A Shocking Job Interview (not for the faint of heart)

The woman walked boldly into my office. I had to give her credit for her confidence. A lot of reporters who interview here are a little intimidated by the Washington Post’s reputation.
   I glanced at the resume on my desk. “Have a seat. I’ve been looking over your resume. You have an interesting work history. You graduated from Grossmont Community College two years ago, right?”
   She nodded. “Yes. I majored in journalism, as you see there.”
   “And you were hired by One America News on the strength of your education?”
   “Community colleges give you a good education.” She didn’t sound defensive in the least.”
   “I’m aware of that. I have a lot of respect for community colleges. But the Post normally hires graduates with at least a bachelor’s degree, and more often than not, a master’s from an Ivy League university. The last candidate who sat in that chair had a master’s in English literature from Oxford University.”
   She wasn’t fazed. “Then it’s about time you considered hiring from a more diverse pool.”
   I chose to ignore her advice. “And the only experience you have is your two years with One America.”
   “That’s right. It was good experience.”
   “I’m sure it was, but our other candidates have had at least ten years experience with major news organizations. One America News doesn’t have a sterling reputation in the industry. In fact, it’s generally considered to be a far-right propaganda machine.”
   “That’s an accurate description, for sure. One America isn’t particularly concerned with facts. Or even the truth, for that matter. It mostly pushes conspiracy theories and slanders liberals and Democrats.”
   I had to give her points for her honesty. “Here at the Washington Post, we take pride in the accuracy of our reporting. How did your experience with One America prepare you for that?”
   “I’ve attended every press conference at the White House in the past two years. I’ve personally asked the president more than a dozen questions. I’ll bet you don’t have another candidate who can say the same. Not even your princess from Oxford with her ten years at the Picayune Times or wherever.”
   Sadly, that was true. Few reporters ever had an opportunity to pose a question directly at the president. “So how would you describe your experience at White House press conferences?”
   “I sucked the shit directly out of the president’s ass.”
   I was too shocked to reply to that. This woman didn’t even blush. She had no shame, whatsoever.
   She smiled at the expression on my face. “And I told everyone that it was delicious.”
   I had to say something. “Uhh. Right. I guess that was your job description at One America.”
   “That was the job, all right. Nobody minced words about that.”
   “Is there anything else I should know about you?”
   She shoved a letter across my desk. “Yes. I have a letter of recommendation from Jeff Bezos.”
   Jesus. Jeff owned the Post. I couldn’t ignore his letter. I took the time to read it carefully. He had nothing but the highest recommendation for this woman. This was why she was so confident. I looked back up at the candidate. “How did Jeff taste?”
   She licked her lips and grinned. “Delicious.”
   And that’s how she was hired as the Washington Post’s newest reporter.

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A Press Conference from the Future

President Trump’s Post-Olympic Press Conference
Reported by Ashley Zacharias, New Yorker Staff Writer
From Mar-a-Lago, Monday, 9 August 2021

