The Goat Spitting Secret

The Mindful Adventurous Comedy
About Moving
From A Dysfunctional Congress
To Widespread Economic Prosperity

[Draft 2023-November-22]

by Richard Fobes  (Pronunciation: Fobes rhymes with robes)


Legal Stuff

© Copyright 2023 by Richard Fobes at  All rights reserved.  No part of this book may be copied or spoken or reproduced or transmitted (or eaten) in any form or by any means without written permission from the publisher.  Permission to use excerpts in brief reviews is hereby permitted.

Also hereby permitted without cost is the performance of this dialog in a theater or sound recording studio by volunteer actors organized by a non-profit organization on the conditions that there are no word changes and that every theater performance and every published audio or video recording includes the full dialog without any omission and that all financial income after expenses exclusively goes to the non-profit organization.

Published by:
Solutions Through Innovation
PO Box 19003
Portland, OR 97280-0003

The characters in this story are fictional, based on voices in the author's head.begin-superscript*end-superscript  Any resemblance to actual people, other than the author, is entirely coincidental.  Exception: The author's now-deceased brother had the visual disability that Damien has.  (begin-superscript * end-superscript The author has experienced, at least briefly, being a corporate CEO, homeless person, commodity trader, manual laborer, business owner, hardware store clerk, landlord, renter, only male or only native English speaker in a household, software developer, massage therapist, physics major, dance performance group leader, grad student, neighborhood organizer, election-method expert, contract technical writer, and dance instructor.)

The words of dialog in this book are opinions expressed by fictional characters who are speaking with rhythm, rhyme, and wit.  To check the validity of their opinions please consult Wikipedia and other non-fiction (peer-reviewed, scientifically supported) sources of information.



First Edition, ePub edition, published 2025.

ISBN 9780963222152

BISAC DRA000000 (Drama, General), FIC016000 (Fiction, Humorous, General), POL008000 (Political Science, Political Process, Campaigns & Elections)


Also by Richard Fobes

Ending The Hidden Unfairness In U.S. Elections

The Creative Problem Solver's Toolbox



This story is a comedy, written as dialog.  A young carpenter named Damien struggles to understand why the worlds of business and politics are upsidedown for himself, his fiancé, and for his generation.  He flunked out of community college so he gets assistance from Desha who is a wild young woman with a degree in political science.  Together they meet in secret with wise mentors who help them dig under layers of political dung, teach them important insights that school textbooks fail to teach, and reveal the hidden path that will flip the world right-side up.  What they learn reveals why the United States Congress lacks a backbone and couldn't crawl it's way out of an open paper bag lying on its side.  In the wild conclusion several worlds collide in surprising ways.

If you are angry at the craziness going on in U.S. politics, if you fear yet more school shootings, if you're frustrated that low wages aren't keeping up with high inflation, and if you fear increasing censorship of books and kitten videos, please take time to learn the big secret you'll want to share with your friends.

Can't wait to learn the secret?  The secret in a nutshell is called pairwise vote counting.  It will be used in general elections to count ranked choice ballots.  What does this mean?  Read the story to join Damien and Desha in their insightful adventure!  Then share this secret with your friends.

To find out about audiobook recordings and video performances of this witty dialog, point your browser to:


Scene 1, Our Middle Class Dreams

K (Katerina): Damien! Are you thinking of jumping off?

D (Damien): [Always speaks with lazy pronunciation.] With today's luck I'd land on somethin' soft.

K: Like marshmallows in a truck bed? Or slop from a pig trough?

D: Or my head.

K: That would put a dent ... in paying next month's rent. What's the matter?

D: I'm feelin' sadder than a limpin' seagull in winter in Seattle.

K: How'd you get there?

D: Life's so unfair. My dream's been shattered.

K: Which dream's been fractured? The picket fence around a front yard that's big enough for a Saint Bernard?

D: That's your dream. Mine was to enter the middle class.

K: Yeah, to gain that entrance you've been bustin' your ass.

D: My butt's busted. What more does it take?

K: Maybe a secret handshake? What's up?

D: Today my boss popped my bubble.

K: Is his business in trouble?

D: Nah, but he told me some stuff, about some laws that're rough.

K: The ones corporations can avoid?

D: Yeah, it's got me annoyed.

K: Some corporations are sneakier than pickpockets, con artists, and kids giving away free kittens.

D: Us taxpayers get pushed to the edge. Don't they see? We're lookin' down into a volcano of molten lava called bankruptcy.

K: You didn't tell me we're this close to the edge. How can this be?

D: How is it we who vote aren't the ones keepin' afloat? We're supposed to have democracy!

K: Yes we can vote, but most candidates are wimpy puppets, or slimey con artists.

D: Or third-party spoilers. I hate that sulfurous stink when I have'ta mark the lesser fink.

K: Yeah it's a big kink in democracy.

D: How come laws favor the wealthy? We make a big fuss, yet the few rich outvote us.

K: I wonder what happens to our votes. Are we just rabbits living near a den of coyotes?

D: I'm beginning to think the only prognosis is hopelessness.

K: Maybe it's hypnosis. Or the political ads I suppose.

D: We can see through those. Somethin's hidden. There's gotta be another villian.

K: A conspiracy? A dark-money tyranny? Or a Bermuda pentagon with two sides missing?

D: I dunno. But as my dad would say, Get to the root of the problem, that's where the solution lay.

K: My parents, they said with a smirk, Suit up, show up, pay attention, and then pretend to work work work.

D: Yeah I'm willin' to bust my ass. But I'll give it a pass if we're followin' the footsteps of Native Americans.

K: On a warpath?

D: Gettin' herded. Their shamans spoke [speaking clearly] White chieftains are lyin' wolves who herd us like buffalo. From our grazing lands to dry deserts where foods don't grow. They feed their greed beyond their need.

K: We're bein' herded indeed. Something's not right.

D: Damn I wanna know whose hand I should bite!

K: Financially, our life's so far upside down from where I want it to be.

D: I wanna be an employer, but I'm just an employee.

K: I wanna be a princess. But do you see a tiara on my empty head?

D: When dinner's got veggies 'n meat, our car's gas gauge says stay off the street.

K: My dental smile gives us cheer, but now when dining out we can't afford beer. Our finances are dreadful.

D: It's .... What's that word? Like evil. Like diablo.

K: Diabolical?

D: That's it! It's diabolical! It's a shakedown. The wealthy say that money trickles down. Maybe it does, temporarily, but not as fast as it drains from our wallet just for the bare necessities. They claim that workin' hard's a good bet. And yet, Las Vegas has better odds at roulette.

K: Do you want a chocolate truffle?

D: Somethin' brown to get me down? No thanks.

K: They're delicious.

D: I'm suspicious. Somethin's goin' on behind our backs.

K: Yes, right in front of our eyes.

D: Work 'n cash should come as a pair, but one without the other, that's not effin' fair!

K: Yeah, we're indentured to jerks and getting only table-scrap perks.

D: It ain't right. The boss I've got's almost a saint. Yet he says he's drownin' in taxes, 'n licenses, 'n insurance, 'n extra fees. Just keepin' track of these, plus postin' the Spanish version of the pregnancy accomodation rules for dogs and cats, adds another employee.

K: That leaves less money for me. Your paycheck's like a balloon with a leak.

D: Times are bleak. I know how to invent but that don't pay the rent. Not yet. 'N it won't if I'm not able to own my own biz.

K: I get a distressed feeling when I see you leaning over our balcony railing. I fret 'cause I've read that suicide is done by guys who can't yet find anyone else to blame. So who do you think's rigged the political game?

D: I dunno. Politics's so complex.

K: Yeah, everything interconnects.

D: Yet surely somewhere, maybe sittin' in a yoga pose on a high mountaintop, or kneelin' at an altar in a gothic cathedral, or standin' behind a counter askin' Do you want cheezy garlic bread with your pasta?, there's just gotta be a geek, or geekette, who knows the secret.

K: Even Google can't find that white grain of truth in an albino cat's litter box.

D: 'Specially 'cause most online search has kickback associations with big corporations.

K: Let's just say you found a guru who knew. What'd be your query, specifically?

D: How can we get better democracy? ... Wait. Not that. Ah yes, I'd ask What's at the root of unfairness ... in politics 'n business?

K: Bright professors teach at our city's college. In political science they teach about the electrical, er, electoral college, and German dating, er, gerrymandation, and such.

D: Katerina. You know I'd rather walk into a rattlesnake cage than turn another textbook page. Those pages shake my eyes faster than the snake's tail. My brain throbs as weaselly words try to drag me through dates 'n definitions, 'n the names of Thomas Jefferson's pets. 'N tests, those effin' devils, just rat out those of us who didn't read the textbook.

K: Now that's a real conspiracy. Textbooks and tests are in bed together, making baby test questions.

D: Just bein' inside a classroom feels like I've stepped into a boxin' ring, wearing not boxing gloves, but instead holding pom poms.

K: Ah yes, community college classes already knocked you out for the count.

D: Does it matter? History's just fat with notes from the past that's gone.

K: Just like an Elvis museum.

D: One math teacher told me one day that a monkey ... with a bad résumé ... could have done better than me on his tests. 'N fractions, those were created by the devil ... when he was in a snit!

K: I have to admit, sometimes I slipped just a bit in the academic jungle.

D: Anyways, do political scientists really understand how come politics's so perverted, so inverted? Surely, if they saw clearly, then Congress would better the economy. 'N then we wouldn't be stuck in this financial muck.

K: Yeah, political scientists do seem unscientific. And times seem horrific. I suppose you're right.

D: Who should I fight? Where's that thing, the tiltin' place?

K: The tipping point?

D: Yeah, how can we, the majority, get to where we can outvote the endless dollars of one percenters?

K: Father knows some jet setters ... from a distance. I'll ask him for assistance.

D: I know I'm not the sharpest banana in the fruit basket. But if there should be a really sharp banana, someone maybe who can tell me, without pointing to a big book, why the world's so upside down, then I'll struggle to learn. And then I'll struggle to turn things right side up so I can earn more dough.

K: When you find out who's to blame, for corruption in the governmental game, what then?

D: Then I'll shift from workin' hard for the masters we serve to earning the money we deserve.

K: If you don't get out of your slump, are you gonna jump?

D: I won't jump. I'm not a chump. It might take awhile, but I'll jump back on the crocodile 'n keep on ridin'. 'Cause I'm dyin'. To know how come things are upside down.

K: As long as you're not dyin' on me.

D: Some people say this is just the way it'll always be. But it's not OK. It's not fair! Seats in Congress should go to the wise. Yet sitting there now are selfish liars. We wanna elect problem-solving leaders, but what do we get? Egotistic special-interest puppets ... whose masters treat us like light bulbs.

K: Yeah, screwed.

D: I wanna change the world 'n turn it right side up!

K: The impossible. That's part of why I love you so. You want things to be fair. You really care! But you'll need lots and lots of luck.

D: Yet with it I hope to discover a way outta this muck.

K: Then finally we can reach prosperity.

D: 'N suffer less adversity.

K: I'll ask father for assistance.

D: 'N I, the dunce, will use my soft brain. As a shovel to dig down deep into elephant 'n donkey shit! My sanity depends on it.

Scene 2, Money Madness

D (Damien): 'ello mister Morton.

J (Jordon): Welcome to my home. 'N just call me Jordon.

D: Mister Hawken, my fiance's father, said you make money dance. 'N I'd like to advance my state of finance. Could ya teach me some tricks?

J: Shall we start with some licks? In the fridge is some mint chocolate chip ice cream. Want some?

D: That's too rich a taste for me. Risin' out of serfdom. That's my dream. I wanna pass to the middle class. I long to be financially secure, as an entrepreneur.

J: I applaud your taste for money. Lots of folks are fond of stuffed bears, warm and fuzzy. But a wallet that's fat, just like me, what's better than that?

D: Without money my world feels upside down, like a turtle on it's back.

J: With money, my world feels right side up. I've got a knack for acquiring riches, obscene amounts. It feels like getting payouts spilling onto the floor from a slot machine. Yet I want more. I can't afford my own jet, or a yacht. Not there yet. Don't yet got all I want.

D: So, what's the trick? Of gettin' money to fund a life not wrecked?

J: You've got to treat other people with respect, before you step on their toes. Then anything goes. That's the trick. That's how I act like a ... an entrepreneur.

D: So you put Benjamins before humans?

J: Think about this. The love of money is built into our language. We have zillions of words for money. There's alimony, annuities, assets, bonds, and bonus, bounty, bribe, and capital, cash, and commodities, credit, currency, debit, discount, expense, and funds, income, interest, investment, options, pension, ransom, rebate, and remittance, rent, revenue, securities, shares, subsidy, and wage, and even those awful words like charity and donation.

D: I see. 'N besides words for mula and dough, there're words like banker, accountant, economist, miser, embezzler, 'n vulture capitalist.

J: And investor, and venture capitalist, and part-time commodity trader, plus business owner, which are what I am.

D: Yeah, money's damn important.

J: Did you know that long ago, when writing was new, writing was used for banking and accounting?

D: That was before my time.

J: That way money was stored in banks, not in pockets nor in bags anymore. That protected traders from pirates, thieves, and marauding desperados.

D: Ah, pirates. That was a profession back when swashbuckling exams were open to the poor.

J: Pickpockets, pirates, and highway robbers have become as uncommon as blue-footed boobies. Now that money travels out of sight at the speed of light.

D: 'N the modern version of pirates is lawyers?

J: Oh no, today's lawyers are like ancient scribes. They write documents, but on paper instead of on parchment, or clay tablets, or pyramid walls.

D: So how do you choose where to put the money you've got, to get more? So you don't end up singing the blues.

J: Besides side-stepping traps set by gold diggers, I only invest in high-profit deals. The ones where I become an even bigger winner.

D: How come you don't invest in businesses that sell products and services that are the best?

J: The high-profit one has to compensate for the other eight, the ones that flop. Like Enron, the early pets dot com, and America Offline diskettes.

D: So you're seekin' the one big standout you can brag about?

J: Ah, yes, the unicorn. The one that swells my pockets til they burst. Missing out on one of those would be the worst. Yes, one unicorn in the forest is worth more than five zebras in the brush.

D: Zebras?

J: Those are the small businesses that march to riches slowly, by making something that consumers readily want, and selling a quality version at an affordable price. They don't need our venture capital for big marketing blitzes.

D: Isn't the whole business scene about selling what customers want? Or crave, like nicotine, ... 'n chocolate milk with Cheerios?

J: Sure money can be used to oppose customer dissatisfaction.

D: What I mean is, well, I'd like to find fundin' for a business venture. I've invented a tool for cleanin' leaf gutters, without gettin' on a ladder. So I'll ask, would ya invest in a business that sells the best kind of tool for that task?

J: Nah, that would be harder to advertise than a cordless bungee-jumping franchise.

D: Lots of people get hurt when they hit the dirt from fallin' off a ladder while cleanin' a gutter. Some land on their head, and end up dead.

J: That's a great spin! Fear of fallin'. That's a fear that would sell lots of product. Do you have a patent?

D: I can't afford that expense. At thousands of dollars, that cost is way too immense.

J: Many tens of thousands of bucks.

D: That sucks. I couldn't afford even a few hundred dollars to ...

J: Why would I invest? Not unless there's a barrier against competitors. There's gotta be a monopoly. Either a legal monopoly, or some kind of virtual monopoly. That way my investment doesn't evaporate like a raindrop falling into Death Valley.

D: So a workin' prototype's not enough?

J: Sorry to sound tough, but that's too rough. That's as useless as a machine-gun mount on the back of a golf cart. What the biz needs to succeed is a big amount of income, plus customers and testimonials. Then we might lay out some funds.

D: If income I already had, I could self-fund it. 'N with that I could go to a bank 'n ask for a loan.

J: Ha, the bank officials might nod ernestly instead of groan ... out loud. They might even encourage you to open an account, and get you to fill out a few forms. But when you've stepped out the door, they'll wet themselves with laughter.

D: If I were to buy a house they'd loan for that.

J: A mortgage, hah. It doesn't work like that. Instead the bank buys the house. Your down payment's big enough to pay for a year of law school. So if soon you lose your job and miss a payment, a remittance, or two, they sell the house. Then you and a couple of other homeowners have paid for a banker's kid to become a lawyer. That path leads to homelessness, unless you have trustworthy income.

D: So banks don't loan money?

J: They still do a bit, occassionally. Mostly now they're high-rolling gamblers that make casinos look like kids playing a game of Monopoly. They make big money by buying and selling, ah, another word for money, derivatives. Big things, not small things.

D: What're derivatives?

J: Those are contracts on paper, or the cyberspace equivalent, written by lawyers. Lots of times they're promises to pay money if something happens, like if interest rates rise or fall.

D: That sounds a lot like gamblin'.

J: It is. And gambling, that's what we venture capitalists do too. We supply capital. It's like those ancient sea voyages. Someone had to buy the ship, pay sailors, and stock up on gruel and limes, before they could sail from the dock. Then, on return, if they returned, the cargo was sold, and the backer got his share of the gold.

D: 'N the captain 'n crew got what?

J: What they got was a temporary pass to the middle class. Until they got swindled, badly beaten in a casino, or stuck with alimony payments that would fund a small bank.

D: But the backer got more?

J: Of course, 'cause he took the biggest risk. Remember there were pirates. And sometimes the winds were not brisk.

D: Those times were cruel, barbaric, and excitin'.

J: They were. In those ancient times fighting was done by soldiers. Now fighting is so much safer. It's done by lawyers fighting with legal documents instead of swords. And instead of wearing armour, or bullet-proof vests, they wear colorful neckties, or Victoria's Secret lingerie. Quite civilized nowadays.

D: I think I see how money works. So how can I switch from bein' an employee to become an employer? Ownin' a small business, that's my dream. Some success, financially, so I can buy a fixer-upper house, pay for ultra-fast access to, er, ..., kitten videos, 'n drive a car that didn't come off Henry Ford's production line. Not a private jet. Not even just a log cabin in the woods. Not yet. I just want fair rewards for my hard work. How do I make that leap?

J: You need to dig deep, to develop a compelling vision. A lofty one that will inspire. Then you hire workers who follow your vision like ducklings behind their mom. You work them hard. You hire lawyers to sue competitors. And of course you hire marketing folks who super-size your PR blitzes. They'll make ads that are so grand that consumers will trust your brand.

D: So I should start a cult? 'N of course there'd be an app with that.

J: That might put you on the wealthy map. If you shift the idolotry to money.

D: It sounds like makin' money is about lyin' 'n cheatin'.

J: It's not lying. That's not cheating. It's marketing and stepping on toes. In fact anything goes. But not lying and cheating. 'Cause that lands you in the slammer. That'd be a bummer 'cause your bank accounts in prison are as useless as a light saber against an assault weapon.

D: To get ahead financially I have to step on people's toes?

J: Or a gentle push to the nose. Business is all about competition. It's the very foundation of a free market.

D: Stomping on toes. Anything goes. That's the trick of corporations. How come they're the winners in the business world?

J: Ah, the key is politics. We shareholders and investors give money to politicians. Then to us they listen. That's not cheating. It's not against any law. I share mula with any politician who passes laws that dump big amounts of golden coins into my bank accounts.

D: After your money buys you a louder voice, in politics, what do ya get from the politicians you buy?

J: Tax breaks and subsidies. And sometimes legal monopolies. Oh I do love these. With these breaks, my business thrives.

D: But not so for others' lives. The customers. The employees.

J: If someone else gets beaten, that's their choice. They need to speak up with a louder voice.

D: Don't you fear the folks who want to tax the wealthy?

J: The business that I closely own, with more profit it could buy a beach house, or ski lodge, or yacht. Something I don't yet got, besides my timeshare in Hawai'i. My biz buddies and I would share it. Or rent it to me for almost free. That tactic evades hefty income tax rates. So an extra tax on the rich, it misses me.

D: So the key is ownin' a biz?

J: Indeed. And getting on a board of directors is another sweet gig. Three businesses pay me to travel to their board meetings. There we vote to reduce labor costs. Then, using big profits from the previous year's labor-cost drop, we vote for huge bonuses for ourselves. That's sandwiched within a resort vacation. At a fancy spot where I lounge for days with a date who's hot. Or at least I rent a Beemer convertible and indulge in rich meals with someone like flirty Felicity Dimwittle. Plus I do some side deals. And most of it's deductible, another money word that brings me joy.

D: So the tax breaks and subsidies are for companies. The ones you own, or own shares of?

J: Yup. The paperwork's a hassle, but those sly tricks are legal. All because we pay off politicians.

D: Don't lawyers also assist?

J: Yes our lawyers fight battles in court. They exterminate our enemies. But nowadays no blood is shed. The loser only suffers financially.

D: It seems the lawyers at the top of the legal food chain always win. Why's that?

J: They write the bills that get passed into law. So of course they know where the loopholes are. It's all a big family. I do love it.

D: When you get tax breaks, or legal monopolies, how big are they?

J: Usually at least three dollars. Often twenty. Sometimes, oh the really really good ones, they're more than a hundred.

D: Is that all? Only about twenty dollars? After donating hundreds or even thousands of dollars?

J: Three or twenty or a hundred dollars is per dollar spent.

D: You mean ... for each dollar you contribute .... You mean, ... let's say some corporate executives give fifty thousand dollars, ... to the right politicians. That corporation can get a million dollars in extra profits because of a tax break, subsidy, or legal monopoly?

J: Yup! It's a great ROI. That's return on investment.

D: Wow! That makes a roulette wheel in Las Vegas seem like a painfully slow way to make money.

J: Another trick is to own newspapers and TV stations.

D: Those make out like bandits?

J: It's not for their meager profits. That's so when there's dirty linen in a biz we own it doesn't become known.

D: How about news sources you don't own?

J: The business buys advertising spaces from those places. Have you noticed that embarassing stories about grocery stores never appear in newspapers? That's because grocery stores pay for lots of those colorful newspaper ads.

D: That protection racket's not what a small store can afford to pay.

J: My dear boy, there's no money to be made by aiming low. It's big businesses that earn the dough. The really big ones are chains that use mass media to broadcast their ads across a big city, or even a state.

D: I know someone who wants to start a restaurant. Can't he buy ads for just a neighborhood?

J: Only costly printed ads sent by mail cover small neighborhoods. Well, 'til recently, when NextDoor and News Here Now came along.

D: Are there yet other tricks?

J: Doing tricks keeps a corporation as busy as an escort in Las Vegas during convention season. Another trick is big corporations hire the big four accounting firms to get around laws that were co-written by those big four accounting firms.

D: That's, er, a sweet deal. For the corporations. But thinkin' of me, what's the best kind of biz to be? I wanna become an entrepreneur. What's the best strategy?

J: To become a big cheeze, put the squeeze on customers. Become the bottleneck between supply and demand.

D: So you mean extortion's the best kind of plan?

J: To see what I mean, consider the music industry. The way it was years ago, before a recording studio got squeezed into a laptop computer. Back then, cutting a record, literally, meant cutting grooves on a master disk. That process used very expensive equipment to transform sound waves into vibrations of the cutting needle. That equipment was so rare that musicians would work for cheap.

D: Or trade sex for a record deal?

J: Sometimes that was a perk. But times have changed. Now a microphone and an iPad plus some apps can do it all. From making an album to selling it online. So that pinch point, that bottleneck, is gone. And with it went lots of profit. Now, music-industry lawyers hold their grip by threatening to sue any pub, tavern, bar, or restaurant that doesn't buy a license to play the copyrighted music those lawyers control.

