Gongol.com Archives: October 2023

Brian Gongol

October 17, 2023

News Bring forth names

Triple-A baseball now calls balls and strikes using automated strike zones, and while there's still some evolving debate over how exactly to program the dimensions of the strike zone, it's well within the realm of possibility that robot umpires will be called up to the majors before the decade is through. Although calling out the worst human umpires is likely to remain a popular pastime, people even more like to believe that they're getting a fair deal. ■ As the contest to pick a Speaker of the House looks ever more scrambled, some Democrats have begun offering "consensus" names -- Republicans they say they might be able to support as candidates with bipartisan support. ■ It is entirely possible that those Democrats are offering Republican names as a cynical ploy to look "bipartisan" (something voters have historically applauded) without having to actually pay any price. But forming a coalition to elect a Speaker without majority support from the majority party is, at the very least, an idea that should force some self-examination. ■ In 1790, when Virginia was home to four of the first five Presidents (Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe), the state had only 747,000 people -- a smaller number than today's Congressional districts (home to an average of 761,169 residents apiece). ■ If we can't easily conjure four or five names of prominent, capable, fair-minded people from every Congressional district in America, that should tell us something. Not that we have a dearth of talent -- today's median citizen is vastly better-educated, healthier, more financially secure, more worldly, less biased, and better-informed than their counterpart in the Founders' era. And that's not to mention that we've taken down the legal barriers that used to keep people out of public life on the basis of race or sex. ■ What it should tell us is that we're choosing systems that select for the wrong characteristics, not just in Congressional races, but in civic life at large. It shouldn't be a struggle to name candidates for a job like Speaker of the House who should be palatable across party lines; we should face an embarrassment of riches. ■ The idea of finding a caretaker Speaker, if only for the next year, should solicit so many hundreds of obvious-seeming names, high in earned esteem, that it should look ridiculous not to choose any one of them, even at random. If that's not what our systems are producing -- especially if we're convinced that those people exist, but consciously choose to do other things rather than contribute to the commonwealth -- then we are overdue for some serious self-examination. Robot umpires aren't coming to save public life.

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