REVIEW: The Cure for Our Broken Political Process

The full title of this book is The Cure for Our Broken Political Process: How We Can Get Our Politicians to Resolve the Issues Tearing Our Country Apart by Sol Erdman and Lawrence Susskind. Despite the overly long title, it's actually a fairly quick read and written in a style accessible to the average reader.

The premise of the book is that Americans are uninvolved in the political process because they feel their votes don't matter, their perspectives aren't represented in Congress and the current system results in such gridlock that nothing ever gets done. To remedy this, the authors have a number of ideas, but the centerpiece of the book is Personally Accountable Representation.

Personally Accountable Representation (PAR) consists of a few elements, the major ones being as follows:

- Preferential ballots. Rather than "winner takes all," we would rank our preferred candidates and there would be a handful of winners, likely broken into a third liberals, a third moderates and a third conservatives.
- Expanded districts with more representatives. Three representatives per district would likely be ideal to improve the chances of one representative being close to your perspective.
- Self-selected constituents. After an election, each voter gets a card listing the winners. The voter then has the option of returning that card to the representative who best represents them. They would then receive regular updates from that representative and hold that individual accountable.

There are many other elements, but those stand out. Presumably, implementation of PAR at the House level (Constitutional roadblocks prevent its use for Senate elections) would result in an electorate that is more involved in the political process, a greater sense of citizens being represented, increased accountability in government, and less legislative gridlock.

These objectives are lofty--and the authors admit as much--but their hope is that these principles will take root at the grassroots level. In time, once people have seen the effectiveness in the local school councils, board rooms, city government, etc., it is hoped that they will demand change at the state and national levels.

So would it work?

Tough to say. They make a compelling argument. I'll admit I was a bit skeptical about this book before reading it. Last year's election was long on style but short on substance, and I was tempted to lump this in with the other "change for the sake of change" notions floating around. PAR has some merit, though, and the authors have gone to great lengths to discuss the pros and cons and look at ways of mitigating many of the cons.

I think the bottom line is that PAR probably couldn't hurt. Increased voting for its own sake is of little value. Frankly, I'd like fewer people voting if those who did would educate themselves. If PAR succeeded in increasing people's knowledge about candidates and motivated them to stay informed and hold their elected officials accountable, it could be a great thing. For me that's the strongest argument for such a system. Gridlock in Congress, on the other hand, is a mixed bag. With government as bloated as it is, a bit of inaction on the part of the Big Spenders is not necessarily a bad thing.

Simply from a writing perspective, The Cure was very effective. After a short intro, the book is primarily dialog between legislators and their staff (semi-fictional) hashing out ways to improve the political system. This works well and keeps a potentially dry topic interesting. Beyond that, there is a wealth of demographic and other data, as well as an extensive appendix full of expansions of some of the ideas, stories of similar ideas tried elsewhere, etc.

All in all, I'd say Erdman and Susskind have done an admirable job of applying their years of experience in mediation to the political process. The Cure for Our Broken Political Process will likely appeal most to independents who've traditionally not been well represented but would be a good read for anyone interested in politics. If nothing else, it will likely get you thinking in fresh ways about how we got here politically and what we can do about it.

In the near future, I will follow-up with my own ideas about our current political state and some suggestions for making things better.

[For the sake of full disclosure, I should note that I was sent a free copy of this book to review. I have tried not to let that unduly influence me one way or the other.]


Coleson Academy for the Gifted, Talented & Adorable

Last year, my daughter Addy turned five. Leading up to that, my wife and I debated and prayed about what to do for her schooling. Despite Chicago Public Schools being famously bad in general, Jen and I both went to public schools and survived. So, we applied to a couple of the better elementary schools and didn’t get her in.

We then made appointments to visit the two schools in our neighborhood but weren’t impressed with either of them. We’d thought about private school, as well, but the cost is prohibitive and would pretty much impossible once we had two kids enrolled. So, we started researching homeschooling—well, Jen did the bulk of this and I’m grateful to her—and quickly warmed to the idea.

Since last fall, we’ve been holding school in our dining room. Jen teaches most days, but since I was laid off I’ve been able to teach a day or two each week, as well. It has been great! Here’s what I/we like about it:

Homeschooling is efficient. With one-on-one attention, you’re not dragging out school into an all day affair simply because those are the hours the school’s open. Home school lasts long enough to cover the material each day and allow for one or two of Daddy’s nutty tangents, and then it’s over. No wasting time.

