Utopia 6: Night Out

“TV is sometimes accused of encouraging fantasies. Its real problem, though, is that it encourages-enforces, almost-a brute realism. It is anti-Utopian in the extreme. We’re discouraged from thinking that, except for a few new products, there might be a better way of doing things.”

Bill McKibben

Night Out

Jack walked into the Majority Whip and scanned the people scattered about in the intimate establishment.  He had no trouble spotting his friend, Matt, at the bar.  Matt was cradling a beer and watching a television screen with rapt attention.  Several people surrounded him doing the same.  There was a well dress woman on the screen standing at a podium and talking emphatically.  She pounded a pointed finger at the surface of the podium repetitively emphasizing each sentence.

“I am not saying that a person does not have the right to choose their own actions.  I am saying that I should have the right not to pay for actions that are blatantly foolish!”

To this, several of the people at the bar cheered.  Matt was among them.  He lifted his glass of beer to the screen, “You tell ’em who’s boss, honey!”  he shouted and laughed.  One of the men standing near him clapped him on the back.  Several of his companions laughed.

Jack slid in to the seat next to Matt.  Murphy, the burly, black man behind the bar, nodded to him and pointed to a glass.  Jack nodded affirmatively and soon Murphy placed a cold beer in front of him.

He and Matt were about the only two bachelors in their 30’s in their neighborhood, and so they had made a natural friendship.  Even if that was about all they had in common.  Just about every other Thursday night Jack and Matt went out to a place called the Majority Whip. Being a history buff, Jack understood the name, but he had been unable to explain the arcane reference to Matt. Matt just liked the atmosphere of the place…and the beer.

In years gone by, the establishment had served cheap vegetarian cuisine and a variety of Koffees. Lately, with the food crisis easing, it started to serve some local meats and beer–at a price of course. Jack appreciated the beer but Matt was positively celebratory when the beer began to flow. Barley and hops were easier to grow than grapes and so beer became an affordable luxury even when wine was an extravagance.

Matt took notice of Jack immediately, “I’ve already ordered.  Get Murph’s attention and order something for yourself.”  He then returned his attention back to the screen to cheer on his chosen champion as she made another salient point.

“OK,”  Jack signaled Murphy again.  “What’s the debate about?”  Jack was a fan of legislative debate and nearly any debate could hold Jack’s attention once he knew anything at all about the issue being debated.  Matt on the other hand had never been that political in his motivations and it surprised Jack to see him this exuberant about a debate.

“Oh…Some smoker’s tax.  She wants to levy a tax on those who smoke tobacco to add to the health fund and to discourage land use for tobacco instead of food.”

“Hmm…Funny…you don’t smoke.  Why the interest?”  Jack inquired with one eyebrow lifted.

“Yeah well…” then a little lower, “I got a bill riding on this with a friend.”

“Matt!  Geezus.  Keep your voice down!  Are you nuts?”

A sudden pall fell over the men surrounding Matt at the bar.  The tall, thin man who had clapped Matt on the back a second earlier froze with his beer half way to his lips. He gave Matt a meaningful, sideways glance.

“Its cool Cy.  He just doesn’t…follow politics.”, Matt gave a dismissive wave.  Of course nothing could have been further from the truth.  Jack was an avid fan of politics.  Jack opened his mouth to say something to that effect and closed it again when he caught sight of the faces surrounding Matt.  The men at the bar continued to be somewhat subdued and looked at Jack with new found suspicion.

Matt turned to Jack, “Man why are you so up tight?  No one cares but you, Jack.  Its just a little friendly bet.  Its not going to change anything.”

“Tell it to the police.  Do you have any idea what the fine for that is?”  Jack whispered back harshly.

After the Reorganization most people felt they had more control of their government.  There was a resurgence in interest in the workings of governance.  People had started to watch debates that influenced their lives more closely and politicians had become showmen.  News cast devoted a large segment on their nightly broadcasts to on going arguments and votes that were taking place.  They even discussed strategy.  Most people had felt that this had been good for democracy, but it had brought one unwelcome side effect–gambling.

As people took more interest so did unscrupulous forces.  Black market gambling on the outcome of legislative votes had become a problem.  Additionally, there was evidence that some very important votes had been thrown by bribe money offered by the gambling industry.  Since that discovery, gambling on the outcome of a legislative votes was strictly illegal.  And so it became, of course, more popular than ever.

