Dispatches, fiction

Dispatches: Free and Fair Elections

Back sooner than expected, our roving reporter, Steve Finch, has another story to be filed under “that’s something that would really benefit humanity.”

openDemocracy (ASA)Putin on Banner

SANTA MONICA, CA — The YZ Prize Foundation has announced a second interesting initiative to help the world to move toward stability. Unlike the YZ Prize for Peace, this one strikes straight at their vision of government: free and fair elections.

In light of the blatantly rigged elections in Russia last week, and the just-resolved election mess in Kenya, the Foundation has pledged that they will dedicate a significant amount of money for elections that are externally verified to have been completely free and fair.

“Obviously, we were spurred on by what had happened in Kenya,” said the chairman. The recently brokered peace deal between the opposition leader Raila Odinga and the sitting President Mwai Kibaki did satisfy the Foundation, but they were deeply saddened that the December election–which most outside observers agreed was rigged–touched off violence and chaos that left at least 1000 dead, hundreds of thousands displaced, and tarnished the reputation of what had been one of the jewels of Africa.

And though the YZ Prize Foundation was glad to see little violence over Russia’s election, they were distressed by the implications. “It looked to us,” the chairman said, “as though the will of the people was clearly subverted. It looks to us like outright authoritarianism and we can’t stand by and let such shams continue.”

The plan is relatively simple, the Foundation has offered about $100 million that would be split between the sitting executive (either a president or prime minister) and his country if the elections are declared to be free and fair. Anticipating some vexing questions, the chairman offered this tidbit on eligibility: “Surely, we can’t afford to hand out $100 million for every clean election. Stable, open, accountable democracies are thankfully numerous, and so we were forced to make restrictions. To qualify for this prize, the country has to have a history of fixed elections, to be seen to be at great risk for such fixing, or to be a new democracy.”

The Foundation has formed a committee that will decide before every election whether or not the country qualifies. The chairman was forthright that forming and maintaining this committee would be difficult but said that there is “no other way.”

Contacted for comment, Steven Jones at the Center for Democracy said that he thought the prize was a good idea, though he has some concerns. “Though I don’t think this is likely to cause more rigging in the interest of winning the prize money in the future, as some have suggested, I do think there are risks. The most prominent of these is the possibility that once they know they don’t qualify, they’ll go ahead and rig it.”

The Foundations has, however, been prompt in responding to this issue. They’ve since decided that the eligibility decision will be made and announced after the elections have been held. Releasing the statement, “We’re hoping to address the very valid criticism of Mr. Jones and others. It’s in everyone’s interest that the prize remains a possibility for all countries until all elections everywhere are deemed free, open, and fair.”

Dispatches, metablogging

What is Dispatches?

This is one of those things I’ve thought I probably should write for a long time but never got to actually doing. Until now.

Dispatches, for those who don’t know, is a semi-regular feature on this site. It consists, essentially, of a few sentences that laments that our (fictional) reporter hasn’t been in touch in a while and then there’s the (fictional) report that he’s filed.

I’ve naively told myself for sometime that anyone who came across it would understand that this is what it was, but looking at it as an outsider I see how it’s not terribly obvious. If someone followed along from the beginning, they probably could have guessed because, well, the first two installments were about pretty blatantly fictional fare: unicorns and the lost city of Atlantis. They were also pretty bad, but that’s another matter entirely.

The reality is that in this medium people haven’t been, and can’t be expected to have been, following along from the beginning. The internet’s great for jumping in midstream, and that has created a far bit of confusion.

The height of that came in a letter I got recently, from a (real) lawyer regarding this story (which has been changed as a result of that letter). Confusing readers who stumble along is unfortunate but tolerable, the specter (even absent an explicit threat) of legal action is another thing entirely.

So, to explain Dispatches let’s start with Steve Finch, our reporter. Mr. Finch–who does not, to my knowledge, exist–is a 30-something newspaper hack or “beat reporter.” He’s an old hand who write clean straightforward stories that tend not to venture to far from the events and opinion relevant to the story. But he does have a passion for odd and unconventional stories that no one else is covering.

His existence is essentially to make it easier for me to write something about “wouldn’t it be cool if…” or “wouldn’t it be weird if…” for this site without having to present them as so many excessive hypothetical. The idea of animal racism, for example, was something that popped into my head one day. But I wanted to present the idea without taking explicit ownership of it; Dispatches allows me to do just that.

