Monday, June 14, 2021

A “Classic” Goodbye…


My Morris Minor

Many of my friends and colleagues know that I own a classic car. Well, the term “classic” may be a tad generous, but it is definite an old vehicle. The vehicle to which I refer is my 1961 Morris Minor Traveller 1000. I have provided a link if you are interested in learning more about the history of this make and model.

My Minor was purchased by my father in the mid-2000s. He and my mother drove a Morris Minor while they were dating in college. After several nostalgic drives, they both realized something important: most antique cars are not that comfortable or convenient to drive, especially with right-hand steering (at least in the States).

Several years later, after numerous attempts to sell their "old banger," I purchased it from them. They were grateful to have their garage space back and, at the time, I needed a vehicle for occasional trips. I also had a garage where I could store and work on the car. Over time I rebuilt the carburetor, installed a new fuel pump, fixed the fuel gauge, replaced the cooling fan, bodged the muffler back together (several times), 

I learned a lot about the British Series A engine (talk about almost useless knowledge) and the Traveller. In addition to being right-hand steering, this car is unique in another way. First of all, the "wood trim" is actually not trim. When Morris first developed the Minor "Estate Wagon" it would hardly move due to the small (< 1L) engine. Did Morris install a larger engine to remedy its anemic power to weight ratio? Of course not, they simply replaced the steel in the rear half of the estate wagon with aluminum. Since the aluminum of the 1960s wasn't structurally suitable for automotive body panels, Morris reinforced the aluminum with elm.

Image these two characters diving that tiny car 😵
I used to drive it to rehearsals and occasionally to work I even incorporated it in one of the lessons for my sustainability course. Possibly my fondest memory of the car was in 2015, when Mark Allison, Benjamin Turner, and I were performing a one act play at the old Columbus Civic Theater. The play was called “Christmas under the Big Top.” Since it was the second of two one act plays being performed, the three of us decided to meet at my place to get made up and changed into costumes. This avoided conflict with the other show's cast in the Civic's tiny back stage area. Imagine what the other drivers thought when they saw these two characters driving that tiny little car! If we had been performing in an actual circus, I imagine stopping and having 20 clowns pile out of it.

Well, after Krista and I decided to live together, we moved to a different location. Unfortunately, we were never able to find a rental with a garage that we could afford. Despite having numerous covers and tarps over the next several years, time and weather were not kind. I no longer had a comfortable place to work on it and realized that, while I owned it, it would continue to deteriorate. The wood started to rot and the floor, which was always just a few lbs. away from collapsing entirely, would eventually do so.

Museum Director Peter Stroble (L) and me
I knew I could not expect to sell it in her present condition. Donating her for a charity auction seemed plausible. However, I kept thinking that a car this old and unique should be in a museum… Even if David Vargo called it a “Cockney Jeep”. 

Well, that is exactly where it is going! I decided to donate it to the British Transportation Museum.

Last Friday, June 4th, the director of the museum collected my Morris Minor. The museum intends to restore it and put it on display. So, stay tuned. I will update this blog when I receive updates.

- Food for Thought

Monday, June 8, 2020

Planting a Native Pollinator Garden - Forsooth!

UPDATED - 12 July 2020

We have all been struggling during this pandemic with curfews, stay at home orders, wearing masks, washing our hands frequently, and protests against systemic racism. As a result, we are all finding new hobbies or rekindling interest in old pursuits, primarily to maintain our collective sanity. My brewery is back operating and Krista has become the Queen of Sourdough (or at least MY Queen). We have also planted a garden.

In June, I was discussing our current gardening efforts with a friend from the Friends of the Lower Olentangy Watershed (FLOW). She asked me to write an article for FLOW's newsletter. So, rather than posting more anger, frustration, and despair concerning the state our our nation, I decided to share that article through my blog. Here is that article, which has been updated as noted:
Ohio Native? William Shakespeare?