D: Ah, that's why we can't sing the Beatles song Let It Be in public. Now I see. Record labels lost their bottleneck because they used to monopolize the technology that now fits inside a tablet app. Aren't newspapers losing their grip too?

J: And movie producers. And book publishers. And radio and TV stations. They lost their monopolies. Now those industries are like airplanes dropping from the sky in a tailspin. So the trick is to find a new bottleneck.

D: Doesn't a patent provide a bottleneck?

J: In theory, yeah. But really, a patent bottleneck only works for a big big invention.

D: So inventing's a dead end?

J: If you could find a genius who could keep your business innovative and out in front of competitors, that'd be sweet. Very profitable. But a creative genius is rare and doesn't work for cheap. And when you post a job opening like that, the job applicants are pompus artists, unemployed writers, and people like ditsy Dixie Dinah from North Carolina.

D: So the idea behind a monopoly is to block competitors?

J: That's the key. A technology monopoly or a legal monopoly are two of the best.

D: From what you said, a business you'd invest in must be legal. So why have you been sayin' legal monopoly? Instead of just monopoly?

J: Legal monopoly refers to a monopoly that's created by a law.

D: An example would give me a clue 'bout what you're referrin' to.

J: Have you heard of an herb named stevia? It's a natural sweetener. There are laws that block stevia from appearing on grocery shelves next to sugar or artificial sweeteners. That protects profits for sugar companies, 'n makers of artificial sweeteners.

D: So cookies could be made cheaper?

J: It's better in drinks than baked goods. But yeah, sugar and artificial sweeteners have less competition because of that law. And speaking of sugar, long ago Congress passed a law against buying sugar that's grown outside the U.S.

D: That sounds like an inside scam.

J: Here in the states we pay way more, sometimes almost twice the price, compared to other nations.

D: Coffee'd taste sweeter without that price hike.

J: And there are laws that protect drug companies from the herbal industry.

D: Drugs are illegal. But drug companies are legal?

J: Not those drugs. The legal kind. Pharmaceuticals. They avoid competition from herb sellers because laws outlaw health claims for substances that don't have negative side effects.

D: Does that mean food also can't claim health benefits?

J: I admire your mental agility. But don't get too cheeky. In addition to that partial legal monopoly, pharmaceutical companies get huge tax deductions because drug testing qualifies as research.

D: Those are slick tricks. Especially gettin' a law that creates a monopoly, 'cause it's automatically legal.

J: Did you know that companies like Turbo Tax and Quickbooks pay lobbyists to keep tax laws complex? That increases demand for their services. ... So now, is all of this making sense?

D: As clear as mud dried out on a windshield. Up close and easy to see. Thanks for the clarity! ... I do have a question about somethin' you said. Part-time you do some kind of trading. What's that?

J: Commodity trading.

D: So you buy and sell kechup, mayo, and mustard?

J: Those are condiments. Commodities include sugar, soybeans, wheat, and oil.

D: So it's just some certain kinds of foods?

J: By oil I mean barrels of crude oil.

D: So it's for really hungry people with no taste?

J: Commodities also include gold, silver, and copper.

D: What do jewlery and food have in common?

J: Those and other things are bought and sold as raw materials. In huge amounts, like cargo container amounts. Heating oil, for furnaces, goes up in price at the beginning of winter. That's what I buy online while it's cheaper. A week or two later, when the weather is colder, I click a button on my trading app, and I've earned a nice profit.

D: Could you teach me that trick?

J: The price of a single contract can go up or down by thousands of dollars within an hour. It's only for those of us who can afford to wake up and discover it went the wrong way by tens of thousands of dollars.

D: Then back to owning a business. For that are there other tricks? For getting big profits?

J: As many as an eagle has feathers. Another is slowing down product innovations. If a product takes too big of a leap, we miss out on consumers paying for each slight improvement.

D: What's the most important trick?

J: That has to be giving campaign contributions to political candidates. After they get re-elected they protect the laws that give our business tax break after tax break. And they protect our legal monopolies, and taxpayer-funded subsidies. That's why big businesses pay six-figure salaries so freely.

D: Ah yes, money in politics. I know 'bout that. But I don't yet understand why us voters, er, ... how it works. Non-rich voters greatly outnumber the wealthy, so how can money outweigh those votes?

J: We've infiltrated both parties. This is how we control who wins the primary elections of both parties. So general elections are between a puppet Republican and a puppet Democrat.

D: Yeah, puppets win. I knew that part. But I hadn't noticed the infiltration tactic.

J: In the primary, the winner's always from the correct party, so the money bias goes unchallenged. In the general election Republican voters assume Democrats are dimwits, and Democratic voters assume Republicans are dimwits. But then it's too late. For added insurance in a tight race we might give a bit of money to an unpopular candidate we hate. But we give far more to the one we choose. That way we can't lose.

D: How come news reporters don't expose what's behind those magic tricks?

J: That flow of money is harder to follow than a mouse running through a cornfield. Such as when rich wives register as Democrats and give family money to conservative Democratic politicians during primary elections.

D: There's somethin' else going on isn't there?

J: You are bright! Yes, we pay news sources to entertain and distract. The biggest of distractions are those endless debates about issues of religion.

D: Religion?

J: Abortion is the really useful one. With that the Republican party has lots of fun.

D: So the Republican party doesn't really care 'bout abortion?

J: We sorta care, but not as much as tax breaks and subsidies and our legal monopolies.

D: I have to admit voters don't see through that. They're so distracted by the fight between left 'n right.

J: They are suckers. They believe the enemy of their enemy is their friend.

D: Even I know that's stupid. So, how do ya know which candidates to fund, 'n by how much?

J: The consultants we hire tell us where the money should go.

D: 'N how do those consultants know which puppets, er, politicians to bribe, er, fund?

J: They monopolize their secrets, their strategies. They're like astrologers and alchemists from long ago. Back before science tanked the profits from selling horoscopes, farmer's almanacs, and Doctor Quibbler's speedee liver-kicker elixer.

D: Politicians know, right?

J: I've never asked. It just works. If it aint broke, there's no need to fix its quirks, right?

D: I'm curious 'bout how it works.

J: Curiosity killed the cat.

D: Satisfaction brought her back, carryin' a rat. Perhaps there's a rat, er, a politician ya know who might be willin' to explain how it works? So I can earn more dollars your way? To buy things for my fiancé.

J: I personally know a recipient of lots of my money. He's about to retire from Congress. Maybe he can give you a peek.

D: That would be sweet! Is there somethin' I can do for you, if you can maybe arrange that interview?

J: Indeed you can. Come up with a better business plan. A unicorn I can brag about.

D: I'll try! No doubt about that. I'll use what you've taught. Now I know how to jump over legal hurdles and people moving like sleepy turtles. I'm grateful to learn your process so I can get to my big dreams of financial success.

J: I'm happy to give you advice. Especially if you can help me reach higher levels of paradise.

D: I'll do my best to rise to the very top. [Whispers.] 'N get to the bottom of the corruption. [Normal voice.] Thank you so much for taking time to share your wisdom.

J: You're welcome! And remember the trick.

D: Act like a ... person showing respect, then step on toes, anything goes.

J: Splendid! I look forward to you making my wallet even fatter, so there's an even bigger bulge in my pants. In fact I'll indulge in some ice cream right now to celebrate in advance.

Scene 3, Behind The Political Curtain

D (Damien): [Speaks to himself.] Hmm. That's an odd campaign slogan. ... Let's put corruption behind us. ... Ah, maybe this is him.

F (Finckhster): Thank you for waiting.

D: Thank you for your time Congressman Finckhster.

F: Come into my office ... and pardon the mess. I keep hearing promises ... that someone will clean this all up. Alas, it was hit by a fresh tomato. I mean tornado.

D: I knew politics was messy.

F: While I'm looking for bugs, would you like some cold pizza? The sausage is pork.

D: Not if that's where the bugs have been holdin' their rallies. 'N the cheeze looks more counterfeit than a spray-on tan.

F: Oh man, not those kinds of bugs. We politicians need to keep our secrets unknown ... from political spies. In fact, turn off your phone, and I'll tell you no lies.

D: Deal! Powering down, no live feed, no recording.

F: Jordon told me to trust you with behind-the-curtain and under-the-trap-door kinds of magic that we use on the political stage.

D: What a treat! A wise sage!

F: Of course you realize we have to tell lies ... to voters. If we told the dumb voters what we tell our rich donors, we'd never win our prize, re-election.

D: I suspect your donors don't forget your promises.

F: Indeed they don't. They hire lobbyists to keep track of us. And they make such a fuss if we just vote for a bill that might drop their gross income by the price of one chocolate mousse.

D: That is gross.

F: Yet the biggest political trick isn't deceipt. It's distraction.

D: You've got my full attention.

F: As you know there are names for the left and the right. Names like liberals, conservatives, capitalists, workers, and environmentalists. And there's name-calling. Names like tree huggers, socialists, racists, and dimwits. Those left-and-right names entertainingly distract from the fact that there's a bigger conflict.

D: What's bigger than the fight between left 'n right?

F: Allow me to introduce you to a new way to view the political terrain.

D: My brain is open wide 'n ready to be stupified.

F: The much bigger fight is between the political up and the political down.

D: Political up? Political down? Where did left and right go to? What's up?

F: The political up, that's where most voters are.

D: Voters of which party?

F: Both parties.

D: How can that be? Both Republicans and Democrats are in the political up?

F: Stop thinking of voters as Republicans and Democrats. It's us politicians, and the party insiders, who are Republicans and Democrats.

D: So is this like Star Wars fans also can be Star Trek fans? And the opposite?

F: Heck, if this is news to you, maybe you too have failed to recognize that both parties are controlled by people who utilize money.

D: That part I knew.

F: The biggest campaign contributors are in the political down.

D: The biggest contributors? Should we be puttin' down fat people?

F: Not that kind of biggest. They give the biggest amounts of money. They provide the money source that lifts us politicians high in the polls. They've bought our souls. Without their dough we get dashed against the rocks during a primary.

D: You're talkin' 'bout rich folks, right?

F: Of course they're all rich. But some of the rich are in the political up.

D: How can that be? I'm as confused as if I just stepped out from an industrial laundry washer during the high-spin cycle.

F: Confused by the spin. That's the state most voters are in. That's the aim of the political down. So of course they resist adopting a name.

D: But among themselves they call themselves the political down?

F: No, that's just how I think of them.

D: This upfront lowdown is blindingly illuminatin'.

F: Of course lots of wealthy folks in the political down prefer our party, the Republican party.

D: Even I can see that.

F: Yet many people in the political down have infiltrated the Democratic party.

D: Voting in both parties? That's illegal.

F: You're thinking of votes. I'm talking about money.

D: Whoa! How come the political down gives money to both left and right parties? That's as stupid as placin' bets on both horses in a two-horse race.

F: Ah, here's a big secret. They assist horses, er, candidates, in their disliked party only during primary elections. Of course I'm dumbing things down.

D: That fits my brain. Now I see! They use money to influence who wins each Democratic primary race. But in the general election they just embrace their puppet candidate?

F: Isn't it brilliant? Yet seductive. Like the gleeming smile of a fetching lass in an auto ad.

D: Now I'm beginnin' to see how come we, er, most voters, dislike both candidates, the Republican and the Democrat. I don't mean any disrespect.

F: A lack of respect is what we politicians expect. We know we're stuck in the middle, between voters and our biggest campaign contributors. Now do you see why voters are distracted by the entertaining conflict between left and right?

D: Instead of words I need a picture.

F: It's sort of like when ancient Roman rulers distracted their plebians with dramatic bloody fighting in their colossal Colosseum.

D: Ah, your point is beginning to stick. It's like the insurection on January sixth. The fighters who attacked Congress believed they were defending democracy. Yet in reality they were defending the political down, the biggest campaign contributors. They were duped by the fake fight between left and right.

F: That's the picture. Nowadays, modern-day plebians get to vote which puppet wins the fight on the stage we call elections.

D: So it's like pickin' pockets while celebrities perform on stage?

F: That's a bit rough. But close enough.

D: With their clout, what's the political down really care about?

F: Profits for the businesses they own. What especially delights them are biz tax breaks. And when they can get a legal monopoly they grasp onto that like a Titanic passenger would cling to a spare life vest.

D: Wow! Those business owners pay politicians for lower taxes 'n no competition. That deal's sweet! But that's cheatin'. It's corrupt. Am I wrong?

F: You're right.

D: I'm confused. On the political right, the Republican party seems to care about some non-business issues like abortions, and gay marriage, Christian values, immigration, 'n such, right?

F: They do glorify those things on the flag they fly. But taxes, and subsidies, and monopolies are their real priorities. That's because party insiders, in both parties, get their marching orders from the biggest campaign contributors.

D: Now I think I'm seein' how come neither political party really gives a damn 'bout protectin' coral reefs, fixin' climate change, givin' homeless folks an assist, or listenin' to what dolphins have to say about us dumpin' trash into their swimmin' pool. I see the down folks are usin' religious 'n racial issues to divide 'n distract.

F: Here's another diversion tactic. Money from the right can fund extreme agendas on the left. Like when the LGB category got extended to include queers and transgenders. That scares lots of voters to the right.

D: Yeah, many voters blindly believe the enemy of their enemy is their friend.

F: That's a powerful political tactic.

D: It's foolish. 'Cause noone can keep all their enemies in the opposite team. Not with just two teams.

F: Here' something else you should know. It's easy to hide the giving of funds to both sides, left and right. In fact there are two brothers in Florida in the sugar biz. One brother is a Republican who gives buckets of money to Republican politicians. The other brother is a Democrat who gives buckets of money to Democratic politicians. Ain't that sweet?

D: 'N as hard to follow as a rat chased by a cat. So they don't give a damn 'bout left or right? They just lobby for sugar ...

F: Subsidies. Especially tax money that pays for canals in Florida so farmers can grow sugarcane. They need that for the bigger financial gains that come from converting sugarcane into sugar. That's what's done by the businesses those bros own.

D: That's a sour deal for us. How come this isn't more obvious?

F: On commodity price lists, they used to list sugar and U.S. sugar by those names. But now the names are sugar number eleven and sugar number sixteen.

D: That's a slick trick. Um, there's somethin' else that's a bit fuzzy. Don't some rich folks prefer the Democratic party?

F: Lots of lawyers get lots of their business from Democratic voters, so they like Democratic politicians. And then there are industries that subdivide into left and right.

D: Huh? I thought I was followin' you down main street, but you just ducked into a dark alley.

F: Banks prefer the Republican party. 'N credit unions prefer the Democratic party.

D: Wow! I think now I'm seein' who's in the political down. 'N how come they oppose us, the voters, their suckers, in the political up. But how do so very few rich folks outvote us, the non-rich, who outnumber them? Like hairs outnumber whiskers on a walrus.

F: There are lots of tricks to control politics. For example, do you know what delegates are?

D: Sure, that's the laundry cycle women use to wash their underwear.

F: You're thinking of delicates with a Cee. This is delegates with a Gee.

D: So I should ask to try guts the next time I'm in a delacatessen?

F: A delegate is someone you vote for and they vote for the actual candidate.

D: Like the electoral college?

F: Sort of like that. But here I'm talking about a primary election. The one before the nomination convention.

D: The conventions I know about sell computer games, comic books, and whacky kitchen gadgets.

F: A political convention doesn't sell anything, at least not directly. During a primary election, when you vote for a governor, secretary of state, or president, you're actually voting for someone who has promised to vote for the candidate whose name you mark on your ballot. Those people, the ones who get enough votes, are delegates. They travel to a convention where they vote on your behalf.

D: Why isn't my vote counted directly?

F: Sometimes, none of the candidates gets a majority of votes. There has to be enough support to justify having just one nominee on the general election ballot. So at the convention the delegates do rounds of voting until one candidate gets a majority, that's half the votes.

D: So we're at a nomination convention, where one of the delegates is voting on my behalf.

F: After each round of voting, if there's no majority, the candidate with the fewest delegate votes usually drops out. Traditionally that candidate tells their delegates who to vote for in the next round.

D: Now I'm the one spinning round and round in the laundry machine.

F: It can get very messy. There used to be lots of backroom deals involved. Like promises of political appointments in return for a candidate telling their delegates to vote for the more popular candidate who has made that promise.

D: Ah, I see, lots of tricks go on to influence the delegates.

F: Indeed. And before women got the right to vote, sexual bribery was common.

D: Whoa! Trading a vote for sex? That's a kind of bribery I didn't know about.

F: People with lots of money can pay helpers to pay for whatever helps the rich to win. And at the Democratic national election, where a presidential candidate is chosen, there are superdelegates who weren't elected by the voters.

D: Wow, layers and layers of corrup..., of extra influence. Just to get this majority thingy. Why is that so damned important?

F: There's something in politics called vote splitting.

D: What do spittin' goats have to do with politics?

F: Not goats. Votes. As in voting.

D: Vote spittin'?

F: Not spitting, although long ago there was lots of spitting in politics. It's splitting, vote splitting, and it's the election version of divide and conquer.

D: Ah, vote splitting.

F: That's it!

D: 'N divide 'n conquer. Isn't that the battle tactic armies use when they separate enemy soldiers from one another? 'N then they can attack the smaller groups when they're aloner?

F: Yes, and in fact, voting is rooted in war and fighting. That's why women didn't vote. They weren't counted because they didn't fight. Of course, those rule makers never met my brother's ex-wife.

D: [Chuckles.]

F: So voting started out as counting to figure out how many men would be in each army.

D: And two small armies would lose against one bigger army.

F: Yes, if the big army can fight just one small army at a time. That's what dividing the enemy enables. That's why Lincoln said a house divided cannot stand.

D: Ah, so long ago votin' began as a way to count potential army sizes. 'N the smaller army surrenders?

F: Saves a lot of dying, no? And when splitting can't be done physically, then splitting psychologically works too. In politics, that's what religious differences do.

D: So how does this vote splitting work?

F: Well, it involves math.

D: Oh dear, ya mean, mathematics?

F: Certainly.

D: In my opinion math's the devil's favorite form of torture. If I had to choose between doin' just one page of math homework, or standin' under a tall fir tree gettin' cut down, I'd be there yellin' timber!

F: I don't like it either. And I don't understand vote splitting well enough to clearly explain how it all works. I just know that it works. So we, the politicians, are effectively hobbled and handcuffed and gagged when we cast our votes in Congress.

D: Ya said there's distractions. How can just distractions hide this vote splittin' so effectively?

F: You've heard of the electoral college? And gerrymandering?

D: I admit long ago I wondered if Jerry Mander was someone important. Now I realize those're 'bout the attention-grabbin' fight between Republicans and Democrats.

F: That's why news reporters are not blocked from writing and speaking about those unfairness topics.

D: Which now I know helps distract from, 'n hide, the bigger fight between political up 'n political down.

F: And you've heard of the money bonus that a third-party presidential candidate can get if they get more than a certain percent of the vote?

D: Aha! That's a tactic to split votes away from ... well who?

F: In the U.S., third parties that get much funding are almost always on the left. Whenever needed they're quietly seeded with funds from conservatives. That splits votes away from the Democratic nominee.

D: I see. It just affects the distractin' balance between left 'n right.

F: And if a conservative third-party candidate begins to do well in the polls, they get a bribe to drop out. That concentrates conservative voters' ballots on the single Republican nominee.

D: 'N now I see how come news media 'n those slippery political ads don't have as much influence as many folks suppose. The splittin' of votes among candidates durin' primaries, that's their key to controllin' you politicians. Like puppets, er, well, like I'm not sure what.

F: That's not what I like to hear. Yet between you and me, the political down is my puppet master, the puppeteer.

D: 'N yet we have social media. Aren't there some bright wits callin' attention to these dirty politics?

F: To deal with that the political down hires critics who write biased comments in forums, and who share photoshopped evidence that proves whatever. Like how a candidate keeps underage sex slaves in her basement, or that an elderly candidate fell asleep while walking down stairs.

D: Conspiracies!

F: And they hire coders to make bots that upvote their propaganda, and downvote the honest truth.

D: Can't voters see through that fake smoke and mirrors?

F: They carefully track and target voters who are gullible. Such as the ones who believe that eggs, colorful ones no less, come from rabbits.

D: On Easter. I've never understood that either. Now I know how come some people online attack with such anger. Lots of 'em are gettin' paid to be a faker?

F: Yup. Mister Mischievious from Michigan is getting paid to inspire Furious Fiona from Florida to re-post the clever meme he created to trash Joe Biden. As you know, attack ads work. Lots of voters get swayed by believing that expression the enemy of my enemy is my friend.

D: That's stupid. Don't they see that just means they're shootin' at the same target?

F: And getting hit by friendly fire! Yes that particular stupidity is especially easy to exploit. And it's more common than ants in line for dropped fast food.

D: I think I'm figurin' this out. It's not what I expected. Yet it makes too much sense to be fictional.

F: There's one bit of history I should teach you.

D: Oh I hate history. Crammin' more facts 'bout the Alamo 'n the Civil War into my head might crowd out what I've stuffed in here.

F: This is simple. Back when primary elections were uncommon, vote splitting was obvious. There was just one election, the one we now call the general election. Sometimes a political party offered two or even three candidates. If the other big party offered just one candidate, that solo one won.

D: Ah, 'cause voters in the losin' party would split their votes among their similar candidates. The divide and conquer tactic.

F: The winning strategy came to be for each party to have their own primary. The idea was to discover which politician deserves that party's solo spot on the general election ballot.

D: Ah! Now the splittin's hidden in primaries. Where the winner's never from the wrong party. And the winner's always a puppet.

F: Indeed! You learn fast! So here's a test.

D: Oh dear lord! I hate tests! 'N this might be 'bout history no less.

F: Let go of that foolish fear. This answer should be clear.

D: [Sighs.] 'Kay

F: What helped Barack Obama win the two thousand eight Democratic primary election against Hillary Clinton?

D: Based on what you've taught, some wealthy business owners may have thought, ... that well, ...

F: You're on the right track.

D: ... thought to give money to Obama to defeat their bigger enemy, Clinton.

F: Correct so far.

D: 'N they probably made the assumption that a black man couldn't win the general election. Is that right?

F: You did it! That's right! Although of course we cannot trace all donations. Yet when we can track it, that donation pattern often happens.

D: The Republicans ... er, fans of Republican politicians, who gave contributions to Obama must've chuckled when they donated. Then raged for days when they got an African American president.

F: And that gives you an example of a blocking tactic that wouldn't work if vote splitting were not such a useful gimmick for rigging elections.

D: I heard what you said. But the words leaked out of my brain without leaving behind any idea 'bout what they mean.

F: If unfair vote splitting were to disappear, then that blocking kind of tactic wouldn't interfere. That's because in the general election, each party would offer two or three selections, candidates.

D: Now I'm confused again. How can there be two Republicans and two Democrats on the ballot? That would cause vote splitting. Some things are becomin' clear. But what can make the evil split disappear?

F: I really don't know, and don't care. The political stress was making a mess of my ulcers. Giving them their own ulcers. So I won't be running for re-election. That's why I can risk speaking candidly. But remember you didn't learn any of this from me. If you go to newspaper reporters with these insights I'll shine light on the skeletons in the closet of your friend Jordon. He asked me to help you on your mission to earn money using his tricks.

