Thursday, December 31, 2015

Happy New Year!

Private Buffoon wishes you & yours the best in the New Year!

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

2nd Amendment and "original intent"

I'm not a lawyer or a Constitutional scholar, so what follows are just the ruminations of a citizen who pays attention.
Second Amendment to the Constitution
(one of the first 10 Amendments, known collectively as the Bill of Rights.):
A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.
The book from which I learned about the United States Constitution, in 8th-grade civics, is Your Rugged Constitution by Bruce & Esther Findlay. Once out of print, it is now available in a 2014 hardcover edition from Amazon.
In their commentary the authors explain:
You deny: To the federal government the power to interfere with your ownership and use of weapons for lawful purposes.
You get: Protection against the wrong use of power by a national army.
Okay, here goes.

One school of Constitutional interpretation is "original intent": What did the Framers MEAN by the words they wrote?

For the moment I'll ignore that devilish introductory clause about a "well regulated militia".

When the Framers wrote "arms", what did they mean?
The only personal arms known to them were smooth-bore and rifled, muzzle-loaded flintlocks - both long-guns and pistols.
They also knew about smooth-bore and rifled, muzzle-loaded field artillery.
They did NOT know anything of breech-loaded weapons, or percussion caps, or revolvers, or automatic weapons of any sort.
They did NOT know anything of tanks, or rocket-propelled grenades.

Should we, by the interpretive doctrine of "original intent", constrain "arms" to mean only muzzle-loaded, single-shot weapons?
After all, how could the Framers have intended AK-47s, M16s, ... or even 45-caliber automatic pistols?
They had never seen or imagined any of these.
How could they "intend" these in any meaningful sense?
They were not writing science fiction.

Okay - so THAT is much too narrow an approach to "original intent".

Uppermost in the Framers' minds was the recent conflict with the tyrannical government of George III. (A conflict that they WON! - thanks to "citizen soldiers" and militias.)
Perhaps what they intended was that citizen-soldiers be equipped to fight against a tyrannical central government - whether foreign or domestic.
In this case, "original intent" would seem to imply that the potential citizen-soldier ought be allowed to "keep and bear" any arms which that hypothetical tyrannical central government possessed.
Today those permitted arms would include assault rifles, machine guns, grenade launchers, ... and tanks, fighter aircraft, drones, ... well, you get the idea.

Is THIS the correct interpretation according the doctrine of "original intent"?
I should be able to wander into my neighborhood gun store (yes, there is one) and buy a 50-caliber machine gun?
A rocket-propelled grenade launcher?
An M1 Abrams tank?
Without such weapons, how can I possibly hope to confront, let alone defeat, a tyrannical federal government?

I note that each of these would be GREAT for purely self-defense purposes!
You know, my home is my castle, and I'm going to defend it, goddammit!

One of my loyal readers has suggested that there is an implied limitation based on that horrid "well regulated militia" clause. I quote his comment in full:
The argument I heard is that the arms which the 2nd Amendment protects are arms which a militia might carry and use. AR-15 rifle? Yes. Hand grenade? Yes. Tank? No. Heavy artillery? No. Mortar? Yes if light, no if heavy. RPG? Yes. Davy Crockett tactical nuclear recoilless rifle? Hmmm.
What I REALLY want is for someone to pose this question to the GOP candidates:
What, if any, restrictions ought be placed on my right to "keep and bear arms"?

Monday, December 28, 2015

All politics, all the time

Confession: I watch MSNBC.
When I'm starved for real news, I watch CNN.

Lately, there's no difference - both are all politics, all the time.

I LIKE politics... at least I like politics during presidential campaigns... but still...
Is there really NO news?

Thursday, December 24, 2015

well, what the heck

Christmas is my least favorite holiday, for any of a number of reasons - not the least of which is theological: "Here's a picture of God sucking on Mary's tit."

That said, it seems to be customary to recognize the spirit of the season - Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men... and all that.
So - Season's Greetings to all!

