Scotland: Yes, No, and the House of Lords

September 18, 2014 2 comments

 

In addition to some Irish and German background, RT has a fair amount of Scottish blood in him, as witness his middle name, Chisholm. Such genealogical connections constitute the basis for his offering an opinion on Thursday’s looming vote concerning Scottish independence. He will admit upfront that he thinks that Scotland should remain a part of the United Kingdom, but a UK that is somewhat differently governed than at present.

RT will start by suggesting that the main source of political tension between the UK’s constituent counties is the preponderance of English population and resources. This is reflected in the House of Commons, where proportional representation results in 502 English members, 30 Welsh members, 52 Scottish members, and 17 members from Northern Ireland. For the record, here is the population differential behind Thursday’s vote: England has 53 million residents, Scotland, 5.3 million. Such disproportion might worry the most ardent of No voters.

The United States has famously dealt with this problem via its Senate, to which every state in our union elects two members. So what if Wyoming (pop. 580,000) has more cattle than people? This least populous state gets the same number of votes in the Senate that California, the most populous state in the country (at about 38 million residents), gets.

Which brings us to the United Kingdom’s House of Lords. As RT understands it, the House of Lords is a legislative body quite different from the U.S. Senate, though the Lords has been undergoing rapid change recently in its structure, functioning, and numbers. A quick check at Wikipedia reveals the following facts about the HoL: size–774 members; selection of members: members are peers, who have usually been selected for elevation by the Prime Minister (92 are hereditary peers); function: to debate and pass legislation, but with the proviso that any bill passed by the House of Commons can only be delayed from being presented for the Royal Assent for one calendar year, and if the bill concerns taxation or public funds, the Lords may only delay it for a month. The HoL also spends considerable time scrutinizing the government’s activities and expenses.

And for those, who like RT before this post, did not know what a peer might be, Wikipedia informs us that a peer is a member of the peerage, or British nobility.

Here is RT’s rough-and-ready proposal for reforming the British House of Lords. First of all, the
HoL will continue to embrace meritocracy, honoring and empowering those individuals and groups who have done much to serve society.

1) The HoL will comprise 480 members.

2) It will be divided into four quadrants, one for each constituent nation of the UK, giving us English, Scottish, Welsh, and Northern Irish quadrants. Each quadrant will consist of 120 members, all of them from the associated constituent nation.

3) Each quadrant will be divided into four segments, each segment consisting of 30 members and representing a particular area of human endeavor, namely a) government, business, and community activism; b) art, whether the fine arts or crafts; c) science and independent scholarship, and d) spiritual life and academia. Each member’s principal achievements must have taken place in their segment’s specialty.

4) The Prime Minister, in consultation with the monarch, will appoint HoL members for a term of 15 years. No member may be reappointed.

5) The HoL will continue its present duties, except for the following. Each quadrant may caucus separately when considering a bill. If at least 72 members of the quadrant (three-fifths) vote to reject the bill, then it will be returned to its originating house for reconsideration. If the bill is brought before the HoL again, and the quadrant once more rejects it, but the bill is passed by the house as a whole, then the bill’s previsions will not apply to the quadrant’s country.

6) An institution as steeped in history and tradition as the House of Lords is cannot be dismantled overnight without sending a shock-wave through society and sacrificing the (considerable) experience and wisdom of its current members. If the Scottish independence vote returns a “no,” however, it might be best to expedite at least the quadrant provisions. The three “junior” constituent countries need a more effective voice in the UK’s parliament.

Images: Upper: The Main Chamber of the Scottish Parliament; author, Martyn Gorman, geograph.org.uk. WikiCmns; CC BY-SA 2.0. Lower: Queen Victoria Seated on the Throne of the House of Lords, 1838. Author: George Hayter. WikiCmns; Public Domain.

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Bye, Bye, Gerrymander: Some Suggestions

September 10, 2014 Leave a comment

1242px-113th_US_Congress_House_districts_color--WikiCC3.0

Mid-term elections are drawing near, and RT feels the need to talk about some of the election issues that are really important to the well-being of the United States and its election processes. Chief among these issues must be the redistricting process by which states draw congressional district boundaries. And actually, RT has some good news to report about this.

It turns out that a number of U.S. states (seven, to be precise) do not leave redistricting to their legislatures, but have turned them over to independent or bipartisan commissions. Who are these few and brave? Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, New Jersey and Washington.  Three states, Florida, Iowa and Maine, give independent bodies authority to propose redistricting plans, but preserve the role of legislatures to approve them. Seven states, finally, have only a single representative for the entire state because of their low populations, and therefore do not need to redistrict; these are Alaska, Delaware, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming.

Here’s the bad news: 34 U.S. states let their legislatures redraw the district maps that in no small part will determine who gets re-elected. Here are some of the results: in 2012, Democratic Party candidates received 1.2 million more votes than Republicans did in the federal election, but the Republicans won a 234 to 201 majority in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Here’s another example of the effect of unfair redistricting. In California, a state which Democrats have long controlled, the redistricting system was so biased in favor of incumbents that out of 765 elections held in the state between 2001 and 2011, only 5 seats changed hands. (And please note, this appalling statistic helped inspire a reform of California’s redistricting process in 2008.)

