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.
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.
RT has been silent of late; much has been on his mind. Here is the latest:
1) RT’s hypertension, the product of his current medication cocktail, has gotten serious, and he is now taking blood pressure meds and going down on his other meds with the aim of getting off and onto something known to reduce BP over the long-term. The transition will take place slowly so as not to place undue pressure on his mom, who is herself significantly improved on her new meds. RT for his part will be making yet another call to a doctor, this one to get help with a BP meds script. What with all the news and doctor’s visits, things are a bit tense here, and RT has been taking his mental escapes where he can find them.
2) The bed bugs have begun to bit again, and RT suspects that there is a fourth treatment in the duplex’s future, and a not-too-distant one at that.
3) RT has just finished watching a wonderful video on YouTube, Dying to Live. It concerns a twenty-something lady who was diagnosed with stage-4 breast cancer at 23 and was given 2 1/2 years to live. She is still alive at 27 and counting, and has started a BC-awareness foundation, Coppafeel. She has displayed remarkable intelligence and bravery during her fight, in RT’s opinion. The video is definitely worth watching.
4) RT’s ongoing excursion into video-land has led to a predictable project of his own, a video to accompany a recording of his reading the prologue from Gilgamesh. The number of free resources out there for such a project is greater than one might think, and RT has made good progress in putting together something watchable (and listenable!).
5) In the middle of all this, RT is fomenting a post on Harappan Civilization. All the signs of mortality are reminding him of an important fact: history may be humankind’s most effective response to death. Sumer and Harappa, powerful civilizations at the beginning of history (and the people who created them), live on. Dust, stone, and writing systems are still talking, and we listen with a keen interest. Or, to put it another way, by learning what happened to others, we become more expert at dealing with what is happening to us.
There it is, and RT might even get out that Harappa post tonight…
Map: Extent of Harrapan Civilization at its Height. User: MM. Wikipedia; CC 3.0 Share-Alike, Attribution, Unported.
If there is a vexed question in United States politics and history, it is how to identify American Indians. Because the U.S. Census collects self-reported information on racial identity, it is of doubtful use in determining the actual number of American Indians–people will avoid the problems of identifying as American Indian because of the second-class status that Indians have endured over the years. On the other hand, trying to create a scientific or legal definition involves highly subjective considerations–are you Indian if you had a pure-blood Indian grandparent? What about a pure-blood great-grandparent? And how should your blood-quantum be scientifically determined?
Worst of all, such data could be used to re-establish discriminatory laws based on race.
With these provisos, RT offers the following figures on the American Indian population. In the 2010 Census:
1) 2.9 million people, or 0.9 percent of the total U.S. population, reported American Indian or Alaska Native alone.
2) 2.3 million people, or another 0.7 percent, reported American Indian or Alaska Native in combination with one or more other races.
3) Together, these two groups totaled 5.2 million people. Thus, 1.7 percent of all people in the United States (308.7 million in the 2010 Census) identified as American Indian or Alaska Native, either alone or in combination with one or more other races.
RT thinks it’s safe to say: five million people ain’t nothing. But there are 566 federally recognized Indian Tribes in the United States and 68 state-recognized tribes. Further, as of 2012, 70% of American Indians live in urban areas, up from 45% in 1970 and 8% in 1940. The 2003 Census indicates that a little over 1/3 of Native Americans live in three states: California, Arizona, and Oklahoma.
A plausible argument could be made that a true settling of American identity will only occur when the nation has come to terms with its Native Americans (And the Dragons of Grammar have indicated a certain interest in their languages and poetry :). Time heals all (and research helps, too). RT is currently at work on a post concerning the Navajo Reservation, the biggest in the country.
Finally, RT hopes that a discussion of the status of Native Americans will shed light on the larger political question of how member states or nations of federations can relate constructively to the federal union.
Map: American Indian Reservations; U.S. Census Bureau. WikiCmns; Public Domain.
Out of the organic soup of his mind, RT has recently retrieved a powerful memory: of spending an afternoon at the Arlington County Library, engrossed in browsing through the Cambridge Ancient History. He was entranced by the fine writing and descriptions. Here is a passage from volume 1:
“Still more than the contract tablets the private letters give us the daily life of the people…Even a love letter from Sippar is extant, dating back to the First Dynasty. ‘To Bibiya say: thus, Gibil-Marduk. May Shamash and Marduk give thee health for ever for my sake. I have sent (to ask) after thy health; let me know how thou art. I have arrived in Babylon and see thee not; I am very sad. Send news of thy coming that I may be cheered; in the month of Markheswan thou shalt come. May thou livest for ever for my sake.'”
Perhaps this isn’t the sweetest love letter ever penned, but at least it’s honest (and quite ancient): Gibil-Marduk’s health (and perhaps even his life) depends on Bibiya’s attentions. Whether this is true or not, Bibiya must decide. Nothing much has changed.
