Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Reinventing voting

Recently, as a fun little exercise to pass the time, I wondered how would I – if I magically had the power – change the way we vote here in the US.  Now you could say this was a pointless exercise, but thinking of alternative voting styles could lead to story ideas which, honestly, I have too many as it is but I can’t say no to more, but more importantly it can make me wonder how could we go from what we currently have to this “better” system?

First off, I would make some no-brainer changes.  I’d get rid of the Electoral College, I’d make some standardized methods for drawing districts to try to do away with gerrymandering, and I’d make Election Day a holiday.  I’d also introduce ranked choice voting.  I think a lot of our political problems stem from being stuck with a two party system, and ranked choice would let us explore other, better, options.  Another thing I’d do is make some standardized set of rules for polling places: if a population exceeds X, you either have to open another polling place, or have the one polling place open for so many days before the election.  The goal would be to have the time from showing up at the polling place, checking in, and voting to be measured in minutes, not hours.  Worst case scenario, maybe half-an-hour. 

Another change I’d make would be automatic registration.  Once you turn eighteen, you’re a voter.  Speaking of registration, for a few days after this post is posted, I’ll be having a Voter Registration Drive Book Sale, where I ask American adults to either register to vote or to check their registration, and as a reward, you could grab four of my ebooks for free.  Maybe hold on to them so you have something to read while you wait in line to vote come November.  This blog post has all the details.  And if you came across this after the sale, still, register to vote or check your registration.  There are a lot of problems in this country, and the easiest way to fix some of them is for We the People to have our voice heard, i.e. voting, which requires you to register.  And if you’re not an American citizen, I hope you engage with your country’s government however you can.

Now, all of these changes I think make sense, would improve our elections, and could possibly be done without some divine intervention.  Don’t get me wrong, it would still be a Sisyphean task, but it might be doable.  But the automatic registration does raise a complex problem: keeping track of voters.

Let’s say you’re building a country from scratch.  How do you keep track of the voters?  Well, you give every voter an ID number.  So you set up this bureaucracy that keeps track of where everyone lives and you give them a number that people use a couple of times a year, at most.  And you make it a crime for banks, or businesses, or anyone but election people to ask you for this number.  And then you set up this entirely separate bureaucracy that keeps track of where everyone lives for tax purposes.  Wouldn’t it be easier to just combine these bureaucracies and supply everyone with some sort of national ID that works for tax purposes, and other financial matters, and for voting whenever there’s an election?  But you don’t want the one number stopping someone from stealing your identity to just be about as long as a phone number.  But if your ID number is 400 digits with multiple internal checks, nobody will remember them.  Meaning you’ll have to give everyone cards with their photo and basic information, and then some QR code.  Which means banks and employers will need to scan your QR code, meaning there will be plenty of opportunity for your data to be hacked, meaning the need for even more security firewalls, which … wait, wasn’t I just talking about voting?

I started with such a simple idea, but even trying to build it from scratch would be a colossal nightmare.  And even without the 1001 special interest groups that would fight against, or try to twist it for their own purpose, trying to change our current system would be … a colossal nightmare of a colossal nightmare.  And I think a lot of people realize that, and give up.  But that just leaves us at the mercy of those who won’t give up.  So register to vote, get involved, and maybe together we can make some slight changes for the better.

Sunday, February 25, 2024

Voter registration drive and book sale

I know a lot of people are tired of being told that every election for the past decade WILL DETERMINE THE VERY SURVIVAL OF THE NATION!  But it’s true.  The fastest way for the anti-democratic forces to fully seize power is if We The People can’t be bothered to vote.  And the anti-democratic forces already have too much power as it is.  To keep our democracy, we need to vote, in this election and every election.

But in order to vote, you need to be registered.  If you’re an American citizen who will be eighteen by Election Day, November 5th of this year, and you are not registered, I ask you to register.  Your state’s website should have all the necessary details.  And if you are registered to vote, I ask you to check your registration, which you should also be able to do on your state’s website.  The reason to check your registration is that the list of voters needs constant updating as people register, move, and die.  And even without nefarious voter purges, it’s possible for mistakes to happen.  If a mistake is caught early, it can be fixed early, and things can go a lot smoother for everyone come Election Day. 

Democracy only works if the people participate and the first step of participation is to take a few minutes and register to vote.  To help sweeten the pot, starting Monday, February 26th, I’ll be having a book sale for four of my ebooks.  Register, or check your registration, then grab some free books.  Well, there’s no way for me to check if you register, so we’ll just go on the honor system.  And if you aren’t an American citizen, then I’ll just ask that you participate in your country’s political system however you can, because the anti-democratic forces are not limited to the US.


