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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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Read on Red: The Pleasures and Perils of Pinterest

November 13, 2013 4 comments

File:Courtesan and a little girl agead a new-year decoration.jpg

Surely, in a parallel universe somewhere, RT is a top-drawer nature photographer who takes breaks to shoot amazing architecture in the big cities and work on creative book design projects. The eye is neighbor to the heart, at least in men.

These reflections are by way of saying that RT has been spending a lot of time on Pinterest, the photo-sharing web site that has attracted users all over the globe. (And for the record, this post was inspired by a pin of a red-on-red portrait that reminded RT of the sheer gorgeousness art is capable of.) Be that as it may, RT suspects he has been spending too much time on Pinterest. Gilgamesh and A Daughter’s Song and Dance both are patiently awaiting their latest round of corrections; Mechanical Turk and other crowdsourcing sites are ripe for further work and exploration; and, hey, what about taking a break and getting out in the beautiful, if brisk, autumn air? And, come to think of it, RT has gotten locked out of his Yahoo account because of some mix-up over his password. So why the tomfoolery with beautiful pictures?

RT is pretty sure that one of the reasons for Pinterest’s success is the lack of beauty in everyday life, or at least for most of us. Walking past a large box store the other day, one that had gravel strewn in front of its nondescript exterior in lieu of a lawn, RT was forcefully reminded of how ugly public life has become. Convenient, serviceable, yes. But beautiful? Almost never.

In a world starved for beauty, Pinterest is an oasis devoted to pleasing the eye. No cruddy compromises here, just the best photographs by talented photographers, famous or not. Not to mention great historical photographs. And if you are a WP blogger, the site is a treasure trove of ideas for new posts. Plus you can pin images from your blog (something that RT needs to catch up on). So what’s the problem?

RT wouldn’t say that Pinterest offers eye-candy (though some of that is to be found on the site). What worries RT is that Pinterest has very little to do with the day-to-day or ordinary; there is always something special about the subject. One of the ways that art contributes to our life, and perhaps the main way it helps us, is by finding beauty in the ordinary, or even in the apparently ugly. Graffiti,  the faded and peeling side of an old house, a familiar skyline made arresting by being captured from an unusual angle–all these things help us see the intrinsic beauty of the world. And if the artwork is spontaneous, a discovery made on the spot, then so much the better. We can all hope to experience something similar in our routine.

Pinterest of course contains such visual material, but in RT’s experience, not enough of it. Maybe each member should be required to submit a certain number of images that he or she has made. It might help reintroduce each of us to ourselves. (And maybe RT should be pinning more images that meet his standards.)

We search for meaning in the ordinary; perhaps we should be searching for beauty, too. Dare we rediscover the poetry of the world our eyes and minds shut out?

(& what about that latest round of corrections?)

RT

Print: Courtesan and Little Girl; Hiroshige. WikiCmns; Public Domain.

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Gifts from The Elderly

October 15, 2013 Leave a comment

 

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a wonderful essay on working with older folks…  RT

(reposted from Melonie’s Poetic Life)

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Gifts from The Elderly.

RT has registered for Medicaid!

October 7, 2013 Leave a comment

ACA_Medicaid_expansion_by_state.svg--WikiCC3.0

It is with some relief and more than a little pride that RT can report he has registered for Medicaid. In all, the process required a handful of telephone calls and about 15 minutes on the West Virginia Medicaid web site. RT gives the overall service so far an A-. Registration was not very hard to do, and RT was particularly impressed by the WV Medicaid online application, which was written in a straightforward, easy-to-understand vernacular.

RT will have to follow up on the registration: find out when to expect receiving the Medicaid card and making sure nothing else needs to be done. But for the moment, he’s feeling good about the process.

As for the accompanying chart, RT isn’t sure how to explain the difference between expanding Medicaid and not expanding. He has a hunch, however, that this is another liberal vs. conservative issue. As RT finishes out this post, someone in the computer lab is registering for healthcare online.    RT

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Chart: ACA Medicaid Expansion by State. (Dark Green=expanding Medicaid; Medium Green=debating expansion; Light Green=not expanding). Author: Kurykh. WikiCmns; CC 3.0 Unported.

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RT’s Early August Status Report

August 6, 2013 2 comments

File:Anders Zorn - Emma Zorn läsande.jpg

You read it here first, folks: the Rag Tree has crossed the 50,000-hit mark!!! Add to that 2,200 social media followers and RT doesn’t mind saying he is just plain proud of himself! But he will also add something he learned soon after starting his blog: blogging is mainly about the relationships it generates, that is, the amazing people that you get to know–and RT has met many in his nearly 3 years of blogging. & that reminds him of something he realized long before he began The Rag Tree: writing isn’t about getting published; writing is about community.

That being said, there is no doubt that publishing this blog has given RT a stronger sense of being a writer: of writing everyday (or so) for an audience. And that may have something to do with his continuing progress on Gilgamesh and improvements in other aspects of his life.

At 53+ and still kicking, RT has had a few recent reminders of his place on the timeline: a floater that appeared in his right eye and after several days vanished; a strained muscle in the right hip region (now better), the painless loss of a single tooth. His mother, on the other hand, seems to be doing better with her macular degeneration (she recently received freebies via federal program such as a powerful magnifying glass and a telephone with big numerals…she’s even been reading a bit!).

this is life…   RT

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Painting: Emma Zorn Lasande (1887); Anders Zorn. WikiCmns; Public Domain.

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Free School Under The Bridge, New Delhi, India

June 25, 2013 1 comment

 

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what a beautiful story!   RT

(reposted from Toemail)

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Free School Under The Bridge, New Delhi, India.