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Prior to 1765, the American colonies were left largely to govern themselves. Britain attempted to enforce stricter authority following the end of the French and Indian War in 1763. The American colonies, unfortunately for Britain, had become accustomed to self-government over the course of the previous 150 years. You heard right … 150 years.

The 150-year period of self-governance resulted in stable and confident governments, and a collective identity separate from Britain. The historical reasons for this period of so-called salutary neglect are still debated in historical circles, likely a combination of conscious policies, imperial malfeasance, and luck.

During the Revolutionary War, the colonies organized the first federal government under the Articles of Confederation. Though adopted in 1777, the Articles did not go into effect until 1781 when the last of the colonies finally adopted them. The war ended in 1783. …

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I love our Declaration of Independence. Perhaps it’s because I’m an American and it’s been so deeply imprinted into our collective psyche. The Declaration defines how we Americans view freedom and liberty, not just for ourselves but for all of humanity.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Important words:

  • Truths that are self-evident
  • Humans that are all created equal
  • Unalienable Rights of Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness that have endowed by our…

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In the TV series Kung Fu (1972–75), an orphaned young boy is raised and trained to become a Shaolin priest before embarking on a journey through the American West. An elder mentor is the boy’s guide to adulthood. Training by his blind master often included the advice:

Patience, young grasshopper.

One of the ironies of aging is that for many of us, we experience a weird enhancement — even an acceleration — of patience. As someone rounding out my seventh decade circling the sun, I would have thought that quite the opposite would occur. …

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Photo by Marco Oriolesi on Unsplash

At this point, we political junkies are agonizing over the presidential election currently underway. We’re watching the polls, monitoring early voting statistics, and listening to the drivel that candidates and the media are spouting.

Though suspense hangs heavy in the air, I find myself (as befits a hard-core intuitive type) contemplating US politics after the election. In particular I’ve been speculatively considering what might happen to Republicans after November 3. Will the Republican Party

  • Remain foreseeably cast in the mold of Trump by continuing to embrace the constituency he spawned?
  • Be so severely damaged that it will be ostracized to the political wilderness for a generation? …

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Photo by John Bakator on Unsplash

When the US constitution was ratified in 1788 there were no political parties, though two quickly formed: Federalist and Democratic-Republican. Since then, there have always been two major parties in American politics. Since the Civil War, Republicans and Democrats have exclusively dominated the political landscape.

It is unfortunate that our system of single-member districts and plurality voting seems to naturally lead to a two-party duopoly (Duverger’s Law). First-past-the-post plurality systems with single member districts provide no reward for second place. Consequently, minor party and independent candidates are discouraged from running, and citizens are discouraged from “wasting” their votes.

Additionally, direct primaries permit competition within the major parties, further reducing the incentive for those with new ideas to form new parties. Regional parties rarely arise because of the nature of the US presidential election system that distributes electors in most states on a winner-take-all basis. These structural features essentially guarantee the persistence of the two-party system. …

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Early in our nation’s history, Congress set the date for Electoral College meetings to be the first Wednesday in December, further requiring that states choose their electors within the prior 34 days.

It was not until 1845, though, that Congress established a uniform election day, setting it 29 days before the Electoral College meeting. The Electoral College meeting date was later moved to the Monday after the second Wednesday in December. But the Tuesday election date in early November stuck — i.e., the Tuesday after the first Monday in November.

Why Tuesday? Why early November? …

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The First Amendment to the US Constitution contains some of the most important safeguards for a free society.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Three basic rights are enumerated in this amendment (separated by semicolons): 1) freedom of religion, 2) freedom of expression, and 3) freedom to assemble to petition the government. Freedom of expression includes “speech” and “press” in the same phrase. …

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As late as 1966, small political parties (i.e., other than Democrats and Republicans) could appear on the Texas ballot without restriction. A public rift inside the Constitution Party that year, however, caused the Texas Legislature in 1967 to enact a petition requirement for newly qualifying parties that basically continues to this day. The 1967 law exempted parties from petitioning if they polled at least 2% for governor in the previous election. Neither faction of the Constitution Party was ever again on the Texas ballot.

Current law stipulates that parties not exempted from petitioning must gather valid signatures in excess of 1% of the votes in the latest gubernatorial election (over 83,000 based on the 2018 vote) to gain ballot status. Signatures must be gathered during a 75-day petitioning window beginning after the March primary elections. Voters who participated in primary elections are forbidden to sign petitions. …

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Photo by Thomas Fields on Unsplash

Humans are social animals whose brains evolved to support complex social interactions. These interactions were more easily managed when we lived in small hunter-gatherer groups. Anthropologists suggest that our brains are of a size to handle close social relationships in groups that are roughly the size of hunter-gatherer groups — and a military company (100–250 people, with a commonly quoted value of 150). This concept is known as Dunbar’s number.

Around 12,000 years ago, the Neolithic Agricultural Revolution transformed humankind’s hunter-gatherer existence into one based on agriculture. By 5000 years ago, massive civilizations were developing around the world, resulting in increasingly complex organizations and today’s nation states. …

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Photo by Emil Jarfelt on Unsplash

Pam and I finally made it out to our little piece of heaven near Laramie. It had been more than a decade since we’d been there. Even after all this time, though, we’d never stopped thinking of the plot of land as our retirement destination. We’d spotted the lots for sale on our honeymoon road trip. Neither of us had much money then. But I had a decent job and the lots were cheap. Two years later we were able to scrape together the money.

For several years, we had traveled to Wyoming for an annual or sometimes bi-annual camping trip, even when the kids were little. As time went by and the kids and our lives got busier, the trips became less frequent. We thought about taking the grandkids sometime, but now the youngest ones were in high school. …


Mark Miller

Retired engineer; former university faculty; sometime statewide political candidate; part-time raconteur and provocateur.

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