Archive for February, 2013

eliminating gerrymandering

The Article

David W. Miller, a faculty member in the Department of History at Carnegie Mellon University, wrote a wonderfully thoughtful article on 02/17/2013 describing a potential solution to eliminating the political bias inherent in district-drawing.

Miller writes tactfully when he first introduces the issue of gerrymandering.  He neglects to name names (though anyone who is aware of our political present knows instantly of whom he writes) because such a simple device bespeaks of the honesty of his suggested solution.  He understands that the redrawing of districts is, due to time, necessary.  He also understands that the growth and decay of populations adhering to our dominant political parties will ensure periods of greater rule for each—rule that will include oversight of the redrawing of districts.  So, if the examples he provided put the GOP in a bad light, it is only because they are the most recent party guilty of biased redrawing; the same should be evident in times when Democrats had greater rule; the same could be evident in the future for both parties.

Following this sensitive presentation of evidence, Miller shares the reason of why he’s writing—the unique qualification of having compiled a software database of census and federal elections data for use in his courses.  It would seem that if such a program could be used to witness the power-dynamics of the past, a similar program could be crafted to prevent unnecessary (and detrimental) power-dynamics of the future.  Again, Miller is no champion of finger-pointing; he is merely an intelligent person who stumbled upon a brilliant idea worth sharing.

And so he shares, suggesting that we ought to, with the assistance of technology, eliminate the threat of human bias by implementing a computer program for the sensible redrawing of districts.

The Content

I share this article with you because it is exemplary of what good news should do.  It presents an issue without undue accusation, it describes the origin of its own generation, and it concludes with an appeal that suggests a just solution.  Miller’s thinking mirrors that of a few writers I greatly admire, and whom I hope you might likewise find worth reading: Steven Johnson,  Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, and Malcolm Gladwell.

I also share this article because of its relevance to the issues that I normally write about—issues that are propagated by (and which have solutions inhibited by) politics.  When gerrymandering occurs, our political power as voters is manipulated—waxed and waned—according to the machinations of politicians.  In this way, politicians are evidenced as actors in an exercise of self-preservation, a sentiment captured by the article’s accompanying artwork, produced by artist Stacy Innerst, that nods respectfully to M.C. Escher’s Drawing Hands.

what do you think?

Thank you for reading.
Thank you for writing.

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failure of the courts

The Articles

I want to vomit.  No, I want to beat something to bits and vomit over the pieces and cry all the while.  Why so visceral?  Because for the past two days I’ve been confronted by articles in the newspaper that exhibit a horrific scene facilitated by the court that could easily be avoided by a practical and cheap solution.

The two articles (day 1, day 2) by Paula Reed Ward of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette describe the current trial of a suspected serial rapist.  If the charged crime itself elicits both disgust and rage from you, then you are human.  If the trial for such a crime seems like putting a band-aid on an amputation (yet must still be conducted for the sake of averting future horrors), then you are reasonable.  And if the articles encourage you to believe something is amiss in that courtroom, then you are a knife like me.

Ward seems to feel the same way—that’s why her articles open with narrative to pull our hearts through the meat grinder and end with partial courtroom transcriptions to demonstrate the fallout of a gap or flaw in courtroom procedure.

The Content

What disturbs me is twofold:

First, that the court failed to recognize the potential and unnecessary harm that would be imposed upon the victim-witnesses while encountering their accused violator.  This encounter is not a simple or proximal encounter either—in fact, the judge had wherewithal enough to demand that the defendant remain seated while conducting the cross-examination—but it is instead a complex encounter, a conversation of sorts designed to draw out relevant details that ought to sway juror opinion.  But in reading the partial transcript, it is evident that the defendant had no interest in swaying opinion.  In fact, it seems as though none of his questions substantiate a defense; rather, they seem to have but one end—to relive the episode.  Having but the most cursory of understandings of rape dynamics, I yet vaguely recalled it being purported that most rapes are assertions of power rather than unbridled lust or perversion.  Such were the obvious directives of this defendant’s cross-examination, and constitute a second violation of these victims as they are obligated by the court and the success of their case to answer their accused violator and in detail describe their helplessness at his hands.

Second, that such a circumstance has not yet been resolved!  Within hours of reading the first article, I wrote to a law-student friend and within minutes he replied that while the judge ought to have foreseen this complication (and the devastation it propagates), what’s more crucial and what removes the burden of a judge’s discretion is a change in courtroom procedure.  His proposed solution?  Allow the defendant to conduct his own defense—only this time, in recognition of the potential for his abuse of that right and privilege, allow him only to write the questions and assign a court clerk to actually ask them of the victim-witnesses.  This is merely a product of a moments’ discussion, and the issue begs more knowledgeable and capable actors for appropriate address.

What this case illustrates is a gross disparity between what the collective culture knows about the best treatment of individuals and what the local culture of any institution, group, family, or couple actually exhibits.  Our failure to share and embrace information and enact simple, practical solutions causes undue suffering and further retards our growth as a healthy global society.

what do you think?

Thank you for reading.
Thank you for writing.

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