Perchance, wouldst thou consider planting a garden using native Ohio plants? Dost thou wish to aid in the meager lives of our pollinator pals? Verily, where canst thou find the very inspiration thou needst? Join me, for mine family hast done that very thing. Perhaps you wish to offer a guess as to our inspiration, but I beg thee not to tarry, as 'tis the prime season to plant an Ohio Native Shakespeare Garden!
For those of you who know me, before this pandemic I was occasionally seen on the stage for a few Columbus theatre companies who honored me with a chance to perform. My wife and I met on stage, and our last show together was a version of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” called simply “Dream,” so it was natural for us to plant a garden dedicated to the immortal Bard.

It may seem odd to consider a garden of native Ohio plants mentioned by William Shakespeare. As far as I know, The Bard never ventured to Ohio… which didn’t even become a state until almost 200 years after Ole Will entered ‘The gloomy shade of death’ (King Henry VI, Part I).

Though gardening in our case is an ever-evolving event, our Ohio Native Shakespeare Garden is now well underway. Our garden began life (since we moved in) as a neglected weed patch. After weeding and removing invasive thistle, we were able to begin planting in late May.
Our garden... so far

What was once an unsightly area now includes Ohio native varieties of Yarrow, Fern, Poppy, Lavender, and the Bard's favorite, Violets. All of these plants are mentioned in Shakespeare’s works and most of them are available at Scioto Gardens (a frequent contributor to FLOW).

Under all the weeds, we rescued some wild chive (also mentioned by the Bard) and a rose bush. We planted a second rose as well, which, by any other name...

We may have stretched the concept of a Shakespeare garden just a bit. Why? Well, we also included Ohio native plants that may not have been mentioned in his works directly, such as:
Ohio Spiderwort
  • Cardinal Flower (I know the clergy are often mentioned by the Bard);
  • Bee Balm (“To Bee, or Not to Bee…” with apologies to a certain Danish Prince);
  • Spiderwort ("hence you long legged spinners hence" a line of mine from “Dream!”);
  • Hops (ale is also mentioned or implied often... Looking at you Falstaff and Dogberry); and
  • Swamp Milkweed (we did it for the Queen... milkweed attracts Monarchs).
We also planted a Swamp Oak tree in honor of Great Birnam Wood (“Who chafes, who frets, or where conspirers are. Macbeth shall never vanquished be until Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane Hill Shall come against him.” MacBeth Act 4, Scene 1). We added ornamental fencing and will be adding mulch, a possible stone accent, and a birdbath.

We would have included a statue of William Shakespeare, but alas, we doth lack the space.

20 June 2020 Update: Thus far, all of our plants are doing well (our Spiderwort is particularly happy) and some of our seed have already sprouted. Only one of our fern plants (an ostrich fern) appears to be distressed. I did start the second phase, using a natural weed killer to try to prevent invasive and undesirable plants from taking root. My recipe for a natural herbicide (nontoxic, non-hazardous, and biodegradable) is:

·         1 quart of distilled white vinegar (household is fine)
·         1/4 cup of table or rock salt
·         1 teaspoon of dishwashing detergent (I used Dawn).

Mix these ingredients and use a spray bottle to kill plants. Just be careful not to spray any desirable plants. It is safer, better for the environment, and a lot less expensive that commercially available weed killers.

12 July 2020 Update: We were finally able to add the mulch and stone and the results were stunning. We decided to leave the some day lily and a pair of hosta that were also uncovered when we weeded to garden in May. We did lose one of the fern plants (it received too much sun) as well as the rose bush we planted (it was on the bargain table anyway). The mulch did reveal large empty areas that we will fill as time allows. We still plan to add a birdbath as well as a possible bust of Shakespeare. And our friend Danielle had a brilliant idea, so our winter project will be to produce the appropriate quotes for each plant and attach these quotes to the fence.