D: I won't be a snitch or fink. 'N anyways I can't yet link the problem of vote splittin' to a solution. One that can defeat this unfairness. So I need to learn more. Do you know who would know how to fix this mess? The unfair politics?

F: Probably that would be a professor of mathematics.

D: Aiee! Scholastic gymnastics! In math no less. That's too advanced. I'm almost peeing in my pants, it scares me so!

F: Well I've got to go. I wish you luck in understanding yet more so maybe someday you can help clean up the muck on the political stage. In the meantime, the political world is upside down. Voters mistakenly assume the rich are at the top. Yes, politicians have all been bought. But as voters you've got more power than the SpaceX rockets, a swarm of locusts, and a flu virus, all working together on the same team.

D: So you think maybe someday the voters will, uh, ...

F: ... reign supreme? Eventually. Hopefully. Then us politicians will become your puppets. But currently we're the puppets of wealthy business owners.

D: I admit I'm seein' a bit of hope for a fix. To get less dysfunctional politics. Now I know the greedy rich distract us with left versus right. Yet up versus down, that's the real fight.

F: You're bright. Good luck! But don't forget, it was some other schmuck who gave you the tour of the elephant and donkey muck.

D: Thank you for tiltin' my brain to better see the political terrain. You've saved me from going insane.

Scene 4, Fighting Against Darkness

De (Desha): You're way late. And don't call this a date.

D (Damien): Are you Desha?

De: Who else would be in this spot in this cemetery at this time?

D: Nice to meet ya. I'm Damien.

De: Of course.

D: Thanks for meetin' with me.

De: For nothing.

D: Huh?

De: That's the meaning of de nada in Spanish.

D: Yeah I know. My mom's Puerto Rican [pronounced with a Spanish-language accent].

De: Then why did you ask?

D: Is there cannibis in that cookie?

De: No you can't have one.

D: I just wondered what's in it.

De: Dried cherries, chocolate chips, rolled oats, sugar and stevia, and ghee, but nothing funny.

D: Ya said you wanted to meet with me.

De: Congressman Finckhster said I should meet with you.

D: To talk about how come politics is so dysfunctional, you said in your text.

De: Damn right! It's so so so dysfunctional.

D: So, do you know about vote splittin'?

De: What do goats have to do with politics?

D: Not goats. Not spitting. Vote splitting.

De: Splitting votes in half? That's a half-wit idea.

D: Not splitting ballots. Splitting voters.

De: That's murder. Yes politicians do murder innocent people. They write laws that come from Thomas Crapper's brainchild.

D: That's not what vote splitting is.

De: Then it sounds quite esoteric. What's important is that the world is suffering under an epidemic of toxic corruption.

D: Yeah, corruption's so selfish and unfair. It's like leavin' just four squares of toilet paper onna toilet paper roll.

De: It's zillions of times worse than that. Corruption kills through economic suffering that leads to suicide, homicide, and slow death by fast food. Corruption kills by letting gun makers push assault rifles into the hands of bullies like Big Bill Bunderstock, the Bethesda blunderbuss. And corruption gives the green light to cars killing pedestrians. And the companion of corruption is despair. Life is so unfair.

D: The companion of corruption is despair. If that's from the Bible I've never heard it, but I agree.

De: Skip the sermons.

D: Vote splittin's at the root of unfair elections, so do ya wanna hear about it?

De: Tell me how you think it makes a difference.

D: For instance, suppose there's four politicians.

De: What are their names?

D: I dunno. This is just a generic for instance.

De: Generic is dead, like the people here. Let's bring them to life.

D: Ya can raise the dead?

De: Not those thems. You describe your for instance politicians, I'll give them names.

D: Two of them are puppets of wealthy business owners. The other two promise to reduce corruption, so they're more well-liked.

De: The names of the first two are Pinoke and Oscar.

D: Could you explain what's in your brain?

De: Pinoke is a nickname for Pinnochio, the puppet whose nose grows when he lies. And Oscar's last name is the Grouch. He lives in trash just like corrupt politicians.

D: 'Kay.

De: The other two are named Barack, 'cause we can hope for change, and Hypatia 'cause women should rule.

D: With these live candidates, two cruel, 'n two cool, who'd win?

De: Either Barack or Hypatia, the cool ones, obviously. 'Cause voters want less corruption. Voters don't want Pinoke, don't want Oscar. Don't want the cruel ones. They're the puppets of money-obsessed, short-sighted, large-mouthed bass. The turds.

D: Right. The voters get who they favored. But then big-money donors arrive.

De: Now you'll say their money buys ads. Filled with lies. Ones that hypnotize. The way a car's headlights freeze a bumpkin rabbit.

D: Only the terminally stupid'd fall for those.

De: So tell me how you think it goes. Why money alters the winners.

D: Wealthy business owners, who're the biggest campaign donors, in private they choose which puppet gets their dollars. If they like the look of Pinoke's nose, then they propose to Oscar that he take a hike on the Appalachian trail.

De: That wouldn't fail to make Oscar a grouch. What if he should refuse?

D: They point out he'll lose. Without their funds. Or they bribe him with favors, if that's what it takes.

De: A dumpster full of cookies and cakes?

D: Or a lifetime subscription to Grouch Magazine. That'd leave Pinoke and Hypatia and Barack. Who'd win that three-way race?

De: Ah, lots of voters would split their votes between Barack and Hypatia. That would make it easier for Pinoke to reach victory.

D: Plus Koch [mistakenly pronounced as cock] Brothers 'n Forbes levels of dollars, those'd pay for ads that attack Hypatia and Barack. Plus photos of Pinoke would be photoshopped to make his nose look normal size to hide his lies. That'd tip the three-way balance enough to rig the race.

De: A puppet wins. That's unfair! The winner's chosen by millionaires. Yet, more voters prefer either Hypatia or Barack.

D: That's what I've figured out. But now I'm stuck. I dunno how to change elections so they don't suck.

De: We can call attention to this deception. We'll get voters to concentrate their votes on either Barack or Hypatia.

D: Who'd decide which candidate to boycott?

De: We the voters could get one to vacate their spot, right?

D: That'd coax the wealthiest campaign donors to quietly fund yet another candidate. One who also promises to reduce corruption.

De: Let's name this one Gandhi. Yes this whack-a-mole tactic's difficult to beat. It splits the voters even more, making it even harder to defeat their single puppet.

D: All that happens in each primary election. Then in the general election we have to choose between the two puppets, one from each party.

De: Now it makes yet more sense why we have just two main political parties. This is quite unlike what I read in poly sci [pronounced SIGH] textbooks.

D: 'N years ago puppet politicians passed a law that gives taxpayer funds to a third-party presidential candidate who gets more than five percent of the vote.

De: I thought that was a good thing. But so far it's been a bribe to parties on the liberal side. While conservative parties don't take that bait.

D: The conservative candidates get their bribes earlier, before election season starts.

De: So liberals get seduced into splitting their votes. While conservatives quietly concentrate their votes on just one candidate.

D: You learn fast.

De: I have a degree in political science. But they never taught us the hidden money part of this tactical unfairness.

D: The unfairness is well-hidden behind numbers. 'N math to me is scary.

De: What scares me is that our planet is losing snow leopards and elephants, and rhinoceros ... es, and dolphins, and coral reefs, and plant species that could cure and feed.

D: Is that what pushed you into politics?

De: At the age of fourteen, ... my mother died. And then my father lied. He told me that after awhile I'd get back my smile.

D: Can't imagine what it'd be like to lose someone so close. While still young.

De: Neither can I. It's still surrealistic. Then just six years later another tragic death assaulted me. ... My brother was killed by a bomb in the Middle East.

D: How did ya cope?

De: I almost lost hope. Then I realized my mother was killed by incompetent city officials. They failed to time pedestrian walk signals to give walkers a head start. Before the green light for cars. And I realized, that basically, my brother was in the Middle East defending profits for oil companies.

D: Is that why we're in this graveyard?

De: My mother and brother are buried over there.

D: Buried as a pair?

De: With room to spare for father and me. Over time I traced the local corruption to the state level, then to DC, then to Congress where they write laws so corrupt.

D: Yeah, corruption. I wouldn't know how to define it, but I sure see tons of that ... shit.

De: It's betrayal, bribery, cheating, and coersion, cronyism, deceitfulness, deluding, and deviousness, dishonesty, duplicity, and embezzelment, entrapment, fraud, and graft, misleading, misrepresenting, and monopolizing, palm greasing, payoffs, profiteering, swindling, and tax evasion, treachery, underhandedness, unethicalness, unscrupulousness, and wickedness. Not to mention lying, ... and littering.

D: Littering?

De: It's a gateway crime.

D: If you think I'm followin', then one of us is lost.

De: Like not picking up dog poop, 'n not wearing a face mask in public when you've got a cough.

D: You're dancin' to the beat of different bongos now, Desha.

De: A dog owner doesn't pick up her dog's poop because her dog will poke its own poop with his snout. She picks it up so other dogs don't poke the poop with their snouts. In return, those other dog owners protect her dog by picking up their dog's poop. It's a poop scooper loop. And the same kind of loop works with face masks during an epidemic, but with coughs and sneezes and spittle instead of poop.

D: What the ... poo?

De: Corruption of that loop happens when someone fails to bend over and scoop their dog's poop. It's an example of corruption in general. It's when someone gets something by ignoring the suffering of others.

D: So over-reaching?

De: Greedily over-reaching for what they want while ignoring the suffering they inflict on others. I fight to remind them that's not OK.

D: Against people who don't, er, participate in ... super pupper ... pooper scooper loops?

De: Fighting against corruption. I've got a tatoo to remind me.

D: Can I see it?

De: It's for private tours only.

D: What's it say?

De: It's a graphic. It reminds me to kick ass. To fight against corruption. And never give up.

D: Who's your target?

De: I've hit a turning point. Originally I thought the enemy was capitalism, and that socialism was the opposite. But it's not that simple.

D: Hopefully that wasn't part of the tatoo.

De: Then I fought against the Republican party. But recently I realized the opposition Democratic party has been infiltrated by big-money donors who want Republicans to win.

D: I too just learned about this trick. And that the fight between left and right's just a distraction tactic. It's like what a magician doin' magic does.

De: Mistreat rabbits?

D: Entertain with one hand to distract attention away from the other hand that's doin' the sneaky trick.

De: Now that I know the Republican party isn't the real enemy, my anger's getting thick. So I need to figure out, and soon, whose butt I should kick.

D: I think I've found the tipping point.

De: The place on a cow that can tip them over? Not that I've ever, well, recently, tried tipping a cow.

D: Yeah, but that path's blocked.

De: Is it padlocked? I can pick some locks.

D: It's a huge barrier.

De: What's the blockage?

D: Math. It's blockin' me from findin' the whackin' point that'll turn the world right side up.

De: Math is dreary to me. Yet I got as far as algebra and trig and statistics without successfully using my protractor to commit hari-kari. What d'you wanna know about?

D: I wanna figure out how votes should be counted to get results that're fair.

De: I don't know how to get there. But I do know someone who maybe can unravel that puzzle.

D: Can he help me with my struggle?

De: Wrong gender.

D: Who's she?

De: She's a math prof.

D: A professor of math?

De: Yes, at the state university. That's where I got my degree.

D: I couldn't cope with even community college. Textbooks hold weasely words that try to drag my brain to useless destinations.

De: So you're a loser.

D: But I'm tryin' not to be.

De: So stand up and fight!

D: But I'm not brainy. Fighting against math would be a bloodbath.

De: What took you this far?

D: I'm short 'n not handsome. So workin' hard to earn money is all I've got to keep my fiancé happy.

De: What's so special about her?

D: She appreciates me, even though I'm notta hunk surrounded by adoring women.

De: All you need is one.

D: Do you have someone?

De: I have my Willie.

D: Whoa! Say what?

De: My partner's name is Willie.

D: Are you two happy? You and your ... Willie?

De: You just need to study. School's not that hard.

D: I have some kind of leak in my brain.

De: Can you read?

D: Only for a bit. Then my eyes hurt. The words on a page are literally a pain to look at.

De: Do the words in a book gallop across the page like buffalo in a frenzied stampede?

D: Yeah, how did you get into my head?

De: Have you tried color-tinted glasses?

D: Your words sound as squishy as a banana.

De: I'll send you a text with a link to where you can find out more. Anyways, do you want me to arrange a meeting with this math professor?

D: 'Kay but only if she can explain things in spoken words 'n not use jargon, or academic speak.

De: I think she can be OK with that. 'N maybe I can translate if that's what you really need.

D: It's what I need. What d'you need?

De: In my early youth we were so happy then, even though our home was cramped, and money we lacked. Then the world turned upside down. My smile became a frown. I saw suffering that I hadn't seen before. And I traced the cause of suffering to corruption in government. Those ... grrr ... politicians are the puppets of greedy money huggers. Now I want to send them to hell, those greedy evil muggers.

D: Which ones? The politicians or the big campaign contributors?

De: Whoever is most to blame.

D: They're both clueless from what I can tell. They know money works like puppet strings. But they're clueless about vote splitting and blocking tricks. Can we fight against cluelessness?

De: If it will help to carry a banner that says End Cluelessness Now I will. I'll fight against whoever's to blame.

D: How do you aim to tame the circus ... of elephants and donkeys and stupid goats, ... I mean stupid voters?

De: I call on the spirits of the dead here to inspire me to find a way to shine a light on corruption. I want a light that's so bright that even evil money huggers and egotistic puppets cannot fight back. Not with their wealth, not with lawyers, and not with help from my distant cousin Dimley who gets paid to make clever gifs, those short videos, that attack political candidates. I know that light casts out darkness. In that light the path to better times will appear. Until that happens I'll keep on fighting. Fighting with words. Fighting with deeds. Doing whatever it takes to bring good times back to us, the voters, the majority.

D: Whatever it takes? Yeah, it seems it'll take some lookin' into mathematics.

De: I'm willing to help you fight against your fear of math. Let's do this!

D: I'm ready to fight! Let's find out how to turn the world right side up. I just hope there's no evil fractions. I'd rather encounter pirates or snakes. Or even a volcano ready to erupt.

De: Rise up dead spirits! Help us avenge your deaths at the hands of the corrupt!

Scene 5, Math Breakthrough

De (Desha): Hi Professor Mata. This is Damien.

M (Professor Mata): Welcome Desha and Damien. Welcome to my classroom. As we get settled I'll ask you Damien, do you like pi?

D (Damien): I'll keep things real. In the morning pie seems so irrational.

M: So you do like math?

D: Already I'm confused.

De: He doesn't know about those special meanings for pi and irrational, and real, in the math world. Just assume he knows as much about math as Mozart knew about ... electronics. Plus he has a phobia about fractions. That's Damien. I don't know if Mozart had that fear.

D: Classrooms are scary, spooky, 'n terrifyin'. This one's bringin' back awful memories of bein' teased for gettin' Cs, 'n Ds, 'specially in math 'n history.

M: I bet you're smart. You just didn't get a good start. Can you count?

D: One two three four 'n of course there's more.

M: Can you go the other way?

D: Four three two one.

M: What comes after one?

D: Nothin'.

M: In a way you're right.

D: Thanks for bein' polite in sayin' I'm wrong.

M: What's nothing called in math?

D: Oh, zero.

M: Ah yes, wonderful magical zero!

D: What's so special 'bout zero?

M: Zero as a digit was not known in ancient Egypt, Babylon, Greece, and Rome. But in ancient China they put their counting marks inside a square. So when no marks are there, it's an empty square. That changed to a circle as the idea spread to India then Arabic-speaking universities. And then a student took it to Rome and became pope. He could calculate faster than the Italians who still used counting marks, the ones we call Roman numerals. That's how the digit zero became part of the Italian Renaissance.

De: That's when Leonardo painted the Mona Lisa, and Michelangelo carved the rock-hard anatomy of David.

D: Lisa and David. I think I've heard about those two.

M: With that digit zero, sailors made realistic maps, and navigated far out into the Atlantic. That avoided the north-bound winds that block the path along the south coast of Africa. That path, which bumped into Brazil, took them around the southern tip of Africa. With that sea route Europeans bypassed the monopoly that Arabic-speaking Muslims had on the land-based silk road to China.

De: So it was the digit zero, not Columbus, that got us to North and South America?

M: Yes, in fact, the Portuguese discovered Brazil before fourteen ninety two.

D: Ah, so that's why people in Brazil speak Portuguese instead of Spanish.

De: Interesting!

D: OK, zero's a big-deal number.

M: The digit zero. Not just zero. There have always been words like none, empty, nobody, ziltch, naked, hungry, and moron. But writing four zero zero instead of C C C C, that's magic.

D: So the digit zero's a big deal.

De: Without it bridges would be filled with long lines of accountants ... waiting for their turn to jump off.

M: Without it, scientists and engineers couldn't have put a man on the moon, or put rovers on the planet Mars, or photographed the rings of Saturn from within those rings. And those are just a few of the things that make the digit zero so incredibly fantastic.

D: I think my confusions 'bout zero are gone. But how's that relate to what happens in gettin' fair elections?

M: There's something in math that's still very new. It's not yet taught in public schools. Yet it can take civilization, humanity, us, to the next level where elections are fair. But to get there you need to appreciate the power of a name.

D: OK, what's the name?

M: A name without it's meaning is useless. Concepts come first.

D: Every test I took cared more about the names than the concepts.

De: I learned to spell hypotenuse before I learned it had nothing to do with hippos.

M: That's because names and dates and such are easier to test.

D: Isn't that upside down? Testin' what's less important?

M: You seem to me to be quite intelligent. So let's eliminate your fear of fractions.

D: Is there a rattlesnake cage or fallin' tree nearby?

M: Ancient Babylonians also disliked fractions. And so did the Romans. It's because they lacked the digit zero. That's no big deal for addition and subtraction and multiplication. Those are just shortcuts for counting up, counting down, and a skipping version of counting up. But division, without the big-deal zero, that's muddled and befuddled confusion. So leaving numbers as fractions, without doing the division it signifies, that's what they did until the digit zero arrived.

D: Now we've got zero, the digit. Yet I've gotta use fractions every day. It makes me wacko to add 'n subtract those ... suckers.

M: If fractions you loathe, then this question I pose. Why do you use them?

D: It's part of my job.

M: Are you a musician?

De: What's music got to do with fractions?

M: Musicians cannot avoid fractions. They count by two, or three, or four, or six, or eight. But not by five or ten. Except, I suspect, for some geeky modern jazz.

De: Now we know Mozart wasn't fraction phobic.

D: I build custom staircases. Tape measures are marked in halves, quarters, eighths, 'n sixteenths. Those effin' fractions. I'd murder those suckers if I knew where to aim.

M: Use decimal numbers. That's what the whole world uses, as part of the metric system. Except of course here in the states.

D: I can't use metric units. That'd get me fired. Inches and feet are required.

M: Decimal numbers work with inches too. Just get a tape measure with decimal markings for inches!

D: Oh, if only I could do so. That'd be great! I could avoid the fractions I hate!

M: Here, look at this tape measure.

D: Ah, it's marked with ten units per inch! When I measure I could write the numbers as tenths or hundredths.

M: And adding and subtracting them is as easy as dollars and cents.

D: This will elevate my joy when making staircases.

De: So a fraction is a division problem unfinished. It's waiting to get diminished to a single number.

D: How do I get a tape measure like this?

M: Use the magic math word decimal when you search for tape measure.

D: Ah, words can be powerful.

M: You learn fast! Now about your fear of fractions. Ancient Romans, even though they fearlessly conquered most Mediterranean waterfront property, they too had that fear. They liked the number twelve. That's why sundials have twelve marks for the day.

De: So that's why we have twenty four hours per day?

M: Indeed. The number twelve can be divided by two and three and four and six, and yield a nice result of six or four or three or two.

D: I wondered why time is measured in numbers that aren't in multiples of ten.

M: Sexagesimal.

D: We're jumpin' from fractions to sex?

De: Using fractions as foreplay would solve the world's overpopulation problem.

M: Sexagesimal is the name for using sixty as a base. That's what the ancient Babylonians chose. Sixty divides without remainders by two and three and four and five and six and ten and twelve and fifteen and twenty and thirty. That's why an hour has sixty minutes. And why a minute has sixty seconds.

D: So we could ditch fractions? That's a world I'd like to see.

M: So are fractions a bit less scary?

D: Yeah, my fraction phobia's takin' a siesta. But sometimes I get stuck not knowing when to do division, in the right sequence with addition 'n subtraction.

M: That's just the trick of algebra.

D: Oh dear lord please forget I said that! From what I've heard, algebra's the fifth horseman of the apocalypse.

M: Albert Einstein, when he was young, also had trouble with algebra.

De: But he was a genius. And best known for E equals M C squared, the ultimate celebrity math equation.

M: He struggled until his uncle told him to think of algebra as a whodunnit mystery. Where the identity of mister X is unknown, and the facts are clues, and the goal is to figure out who is mister X?

De: Why didn't my algebra teacher teach that trick?

M: Because donning a Sherlock Holmes cap in class would get you sent to the principal's office. And writing whodunnit on a standardized test would get you sent to the circus as a clown.

D: Ah, I think I'm seein' your point. Division asks the question: What number needs to be multiplied times the number on the bottom of a fraction to get the number on the top of the fraction? Is that right?

M: Yes! Excellent! Now you understand some key ideas of math. Not enough for me to be inclined to drive over a bridge you designed. There's lots more. And yet, so much of it would make sense if math history were taught with a focus on concepts. It even explains why we say fourteen and thirteen but not two-teen and one-teen.

De: I suppose this explains why hotel elevators can't count to thirteen.

D: I sure feel unlucky when I'm stuck with a measurement of thirteen instead of twelve 'n have to divide it.

M: Here's another useful secret. Division is disguised under other names. Like ratio, rate, proportion, average, percentage, percent, and the word per. And of course fractions.

D: So a fraction's just a lazy way to deal with division?

M: You've got it.

De: It sounds like we need a revolution in how math is taught.

D: Another revolution? How many do you want?

De: As many as it takes to get things right side up.

M: Oh I do wish there was more time so we could talk about beautiful balanced equations, and what's behind calculus, and why quadratic equations ....

D: Fortunately we don't have that much time.

M: Of course, of course! And anyway, computers can do math better than students.

De: Wait a minute! Math textbooks and math professors are teaching us thinking skills that computers can easily handle? Why is that?

M: Ironic isn't it? Computers are better than humans at spelling, grammar, arithmetic, algebra, trigonometry, calculus, historical facts, geography, map reading, and diplomatically insulting you for missing a right turn. Yet we try to teach all that in school.

D: What're computers not good at doing?

M: Inventing, creating new solutions to real-life problems, writing books worth reading, composing beautiful music, scripting videos worth watching, graphic design, software development, extracting meaning from data, creative things like that.

D: Would that include designing custom staircases?

M: Definitely.

D: Those are the skills that employers desire. My boss says it's hard to hire workers who can do much more than loiter in the general vicinity of a staircase.

De: So schools teach what computers can do better? And schools fail to teach the skills that computers are not good at, but that businesses really want? Wow! The academic world is upside down!

M: Alas, the academic world, the one based on standardized tests, is upside down for students and teachers and employers.

De: No wonder I often recall so little of what I learned in college. Computers do it better. We really ought to have a revolution in how math, and more, is taught.