We live for such encounters with other people’s spirit and lives, and a powerful fascination is added when the information comes from our past, however distant. In addition, this sample from the CAH offers the beautiful prose of its authors and the careful attention to detail invested in its preparation and printing. We are dealing with a rare book, informative, entertaining, and plainly (and elegantly) written. The authors never allow their erudition to cloud their meaning.
RT is working his way through Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror, another marvelous history, this time the work of an independent scholar. Comparing these books gives the reader some idea of how individual an author’s approach to history can be.
The writing of history is a much maligned art: history books are supposed to be pedantic and filled with trivialities. Nothing could be farther from the truth: the great historians never lose sight of style and entertainment as they present intricate tapestries of humanity’s past. Since writing was invented, human nature hasn’t changed. We study the past to learn ourselves. RT
Map: Spruner Map of the World Under the Assyrian Empire (1865). Karl Spruner von Merz. WikiCmns; Public Domain.
and, on a totally unrelated note, here is a map of Russia’s component provinces and republics. A demographically and politically complex country… RT
For a few years in the middle of the third century A.D., this is what the Mediterranean seaboard looked like. By 271 A.D., the Roman Empire had broken apart, but within a few years, it reconquered the two renegade empires. How could this have happened? What does the Crisis of the Third Century (AD 235-284) mean?
RT has not gone exploring in so bold a fashion for some time; above all, the Crisis marks the end of the classical world that Alexander the Great (365-323 BC) had established with his conquests and the earliest beginnings of the Medieval Era. Though the Roman Empire eventually reconquered the break-away kingdoms, it never fully recovered its former strength and unity, Readers will encounter a good deal of old-fashioned history, with dates and whatnot, Team Leader RT (and he hasn’t worn this hat in a long time) will do his best to guide folks through the maze of information. The prize we’re seeking? Cultural transformation, one of the purest forms of magic.
The first question is perhaps easier to answer. The Principate, the form of government that Augustus, the first Roman Emperor, had established, reached its apogee under the Nerva-Antonine Dynasty, which produced the Five Good Emperors and a period of peace and prosperity that lasted a century (AD 96-192). The emphasis of the dynasty was good government and adherence to Roman tradition, and each new emperor was chosen by his predecessor and adopted as heir to the Empire. The Roman Senate was respected and shared power with the emperor.
1) Slavery. The problem with this system was not the quality of the government, but the deterioration of the society that the government supported. Slavery was common, and though Roman law did not deny the basic humanity of a slave (a slave could buy his or her freedom and after manumission become a citizen with voting rights), the lower class of slaves performing hard manual labor on farms, in mines, and at mills, were treated brutally and often died at an early age. At the other end of the spectrum, some educated slaves rose to high positions of responsibility in society and government. And slave could be freed by his or her master.
But the law made clear that a slave was a person without rights, who could be treated as the owner wished, including the inflicting of sexual abuse and summary execution. Large slave rebellions occurred during both the Republic and the Empire. The Roman economy was heavily dependent on slave labor.
2) Roman Civilization. The ancient quest of Rome to impose its civilization on foreign countries failed in many places with cultures that were more ancient than Rome’s. The quest had made sense during the Punic Wars, when Romans could argue that they were stamping out the child sacrifice practiced by Carthage. But later, under the Empire, there was nothing inherently superior about Roman pagan society, which often resembled the cultures that it conquered. The existence of a large slave class at one end of the social spectrum and a small political and financial elite at the other created tensions that left large segments of the population disaffected with the Empire.
3) The Appearance of Alternative Religions. New alternative religions appeared and spread rapidly throughout the Empire: a) Christianity; b) Gnosticism (and in particular, Manicheism); and c) Mithraism, all claimed large numbers of adherents. These religions were not variations on old themes; each represented a distinct break with the culture that produced it. Notably, these religions shared some elements, most importantly, the exaltation and transformation of the worshiper. The notion of a transcendent God or Cosmos was also critical: these religions aimed to replace the old cosmological understanding with a more comprehensive and accurate view of the world. The old Roman religious reliance on nature and community were hard to defend against a rising sense of egalitarianism and the transitory human condition.
The result, in hindsight, seems inevitable: With the assassination of Commodus (AD 192), the last Nervan emperor, the Empire plunged into an extended period of instability under the Severan Dynasty (AD 192-235) , Only two Severan Emperor, the first and last of the dynasty, ruled longer than ten years. With the assassination of Alexander Severus, the great crisis at last broke out.
It should be pointed out that by any standard, Alexander Severus was a just and capable ruler, murdered by his own troops when he agreed to paid tribute to Germanic tribes to gain time in dealing with the Parthians. What ailed the Romans was not their government so much as the transformation of their culture.
It’s time for a breather. RT will be back soon with Part 2... RT
Wowzaah…what a map! RT
RT’s Related Posts: 1) Hereford Mappa Mundi
Image: Sarmatia and Scythia, Russia and Tartaria (17th cent.); User: Nasz. WikiCmns; Public Domain.