14 June 2021 Update: With the exception of the fences, the entirety of the garden survived the relatively mild winter and every plant has survived, with most of them flourishing. The Yarrow appears to be attempting to completely dominate the garden. We have transplanted a few items and have installed lattice along the top of the fence to allow the hops vines further to climb. The hardest upkeep remains the occasional weed and invasive plant. 

Late last year, we added a native Butterfly Bush and two Dwarf Lilac. I know the Lilac are neither Shakespearian nor native, but Krista loves Lilac. Therefore, I contend that when Oberon tells Puck: "...Yet Mark'd I where the bolt of Cupid fell: It fell upon a little western flower, Before milk-white, now purple with love's wound..." he was talking about a Lilac. Hey, prove me wrong. 😉

We are considering adding a few new plants, such as a purple Vernonica (Two Gentlemen from Veronica?) Overall Krista and I are quite pleased.

 - Food for Thought

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

A Founding Father's Advice

On this day in 1787, the fledgling United States ratified the document that would become the cornerstone of the new American Government from then until the present: The U. S. Constitution.

Throughout American history, the Constitution has been often tested and has occasionally been found wanting. The founding fathers knew this would be the case, which is why they included a procedure to amend the document. Even with this ability, disagreements and interpretations have often lead to conflict, both within governing bodies, such as the Brooks-Sumner Affair of 1856, as well as outside government.

Lately, the disagreements and debates we have all been having have become almost as divisive and disrespectful as they were in the mid 19th century. I have read articles and opinion pieces that believe that we are just as divisive, or more so, than we were just before and after the Civil Way

Therefore, I am not writing this blogpost to reinvigorate some debate using my own personal talking points. I have already concluded that nothing I can write, say, or do will change anybody’s mind or beliefs. We as a society have become extremely stubborn and unwilling to listen to the positions or knowledge of others. I include myself in this assessment.

Instead, on this anniversary, I decided to let the words of one of our Founding Fathers offer a lesson that everyone in America should reflect upon:

Monday, September 17, 1787, was the last day of the Constitutional Convention. Pennsylvania delegate Benjamin Franklin wanted to give a short speech to the Convention prior to the signing of the final draft of the Constitution. At 81 years old, Franklin was too weak to make the speech himself. He had fellow Pennsylvanian James Wilson deliver the speech.

The following is as reported in Madison's notes on the Convention for Monday, September 17, 1787.

"Mr. President:

I confess that there are several parts of this constitution which I do not at present approve, but I am not sure I shall never approve them: For having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged by better information, or fuller consideration, to change opinions even on important subjects, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise. It is therefore that the older I grow, the more apt I am to doubt my own judgment, and to pay more respect to the judgment of others.

Most men indeed as well as most sects in Religion, think themselves in possession of all truth, and that wherever others differ from them it is so far error. Steele a Protestant in a Dedication tells the Pope, that the only difference between our Churches in their opinions of the certainty of their doctrines is, the Church of Rome is infallible and the Church of England is never in the wrong. But though many private persons think almost as highly of their own infallibility as of that of their sect, few express it so naturally as a certain french lady, who in a dispute with her sister, said 'I don't know how it happens, Sister but I meet with no body but myself, that's always in the right — Il n'y a que moi qui a toujours raison.'

In these sentiments, Sir, I agree to this Constitution with all its faults, if they are such; because I think a general Government necessary for us, and there is no form of Government but what may be a blessing to the people if well administered, and believe farther that this is likely to be well administered for a course of years, and can only end in Despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic Government, being incapable of any other.

I doubt too whether any other Convention we can obtain, may be able to make a better Constitution. For when you assemble a number of men to have the advantage of their joint wisdom, you inevitably assemble with those men, all their prejudices, their passions, their errors of opinion, their local interests, and their selfish views. From such an assembly can a perfect production be expected? It therefore astonishes me, Sir, to find this system approaching so near to perfection as it does; and I think it will astonish our enemies, who are waiting with confidence to hear that our councils are confounded like those of the Builders of Babel; and that our States are on the point of separation, only to meet hereafter for the purpose of cutting one another's throats.