The day after the closing ceremony ending the Tokyo Olympics, President Trump held a press conference at Mar-a-Lago, his Florida golf resort.
   After a brief introduction, Trump said he had an important announcement, an announcement critical to national security.
   He stated that he had entered every event in the Tokyo Olympics held during the past two weeks and had won every one of them.
   Quoting the President, “That’s right. I won every gold medal at the Olympic games. All of them. It was a stupendous achievement. Stupendous. Never before in history has one man made a clean sweep of the Olympics. I am the first. Who knew I could do it? Nobody knew. But I did. I am the greatest athlete in history.”
   He then asked if anybody had any questions.
   It took a minute for us to digest what President Trump had said. Then the reporter from One America News, a conservative opinion channel known to always support Trump, jumped up to congratulate the president on his achievement and asked if this meant he had succeeded in making America great again.
   Trump raised his arms and replied, “Yes, it is. We are great again. Greater than we have ever been. Obama couldn’t have done it. Hillary couldn’t have done it. Only I could have won every single gold medal at the Olympics.”
   The reporter from CNN asked how that could have happened when the whole country had been watching the Olympics on television and had seen which athletes had competed. They were the ones standing on the podium wearing the gold medals.
   Trump told her she was a lousy reporter and a horrible person to ask a question like that. Obviously, she wasn’t smart enough to recognize fake news when she saw it. “That’s right, folks. For two weeks all the broadcasts from Tokyo were fake. I know. I was there, winning all those events, and I saw fake athletes posing on podiums to get their pictures taken by the liberal news media so they could broadcast their fake news. You can’t trust the fake news channels because they are trying to tear America down and make us look like losers when we all know in our hearts that America is the biggest winner ever. That’s why I was reelected. To be the biggest winner of all time, and I proved that I was by winning all the gold medals.”
   The reporter from the New York Times asked about the team sports like basketball and baseball.
   After Trump berated him for being the worst reporter in the room, he said, “I was America’s team. Just me. That’s right. I was the only person on the basketball court when we were playing other countries and I outplayed them all. I was faster than all the other basketball players combined. Nobody could stop me. When I played baseball, I pitched the ball, then outran it to get behind the plate and catch it. It was easy because every game was a no hitter. I didn’t have to play the bases or the outfield at all. Though the innings were too long because I hit a home run every time the ball was pitched to me. The innings only ended when the pitchers’ arms were so sore, they couldn’t pitch any more. You’ve never seen scores like mine. Three and four hundred to nothing every game.”
   The Times reporter asked a follow-up question: “Weren’t a lot of the games played at the same time? How did you manage that?”
   Trump replied, “I hurried between events. I told you I was fast. The organizers staggered the start times so I could do it. I am the President of the United States, so they had to do that for me. Of course, that meant that sometimes I was pole vaulting in my bathing suit, still wet from the hundred-meter freestyle, but that didn’t matter. My wet hands didn’t slip on the pole. I have big hands, you know. Very big hands, so they don’t slip.”
   A reporter from the Florida News Network said they had a video of the president golfing at Mar-a-Lago during the Olympics and asked if he could comment on that.
   Trump’s answer: “That’s right. I came home at night so I could golf while the other athletes were sleeping in Tokyo. I don’t have to sleep like they do. When it’s night in Tokyo, it’s daytime here in Florida. I don’t know how they can do that. Nobody knows. But they can. I flew here on Air Force One. It’s a special plane that can fly that fast. It’s top secret, but I can tell you that our wonderful Air Force has planes that can fly from Tokyo to Florida in a couple of hours, so I could golf here during the Olympics. I won a gold medal in golf, too. I got seventeen. Sixteen of my shots were holes-in-one, but the last one was a two-holes-in-one. I hit the ball so hard that when it came down into the Seventeenth Hole, it bounced back out of the cup and flew all the way to land in the eighteenth cup, so that was two holes on one shot. It was the greatest shot in the history of golf. The greatest ever. Even Tiger Woods never tried that shot. I planned it that way and I made it. It was great.”
   The reporter from Fox News was next. “In your opening statement, you said this was a matter of national security. Would you like to elaborate on that?”
   Trump: “I thought that would be obvious. I’ve made America more secure by making it great again. All the other countries are in awe of my accomplishment. Even the President of China sent his congratulations and promised he would never upset our balance of trade again. I made a deal with him on the spot because I’m the greatest negotiator ever. You all know that. And my good buddy, Vladimir called to tell me how much he admired me. Kim-Jong Un phoned, too, and said he’d never launch a nuclear missile at the United States because he knew I’d be there to catch it and throw it back at him. So, our nation is secure now. I made America safe for all Americans.”
   Since the press conference, every commentator on Fox News, from Sean Hannity to Jeannine Pirro, has been congratulating Trump for his historic achievement.
   Gallup conducted an overnight poll and reports that forty-two percent of Americans believe Trump won all the gold medals at the Olympics and any report to the contrary is fake news.
   New red ball caps are being sold which say, “America Is Great Again.” China is manufacturing them as quickly as possible to meet the demand.