M: Computers lack the ability to understand concepts. Yet too often that's what academia fails to teach.

D: So schools deserve a failing grade! I love it!

M: Definitions, terminology, memorization of facts, grammar rules, math rules, etcetera are what professors teach because textbooks focus on them. And standardized tests test those things. But really it's the concepts that schools most need to teach.

De: So schools are trying to program students, as if we were computers. While businesses are trying to teach computers how to think like humans. They're both as stupid as someone who tries to stand up in a hammock.

M: Alas, it's like someone who gargles instead of drinks at the fountain of knowledge.

D: Speaking of which, now can we switch to politics from just mathematics? I'm eager to learn the math behind voting.

M: Now you're ready. You won't be scared when zero pops up. And only one very simple fraction is involved. The one called half.

D: Hurray! Even a half wit like me can handle a half.

De: That's one divided by two. That equals zero point five.

M: Or fifty percent. Now you're ready! So let's explore how votes need to be counted for results to be fair.

D: Finally!

M: So how do you think voting should be done?

De: As you know, I'm not a math wiz. Or even a nerd.

M: Damien? What do you suppose that would look like?

D: Uh, ... I reckon, ... maybe ... it might use ... five stars? ... Like Amazon does?

M: That's a good start. And why is that approach smart?

D: If Amazon used just one star for each product, like on an 'lection ballot, that wouldn't be enough info. So what's needed in elections is more info.

M: Excellent! Yes indeed! So if stars were used in elections, and the highest count of stars indicated the winner, how could you, as a voter, get some extra influence?

D: I'm feelin' like a dunce.

M: Let's try a different scenario. Let's suppose you're in the audience at a talent contest, and the emcee announces that the loudness of clapping will determine who wins. How can you get extra influence?

D: I dunno.

De: Nor do I.

M: You could clap really loud for your favorites, and just pretend to clap for the others.

D: That'd be cheating.

M: In a talent contest, maybe, maybe not. At theater events, that's disrespectful. But in an election, with money on the line, that's just freedom of expression. It's voting, but with an unfair kind of vote counting.

De: Ah, it's fighting! Done on ballots.

D: So when I rate things on Amazon I should only use one star or five stars?

M: If you do that on Amazon you're being a jerk. But if that star rating were used in elections, where so much is at stake, that tactic would make your ballot have more impact than ballots marked honestly.

D: I'm still following things to here. Too bad I can't celebrate with a beer.

M: Bravo! You see that just collecting more information isn't enough. How the information is counted to identify a winner is so important to get right.

D: So the five star method won't work?

M: Ah, I should take a step back. There are two parts to any voting method. There's the ballot and there's the counting of those ballots.

D: What kind'a ballot do we use now?

M: Almost every nation in the world uses what's increasingly called the single-choice ballot.

De: 'Cause we can only mark a single choice?

M: Right. And there's just one way to count that kind of ballot. Which is why until recently that ballot didn't have a name. The counting method has different names. It's the enemy of fair voting so it's worth learning its names. In the academic world it's called plurality voting. In Canada and other British places it's called first past the post.

D: What's it called here in the states?

M: It's just called voting.

De: Ah! With no name it becomes harder to fight against! Imagine protesting with a sign that says End That Unnamed Bad Kind Of Vote Counting.

D: So that's the enemy? Plurality? And it uses the single-choice ballot?

M: Yes. It is to democracy what a string and two old-style tin cans are to the telephone.

D: That's so primitive.

De: So what's the name of a ballot where each candidate can be ranked at a different level, like on Amazon?

M: Academically that's called a ranked ballot, or a score ballot, depending on how it's counted.

D: Brain freeze big time! Is that difference really of prime importance?

M: To get the math right, yes. But both types are better than what we use now.

De: Isn't anything better than what we use now?

M: Almost anything. There's one seductive exception. That's using points, where each voter is given a limited number of points to distribute among the choices.

De: Is that because a jerk could give all his points to a single candidate?

M: That's one of its flaws. If vote counting methods competed in a limbo contest, the points approach would win the limbo contest, as the lowest. Anything else is like pole vaulting over what we use now.

D: So using ballots that are like Amazon stars .... Wait a moment. Does this mean voting has to be done electronically?

De: That wouldn't be fair. Someone could get lots of extra votes by changing their name to Click Here.

D: [Chuckles]

M: [Chuckles]

De: Plus voting machines can be hacked. But paper ballots can't be sacked ... except in bags. Lots of people vote by mail. That's what my brother did when he was fighting in the Middle East.

M: Paper ballots with ovals to mark work just fine. Of course columns of ovals are needed for the preference levels. Let's say there's seven columns. The columns would be labelled first choice, second choice, third choice, and so on up to seventh choice. That's called a ranked choice ballot.

De: What happens if a joker or dumbass marks more than one oval for the same candidate?

M: Just count the highest rank.

De: Suppose a distracted voter forgets to mark any of a candidate's ovals?

M: That candidate is ranked at the bottom. In this case that's the seventh choice.

D: I think even I could mark that kind of ballot.

De: Anyone who can't is too stupid to be voting.

D: You're sayin' some ways of counting those ballots are better than others?

M: Exactly! If everyone is honest, then simple counting works fine.

D: Simple counting?

M: If there are five columns, a marked oval in the first choice column would be like marking five Amazon stars, a mark in the second choice column would be like marking four Amazon stars, and so on down to a mark in the fifth choice column would be like marking one Amazon star.

D: That's simple?

De: A computer would take care of doing that counting. You would just mark the correct column for each candidate.

M: Even hand counting the ballots that way would be easy. For simple counting the candidate with the highest such count would win. If everyone is honest, and ranks just one candidate at each level, then that works fine.

De: Fat chance of that! Honesty I mean. It seems to be getting less and less fashionable. Especially in business and politics.

M: Yes when money is involved, as it is in politics, that simple way of counting ratings is vulnerable to strategic voters. They can get extra influence using the clapping tactic.

De: I'm curious. What happens when Amazon customers realize they can get extra influence by skipping the middle ratings?

M: Then Amazon can move the goalposts. They can count differently. Actually they already do. They can get even more sophisticated if that's needed.

D: I'm confused. I understand how the ballots work. But I can't imagine a way to count votes that's not like any of what we've been discussing. I thought I was following, but now I've stumbled up another dark alley.

M: Take a deep breath!

D: [Takes deep breath.]

M: Or two.

D: [Takes deep breath.]

M: And give yourself an A plus! You two are learning more and faster than anyone else I've tried to explain this to.

D: Really? Or are you just tryin' to, well, I dunno. This is so different from that teacher who bonked my head with a book every time I made a mistake.

De: Tell me who did that and I'll bonk him in the balls.

M: This is different because you really care about this topic. That's really what makes the difference between good and bad grades.

D: My world is upside down. 'N money's on the line.

De: And Congress is filled with swine.

D: Let's keep goin'.

De: You said the five star Amazon kind of ballot has two names. Which name applies to the kind of simple counting we've been talking about?

M: That kind of ballot is asking for a score or a rating. It's called a score ballot. It allows a voter to indicate how strongly the voter feels about who they like and dislike. Like the grades A through F.

De: Most politicians deserve an F, for ... fails to care about most voters.

D: We gotta grade 'em on a curve.

De: 'N that's why marking just the highest and lowest scores, is such a big deal?

M: Exactly! A plus again!

D: So how should we be countin' ballots? For elections. Where voters will try to increase their influence.

M: Before we move on to what I think is the best kind of vote counting, here's an interesting simple kind of improvement.

De: What's that?

M: Consider the same kind of ballot we use now, the single-choice ballot. But change the instructions and allow the voter to mark more than just one candidate. That's called approval voting.

De: Ah, because you either approve each candidate or leave their name unmarked.

D: This sounds like Facebook, where people can upvote anything and everything.

M: You're getting this!

De: On Reddit we can upvote and downvote. That's more info. Is that better?

M: Only if it's counted as three ranking levels.

D: Three?

M: Remember zero.

De: Ah, an upvote is like plus one. And a downvote is like minus one. And neither up nor down is like zero.

M: If counted right that could work. But using five levels collects more information than three. And when there are lots and lots of candidates then up to about twelve levels would work.

De: But not unlucky thirteen.

D: Since you brought it up, I'm guessing, approval voting might be fair?

M: It would work OK in primary elections because the winner would always be from the correct party.

De: But in general elections, the wrong party must not win. So there it would cause trouble, right?

M: Right. We need more than just one column of ballot ovals to avoid criticism of the results.

D: Wait a moment! Just changing written directions on the ballot would be an easy change to make, right?

M: I'm not politically savvy. That's outside my expertise. I just know the math behind ballot counting.

De: If we're gonna fight, let's get it right!

D: Then what's the best way to count votes?

M: You're finally ready to learn about ranking. It uses ranked choice ballots. They look the same as score ballots with ovals, but they're counted differently. It defeats the tactic of just marking the highest levels and lowest levels.

D: [Speaks to himself.] That's ranking.

M: How can those marks be counted in a way that holds up under scrutiny, without mutiny?

D: That's harder than any jigsaw puzzle I've ever seen.

M: Admittedly, if I asked this on a test I might soon be under arrest for cerebral torment without written consent. But take a guess.

D: Maybe ... we could start by looking at ... just the top part. The top-most candidate on each ballot. ...

M: Side step the fear and persevere.

D: And the candidate who gets the fewest top marks ... gets tossed aside?

De: Then the ballots are modified to hide the one dismissed. Then the process repeats. Until just one candidate remains?

M: That counting method has many different names. Here let's call it instant runoff voting. Among friends, or when a smartphone isn't handy, that method is dandy. It works well enough that it's been used in real elections. In fact it's used in Maine, Alaska, and Australia, in San Francisco, and a few other places.

D: So I didn't guess right?

M: This is hard stuff. Although not as hard as using an abacus to calculate the square root of your social security number. Yet you deserve another A plus. For the basic idea of using something besides counting marks and looking for the biggest count.

D: Your reactions are such a contrast to what in the past would have been kicks in the ass.

M: Yet this counting method is flawed. Instant runoff voting was used in the city of Burlington, in Vermont, and it failed. And it failed again in Alaska. In those two elections the candidate who won was not the one who deserved to win. We can do better. So which candidate should be the first to be eliminated?

D: I'm stumpified.

M: You've heard of the electoral college?

De: That's garbage!

M: Ah, but one thing it gets quite right. The winner of the electoral fight has to get more than half the votes.

D: Here's the fraction. A half. Fortunately my fraction fears have disappeared, ... for now.

De: More than half, that's called a majority.

M: If a candidate gets a majority, then vote splitting can't happen. That's so important that Roberts Rules of Order have always insisted on getting majority support to declare a winner.

D: So getting more than half the votes is a must. But how can there always be a majority? Especially when there are more than two candidates?

M: Take a guess.

D: This is hard. Is it time for recess?

De: Remember that business success is your reward for sorting this out.

M: In sports, how are teams ranked?

D: Aren't teams ranked based on, ... well, ... I think they get points, or maybe lose points, from each game.

M: How many teams compete in each game?

D: Just two.

M: And what's that called, two at a time?

D: I dunno.

De: Two at a time, that's a pair at a time.

M: Pairwise. That's the name. So how would that work?

D: Pairwise, ... ah, counting?

M: Yes, pairwise counting. It's a very important thing. How would that work?

D: It's counting, but it's beyond what my brain can handle without an assist from some Brainiac Elixer.

De: If it were sports teams, then, ... well, a team would be the worst loser if it lost all its pairwise matches.

M: Excellent! Keep going.

De: So the loser of all the pairwise contests would get eliminated.

D: 'N then we'd look for the next loser, from the remaining teams, er, candidates.

De: And when there's just one team, or candidate, remaining, that would be the winner, right?

M: Excellent! That pairwise elimination process would work, up to a point. A simple shortcut approach is to look for the candidate who wins all of their pairwise contests. The academic world calls that a Condorcet [pronounced cone-dor-SAY] winner.

De: Condorcet, that sounds stuffy.

M: It's named after a French guy whose title was the Marques de Condorcet. For a long time Europeans thought he was the first person to publish a description of that method.

De: I can see, as you say, the concept is the key. Yet on a test, students would be asked to recall, or recognize, his name. That's dumb.

D: I think I see. A Condorcet winner would get more than half the votes, a majority, without any vote splitting.

De: So this is the best way to make selections in elections?

M: Sometimes there's no Condorcet winner. Using the elimination approach, it can reach a point where none of the candidates loses all its pairwise contests.

De: Partial losers. But no total losers.

D: Then what? Count how many losses? Or measure how big the losses are?

M: A plus for thinking of those ideas! Actually there are many ways to resolve those cases. Even better, there are methods that don't first look for Condorcet winners or losers. Instead they use the pairwise counts in ways that don't need to do anything special. Yet they find the Condorcet winner when one exists.

D: That sounds like magic.

M: It's beautiful advanced mathematics. After all, magic is a word for what we don't yet fully comprehend.

D: Like how my landlord calculates my utility bill.

De: Is there some method you like, that you could explain, in a way that makes that magic understandable?

M: Yes. But before that will make sense I should ask you how many pairwise counts are involved in each pairwise comparison.

D: I'll guess two. If the two candidates are named Pinoke and Oscar, there's the count for how many voters, well, support, uh, Pinoke over Oscar. And there's the other count, of how many voters prefer Oscar over Pinoke.

M: And will those two numbers always add up to the total number of voters?

D: I think so.

De: Ah, but what if some voters rank Pinoke and Oscar as equally acceptable?

D: Ah, that means there will be a third number. The number of voters who rank them as equally acceptable.

M: Excellent! Yes there are three numbers for each pairwise comparison. But when summarized, the third count can be omitted. This means the pairwise numbers can be put into a table, a square grid. And each row would be labelled with the name of a candidate. And the columns would be labelled with the same names in the same sequence. And each cell would contain a count.

De: So if the candidates are named Pinoke, Oscar, Barack, and Hypatia, it would be a four by four grid, right?

M: Indeed. Now you're ready to see the magic of the counting method I like best. It re-arranges the sequence of candidates, in the rows and columns. The goal is to re-arrange the sequence until the biggest pairwise counts move into the upper-right triangular area of the grid, and the smallest pairwise counts move into the other half, the lower-left triangular area. Then we look at that sequence. It indicates not only who is most popular, but who is second most popular, who is third most popular, and so on down to who is least popular.

De: What's that method called?

M: The Condorcet Kemeny method.

D: That method sounds more convoluted than building a spiral staircase down to hell.

De: Maybe that's the kind of math your landlord uses.

D: Is that the fairest method?

M: Not always. The very fairest vote-counting system would be even more complex.

D: So math really is the stairway to hell.

De: Do math experts even have all the answers?

M: There's a mathematical proof that proves it's not possible for there to be a voting method that has no flaws. So it's complicated.

De: Sounds like life and relationships.

M: There are some fairness characteristics, criteria, that voting methods pass or fail. Math geeks know which counting methods can sometimes fail which criteria. But there has been no research to measure how often each method fails, or rather passes, each one.

D: Why hasn't that research been done?

M: Who would pay for a search to find the best replacement?

D: Whoever pays for research about dinosaurs.

De: And research in mathematics.

M: Most of that funding comes from the government. Of course the people who have power don't want to pay for research that reveals the unfairness that underpins their power.

De: A black widow spider's web of corruption!

D: I think we've learned what's needed. Ranked-choice ballots and pairwise counting. So are we done?

M: There's more.

D: Now math is feeling like a boa constrictor wrapping around my lungs.

M: Fight it off with a deep breath.

D: [Takes a deep breath.]

De: That's a foolish tactic against a boa constrictor.

M: You're fighting against fear. This will be easier. So far we've been talking about how to choose a mayor, governor, or president with fairness. That's the first half. But what happens when there are lots of seats to fill, like in Congress?

D: Brain overload!

M: Oh right. Instead, try this. Imagine a group of friends eating together and choosing two pizzas. If the majority want a pork sausage topping, and about a third of the friends are Jewish, how should the topping for the second pizza be chosen?

De: In the non-math verse, they would start a holy war. Yet I like this cooperative universe better.

D: Couldn't the second-most popular candidate, er, topping, be elected, er, selected?

M: Second-most popular has more than one meaning. So let's try yet another metaphor. Imagine that five wolves and four sheep vote on what to eat for dinner.

De: Ha! The five wolves would eat the four sheep! And claim it's fair because it's democracy!

D: So us minorities, like the sheep, need a way to fight against a majority.

De: The Bill of Rights is nice, but that's not enough to protect us minorities from white supremacists.

M: As you see, just getting a majority is not a fully zoomed out view.

D: I see somethin' else too. If districts were filled with wolves 'n sheep, 'n each district had slightly more wolves than sheep, then every district would elect a wolf. Then congress would be nothin' but wolves.

De: That's not far from what are now mostly white males.

M: In Europe, instead of just wolves and sheep, they have a handful of political parties.

De: Like wolves and sheep and goats and pigs?

M: Sure. On the ballot each voter marks their favorite political party. Let's say lots of voters mark their ballot for the Pirate party.

D: I'd join that one. It sounds like they're against puppets.

De: Do they slash puppet strings with their swords?

M: They don't carry swords, or dress like pirates. But they do oppose what they think is corruption.

D: Go pirates!

M: In some European countries, adjustments are done to ensure the Pirate party, and every other party, gets their fair share of seats in parliament.

D: Does that work?

M: It hides the unfairness of still using single-choice ballots. Yet there are lots of people who like it. That's because they can point to someone in parliament and claim their vote helped elect that MP, er, member of parliament.

De: From reading news about Europe those governments have as much corruption as us.

M: Back to voting here in the United States, suppose each district filled two seats in the house of representatives.

De: That means districts would be twice the size of existing districts, right?

M: Very good!

D: OK, half as many districts, and two seats per district. Sounds slick.

M: Of course the most popular candidate wins the first seat.

De: So how's the second seat filled? In a way that's fair. For the sheep, and goats, and pigs? Or maybe I should say, for women to get the representation we deserve.

M: Using simple math, a computer can calculate which voters are well-represented by the first-seat winner.

D: Since that math is simple, I don't need to hear about it, right?

M: Right.

D: Sweet!

M: The ballots of those well-represented voters would have their influence greatly reduced. Often all the way to zero. The remaining voters still have full influence for their ballots. Pairwise counting is done again, and the most popular candidate wins the second seat. In this district.

De: I'm guessing the effect would be to elect one Republican and one Democrat.

M: Typically yes, assuming both parties offer good candidates.

D: That means there would be more than just one Republican 'n one Democrat in the race?

M: Yes because vote splitting can't happen. So we need to allow for the possibility that one of the parties only offers disliked candidates, while the other party offers better candidates.

D: Ah, if, say, the Republican party only offered puppet candidates, like Pinoke 'n Oscar, 'n the Democratic party offered anti-corruption candidates, like Barack 'n Hypatia, then both winners could be Democrats?

M: Yes.

D: This seems like a winning pole vault over our low limbo bar, where we are now.

De: But if every district elects one Republican and one Democrat, then Congress would be tied. That's cockeyed. The population is not evenly divided between the two parties.

M: To fix that unfair balance, we make the districts a little bigger. And we reserve a few extra seats. Statewide seats. Then we can do the party-based adjustment to figure out which party deserves to win each of those statewide seats.

D: And the party leaders, like the insiders in the Pirate Party, would get to decide who should fill those seats? That seems not right. That would be unfair.

M: Lots of European nations do it that way. Yet you're right. It's not fair.

D: Why are those voters so stupid?

M: The people in power are the ones who have to approve any change.

De: Ah, I see. The members of parliament only embrace a change if it's likely to get themselves re-elected. Otherwise it would be as unlikely as turkeys voting in favor of Thanksgiving.

D: Another barrier! Political turkeys.

M: Far fairer is to look at the ballots again to identify the most popular of the un-elected candidates. The most popular such candidate from the correct party would fill that party's extra seat. Then just repeat that process for each next seat.

De: That sounds like it would rip control away from party insiders. And empower the voters.

D: That seems much much fairer than what we've got now.

M: With no vote splitting, general elections would no longer be limited to just one candidate per party.

De: That means no more blocking, like how Hillary Clinton got blocked in two thousand eight. Right?

M: That's right.

D: Desha you're bright.

De: It's just counting.

M: And that's what the important parts of mathematics are mostly about, counting.

D: So how can the ballot handle lots of candidates from lots of parties?

M: A separate ballot question can ask voters to rank the political parties. That gives us the info we need to calculate the popularity of the parties.

D: Voting for parties? Is that really a thing?

M: That's what lots of people in lots of nations do on their ballots. Using that info, the most popular parties can be allowed to have two or three of their candidates in each race.

D: And the least popular parties get excluded?

M: That makes sense to me.

D: And the biggest third parties get one candidate each, right?

M: That gives small parties an opportunity to grow. And even to overtake big parties.

D: I don't like names, but this is getting complex. Is there a name for all of this mess?

M: It is sort of like a jigsaw puzzle with lots of pieces, and different pieces would work, and they have lots of names. The method that reaches farthest toward what I've described is called VoteFair Ranking.

De: VoteFair?

D: FairVote?

M: VoteFair is a ranking method I like. FairVote is an organization that promotes what they call ranked choice voting, but that name actually covers two methods, instant runoff voting and something called the single transferable vote.

De: That's confusing.

D: It's overwhelming to me.

M: Yes. It's another reason we don't teach this stuff, even in college courses.

De: OK, you like VoteFair something. Is there a less-specific name?

M: Pairwise vote counting. That's the most important part. Because pairwise counts reveal not just support but opposition.

D: So it's ranked choice ballots and pairwise vote counting that you recommend?

M: Plus adjustments we've discussed that give fuller representation.

De: To the sheep and goats and pigs defending themselves against the wolves.

D: So how hard's it to do pairwise counting?

M: All the counting is done by computer, so a tap on the screen is all you need in a real election.

De: So what's the barrier against using ranked choice ballots and pairwise counting?

M: Up until a few decades ago, when computers came along, doing the math by hand was the big barrier.

D: But now we have computers, so what's stopping us now?

M: Fear. Especially a fear of math. Officially that's called mathematical anxiety. Lots of people have it 'cause most people don't trust what they don't understand.

D: Math anxiety. That's what I was infected by.

De: Of course the biggest campaign contributors don't want anyone to cut the puppet strings they use to control politicians. And their minions, the insiders within the two political parties, don't want to get fired. Or lose their perks.

D: Why isn't the benefit of greater fairness attracting voters like a magnet?

De: You are so naïve. Greedy folks are in control and they don't want fairness.

D: Those of us who are workin' hard yet sufferin' want our fair share of the economic pie.

De: And rich people want to protect their too-big slice of economic pie, probably with vanilla ice cream and three cherries on top.

M: Speaking of that, here are colored blocks that represent nine ballots, and the colors represent ice cream flavors.

De: Pretty colors! Which flavors?

M: Dark brown is chocolate.

De: Yum!

M: Pink is for strawberry.

De: I'm not a fan of pink.

M: This color represents mint chocolate chip.

De: And I presume the last color is vanilla.

M: Right.

De: But you haven't explained why you're pointing out these colored blocks.

M: With these ballot preferences the winning flavor can be mint chocolate chip, or strawberry, or vanilla, depending on which counting method is used.

De: As usual, brown always loses.

D: Ah, I see the counting method matters.

