Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Constitutional Heresy

Let us begin, Dear Readers, with these stirring words from the preamble to the Republican Platform 2016 -

"We believe the Constitution was written not as a flexible document, but as our enduring covenant."

With all due respect to those who view the Constitution as Muslims view the Quran - that it is absolutely true and perfect in every detail - I think you're wrong.

I'm getting ready to lay out the heretical case for updating the Constitution, so if you are one of those people whose heads explode at the very thought of tinkering with The Most Perfect Document Ever Devised By Man*, you may want to read something else. But if you are willing to consider some alternatives to the belief that the Founders delivered the Constitution like Moses coming down from the mountain with the Ten Commandments, read on.

First of all, consider this: if the Constitution were not written to allow some flexibility and adaptiveness to changing times, why did the Founders make provisions for its amendment (Article V)? The amendment process was made cumbersome and difficult to discourage frivolous changes (such as amendments to outlaw flag-burning or to define marriage according to religious dictates), but it nevertheless reflects the Founders' understanding that the United States would grow, develop, and change over time, and that the Constitution would need to be able to evolve with it.

Now, consider the issue of "states' rights." Leaving aside for a moment the politically and racially-charged interpretations of the term, let's look back at the document the Constitution replaced: the Articles of Confederation. Here's what Article II says -

"Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every Power, Jurisdiction and right, which is not by this confederation expressly delegated to the United States, in Congress assembled."

This is echoed in somewhat watered-down tone in the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution, which says -

"The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."

This reflects the delicate balance the Founders struck between the Federalists, who believed a strong central government was necessary to hold the country together, and the Anti-Federalists, who wanted to centralize power at the state and local level. The Federalists won the day, more or less, because the experience of trying to mold thirteen squabbling, quasi-independent states into a single nation required establishment of a government that could force them into some semblance of united action at the national level. We see the end result of the Anti-Federalist influence today, in the form of 50 states with a patchwork of uncoordinated and often conflicting laws and regulations that frequently inhibit interstate commerce and sow confusion in national decision making ... consider the wide variety of state laws governing elections as one example. Should we rethink the division of power between the federal government and the states? It's worth discussing.

And while we're at it, how are powers reserved "to the people?" Individual states have governments that can assume powers, but how do "the people" take on and execute powers of government?** And who are "the people," anyhow? Citizens? White citizens? Christians? It depends on who you ask, and the Constitution doesn't seem to be too clear on it.

Of particular interest in an election year, the Constitution does not allow for the direct popular election of the President, but rather by the electors of each state (Article II, Section 1, as modified by the 12th Amendment). This arrangement was created by the Founders because they didn't completely trust in the wisdom of "the people," and wanted to ensure that the nation was not governed by a tyranny of the majority. Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist 68 that

"The process of election affords a moral certainty, that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications." ***

Is this still a valid concern? Should the Constitution be revised or amended to provide for direct popular election? I don't know, but the question comes up every four years, and is probably worth debating.

The First Amendment says that Congress shall make no law abridging freedom of speech ... but are campaign contributions "speech?" It also says Congress shall make no law "respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," but is limiting the rights of one person because of the religious beliefs of another allowable under the Constitution?

The Fourth Amendment guarantees "the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures." What is an unreasonable search in an era of signals intelligence, GPS tracking, warrantless wiretaps, data mining, and imaging drones?

As long as we're making hamburger out of sacred cows, how about rethinking the Second Amendment? The amendment as written is confusing in one part (what does "a well-regulated militia being necessary" mean, anyhow?) and perfectly clear in another ("shall not be abridged"), and the courts that conservatives hate so much have come down fairly consistently on the most generous interpretation of the language. Political and social pressures combine to make any discussion of limiting gun rights all but impossible, but there is precedent for amending amendments - consider that the Eighteenth Amendment established Prohibition as part of the supreme law of the land (the Constitution), but the Twenty-First Amendment repealed it just 13 years later ... recognition that Prohibition might not have been a good idea after all. One of my more conservative friends recently commented on Facebook that the way to approach "gun control" would be to propose a Constitutional amendment and work through the amendment process to see if it could get enough support to be adopted. This is, of course, the right way to do it ... but in the America of 2016, where there are more guns than people, Congress has gone so far as to specifically forbid even the study of gun violence as a public health issue, and the gun lobby views any discussion in apocalyptic terms, it's not likely to get off the ground. You might as well get used to kevlar as a fashion accessory and active shooter drills as part of the education of our children.