Speaking of tangents, homeschooling allows for spontaneity and creativity. If we want to take a field trip related to something we’re studying, we can. If we want to act out a story we just read, do a spontaneous craft or look up supplemental videos about what we’re learning online, we can. I love having the freedom to flesh things out on the spot and make dull things more interesting when I see the kids' eyes glazing over.

Homeschooling is flexible. We’ve been going with a 4-day week, generally, but some weeks it may be 3, other weeks it may be 5. We do school in the morning but we don’t have to. We can have yearround school, or we can take breaks as we see fit.

Homeschooling gives my daughter (and my son--he sits in) a better education that she'd get in a public school for considerally less cost than a private school. She's learning things in kindergarten that I didn't learn until 3rd grade. For me, kindergarten was about counting, the alphabet, naps and crafts. She's doing science experiments, hearing poems and full-length books (The Boxcar Children, The Wizard of Oz, etc.), studying history, learning addition, etc. She also participates in social activities through the church and other groups and is taking dance classes.

Lastly, I know that my kids are getting truth and not whatever nonsense is in mental fashion. We're able to integrate our faith into the teaching and, though we're not wrestling with too much controversy yet, we will be able to address all sides of an issue and not simply the "approved" perspective.

Homeschooling isn't for everyone. It requires patience and a desire to push through the tough days. It takes time, energy and creativity. Some circumstances simply don't make it workable. But if you're curious about it all, I encourage you to look into it and talk to those who are doing it.


Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana

If you haven't heard, some time back Anne Rice--the one famous for her vampire novels--returned to the Catholic faith of her youth and vowed to use her gift for God's glory. To this end, she's written an autobiography and two novels about the life of Christ. I'd previously read the first novel, Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt, and just finished Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana.

These novels differ quite a bit from her previous work. They're well-written but in a simpler, lighter style. More notable than the change in style is the perspective she tackles. Both are written in first person from Jesus' perspective. Yes, it is audacious. Some might even argue that it's blasphemous to even go there. But I'd say it's as well done as such a thing can be, adroitly balancing Christ's humanity and divinity, and a fascinating "what if?"

In both books, I felt there were times when Rice was uncomfortably close to the edge of what I thought was presumptuous, less so in the first book because she was dealing with a period in Jesus' life that we know little about. In The Road to Cana, we get a speculative account of the connections between stories we are familiar with in Jesus' life. This seem somewhat riskier. But, if you look to it not as Scripture but as an effort to portray Jesus and his community as living, breathing beings with real feelings, relationships and temptations, I think it is rewarding. The descriptions of Jewish life, apparently thoroughly researched, are intriguing all on their own.

The Road to Cana ends with the turning of water into wine, essentially the beginning of Christ's public ministry. I'll be curious to see if Rice continues this series. I do recommend these first two books but encourage you to press through any uncomfortable parts, for I think you'll find the resolutions satisfactory, even moving. Though the portrayals weren't always as I would've written them, I do believe Rice intends to honor Jesus and portray him true to his character and natures.


Current Reads

I just added a little sidebar to this blog called Current Reads. Depending on how interesting/challenging/whatever the books are, I may offer a brief review. Even if I don’t, I’ll share what I’m currently reading. Generally, I read a few books at a time, generally at least one fiction, one non-fiction and whatever the current selection is for our small group, Dead Theologians Society.

I just finished Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy. Nine hundred plus pages of poetry and endnotes. Whew. If you’re not familiar with the work, it is divided into three books—The Inferno (Hell), The Purgatorio (Purgatory) and The Paradiso (Heaven) and follows the author’s fictional trek through each of the possible afterlives. The Inferno is often required reading in English classes and for good reason. It is fascinating, bleak and vivid. Dante's hierarchy of punishments is the most famous aspect of this book and perhaps the most interesting. The punishment fits the crime, as they say, and often dark comically. The Purgatorio and The Paradiso aren't quite as spellbinding, unfortunately, though Paradiso has some poignant moments.

Though a classic and worth wading through, you'll likely find yourself skimming through the allusions to myriad Italians, both blessed and condemned. I have to wonder how well Dante got along with some of his countrymen after drafts of The Divine Comedy came out. Perhaps, as in Purgatory, some offered supplication to him for a favorable portrayal.

It was interesting to ponder Purgatory. I am not a Roman Catholic and find nothing in Scripture to suggest the existence of such a place. I have to say that it's fairly depressing, this strict regimen of prayers and penance. Those with praying friends might get sprung early but those without are out of luck. It diminishes Christ's sacrifice. His death PLUS a few years bearing a millstone will get us into Heaven? On this Good Friday, I have to say that His sacrifice for us was enough.