M: Definitely. And yet, almost any method is better than what we've got now.

D: So now do we know all about voting?

M: There's one more bit. But you can learn about it later, when you're ready. It will be improvements in how members of Congress vote to decide which bills should pass to become laws. But getting that math right is too advanced for you now.

D: If elections were fair, what would change, politically?

De: Yeah, especially for the unfortunate poor. And us college grads who failed to get to the middle class.

M: The answer to that I don't know. For that you need to ask someone who understands both economics and game theory.

D: Game theory?

De: Ah. Voting's a game! That makes sense.

M: It's an academic field that studies, well, it's difficult to describe. But it includes vote counting. I do know someone with those credentials. But he's at a university that's a three-hour drive away.

D: Do you think he'd give us a peek into that future?

M: I can ask him by email.

D: That'd be super!

M: He studies, and teaches about, economic history.

De: The history of economics? That sounds like a waste.

M: The history of economics would be boring for the two of you. But that's different from economic history, which is what he teaches. That's the study of economies during earlier times.

D: I hate history. As much as I did mathematics.

M: This professor can make history fun.

D: Can that be done? 'N economics, that's more math.

M: You did great understanding some history about mathematics. As for math in economics, it's just different names for money. Like tax, debt, interest, subsidies, and tariffs.

De: Don't forget bribes, kickbacks, payoffs, payola, and ... campaign contributions.

D: I'm a dummy but I'll try.

M: One more tip. There's something called mathiness. It's a misuse of mathematics. Math doesn't lie, but some liars use numbers when they lie.

D: Mathiness must be what my landlord's usin' on me.

De: I admit I tend to distrust math until I do the counting or calculations myself.

D: So, we've learned that ranked choice ballots and pairwise vote counting is the key to less corruption in Washington DC. But do we need to remember that guy's name? Condolences, or something?

M: Pairwise vote counting includes Condorcet methods, and some non-Condorcet methods. So just remember the concept of pairwise vote counting. And needing more than half those votes.

D: Half's a fraction I can recall. But I don't understand why you made a big deal out of the digit zero.

M: It took our ancestors hundreds of years to make the leap from the number zero to the digit zero. To us, in hindsight, that's slow. In a similar way folks in the distant future will marvel that it took so long for us to use pairwise counting for counting votes. Zero as a digit changed the world in marvellous ways. Similarly pairwise vote counting will change the world in marvellous ways.

D: So just like we don't know what we've got til it's gone, we don't really know what's missing until it can be seen in hindsight?

De: I was right. You are very bright.

M: That's a wise insight.

D: That's just common sense. But what you've taught us are hidden secrets. The ones those greedy ...

De: Money worshippers ...

D: ... business owners ... don't want us to find out. We're grateful you've guided us through a dark long cave to a rich treasure chest. We'll share what we've learned.

M: Remember your promise, ... that you won't reveal where they came from.

D: OK, but why?

M: I've got tenure, so I'm not likely to lose my job. But I can lose grants for my research projects.

D: Ah, 'n some of your funds come from the government, right?

M: Yes. Lots.

De: When we bite the hand that feeds you we won't reveal who took us off our leashes.

D: We can say we learned it from Wikipedia.

M: Only bits of it are in Wikipedia. That's because they require academic references, especially for mathematical topics.

De: And I suppose those references don't exist because governments don't fund such research.

D: This is all seeming like a giant conspiracy, except that it's in plain view.

De: It's hidden behind the curtain of mathematics, under the unmarked trap door of pairwise vote counting.

D: Fear of math keeps it well hidden.

De: This makes it all the more special that you've taken the time to explain this to us.

D: I'm extremely grateful. You've given me, us, more than I could ever have hoped for.

M: I love these kinds of conversations. I wish textbooks and those dang standardized tests would allow me to teach more like this, without as much notation and terminology. The joy of math is in the concepts. That's what counts.

D: I think I'm beginning to see a fraction of that joy in mathematics.

De: Ah, one more thing. Since pairwise counting is a few years off, what can we do in the next election to fight against vote splitting?

M: Tell your friends, including the ones online, that the single-choice ballot, what we use now, is not asking who is your favorite?

D: Then what's it asking?

De: Besides which loser do you want to get stuck with?

M: There is no easy way to say what it's asking. And there's no way to mark a single-choice ballot to say none of the above. And choosing not to vote does not express none of the above. Instead a voter needs to hold their nose and mark a candidate who has a chance of winning. Otherwise they weaken the candidate they prefer who does have a chance of winning.

De: But that means never voting for a third-party candidate, right?

M: No. You can vote for a third-party candidate if the candidate you most despise will easily win. That means none of the opposition candidates has a chance of winning, so then it makes sense to mark your favorite opposition candidate, which can be from a third party.

D: So in the next presidential election, if the incumbent will easily get re-elected, I can vote for a third-party candidate?

M: That's an important exception because in a presidential election the popular vote still matters. Specifically the gap between the Republican and the Democrat is put under a microscope to compare those counts with the electoral vote count.

D: I thought presidential elections were the most important to get right.

M: The way to help defeat vote splitting is to vote in both primary and general elections. And especially primary elections for members of Congress.

D: What's the best way to express none of the above?

M: Promote the adoption of ranked choice ballots and pairwise vote counting.

De: So we should protest! With signs that say ... uh, what should they say?

M: That's a foreign world to me.

De: Maybe, ... pairwise vote counting cuts puppet strings?

D: Well, we can work out that later.

De: And we can hope that Jon Oliver tells us we're stupid not to have been using pairwise vote counting.

D: Professor Mata, you're a true guru.

De: Thank you! All of this has been so helpful.

D: Yes, thank you! Especially, thanks for teaching me I'm not a third-wit loser.

M: You're welcome. And Damien, your brain does not contain cobwebs, or sawdust, or an imaginary number of tik tok videos. I see clarity in your mental ability. You even learn with less delay than some students who take my class named Math Hysteresis.

D: Wow, ... I think.

De: With what we've learned, I'm ready to avenge the deaths of my mother and brother, who were killed by the corrupt. Let's go out to obstruct the political status quo.

Scene 6, Economic Engines

De (Desha): Are you professor Penta ..., Pentagitis?

P (Professor Pengaritihas): Professor Pengaritihas. Are you two Demon and Dasha?

De: I'm Desha.

D (Damien): I'm Damien.

P: Welcome to my classroom. Would you like some pistachios?

D: I'm so full of nuts I could get a dozen squirrels through winter.

De: We're wired on espresso. So let's go!

D: I'm hungry to learn.

De: We came to learn the dark arts of economics. Please tell us what will happen when elections are fair.

D: When vote splittin's no longer skewing the outcome.

P: It's not goat spitting. It's vote splitting.

D: We know it's super challengin' to predict the future.

P: That's mostly what us economists are paid to do. Predict the future.

D: Are they, well you too, in hindsight, usually right?

P: Sometimes yes, and then we modestly say I told you so. Sometimes no, and then we apply for a research grant to study why we were wrong.

De: So you get paid more if you're wrong? Are economists wealthy?

D: Desha, your espresso is showing. Professor, do you have a general notion 'bout what will change? Especially in Washington.

P: Of course! Lots of new laws will be passed. They will reduce corruption. Then a few people who greatly profit from existing kinds of corruption might temporarily earn less money. Almost everyone else will enjoy increased prosperity. And that increase later will feed back to the ones who temporarily lost some of their income.

De: What's your justification? For that prediction?

P: That trend has been going on throughout civilization and history. Not counting setbacks caused by warfare.

D: Can you explain why?

P: Imagine the economy as a strawberry pie.

De: I'm not fond of strawberry pie. And not apple or rhubarb. Can we call it a cherry pie?

P: Of course. Now imagine the economy is a cherry pie. If some people cut themselves a slice that is too big, then other people end up with smaller slices.

D: I'm following this. Wow!

P: What would you like to call the people who take too big of a slice?

D: People in the political down. As opposed to the political left 'n political right.

De: 'N we the people, who get too little, are in the political up.

P: Bravo! I'll bet you had to struggle to get your bearings in the political jungle. So, the way I see it, if elections were fair, then elected leaders would care more about the people you call the political up, where most of us are, who get too little economic pie.

De: That's the part we've figured out. And that replacement politicians wouldn't lie ... as much.

P: Yes, those replacement politicians would pass laws that give bigger slices of economic pie to the majority of voters.

D: So far this is easier than playing air guitar.

De: When I took economics one oh one, it wasn't this fun.

P: We'll get to some complicated bits swiftly, and they involve bits of history.

D: Oh dear, not silly wonky history. I learned some. But I'm done with the past. It's gone. Why do people dwell on that old stuffy stuff? Other than using it to play trivia games.

P: Here I'm walking backwards. Imagine that this is like moving forward in time. The future is behind me where I cannot see. So I look where I've been. That's the past. The patterns give me clues about that which is yet to be. So history is like a crystal ball.

D: Now I see! History is a preview of the future. Who knew?

P: Many people mistakenly think that history is mostly recalling facts about the past.

D: In a history trivia contest Wikipedia would beat me like the loudest drum in a marchin' band.

P: Reading Wikipedia would be a great way to learn history.

De: Wikipedia is wrong lots of the time.

D: About topics where money is affected, sure. But Wikipedia is usually right about non-recent history, and basic mathematics, chemistry, and physics, and movie plots. That's because those don't affect anyone's finances.

D: My eyes are cryin' just thinkin' about reading Wikipedia so much.

De: You said that reading glasses with a blue tint helps with books. A good browser can change Wikipedia's white background to blue. See how that looks.

D: I'll give that trick a try.

P: Rather than facts, what's more useful regarding history is causation. Cause and effect. Especially when it involves a surprise.

D: Can ya translate that into a for instance?

P: If that's what it takes, here's one that involves snakes.

De: The political kind?

P: Cobras.

De: I like them, at a distance.

P: A city in India had a problem with too many cobra snakes. So they put a bounty on the snakes.

D: I recognize bounty as another word for money.

P: That's the cause. So what would you expect to be the effect?

De: Fewer cobra snakes.

D: You mentioned surprises. So I'll guess the number of snakes increased.

P: Indeed, the cobra population increased. So the test question is: why?

D: I hate tests. They are rodent pests that scare my wits into a dark corner.

P: Flunk! With your brain, try to maintain your focus on the topic, the subject, the panoramic perspective of the fully exposed landscape.

De: The naked true view.

P: Don't try to push away the fear. Figure out why you still cling to the fear. Then just let go of the fear.

D: Got it. I'll let go of the scare. I'll focus on the snake. There's less fear there.

De: So why did the cobra population increase?

P: When money gets offered for something then people do what it takes to get that money. Enterprising city residents went into the cobra snake breeding business.

D: I'll guess that after realizing what was going on, the bounty was ended and those extra snakes got released?

P: A plus! That's what happened. This historical event reminds us to consider otherwise unexpected consequences.

De: There are lots of awful unfair consequences of Congress and its corruption, but those shouldn't be unexpected.

P: Alas, doing what's been done before, and expecting a different result, is, ... well, ....

De: Batshit crazy.

D: Even I've learned to do less of that.

P: Let's look at one of the complications that economists face. You've heard of the gross domestic product, the GDP?

D: Yeah, it measures, well, when it goes up, that's good. 'N when it goes down, that's bad.

P: So here's the next test question. Does the GDP go up or down when a family's house burns down?

D: This seems like another trick question so I'll say GDP goes up.

P: C plus. For an A you need to tell me why.

De: Because building the replacement house, or more likely the selling of the property to a developer who builds a condominium, is business activity, and that's what GDP measures.

P: A plus. Yes, GDP just measures transfers of money. When nothing is bought or sold there's no change in gross domestic product.

D: That is gross. But what's this got to do with election vote-counting reform?

P: When people are optimistic about the future, GDP goes up because people buy more products, and pay for more services.

De: And eat out more, and make more babies.

P: But when people are pessimistic about the future, they delay gratification.

De: That means they eat in, travel less, go on cheaper dates, and buy fewer shoes.

D: That's fewer and smaller money transfers, so GDP goes down.

P: Yes, when people fearfully cling to the money in their bank account that pulls down the economy as measured by GDP.

D: And I suppose when they postpone making babies, there are fewer future customers.

De: You are bright. So Professor Pengaritihas, do you think people will become optimistic when fairer voting methods are adopted?

P: The short answer is yes. The fuller answer involves what's happening now in the economy.

D: I keep hearing the economy's on the climbing path of a roller coaster. But I'm in one of the cars that's derailed, and I'm plunging fast.

P: The stock market keeps going up and up because people with money have few other places to invest it. Specifically certificates of deposit haven't been yielding much interest.

D: I suppose that gives the stock market sort of a monopoly.

De: So stocks are like an over-inflated balloon. Does that mean our roller coaster ride will soon plummet? And the poor will all die?

P: It's difficult to predict when it will drop from its recent top.

D: You said economists predict the future.

P: Knowing what will happen is different from knowing when those whats will happen. Professors of economics focus on rational behavior. But successful investors earn lots of money by knowing the stock market can stay irrational longer than investors can stay solvent.

De: Ah. Economists assume people are smart. This explains why they, and you, aren't wealthy.

P: Our math proofs do have some goofs. After all, measuring stupidity is tricky.

D: Speaking of morons, why doesn't the economy work for hard workers like me? The numbers lie. They say everything's hunky dory. Is this an example of mathiness?

P: I don't know what mathiness is. But numbers can be deceptive. What many people overlook is that the unemployment rate that's in the news just counts people who are now getting unemployment benefits.

De: Those benefits run out after a few months of having no job. I've learned that from experience. So unemployment is actually higher, right?

P: Yes, it's higher.

D: Why don't economists measure that? The real unemployment rate.

P: The government does measure that as well. But most newspapers and TV stations report the unemployment rate that government officials call attention to.

De: Since wealthy business owners own news sources, they probably tell their reporters to report the lower rate. That gives consumers the confidence to spend dollars more freely. And that gives the wealthy more sales, more money.

D: I thought it was just the government being sneaky.

P: It's both. The government knows that if they call attention to the higher unemployment rate, then some of the optimism disappears. Then the economy and the GDP would trend downward. And that would activate a bad feedback loop.

D: What's a backwards loop?

P: A feedback loop. When you're in an auditorium and the sound system squeals, that's a feedback loop.

D: Oh yeah. That's when ... a tiny sound at the microphone ... gets amplified ... 'n comes out the speakers ... 'n gets back to the microphone ... just slightly louder than before.

P: It becomes as loud as possible as fast as possible. And a feedback loop is what makes a hurricane so powerful. There are lots of feedback loops. That's what's behind economic inflation.

D: A strong wind?

P: When an employee who makes plush toy dinosaurs gets a salary increase, the business has to increase the price of their dinos. A mother working in a grocery store then gets a raise to afford rising toy prices. Then the grocery store slightly raises its prices to cover that cost increase. Then that feeds back to the original employee who shops at that grocery store.

De: That's inflation, when salaries and prices increase together.

P: That feedback loop has to be slowed down by doing something that decouples at least one of the links in the loop.

D: So announcing a higher rate of unemployment would undermine optimism. And that would bring down the economy. And that would cause more layoffs. And that would speed up how fast the economy goes down. This makes sense.

De: Governments try to make the economy grow fast. And yet also keep inflation slow.

P: That's the concept. Of course my students have to say it with the right terminology.

D: Otherwise they'd get bad grades on standardized tests.

P: Alas, yes. I have to teach what might be in the tests. If I ask an essay question and the student mentions the tragedy of the commons I score it high. But I have to score it low if they just talk about economic pie.

D: No wonder school is so distasteful.

De: I'm glad we're getting the uncommon version, not the tragic version.

P: The basic parts of economics are the concepts, not their names. It's a delight to explain the concepts to you two.

D: Desha, I'm thinkin' here the concept is ... your poop scooper loop's a feedback loop?

De: That's a different kind of feedback loop. Dog owners have to care about the health of other dogs to protect their own dog's health. Here, in economic kinds of feedback loops, self-interest is the motivation.

D: Ah, the employees ask for a higher salary for selfish reasons. 'N the business owners sell at higher prices for selfish reasons.

P: Right. In economic feedback loops the changes happen because each person focuses on what they themselves want. Without caring about what others want. Like with those cobra snake breeders. They didn't much care how many cobra snakes are in the city. Their actions were just based on monetary self-interest.

D: I see. Dog owners, the pooper scooper ones, care how many piles of dog poop their dog can sniff. But that's affected by other dog owners. There's no benefit to poop scooping if other dog owners don't scoop too.

De: You've got it.

D: Hey! ... Wait a moment. ... Feedback loops are what rich business owners use to get oversized slices of economic pie! They use lawyers. And they control news sources. And they control politicians. They use feedback loops to give themselves bigger and bigger slices of cherry pie. No wonder I'm hungry, economically.

De: So why does it seem that rent 'n food 'n ice cream are going up and up fast while salaries suck, I mean stay stuck?

P: It's not your imagination. The cost of living is going up faster than the consumer price index, which is the official measurement of inflation.

De: That's another corrupt measurement. The consumer price index. But I forgot why it's corrupt.

P: You didn't forget. We can't teach why to undergrads. Part of the why is because back when the price of food items were quickly rising, some food items were replaced by items whose cost were declining.

D: What's declining in cost?

P: The per-pixel cost of digital cameras.

D: I recognize that word per. It means division. And the number of pixels in a camera are going up, so dividing by that bigger number makes the result go down.

De: So that's another way the government is hiding the real cost of living. I can guess why they're not being transparent. But something else is going on, right?

P: Yes. Some government expenses are matched to the consumer price index. Such as retirement pensions for government employees, and social security benefits. And that index's linked to the interest they pay for borrowed money. So the government wants inflation to stay low.

D: So the government pays out less money by pretending inflation is low, right?

P: Exactly. As another trick, they get to exclude rent and fuel, which are rising quickly. They're excluded from that index because they're too volatile.

De: That means they go up and down like a caffinated kangaroo rat.

D: Is anything else being fudged?

De: Besides hot sundaes?

P: Desha, do you remember from econ one oh one what determines interest rates?

De: The federal reserve chooses when to increase and decrease the interest rate, right?

P: That's the rate talked about in the news, but more important is the rate determined by auctioning treasuries.

De: I don't remember learning about those actions, I mean, auctions.

P: It's not taught to undergrads.

De: I'll bet textbooks don't include it because schools are funded by the government. So textbooks can't reveal secrets the government wants to hide.

P: Yes, that's another feedback loop.

D: All these feedback loops! They make math seem simple.

De: I agree.

P: U.S. treasuries are sold in auctions. In economically optimistic times those treasuries sell for higher prices, closer to the amount the government pays when they reach their redemption date.

De: Ah, but in economically pessimistic times the buyers pay much less. That increases the gap between purchase price and redemption payment. So that brings up rates of interest, right?

D: Ah, I think I'm following. Since interest rates are now low, that means there's lots of buyers for those ... things?

De: Treasuries.

P: A plus. Yes, normally. But China and Russia stopped buying them so lately the federal reserve has been buying lots of them.

De: That would be like the plush toy dinosaur business buying its own dinos to give the appearance of extra customers and income.

P: That's partly why the deficit is so huge.

D: Ah, so the U.S. government has increased its debt to compensate for rough times economically?

De: Wait a moment. Our economy's like a stack of wood blocks in a teetering tower that's ready to fall?

P: Almost all nations and all big businesses are in debt. So are farmers. They all have to borrow first before they can grow crops or manufacture or whatever to get income.

De: So being in debt is not a big deal, but a growing deficit, that's bad, right?

P: Relatively speaking, yes. But as long as the government is keeping its citizens happy, and happier than in other nations, problems can be hidden behind curtains of distraction.

De: The number of people trying to immigrate into the U.S. is still high. So that suggests success. Yet things are a mess.

D: So what should be going on instead? Besides traveling in flying cars.

P: History tells us that prosperity happens when a city, nation, or region sells something that people outside the region either need or strongly desire. And it's not available from anywhere else.

D: I need an example because, well, it helps.

P: Do you know what the silk road was?

D: Yeah, Marco Polo and lots of caravans traveled along it to get silk from China.

De: That means China was getting lots of valuable things flowing into their country to pay for the silk.

D: So that made China rich?

P: Yes. China wisely kept their special silkworms within the Forbidden City to protect their monopoly. Protecting a monopoly through secrecy is an important way for a region or a business to dramatically gain economic prosperity.

De: The Forbidden City's the fortress where the emperor of China lived.

D: Be the only source of something valuable. That's a monopoly. Hmm, this seems familiar.

P: Another way to increase prosperity is to increase efficiency.

D: How come prosperity increases efficiency?

De: Your time machine is running backwards. Efficiency increases prosperity.

D: I need an example again.

P: Consider the Roman empire. They wrote laws to control business and commerce, including setting standards for weights and sizes. And they used soldiers and courts to enforce those laws. And they built roads and patroled them with soldiers. They built aqueducts to channel water to cities. All of that greatly increased the efficiency of their economy.

D: Huh? Economic efficiency?

P: Economic efficiency means something different. Here I'm talking about efficiency as a general concept, where profits go up when costs go down.

De: Ah, costs went down when those Romans wasted less time fetching water, they got sick less because they had water to wash their hands, and better roads gave them a better warranty on their ox-cart wheels.

P: And there was less cheating. Soldiers made sure that merchants didn't use heavier weights to measure what they buy, and lighter weights to measure the gold and gems they paid.

De: Plus less highway robbery by bad Samaritans.

D: Less time wasted. Less stealing. Got it.

P: Especially important is for there to be less fighting. Not only physical fighting, but fewer business disputes.

D: Since efficiency is so important, economists measure it, right?

De: They think they do. They have something called economic efficiency, but that's more like the gain and loss of a cherry pie. And they have something called the productivity index. But it's flawed.

P: A plus. You do remember some economics. The productivity index is supposed to measure productivity, which is similar to efficiency. Yet that index increases when a house burns down and then inexpensively gets rebuilt. Of course it would be even more efficient if the house never burned down. But measuring non-destruction, alas that's not a sexy topic that attracts economists' attention.

De: And it fails to account for the benefits of some kinds of socialism, like public libraries, and better public education.

D: So if efficiency is what made the Roman empire great, why did it decline? In just a sentence or two.

De: If all the books on this subject fell on you, you'd get buried in an avalanche ten feet high.

P: I'll give you just the relevant part. After the years of good governance and prosperity, corruption grew. And corruption reduces efficiency.

D: Why?

De: This is going to take awhile. What I'm wearing might go out of style.

P: Actually it's simple. You know what the free market is, right?

D: Yeah.

De: Of course.

P: In an ideal free market, there are no barriers. People can choose what to buy, what to sell, how much to charge, and whatever else, without fighting. That's a fluid, flexible, and efficient, economy. But corruption? That puts up barriers that are chosen to channel money into specific pockets. Those corrupt barriers reduce efficiency.

D: I think I've got it. Efficiency and selling what's desirable is what brings money into a region. And corruption reduces efficiency, which causes economic decline.

De: In ancient Rome a huge source of wealth was through conquest. That means stealing. Sometimes a ruler surrendered when the Roman army arrived. Other times there was fighting. Either way, the Roman army took gold and jewels, and crowns and tiaras, and artwork, back to Rome.

D: But that ends when there's no more regions to conquer and plunder, right?