Jack got Murphy’s attention and ordered a omelet with carrot salad and a side of polenta.  Since the food shortage, fries were not the ubiquitous side dish they once had been.

By the time he got his food the arguments had finished and the vote was being called.  The tobacco bill passed and Matt clapped the bar with his hand in his glee.  A man with Asian features slapped several bills down on the counter in front of Matt with a grimace.

“Pleasure doing business with you, Tony.”  Matt said with a shit eating grin as he picked up the bills and pocketed them.

Matt had finished his dinner and spun around on his seat to face the rest of the room while he waited for Jack to finish.  When Jack looked up again something clearly had Matt’s attention.  Jack followed Matt’s gaze, knowing what he would find.  Matt did not disappoint.  Several young women had entered the cafe.  Among the group was a woman from the neighborhood that both Jack and Matt recognized, Molly.  Jack knew immediately which one of Molly’s friends had garnered Matt’s attention.  The one with the dark hair and an ample bustline.  Just the sort of thing his friend would find attractive.

“Nice.”  Jack said softly to Matt as he turned back to his meal.

Hmm…very nice.”  Matt set his beer back on the bar and got up.

Jack turned to watch his friend at work, something he had always found fascinating about Matt.

Matt quite purposefully bumped into the lady and then made a scene of apologizing to her for his clumsiness while he very gracefully maneuvered to pull the chair out for her as she was seated at her table with her friends.  Then he pretended to go.

He allowed just enough time for the women with his intended target to snicker and make a few comments about the encounter before he returned and laid his hand on the arm of the woman’s chair.  He then knelt  on one knee so he could gaze up at the woman before asking her if she would accompany him to some function.  It did not matter what the function was, Jack knew, it did matter that he gaze up at her when he asked.  That was something Matt had told him.  That gazing upward made you look vulnerable and made her feel in charge.  It increased the chances that she would say yes.  The woman smiled and covered her mouth in a demure gesture and then said something to Matt.  He smiled back and obviously thanked her and then turned to come back to his seat.

Jack continued to watch the women as Matt was returning to his seat.  What Matt did not see, because his back was turned, was Molly immediately gripped the woman’s wrist with some urgency.  Molly was  obviously warning her about Matt’s reputation.

By now Jack was done with his dinner and he was sipping the remainder of his beer while Matt pulled out his vid-phone.  He smiled his winning smile at Jack and then keyed in Sonia@mindmeld.cell and hit the save button.

“You dog.”  Jack looked away.

“Look, I can’t help it if you are date disabled.”  Jack chuckled at the insult.

Jack was still single because he was soft spoken, studious and what

Matt called “date disabled”. Matt, on the other hand, was clearly not date disabled.  Matt  was not attached because he enjoyed variety.  And he had the looks that guaranteed a great deal of variety.  Dark loosely curly hair, clear smooth skin, and a winning smile with a hint of dimples.  It didn’t hurt that Matt took full advantage of the Community Wellness Center’s gym and had a physique that made Jack jealous as well.

“I may be date disabled but your reputation proceeds you.  Molly’s already talking her out of it.”

Matt turned to see Molly talking to Sonia with animated gestures.  Matt caught Sonia’s eye and flashed another winning smile.  It was clear from the look on her face that Sonia could not even hear what Molly was saying while Matt was smiling at her.

“Don’t count on it.”  Matt grinned.


The Concepts Behind the Fiction:

1.  Gambling on the Government:

“A lot of people care about sports.  If people cared about government as much as they care about sports, we’d probably have a lot more educated public.”

Andrew Lee creator of Fantasy Congress

Chicago Tribune 10-27-06

If the President Signs You Score

If you are reading this on one of the more political sites, I put this chapter of the fiction in just for you.

In years gone by, people waited all day outside to see local politicians debate…which they did for hours at a time.  There were also large crowds of people who assembled to listen to lectures given by people who espoused some very radical ideas…like Emma Goldman, whose quote started this series.  Going to such lectures was akin to what going to the movies is today. You might have even taken a date to such an event.  Sports were attended and watched but they took a back seat to politics and other concerns (like social events).

I started to think about what it would take to move the mass of Americans back in time to a period when debate was a major source of entertainment, when I discovered a rather odd phenomenon.

