August 27, 2008 · Updated 8:34 PM
So much important stuff is happening in the world that news channels are actually gaining popularity at the expense of game shows, sit-coms and soaps. Were talking real-life drama where words trigger action and action starts wars.
We have CNN and BBC but I especially like CSPAN which lets me eavesdrop on whats happening in the Senate and House of Representatives chambers. Its a little like watching baseball: long periods of boredom punctuated by brief demonstrations of brilliance.
CSPAN shows senators and representatives debating and making speeches before empty houses where once in a great while the camera pans across vast seas of expensive leather-covered seats to find nearly all of them empty. On slow days you could fit the players and action into a motel room. Whats the problem? Why all the no-shows? If I were a teacher and my students attended class as infrequently as congress men and women fill their seats, Id flunk the lot of them.
In their defense, other responsibilities keep them busy, like reading through mountains of bills and reports and testimony, drafting their own bills, committee meetings, trysts with lobbyists, and raising money for upcoming election campaigns. But it still seems that more than a scant handful should be interested in what any given speaker has to offer. How can they stay aware? By watching CSPAN?
If Senators and Representatives were given something to keep their minds from drifting attendance might pick up. One friend suggested that daily Sudoku puzzles be distributed to each desk but I thought that was unfairly cynical. Our law-makers have too much on their minds for that sort of empty distraction. They have to be constantly learning. The Times Crossword would be a better choice.
The chambers actually do fill for special occasions but it is during regular work-days when the mind-numbing drone of speaker after speaker takes its toll. Tune in to watch attendees do everything but listen. CSPANs camera operators hesitate to give us a desk-by-desk tour of law-makers because it is normal to catch a few nodding off.
I have plans to keep them on their toes and fill the house: First, each time the House or Senate chambers are emptied, a lottery-like number will be stashed within each desk. The winning number is read and the prize is announced at the end of a days business. Free rounds of golf. Tickets to Broadway plays. To avoid any taint of impropriety, such prizes would be billed as Congressional inspectional tours of recreation and entertainment sites.
If that wont fly, Plan-B would certainly help to keep legislators minds alert: Pass out sheets of paper that have been ruled into a grid of five rows and five columns. Twenty-five squares in all. Instructions would direct each Congressperson in attendance to place the items from the list below randomly across the chart until all twenty-five squares are filled. Random placement is essential.
Reduce the deficit
End of the day
Health care reform
The object is for legislators seated in chambers to check off a square each time they catch a speaker voicing one. The first person to fill a horizontal, vertical or diagonal line of five squares stands and shouts, Balderdash. Or more common words to that effect.
Actually, rules of the House and Senate call for a special way for this to be done. Senators may only speak if called upon by the presiding officer. Thats not a problem because the presiding officer is required to recognize the first senator who rises to speak. But even then a winner cant shout BS without preceding it with the proper form of address: Mr. President or Madame President, BS. It has to be this way because it is only the presiding officer who is addressed in speeches, no matter how short they may be. There is no intention to upset rules here.
Before you dismiss the proposal as impossible, consider this, few restrictions are placed on the content of speeches in either the House or Senate and there is no requirement that speeches be germane to a matter before the Senate. And though speeches are assigned time limits for length, there is no limit on shortness.
You cant get much shorter than BS. Or, judging from last Thursdays CSPAN coverage, more to the point.
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