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What is Gerrymandering?

Gratewood

Let’s imagine a fictional place: the great state of Gratewood.

Gratewood has two political parties, the Gold Party and the Purple Party. It has exactly 1000 residents, and those residents are represented by 10 representatives in the legislature.

The fortunes of the two political parties change from year to year, but in this election cycle, the people are about 60% Gold Party and about 40% Purple Party.

The state is divided into ten districts of 100 citizens, and each district chooses a representative.

If the districts are drawn without regard to composition, and the distribution of party members is roughly random, then every district will have about 60 Gold Party voters and 40 Purple Party voters. The Gold Party will win every single district, and the Purple Party that makes up 40% of the population will have no representation.

The Purple Party doesn’t like this situation. They are drawing the maps this year, and they want to insure that their minority controls the legislature. How can they manage this?

The goal is to give as many districts as possible a majority of Purple Party members. There are 400 Purple Party members in the state. If they draw the districts to their advantage, they could have a 57/43 split in favor of the Purple Party in 7 districts, with the remaining 3 districts packed with the Gold Party people. Even though the Purple Party is a minority of the population, they can maintain a large majority advantage in the legislature.

And in this (highly simplified) scenario, even if the Gold Party grows in numbers, the Purple Party can hold on to control of the legislature until the Gold Party gets about 70% advantage at the polls… as long as the Purple Party legislators are allowed to draw the district maps.

That’s gerrymandering, and it’s called that because the resulting districts often look like weird salamanders crawling across the map as legislators try to cram as many of their opponents into as few districts as possible.

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Los Banditos Return

In 1985, I got my first byline and writing paycheck for an article in Autoduel Quarterly, a magazine published by Steve Jackson Games for their game Car Wars.

The feature I wrote was a travel guide for Boulder, Colorado in a dystopic, “Mad Max” future. I shoveled in a bunch of insider jokes and references, gave a shout-out to my friends at the Colorado Shakespeare Festival, and put together a piece that was certainly readable, if not brilliant.

But while writing that article, I did one thing of which I am not at all proud. (more…)

Live Like a Refugee

Live like a refugee.

If tomorrow your property, your belongings, your titles and degrees and career are stripped away from you, don’t cling to that which is lost. Have the courage to leave the rubble and strike out into the unknown.

There will be barriers, physical, mental, cultural. Believe in your capacity to overcome them.

You will face both contempt and pity. Recognize that they are two sides of the same coin, one that sees you as lesser. You are not lesser. You are equal and deserve to be treated as such.

You have skills, aspirations and talents beyond what the world sees. Don’t let yourself be stuffed into somebody else’s preconception of who you are.

Above all, live. Live in defiance of chaos, of rigidity, of hate, of death.  Live with love and laughter, for they contain and control tragedy. Live and help others to live. Live in the knowledge that those who place themselves above you are made of the same flesh and blood and they will return to the same dirt as all of us.

I don’t want to trivialize the plight of refugees around the world, but often when we focus on that plight, or on the problems of migration, we lose sight of individual faces, their courage and sacrifice and compassion and humor and intelligence. We forget that they are us, and if we listen, we can learn from them.

When we forget that people are people, it allows terrible things to be done to them… to us. We’ve had quite enough of that. Let us love and celebrate OUR people: ALL people.

Letter to My Younger Self

letter to the past

Hey Samantha,

I know you hate to be called that. They used to tease you with that name, didn’t they? You tried so hard to keep it under wraps, but it seemed like they knew, somehow, and they taunted you with your secret shame. (more…)

Through Your Eyes

I just woke up from a dream. I was in a post-apocalyptic world, part of a community in an abandoned theme park. I was speaking to a woman who was overcome with despair and preparing to strike out on her own — a course of action tantamount to suicide. She was of indistinct ethnicity, perhaps part Chinese and part African-American or Native American, and she felt so alone and isolated. I was pleading with her to stay. I don’t remember all that I said, but I recall these sentences: “We need you. We need to see the world through your eyes”. (more…)

Still Gender Fluid?

Quick side note: I still identify as gender fluid. However, the minute the barriers were lifted, most of my fluidity immediately flowed to the feminine side of the scale and is sloshing about there. After taking some time to evaluate, I’ve decided to initiate medical and legal measures to affirm it.

Summary: gender-fluid, yes. Woman, yes. Female, yes. Transgender, yes. Lesbian… I know I said I didn’t want to irritate other lesbians who can get a little proprietary about the terminology, but I can’t deny it. Yes, I’m a lesbian.

I can throw in more labels that may or may not fit, but I’ll need a few glasses of wine first.

The Surly ‘Sir’

So I’m out and about in the world, having spent an inordinate amount of time to get my new bangs just right, my dangling earrings swaying in the breeze, a hint of lipgloss and an ambiguously femme shirt on… maybe not presenting all-out female but certainly strongly hinting in that direction. And I’ve got that little extra sway in my step and arch to my eyebrow because it’s a nice day and I’m a happy girl.

Then I step into the drugstore to grab a Coke or something. I walk up to the counter, looking at all the colorful geegaws, waiting my turn, then I set my bounty down and reach for my wallet. The clerk locks eyes with me, and in a voice as cold as a winter night in Fairbanks says, “Can I help you, sir?”

I wilt. Behind the polite words of that simple phrase is judgement, and contempt, and constrained rage. I mutter and duck my head, pay for my purchases, and scurry out into a day whose magic has been rudely dispersed. (more…)