“My roommate was playing [Fantasy Football] and screaming gleefully, and I was thinking, ‘I’m the lonely political blogger,'” Lee said. “You know all this news, and what can you do about it?”–The Hillsdale Collegian, Congress in a Click

What I stumbled upon was a site where people picked their favorite politicians as a “fantasy political team” and then got points as the politicians got bills through Congress.

As in fantasy sports games, each player drafts a real-life team — in this case, lawmakers form the team rather than football or baseball players.

Players choose 16 legislators — a dozen from the House and four from the Senate — and are required to pick politicians from across the power spectrum.

Players earn points depending on their legislators’ success in introducing bills and shepherding them through the legislative process to the president’s desk.

The site uses a massive database, updated daily, to track legislation moving through Congress and reflect the progress of real legislators passing real legislation.

And as in fantasy sports games, some on a team are more successful than others, so Fantasy Congress is an online fantasy simulation sport where players, called citizens, draft members of the United States House and Senate, and keep track of their participation within the U.S. Congress. also allows players to trade politicians on a team’s active lineup. Washington Bureau

I know I named Jack’s world “Utopia” but I did not want to make it seem too perfect.  They do have a food shortage and a water problem.  But they had to have other unforeseen problems as well.  So I gave them a rather odd gambling problem.  Their laws have actually been tampered with due to gambling because debate had replaced sports as America’s pass time.  The Fantasy Congress people also have their problems.

The way the points work implies that the more laws that are passed in Congress the better. Otherwise-admiring critics of Fantasy Congress are not sure that should be the way to win the game.

“What if there’s a bad bill?” Hillsdale College Professor of Political Science Thomas Krannawitter said. “A good statesman might hold it up.”

Krannawitter said he feels Fantasy Congress is useful to the degree it encourages citizens to pay attention to what their Congress is doing. At the same time, however, it encourages statesmanship to be confused with legislative efficiency and the passing of bills that could be unconstitutional or unwise, he said.    The Hillsdale Collegian

OK…I admit that it is a stretch to think that CSPAN will some day replace ESPN.  In fact the I can no longer get to the site so apparently the game is now defunct.  But it was fun just as a fantasy wasn’t it?

Open Congress

2.  A Challenge

If you are reading this on a not so political site, I want to challenge you to an experiment. This may seem contradictory, but stop watching TV for two weeks.  OK if you have to watch the next episode of Heroes, I understand.  Stop watching the news for 2 weeks.  That’s right.  No CNN, MSNBC, and God forbid no Fox.

Instead try getting your information from a variety of independent sources on radio, podcasts or written word.  The depth of the coverage and your understanding of the world will be far greater using these sources.  I have provided some suggestions below.  Also try reading your local paper.  Lord knows they sure could use it.

Then go back and watch your favorite news show.  What do you notice?  What do they cover independently that is not covered in corporate news and vice versa?  How is the tone about the stories different in the 2 sources?  Are opinions sometimes presented as facts?  Is your feeling about the show different?   Is it something like:  “Stop!  Its burning my eyes!  MAKE IT STOP! IT BURNS!  IT BURNS!”  Or something like that.  Well at least that is the reaction that I have to corporate news now after years of getting my news from more independent sources.  The news from these corporate sources seems flighty, shallow, glitzy, filled with commentary disguised as facts, and quite frankly thinly disguised propaganda.  I can barely tolerate 15 min before shutting it off in disgust.  See what you think.

Democracy Now!

Unwelcome Guest

Free Speech Radio News

Pacifica Radio

Letters from Washington: The First 100 Days

Common Dreams

The Daily Reckoning

Behind the News


Media Monarchy

Electric Politics

Project Censored

Blacklisted News


The Real News Network

Huffington Post


Raw News


Guns and Butter

Against the Grain

Bill Moyer’s Journal



Think Progress

Talking Points Memo

The Nation

Harper’s Magazine

Mother Jones

Yes Magazine

Further Reading:

Media Control by Noam Chomsky

Necessary Illusions by Noam Chomsky

Manufacturing Consent by Edward S. Herman

Always On by Christopher Vollmer

Audiovisual Selection:

Outfoxed by Robert Greenwald

Control Room by Jehane Noujaim

Manufacturing Consent by Peter Wintonick

Science Fiction Selection:

1984 by George Orwell