P: Yes. Basically that's the kids' book version of the Roman empire. A similar kind of rise and fall pattern happened later with the Italian Renaissance. It started with efficient banking. Plus improved ships and navigation using technology from China.

De: The compass, right?

P: And the ship's rudder.

D: Of course gunpowder. And the digit zero.

P: You're astute!

D: No my ass didn't toot!

De: Astute. It means your brain just did the equivalent of a gymnastics triple twist vault with a perfect landing.

D: Oh thanks!

De: Gunpowder empowered Europeans to explode, ... to exploit ... the native people in north, south, and central America. Now I realize that using big tall ships to transport silk and other stuff between Asia and Europe ...

P: The other stuff included gold, salt, ivory, frankincense, toga fabric, and their equivalent of Reeses peanut butter cups.

De: ... I realize that running into America and taking land from the natives, and enslaving Africans to work on plantations in the Caribbean, was an economic bonus. And giving religious folks a place where they could escape competing religions was just, for us, a lucky byproduct?

P: Basically, yes. It gave democracy a place to grow, far away from big armies and navies. The resulting cooperation among U.S. states led to immense prosperity. It was so much more efficient than hereditary court appointments, political patronage, guilds, secret societies, and fraternal organizations.

De: Corruption! And good-old-boys drinking binges in pubs.

D: I suppose those meetings and drinking together were early versions of teamwork building? And networking?

De: Designed to exlude women.

P: In hindsight those outdated traditions can be seen as corrupt.

D: And inefficient, right?

P: Very much so. That's why a couple centuries later Europeans formed the European Union. They abandoned fighting between Catholics and Protestants. And they abandoned fighting over language differences.

De: And they stopped having food fights about table etiquette. And European governments now allow women some seats in parliament after seeing American Rosie the Riveters bail them out of their foolish World War Two.

P: Instead they are copying the clear success of cooperation that works so well in the United States.

De: You said fighting undermines the economy. Yet political hawks, who are mostly conservatives, promote warfare as a way to increase prosperity. And competition between nations, and between businesses, is the basis of prosperity in a free market, right?

D: I'm lost. I feel like I'm in a maze and someone turned off the lights.

P: Competition between businesses provides motivation to work hard. But what gets overlooked is the teamwork, the cooperation, between employees. And the cooperation between citizens within the same nation.

D: Hmm. So teamwork is more than touchy-feely games?

De: Ah, employees getting along, who wouldn't normally get along. Like employees ignoring racial differences, religious differences, and gender differences.

D: Ah, and Republicans and Democrats ignoring their differences while at work.

De: When these conflicts are ignored, that's cooperation. Ah, that increases efficiency within the business.

D: So cooperation within a business makes the business strong, so it can better compete against other businesses? The lights are coming back on. I think I see.

De: So fighting between groups of people inspires, motivates, cooperation within each group?

P: That's not a bad simplification.

D: So a free market is a good thing?

P: A fully free market is impossible, yet it gets tried repeatedly, and it fails. Like the Articles of Confederation.

D: What's that?

De: Basically the U.S. Constitution is version two point oh. The Articles of Confederation was version one point oh.

P: It failed partly because it asked each colony to supply soldiers and weapons and such, but there was no negative consequence for the colonies that didn't. So the Constitution, among other changes, taxed the colonies to pay for one big army and navy.

D: And air force?

De: Wake up! Time travel hadn't been invented yet.

P: That cooperation, among the colonies, without any non-participation option, was the opposite of what European nations were doing, which was fighting each other endlessly.

De: So you're saying that if there was a fully free market then we wouldn't have things like a military?

P: Or public schools, food for the poor, hospitals, or orphanages for little orphan Annies. Those things were created by churches, and promoted by religions.

D: Religion?

P: Ancient priests in Egypt earned their grain and beer by predicting eclipses so their boss, the pharaoh, could pretend to be powerful. And they predicted when the Nile River would flood and recede. Plus each year priests used mathematics and surveying to lay out that year's farming boundaries. All of that was like magic to people who didn't understand astronomy, weather, geometry, and fractions.

De: That's why Galileo was a threat to the Catholic Church.

D: Because he made heads spin?

De: He showed that science was better than priests at those brainy skills.

P: And priests lost lots of credibility, plus their lives, during the European black death by praying at the bedside of the dying.

De: And they sold holy water that failed to cure the sick, they extorted money for pardoning sins, and their version of a trip to Disneyland was a long pilgrimage to kneel before the pelvic girdle of Saint Bernard of Piddlesbourough.

D: Those priests would have flunked out of medical school. Got it.

P: Lots of what was once done by religion has split into science, engineering, public education, and government.

De: So now, the big barrier against progress for civilization is our use of very primitive voting methods.

D: What would happen if we, the majority of voters, could elect leaders who care? How would those leaders change the U.S. economy? To make it fair. I assume they would increase our efficiency, right?

P: Yes they would want to increase prosperity. As a start, they would avoid making big mistakes other nations have made.

D: Stupidity at the national level. I don't feel so alone.

P: When England was prosperous they raised tariffs as a way to increase their income, or so they thought. But higher tariffs, just like higher prices, only work if there's a monopoly. That new barrier gave Dutch people a trading advantage, because they had lower tariffs.

De: So higher tariffs on English goods motivated other nations to trade with the Dutch instead of the English? Isn't that when Dutch business owners grew so wealthy they bid up the price of tulip bulbs to sub-orbital highs?

P: Indeed.

De: And isn't that when the Pilgrims moved to Holland, where the Dutch live, so they could escape religious persecution from the corrupt state-run church in England?

P: You've got a great recall of religion's history.

De: Religion is corrupt, just like politics.

D: If free markets are great, why don't we have more of that? 'N fewer monopolies?

De: Great question.

P: A free market saves money for lots of people. But it decreases income for people who cling to outdated ways of doing business. So naturally wealthy business owners pay politicians to keep the status quo.

De: Status quo means ...

D: Means keepin' things as they are. I've been doing some cramming.

P: On the flip side, a free market increases wealth for people who innovate instead of cling.

D: Is this why Amazon does so well? And why retail stores are suffering? Amazon uses computers to replace the inefficiency of people.

De: I've worked in retail stores. Talk about inefficiency. I had to count out change when someone handed me cash. We wasted time watching suspicious customers in case they did petty theft. And countless customers interrupted me because they were too lazy to read the signs. Especially the big one with a big arrow that said restrooms.

D: Makes sense. Amazon eliminates cash, theft, and restrooms. And looking at the city level, people driving from houses to restaurants and back to pick up take-out food wastes lots of time and fuel, right?

P: You're getting this! Congratulations.

De: Here in the U.S. we have to buy sugar that's made from crops grown domestically. So that means we're wasting lots of money that could be spent on other things if we bought our sugar from outside the U.S., right? So we should eliminate monopolies, right?

P: Monopolies do reduce this general kind of efficiency. But some monopolies are needed, such as for making strategic things. Like bombs, and silicon chips, and batteries. Decades ago access to sugar was regarded as a strategic advantage. That's why it's got a monopoly.

De: Getting fat is a strategic advantage?

P: My expertise is in economics. I don't claim to be an expert about diet. Or defense against the dark arts of power-grid attacks.

D: So goods and services, and money, should be used wisely. And shouldn't be wasted. That makes sense.

P: There's something else that shouldn't be wasted. It's difficult to measure, so it's easily overlooked. Consider what happened in Britain during World War One. It was popular for university-educated men to volunteer to fight in that war.

De: They got slaughtered in the trenches. Lots of knowledge and lots of skills died with them. What a waste.

P: And that caused a bad feedback loop. It reduced the people who could educate the next generation.

D: Ah, so that's why men in college get excluded when there's a military draft. I see. Knowledge and skills are also resources that can get used wisely, or wasted.

P: Or lost. During the European black death, lots of blacksmiths and ship builders and court jesters died. With them died lots of valuable knowledge.

De: Jesters knew how to juggle pig bladders and chew berries at the same time?

P: Back before Netflix and the iPod and radio, even before record players, music and jokes and dances could only be heard or seen in the presence of musicians, storytellers, dancers, and jesters. If they died without passing along what they knew, their melodious songs, spellbinding stories, tantalizing dances, and hilarious jokes got lost.

De: Ah, death. It takes so much away.

P: In those times horseshoes, swords, and sailing ships were high technology. That's why blacksmiths and ship builders were so valuable.

De: Is this related to why humans haven't recently walked on the moon? Losing knowledge?

P: Alas, yes. The people who knew how to put them there are dead, or retired. And some written knowledge on computer hard drives was erased. On the bright side, the opposite of losing knowledge is gaining knowledge. That's what gave strength to the Islamic Golden Age.

D: What's that?

De: That's when Bagdad was the center of an empire of people who spoke Arabic and followed the religion of Islam. A wise ruler, whose name I don't remember ...

P: ... Harun al-Rashid, at the end of the seven hundreds ...

De: ... collected books and gathered wise scholars from around the world, and paid smart people to develop things like algebra, geometry, and ..., I forget what else.

P: Medicine, three D drawings, robotic mechanisms, papermaking, and much more.

D: Is that when the digit zero made its way closer to Europe?

De: Yes, and why Europeans and we refer to the digits zero through nine as Arabic numerals.

P: A plus plus. And that empire became weak as a result of what?

D: Corruption I'll bet.

P: Yes, including a dismissal of science.

De: People who dismiss science are doubly stupid. And I'll bet some of them are capitalists who fail to see that the loss of science leads the economy into a death spiral.

D: Another bad feedback loop. Got it. About stupidity, how come it so often wins against knowledge?

P: Dictators and wannabe dictators outlaw or monopolize knowledge. When Mao Zedong led China he destroyed books and banished intellectuals to manual-labor jobs. That undermined the economy.

De: That's why Chinese spies steal secrets of technology from us.

D: Since Europeans got lots of inventions from China, did earlier Chinese rulers do better?

P: Chinese emperors feared losing what they called the mandate of heaven. What we call the right to rule. Especially they feared natural disasters. That's because too many deaths caused by flood, or earthquakes, or crop failure, would lead to rebellion and revolution.

D: I think Congress lost the mandate of heaven long ago.

P: To prevent catastrophes Chinese leaders hired and promoted based on competence instead of nepotism and favoritism.

D: What's nepo... whatever.

De: Hiring family members.

D: Isn't that a no-brainer? Hiring based on skills and a good résumé?

De: Alas, hiring relatives and friends channels wealth selfishly for short-term gains. Instead of wisely for long-term gains.

P: Another big loss of efficiency is mismanagement. That's partly why NASA lost its ability to make rockets that can take astronauts to the space station.

De: And why now NASA has to buy passage for astronauts on Russian rockets.

P: On the topic of Russia, socialism is what some folks think would be better than capitalism, but it's not.

De: I learned that once. But when I try to remember why, what comes up is something about chocolate.

P: It's because free markets more quickly arrive at the most efficient networks and interdependencies. In contrast, socialism attempts to control markets from the top down, using quotas, and penalties, and fixing prices, such as the price of sugar and chocolate. But those rules can't change as fast as what happens at the bottom of the economy.

D: I wanna see if I'm understanding. ... A free and efficient market's like letting water find its own way to the ocean? Instead of trying to redirect rivers. Is that right?

P: That's a useful metaphor. And now, finally, you're ready to understand something important that doesn't have a name.

De: Bring it on!

P: There's a very effective way for a government to increase prosperity. The first half is to decrease taxes on business activities that are efficient and bring a net flow of money into the region. The second half is to increase taxes on business activities that are inefficient, wasteful, or plunder the locals in the style of New Jersey lawyers.

D: So, besides lawyers, which business activities are which?

P: Let's consider some different kinds of businesses. How about farming?

D: That brings money in. If the crops are sold outside the U.S.

P: Which is part of why farmers get lots of special government subsidies. How about manufacturing?

D: That brings money in, when the products are sold outside the U.S.

De: I thought that manufacturing businesses were bad.

P: Back when the industrial revolution began, that was common. Owners used greedy shortcuts. And still there are some manufacturing businesses that treat laws as if they're optional suggested guidelines. But today's transgressions are mild compared to earlier times.

D: A manufacturing business doesn't need to be bad. Got it.

P: If there were lower taxes for good manufacturing businesses, that would reward them for efficiently hiring skilled workers who transform raw materials into valuable products worth lots of money.

De: So software businesses would get lower taxes too? They bring lots of money into the United States from other nations, and they just consume electricity. And they hire highly skilled software developers.

P: Great example. How about mining companies?

D: They bring lots of money into the U.S.

De: But the U.S. loses lots of natural resources that future generations will come to miss, right?

P: Yes. Like Japan, where they cut down their forests for firewood. Now they buy lots of timber from the U.S. Or did back when massive logging was done in the Pacific Northwest.

D: So mining and timber businesses deserve to pay higher taxes, right?

P: The word deserve is judgemental, so that's a matter of opinion. There might be times when Desha thinks you deserve to be spanked with a wet towel, but that would be a judgement, not a fact.

De: In this case it's a fact.

P: But, yes, if mining and timber industries export lots of materials now, then future generations will not have those resources to use, sell, or waste.

De: Short-sighted capitalists. Speaking of that, what's capitalism? It's confusing to me.

P: That's because the word really has different meanings in different situations. Of course textbooks carefully define it, but those definitions use words that don't fully capture exactly what it means every time it's used.

De: Which explains why so much of what I learned in school now seems like snow on a sunny hillside. It's long gone. But this, what you're teaching us, reveals so many secrets that lie beneath puzzling mysteries, of why things are the way they are. So I think I'll remember most of it for a long time.

P: It's a joy to really get to teach what's important! Now, back to what doesn't have an official name. How about artists, writers, composers, and other people who create things that can be sold for way more than the cost of electricity and art supplies and creative software?

D: Clearly they deserve, er, should get, lower taxes on their businesses.

De: So what's this called? This thing of imposing lower taxes on businesses that efficiently create things of value. And imposing higher taxes on businesses that waste resources.

D: Or don't attract as much money into the United States.

P: The only name I've heard is tax the makers less than the takers.

D: I like that. People like me who wanna make things would earn higher wages because of those lower taxes.

De: And corporations would pay much higher taxes.

P: Only some corporations would pay higher taxes. Other corporations create lots of valuable products and services, and they would pay lower taxes.

De: Which corporations create value? I thought that big corporations are predatory.

P: Admittedly big corporations do tend to be greedy. Yet when a biz is young and small and sparsely funded, it can't grow if it doesn't offer something that benefits lots of people.

De: I have my doubts about that.

D: Are there examples? Something from history?

P: Back when Google started out, it gave better search results, and fewer ads, compared to other search engines. Amazon started as a bookstore that gave beginning book authors a way to bypass the monopolistic New York City book publishers who were inefficiently renting New York City office space. Bank of America, when it was started in San Fransisco, it catered to the special needs of wealthy Chinese Americans in Chinatown, back when other banks shunned Asian Americans as customers. What's important to realize is there are lots of small corporations you've never heard of that benefit lots of people in lots of wonderful ways.

D: So it's like with rich people? Some are good, and some are bad?

P: Exactly. And I'm glad you see that simply taxing wealthy individuals isn't the key.

D: I learned they can hide vacation homes, ego-inflating yachts, and rendevouz condos in the businesses n' trusts they own. So they can evade individual taxation. 'N exploit tax deductions in their businesses.

P: And it's harder to figure out which rich folks deserve to be wealthy.

De: None of them!

P: Can you not think of any wealthy people who deserve to earn lots of money for their work?

D: My boss, and other owners of small construction businesses like the one I work in. And maybe Elon Musk because he's rocketizing cars and car-izing rockets.

De: But he's a jerk. And probably his real reason for going to Mars is to evade taxes.

P: So was Bill Gates in his early years. Being a jerk, I mean. But here we're just talking about whether they've done things that strengthen the economy.

De: Of course Oprah Winfrey deserves her wealth. And Stephen Colbert [pronounced cole-BARE] does because he makes me laugh about the crazy antics in politics.

D: They're all in the political up, along with us voters.

P: It's hard to judge which individuals are in what you call the political up versus down. It's easier to do with businesses.

De: With individuals we just need to look at how much they give to politicians.

P: Following the flow of money in politics is like slicing an onion. There are lots of layers to cut through, and it becomes hard to see because tears come to your eyes. It's easier to separate the takers from the makers in businesses. We look at what the biz does.

D: What if the biz does both? Making and taking?

P: We can prorate it.

D: Get professionals to rate the business?

De: Prorating. It's another kind of division. The math kind. It involves percentages.

D: Ah, OK. But my brain's startin' to drain 'cause this seems like sorting peaches from apricots. Is there some pattern? I mean for sorting takers from makers?

P: In general the spectrum from makers to takers would be something like this. It starts with farming and ranching. Then to manufacturing, cooking, brewing, entertaining, engineering, inventing, software developing, oil refining, research if it isn't market research, and other such making activities. Then to teaching and training. Then to healthcare, grocery sales, meat packing, canning, and maintenance. Then to shipping, retail stores, hospitality, and more. Then to advertising and marketing. Then finally to banking, insurance, legal services, real estate developers, logging, mining, casinos, alcohol businesses, and the tobacco industry.

De: I love it! Especially because sleazy real estate developers would be at the bottom paying the highest tax rates. Now it's finally so much clearer who I should fight! And how I can fight!

D: So you're saying that better voting methods would allow us voters to elect politicians who'd pass laws that change business taxes? In ways that would lead to a stronger economy? So there's a big flow of money into the United States?

De: And higher taxes for businesses that mostly earn their money from customers inside the U.S.? Like law firms, Wall Street banks, insurance companies, and real-estate developers?

P: I'm not saying what should be done, or will be done. I'm saying that economic prosperity would increase if those changes were made. It would make the cherry pie so much bigger! Then everyone can get a bigger slice.

D: 'N it would only decrease prosperity for a few people who earn their money by owning taker businesses? That sounds great!

De: I'm ready for this fight!

P: And it would decrease prosperity in Russia, China, and North Korea, where corrupt dictators undermine efficiency.

D: Hey! I see a pattern. The owners of taker businesses are in the political down. 'N currently their businesses get so many tax breaks they pay low tax rates. 'N the owners of maker businesses, like the one I work in, 'n the one I'd like to build, they're in the political up. Yet they pay high tax rates. 'N get few tax breaks.

De: Hey! The economy's like a bat takin' a nap. It's upside down! We're taxin' the fruitful makers more than the vulture takers!

P: Alas, yes, in some ways the economic world is upside down.

De: I see something else! Suppose law offices were taxed more. Then lawyers would earn less than they do now. That means some smart pre-law students would abandon their path to soul-sucking jobs as lawyers, and instead choose career paths that lead to maker businesses, where their salaries would be better than now because maker businesses would be taxed less. That job migration would use U.S. brainpower more efficiently, for better widespread prosperity.

D: And the same thing would happen with people being less attracted to soul-sucking jobs on Wall Street. But wait a minute. ... I think that might mean a lower salary for me 'cause I'm not a smart guy.

P: Does this guy really not know how smart he is?

De: He hasn't done much reading so he's not book smart. But he's very smart in common sense. Which is all too uncommon, alas.

D: If I'm so smart, why'd I flunk out of community college?

De: Because you've got a reading disability that schools don't test for. That makes schools stupid. Not you.

D: My world's so upside down. In so many ways.

P: Let's fix that. What's still confusing?

D: I still don't know why so many people say it's easy to earn lots of money just by workin' extra hard.

P: That was true back in the nineteen fifties, sixties, and into the seventies.

D: What changed?

P: Remember that a big part of World War Two, in the nineteen fourties, was the bombing of factories and power plants. That destroyed lots of the efficiency that had been built in industrial nations.

D: I don't feel brainy, 'cause I don't see your point.

P: Here's a question. Which nations did not get their factories destroyed by bombs?

D: The United States.

De: And Canada.

P: And most of Russia.

D: Ah, too far away, or too big.

P: That gave North America a monopoly. A huge monopoly. What was it?

D: Factories! Manufacturing! The entire world had to buy manufactured goods from the U.S. and Canada and Russia?

P: Right. So what's that mean?

De: Huge amounts of money, to buy those goods, flowed into North America.

D: 'N that monopoly ended when other nations built new factories to replace the ones that were bombed.

P: A plus again! That's why U.S. economic prosperity peaked in the fifties and sixties. That's when the idea arose, well resurfaced, that anyone could get rich by working hard.

D: So it's like when there's a strong enough updraft, even slugs can fly?

De: Be careful where you're standing when that updraft ends.

P: That's the basic idea. When a nation has lots of money coming in then unemployment is low and wages are high.

De: So during the fifties and sixties the middle class was bigger. That fits with what I've heard. Now that the middle class has shrunk, working hard to earn wealth is just bunk?

P: There's something called the Gini coefficient that measures income inequity.

D: It measures wickedness? I love it.

De: You're thinking of iniquity. This is inequity. As in inequality.

P: Basically the Gini coefficient measures the gap between rich and poor. It started rising in the late nineteen seventies. That's when getting to the middle class became a tighter squeeze.

D: That's when primary elections became common! 'N that's when more rich Republicans infiltrated Democratic primaries.

De: That's not just a coincidence is it?

P: Now you're getting to something I don't know.

D: So rising to the middle class based on hard work is something from the past?

De: Because of increased corruption!

P: I'm not a political scientist, yet I can see there's lots and lots of corruption in the U.S. And it's been increasing. But please appreciate that most other nations are even more corrupt. And never forget that corruption was worse in the past.

De: I need some optimism. Is there any hope that the big problems we face can be solved? Like global climate change?

P: Back when horses pulled wagons, big cities faced a big environmental dilemma. They predicted that soon cities would be knee high in horse shit. Yet that didn't happen. Not one bit.

D: They failed to predict automobiles would take over.

De: So our current climate crisis is like being ankle-deep in horse shit? Except it's invisible? This is optimistic?

D: What predictions are we failing to see? What solutions can solve our huge crises?

P: If you're right, perhaps the biggest overlooked solution is pairwise vote counting. That could end the big bad feedback loop, if it's done right.

D: So better vote counting could increase economic prosperity. Got it.

De: What other solutions are waiting for a revolution?

P: I've read about fully synthetic hydrocarbon fuel, thorium nuclear reactors, a fully phonetic writing system that will reduce illiteracy, new programming languages that will simplify automating things online, open patents as an aternative to monopoly patents, dishwasher-sized kitchen appliances that will do food prep using robotics controlled by artificial intelligence and remote workers in distant countries, and a years-in-prison movie and game rating that will reduce crime. Plus I've got some personal guesses. There will be better micropayment systems that help individual entrepreneurs. And there'll be higher taxes on businesses that have more salary inequity between executives and workers.

D: Wow! It makes my gutter cleaning tool seem smaller than a bikini on a beach in Rio.

De: How do you know about these things?

D: I've seen some movies about ... oh.

P: I read. It's a form of time travel.

De: I read too, but this is all news to me.

P: I mostly read non-fiction. I skip over articles that are judgements, such as who's to blame, or what should be done, or what celebrities are promoting. Instead I like to read about why things are the way they are, which includes lots of history. And when there's a claim for a solution, I just focus on its advantages and disadvantages.

D: So what's blocking those future solutions from happening?

De: Let me guess. Feedback loops are keeping those things from getting developed.

P: A plus again!

D: So there's lots of feedback loops blocking progress. What's the feedback loop that blocks us from election reform?