Thus I consent, Sir, to this Constitution because I expect no better, and because I am not sure, that it is not the best. The opinions I have had of its errors, I sacrifice to the public good. I have never whispered a syllable of them abroad. Within these walls they were born, and here they shall die. If every one of us in returning to our Constituents were to report the objections he has had to it, and endeavor to gain partizans in support of them, we might prevent its being generally received, and thereby lose all the salutary effects & great advantages resulting naturally in our favor among foreign Nations as well as among ourselves, from our real or apparent unanimity.

Much of the strength & efficiency of any Government in procuring and securing happiness to the people, depends, on opinion, on the general opinion of the goodness of the Government, as well as of the wisdom and integrity of its Governors. I hope therefore that for our own sakes as a part of the people, and for the sake of posterity, we shall act heartily and unanimously in recommending this Constitution (if approved by Congress & confirmed by the Conventions) wherever our influence may extend, and turn our future thoughts & endeavors to the means of having it well administred.” (Speech of Benjamin Franklin)

If a person as wise and intelligent as Dr. Franklin can acknowledge that

  1. He has on occasion changed his opinions based on new knowledge and 
  2. His own knowledge may not be perfect.
Perhaps more of us should consider doing the same.

-- Food for Thought

Friday, August 9, 2019

More Tragedies

I know it has been a while since I written a blog post. I decided that I would not use this blog to just "vent my spleen" or grouse about the current state of politics, climate change, the environment, social justice, and the other issues I have attempted to address. I had originally intended this blog as a means to propose changes, either for individuals or groups to consider for improving or resolving a given situation.

The recent tragedies in El Paso, Texas and in nearby Dayton, Ohio are a painful reminder of just how dangerous life has become in the United States. There have been over 200 mass shootings in our country in 2019 thus far. Unfortunately, most experts anticipate more to follow.

As painful as these tragic losses are, the certainty that almost nothing will change to try to prevent future tragedies from occurring is almost as painful. Unfortunately, nothing except the usual rhetoric will likely emerge from Washington D.C., politicians have already made their "thoughts and prayers" known, and a weary population begins to accept mass shootings as the "new normal."

However, as I mentioned, I hate using this blog just to repeat my own personal talking points. I don't write these posts to get the majority of my friends nodding their heads in agreement and a few of them skeptical or even hostile. On a previous Facebook post where I espoused stricter gun control, I did have an interesting and thought provoking discussion with a friend who disagreed with me. I also had a few "friends" tell me to "go play in traffic" and to "just shut the f&%k up." Believe it or not, I am not trying to renew this debate. I am asking if another potential course of action is feasible.

During the ongoing opioid epidemic, many lawsuits were filed against Big Pharma. The article Are Pharmaceutical Companies to Blame for the Opioid Epidemic? - The Atlantic, Jun 2, 2017 describes just one of many examples of lawsuits filed against Big Pharma. "Some attorneys general and advocates are now asking in court whether the pharmaceutical companies who marketed the drugs and downplayed their addictive nature can be held legally responsible for—and made to pay for the consequences of—the crisis." (The Atlantic, 6/2/17).

Can similar lawsuits be filed against the National Rifle Association and gun manufacturers? They too have profited by selling a potentially deadly product to an extent that many believe to be extreme. 

I am not pretending I know the answer (I don't) and I suspect Second Amendment advocates will want chime in (if any of them actually read my blog). However, I offer the following caveats: 1) I am NOT advocating taking any individual's gun(s) away by simply asking this question; 2) I don't believe that the Second Amendment gives gun owners immunity from Government regulation - Just like free speech (a First Amendment right) is and continues to be regulated (hate speech prohibition, yelling fire in a crowded theater...) the right to "keep and bear" fire arms CAN be regulated. If you actually read the second amendment, the word REGULATED does appear, though the word OWN does not; & 3) I acknowledge the cost of such a lawsuit would be astronomical. 

