the Libertarian party would have 30%, 40%, or whatever percent of the vote that they get.

There are more than 3,000,000 voters in Florida that are neither Republicans nor Democrats, and yet there are no 3rd party representatives in either the House or Senate.  Hell, there are more registered Democrats but far less Democratic representatives... That is CORRUPT.
            This means that people's votes will count more directly on how representation is handled in the state.  If 40% of voters in an area are Democrats, their votes will still count even if 60% of the vote goes to Republicans.  There won't be any areas in which a candidate gets a landslide victory, because landslides are now a less meaningful concept.
            To help illustrate this Florida should look at some other countries to see how they function, there are many that could serve as good examples, but when doing so it is important to keep three things in mind.  1) the countries should be close in size and population so that regional representation is not really an issue (Brazil and Argentina are so large that having a legislature that focuses on regions of their countries is more advantageous to them, Florida is relatively tiny).  2) the comparable country should be democratic (thankfully there is an index for looking at such things).  3) we should be willing to break with the system to better fit the needs of Florida (these are federal governments with federal responsibilities and Florida might not need some aspects of their government).
            To that end take a look at Austria (New Zealand, Sweden, South Korea, and Uruguay might also work if additional looks are desired).

These are the voting regions of Austria.
            Austria is slightly larger than Florida with 84,000 square miles of territory, compared to Florida's 66,000.  But a smaller population of 8,500,000 compared to Florida's ballooning 19,600,000.  Austria is a member of the European Union, a massive political trade partnership that fills its home continent and defines much of the economic activity of the country.  Florida is a member of the United States a massive military and economic power which defines and mostly fills the continent it is on.  It is difficult to find a one-to-one comparison but this in my mind is pretty close.
            Austria's government is a parliament, the National Council being the largest and most powerful of the legislative bodies.  The country is carved into 9 zones (on the map) and each zone's population is measured, those zones then receive a number of seats in the parliament based on what percentage of the population they make up.  They have multiple political parties, with each having a small number of the National Council's 183 seats: Social Democratic 52, People's Party 47, Freedom Party 40, The Greens 24 , Team Stonach 11, and New Austria 9.  Notice how even smaller parties have a percentage of the seats, while in Florida no 3rd party has a seat in spite of a measurable percentage of Florida voters being in support of some 3rd party ideas.
            Austria also has a bicameral legislature.  The Federal Council is like our Senate, the smaller of the two houses.  But unlike our senate it is weaker politically and serves mostly as a redundant check on the National council, their version of the Congress.  Both sides use the proportional method of allocating votes, but even with only 62 seats to go around there are still 14 seats in the hands of smaller parties (I think that helps illustrate that even in tighter races smaller perspectives still get heard in a parliamentary system.  Since Austria is a federal government that has to deal with military decisions and treaties, having this split provides a second look at many of the country's national actions.  It serves a function, but I would not recommend this kind of split for Florida which has a narrow band of responsibilities.
            How would Florida be split up?  I will cover that in part 4.

             (If you have a criticism of what I have written, please comment.  If you like what I wrote, please share this on your various social networks and +1 it on Google+.  I would like more people to be aware of the failings of not only Florida, but State Governments all over the US, and this is as best attempt I can muster to illustrate the problems while still having enough humor that people can stomach reading the whole thing.  Thank you.)

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Fixing the Florida Legislature, pt2

Continued from Part 1.