The following four ebooks will be free to download from Monday February 26th, through Friday March 1st.  I hope you enjoy, and I hope you’ll vote in the next election.

Everybody complains about politics, but does anyone do anything about it? My attempt to do something about it is to collect forty of my short stories with a political element into my Political Pies anthology. The stories are either politically neutral or equally condemning of the national parties. Instead of trying to sway you to one ideology or another, my goal is to just get people thinking about politics in the hopes a rose might grow out of all the political manure.

The Most Powerful Man in the World and other stories

The Most Powerful Man in the World and other stories is a collection of five, short, scifi stories to provide a sample of my writing.

A being from the distant future with almost unlimited powers comes back to help Ian Steele make the world a better place in “The Most Powerful Man in the World.” One bookstore customer has an entirely different reason for wanting books in “Black Market Books.” “Motherhood” tells the story of Thomas Gillespie, the surrogate mother for a baby AI. “Storyteller” is about an author thinking his book into existence. And “Deadworld” is about the alien world humans are reborn on – in alien bodies – after we die.

A Man of Few Words

A Man of Few Words is a collection of fifty of my flash fiction stories. What would really happen if a “T-Rex on steroids” attacked a city? Why do science fiction writers make the best lovers? How does a company get to Second Base with VIPs? I explore these questions and more using less than 1,000 words and in various genres from humor to horror and general fiction to science fiction.

An Ounce of Prevention

Like most people, Jason Fisher wanted to make the world a better place, but he doubted he would ever have the chance to make much of a mark. Then a “woman” came to him, asking his help to save humanity by threatening it.

Saturday, February 24, 2024

Initial thoughts on Avatar: The Last Airbender

Some light spoilers.

On a scale of 1 to 100, where the original series is 100, and the 2010 movie is a, I don’t know, 20 (I think I only saw it once and don’t really want to spend more time thinking about it), I would rank this new series as 90 and 80.  The reason I have the two rankings is, if I had never seen the original show, I’d probably say it was 90.  But being a fan of the original show, I’d give it an 80.

The original series, while tackling some heavy issues, was still a kid’s show.  In the first ten minutes of the new series, we see a guy burned to death.  So it’s very much an adult show.  (Also, I have to assume, the opening was just a flex on the 2010 movie to show what an earthbender can actually do.)  As an adult show, it’s mostly good.  The middle few episodes, kind of dragged for me, but I did enjoy the beginning and ending.  But I think the reason it doesn’t score higher for me, is because there were a few too many “Don’t think about the logic here,” moments.  Like, at one point, there’s an assassination attempt.  Two of our main cast, and two recurring characters, are … ten feet away, and yet they all just walk home.  The adult part of me is wondering why weren’t they stopped and questioned.  There was too big a crowd you say.  Oh.  Too bad there weren’t people there who could, I don’t know, magically form a wall to hold the crowd in so everyone could be questioned and any plotters arrested, you know, like what happens after an assassination attempt.  Or, there’s one part where Aang goes on a side quest that, I would imagine, took a few days even though there’s a rather time-sensitive thing going on.  (Also, was it just me, or did he go an episode without his glider only to have it again?)  Now, no show is perfect, and even the best written show will still have some of these moments, the original show was full of them, but they’re more forgivable in a kids’ show. 

To best explain why, as a fan of the original show I’d give the new show a score of 80, would be to use a criticism I’ve often heard of the MCU.  The criticism is that there will be a serious, dramatic moment, but right after it will be a joke that deflates all the drama.  For this, there would be a scene that would be perfectly acceptable on its own, and then there would be a joke or reference from the original.  I admit, some were good, but there were a lot that were just “Remember this?” Like, if I’d never seen the show, the June/Iroh bit would be funny.  But having seen the original, they should have just cut that entirely.  I know what they hoped to accomplish by doing it the way they did, but it would have been better to cut it.  And some plotlines, if I’d never seen the original I’d just think were odd, but knowing the source material, I was just left wondering why they were shoehorned in that way?  Cough, “The Cave of Two Lovers.”

Now, I don’t want you thinking I hated it because it was different.  I admit, I was worried at first about the character changes in Zhao and Azula, but once I saw what they were doing with them, I was impressed.  And I did like how Azula was set up in this season, instead of just showing up next, as well as the stuff between Sokka and Hakoda.  Knowing what’s coming, I can’t wait to see how that plays out. 

My plan now is to wait and watch all the reviews, then maybe rewatch the original and the new show.  And maybe I’ll write up more thoughts.  We’ll see.

Thursday, February 15, 2024

Short story – “How Did They Get Our Number?”

“How Did They Get Our Number?”

“There he is.”

Mario waved to his three friends sitting at an outside table of the Brew Haus.  “Hey guys.  Sorry I’m late, I had a hell of a time finding a parking spot.”