P: There are many. As you've discovered, vote splitting is just one part of a feedback loop that keeps owners of many big businesses in political power.

De: Ah, I think I see. It's vote splitting in general elections that causes political parties to only offer one nominee in each party. And having just one nominee per party allows the blocking tactic, like when Republicans blocked Hillary Clinton from reaching the 2008 presidential election. And vote splitting in primary elections allows money to control who wins the party's nomination. And it blocks third parties from getting meaningful support.

D: Ah, ... that's what allows corrupt business owners to limit our choice to one Republican puppet and one Democratic puppet in our general elections. So it's that feedback loop that's our evil enemy. And why Congress has become a circus full of clowns.

P: That sounds like a good summary to me.

D: So what do those corrupt business owners oppose?

P: They oppose innovations they fear will reduce their income. Such as owners of Exxon shares opposing fully synthetic hydrocarbon fuel.

De: What's synthetic whatever?

P: Fully synthetic hydrocarbon fuel refers to gases and liquids that are chemically manufactured for use as fuel. The process would use sunlight as the energy source. It would get carbon from carbon dioxide in the atmosphere ...

De: Which we have too much of.

P: ... and it would get hydrogen from water.

D: So doing what plants do?

P: Yes, but much more efficiently. Especially compared to using crops to generate ethanol, which involves a few wealthy people who have a legal monopoly on ethanol.

D: If synthetic hydro ...

P: Fully synthetic hydrocarbon fuel

D: ... is such a good thing, what's blocking that from happening?

P: There's no economic incentive. The people who have the skills to figure it out cannot get paid to do that research. And oil companies can earn more money by blocking that research.

D: Ah, more feedback loops.

De: Instead it's the lack of a feedback loop.

D: Is there something from history that would reveal how to make good changes happen sooner?

P: When Kodak tried to develop, so to speak, color film for cameras, their research labs were only making slow progress. But two young chemistry graduates were making better progress, so Kodak hired them.

D: What was the secret that gave them an advantage?

P: They were singers.

De: The secret was singing?

P: At that time color darkrooms were completely dark, so there was no way to see a timer. Yet the chemistry was very time-critical. So they sang songs together and used the timing of songs as their timer for chemical reactions.

De: So you're saying we need to take up singing?

P: It illustrates that breakthroughs often require sub-breakthroughs.

D: So this means we need to figure out some kind of innovation that will help spread the bigger innovation of fairer voting methods?

P: Yes. Look for a way to break the feedback loops that block fairer voting. Drill a hole through the dam that holds back the flood of fairness and economic prosperity that civilization is waiting for. Then voters can elect leaders who will be their puppets. Until then politicians are the puppets of the biggest campaign contributors. And typically they earn their money in ways that've become obsolete.

D: Any more tips?

P: One way to fight against bad feedback loops is to create opposing good feedback loops. Especially ones that increase economic prosperity.

D: I need an example again.

P: Democracy itself is a feedback loop. It yields far better economic prosperity compared to monarchy and dictatorship. That makes oppressed people jealous. That jealousy brought down the Berlin wall, toppled the dictators in eastern Europe, and ended the Cold War against the Soviet Union.

De: Wow! Jealousy isn't always a bad thing.

D: Feedback loops are not always bad?

P: Good and bad are just shortcut ways to say something has lots of advantages or lots of disadvantages. But it depends on who you are as to whether a change is an advantage or disadvantage. A feedback loop that helps big businesses get richer is good for business owners but bad for their customers.

De: And bad for their employees.

D: Ah, this is the cherry pie slicing concept.

P: And a feedback loop can be both good and bad for the same person. It's like when Henry Ford paid his workers higher than usual salaries. That increased his labor costs, but those employees could then afford to buy Ford cars, which brought in more profits. And something similar happens when employees can afford to buy shares of stock in the company they work for.

De: So shareholders are shooting themselves in the feet by not realizing that the employees and customers can be, or are, also shareholders of their company.

D: Wow, so many feedback loops to learn about. And yet I've played computer games that took longer to learn about than what I've learned today. About the real-world economic game.

De: Your insights are amazing.

D: But my head is full!

P: To help you see how it all fits together, here's a thought. Voting, and taxes, and subsidies, and legal monopolies, and even jail time, are all forms of communication.

D: I can see that voters try to use their ballot to say we want more of this, and less of that. Alas, it's still at the mumbling stage of communication. But taxes, how is that communication?

De: I see! It's a way government can use lower taxes to say let's have more farming, more stockpiled emergency supplies, and more international sales of apps that play stupidly funny games with pigs. Higher taxes on some businesses could say we need fewer pirates on Wall Street, and fewer businesses that overpay executives while underpaying workers. And Wall Street executives never going to jail gives the thumbs up to financial corruption.

D: Ah, that makes sense. Now hopefully I can better figure out how to earn money as an entrepreneur.

P: To do that you need to understand an important business concept. So here's a test. But don't get stressed. It'll stretch your mind. What do these people have in common? Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Thomas Edison, George Westinghouse, and Giovanni Marconi.

D: They are, or were, rich entrepreneurs.

P: And what else?

D: They got rich through tech. Technology.

P: And what else?

D: That's all my brain can guess.

De: This isn't something I ever learned.

P: They profited from technology that was created by creative geniuses.

D: Ah yes. Steve Jobs co-founded Apple with another guy.

P: Steve Wozniak, who designed and built the circuit board for what could have been called the Apple One. And Apple hired Jony Ive who is a design genius.

D: Bill Gates co-founded Microsoft with another guy.

P: Yes, Paul Allen. They bought code and renamed it Microsoft DOS, so there were creators behind that product. Later there were more creative geniuses behind Microsoft Windows.

De: But not the stupid ones who put gaping security holes in it.

D: Elon Musk has hired lots and lots of really smart engineers and software coders.

P: And now the trick part of the question. Who are the creative geniuses who created amazing technology breakthroughs for Thomas Edison, and George Westinghouse, and Giovanni Marconi?

D: I only know one of those. Nikola Tesla. He helped Westinghouse with electrical power stuff.

P: Indeed, he almost single-handedly designed our electrical power grid system. Yet Tesla also invented key parts of radio technology that Marconi commercialized. And Tesla also did some inventing for Thomas Edison.

D: So why doesn't history teach more about people like Tesla?

P: Who's got the money it takes to erect statues, produce biographic documentaries, and archive the person's scribbled notes on napkins?

D: The people who win economically.

De: The creative geniuses who do the work get left out. Both from profits and historical recognition.

P: That's why I said the important part of history is understanding cause and effect. And now do you see what you should know about entrepreneurs?

D: Alongside, or behind, ...

De: Or underneath, getting stepped on.

D: OK, underneath entrepreneurs are the creative geniuses who create things of value that entrepreneurs sell.

P: Yes. And after creating the innovation that starts the business, those creators need to create yet more innovations. That keeps the business ahead of copycat businesses.

D: Is this like Walt Disney? He created lots of innovations.

P: Excellent example. In his case his brother Roy handled the money biz. So having a source of great ideas that become innovations can be a monopoly. Especially if competing businesses don't have creative geniuses working for them.

D: Ah, the ethical kind of monopoly.

De: Maybe now you can figure out how you can make money from your invention. Maybe by teaming up with an entrepreneur. You would be the creative genius.

D: If I could get a patent.

P: It takes lots of money to protect a patent.

D: I thought getting a patent was the hard part.

P: That's just a start. If it's a valuable idea then other businesses will infringe on your patent. So you have to take them to court to protect your monopoly. And patent laws favor big corporations. And China mostly ignores patents.

D: That sucks. Is there a way to ..., I don't know, to win in the business world? For someone like me?

P: The open patent I mentioned would help.

D: How does that work?

P: If it existed you could afford to register your idea with the patent office without mortgaging your house to pay for a patent attorney. You'd get a patent number. You'd add it to your LinkedIn profile. Then corporations would compete to hire you to invent yet more.

De: At a big salary!

D: That path doesn't yet exist. So what should I do?

P: Currently corporations don't know how to hire, or even recognize, creative geniuses. Not until after they've been the co-founder of a wildly successful start up.

D: That's a very tall wall to climb.

P: Yes, alas. Under current conditions only hindsight reveals who's a creative genius. When that inefficiency gets solved, that will increase economic prosperity so dramatically it will change the economy from a roller coaster ride into a rocket ship blasting into outer space.

D: Aren't most people creative?

P: It's like with art. Thousands of painters have painted portraits in very creative styles. But the Mona Lisa stands out as a style that's not just different. It's also widely appreciated by millions of people.

D: Ah, that's why you use the word genius after the word creative? 'Cause the word creative just means different?

P: Yes, alas, most business managers don't understand the different meanings of the word creative. And the word innovation also gets misunderstood. The value of a product or a person becomes clear only in hindsight, not at the time.

De: So solutions are waiting for when there's less stupidity in politics, business, and management. That's a zit-sized light at the end of a marathon-long tunnel. Is there any hope? For a fairer economy?

P: Look at history. Civilization has increased efficiency so much that us average folks don't waste big parts of our day hauling water, gathering firewood, tending horses, and pounding underwear against rocks.

De: Now we waste too much time sitting in cars, cleaning up after a self-cleaning cat litter box malfunctions, and scrolling past ads for tee shirts that say five out of four people struggle with math.

P: Those time wasters and other inefficiencies in the economy will disappear after we adopt better laws. But that requires increasing the influence of voters, and decreasing the influence of money in politics.

De: I'm discouraged by the setbacks. The ones going on now in politics.

P: In the past there've been huge setbacks too. Much bigger ones. The ancient Greeks two thousand years ago made clock-like computers that predicted eclipses. One of those was found in a shipwreck off the island of Antikythera.

D: Who was the creative genius behind that?

P: Probably either Posidonius or Hipparchus. Sadly, warfare killed their knowledge. Those kinds of mechanisms weren't developed again until the Islamic Golden Age. In a similar way, the footsteps on the moon might remain unmatched for decades.

De: That's so sad.

P: Yet when times get rough, more people say We've had enough! and they work together to make things better. That's where you two are.

D: Is there time?

P: Solutions are waiting. World war three is widely known to be a very stupid idea, for self-interest reasons. So there's time to get pairwise vote counting adopted in elections. And doing that should be easier than what early North American colonists had to do to get democracy. They had to fight with physical weapons. And they won mostly because France and Spain and the Dutch all fought against England at the same time the thirteen colonies were fighting for independence from England. Now the fights occur in cyberspace and in the news. Those fights don't risk your life. And they're winnable.

De: I think I see some light ahead. You've shown us a path to better times. I guess we just need to fight against some feedback loops. The ones that say we should jump for joy when a house burns down.

D: Now I see hope for creating ways to earn more money by making things of value. But now my head's so full it feels ready to become a fireworks display.

De: Professor Professor Pengaritihas we're so grateful you've given us so much wisdom.

P: Ah, if only more people were anxious to learn like you two are.

D: What a pleasure! So how can we repay you?

P: Make the world a better place for my grandchildren. And get it right! Less corruption would help nearly everyone. And the few who lose will still have their huge bank accounts, so they and their families won't suffer. And then it will spread to other countries around the world where suffering is even worse. And that will help the children of my nieces and nephews. They live in India. In advance thank you for helping their offspring and mine.

De: We will fight to turn the world rightside up.

D: Yes, we'll do our best to turn the worlds of politics and economics and business rightside up.

De: This was well worth the three-hour drive to come meet with you.

P: Good luck! You'll need it. And remember that you didn't learn any of this from me.

De: We know how this works, so we promise!

D: Thanks for the master class in restoring the middle class. And Desha, let's talk this stuff over on the ride back home, shall we? So it remains inside our brains.

De: That plus more espresso should keep us sleepless. And what else would we want to discuss?

Scene 7, Fight!

J (Jordon): Father, I've given lots of money to your worthy church. I've asked you here because now I search for a way to buy the delay of death. Please give me a reprieve on my last breath.

W (Whit): The spiritual world soars above the physical world that your body is a part of. It's like a pyramid.

J: Too big to fit in a museum?

W (Whit): The peak must rest on a solid foundation that cannot be weak. So the golden rule of doing good deeds must rest on a strong foundation of not doing bad deeds.

J: No more Go Fudge Yourself ice cream? That's what you're sayin'? I promise I'll do better. So please do some prayin'!

W: It's not just what I say and what your brain thinks. It's what you do. It's your actions, your behaviors, that's what God listens to.

J: This heart attack has me scared. I don't feel prepared. Is there a spiritual equivalent of duct tape? Something to compensate for my fear of death?

W: To cast out fear, fill your heart with love. That's what your heart needs lots more of.

J: I have no kids and no real friends. I do love Benjamins, but that's where it ends. My money brings pleasure, and envy from others, and attracts gold diggers but not real lovers. Who can I love? How does that feel? Is there time to love? Can it really heal?

W: To love, first you must let go of darkness. Start with understanding that money is not evil. It's greed that is evil.

J: Is it greedy to want to have it all?

W: We are human, so all of us want it all. But there's not enough time or energy to acquire it all.

J: But there are shortcuts.

W: Most shortcuts increase suffering for others. That blocks you from rising spiritually, and reaching the highest kinds of love. That's far above criminals and lawyers, ... I mean sinners. That's why the Bible says it's easier for a camel to fit through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to become a loving saint on earth.

J: I do want to be loved. Yet I'm not yet tired of being admired.

W: Which has a higher priority?

J: It's all important.

W: For something to be important, everything else must be less important.

J: It's now important that I live. I now believe religion can give me more than what I had before my heart attack.

W: Do you embrace religion to do good deeds? Or just to feel less guilt for doing deeds that God would frown on?

J: I'm a bit lost. I'm in a fog. Don't I need to engage in combat against the wicked evil hiding in other people?

W: Wickedness is not always hiding in us. If you're thinking of the wickedness in horror flicks, in books like Lord Of The Flies, and in super-hero comic books, that's all fiction. Kid's soccer games and reality TV have to artificially inject scarcity because otherwise participants cooperate. And that's more boring than a gun in the hands of a blind pacifist.

J: What about the news?

W: News sources make their money by selling your eyeballs and ears to advertisers. They attract your attention with stories that put a magnifying glass on the acts of audacious criminals, slimy politicians, and other morons.

J: What about the Holocaust?

W: During a time of nationwide starvation, and massive economic suffering, plus mass stupidity, the Nazi government encouraged non-Jewish Germans to steal gold and cash and houses and businesses and dignity from Jews. Ironically part of the reason Jews had become wealthy is that early Christians were taught they should not charge interest when lending money, so Christians asked Jews living in ghettos to do the lending.

J: Surely there's no excuse for the evil in the terrorists in the Middle East.

W: Terrorists and soldiers fight to help their family, their comrades, and to earn money. An ideology is mostly the frosting on the cookie.

J: What if the ideology is money?

W: Yes, an opportunity to gain money or wealth is behind lots and lots of evil deeds. Like when Japanese Americans were put into concentration camps partly as a way to steal the valuable southern California farmland that lots of Japanese Americans owned.

J: Is there an antidote? To evil?

W: Yes, talking. To people on the other side.

J: Talking. I do lots of that, as part of business.

W: Do you ask questions with a desire to understand the other person's point of view?

J: Why would I do that?

W: Consider what ended apartheid in South Africa. It was secret talks. One of them was between Nelson Mandela, and a clergyman, and the clergyman's twin brother who led a militant group that supported apartheid. Through talking, Mandela and the pro-apartheid leader discovered unexpected common ground.

J: Does this work in relationships? I admit I could use some of those kinds of tips.

W: Indeed. But don't expect you'll ever find out what's in the other person's mind. Your goal should be to seek a path that benefits both sides. Talking helps you find that path.

J: My head is spinning. Without money as a compass I'm lost. And winning. That's the only goal I know.

W: Ah, yes, winning. Parents and teachers and managers use winning prizes to entice kids and young people to learn. But the real goal is the learning. With maturity we leave behind the gold stars, the shiny trophies, the memory of being employee of the month, and even the dream of a huge audience loudly chanting your name. The skills we've learned remain, long after the prizes have been forgotten, and the evidence is buried under the rubble of fighting old battles. Now the skill you seek is spirituality. It's trophy is joy. So it's time to let go of immaturity.

J: You're ripping away what's familiar. Can you give me a second compass? One that points up to higher goals? And a flashlight that points down to the sharp rocks in my path ready to jab my ass?

W: Take in a deep breath. ... With each in-breath may we breathe in God's love, as represented by sunlight, and beautiful gardens, and spirited music, and joyful dancing, and especially laughter. ... With each out-breath may we exhale our dark fears, and dark anger, and our selfish desire for the very closest parking spot. Fling that darkness into the sun knowing it will be atomized and converted into light. ... When we let go of darkness we can better focus on beloved family members and friends. Even if dead, they still reside in our awareness.

J: Ah, the angry voices in my head. I'm happy to give them eviction notices. Sadly, I've got no friends in spite of my great wealth. Women say they want me. But they want unemployment and spending my money on countless shoes, and outings without me, and trips to the mall to buy cosmetics that signal don't touch me. My world is upside down. Got no friends. Who can I trust?

W: Live in the present. Let go of the past. Not the memories. Just emotions like expired anger, out-of-date sadness, and the regret that you didn't choose the right words when you last saw someone alive. ... Let go of the future. Hold on to wise plans and wise goals. But let go of a compulsion to pinch pennies, and worrying that your cat might get bit by a rat, and fearing all your friends will abandon you if someone spreads the lie that you wore socks with sandals in public. Those distracting feelings are about unlikely futures. ... Now, the present, is where joy resides. Appreciate what you've already got. Appreciate wherever you already are. Appreciate whatever you are already doing. Wallow in the joy. And especially welcome it when it enters your life.

H (Hawken): [Knock on door.] ... Hello my friend! To help you mend I brought you some beautiful flowers.

J: Ah, Hawken indeed welcome. Visiting hours can be lonely. And thank you for spending the, er, for thinking to bring flowers. ... They are beautiful.

H: I see you have recruited a minister to be more sure of your cure.

J: Allow me to introduce father, er, actually I now realize I don't know your name.

W: My name ....

J: Everyone calls him father. It's OK if he calls you father?

W: Of course.

H: Hello father. And Jordon, I look forward to your recovery so we can resume our latest project.

J: Let's not talk shop just right now. I need to focus on how to breathe in the joy of still being alive. Stressful things can come later, if I survive.

W: What other protective perspectives can I offer?

J: How can God be everywhere? Of course he laughs whenever I make plans. But otherwise how can I be sure that God even cares about me?

W: Try thinking of God as being like the principles of mathematics.

J: Elusive? How is that helpful?

W: If you live your life as if two plus two equals thirteen then life becomes hell. But if instead you live your life as if two plus two equals four, then life becomes joyful. That's how God is everywhere. Just as the principles of mathematics are everywhere.

J: I like that outlook. Why have I not heard you say it from your perch, your pulpit in church?

W: There are some things we can't preach.

J: Like what?

W: If we speak out with boldness against war, that would impair our tax-exempt status.

H: That's right! Churches don't pay property taxes. Maybe I should form a church to get that sweet deal.

J: What else can you not say in church?

W: Many ministers manipulate their flock by transforming guilt into shame. But the best ministers transform guilt into choosing actions that don't lead to new guilt. That shifts the focus from resisting sin, to adopting high standards of ethical behavior. But attendance would suffer even more if we preached at that higher spiritual level.

K (Katerina): [Door opens and closes.] ... Father! I couldn't wait any longer in the waiting area. There's an awful nasty woman who was harassing me.

H: Jordon, and father, allow me to introduce my daughter, Katerina.

W: Pleased to meet you.

J: It's a pleasure to have your company.

W: [There is a click of keys when Whit types a short text message.]

K: It's a pleasure to meet you both. I'm sorry to interrupt. Please resume whatever you were talking about.

J: Father, why in church do you not talk more about what you've said here? Instead you refer so much to the names and words in the Bible.

W: Our hands are tied. Especially we can't conflict with politics.

J: Ah, so you can't criticize politicians who lack morality.

W: We each do the best we can within our limitations.

H: I've got a question. My wife tells me my boasting would make a peacock blush. She says I should be more humble like Jesus, who was just a lowly carpenter. What can I say to her to make her understand that pride naturally follows from doing great things?

W: To set the record straight, Jesus probably was not a lowly carpenter. He grew up in Nazareth, where there are no trees.

J: Jesus Christ! In church you refer to him as a carpenter.

W: Here in the U.S. Christians read the bible in English. The original word in ancient Greek also could have referred to a blacksmith, a ship builder, or a stone mason. Stone mason makes the most sense to me. A crew of thirteen stone masons, plus the women who did their cooking and laundry, would have been welcomed, and well paid, for constucting stone buildings. Especially ones with big archways.

J: That does make more sense. And Hawken, about the boasting, if I understand what father means, it might be a sign of low self esteem.

W: You're learning quickly. Self love, the real kind, is essential. That's because you can't love someone else more than you love yourself.

H: I don't suffer from low self-esteem! I'm proud of what I accomplish. The money I earn should make it clear that I'm loved for what I do.

W: Here's another perspective that might be useful. Does your wife boast? Typically a criticism reveals more about the accuser than the accusee.

K: Mom does brag that she has an entire closet just for her shoes.

H: She spends way too much of my hard-earned money buying more and more god-da.... er, ... overpriced foolish footware! She thinks the money I earn grows on trees!

J: This is interesting. She criticizes you for something she does. And you are criticizing her for thinking money grows on trees. So, according to what father just said, you think that money grows on trees.

H: I work hard to discover which trees have fruit waiting to be harvested. And I do the hard work of doing that harvesting.

W: Do you pick as much as you can? Or do you leave some fruit for the next hungry person who comes along?

H: My family needs as much as I can harvest. Other people are too greedy. So I have to work hard to earn my family's share. I'm not one of those lazy immigrants, or criminal protestors, or sociopathic socialists, who wait for handouts.

De (Desha): [Door opens and closes.] ... Father what did you mean by texting the words Causing trouble again?

K: She's the one! She's the nasty, perverse, foul-mouthed bitch who yelled at me.

W: Did you curse?

De: Quite the reverse. She threw some trash toward the trash can and it missed, but she didn't pick it up. I spoke up.

K: As I told you then, this hospital has janitors whose job it is to pick up pieces of trash. Speaking of which, maybe I should have tossed you in with the other trash.

W: May I request that you give less stress to Jordon while he gets rest after his heart attack?

De: I apologize for the stress.

K: Of course I apologize.

J: I have to admit this is better than Netflix or TV. So it's not bothering me.

K: In that case I'll say you're a witch for attacking me.

De: I was attacking stupidity. If you're pleading guilty it's a case of double stupidity.

W: Even if Jordon doesn't mind, let's have serenity and sanity shall we?

K: I'll text Damien. He can take me home so I won't trouble you further father, or you father, or you Jordon. [Click of keys as Katerina types text message.]

W: Do you remember Jordon?

De: Yes, I think I do, although it's been a long time.

J: Indeed. What have you been up to?

De: I've been working for politicians, and environmental organizations, and fighting against nasty real estate developers.

H: I'll bet you're one of those awful protesters who are protesting against my latest development project.

De: So you're the ... grrr, ... developer behind the deaths of so many wild animals. And the cutting of beautiful trees on that Smoldering Ashes property?

H: It's called Slumbering Maples. Yes that's me.