Yes, the gerrymander is alive and well and living in the United States.

To be fair to redistricting commissions (and state legislatures trying to eliminate gerrymandering), it’s impossible to devise a system that will leave everyone feeling adequately represented. On the other hand, here are a few common-sense criteria that are often suggested for redistricting. Districts should:

1) contain approximately equal populations;

2) be contiguous and compact;

3) contain approximately equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans;

4) contain both urban and rural neighborhoods; and

5) ensure that the major cultural and racial communities in a district are equitably represented in municipal, state, and federal legislatures.

States should:

1) hand over responsibility for redistricting to an *independent* (i.e., no members from the state legislature) commission. In this regard, Iowa provides an excellent model of the process that should be adopted; and

2) monitor for and adjust the redistricting process in response to poor turnover rates between parties in electoral districts.

The goal here is to ensure elections that offer voters a real choice; this in turn should lead to competition of ideas, the equitable distribution of power, and the forging of compromises that resolve difficult disagreements.

Map: 113th U.S. House of Representatives Districts. WikiCmns; author: Mr. Matté; uploaded by Magog the Ogre. CC 3.0.

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Discoveries

September 6, 2014 Leave a comment

640px-Dust_bowl,_Texas_Panhandle,_TX_fsa.8b27276_edit--WikiPD-2

In his research for his mother’s memoirs and family history in general, RT has run across many amazing images. He offers one such discovery here, Dust Clouds and Car, by American photo-journalist Arthur Rothstein. It’s worth noting that RT’s mom was driven by her adoptive mother three times cross country from New York City to Lake Tahoe, starting in 1937. RT has yet to find an image that captures the dangers and mystery of the 1930s as effectively as this one does.

RT has also managed to watch Grand Hotel, a classic early Hollywood talkie. Another trick-up-his-sleeve: he has run across Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, one of the great surviving silent movies, and will be watching it in the next few days. Expect reviews of both films in these pages in the next week or so.

The 1930s and 40s are widely understood as an epochal period, and we’re very lucky to be able to experience these years through the best artistic efforts of the time.

Photo: Dust Clouds and Car, Texas Panhandle (1936). Arthur Rothstein, LOC. WikiCmns; Public Domain.

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Daughter’s Song & Dance–A sample page

August 29, 2014 Leave a comment

 

Chap12Page1snipped

 

RT is feeling good about his progress on publishing his mom’s memoirs, A Daughter’s Song and Dance. Not that the process isn’t a bit humbling. This is a 270-page book we’re talking about, and even discovering how to convert a MS Word file into a JPG can take some time, not to mention learning the basics of book design. Still, book production for ADS&D is going fairly smoothly, and RT is posting a sample page to give folks a feeling for what the finished product will look like. RT is proud of this particular page, and notes that the photo is a Dorothy Lange public domain image available on Wikipedia. Anyway, he hopes the effort satisfies. He’s currently setting chapters 17 and 18 (out of 24 total chapters).

RT

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 Book Page Image © 2014, The Rag Tree

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A Poem, of all Things

August 14, 2014 2 comments

 

poems, it seems, need to be summoned, often by late-night vigils that don’t have anything at all to do with writing–until an insistent knocking sounds at the door. RT will dispense with his reflections on the particular inspirations here; they also prefer to operate on a free-agent basis, without revealing themselves except at the pertinent moment. no, the muse doesn’t report to RT; she doesn’t ask his permission, either…in any case, here is the latest.

simbi

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they fall to pieces,

gently, or not

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bogart was my

husband  i saw tahoe

when

it was dangerous to go

i sang at woodstock.

the mind burning, then

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bikes my—bekann mwen yo; once it was

my bikes, bekann mwen yo was it once

but in the Haitian order:  symbiont   (Simbi).

ghostly,

***********that memory, the film

reels rotting, burning to dust

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the universal exile from youth, complicit

with fact: we proceed to nothing. 

we are learning

desire***not in the moment****but in

************************************our memory

these ghastly bodies no stronger

than words:****she’s dead.

******************her voice gone

li la mouri, the couple in front of the spinning driers

say, vwa li se ale as everyone stares out

******************the plate glass at leaves tumbling

******************through the parking lot… did you say****what?

the words not silent as speechless we watch

an antique car parked, the rainbow gathering

******************against the spent

*********clouds:***fish—pwaso:

not silent, the dead report their sense.

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© 2014, The Rag Tree.

Illustration: Bowfin (Amia Calva). Duane Raver/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. WikiCmns; Public Domain.