I think it's time to recognize that it's 2016, not 1789, and call a new Constitutional Convention to update our founding document. Unfortunately, the times are such that it would probably be impossible to gather a group of well-informed, thoughtful citizens willing to calmly discuss issues of such critical importance ...

But compared to some of my other fantasies††, I think it's worth a try.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* Well, except for those parts about slavery that were in the original.

** Yes, yes, I know ... by voting to elect the government that exercises the power on their behalf. But that's not quite what the Tenth Amendment says, is it?

*** I wonder what he would make of Donald Trump.

† From the gun advocates' perspective, anyway.

†† Trust me, you don't want to know.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Musical Monday

Back in the day, my favorite musical group was Gary Lewis and the Playboys, and one of my favorite Gary Lewis songs was this one ...

I thought perhaps it could be a good GOP theme song for the upcoming election ... but then I don't want to smear the memory of this great group, and the Trump campaign has enough trouble with artists who don't want them using their music.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, July 24, 2016

Poetry Sunday

In last Thursday's post, I ruminated on the decline of manners and the bizarre idea in some quarters that the members of a society must be packing heat to be polite. It reminded me of this poem by Elizabeth Bishop ...


For a child of 1918
My grandfather said to me
as we sat on the wagon seat,
"Be sure to remember to always
speak, to everyone you meet."
We met a stranger on foot.
My grandfather’s whip tapped his hat.
"Good day, sir. Good day. A fine day.”
And I said it and bowed where I sat.
Then we overtook a boy we knew
with his big pet crow on his shoulder.
"Always offer everyone a ride;
don’t forget that when you get older,”
my grandfather said. So Willy
climbed up with us, but the crow
gave a "Caw!" and flew off I was worried.
How would he know where to go?
But he flew a little way at a time
from fence post to fence post, ahead;
and when Willy whistled he answered.
“A fine bird,” my grandfather said,
“and he’s well brought up. See, he answers
nicely when he’s spoken to.
Man or beast, that’s good manners.
Be sure that you both always do.”
When automobiles went by,
the dust hid the people faces,
but we shouted ”Good day! Good day!
Fine day!” at the top of our voices.
When we came to Hustler Hill,
he said that the mare was tired,
so we all got down and walked,
as our good manners required.

The Golden Rule still applies, even in the age of Trump. Try it, you'll like it.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, July 23, 2016

Cartoon Saturday

As the old movie title would tell us, it's a mad, mad, mad, mad world ...

Senator Ted Cruz was booed off the stage at the Republican National Convention for refusing to endorse Donald Trump for president; a British nuclear submarine was damaged in a "glancing collision" with a merchant vessel; nine people were murdered in a suspected terror attack at a shopping center in Munich, Germany; religious authorities in Saudi Arabia have issued a fatwa (religious decree) against Pokemon Go, declaring that the popular game is "un-Islamic" ... the Saudi government has denied that a fatwa has been issued, although a general anti-Pokemon fatwa (#21758) was issued 15 years ago, and still appears on the list of fatwas at the clerical website; and Russian athletes may be banned altogether from the Rio Olympics next month as a result of a huge doping scandal.

We need something to take our minds off the misery, so this week, let's get with some physical activity and check out a collection of cartoons related to sports of all kinds ...

The rules keep evolving ...

Designated gondoleer ...

Signals need to be clear and unambiguous to be useful ...

They also need to cover all the important messages that might be sent ...

It's probably time to update the old songs ...

How to get the fighter really angry ...

Galley slaves, 2016 ...

Yes, that would be me ...

Well, yes ... yes he does ...

Baseball is a game of statistics, some more useful than others ...

And it's the weekend. At least here in NoVa, it's much too hot to play baseball, or pretty much anything else, outside, so it's a good day to catch up on housecleaning, binge-watch your favorite show, or whatever.

Have a good day and a great weekend, drink lots of water, stay cool, and come back tomorrow for Poetry Sunday.

More thoughts then.


Friday, July 22, 2016

Great Moments in Editing and Signage

Yes, Dear Readers, it's that time again - when we celebrate some of the stranger moments in questionable editing and weird (sometimes even intentionally bizarre) signage. This week, we're featuring signs dealing with meat and fish, so let's get right to it ...

Today's militant Evangelicals can't be too careful when selecting their entrees ...

