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Funny Business in the Booth

Vote for James H. ‘Jim’

by NIRANJ ...

My son is taking a class on ‘Elements of Comedy’ at his school this quarter. Hearing him talk of distinctions between ‘ridiculous’ and ‘ludicrous’, ‘preposterous’ and ‘absurd’, all of which we had in our ignorance hitherto thought merely ‘funny’, our household has lately been awakened to a heightened appreciation of why, specifically, we had been laughing at various things all these years. A Moliere within a Moliere, as it were. Now that would be an irony, I should think. Or is it a case of circular logic? I give up. His headache, not mine.

But can any number of comedy studies classes prepare one for something like this:

Some Voting Machines Chop Off Candidates’ Names
Computer Glitch Affects Voters in 3 Jurisdictions; Error Cannot Be Fixed by Nov. 7

By Leef Smith
Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 24, 2006; B04

U.S. Senate candidate James Webb’s last name has been cut off on part of the electronic ballot used by voters in Alexandria, Falls Church and Charlottesville because of a computer glitch that also affects other candidates with long names, city officials said yesterday.

<stuff omitted…>

Thus, Democratic candidate Webb will appear with his first name and nickname only — or "James H. ‘Jim’ " — on summary pages in Alexandria, Falls Church and Charlottesville…

There, but for the grace of God … was my first thought as I read the report. If the machine deemed "James H. ‘Jim’ Webb" too long, I could only thank my stars that I had firmly turned down all requests to run for the Senate from Virginia this year.

I scanned the Post article to see if a similar fate had attended George Allen, Webb’s incumbent opponent in the race. A quick tally revealed that George Allen had more letters in his name than James Webb — even more if you added recently-acquired middle names like ‘Macaca’ and ‘Stock Option’.

Actually, Allen did pretty well in what might be termed The Great Virginia Ballot Massacre of 2006. The report goes on to say George Allen is one of the few whose names appear in full, although his party affiliation has been cut off. Fortune finally appears to be shining on Allen. What a godsend, in a time when according to every poll, the presence of the letter ‘R’ after the candidate’s name appears tantamount to electoral cyanide!

Diebold has really outdone itself this time, I said to myself as I read the story. Except the company in charge of messing up elections in Virginia is, it turns out, not Diebold but another called Hart InterCivic, whose name appears in full in the WP report. Was it Tolstoy who wrote that happy families are all alike, while each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way? One type of mess in Florida, another in Ohio, yet another in Virginia… Who says originality is dead in America?

Hart InterCivic and Virginia’s Secretary of Elections were both assuring the public, (per the Post report on Page B4) in rather chirpy terms, that Hart InterCivic intends to install the newer system version before the next election in 2007.

In an brilliant article The Evening of Empire) in Counterpunch recently, the analyst Werther set out a grim view of our situation, drawing parallels between the mendacity, authoritarianism and unrelieved bungling that will forever mark America in the Bush years, with identical trends which characterized the last years of the Roman Empire.

Ah, but was Rome ever this funny, er … burlesque? farcical? parodic?

Niranjan Ramakrishnan can be reached at njn_2003@yahoo.com. His blog is at http://njn-blogogram.blogspot.com.