Perhaps, rather than debate this issue on Facebook (which would be fairly useless) we should ask one of the State Attorneys General who filed a lawsuit against Big Pharma: "... Ohio’s Attorney General Mike DeWine filed a lawsuit Wednesday against a handful of pharmaceutical companies..." (The Atlantic, 6/2/17). So, Governor DeWine, what do you think?

I do understand that these are frightening and polarizing times. We are all losing many of the very rights the gun lobby and the NRA claim to be protecting. However, most Americans agree that something must to be done to help prevent these senseless acts of domestic terrorism. Before anybody starts arguing for or against another individual's views or opinions, I suggest we take the words of big game hunter and gun owner Theodore Roosevelt to heart.

If we wait until the perfect solution prevents itself, we will continue doing the worst thing -- nothing.

-- Food for thought.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Living More Sustainably

Late last month, I had the honor of representing Friends of the Lower Olentangy Watershed (FLOW) as a guest speaker at the Ohio State Undergraduate Student Government (USG) forum titled “How to Live Sustainably.” I thought I would take a few moments to post some of the presentation topics.

For those of you unfamiliar with the concept of sustainability, I must warn you that a simple Google search will result in many different definitions, interpretations, and misinterpretations of this concept. To keep things simple, I will use the description from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency web page (as of 11/1/2017):
“Sustainability is based on a simple principle: Everything that we need for our survival and well-being depends, either directly or indirectly, on our natural environment. To pursue sustainability is to create and maintain the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony to support present and future generations.” USEPA Sustainability Web Page

Another way to look at sustainability is shown in the attached figure. This figure can be (and perhaps should be) applied to any decision that is made. Essentially, whenever you make a decision, whether it is a personal decision (making a purchase, deciding on dinner…) or a business or professional decision, that decision can be considered sustainable if it balances economic, social AND environmental needs. Unfortunately, many of our recent governmental, industrial, and personal decisions are (and have been) based almost exclusively on economic needs. Social needs, if considered at all, seem to be focused on the needs of only a few members of society, and environmental needs often don’t seem to be considered at all.

I was asked, as a board member of FLOW, to address how students can live sustainably by volunteering with grassroots and other types of community organizations. Explaining that sustainability is about more than one thing I provided a top 10 list of things students (and everyone) can do to live more sustainability. Here is the Top 10 List, with minimal modification. These actions are intended to cost little or nothing and some can actually save money. This list should not be considered all encompassing as there are many sustainable other actions or activities you can do that are not listed:

1. Learn what you don’t know… about yourself - In the world of sustainability, you can't manage what you don't measure. Our individual impacts on the planet are no exception! There are numerous online calculators that can help you determine your carbon and water footprints. A few exampled include:
2. Learn how your community is addressing sustainability – Many communities have developed sustainability initiatives, and most have them published and available for download. If they don’t, contact your community and ask them why. I first got involved with developing community goals for the City of Kent (yes, believe it or not), Ohio in 1996.

3. Connect with your community leaders and/or community organizations. One of the best ways to understand what your community is doing, or not doing, to work toward their sustainability goals is to get involved and ask. Remember, elected leaders are supposed to work for YOU!

4. Read the news and be an educated decision maker - Stay on top of current events: Local, State, National AND International by choosing “less” biased sources of news and using multiple sources. Finally, VOTE in every election (special, primary, AND general elections). I have included a figure I have used before as a guide for selecting what news to follow and what to avoid.

5. Seek healthy, fresh, and local sources for food in your community – Whether you are dining out or shopping for groceries, sustainable food choices are not hard to find. To live more sustainably, you should consider eating “lower on the food chain” and with minimal processed foods. Livestock (especially cattle) requires vast amounts of water, produce approximately 1/3 of all greenhouse gases, and result in the clear-cutting of rain forests for the production of animal feed.

