Author Archive: Erik Owomoyela

Gerrymandering is still a problem

The original Gerry-manderI generally think Wonkblog is an excellent public service, especially compared to most of what passes for political coverage, and the fact that they feature perspectives from actual political scientists is excellent. That said, John Sides’ piece on why “Gerrymandering is not what’s wrong with American politics” feels a bit like it’s missing the forest for the trees.

Sides’ thesis, that the polarization of elected representatives in both the House and Senate seems to have very little to do with the ideology of their electorate and a lot to do with their political party, is a bit surprising, but I wouldn’t dream of criticizing an argument with so many graphs to back it up. But even if you accept the premise, that doesn’t necessarily mean that gerrymandering isn’t a factor.

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Seattle’s pro-transit mess

monorail-hummer

I’m still trying to get a handle on the mess of disjointed reasoning that stands in for transportation policy in Seattle, so Knute Berger’s paean to some unused offramps for an expressway that never got built is actually really instructive. It’s also kind of nuts.

My first reaction to the piece, which describes the “Ramps to Nowhere” as a symbolic reminder of a time when Seattlites came together and blocked a massive ring road, was that it’s kind of telling when you measure your city’s history of urbanism by the infrastructure projects you’ve blocked instead of the ones you’ve built. My second was that if you’re looking for monuments to Seattle’s urbanist heyday, you really don’t need to go all the way up to 520; there’s a much better one cutting straight through downtown. And you can even ride on it!

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The expectations trap

I'm not even sorry.

So I was minding my own business, checking my news feed, when I realized that I’d just come up with a way to link HBO’s Girls and the debt ceiling. This was not part of my plan for today.

It all began this morning, when I came across this article about how Girls’ second season dealt with all that controversy over the show’s treatment of minority characters (or lack thereof) by adding Donald Glover and an arc about interracial dating. After that came several different stories about the debt ceiling and a previously obscure idea to get around it by minting a huge-denomination platinum coin. And I started to think that both cases demonstrate a similar failure of our collective ability to figure out where the real problem is.

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Anthology!

Bloodchildren, edited by Nisi ShawlI’ve been using a lot of exclamation points lately. I think it’s justified.

Readers of this blog may be aware that I had the fortune to attend the Clarion West Writers Workshop back in 2010. That, plus my subsequent relocation to Seattle and general career change, was possible in no small part thanks to the Octavia E. Butler Memorial Scholarship, which has sponsored the attendance of some outstanding writers of color. And also me.

Bloodchildren, the anthology I mentioned up in the title, is a fundraiser for that scholarship fund, featuring stories by all 11 of the scholarship’s recipients so far (including me) and edited by Nisi Shawl. I’m told it’s quite good.

It’s also my first fiction publication, which is kind of exciting and very intimidating.

One of the best things about Clarion West was that it exposed me to an incredible variety of writers, with more diversity in age, race, background, interests and writing styles than I’ve encountered before or since. Programs like the Butler scholarship help to make that possible; it’s a great way to carry on Octavia Butler’s lifelong dedication to undertold stories and perspectives, and I’d like to think I’d be a fan even if I hadn’t directly benefited from it.

Incidentally, Clarion West (and its sister program, Clarion in San Diego) is accepting applications for the 2013 summer workshop. Just saying.

Doomsday Day

Mayan pyramid

I was actually kind of disappointed that the Mayan Apocalypse wasn’t a bigger deal. Not in the sense of actually being an apocalypse, but I was at least expecting a bunch of ironic doomsday parties or something. I guess the fact that everyone ignored it says something positive about society, although I’d be more encouraged if we hadn’t spent the time freaking out over the fiscal cliff fiasco instead.

Anyway, now that the year’s just about over, it occurred to me that I should have some sort of profound thought to close it out. Unfortunately, my brain kept coming back to the Mayans, so I guess I’ll run with that.

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Remastered in high definition!

I deliberately avoided taking creative writing classes throughout high school, despite spending most of my free time making up dumb stories. Possibly as a result, the stories I came up with tended to have somewhat questionable literary value.

Still, they were fun to make. And a couple of them stayed with me long after I’d moved on to more serious pursuits, nagging at me for a good ten years until some lazy afternoon on a holiday weekend when I decided to revive them for no reason. Hence, I give you a completely remastered re-release of Mr. Stick Saves the Universe!, now in 720p HD.

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Aaron Sorkin’s hero complex

The West Wing

The big news from the interview that Aaron Sorkin did for Hero Summit was the surprisingly detailed amount of information he gave about how the Steve Jobs movie that he’s writing would play out, for obvious reasons. (It’s actually kind of disappointing, since I was basically hoping for a sequel to Pirates of Silicon Valley.) But what struck me the most was a throwaway remark he makes when the interviewer asks him how he might have written Mitt Romney’s concession speech.

“In my world, Romney wouldn’t have given a concession speech,” Sorkin replies. “I could’ve had him win.”

He never explains exactly what he means, but goes on to suggest that in his version of the campaign, Romney would have been the sort of bold truth-teller who stands up to the extremes in his party and makes an appeal for common decency. And it’s probably the most telling moment in the interview, because it kind of perfectly captures the style and limitations of Sorkin’s writing.

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