Be sure to defrost before wearing ...

It works for me, too ...

I think I'll pass ...

When you need a sandwich for a formal occasion ...

I don't need that much turkey, either, but it is an election year ...

Probably a little hard on the teeth ...

I hope they're cheap ...

I think it will need to be cooked for a long time ...

Reverend Hannibal Lecter, presiding ...

And there you've managed to get to the meat of the issue.

Have a good day, and come back tomorrow for Cartoon Saturday. More thoughts then.


Thursday, July 21, 2016

What Constitutes A Polite Society?

You've almost certainly heard this famous quote from the story "Beyond This Horizon" by science fiction author Ray Bradbury ...

"An armed society is a polite society. Manners are good when one may have to back up his acts with his life."

There's been some discussion over exactly what Bradbury meant to say with this line in the context of the story, but there's no doubt at all that it is taken at face value by present-day gun rights advocates, particularly those who support the right to carry firearms, openly or concealed, at all times and in all places. In a 2000 essay titled "Armed Citizens are Responsible Citizens," William Levinson wrote,

     "The common perception is that armed societies were polite because an act of rudeness might evolve into a duel, as portrayed in Dumas' The Three Musketeers. The real reason, though, is the mindset and psychology that come with responsible weapon ownership [emphasis in the original]. The knight's sword was a symbol of his duty to protect weaker members of society and behave chivalrously, e.g. with respect and courtesy to women, elderly people, and so on. The sword was the soul of the Japanese samurai, a constant reminder of the samurai's duty and code of behavior. The sword was a symbol of taking responsibility, not only for one's self, but usually for others. 
     "The modern American who buys a firearm for self-protection is saying, "I recognize that life involves danger, and by owning a weapon I accept my responsibility to protect myself and those who are entitled to my protection-- my wife/husband, children, parents, and perhaps friends and neighbors."

The events of the last few weeks lead me to question Mr Levinson's concept of "the mindset and psychology that come with responsible gun ownership" because responsibility is something that nowadays plays second fiddle to freedom. I would argue that it is not responsible to openly carry a weapon into a volatile situation where violence might break out at any time ... the responsible thing to do would be to avoid such a situation if at all possible, or at least to not take actions that might make it worse. Comparing an open-carry advocate to a chivalrous knight or a samurai seems a bit of a stretch.

Obviously, advocates of gun ownership and ostentatious open carry would disagree.

But the issue is, to me, not one of whether or not packing heat everywhere is a good idea ... although I don't think it is. The issue is what makes a society polite.

I grew up in a time in which people in general were much more polite and respectful toward one another than they are today. My parents and the parents of most of my friends placed a great deal of emphasis on personal probity and good manners, and raised us to do the same. Nowadays, it seems that civility and good manners are considered marks of weakness. You don't build "street cred" by being polite ... you build it by getting in everyone's face. One need only look at the behavior of Donald Trump to see how low our standards of personal decorum have dropped.

In his 1998 book Civility: Manners, Morals, and the Etiquette of Democracy, Stephen L. Carter wrote that

"Civility requires that we express ourselves in ways that demonstrate our respect for others."

 Good luck finding that civility in the current overheated presidential campaign, where respectful and polite discourse vanished long ago. We are preparing to choose a president based on our relative evaluation of the brutal ad hominem attacks that have taken the place of detailed discussion of important issues of policy.

In a polite society, people strongly disagree with each other, but treat each other with dignity and respect. We can dislike the ideas but be civil toward the person expressing them. No more.

I have been accused of hypocrisy on this topic because, while advocating civility and politeness, I present my Ass Clown awards in this blog. While my intent is not mean-spirited, the presentation of such an award isn't especially civil, and perhaps I should work toward morphing those awards into something more satirically pointed and less vulgar. I guess I'll work on that.

But to get back to my original point, from which I think I've wandered ... let me just wrap this up by suggesting that if we need to pack heat to enforce politeness, we're screwed. We just need to treat each other better. We need people to show that they're of a better ... caliber.

Have a good day. See you tomorrow for our second July iteration of Great Moments in Editing and Signage. More thoughts then.


Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The "Lighter" Side of Campaign 2016

The ongoing circus of the 2016 presidential campaign is depressing to everyone except, of course, comedians and cartoonists. Here are a few of the better election-related bits I've collected so far ...

 I feel the same way ...

I think I've found my candidate ...

One of the untold stories of the Constitutional Convention ...