            The problem with the Florida Legislature is not so much that it exists, ideally you want a representative democratic body when managing people.  State level politics deal with a lot of the nuts and bolts boring as hell politics that is incredibly easy to corrupt and milk for money, and the ability to vote out those politicians that have been shown to let that happen is good.  Having term limits is also good, it keeps people from building up an unstoppable amount of clout to make and direct legislation.  BUT, the system is structured poorly.
            The Florida Government is a mini version of the national government, a bicameral legislature split between a small and powerful senate and a much larger and weaker house.  Strangely the Florida Senate does have one advantage over the Federal Senate, our senators each represent an equal number of people.  There is no situation in which Wyoming (population 600,000) can block legislation from California (population 38,340,000).  But, the Bicameral legislation on the Federal level exists for a specific reason, to keep the interest of states with small populations from being overlooked on a national level by making them disproportionately loud.  That doesn't happen in Florida because a senator doesn't represent an area in the same way, and they are all representing an equal number.  This split isn't meaningful, it along with the house are just two maps aiming to do the same thing, split people up by population using arbitrary criteria.
            Since Florida is much smaller than the United States as a whole, and considering that they do not manage a military or make treaties to other countries, the idea that a less populated region with distinct interests would be overlooked becomes less of an issue.  Wyoming might need to be heard on matters concerning a treaty that disproportionately affects its citizens, but if it did not have that voice in the senate they could be ignored, that cant happen with Orange County and Seminole County.

Florida is quite small in the scheme of things.  The State's internal geographic interests are very small on this scale.
            While people in the Panhandle are not really all that tied into what happens in the Keys, they are more in touch with one another than people in Wyoming and California.  Florida is a tight enough system that not too much subdivision is needed to ensure representation by area is as important as representation by party/ideology.  In other words, Florida state government should be more concerned about what voters think in general, more so than where they are in particular.

            To that end, we should get rid of the current Florida system (and its mini-federal identity) and instead create something more unique in the United States: a parliament.  What is a parliament and why is it better?  I will tell you in part 3.

If you would like a quick source on Parliaments and Representative Democracy in general I recommend CGP Grey on Youtube.

             (If you have a criticism of what I have written, please comment.  If you like what I wrote, please share this on your various social networks and +1 it on Google+.  I would like more people to be aware of the failings of not only Florida, but State Governments all over the US, and this is as best attempt I can muster to illustrate the problems while still having enough humor that people can stomach reading the whole thing.  Thank you.)

Friday, July 18, 2014

Fixing the Florida Legislature, pt1

           Currently Florida is in a political legal bind because of the redrawing of voting districts.  If you are wondering why that is the case, it is because Florida has been cut into lumpy and inconsistent shapes that when looked at thru the lens of "who is likely to vote for each party" overwhelmingly the districts swing toward Republicans.
            Florida, both in 2008 and 2012 voted for President Obama, it was a narrow margin of victory, but never the less a majority of the voters did vote Democratic rather than Republican.  Logically one would imagine a slight majority of the seats in the Florida Senate and House of Representatives would be for the Democratic side.  This is not the case.
            Florida's state government is overwhelmingly Republican in representation,  75 to 45 in the House (62.5%) and 26 to 14 (65%) in the Senate.  But that representation does not reflect how people have been shown to vote in larger elections.  Which means shenanigans are at play.
            If you do not know, representation is in part based on population.  You divide the state up in to roughly equal cuts of people, 120 in the House and 40 in the Senate.  Most of the map features used to divide these groups are arbitrary: random streets, county boarders, city lines are sometimes used to guide things, but there is no law that says a county or city must be whole inside of a particular voting area, or that a voting area must be in as few a counties as possible.  So a long string could be laid the length of the state and people along that string could vote together, or a tight square could be drawn, and the people in there could vote together.

For instance, here is the Senate map.
            Now it starts off somewhat fine, you can see how geography would get in the way of drawing perfect rectangles for 1, 2, 3... But then you look at 4 which is not a block, but horseshoe shape, wrapped completely around 9.  That seems... QUESTIONABLE.
            Representing district 4 (the horseshoe) is Senator Aaron Bean (R), who won the 2012 election with 62% of the vote.  In district 9 (not the movie) you have Senator Audrey Gibson (D) who won with 64% of the vote.  It's almost like this area was divided in such a way that the Democrat and Republican would each have a district that was solidly theirs, even though the districts have to be... CREATIVELY drawn.
            Look again at districts that seem to have INTERESTING geography.  District 19 in the St. Petersburg/Tampa area, currently held by Senator Arthenia L. Joyner (D) who won with... 100% of the vote... The Hell?  Or, District 14, which snakes through 3 different counties.  It is represented by Senator Darren Soto (D) who won his election with 70% of the vote.
            Do these outcomes really seem like the fair and reasonable selection of a Senator by an informed public with a balance of ideals?  NO, OBVIOUSLY.  Why even ask?  These candidates won in landslides and their districts are drawn to insure that.  And a court just ruled that the new map will be worse.