– 30 –

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The Electoral College by the Numbers

To understand why both the Senate and the Electoral College are failing America, you have to look at some numbers. Sorry about that, but, as they say, the devil is in the details. So take a deep breath, brace yourself, and let’s take the plunge.

First, a bit of background. The Founding Fathers had to write a Constitution that would be acceptable to all of the original thirteen colonies. The smaller colonies feared that a pure democracy would allow the more populous states to outvote them and run roughshod over them. The solution was to have Congress divided into two parts. The House would represent the people. Its size would be determined by the population. The Senate would represent the states. It would have two senators from each state, regardless of the number of citizens in that state.

Both the House and Senate would have to approve a bill for it to become law, subject to review by the President unless it was passed by a two-thirds majority in both chambers.

The President would be elected by the Electoral College. The Electoral College would be a weighted combination of the two chambers. Each state would have one Electoral College vote for each Representative and each Senator.

With me so far?

What did that mean in 1780? The most populous of the new states was Pennsylvania with 327,505 people. That gave Pennsylvania two Senators and eight Representatives. Thus, it had ten electoral college votes in the first presidential election.

The least populous state was Delaware with 45,385 people. It had two Senators and one Representative, giving it three Electoral College votes.

Not so hard to understand, right?

You will notice that this makes a vote in Delaware more significant than a vote in Pennsylvania in both the Senate and the Presidential elections.

In the race for the Senate, one vote in Delaware is worth seven votes in Pennsylvania because one Senator from Delaware has the same power as one Senator from Pennsylvania, even though seven times as many people voted in Pennsylvania.

The Electoral College isn’t quite as unbalanced, but a has a similar characteristic. In Delaware, each of their three Electoral College members represents 15,128 people. In Pennsylvania, each of their ten Electoral College members represents 32,730 people. Thus, the votes for President in Delaware carried slightly more than twice the weight of votes in Pennsylvania.

When the Constitution was ratified by the original thirteen colonies, that was considered fair and reasonable.

But America grew. It added thirty-seven more states. The problem is that some of those states are very large, population-wise, and some are very small. Today, the most populous state is California with 39,557,045 people and the least populous is Wyoming with 577,737 people.

The Founding Fathers never anticipated that one state would have sixty-nine times as many people as another state.

In Senate races, that means that one vote in Wyoming carries sixty-nine times more weight than one vote in California.

In the Presidential races, Wyoming has three Electoral College votes and California has fifty-five. Each Electoral College vote in Wyoming represents 192,579 people, and each Electoral College vote in California represents 719,219 people. One vote for President in Wyoming carries as much weight as 3.73 votes in California.

In summary, the disparity between states in political power in the Senate today is almost ten times greater than it was in 1780, and the disparity in political power in the White house is approaching double what it was.

That’s why both G. W. Bush and D. Trump could lose the popular vote and still become President. That’s why the current Senate is dominated by Republicans when sixty-percent of Americans voted for Democratic candidates in the Senate races.

The tail is wagging the dog.

It’s unlikely that the Constitution would be ratified today if it was put to a vote in California or New York because the playing field is tilted much too far in the direction of the least populous states. The slope is ten times greater now than it was. That’s an unacceptable change.

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How to be a Rebel for Real

So you want to be a cowboy – strong, independent, self-reliant – riding into town to gun down the bad guys. Great. America needs you. But a gunfight on Main Street at high noon isn’t going to make any difference in 2018. The world doesn’t work that way. It never did, except on the movie screen.

What makes a difference is political action. That’s what changes the world for the better.

So where does the cowboy, the rebel commander, the Green Beret find a place in politics? Aren’t politicians a bunch of phoneys in tailored suits chasing after donations from billionaires?

They are, so you don’t want to be a politician. You want to terrify politicians.

Let me tell you how to do it.

Primary them.