How about considering a few of the alternative candidates? ...

True dat ...

Every day it sounds like more and more of a plan ...

Finally, here's the suggestion I heartily endorse for improving the quality of this year's campaign, not that it has the least chance of being adopted ...

And there's still three and a half months to go until the election. Oy.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Solving the Squirrel Problem*

A mid-sized city in the heartland of America had a problem - it was overrun with squirrels. The problem was particularly acute for the city's churches which, in addition to the simple fact of the huge number of squirrels, were faced with the additional problem of dealing with them in a religiously appropriate and moral fashion. Here's how some of the denominations approached the problem ...

The Presbyterians called a meeting to discuss what to do. After much prayer and introspection, they determined the squirrels were predestined to be there and they shouldn't interfere with God's divine will. The squirrels stayed.

At the Baptist Church, the squirrels tended to congregate in the baptistery. The deacons met and decided to install a water slide so the squirrels would drown themselves in the baptismal pool. Squirrels, however, know instinctively how to swim. They liked the slide, and twice as many squirrels showed up the following week.

The Episcopal Church decided that they should not harm any of God's creatures, so they humanely trapped their squirrels and set them free near the Baptist Church. Two weeks later the squirrels were back when the Baptists took down the water slide.

The Catholics baptized all the squirrels and consecrated them as members of the church. Now they only see them on Christmas and Easter.

The rabbi at the local Jewish Synagogue set a trap and caught one squirrel. He circumcised the squirrel and let him go, and they haven't seen a squirrel on their property since.

The Mormons sent pairs of missionaries to talk to each squirrel. The squirrels were gone the next day.

At the local mosque, the imam welcomed the squirrels, but had to create two new prayer areas so the male and female squirrels could pray separately.

The Evangelicals were so thrilled at the thought of the squirrels coming to Jesus that they gathered together and shouted "Hallelujah!!" over and over. The noise was so great it scared the squirrels away. Problem solved.


Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* Thanks to my old and somewhat twisted friend Ken, who sent me the original joke on which this post is based.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Musical Monday

The Republican National Convention starts in Cleveland today. I think we need to call on Bobby McFerrin to help get us through the week ...

Sadly, I'm still worried. But it's a cute song, anyhow ... who else would rhyme "late" and "litigate?"

News Flash: I have decided to combine my Poetry Sunday and Musical Monday posts down to a single day. Starting next month, Sundays will alternate between Poetry and Music in the same way that Fridays now alternate between the Editorial Gems and the Ass Clown Awards. While both topics are reasonably popular, the statistics on readership and number of comments suggest that it might be better to dedicate one day and alternate the topics ... plus, it will give me four days each week, rather than three, to bloviate about other things. This is no small advantage in an election year.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, July 17, 2016

Poetry Sunday

Now that I'm retired, a quiet life is what I want. I want to do the things I enjoy doing, to watch my grandchildren grow up, to write my blog and the occasional letter, to read, and to tend my little garden. What I desire in life isn't a properly boiled egg ... although this poem by Baron Wormser makes the contemplation of that egg seem pretty interesting ...

A Quiet Life 

What a person desires in life
    is a properly boiled egg.
This isn’t as easy as it seems.
There must be gas and a stove,
    the gas requires pipelines, mastodon drills,
    banks that dispense the lozenge of capital.
There must be a pot, the product of mines
    and furnaces and factories,
    of dim early mornings and night-owl shifts,
    of women in kerchiefs and men with
    sweat-soaked hair.
Then water, the stuff of clouds and skies
    and God knows what causes it to happen.
There seems always too much or too little
    of it and more pipelines, meters, pumping
    stations, towers, tanks.
And salt-a miracle of the first order,
    the ace in any argument for God.
Only God could have imagined from
    nothingness the pang of salt.
Political peace too. It should be quiet
    when one eats an egg. No political hoodlums
    knocking down doors, no lieutenants who are
    ticked off at their scheming girlfriends and
    take it out on you, no dictators
    posing as tribunes.
It should be quiet, so quiet you can hear
    the chicken, a creature usually mocked as a type
    of fool, a cluck chained to the chore of her body.
Listen, she is there, pecking at a bit of grain
    that came from nowhere.

I think I may have a nice boiled egg for breakfast, but without all the ruminations about how it got to the table. If I think too long, my coffee will get cold.

Have a good day. See you tomorrow for Musical Monday. More thoughts then.