I hope that this will clear up any present or future confusion, and wasn’t too much of a bore to those who already understood. Thanks, as always, for reading.

Dispatches, fiction

Dispatches: The YZ Prize for Peace

Our roving reporter, Steve Finch, has an interesting story today that he asked us to file under “that’s something that would really benefit humanity.”

SANTA MONICA, CA — The YZ Prize Foundation–of no relation to the X Prize Foundation–announced a new reward today which they’ve called simply the Peace YZ Prize. Like all such prizes, the foundation is offering substantial financial reward–they’ve estimated that it will be nearly five billion dollars–to anyone who can accomplish it’s objective.

The prize’s conditions for completion aren’t pinned down exactly, but the foundation assures us that it requires a substantial commitment to peace by two longstanding rivals. They suggested that the resolution in Northern Ireland is a good model for the type and stability of solution they’re seeking.

Asked where they would like this prize won, the chairman said, “anywhere that needs peace.” Pressed he offered that he’d like to see peace anywhere, and agreed that Sri Lanka, Kashmir, Darfur, Columbia, Chechnya, and Spain’s Basque regions were all viable candidates. “And of course,” the chairman said, “we’d love to reward the prize for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

When questioned as to whether those were the only possible candidates the panel admitted it’s ignorance. “Anywhere which has a substantial history of conflict and can muster a meaningful resolution to the grievances is a candidate. We’d certainly consider places other than those mentioned. A favorable solution between Ethiopia and Eritrea could certainly be considered, for example.”

The disbursement of the prize also raised some questions. The rough response was that it would be split between the two parties involved, or given as a lump sum to the government in the case of internal conflicts. This lead to some disappointment that the resolution would not go to a person, as the Nobel Peace Prize does.

Reached for comment, most observers feel that this is a good move. Said Ben Silverburg, a professor of International Relations at Yale, “I’m not na├»ve enough to believe that the prize will lead to a sudden outbreak of peace movements all over the world, but I do think it’s a good idea. Anything that offers increased incentives for peace is likely to, if only a little bit, lead to greater peace in the world.”

The prize has no deadline. If it takes 3, 35 350 years for this prize to have a viable winner, the organizers assert that they will get the prize. How exactly that will work is unclear. Also unclear as we go to print, is how exactly this prize will be paid for. Though some have speculated that The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has financed the prize, there is absolutely no support on that notion.

Dispatches, fiction

Dispatches: A New Way to Fight Recession

In light of recent financial news, Steve Finch files an interesting report that he asked us to file under, “I wonder if that would work.”

Chris Phan (flickr)No Sales Tax

WASHINGTON — The Secratery of the Treasury today announced a interesting plan to combat the economic slowdown that has led many to speculate that the country is in the midst of a recession: a sales tax holiday.

The plan, which would require a great deal of legwork to get off the ground, is rather simple: to stimulate spending and recharge the economy the federal government would eliminate all sales taxes across the country for an entire week.

The problem, which critics were quick to point out, is that the federal government has no jurisdiction to lower sales tax rates. Sales tax in the country is controlled by states and municipalities.

To these critics, the secretary was quick to offer this solution: the federal government will reach agreements with all states–who are then responsible for reaching agreements with municipalities–to reimburse them for all income lost during the holiday. Speaking frankly, the secretary said, “We feel this system will be faster and more beneficial than the tradition plan for a tax rebate, which takes a great deal too much time to create and then reward to citizens.

“We must always remember those words repeated to the point of meaninglessness: targeted, temporary and timely. We feel confident that this plan meets all of those criteria better than any alternative.”

Asked about states and municipalities without sales tax, Treasury’s response was that they’d made the decision that making special exceptions for these cases was impractical, and so they would simply maintain the goal of keeping sales taxes at zero for one week across all the states.

Economists’ views on the topic were mixed. Some felt that the plan was innovative and as likely to work as anything else. These “optimists” made the point that all stimulus plans fail, and this one’s failure is likely to as insignificant as all the others.

Others made clear that the plan would be a logistical nightmare. “Not only must the states and municipalities reach hurried agreements with rough projections of earnings for what is meant to be a week of extraordinary spending. But the headache it will be for businesses whose computers are built to assess sales taxes automatically is hard to imagine,” offered Bob Davis with Americans for Simplified Taxation.