            What might fix something like this?  I will tell you in part 2.

             (If you have a criticism of what I have written, please comment.  If you like what I wrote, please share this on your various social networks and +1 it on Google+.  I would like more people to be aware of the failings of not only Florida, but State Governments all over the US, and this is as best attempt I can muster to illustrate the problems while still having enough humor that people can stomach reading the whole thing.  Thank you.)

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Some Netflix Reviews (pt2)

Three movies I watched on Netflix this weekend while playing video games.
I ranked them least to most spoiler ridden.

            I am unsure, but I might have seen this, or just numerous clips of this before, and considering it was made before Disney bought the Lucas empire, both of those things probably lessened the impact of this content dramatically.  That being said this movie does have a very deep exploration of the nature of fandom in popular culture and the sheer size and cult like fervor that caused backlash against George Lucas in the last 15 years.
            I recommend this movie if you enjoy discussions of popular media as much as you enjoy popular media, especially if you like to pick apart different things (like me).  On the other hand, if you have heard enough about the prequels and the turmoil involved then you should give this a pass, because while its content does use "Star Wars" as lexicon for talking about broader ideas like marketing and the auteur theory... Mostly it is about "Star Wars".

I somewhat love this poster.  It very much captures the tone of the movie.
Odd Thomas (2014)
            The trailer to this is god awful.
            I kind of loved "Odd Thomas".  It is the sort of thing I would write (though, you know, markedly better) with a super sarcastic and self aware tone, coupled with a supernatural mystery that is tight and works. It is like "John Dies at the End" but with a better budget. I am so sad that do to legal troubles the movie will not be a franchise, but it makes me want to read the novels (which I found wonderful, thru the whole movie I kept saying to myself "this dialogue sounds like it was lifted from a novel", and I was right).
            The stakes of the conflict consistently raise, the effects are cool, and even in the context of a small town the locations of conflict vary considerably: Pool Party, junk yard, abandoned prison, mall, dinner, Church, etc.  It is cool.  Best comparisons I can make would be to "Jack Reacher" and "Constantine".

Shit poster. I do like that Anton Yelchin is becoming a big wheel in genre movies (Star Trek, Fright Night).