6. Be a smart consumer – Find alternatives to avoid single use products and anything “disposable.” Smart consumers also purchase products that are designed to last, since similar amounts of water, electricity, and labor are required to produce cheaper items that will wear out sooner and need to be replaced. Shopping in consignment or thrift stores can also be a sustainable option.

7. Learn to navigate your community without a car – Although this can be a challenge in some communities, consider using local bus services, a bicycle, or walking when possible. When you do drive, try to take care of several errands in a single trip to save gasoline.

8. Save water where you can – This should go without saying, and I have certainly addressed this many times before. Simple changes, such as taking shorter showers, not leaving the water running while shaving, brushing your teeth, or working in the kitchen, waiting for full loads before using clothes and dish washers, and adopting smart lawn and garden watering practices can save hundreds or even thousands of gallons of water per year.

9. Save energy every day. The simple graphic can show you a few ways to save electricity, most of which will save you money on your electric bill.

10. Volunteer! – Join a local organization, such as FLOW, that focuses on sustaining our natural resources. Activities such as combating invasive species, restoring wetlands, picking up litter in our parks and along our water ways, and planting native trees, rain gardens, and pollinator gardens are vital for sustaining our natural habitat.

Actually, at this point I must confess that I lied earlier. Sustainability is actually about one thing. It is about that one thing that you do in your life to make your own life more sustainable. Make just one change in your life and stick with it. Once you focus on it long enough it will become a personal habit that you will do without thinking. Once that happens, make just one change in your life and…

-          Food for Thought

Saturday, May 13, 2017

“Dilemma of the American Constitution”

In the early 1960s, America was introduced to a new brand of British satirical comedy. Beyond the Fringe was a comedy stage revue written and performed by Alan Bennett (The Madness of King George, The Lady in the Van), Peter Cook (The Princess Bride), Dudley Moore (10, Arthur), and Jonathan Miller (The Body in Question). These four writer/performers have been credited with introducing Americans to a new brand of off-the-wall British comedy, opening doors to the stylings of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, The Secret Policeman’s Ball, and Faulty Towers, among many others.

So, why bring up an obscure British comedy? No, I am not an Anglophile. Okay, I enjoy a frequent British ale. And good Scotch… And gin… And I love fish and chips… And bangers and mash… And I drive an old Morris Minor… So maybe I am an Anglophile, but that isn’t the ONLY reason I mention it. There is an exchange during one particular routine that seems to address some of our current political troubles:
Moore: “Of Course you know the Americans must be frightfully jealous of our Royal Family.”
*mumbled agreement*
Bennett: “Except there is a sense where the President is the Queen and Prime Minister all rolled into one.”
Moore: “One what?”
Bennett: “Exactly, that’s the whole dilemma of the American Constitution.”
Perhaps, after over 50 years, we are finally realizing the dilemma Alan Bennett mentioned. Are we now finding a new answer to the question Moore asked? I believe we have.

For years, many Americans have replaced the adoration of the British royal family with worship of beauty and wealth. In addition to Trump, many Americans have followed the exploits of Paris Hilton, the Kardashian family, and numerous A and B list Hollywood celebrities. This adoration of the rich and beautiful has permeated our nation’s elections.

Since the televised debates between John Kennedy and Richard Nixon (many attribute Kennedy’s win, in part, to his more polished appearance over that of Nixon), there has been a growing emphasis on the appearance of our Presidential candidates rather than their policies or integrity. After all, Trump is the second President who can attribute his election, in part, to his past celebrity.