De: If ever there was a time I'd like to swear about slime this is it!

K: Go ahead and swear. I dare you to.

W: Changing the subject, do any of you have any questions for me?

H: I have a question. Why do religious organizations get tax exemptions? Especially since religion seems so, ... well, ... antiquated.

W: I believe you have some thoughts on this.

De: Since before the Roman empire, people who were not rich enough to hire musicians gathered in churches to hear beautiful music. Now, anyone with a bulge in their pocket can listen to any song at any moment. So churches lost that advantage. First to phonographs, then to radios, and now smartphones.

W: Alas, competing sources of beautiful music partly accounts for our congregations being small. Fortunately people who love to sing together still gather in our worship hall.

De: And long ago marriage in a church was a way for a young woman to trade sex in exchange for getting her husband to attend church and hear sermons about doing good.

H: I must admit my wife has wanted me to attend church with her.

De: Then governments copied that idea and now marriage is done as a civil ceremony. Plus courts and the IRS force child support and alimony payments from men who abandon their children or their wives.

W: Yes, marriage ceremonies. That was a big monopoly churches had, then lost.

K: And churches used to feed the hungry. Now grocery stores give out food ingredients in exchange for payments from the government. So that's one more advantage lost?

W: Yes.

De: Universities and schools were founded alongside churches and mosques. Now, governments fund those too.

J: So government is taking over increasing morality?

W: Only some of it! We still serve a very useful service. We remind folks to act in ways that are fair and benevolent. But religion is about much more than just ending bad behavior. That's just the beginning of the spiritual world.

K: A few badly behaving priests in the Catholic Church need to learn from your wisdom.

W: Alas, with low attendance, there are fewer funds, so churches can't be as picky about choosing ministers. And those of us with the highest ethics don't get paid much more than beginners.

K: And the clergy sinners.

De: Recently I learned about a way that crime can be reduced without churches being involved.

W: Good golly bonnie lass!

K: Movies and games can get another rating. The added rating would indicate how many years a person would spend in prison if they did everything shown on the screen.

J: [Laughs.]

K: [Laughs.]

W: [Laughs.]

H: Harrumph! That won't work. What we need instead is law and order!

De: Yes we need law and order. But not the kind based on the TV shows with that name.

H: Those are based on real police cases.

De: Yes, but races are changed to protect white supremecy. Those shows don't show a black person getting arrested. And the white person who gets arrested is always guilty. That's not like real life where district attorneys more often protect the innocent.

D (Damien): [Door opens and closes.] [He now uses better, but not perfect, pronunciation.] Hello!

K: Sweetheart, I need you to give me a ride home because this nasty woman is being obnoxious to me.

D: Hi Desha.

K: You know this bitch?

D: She's the woman I've told you about.

K: You said that woman was like a kid sister to you. But she's looking at you with love in her eyes.

D: Don't be ridiculous. She's got a boyfriend.

De: I do not.

D: Then who's the guy named Willie? The guy you said you're with.

De: Willie is short for Willamina. That's an awful name to get stuck with.

D: You said he, er, she, is your partner. So are you, well, lesbians?

De: We're both bisexual.

J: Much much better than Netflix.

K: You keep your claws off of him! Damien, you are never to see her again!

D: Well, ah, I can't promise anything.

H: You're engaged to my daughter so I too forbid you to ever see this awful woman again.

D: She's helping me to figure out how I can earn more money to make your daughter happy.

De: I thought you were trying to figure out how to reduce corruption in the political world.

D: They're both the same thing to me. I figured out how corruption works, so now I'm tryin' to figure how to work around it. Then I can start my own business. I'll be the employer, not the employee.

K: You've told me some of what you've learned, but you haven't yet said who's to blame for corruption.

D: I'm the one to blame. It's not politicians, not the big campaign contributors, not the lobbyists 'n other folks who are hired to do political tasks. I'm the one to blame.

K: How can you be the one to blame? You haven't done anything.

D: Exactly. I failed. I failed to subtract forty from one hundred 'n realize the result, sixty, is more than fifty.

K: You said math was made by the devil. When he was in a snit. And now you're talking math? This doesn't fit. Not one bit.

D: My fear of math was blocking me. Now I know that a candidate who gets forty percent support is opposed by sixty percent of voters. That's a majority. That means the majority of voters oppose a candidate who has less than fifty percent support. To get fair election results we need ranked ballots 'n pairwise counting.

H: What does counting smart rabbits have to do with voting?

K: Father it's not wise hare counting. It's pairwise counting.

D: Without that change corruption in Congress will continue.

De: When a news report says one candidate leads another by say five percent, that's meaningless, unless there are just two candidates on the ballot.

J: Hello Damien.

D: Oh hi Jordon. I didn't recognize you with the tubing mustache. Is this a good time to thank you for helping me figure out how the world of business works?

J: I was happy to help. Hawken said you deserved some help.

H: What did you say to this ungrateful young man?

J: As you requested I told him how the world of business works. He had some questions about money in politics that I couldn't answer so I referred him to a politician I know. How did that go?

D: He taught me a lot. Then later, he suggested that Desha and I meet and collaborate.

J: What was his great wisdom? In a nutshell.

D: He explained that vote splitting's why money has more influence than votes.

H: Goats do not spit. You fool.

K: Father, it's not goat spitting, it's vote splitting.

H: Whatever! Votes are counted in ways that are fair. So that's got not a thing to do with money in politics.

De: I used to think that too.

D: When you donate money to political candidates, sometimes you give to Democrats. Am I right?

H: Never! I always vote Republican. And I never give money to Democrats.

K: But mother is a Democrat, and sometimes you give her money to donate to a Democratic candidate.

H: That's only when my political consultant tells me to.

D: So when Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton ...

H: Those are vile names to me and my friends. Isn't that right Jordon?

J: Let him continue. This is interesting.

D: Some political strategists recommended that Republicans give money to Obama during the Democratic primary with the idea that a black man could not possibly win the general election. With that strategy they figured a Republican would win easily.

H: You can't prove any of this. And without proof there's no crime.

D: The fight between political left and right is an entertaining distraction from the real, bigger fight between political up and political down.

H: You're talking more nonsense.

J: Who is the political up?

D: Most of us voters.

J: And who is the political down?

D: The people who give the biggest amounts of money to politicians.

De: That includes you, Hawken, and you Jordon.

W: Oh dear lord, my own daughter is undermining my church.

H: She's your daughter?

W: Indeed.

De: Why do you think I call him father?

J: We all call him father.

D: This explains why I don't hear her use profanity.

De: Father is very strick about that.

D: Since I'm not in your church, what should I call you?

W: You can call me Whit.

D: What?

W: Whit, it's short for Whittier.

K: Who are you wittier than?

W: It's spelled W H I T.

H: So in grade school they called you dimwit and half-wit?

W: At that age my nickname helped me learn to identify immaturity.

J: Damien, you were saying something about political up and political down.

D: Vote splitting's the reason that money still has so much influence in politics. In the early days of the U.S. there were no primary elections. Slowly voters 'n parties learned that whichever party had just one candidate would easily win over parties that had two or more candidates.

De: So primary elections were added to ensure each party offered just one candidate in what we now call general elections.

H: And the point is?

D: If we used ranked ballots and pairwise counting, then Democrats could have offered both Obama and Clinton as candidates in the two thousand eight presidential race.

J: Ah, so the tactic of using Obama to block Clinton wouldn't have been an option.

De: And wealthy folks like yourselves would not have been able to stop Clinton from winning.

D: Unless the second Republican nominee was better than McCain. Someone who recognized the rampant corruption and promised some big reforms.

H: This is all nonsense!

J: It's making sense to me.

H: Who's side are you on?

J: I am now on the side of God. My heart attack has woken me up to what's really important in life. And at the moment I want the truth to come out. If there are hidden parts of politics that get revealed here we can judge it at that time.

H: I suppose you're going to claim that Donald Trump won in twenty sixteen because of money. Well he didn't. I didn't give him even a dollar.

De: But you do give to the Republican party, and they paid to promote Trump after he won the primary.

D: If the twenty sixteen Republican primary election had used ranked ballots and pairwise counting, the winner would have been the most popular candidate, and that was not Donald Trump.

De: There were sixteen other candidates in that race. That split the votes of the majority of Republicans. They wanted someone other than Trump.

D: All Trump and his promoters, including Russian hackers, needed was to win more votes than any one of the other sixteen candidates.

De: None of whom were very popular.

D: Until the other candidates dropped out, Trump was getting less than half the votes. And that's just Republicans. He would have lost under a fairer election.

J: Who would have won?

D: We don't know because even the sample polls don't ask voters for more than their favorite.

H: But Trump won the general election, so that proves he was more popular than Hillary.

D: But with ranked ballots and pairwise counting there would have been a second Republican and a second Democrat to win against.

De: Plus Bernie Sanders running as an independent.

D: Trump could not have won such a five-way race.

J: So you're saying that if we used ranked ballots and pairwise counting then voters would have more choices on the ballot?

D: Even better than more choices, the choices would include wise problem-solving leaders. Now the only choices are special-interest puppets.

De: Under current conditions, wise and ethical leaders don't enter elections because they know they won't get support from party insiders, who have to cater to people like you, with lots of money.

J: These so-called wise leaders, would they be liberal or conservative?

De: Neither.

D: They would represent the political up, and would oppose the political down.

H: So they're anti-business.

D: They would favor fairness and economic efficiency, er, efficiency in the economy. That would bring prosperity much greater than what we have today.

H: Prosperity to who?

D: Widespread prosperity.

H: That's impossible! In order to have winners there must be losers.

De: That's what I used to think. But fighting wastes precious resources. What yields better results for the most people is cooperation, teamwork, and working together against a foe.

W: I like this shift.

J: Did you just curse?

K: Not everyone can afford to fly to London and Paris. I agree with father that for there to be winners there have to be losers.

D: You want to fly to London and Paris?

De: I've told you I enjoy traveling.

D: I thought you meant by car.

J: Back to the idea of no losers. Surely some folks would lose out economically if elections were more fair.

D: Yes, there are some businesses that exploit unfairness and they would have their profits reduced because of higher taxes. And because of fewer monopolies.

J: Such as?

D: Did you know we pay lots more for sugar compared to the rest of the world? On the commodity market there's sugar number eleven and sugar number, ... ah, ...

De: Sixteen.

D: The price within the U.S. is the higher price, and the lower price is what the rest of the world pays. The people who exploit that legal monopoly would lose income, although they would keep their current wealth.

H: I'll bet that us developers would lose out.

De: Indeed! Your business taxes would be increased. 'N you deserve that 'cause mostly what you do is buy land, then use sneaky election tactics to control city councils to change the designation of that land to higher-rent uses, and force taxpayers to pay for new infrastructure, then hire workers to build buildings, and then you rent or sell the buildings at inflated prices. And doing all that doesn't require brains, just immorality.

H: That's completely legal.

De: Yes because you control elected city councilors, and state legislators, and congressmen, who write the laws.

J: So tell me what I really want to know. Would taxes increase on the businesses I own?

D: Some would pay lower taxes, and others would pay higher taxes.

J: That's not specific.

De: Businesses that exploit would pay higher taxes.

D: Businesses that bring benefits would pay lower taxes.

J: That's still not specific.

De: Developers like you would pay higher taxes.

H: On what basis?

De: You do not bring a net gain to the local economy.

H: On the contrary! People from elsewhere move here. And they bring their wealth into the local economy.

De: That brings money to you, but it increases traffic, and increases infrastructure costs to those of us already here.

D: And it pushes up the cost of housing, which pushes more and more people into homelessness.

De: Plus your business requires lots of regulation, which is a drain on city management budgets.

J: Tell me which kinds of businesses would get lower taxes.

D: The ones that bring money into the region from customers outside the region. That includes businesses that involve software, art, making things, manufacturing, entertainment, non-chain restaurants, and such.

J: They get lower taxes? Why?

De: Because they bring a net flow of money into the city and county.

J: You said non-chain restaurants. Why not chain restaurants?

D: They send lots of their profits to corporate headquarters, which drains money from the city and state where the restaurant's located.

De: And nobody drives to a city as their travel destination because the city has Burger King franchise locations.

H: My business hires lots of workers.

De: But only temporarily. After development the jobs are gone. The kinds of businesses that get lower taxes continue to employ people as long as they stay in business.

J: Ah, I think I'm beginning to see. Raise taxes on activities that drain the economy, and reduce taxes on activities that enrich the economy.

D: Exactly!

W: So it taxes the sinners and helps the saints?

De: That's a useful way to view it.

W: I like it! Even though it might offend many of the folks who need religion the most. Like lawyers, bankers, and CFOs.

D: Aliens?

De: Not UFOs. CFOs. Chief financial officers. Father takes seriously the saying know thine enemy.

W: Our church welcomes everyone. Yet we do promote good deeds and frown on exploitation.

De: So the different tax rates are like the difference between a résumé and a eulogy. A résumé values money, a eulogy values benefiting others.

J: Interesting distinction! What I've accomplished would look fabulous on a résumé. But now it's time to consider what might be said in my eulogy.

H: I don't see the difference. But then religion isn't my thing.

D: Lately, with the worlds of business and government declining in ethics, we the voters need to fight for fairness!

K: So is fairness or money more important to you?

D: Why can't we get both?

K: Getting to the point, do you want to earn more money so we can afford maybe a few luxuries in life?

D: I want to build a business that provides something that benefits the customers. My original plan was to manufacture my leaf gutter cleaning tool so that fewer people fall off ladders when cleaning their gutters. Yet lately, other inventions have been popping into my mind. Most are for the kitchen food prep appliance someone told us about.

H: Your mind is in the gutter. None of that makes sense.

J: Mmm, I'm beginning to see the value of creating that kind of business if it gets taxed less.

De: And fewer toes would get stepped on.

D: And fewer fingers would get cut doing food prep.

J: As a bachelor, a kitchen food prep machine sounds like maybe a good alternative to getting so much takeout delivered.

H: I admit a food prep appliance would reduce labor costs for my favorite restaurants, so maybe that would make dining out cost less.

D: Yet another benefit of taxing takers more than makers is that very smart well-educated people would be less attracted to soul-sucking jobs in banks and law firms.

De: And real estate.

D: Instead they'd work where they benefit customers, and clients, and the overall economy.

De: Well said! And to the teaching profession, which could use the very best role models for students. That's what Willie does. She's a teacher.

H: So who's going to believe this nonsense that different ballots and different ways of counting votes is really going to make things better?

De: This situation is like when women demanded the right to vote. A few places, like Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, tried it. Then a few western states tried it. The predicted disasters didn't follow, so it was adopted throughout the United States. And don't you think it's made things better?

H: Sometimes I wonder. We don't seem to be doing that well now that women have taken over.

De: Without Rosie the riveters working in factories during the war years U.S. soldiers might have lost. And a woman in the White House couldn't possibly be worse than the ancient males we've been getting.

H: So Damien, do you agree with her?

D: It makes sense to me sir.

H: So Katerina, do you still want this guy as your future husband?

K: So Damien, do you still want to work hard so we can enjoy a nice lifestyle?

D: Willin' to work hard, that I'm willin' to do. But how nice of a lifestyle do ya have in mind?

K: Just a cute three-bedroom house with a fireplace. And of course a big backyard for a dog. But it can be smaller than a Saint Bernard. And a comfortable car for road trips and errands. And sometimes a trip to London or Paris.

D: I thought our plan was to enjoy time at home eating healthy food, and relaxing on the weekend, plus spending time with friends.

K: Of course all of that too.

H: And of course your mother and I want grandchildren.

D: If the worlds of politics, and business, and the economy, were not so upside down, then all of that, plus a tiara, would be within our reach. But now we're living during a time of transition. I'm afraid we could enter a new dark age if we stay on the path we're on. Instead I want to help make the world a better place for everyone's grandkids, even if that means I, or we, have to make a few sacrifices.

K: Oh father, what should I do? This isn't the way I want things to be.

H: You are my precious princess so I'll continue to give you money if that's what it takes to keep you happy.

K: This puts me in an awkward place.

D: The fact that you have to think about which to choose tells me that it's me who should lose.

W: It's clear to me that you love one another, so don't have doubt about your love.

De: There are plenty of single jerks with lots of money. ... Jordon, I'm not including you.

J: No offence taken. And perhaps you're a bit right.

De: It's easy to find a guy who earns good money stepping on people's toes. But if he's young he'll pick you up in a pickup truck double parked, engine revving, and honking his horn. Young mature men are hard to find. So do you want money or maturity?

K: I want both.

D: Then it's clear that you value money more than you value who I really am. I'll clear out my things in a few days.

K: Can we still be friends?

D: Of course, provided I can also remain friends with Desha.

H: Since you won't become my son-in-law I won't insist on you not being friends with this ...

K: Skank. That's the word I think you want.

De: Father taught me long ago that when someone criticizes another it's as if they're pointing into a mirror. So the critic's the one who deserves their own criticism.

J: Father, Whit, you've raised a great daughter. Hawken, after I'm recovered we can talk more about our project. In the meantime, I hate awkward conversations, and misty eyes and tears that flow, so it's time for you, Hawken, and your daughter to go.

H: I promise that my development project will bring great things to this city and county. Come my princess, it's time to leave.

K: Until you can get all your stuff, I'll pack some clothes and such in a box, and I'll text you when it's in the hall.

D: Thanks. And remember I do love you.

K: I know. That's why I wanted to marry you.

H: Let's get out of this inhospitible hospital. Bye! [Door opens and closes.]

J: Normally I'd suggest lightening up the mood with some ice cream. But times have changed. So I'll just say that was the most entertaining drama I've seen since high school prom night. And I'll add that you two, Damien and Desha, seem like wonderful young people to me. And I've learned that I could use a few new friends. So if either or both of you want to come and visit me at home after I'm out of this place, you're invited.

De: I'm beginning to see that not all wealthy people are bad. But I've been told I'm a bad-ass, and that's not going to change. So unless you like being criticized for your money quest, staying away might be best.

D: As for me, probably I should call my mother and be a moocher for a bit.

De: If that gets old you can come and stay with Willie and me.

D: So is it true what Katerina said about seeing love for me in your eyes?

De: You are very smart, but sometimes you can be so dense.

D: I'm not tall. Or handsome. As you know I've got no money I can offer.

De: The reason Willie and I are single is that we don't tolerate jerks. And most guys are just that, jerks. But you're not. You have spirit, a sense of fairness, a willingness to work through rough times. And you've got a great ass.

D: Wouldn't your Willie be jealous?

De: We're willing to share.

J: That's something money can't buy!

W: I'm fond of her Willie, in case you wonder about someone you've not yet met.

J: I can be dense too. But even I know that this is when you two should kiss.

D: Whit, do I need your permission?

W: If you can tame this wild lass, then gladly I give you her ... hand.

D: I don't think she needs to be tamed. She just needs to continue fighting against corruption. And that's a fight I'm willing to share.

De: You really do care! [Desha moves to Damien, they kiss on the lips, then hug.]

J: Father, Whit, was just telling me I need more love in my life. You've brought your love here for me to appreciate. So go for it you wise and also stupid fools!

De: In so many ways, for far too long, the world has been upside down. Now it's time to fight for what's right. And turn the world rightside up!

J: If it would help me, or might inspire a better eulogy for me, then perhaps I can help make that happen. Let's discuss this some more at my lonely home.

De: Can my Willie come?

J: Of course! A party! And not the political kind. I'll pay for Chinese takeout.

De: Father knows a good place for Chinese takeout.

W: Oh yes, Foo Ken Good Palace. It's on southeast Ashinhole Avenue.

J: [Chuckles.] Whit do you want to come too?

W: More sparks for the fireworks? I'll decline. Yet I'm all in favor of turning the world rightside up. After all, turning things rightside up is the purpose of religion.

D: Holy guacamole! I never realized that's religion's grand prize.

De: Of course some churches need to subtract out the corrupt bits for that description to fit.

J: I'm learning a lot today. Now I see that I mistook jealosy for love. People want a financial connection with me, but then they'd be happy to push me aside, or even wish me dead, to transfer some of my wealth to themselves. Alas, my world has been upside down. It's not the way I want things to be. I want love like everyone else. I too want to help begin to turn the world rightside up.

De: I see you have a good heart. Now you can make a wiser start.

D: Yes we'll visit you at your home. Surely there's a way to merge what we all want. Hopefully we can find a way to promote pairwise vote counting to turn the world rightside up!

De: Yes! And let's start by joining forces together! [They kiss again.]

W: I can see the sparks flying already.

J: I do enjoy fireworks.

De: So do I! [Desha reaches out and holds a hand with Jordon.] Speaking of which, ... Jordon, I won't stop kicking your ass. But in fairness you're welcome to try to kick mine.

J: You can try to step on my toes. Anything goes.

De: Deal! [Desha goes back to put arm behind Damien.]

D: Speaking of kicking ass, I still want to see your kick ass tatoo.

De: A private showing of her is in your future.


Cynthia S., Andrew W., Eduard H., George "Vonnegut" (a comedy writing genius), Mia Moore, Matt Y., [...]


Here's a special posthumous thank you to caregiver Lottie Klock who taught me joy by giving me unconditional love during infancy.


Voice Actor Casting Requirements

D: Damien, young adult male, tenor voice.  Slight Puerto Rican accent.  In earlier scenes uses slightly lazy pronounciation (such as lookin' instead of looking) on non-important words.  See below for voice requirements that apply to all characters.

K: Katerina, young adult female, soprano or alto voice.  Speaks as though raised in an upper middle-class family.  See below for voice requirements that apply to all characters.

J: Jordon, middle-age adult male, baritone voice.  Speaks boldly as if wealthy.   See below for voice requirements that apply to all characters.

F: Fred Finckhster, older adult male, tenor voice.  Speaks like an experienced politician.  See below for voice requirements that apply to all characters.

De: Desha, young adult female, alto voice.  U.S. American accent, but voice sounds like racially she is mixed-race with some African-American ancestry in addition to European ancestry.  Speaks strong political opinions.  See below for voice requirements that apply to all characters.

M: Professor Mata, middle-age female, soprano or alto voice.  Sounds like a university professor.  Clear enunciation is important.  See below for voice requirements that apply to all characters.

P: Professor Pengaritihas, middle-age male, tenor voice.  Slight Indian accent, as if he is the son of immigrants from India.  (At least pronounces "the" as "thee" rather than "thuh".)  Sounds like a university professor.  Clear enunciation is important.  See below for voice requirements that apply to all characters.

W: Whit (pronounced like "wit"), middle-age male, tenor voice.  Voice sounds like he could be the father of Desha, who is of mixed-race with both African-American and European ancestry.  Sounds like a wise minister or clergyman.  Clear enunciation is important.  See below for voice requirements that apply to all characters.

H: Hawken, middle-age male, bass or baritone voice.  Sounds like a pompous wealthy person.  See below for voice requirements that apply to all characters.

Voice requirements for all characters:  The voices need to be natural (full-throated and conversational), lively (frequent pitch inflections and word-specific loudness changes, although never in the middle of a syllable), and smiling (comedic, but not "funny").  A good sense of rhythm, either as a singer or dancer, is desired.  When a word rhymes without being at the end of a sentence or phrase, use slight timing or emphasis adjustments to allow the rhyming to be heard at least subconsiously.  The voice acting must not be self-conscious, and must not involve shouting.


Additional characteristics are revealed in the dialog.