Local Voices

Taking Issue with the Electoral College

By Kelly Bates   |   Thursday, August 19, 2010
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Our Country can take a simple idea and make it complex. I have a deep abiding respect for our founding fathers that came up with great ideas for how our country should run. But I also recognize they made some mistakes. Certainly making a slave three-fifths of a person in our constitution was one, and denying women the right to vote was another. But I take special issue with the obscure and quite bizarre Electoral College system that we use to elect Presidents.

In just one year, election campaigning will start in earnest for the 2012 Presidential election. It feels like yesterday when Obama and McCain were touting the slogans “Change we can believe in” and “Country first”. Yet in the blink of an eye, a new Presidential season will be upon us.

The Massachusetts legislature is considering a bill that calls on our country to adopt a national popular vote system. Changing this system may prove difficult, but it’s certainly not impossible and it’s worthy of every voter’s serious consideration.

The United States elects our President not by direct election where each voter casts a ballot and whoever gets the majority vote wins. That would be too easy and too democratic. Instead, each state has a number of electors equal to its total Congressional representation. Most states award all electors, usually state elected officials or party leaders, to the winner of the popular vote in their state, regardless of whether the winner was ahead by one vote or by millions. The founders didn’t trust ordinary voters to make their own decisions. They were also concerned about the fate of smaller states that have smaller populations.

Because of this, Presidential candidates only campaign in the states that are equally divided between Republicans and Democrats, so called “battleground” states. More than 98% of all campaign events and spending take place in only 15 states. And Massachusetts isn’t one of them. That is not fair to our state, our voters, and our democracy.

Four times in history, the candidate who placed second in the popular vote actually won the presidency under the current system. The most recent example was in 2000, when Presidential contender Al Gore won the popular vote by over 500,000 votes, but ultimately lost to George Bush who had more electoral votes.

In order for the system to change to a popular vote, states representing a majority of the Electoral College will need to pass laws like the bill in Massachusetts. Five states have already passed the popular vote proposal. Every vote and every state should count. Let’s see if Massachusetts agrees.

The Artists' Mind

By Alicia Anstead   |   Thursday, August 19, 2010
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"It would be naïve to think that a game like Bananagrams—or any game for that matter—couldn’t have an artist’s brain behind it"

When you think of the great contributions to American visual art, you may think of Winslow Homer and his watercolors of the civil war. Or Georgia O’Keeffe and her ubiquitous flowers. Or Maya Lin and her Vietnam Memorial.

I’d like to add one more name to that list: Abraham Nathanson, creator of the board game Bananagrams. I’m not suggesting that a board game is like a painting. But I am suggesting that the imaginations of artists may be broader and more useful to us than we sometimes give them credit for.

Nathanson attended Pratt Institute of Design in Brooklyn, NY in the 1950s after the war. He went on to become an industrial designer. But he was also a jewelry designer, a fine-art photographer and children’s book illustrator.

Although he may have been an artist his whole life, Nathanson’s game fame was rather brief. But it was an auspicious and swift rise to glory. He was in his middle 70s when he invented Bananagrams for his grandchildren who visited him during summers in Pawtucket RI. And he was 80 when he died on June 6th. In 2009, the Toy Industry Association named Bananagrams “Game of the Year.” Millions of the little yellow crescent purses holding letter tiles have been sold in this country.

I had never heard of Nathanson before I read his obituary in the Boston Globe this week. The story caught my eye because it had the words “artist” and “Bananagrams” in the headline. You don’t often see that combination. I suspect Nathanson thought of himself as an artist in relationship to his photography and to his jewelry. But it would be naïve to think that a game like Bananagrams – or any game for that matter – couldn’t have an artist’s brain behind it.

One of the major benefits of art is that it makes us think more creatively. It helps us become better synthesizers, cross-discipline thinkers and problem solvers, even if the problem is: What should I do with my grandchildren when they get bored this summer? I wonder what would happen if we asked artists like Nathanson to help us solve some of our bigger problems such as health care or the devastating gusher down in the Gulf of Mexico. I’m not saying there’s a direct line from Bananagrams to world peace. But there is a connection between imagination and solutions to both the trivial and the tragic. Just ask an artist.

Basic Black ONLINE Exclusive: Gay Rights and the Civil Rights Movement (November 5, 2009)

Thursday, August 19, 2010
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After the television broadcast, our panelists continued to explore the intersection of the gay rights movement and the modern civil rights movement.

Awoken by Sleep No More

By Alicia Anstead   |   Friday, August 6, 2010
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"My friend and I recently had a conversation about a show we saw last year – the wildly popular “Sleep No More,” which American Repertory Theater produced with the English group Punchdrunk. “Sleep No More” combined the tragedy of “Macbeth” with the creepiness of Hitchcock. Actors performed on several floors of an abandoned Brookline high school. Classrooms were converted into medieval chambers, or a Scottish heath or a 1940s noir hotel lobby. Scrums of audience members raced to follow actors in character or stumbled upon the ghostly Banquo dinner scene. And sometimes you felt like you were walking into someone’s bedroom. Because you were. The Macbeths, for instance.

My friend and I argue passionately about shows but mostly we argue to argue because in the end we seem to agree on nearly everything. But in this particular instance, we disagreed about the take-away you get from a work of art. He liked the show when he saw it. I admired the imagination of “Sleep No More,” but I get the jolt my friend did. I’m not really into audience participation. I like the fourth wall, and “Sleep No More” didn’t have it for me. It was fine, but I wasn’t powerfully moved standing there in Burnham Wood.

I did have to admit that while “Sleep No More” didn’t shake me in the moment, it forever changed the way I perceive not theater but real life. I saw the show alone on a spooky rainy night, and when I left the old school, I suddenly had a heightened awareness about the world on the street. “Sleep No More” had awakened in me a voyeurism for human activity, and everything I saw that night on the way home seemed like the stuff of drama: the couple making out on the subway, the mother screaming at her baby, even a machine shop eerily lit after hours. “Sleep No More” gave me permission to stand in the middle of humanity and see it as a love story, as a family saga, as a set waiting for its actors.

When does art happen? In the theater? Or later: out in the real world? My friend and I could argue that one endlessly, but I suspect we’d finally agree on this point: Art happens on its own schedule. That may not be when you’re in the museum, or in the theater, or when you finish a poem. It may be later, when art sees that you’re ready for it. But watch out: Art can sneak up on you months later, ambush you like an argumentative friend, and change you from a regular person walking down the street to an audience member in the middle of life."

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