That’s what the lobby groups and billionaires do. That’s why politicians scurry around, serving the interests of the wealthy. They are not afraid of general elections – in most districts, the outcome of the general election is a foregone conclusion – but they’re terrified of the primaries because that’s where they’re vulnerable. They can lose their jobs in the primaries. The wealthy know that and that’s how they crack the whip over the politicians’ heads. They threaten to primary them.

But here’s a secret that most people don’t realize. It’s the voters who decide the primary elections, not the billionaires. It’s people like you who have all the power because, somewhere underneath all the bullshit and shenanigans, we still have a bit of democracy.

So why do the politicians answer to the billionaires and not to the people? Because the billionaires are organized and the voters are not. It’s that simple. Most people don’t bother getting involved in the primaries, they don’t even vote, so a wealthy organization like the NRA can mobilize a few people, get them into the voting booth, and control the outcome.

All we have to do is get one of our people out to vote contrary to each of the NRA’s puppets in every primary election and the NRA will lose all its political power to us. We have to get one of our rebels out to vote contrary to the Koch brothers’ lapdogs and their billions will rot in their pockets. Make our friends deny the primaries to Wall Street. And so forth.

You don’t have to change parties. You don’t have to like the other side. You don’t have to do anything disagreeable. If you’re a Republican; great, be a Republican. If you’re a free-market champion, great; be a free-market champion. The primaries are elections inside your party, not between parties, so you don’t have to switch sides.

First, you have to find out who the incumbents are. Who represents you in the House, who represents you in the Senate, who represents you in your state legislature?

Second, you have to find out if you like your incumbents’ voting record. There are some politicians who are trying to promote your interests. Not many, but a rare few. Find out if your representative is one of those.

Third, you have to vote for the right candidate. If you like your incumbents’ policies – not how he looks or how sweetly she smiles, but his or her actions in Washington or your state capitol – then vote for him or her. If you don’t like what they’ve done, and that, sadly, is the more likely case because lobby groups have been pulling their strings, then vote against the bastards. Find out who else is running in the primary election, pick the sanest, smartest one of the bunch, and vote for him or her.

Tell your friends and relatives to get out and vote for the right guy in the primaries, too. Multiply your power. Convince a dozen good men and women to vote for someone other than the incumbent and you’ll send a strong message to Washington that you matter. Flex your muscle and you will be heard. I promise.

Primary the bastards out of office and watch congressmen from both parties scramble to serve you, not the wealthy, during the next congressional session.

Don’t just sit there, hit the streets and be the gunslinger, the rebel commander, the freedom fighter that you were destined to be.

But do it now because the primaries are coming up fast and you have to get organized early; you can’t wait until the general election campaign begins. By the time you see television ads for the next election, the parties have already chosen their candidates and the middle class has already lost.

Google “primary election process” and your state name to find out how it’s done in your state and then take action. Do it today, because high noon is coming sooner than you think.

Let’s primary all those devious bastards out of office and show them who’s their real boss.

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Don’t Apologize for Me

The current fad is for governments to apologize for past wrongs to women, black people, people of Japanese ancestry, indigenous people, gay people, and any other group who feels that they were mistreated in previous generations.

Dear governments: Stop it. Stop apologizing on my behalf because I haven’t done anything that requires an apology.

Let us take slavery as the stereotypical example. Black people were treated abysmally in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries. There is no question about that. They were forcibly removed from their homes in Africa, enslaved, beaten, families were broken apart. That is well-documented and universally understood.

So why should I not apologize for those enormous crimes?

Because I didn’t commit those crimes. I never owned a slave; nor ever wanted to. Nor did my ancestors ever own slaves. They immigrated from Europe to America fifty years after slavery was finally outlawed in the United States. And they emigrated from countries that didn’t have slavery, at least, not since the time of the vikings. And, from what little I know about my ancient ancestors, they were more likely to be slaves than slave owners.

So why am I expected to apologize for slavery?

Because I’m white? What could be more racist than expecting me to apologize for the colour of my skin? I would never dream of asking a person of African or Asian descent to apologize for not being white, so why would anyone expect me to apologize because I am?