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Storm, Storm, Rainbow

Barrymore_Garbo_Grand_Hotel_042432--WikiPD

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Well, things have been rough at RT’s premises lately. The roughest event was the accident his mother has been living through the last 4 or 5 weeks: at the beginning of July, she fell and broke her leg above the ankle. Now, things have gone well for her and are going better in the last couple of weeks. She had surgery on the day of the fall to repair the leg and then was transferred down to a rehab facility, a good one, as it turns out, in Winchester. She caught pneumonia, but the medical center in Winchester pulled her through with a blood transfusion and the last week or so she’s been sounding sharp and is making respectable progress in the various therapies she is receiving. Her ultimate status is still unclear, but she does seem to be moving in the right direction.

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In related news, mom’s memoir, A Daughter’s Song and Dance, has been making excellent progress. RT is looking for manuscript readers even as he begins to assemble print-ready pages for the first two of the story’s three parts. The book is 260 double-spaced pages, but will be longer when RT has finished adding such minor items as an introduction, and it will contain photos and various ornaments, drawings, and scrapbook material. It is turning out to be a bit of a pot-boiler, but of the classier sort, and certainly mom and I have learned a lot about her childhood, early adulthood, and the times she grew up in (not least of which, for RT, has been discovering that the classic Hollywood film, Grand Hotel (1932) has survived; RT wants to buy a copy & watch).

RT is waiting for reader feedback before he makes any decisions about probable publication dates. He does, though, plan both publication online and via a print run of 50-100 copies. How he will finance the print-run remains unclear; perhaps through a crowd-funding site.

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RT’s other writing projects have not gone away. Working with a prose project like the memoirs and editing a narrative voice as distinctive as his mother’s has given him some perspective on Gilgamesh, and he thinks that when he returns to the poem (as he most likely will after DS&D is published), it will be with renewed enthusiasm. The Dragons of Grammar, a collection of RT’s posts on the informative and entertaining creatures,  may well be the other project that can completed in a reasonable short period of time.

RT’s blogs have also been on his mind now that things are better with mom, and doubtless he once again will be expostulating on his favorite topics and bloggers.

The DoGs send a fond smoke-ring or two in the direction of loyal readers, and RT adds a wink.        RT

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Photo: John Barrymore and Greta Garbo in Grand Hotel. Publicity Still. WikiCmns; Public Domain.

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Berlin, Thebes, and the Reemergence of the Muse

July 2, 2014 2 comments

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RT, as it turns out, has some German ancestry; his father was half German. Well, over the last little while, he has been revisiting an interest in Berlin the city, that is its architecture and street plan. Partly, RT thinks, his interest is due to the fact that one of his maternal ancestors was a builder in California, some of whose buildings still stand, partly to the role the city has played in European history, and partly to having recently seen the movie The Reader. But most of all, RT is intrigued by the way that Berlin has been rebuilding itself since the Berlin Wall came down and Germany was reunited. So RT over the last two days has given himself a virtual tour of Berlin, mostly via–what else?–Wikipedia. He has learned lots about the city.

The question that emerged as RT made his Wiki tour had to do with appropriateness. How can architecture and city planning be used to reclaim Germany’s capital as a great city, in view of the terrible events of the Nazi era and the city’s long post-war division into eastern and western zones? How can ghostly memories be accommodated even as the city continues forward as an important part of the human community?

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One thing to bear in mind, of course, is that any human city has had terrible things happen within its boundaries. Though cities are rebuilt time and again as one generation after another inherits them, surviving architecture reminds us of the great (and sometimes awful) events that have taken place there (just think of Rome). To judge by the number of tourists that pass through, for instance, the Pantheon, the experience of being in a particular, ancient building is important to our sense of connection with the past: this place is still here, these things really happened. This sense of connection seems to be vital to maintaining a balanced sense of  life’s possibilities.

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Planning isn’t about outcomes; it’s about possibilities. It’s not a mandate or an edict, it’s the permission that a parent gives a child. When Cadmus , that slayer of dragons, founded Thebes, he followed a cow and marked out the city where the animal lay down. Other founders have suckled the milk of wolves or planted a tamarisk tree; these acts are resonant.

Foundations are multiple. They build on each other, and the city invites them. Cadmus never did find his sister, Europe, the original reason for his departure from Tyre. Then Plato exiled the poets from his Republic.

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What can we do but hold onto the things worth saving? Berlin has done a good job of that, it seems. RT will point out only the city’s compromise decision to reconstruct three facades of the old imperial palace and behind them build a modernist museum to contain art from Africa and other foreign cultures. Something new and brilliant has blown in on the winds of change.

As for the rest, RT will confine himself to remarking that there is something unmonumental about the reemerging Berlin. He will even go a step further, and say he detects a note of humor in some of the city’s recent architecture, as witness the new Chancellery. As we and the city learn to forgive, we will see more of this, a long-delayed, much needed healing. The poet with his horn, the muse with her flirtatious smile, may be seen once again outside the walls of a museum.   RT

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Photo: The Federal Chancellery, Berlin. Uploaded by Madden. WikiCmns; CC 3.0 BY-SA.

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