Oldboy (American version; 2013)
            This god damn thing has me confused.  I appreciate it on a technical level, though I have no affection for director Spike Lee so I am unsure how much of the credit should go to him.  Especially since I have heard this movie is so similar to what it is remaking.  It is one of the hardest R movies I have seen in a while with graphic violence, hard language, issues of substance abuse, and a LOT of sexual abuse.  I feel people should watch it because it looks pretty, and has some interesting ideas.  That being said... I kind of hated the story and I can only really explain why by making this section of the review full of spoilers for the movie, and a lot of the movie is built on a twist, so if you don't want it spoiled feel free to go watch the movie.  If I had to compare it to something, "The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo" because of the subject matter, and a similar unfulfilling twist ending ("Girl" was considerably better in overall plot), but a good technical side.  I should also say that there is a lot of good acting on the part of Elizabeth Olsen and Josh Brolin.
            Spoilers: The movie starts with an alcoholic businessman failing to land a client because he is a douche, not going to his daughter's birthday because he had to try and land a client, and then getting kidnapped.  He finds himself in a cell made to look like a motel room, with only the TV and regular deliveries of Chinese food to keep him company.  There he learns of the murder of his wife and that he is the open and shut suspect in the investigation, DNA evidence having been taken from him and planted at the crime scene.  He then spends the next 20 years in his cell trying to better himself, watching martial arts shows, training, and writing letters to his daughter that he plans to deliver upon his escape.  Then he is let go.
            He is then told by a mysterious voice to solve the mystery of his imprisonment and in return he will receive wealth and the means to secure his freedom and innocence in the murder of his wife.  Along the way he gets help from an old friend who owns a bar, a young nurse, and people from his past.  Turns out the vastly rich and powerful man who is responsible for his imprisonment was the brother of a woman the protagonist had bullied in school.  The Protagonist had reviled a family secret that had so shamed the whole clan that it led the patriarch to try to kill everyone, and only failed to kill the son.  This is because the son, much like the daughter had been in a long running incestuous relationship with the father and blamed the murder spree on the shame of the protagonist's revelation.  Honestly as far as motivations go it makes evil-sense even if it is not the logic of healthy Earth minds.
            But then the movie goes crazy.  The villain, as part of his ultimate revenge, reveals the full scope of his manipulations, that the young love interest of the protagonist, a woman he has already slept with, is the protagonist's daughter.  The protagonist then begs to be murdered while the villain kills himself, after that the protagonist gives his wealth and a letter to the daughter not explaining things, and then has himself locked up in the motel cells again.
            Here is the thing, this plan is just too elaborate and doesn't really make sense.  The villain sees the incest his father was committing as a perfectly healthy expression of affection, and only blames the protagonist for the public shame he cast on the family, so ultimately the plan results in the protagonist feeling private shame and being free of the societal scrutiny... See how that is backwards?  If the bad guy doesn't see anything wrong with incest, how can getting someone to commit incest a revenge?  Really, the plan should be to reveal to the protagonist his ideas that incest is okay, have the protagonist agree, and then reveal this to the public so he has to live with the same public shame, like the villain's family did.
            What is more, this movie takes place (this version) in the American South, incest is not quite as stigmatized, especially accidental incest.  It is pretty clear this is not the raping or indoctrination of a child into a sexual relationship, but the result of a massive misunderstanding... So a lot of blame is off the characters, it could be that the protagonist would be able to come to terms with it, and while sparing the daughter the confliction of it, breaks off the relationship like he did in the movie but not punishing himself (he was imprisoned for 20 years, I think he paid his dues ahead of time).
            Then there is the deity like levels of manipulation that the villain is able to accomplish.  His plan could have failed 10,000 times, at one point the protagonist is fighting 2 dozen people all of which are armed with the intent of killing him, he makes it out (with a bowie knife in his back).  If the protagonist had died, or been rendered comatose by trauma, would the bad guy have just shrugged his shoulders and forgot the 20 year tantric revenge plot?  What if the daughter had just died in car accident when she was 12?  What if the father and daughter not been attracted to one another?  What if the protagonist had just bothered to Google anything having to do with himself to instantly dispel one of the key plot points of what was happening?  It breaks credulity, keeping me from enjoying the movie.  Also, I kind of saw it coming, so..."bleh".
            In conclusion:
            Technical stuff = Great
            Story = Bleh

Lame poster.  But better.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Roads of Bone, Chapter 9: Apprenticing

I am doing a little experiment.  I am going to write a series of chapters in a fantasy world of my creation and see if it goes anywhere.  Since I have not prewritten this story and have no outline, it will probably end up a convoluted mess.  I do not know how often I will be able to update this or if it will ever finish.  This is the link to CHAPTER 1.  (I have also found that I have to go back and clean up very broken sentences in previous chapters.  This is why I need an editor.  I understand what I am writing, but I need to make sure other people do too.)