If my ancestors did support racist policies, what’s that to me? My parents were alive during the Second World War. They supported the internment of Canadians of Japanese descent. I believe that was wrong and am embarrassed that they did. But I’m not responsible for it. I can’t change what they did, not do I intend to apologize on their behalf.

What is my responsibility? I am responsible for my own actions. I am responsible for doing what is within my power to do. I am obligated not to be racist, sexist, or biased against people who identify gender differently. I am obligated not to imprison people unjustly and not to enslave people. I am obligated to hire and pay people according to their talents and capabilities, and not because of their skin colour, ancestry, or gender.

Further more, I am obligated to oppose people who are racist and support people, especially politicians, who oppose racism.

I am not a nazi because I believe that all people should be treated equally; I am not a white supremacist because I do not believe that my skin colour makes me superior, and I’m not alt-right because I do not believe in allowing police to profile people by race.

But, that does not mean that I will apologize for anything that my ancestors did to your ancestors. Rather, I will endeavour, in my own lifetime, to treat all people fairly and equally.

To make the world a better place, we must learn from the past and not repeat those mistakes. But we need not apologize for anything for which we are not responsible.

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Being White, Writing Black

I am a novelist and I am white. My great-grandparents immigrated to the United States and Canada from Ireland, Scotland, Sweden, and Finland. My ethnicity has been confirmed by DNA tests on both my parents. You’d have to go back to the prehistoric migrations to find any of my ancestors who were born in Africa.

So the question that arises is: Am I permitted to include black characters in my novels?

Why not? There are plenty of black people in North America. How can I set novels in California, New York State, or elsewhere in North America without including the occasional black character? If I consciously exclude black characters, then I could be legitimately accused of racism.

This leads to a second question: Am I permitted to give black characters important roles in my novels?

Of course I am. Again, if I consciously limit black characters to background roles – make them mere props – then I can be legitimately accused of racism for marginalizing them.

Which leads directly to a third question: Am I permitted to make a black character my main protagonist?

I should. If I cast black characters only as villains and sidekicks in my novels, then I am doing black people a considerable disservice. Sometimes black people are heroes in the real world, so why not in my novels.

This leads to a more difficult fourth question: How do I write black characters?

Do I make them literary Oreos? Do I describe them as black, but then have them think, speak, and act in the same way as my white characters? Or do I “write black”? Do I try to make them think, speak, and act as real black people. And I mean, real black people, not exaggerated stereotypes like some kind of literary minstrel show. Black people with aspirations and prejudices of their own.

You should not be surprised to hear that I’m going to try to make my black characters as realistic as possible. I may not do it as well as I would like, but none of my writing is as good as I’d like. All that I can do is to write the best stories that I can.

Which brings me to one of my recent novels, not published under the Ashley Zacharias name, but written under a different pseudonym.

My main character is an ex-convict who found religion in prison and returned to his old neighborhood to establish a store-front church. He’s no saint – he’s big and tough, a womanizer, and maybe a bit of a con man. But when the teenage son of one of his flock is accused of a brutal murder and bullied by the police into a false confession, my hero is asked to help establish his innocence because, as an ex-con, he “knows the system.”

I never mention race in this novel. I don’t mention anyone’s skin color, eye color, or hair style. But I do have characters in the neighborhood speak ungrammatically as people with little education would. They are quick to anger, and resentful of both the wealthy people who live up the hill, and the middle-class professionals on the other side of town.

Though I never say that they are black, there is no question that the main characters are written black. And not as black professionals, but as black working class. The other characters, the wealthy victims, witnesses, police, and lawyers are not deliberately written black, but are more neutral. Some readers envision them as white, some as black. The police and lawyers, in particular, are seen as ambiguous.

I submitted the first ten pages of this novel to an agent. When I met with her, face-to-face, her very first words to me were, “You’re not black.”  I explained that I don’t mention race explicitly in the novel, that it’s about class conflict and the abuse of authority, but that made no difference. The agent was never going to represent me, no matter how good my novel. She never used the words, cultural appropriation, but her words and demeanor made her thoughts perfectly clear. No matter how good my writing, in her mind, I had no right to create major characters who appear to be black unless I am black, myself.

