The Fault, dear Brutus, lies not in our stars

Last Friday I had occasion to visit Peachtree Publishers in Atlanta and meet their president Margaret Quinlin.  She gave me a copy of their newest big publication, Fault Lines in the Constitution: the framers, their fights, and the flaws that affect us today, by Cynthia Levinson and Sanford Levinson.  It is a triumph and this is a rave review.

The book is aimed at the middle reader, but as far as I’m concerned every sentient being in this country[1] should read it and discuss it everywhere.  The authors are thorough, honest, and more than a little skeptical about the solidity of our governing document.  They have reason to be.

A little background: back in 1987, at the bicentennial of the Constitutional Convention, the Newnan-Coweta Historical Society asked the Newnan Community Theatre Company to come up with some kind of presentation/performance for them that addressed this epochal moment in our history.  It fell to me as artistic director at the time to devise the entertainment.

That summer, at GHP, I read the complete The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787, compiled and edited by Max Farrand.  Even though the delegates worked in absolute secrecy and the recording secretary burned all deliberations, James Madison kept copious notes (which he edited selectively later in life).  To this document, Farrand added all other diaries/letters/correspondence that he could find, and the result is a fascinating read.  Those men argued over everything: every word, every comma, every idea.

The point is that the Constitution we ended up with was by no means foreordained.  In fact, the eventual performance piece NCTC came up with asked the audience members (seated in groups relative to the size of the thirteen colonies) to decide the nature of the Executive, and both nights they dumped our current arrangement in favor of a single executive elected for a single term of six years.  Expecting a worshipful experience of a perfect document, they were surprised and delighted to be shown there was more to it.

Fault Lines covers this concept of argument and compromise brilliantly.  Each chapter follows the same outline:

  1. Introductory story of some recent foofaraw which illustrates a problem springing from the Constitution as written
  2. “Meanwhile, back in 1787…”, in which the debate over the problem is discussed and the reasons given for the final decision
  3. “So what’s the big problem?”, which details why the compromise has unraveled or caused problems, often because of vagueness in wording or the founders’ astonishing lack of prescience for 200 years in the future
  4. “There are other ways”, outlining how the states and other countries deal with the issue (spoiler alert: there are other ways)
  5. “The story continues” with the authors looping back around to the introductory story and giving us the upshot

The final section is the most agitating, in every sense of the word.  The authors grade the Constitution and how well it has delivered on the promises in the Preamble.  (It gets an overall C+.)  Then the authors, responding to James Madison’s comment that “it is incumbent on their successors to improve and perpetuate it,” list some very uncomfortable ways we might go about doing that:

  1. Change Senate rules (i.e., get rid of the filibuster)
  2. Pass new laws (mostly about the structure of representation)
  3. Develop work-arounds to the Electoral College
  4. Amend the Constitution, with a long laundry list of items derived from the discussions in the rest of the book

Finally, the authors have a one-on-one debate as to the wisdom of going full Leeroy Jenkins with a Constitutional Convention to upset the entire apple cart.  It’s enough to keep you up at night, which at this point in our history is saying something.  (I should say that the book is very current, referencing the current administration and some of its actions.  The section on the 25th Amendment is particularly pointed and reflects some of my own writing, here and here.)

So, teachers, want a resource to celebrate our annual MANDATED CONSTITUTION DAY LESSONS COMRADE[2] on Sep 17?  Requisition a classroom set of this bombshell and watch the children’s minds crack open.  And probably their parents’ heads explode.

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[1] I am aware this does not include everyone in this country.

[2] I’m actually in favor of requiring the study of the Constitution, just probably not in the way that the über-patriots who have mandated it intended.

Witless

Here’s an article from the New Yorker, “Why is Donald Trump Still So Horribly Witless About the World?”  Go read it.

As hard as it is for me to believe, there’s still that 27% hardcore lump of citizens who think the Current Embarrassment is actually being successful at his job.  To them, it’s a good thing that he’s like a coked-up bull in the china shop of the world stage.  “Heck yeah,” they shout, “USA! USA! Kick butt!”  Or words to that effect.