As with all such plan, this must be approved by Congress. Both the Speaker of the House and the Senate Majority Leader are hopeful that they will be able to quickly pass the program without much hassle. Speaking frankly, the speaker admitted, “But I don’t know the last time that happened.”

Dispatches, fiction

Dispatches: Lying Well

Steve Finch has finally gotten around to filing another report. He asked that this one be filed under: “Is every lie a deception?”

HOLLYWOOD — In a town made famous for the lies it tells to both itself and the world, this reporter found something quite expected: a class about lying well. The surprise wasn’t finding a class which aimed to teach students how to lie, but the way it taught to do it.

Joanna Saltin had nurtured quite an interest in “radical honesty”–the ethic of never telling a lie no matter how minor or face-saving–before she broke away from her mentor, moved to Hollywood, and decided to teach Californians the secret to lying well.

Ms. Saltin makes a quick and careful distinction between what she called “lying well” and “lying successfully.” As you may expect, lying successfully is when you convince people to believe an untrue story.

Lying well is very different, as she explains: “To lie well, you must alway remember one simple and important point: Everyone must know that you are lying. Better still, someone good at lying well will be able to avoid an embarrassing answer because they lie so well.”

She is absolutely clear, the secret to lying well is to come up with an answer that is both funny and outrageous. If asked where she’s been, she says that “Oh, I was shopping…” is among the worst possible lies. She says that the lie must be so outrageous as to not have any possibility of being true. Rather than suggesting traffic as cover for embarrassing tardiness, Satlin suggests that she was engrossed by the architectural details of the Great Wall of China.

Many proponents of radical honesty–who won’t lie about their view–see Satlin as a turncoat who couldn’t stand the difficulty of radical honesty. She has, they claim, purported to take the ethical integrity of the honesty movement and use it for lies. “It doesn’t matter if a lie is successful or not,” Mr. Diller, a psychologist, suggested, “it’s still a lie.”

Ms. Satlin, well-acquainted with these criticisms, offered a different answer. “What lying well does,” she contended, “is prevent lies. Because the lies I champion are always transparently false, the deception that’s absent in radical honesty also goes missing when someone is lying well.”

And fleeing deception, it turns out, was the reason Ms. Satlin found radical honesty so interesting in the first place. Her father, who she called a “chronic philanderer,” managed to hide his infidelity from her mother with lies of working late. When she discovered the truth, Satlin, who had been especially close with her father, was devastated. From that day forward she pledged never to tell a lie.

With time, that view softened to allow for the transparently fraudulent lies she currently champions. Though she seems to sincerely believe in the usefulness of “lying well,” there’s one question Ms. Satlin had trouble answering: if her father had been regularly admiring the Great Wall rather than “working late,” would his infidelity have hurt any less?

Confronted with such a question, Satlin reverted back to her training in radical honesty, “I don’t know,” she said. “I really don’t know.”

Dispatches, fiction, politics

Dispatches: The Evolution Party

Our roving correspondent Steve Finch has finally gotten back to us with another story. He asked us to file this under “Wouldn’t it be scary if…”

Elkhart, Indiana — The rise of the Evolution Party and it’s unconventional platform has left at least a few unsettled and scratching their heads. The leader of the small political party is Albert Hillman, an Indiana man running for both mayor of Elkhart and President of the United States.

Mr. Hillman is in his mid-forties, and says he’s been a Republican his whole life. He said that after seeing how “unconservative” George W. Bush has been since elected, he’s convinced the party no longer represents any of his views. “I liked the small-government view of Ronald Reagan and Barry Goldwater, but the Republicans don’t represent that anymore. Frankly, I’m not sure what they represent.”

But if the party left Mr. Hillman behind, many critic think he’s completely left behind the American mainstream. They say that though Mr. Hillman still supports small government, his justification has gotten more and more unconventional.

Originally, they claim, Mr. Hillman was for small government because he disliked taxes. But as the presidential candidate says, he’s now for small government “as the only way to ensure that our species keeps evolving.”

“With government programs supporting the poor and lazy, and modern medicine prolonging the lives of the infirm, even letting them reproduce, it’s no wonder we see increasing mental illness and strange medical conditions in our society.”

That statement frames exactly what many find so upsetting about Mr. Hillman. Not only does he support the abolition of all social-welfare programs, but he believe that the government should prevent doctors from providing all but the most rudimentary care. “Such a government would be much better for the evolution of the species, and would enable the creation of better Americans.”