So does this mean the worship of wealth has translated into the creation of an American monarchy? If this is not the case, then someone should have mentioned to our current President that he is, in fact, not a king. After just over 100 days serving as the President, Donald Trump has done his best to establish himself as a new American Monarch. Consider some of his actions since taking the oath of office:

  • Executive Orders are presented with the fanfare of royal proclamations.
  • The Presidential admiration of dictators such as Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin, and Kim Jong-un.
  • His staff and publicists have been contradicted and have contradicted themselves during numerous interviews--often within the same sentence.
  • His first National Security Advisor was forced to resign, after serving less than a month, due to allegations of impropriety.
  • The presentation of “alternate facts”.
  • His daughter, (Princess) Ivanka, has an office in the West Wing and is a “special advisor.”
  • He has fired high-ranking government employees for simply not agreeing with him or swearing loyalty to him, such as former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates and former F.B.I. Director James Comey. (I wonder if--in private--he yelled “off with their heads.”)
  • The American tax payers are paying for the security of  Trump Tower to protect (Queen) Melania and (Prince) Barron who, at the time of this writing, have yet to move into the White House.
  • His son-in-law, (Prince) Jared, has been assigned multiple tasks varying from making government run more efficiently to bringing peace to the Middle-east.  Prior to the Trump Presidency, Jared Kushner’s largest business deal, apart from being born into wealth, was the purchase of an office building for a record $1.8 billion that lost money and value following the 2008 crash.
  • Oh, and did I mention alleged collusion with Russia?

Can anyone imagine a previous administration getting away with such action? In less than a year? Barack Obama had his very citizenship questioned by people who were unaware that Hawaii is a state. George H. W. Bush was criticized when he fell ill during a Japanese state dinner. Nixon resigned in disgrace because he attempted to cover-up the Watergate break in. Bill Clinton got caught lying about having sex with an intern and was impeached!

These offences seem to pale in comparison to the ongoing Constitutional clusterf*ck that is the Trump Administration. Americans are confronted every week, every day with at best, dishonesty, and at worst, treasonous behavior. Yet with all of this insanity, Trump still has an approval rating hovering around 36 percent. These Trump supporters, mainly conservatives, would have never supported a President with ties to Russia, an enemy. Is this simply "team loyalty," turning politics into a grotesque spectator sport? Or, perhaps, these Trump supporters are not supporting their President. Maybe they are devoted to their monarch, to someone they see as, dare I say it, as their heaven-sent King.

-- Food For Thought

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

A Geographic Election

Following the election and throughout the transition, many conservative and Republican voters, still basking in the victorious  GOP sweep, were patting themselves on the back and complimenting the Founding Fathers. After all, it was their "Genius" to create a system that prevented the dense population centers from "dictating" government policy to the rural regions. Meanwhile, liberals and Democrats were, once again, bemoaning the "obsolete" electoral college that, once again, allowed a Republican to win the White House without the popular vote (twice in the last 5 Presidential elections). Either way you look at it, you cannot deny that Donald Trump won the Presidency not by winning the most votes, but by a geographic anomaly.

United States Constitutional Convention - 1787
I do not disagree that the Founding Fathers were brilliant in the creation of this new nation and the revised Federal government in 1787. The original Federal Government, based on the Articles of Confederation, was ineffective. However, do not extend their genius to imply that they ever imagined their small republic would grow to 50 states. Nor could the Founding Fathers have ever imagined the financial strength and dominance of our current 2 political parties. Actually, the greatest measure of their genius can be found in Article 5 of the U.S. Constitution. This Article describes the process to amend the Constitution.