It does not seem important to them to take into account All The Things that make up international relations, not history, not protocol, not expertise.  They live in an imaginary world where the Middle East is all terrorists (except for Israel); China is a backwards Maoist dunghill; and the U.S. acts unilaterally no matter what the circumstances might be.  USA! USA!

They never see that, like their leader, their ignorance and bluster will not produce the results they were hoping for.  They’re just glad they finally have someone who will disregard all those effete intellectuals and Make America Great Again.

So let me present an analogy that I imagine many of them will find relatable.  Feel free to share it with your witless uncle.

You’re at work.  You like your job.  You like your company.  You’ve worked there for a long time, and you’ve gotten to know the ins and outs of the command chain, the production process, the purchasing process, the company’s competitors.  You know who to go to in order to get things done: Marcia for requisitions, Bill for project management, Laketha for personnel.  You know Rachel can’t be trusted to keep a secret and Austin’s a backstabber.

Then they hire a new boss. Let’s call him Ronald.  Ron.

Ron is pig-ignorant.  He’s never even been in the industry before, and it doesn’t look like he wants to learn about it.  He got hired because he can “shake things up.”  You know the type.

So Ron issues memos that don’t make sense and often conflict with company policy.  He makes everything personal.  He fires Marcia.  Bill quits.  He reorganizes your department in ways that are confounding.   He promotes Austin because Austin sucks up to him.  He does not ask for input, nor will he listen to anyone who offers it.  He’s degrading and abusive in meetings; Laketha has left in tears more than once.  He will not sign off on your vacation time.

Ron insults your partners and sets up meetings with your competitors.  He cancels longstanding contracts with suppliers.  He announces changes to the product line that have not been tested or approved, and if implemented will destroy the company’s bottom line.  He’s the epitome of both Dilbert‘s Pointy-Haired Boss and The Office‘s Michael Scott.

In other words, Ron walks into the job and ignores everything that’s important about the job and the company.  He dismisses it.  He shakes things up.

The Current Embarrassment is that guy.  He’s your nightmare boss Ron, only with nuclear codes and China and the U.S. economy at stake.

And that is why expert after expert has abandoned longstanding tradition and uses words like “witless, clueless, appalling ignorance, studious rejection of in-depth knowledge, unteachable, completely irredeemable” to describe him.  This is not some liberal plot to discredit the man. This is Marcia and Bill and Laketha (and you) trying to get the shareholders and the board to understand why the man has got to go.

Still weird to me

The other day, my Lovely First Wife went to the Kroger together, which is not always as rollicking an adventure as you might think.  I, as a male-type man, have a list of three items, and so naturally one goes in and gets three items and is on one’s way.  She, on the other hand, will need one item—a bag of lettuce, let us say—and yet will push a cart up and down every aisle.  One must look and see “what they have.”

On this occasion I was willing to play along, and so we began to mosey through the produce section.  It is important for you to realize that we were at the “old” Kroger; in Newnan we have three, the original “old” Kroger in town, the “new” Kroger out a little ways past the interstate, and then the “other” Kroger way out in the middle of the exurban enclaves towards Peachtree City.

In town, we have the old Kroger.  We are allowed to call it the ghetto Kroger; those who live out with the “other” Kroger are not.

So there we are in the produce section of the old Kroger, and we are both struck suddenly that we are looking at jackfruit.  We don’t know we are looking at jackfruit—we have to look at the tag.

We were astonished.  These things are about the size of a football, and the label reminds you to wear gloves when you cut them open, since the alligator-like skin apparently will lacerate you.

Perhaps you have already heard of jackfruit.  We had not, and in fact it was only when I went to find a picture—because I assumed that no one would know what it was—that I discovered that it’s a thing now?  Serves us right for not being vegans.

Here, have a sampling of headlines:

So that was weird enough, but this post is not about jackfruit.  It was just a symptom.  Because the jackfruit had stopped us in our tracks, we paused to see what else was there.  We found three different brands of kiwi, and two versions of coconut.  Coconuts.  In Newnan.

We’ve had this weird feeling before, and I blogged about it before: the options available to us in our grocery stores in no way resembles what was available to our parents.  Perhaps your parents—and here, by “parents” I mean “mother”—cooked everything from fresh with amazing ingredients from all over the world, but my mother, faced with feeding five kids, used every shortcut, every canned item, every pre-processed food she could.