It’s ideas like those that have led people to condemn the candidate as an anarchist, a social Darwinist, an “ablist,” a eugenicist, and a neo-Nazi.

Despite such criticism, Mr. Hillman has some supporters. They’re mostly young, though a few are as old as Mr. Hillman. One supporter, Chris Franklin, justified his position, saying, “We are the product of millions of years of evolution. That our society now does its best to stifle that process means Americans will be weaker as a result.”

To the comfort of many, analysts doubt that Mr. Hillman can win either the mayoral or presidential election. James Merriwell, a political scientist at the University of Indiana, made clear that third parties always struggle in American politics. “Not only that,” he said, “but Hillman’s taking a very unpopular position when many in Indiana are concerned about how they’ll pay for health care. The movement of industrial jobs abroad has harmed more in Indiana than it has helped.”

Despite the unlikeliness of success, some have been upset enough to file suit to prevent Mr. Hillman from even competing in the elections. The Federal Election Commission has yet to comment on the case, but Elkhart’s election commissioner says she has found no way to prevent Mr. Hillman from running.

Dispatches, fiction

Dispatches: Coalition Against Animal Racism

This week, our intrepid reporter Steve Finch brings us news of a rather novel animal rights group. Steve asked that we file this story in the “wouldn’t it be interesting if…” category.

PENSACOLA, FL — The Coalition Against Animal Racism (CAAR, pronounced “care”) held their first public meeting today. The group was formed earlier this year when Donna DeMarco couldn’t get attention for her concerns from established groups like the Humane Societies or People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

Ms. DeMarco’s primary concern is that questions about an animal’s breed, especially in dogs, are essentially the same thing as racism in humans. As she explained, “Dog breeds and human races are effectively the same thing. They’re not like species, and if we truly want to live in a colorblind society we must include our pets as well.”
Fluffy (CAAR)

From her explanation, it appears that Ms. DeMarco formed the group after growing tired of hearing question about her dog’s breeding. “Fluffy, that’s my dog (pictured at right), doesn’t know her heritage and neither do I. And for people to keep asking about it is both insulting and demeaning.”

CAAR’s campaign has found both fans and detractors. The group’s nearly 200 members are a testament to the cause’s ability to attract supporters.

Interestingly, CAAR’s own figures show that the vast majority of members are owners of mixed-breed dogs, though there are also a few owners of mixed-breed cats. There appears to have been no interest in this cause from kennel clubs and dog breeders.

Ms. DeMarco elaborated on this fact, saying, “We’ve approached those who take pride in purity of a dog’s breeding, but they’ve all turned down our offer of membership. And though I really hate to say this, they appear like the white supremacists or Nazis before them. They’re holding to an old concept of race that isn’t fair.”

When reached for comment, the American Kennel Club said that they were aware of CAAR’s campaign, but felt that Ms. DeMarco’s claims were completely without merit. “After all,” their spokesman said, “we’re not disenfranchising or specifically harming mutts. They’re still able to find good homes.”

Despite the Kennel Club’s claim that CAAR’s mission is irrelevant and unneeded, Ms. DeMarco promises to press on, continuing to pressure animal sellers and the populous to remember that a dog’s breed is none of their business.

american society, Dispatches, fiction

Celebrity Culture is Pure Subterfuge

Our intrepid reporter Steve Finch bring us a story to be filed under “conspiracy theories you only wish were true.”

HOLLYWOOD – It was announced today by a conglomerate of media moguls, industry fat-cats, and corrupt politicians that for the last hundred years they have been developing and refining America’s celebrity culture. From humble beginnings, around the time of the advent of motion pictures, they gave the public a feast of useless information about a class of people that deserves less attention than it gets.

This admission came after this determined reporter came too close to the truth; the group decided it was in their best interest to admit their work upfront rather than have it exposed and potentially vilified.

When asked why they had created the celebrity press and it’s blood-thirsty followers, they admitted that it was intended as a device to hide important issues from the general public, like effective governance, ethical business practices, and the creation of a just society.

They also claimed that they were impressed by the program’s effectiveness. Said one, “we had no idea people would be so willing to buy the junk we set out to sell them.”