Chapter 9: Apprenticing
            Pasgard sat at a table with three plates and a basket of pita in front of him.  One plate covered in tomato slices and cream cheese, the second a shrinking pile of toasted strips of sheep meat drizzled with white sauce, the third was empty and had been sponged clean by pita bread.  There was a gourd that had been hollowed out and filled with water, a cup of steaming tea, a pitcher of juice, and as Malachite approached the table he could see Pasgard signaling the waiter with his eyes to bring more of whatever had been on the empty plate.
            The restaurant itself was filled with people, shipwrights, milkmaids, pickers, planters, shearers, tanners, and a little girl hiding by the door looking over at Pasgard.  Though everyone seemed to notice Pasgard shoveling food into his mouth, at least they did until Malachite drew their eyes in his direction, and the whispering started to be about him a bit too.
            "Nice of you to order some food for me," said Malachite approaching the table, now the entire restaurant was glancing and murmuring about the two of them.  "How did you know I would find you here?"
            "I didn't, and I didn't," said Pasgard.
            "Oh," said Malachite sitting and gesturing for a pumpkin beer to the waiter who was bringing a plate of trout with the head still on (had Pasgard eaten the last one's head and bones too?)  "I managed to find us travel to the next town down the Color Line, we should find easier passage from there to Bone, then catch a free rafter from there."
            "Good," Pasgard was eating mouthfuls of meat, but stopped to reply and then took a moment to breath heavily.  "Excuse me, I am eating too fast and I need time to digest a bit.  I can feel it piled almost to the top of my throat."
            "Take your time," Malachite could see the man sweating.  "You want a beer?  It seems like the only thing you haven't ordered."
            "No," said Pasgard.  "Never got a flavor for it."
            "You mean 'never got a taste for it,'" said Malachite correcting Pasgard's words.
            "Taste for it, taste for it," repeated the wizard as he slowed his breathing and adjusted his sash with his thumbs.  "I never got a taste for it."
            "You'll forgive me," said Malachite.  "But that is akin to you telling me that you have been to the moon.  I have been drinking beer since I was twelve.  You could float a castle in the beer I have drank.  I love beer almost as much as I love women." saying this as he looked around the restaurant he got the eye of a woman who had been whispering while looking at he and Pasgard.  Malachite smiled and she looked plainly disinterested.
            "Or perhaps I like beer a bit more," Malachite continued.  "Wine then?"
            "I do not drink alcohol," said Pasgard
            "Saying that definitely would mark you as a foreigner on the Southern Fork," said Malachite.  "Everyone drinks there, most LLC's insist on a daily ration of alcohol be considered part of their pay.  Farmers and Brewers have professional rivalries and sponsor groups of lancers in jousts, hunting competitions, sword fights.  Like rich people controlling their own private armies trained under the guise of sport."
            "The Caliph sponsors that," said Pasgard.  "It is expensive, why would a drink maker do that?"
            "Mostly they just hold matches because they get to sell stuff on the day of the game: sandwiches, beer, slices of fruit, dips, and anything else.  Brewers are a part of life here, and that helps them to be.  Makes for a culture of drinking."
            "I understand, and had I been born in Orchard Town to a widow and my older brother had left to fight for Maunder, perhaps we would all drink but I was drafted and..." Pasgard gestured to Malachite to finish.
            "The state faith of the Caliphate prohibits alcohol," said Malachite.  "I am sorry, I was trying to relax you. and beer helps me do that."
            "I am sorry," said Pasgard. " I know I am clouded."
            "I think you mean 'gloomy' when you say 'clouded,'" said Malachite picking up a tomato slice and holding it till Pasgard nodded.  "Do you still follow the faith of the Oases?"
            "I have tried alcohol many times when I was in the lands beyond the desert, and it was like drinking... I don't even know, something bad.  Never got a taste for it," Pasgard started gulping juice until he drained half the pitcher and then again sat back a bit loosening his belly sash with his thumbs.  "That drink is very good, what is it?" asked the wizard noticing the bubbles in the juice and burping into his fist.
            "Sparkling fruit juice," said Malachite looking at the remaining food.  "You are going to eat all this?  This is a meal for a small family."
            "Yes, the restaurant is going to rename the dish to the "foreign wizard", though I would settle for just having the drink named after me."  Pasgard sighed.  "Malachite, am I just some crazy old man?"