I, on the other hand, can wander down the condiment aisle and be amazed by:

Peruvian Aji Amarillo?  And what on earth is Shichimi Togarashi?  Where’s the Tabasco™ Sauce?

Okay then.  We have our choice of aiolis.

Vinaigrettes.

We have choices for finishing sauces. FINISHING SAUCES, KENNETH.

Astute readers will notice that not only are there amazing, fabulous choices for condiments in the ghetto Kroger in Newnan, GA, but these are all store brands.  (Full disclosure: we have found that Kroger’s Private Selection items are pretty awesome.)

But even so…

…I have a choice between two roasted raspberry chipotle sauces.

Here’s the deal.  I know there are segments of the population who might grumble that if canned potatoes were good enough for Mom (and Tabasco™ sauce for Dad), then they’re good enough for me.  But I say huzzah—how wonderful that I have these choices, even in the ghetto Kroger of Newnan, GA.  It’s almost as if our nation looked around and decided that there was value in diversity.

::mic drop::

One wonders

Do you think the Current Embarrassment thinks he is “transforming” the Office of the Presidency?  (I mean, he is, but not in the way he probably thinks he is.)

Or is he just fupping stupid?

The labyrinth in summer

Have you ever wished for a plain old dirt path labyrinth?

Me neither.

But that’s what I’ve got:

It’s never been this bad.  And I have a group coming to visit on Saturday, a Mindful Walk.  I’ve warned their leader that it’s not all green and pretty, and there’s not enough time to plant seed and have it come up—even if it did come up, I wouldn’t want mindful pilgrims trampling it.  So maybe next week, after I get back from my jaunt up to the new burn site.

Ugh.

A new adventure

If you’ve read this blog for even a year, you know that in my spare time I am a dirty freaking hippie who attends “burns,” which are regional events modeled on Burning Man.

Not only that, but since I am cursed with skills and competence I have risen in the ranks of leadership to Placement Lead, which means that when the 130+ theme camps register, I get to decide where they’re placed on the map.  And not only that, but because of the organization’s moving from its long-time venue a couple of years ago, we’ve been on new land three times in two years, which means that as Placement Lead I get to design the burn from the literal ground up.

I am not complaining.  It’s a huge amount of work, but it appeals to the ritualist in me to be able to take a piece of property and lay out boulevards and squares and byways that add up to a complete, explorable, community.

Here’s the new home for Alchemy (our fall burn):

—click to embiggen—

It’s a lovely farm, owned by a burner, in northwest Georgia.  As always, it’s not as flat as it looks from space, but it’s flat enough to be an exciting canvas.

For those keeping score, here are the things on my list of things to procrastinate:

I do hope I haven’t forgotten anything…

Dear Mr. Dickle, I fixed it for you.

The other day my good friend Pilliard Dickle (no really) showed up in my labyrinth and gave me a copy of his new book, Avocado Avenue.  It is published by Boll Weevil Press, who will also publish Lichtenbergianism: procrastination as a creative strategy in a few short weeks.

It is, like all of Billiard’s work, inventive and twisted and funny and highly entertaining.

However,  I have to say that after reading the first eleven pages I was fully expecting that it would end in cataclysm and flame.  It only made sense, given the subtle buildup of absolute stasis on Sally and Rodney’s front porch.

I was severely disappointed, then, when it failed to live up to my expectations.  It was much the same when George Lucas failed to end Episode III: Revenge of the Sith in an appropriate manner.  Or when Peter Jackson made three Hobbit movies instead two.  Or when Michael Bay made movies.

This time, though, since Dilliard is such a dear friend, I am able to fix it for him.

And now, the exciting conclusion of Avocado Avenue

BACK ON THE PORCH, LATER, AND WHAT HAPPENED THEN[1]

Sally opened the front door.  It was long past midnight.

“What on earth are you doing out here?” she asked. The old man was standing there, agitatedly staring out into the dark.

“It ain’t right,” the old man muttered.  “It ain’t right.”

“What’s not right?” asked Rodney, who had wakened to find Sally gone from their queen-sized bed.  Rodney had actually wanted a king-sized bed, but their bedroom wasn’t big enough handle a mattress of that width.  It still nagged at him.