It would require a Constitution Amendment or another Constitutional Convention to eliminate the Electoral College. Short of that, there are several measures we can do as a nation to ensure that ALL elections are fair and ensure that each person's vote is counted equally. Most have been discussed in the news and social media, and many have one or more organizations dedicated to fighting and soliciting for (or against) these issues. These issues include:
  • eliminate gerrymandering;
  • reinstate election financial reform;
  • mandate Congressional term limits;
  • eliminate the winner-take-all approach to awarding State delegates;
  • mandate a minimum number of voting precincts in densely populated areas;
  • eliminate intrusive voter ID laws to address non-existent voter fraud; and 
  • make Election Day a Federal holiday.
In most cases I concur with making these changes, in others I am a bit more skeptical. Term limits would not be required if people would just vote and if some of these other measures became law. Furthermore, term limits would result in a revolving door of lobbyists and legislators. You would need to use a score card to tell current legislators from the former ones who would lobby for a living. I have even heard of proposing mandatory voting (which should not be required in a "free" society). However, nobody has mentioned one way to make our elections more fair: overturning of the Apportionment Act of 1911.

Apportionment Act of 1911

The number of each state's electoral college delegates is established by combining the number of the state's U.S. Representatives and adding 2 (for each Senator) as established in the Constitution (Article 2, Section 1, Clause 2). While it is clear that each state has 2 U.S. Senators, the number of elected Representatives was first established in Article 1, Section 2, Clause 3 of the U.S. Constitution which reads as follows:

Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons. The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct. The number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand, but each State shall have at Least one Representative; and until such enumeration shall be made, the State of New Hampshire shall be entitled to chuse [sic] three, Massachusetts eight, Rhode-Island and Providence Plantations one, Connecticut five, New-York six, New Jersey four, Pennsylvania eight, Delaware one, Maryland six, Virginia ten, North Carolina five, South Carolina five, and Georgia three.
It is clear from this clause that much of it is no longer valid. For example, the famous "three fifths compromise" was included to increase the representation of the southern states by counting each slave as 3/5 of a free white. However, it is clear that the intent of the Founding Fathers was to have representation based on population.

Obviously, we cannot maintain representation near the "number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand" requirement, which would require over 10,000 U.S. representatives. However we continue to maintain the 1 representative minimum for each state requirement.

The number of Representatives continued to grow until the Apportionment Act of 1911 was passed. This act limited the number of Representatives in the House to 435, when it was amended in 1912. This number has been maintained since the 63rd Congress, with one exception*. The Reapportionment Act of 1929 provided the method to reallocate the number of seats as population changes occurred and the Apportionment Act of 1941 made this process self-executing after each census.

* - There were 437 representatives in the 1950's when Alaska and Hawaii were admitted into the union. The number was reduced back to 435 following the 1960 census and the 1962 election.

Although I am not a fan of increasing the size of Congress, this maximum number poses two issues associated with congressional representation as well as the Electoral College.. First, the population in 1910 was over 92 million. By the 2010 census the US had grown to over 300 million. Second, each state is still required to have a minimum of one U.S. representatives (or 3 Electoral College delegates).

As the graphic indicates, residents from rural states have greater congressional representation in the House than do residence in states with greater populations. By dividing the population of California (the most populous state) by that of Wyoming (the least), California should have 66 Representatives and 68 electoral delegates (rather than 53 and 55, respectively) to match the amount of representation Wyoming has in the House and Electoral College. Based on this approach, Ohio should have 20 Representatives, rather than 16.

Obviously, the hallowed halls of the House would swell if each state's representation were based on the ratio of its population with the least populated state's. So what? Can you honestly say that Federal gridlock would worsen?


So how can we prevent another geographic Presidential election? There are many ways to balance representation in the House and improve our Presidential election process. Some of these ideas (eliminating the Electoral College or the minimum 1 Representative per state requirement) would require a Constitutional Amendment. Overturning or passing a new Apportionment Act would not require a Constitutional Amendment, but given our current Republican dominated government, it is unlikely to be introduced, let alone discussed.

Of course this is all moot when you consider that over 40 percent of eligible voters did not cast a vote during the past election. Off year and midterm elections consistently show even worse voter participation.

I have often heard it said that Americans deserve a better government. Based on that percentage of non-participation, I disagree. Americans have the government they deserve. we will only deserve a better system when more Americans start taking part in our government and actually voting.

-- Food for Thought