            "I had assumed that you were," said Malachite.  "But that isn't all you are.  Though it is a little crazy to be going where we are going at your age."
            "Thank you for that honesty," said Pasgard dryly.  "I was disappointed with myself and wanted to fill my guts to feel a bit better."
            "Because, I never got a," Pasgard paused remembering. "Taste for alcohol.  So drinking myself to good feelings is not something I can do."
            "I meant, why did you feel disappointed?"
            "I was putting on a little show at that tea house and met a little child," said Pasgard.  "She asked me how the show was done."
            "Did you tell her?"
            Pasgard looked at Malachite incredulously.  "It takes years to teach it properly.  It is not something that can just be answered over a cup of tea."
            "You probably could have just said: Magic," Said Malachite.  "And that would have satisfied her, she is just a child after all."
            "It is not about giving the easy answer," said Pasgard.  "Very few people ask 'how'.  When you find someone who does, it is like finding a good gold mine.  There is a great wealth there, but you must spend money on tools, work, time to get to that wealth.  With a child you have to teach them.  Those who are curious are too few, and make the best wizards."
            "Did you tell the parents?" said Malachite.  "They could do something in the future to help him learn."
            "The child was a girl," said Pasgard.  "But she didn't have parents it seemed, and that is not the important thing, why I am eating is because when I was younger I would just make her an apprentice.  I have had a dozen, but now I am too old."
            "A little girl?" asked Malachite.
            "Like the one who has been spying on you?"
            "I noticed her when I came in," she is hiding over by the door," said Malachite gesturing with his eyes and smiling.  "She must be waiting for another show."
            "She should have one," said Pasgard.  "Though now that I have been followed by an unnoticed child I tried to vanish away from I feel older.  I used to be a man of shadows and fear."
            "You are the only man wearing a gold turban in the town," said Malachite.  "You are not going to be hard to find in a crowd.  Disappearing mysteriously is not going to be your strong suit in this part of the world."
            "That makes me feel a little better," said Pasgard.
            "You're welcome," said Malachite.  "Wait here a minute."
            "You keep telling me to wait," said Pasgard as Malachite got up and headed for the door.  "I don't know why you can only do things while out of my sight."
            Malachite walked to the hiding spot of the little spy.  "Excuse me young lady," he said to her as she hide behind an empty table.  He loomed over her, and her simple clothing contrasted greatly, he felt almost like a bully confronting her.
            "Hi," she said.
            "Why are you spying on my friend?" he asked, taking a knee so as to look her eye to eye.
            "I don't know," she said.  "Waiting for something amazing I guess."
            "Can I ask where your parents are?"
            "You may," she said.
            Malachite waited before realizing she was waiting for him to ask.  "Alright, where are your parents?"
            "You probably know as well as I do," she said.  "Not at all."
            He couldn't tell if she was teasing him or not.  "What is your name?"
            "That is adorable," said Malachite.
            "Thank you."
            "Is there anyone who takes care of you?"
            "I can see why he liked you," said Malachite looking at her quizzically.  She had said it so flatly that it had to be true, but at the same time it was so sad it was almost funny.  "Come with me."
            They walked back over to Pasgard, who had emptied the plate of toasted meat.
            "This is Pasgard," said Malachite to Apple.  "Pasgard, this is Apple.  She is coming with us."
            "Is that wise?" asked the wizard.
            "She's homeless and you said yourself you wanted her as a student," said Malachite.  "Seems like a good idea in my eyes."
            "She's homeless in one of the most well fed cities in this part of the world," said Pasgard.  "We are going to a dangerous part of the world."
            "That is a fair point," said Malachite.  She probably did manage to eat well in a city that had such a surplus of food, or she could be the only one not eating.  "Let me ask her.  Apple?"
            "Do you want to leave your life of being homeless but surrounded by food to go on a secret adventure with a mysterious wizard and a flashy knight, learning magic and sword fighting along the way."
            The girl seemed to tremor with excitement for a half second and smiled.  "That maybe sounds fun."

            Malachite looked right at Pasgard.  "Adorable.  She's coming with us."