The reverse would never be true. When a black author writes a novel about white characters, no one raises an eyebrow.

But if the author is white, it doesn’t matter what he choses to do – exclude people of color, or relegate them to the background, or make them only villains and sidekicks, or make them protagonists who speak and act white, or make them protagonists who speak and act black – he will always be accused of racism.

So, if I’m going to be damned no matter what I write, then I’m damned well going to write what I want, as best as I’m able. And I’m not embarrassed about that novel. The first ten pages were convincing enough that the agent expected me to be black. That tells me that I managed to write black adequately. I published my novel myself; agents can no longer bar the gate to publication. Some day, I will write a sequel with the same protagonist and I will self-publish that one as well.

I see no reason to let the self-appointed guardians of political correctness censor me.

 

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You Don’t Want to Fire Civil Servants

Do you know what civil servants do when they get laid off? They go into industry and take your next promotion, your children’s job, or even your job away from you.

You don’t think so?

That’s because you believe the propaganda that the conservatives bruit about to bolster their own egos. Conservatives who are employed by private companies love to brag that they’re the tough guys who fight in the corporate jungle for every promotion and get fired if they don’t cut the mustard. They contrast themselves to the pampered pansies who work for the government. They claim that stupid, incompetent, lazy civil servants couldn’t survive in the real world.

Bullshit.

Let’s look at a few hard truths.

First, government jobs are good jobs with good job security and good benefits. So what does that mean? That means that the competition for government jobs is fierce.

It’s no surprise that, on average, civil servants have more university degrees than workers in the private sector; the government gets first pick of the best candidates.

Consider an example that I know from personal experience. A position in marketing for a government library – yes, the government does marketing, just like private companies – opened up. Six hundred and  fifty people applied for the position. Who got it? The woman who had three university degrees – a bachelors and two master’s degrees, including a master’s in business administration – had two of her books published by a well-known engineering press, and had years of experience in both private industry and government, which included running her own library for several years.

Do you think that you could have won that job competition against her? Six hundred and forty-nine candidates, some of them very well qualified, lost to her.

And if she gets laid off and comes to your company looking for a job as your supervisor, do you think that your management is going to promote you instead of hiring her? Are you in the top 0.15% of the people who want your supervisor’s job? Not likely.

Second, government employees have a lot of experience. Where a private company has a limited product line, government departments do everything from write laws to fly to the moon – literally; NASA is a government agency. Most government managers have moved between departments to gain experience. They may be managing the development of new fertilizers for agriculture one year, giving grants for subsidized housing the next year, and three years later, writing press briefings about border patrol issues.

All that experience is gained in the biggest, most complex organization in the country. Civil servants write more memos, attend more meetings, and read more reports than you can imagine. And they get really good at understanding bureaucratic procedures.

People working in private industry like to think of themselves as graduates of the school of hard knocks, but they have no idea how cutthroat the competition for promotion is in the government.

On top of all that, consider, that the government works with private industry all the time. Many managers in the civil service have extensive personal contacts with senior managers in private companies. When they decide to leave the government, they know who to call. The vice presidents in your company take their calls, go to lunch with them, and give them letters of reference.

How does your resume stack up against that?

Third, when the government starts laying people off, who leaves? Not the slackers and incompetents. The best people always leave first because they’re the ones who know that they can get a better paying job in industry. I’ve seen many rounds of layoffs in government departments and I’ve seen those departments lose their best and brightest every time. And I’ve never seen those laid-off civil servants go on the dole. Most of them step into a job in industry without missing a pay-check.

So, the next time you hear some politician promising to cull the civil service, take a moment and look at your own job. How secure are you going to be if there are tens of thousands of better educated, better qualified, more experienced, better connected ex-civil servants knocking on your company’s door.

If you can force yourself to be honest, you’ll have to admit that you’re going to be better off if those civil servants remain in their government offices than if they are let loose on the streets in search of new jobs.

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