They were also particularly satisfied with the new air of respectability that had come to the field in recent times. “We had no idea we’d get big enough that the dirt we churn out would be thought of as genuine news. Anna Nicole Smith and Paris Hilton really took us up a notch in the eyes of opinion makers. I don’t understand why.”

They further argued that they had done no harm that the people weren’t willing to inflict upon themselves. As their chief spokesman said “after all, you’re the idiots who ate the stuff up, we just gave it to you.” On that point, this reporter can’t help but agree. Too many worthy publications have come and gone because people were more concerned about Madonna and Paris Hilton.

When asked if they would abandon the machine that has wrecked lives and marriages, and killed more than a few, the group gave no explicit comment. They later iterated that they had some confidence that by now, the machine would sustain itself almost indefinitely if people didn’t make a concerted effort to dedicate themselves to more important news.

Dispatches, fiction

Dispatches from the Field: The Lost City

Dispatches is our ongoing series from our intrepid traveling reporter Steve Finch. This week, Steve comes face to face with… well, we’ll let him explain.

A large team of historians, geographers, archaeologists, seismologists, cosmologists, astrologers, zoologists, and I believe a cardiologist as well, recently announced a truly startling discovery.

That discovery, made by the team’s interim committee on impossibilities, was that they had discovered the location of the lost city of Atlantis.

They made another announcement as well. Care of the select committee on efficiency, it was announced that they would have made this discovery years ago if they hadn’t been such a large team. Because, they announced, when you have a group as large as this, you have to form committees. And, they said, quoting Jon Corlan, “committees suck.”

As to the discovery of the lost city, they announced that contrary to the conventional wisdom used by 2000 years of seekers, Plato’s directions to the city were not actually incorrect, just remarkably poor.

This came as no surprise to our reporter, who discovered Plato’s poor sense of space when he unnecessarily visited Greenland while following the ancient philosopher’s directions to a cocktail party in his hometown of Aegina.

So, this reporter wanted to know, how badly did Plato misdirect this time?

After a two hour recess for a meeting of the committee to explain profound truths to laymen, the scientist returned to explain.

As Dr. Ulrich told it:

From Athens, Atlantis is indeed beyond the gates of Hercules, just as Plato described. But, he left off the rest of the directions. To reach Atlantis you must leave Athens in the direction of the gates. But once you pass through the gate, you must immediately turn right 360 degrees. Then you must walk back exactly as far as you have come.

“But wouldn’t that bring you back to Athens?” this reporter queried.

After some consideration in the subcommittee on cardinal directions the reply came.

“Yes, indeed, it would.”

The scientists immediately reconvened the committee of the whole to discuss the possible problems of their organizational structure. Four hours later, no markable progress had been made.

Until next time, this is Steve Finch signing off.

Dispatches, fiction

Dispatches from the Field: Land Speed Record

Dispatches from the Field is our ongoing series of reports from our intrepid traveling reporter Steve Finch. This week, some insight on the most famously reclusive animals on the planet.

In the history of the world, there has only been one land mammal faster than the cheetah. What creature is so incredibly fast and nonchalant that it hasn’t made it’s amazing speed well known?

Unicorns have long scoffed at the frequent boasting of cheetahs and their adoring human fans. Papa Unicorn, who became their leader after the death of the great mother, made his disdain for cheetahs clear to this reporter by stating that their official comment on the situation was “no comment.” For these proud animals, that can only mean that they feel themselves above the cheetahs and the need to comment on such a story.

One unicorn, however, was both more forward and less dignified than Papa Unicorn, proudly boasting of his personal speed. Black Sheep, so-named because he is largely disliked and distrusted by the others, offered to give this reporter a ride. He promised that he would easily double the cheetah’s highest recorded speed of 70 miles an hour.

This reporter, having heard all too frequently from the group of Black Sheep’s questionable reputation, kindly declined. Black Sheep than galloped away, at a rate this reporter can only call “fast,” to display his disgust.

This reporter would clarify that Black Sheep’s attitude at this slight was uncommon. Though the unicorns are uniformly proud animals, they are also very polite. This reporter, for one, has never felt more slovenly than when in the presence of these noble and magical creatures.

Perhaps John the Unicorn said it best. When this reported pressed him about the speed record, he said only that the cheetahs could continue their boasting. The unicorns, for their part, will continue to avoid record of their speed because, he said, “We don’t go in for that type of thing.”

Until next time, this is Steve Finch signing off.