Rodney never found out what was not right, because at that moment the old man trotted off the front porch into the night, picking up speed as he ran.

Sally and Rodney stared at each other in shock as they listened to the cries of “It ain’t right” diminishing in the distance.  Rodney fleetingly wondered whether the old man’s bedroom would hold a king before he too ran off into the dark.

“What on earth…?” Sally said, then she too began to run.

The old man was standing in the back yard of Doris and Delores’ house when Sally and Rodney caught up with him.  He was weeping openly.

“Whatever is the matter with you?” Rodney gasped as they ran up.  The old man turned to them.

“This…” he began in a hoarse whisper, but what he said next was overwhelmed by the sound of an explosion behind them.

Sally and Rodney never had time to realize that their house had exploded because Doris and Delores’ house was now similarly engulfed in a roaring fireball.

“Just like in the movies of Michael Bay,” thought Rodney, or at least that’s what he began thinking before thinking was no longer an option for him or for Sally.

“This is for you, Horace!” screamed the old man as he plunged into the conflagration.

Then there was only the night and the flame.

No one ever saw the lone female figure escaping into the darkness.  If they had, they might have wondered why she was nude.

There you go, Gilliard, a proper ending.  You’re welcome.

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[1] You should probably read the book first before reading this.

Easy answer, healthcare edition

This morning I emailed my senators, Johnny Isakson and David Perdue, to ask them an easy question:

I have read your statement on why you voted for the healthcare bills under consideration. Can you show me the scoring on those bills to back up your claims that they will give more people in this nation healthcare? Not “access” to healthcare: healthcare.

The easy answer is, of course, “no.”  They cannot.  No amount of massaging the data—which they don’t have in the first place—will show that the bills they have voted on will actually improve healthcare in this nation.

#ShowMeTheScoring

I’m not even adding this to the Easy Answers page any more.  What’s the point when they’re not going to answer in any legitimate way?

UPDATE: I’m not the only one catching on.

The Big Lie

Of all the idiotic lies the Current Occupant Embarrassment has told, the most dangerous is one of his first and biggest: that “3 to 5 million illegal votes were cast” in the election, costing him the popular vote.

Only one of the amygdala-based lifeforms (whose very life depends on having enough fear to drive their ecological and biological systems) could believe that fraud of such incredible scope could go unnoticed.  Only someone who must believe that the Truth IS Somewhere Out There could hear quotes like these:

“Throughout the campaign and even after it,” Trump said, “people would come up to me and express their concerns about voter inconsistencies and irregularities, which they saw. In some cases, having to do with very large numbers of people in certain states.”

Kris Kobach, who never met a Democratic vote he didn’t want to suppress, “We will probably never know the answer to that question.”

Anthony Scaramucci: “My guess is that there’s probably some level of truth to that. I think what we have found sometimes is that the president says stuff, some of you guys in the media think it’s not true. It turns out it’s closer to the truth than people think.”

…and think, “Wow, look at that overwhelming evidence!”[1]

So why should all of us care about this?  The man is gripped by his own egomania and will continue to burrow into his own delusion, which is eyebrow-raising enough when it’s your crazy friend—but this is a person who lives in the White House and can drag the rest of us into his fantasies if we don’t keep our wits about us.

For an excellent take on this, see E. J. Dionne’s editorial at the Washington Post.

Bottom line: the current administration wants to make it harder for you to vote, especially if you are apt to vote against them.  It is easier for them to do this than you think, and even you—yes you—can be caught up in their machinations.

It has already begun.

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[1] There is no evidence. See here.

What are we to do?

So, at 4:44 a.m. this morning,[1] here’s what the President of the United States tweeted:

Besides the Captain Queeg obsession with Clinton’s emails, the thorniest issue here for me is that he misspelled Counsel.  I am reminded of John Stewart’s comment about people wanting to vote for Bush43 because he seemed like a “regular guy,” i.e., not a pointy-headed intellectual: “Not only do I want an elite president, I want someone who’s embarrassingly superior to me.”

We have a long way to go.

(Open note to the White House: I know you don’t do “history,” but get someone to read you the results of all previous investigations into those emails.)

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[1] I don’t know why this embedded tweet says 7:44 a.m.  The original said 4:44; if you click through, it still does.