Jason replied, “Sure, sure.  We were talking about the big tackle last night.  What did you think?”

“Oh, it was a thing of beauty.”

Greg shook his head.  “You’re just happy that it wasn’t-”

A piercing tone filled the air, causing everyone to clap their hands over their ears, although that didn’t seem to help.

After a few seconds it stopped.  Then what sounded like a computerized woman’s voice began speaking.  “Greetings sentient beings of Planet 23411341234.978.  I am,” what followed sounded like a slowed down version of a cat in a blender.  The voice then continued, “I am broadcasting this message to the minds of all sentients on the planet.  I represent this sector of the galaxy in the Galactic Congress.  We have just become aware of your existence and welcome you to the community of planets.  I’m sure you have many questions, and as your representative, I will work to answer them and help you in any way I can.  We will be in touch with further information.”

For several seconds there was only silence.  Mario looked at his friends.  “Did you all-”

Before he could finish, there was another piercing tone.  Then a different computerized female voice said, “Greetings sentient beings of Planet 23411341234.978.  I am,” this time the following sound was an ear-splitting screech.  The voice went on with, “I am running to replace [cat in blender sound] as your representative.  [Cat in blender sound] has repeatedly failed this sector of the galaxy by advocating war with the Andromeda Galaxy and fighting against the rights of,” then came what sounded like a drawn-out fart.  “The election,” the voice continued, “is only 8.7 of your years away, but I hope I can count on your support.  I will be sending you additional information shortly.”

“This has to be some kind of joke,” Jason said.

“But who would-” Mario began, but he was cut off by another piercing tone.

A computerized male voice began, “Greetings sentient beings of Planet 23411341234.978.  I am ….”


I first wrote this story back in the spring of 2012.  Back in those days, a never-ending stream of political ads seemed like one of the worst things politics could do to us.  Oh, for a simpler age.

Monday, February 12, 2024

Random Story – Racial awkwardness

This is just an odd little story from my life.

Years ago, I worked as a technician at a place that made industrial lubricants and metal cutting fluids. And yes, it was as exciting as it sounds. Anyway, one day my boss was trying to mix something up but he needed a sample of something. So I was going around to the other labs to see if anyone had some. One of the other technicians was an older woman I was friendly with. When I stopped in her lab, she was in the middle of like three different things. She explained that her boss was on a business trip that week, and he had left her almost two weeks’ worth of work to do. This contrasted my boss who’d sometimes be gone for a week but only leave me three days’ worth of work, as mentioned in an earlier Random Story. I smiled and was a fraction of a second away from saying to her, “So you’re saying [boss’ name] is a real slave driver?” I meant it as someone giving a heavy work load. Fortunately, I was able to stop myself because she’s black. I don’t know her family history, but even if her ancestors freely came to this country, that would still have been an insensitive phrasing. It wasn’t that I had forgotten she was black, it was just something unimportant, like if someone is left or right-handed.

Monday, January 22, 2024

The things I think about: tasty humans

This is an idea I had years ago that I wrote up, but didn’t do anything with.  I think I wanted to do a series of these blogs, but never wrote any more and this just got buried under all my other half-finished blog posts.  I recently discovered it, and figured I might as well use it.

I think this is a really weird idea and someone – possibly me if I ever get around to it – could make a good story out of it.  But here goes.  What if, one day these aliens (We’ll call them Aliens X) show up and announce that after scanning a human with some medical device, they believe these other aliens (Aliens Y) would find humans tasty.  Aliens X would then ask if they could purchase some human meat to sell to Aliens Y to see if they find it pleasant and would like some more.  Now Aliens X are not evil.  They don’t want to gather up humans in their prime and send them to a slaughterhouse, all they are asking for are medical waste and donated corpses.  What I was thinking about, was if Aliens Y do find human a delicacy, would people sign contracts so that when they die, Aliens X would pay their families so many Galactic Credits per pound?  Would there be a market?  Would you sign up for it?

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Jim Trump? Donald Jones?

A couple of months ago, when I stopped for gas, I saw that someone had put a sticker on the pump, and someone else had ripped most of it off.  When I saw it, my first thoughts were, Why did someone make a sticker of Jim Jones and stick it on a gas pump?  Then, after a few seconds of thought and with the help of a second sticker that had different parts of it ripped off, I figured out it had been a sticker of Trump as the Terminator saying, “I’ll be back.” I groaned, and pumped my gas.  I didn’t think to get a picture of it.  The last time I got gas, I ended up at that same pump, and I did take a picture of the sticker, with a bit more of it ripped off.

Apparently, unknown to the magats, if you put sunglasses on Trump, he looks like a notorious cult leader.  Of course, Trump without sunglasses is a notorious cult leader.