Wishing you & yours the best this season and in the New Year!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

We finally watched the Democratic debate

My wife & I don't like watching commercials, so we almost always record the shows we want to watch, allowing us to watch 'em at our leisure & skip past the folks sharing their medical problems with us ("moderate to severe chronic plaque psoriasis") to sell us something.
We followed this protocol for the Democratic debate, watching it at our leisure on Sunday.

Two things struck us:
thing 1: This was CIVIL discourse. No personal, ad hominem attacks.
thing 2: We could in good conscience vote for ANY of these folks!

I particularly like Bernie Sanders's summation:
... it's time for closing statements
... and let me applaud my colleagues up here. Because I think frankly, maybe I'm wrong, but on our worst day, I think we have a lot more to offer the American people than the right wing's extremists.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Friday, December 18, 2015

You should read this

This is from one of my new cousins ... Joan - one of Melissa's cousins.
It's worth a read!
Citizen's View: We must continue to live our lives without undue fear, anger, hatred
The best we can do is to continue to live our lives without undue fear and hatred. To love our neighbor and expect the best of others. Only then we can continue to live in a country we can feel proud of.
There's more - it's worth a read!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

A well-spent hour

This afternoon Melissa & I attended an event at a local Conservative synagogue: bringing Jewish & Muslim kids together to make a "peace" quilt.
The rabbi began the event by explaining some things about Judaism, and mentioning similarities between Judaism & Islam - not the least of which being the languages in which the two faiths are rooted: Hebrew and Arabic are near cognates, both Semitic.

Parents of both faiths attended with their kids.
Everyone seemed to be enjoying the spirit of the event.

(A pointless aside: At the end of the introductory remarks, I was unofficially tasked with putting a couple of prayer books back on the shelf.
This minor duty pretty much trapped me as a stream of kids exited the hall.
Mistaking my "duties" and my extravagant beard for signs of authority, many of the kids bade me a formal "good-bye" as they exited.
'Twas amusing.)

Anyway, both Melissa & I were delighted to have participated, however briefly, in this inter-faith community exercise.
We did NOT stick around to help sew the quilts!

Here's me with extravagant beard:

GOP debate tonight! (... oh boy!!!)

We plan to record this.
... Maybe we'll watch it later, on mute with closed-captioning.
We've done this before - once we managed to watch the entire debate. Once we gave up after about 10 minutes.
This time I'll watch just long enough to see if my suggestion regarding "Base questions on Preamble" was accepted (I doubt it!).

A bumper sticker seen today

Do you like Medicare?
Thank a Democrat!

Monday, December 14, 2015

Thought for the day

Just because something didn't really happened doesn't mean it's not true.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

nope - the planet will survive

The planet will survive. It has for millions (billions?) of years.
WE won't!

Saturday, December 12, 2015

... 'tis the "Trump support" bit that's worth noticing

Cruz Soars to Front of the Pack in Iowa Poll;
Trump Support Stays Flat
Cruz may, indeed, end up the nominee... but my take-away from the headline is "Trump Support Stays Flat".
The Donald has a VERY SOLID base of support... at around 30% of "likely GOP primary voters".
Even if we assume these "likely GOP primary voters" constitute every Republican or Republican-leaning voter, that's something like... hmm... 30% of 50% = 15% of the electorate.

Forget a brokered convention: I'm hoping for a clear Trump victory!
Let's pretend that of the remaining 70% of Republicans, 3/4 decide to vote for the party's nominee.
... that totals something like 41% of total popular vote... enough to lose.
In modern parlance, this would be a landside for the Democrats.
(AND: I'm not at all sure that even 3/4 of Republicans - other than those committed heart & soul to Trump - would bother to show up at the polls.)

Of course, I'm not Nate Silver.

Friday, December 11, 2015

A suggestion for poor ol' Jeb

It's been pretty clear for some time that Jeb Bush's heart just isn't into this whole "presidential campaign" thing.
He seems to be going through the motions only because it's what other folks expect of him.

Of course, I could be wrong.
Maybe he harbors some fantasy about riding in on a big white horse just as the bad guys are about to triumph, rescuing the Party from certain disaster.
If so, I'd say he's delusional.
Should Trump falter (we can only hope!), Cruz, Rubio,... even Christie - all seem better positioned to move to the front of the line.

So, what can he do?

Let's pretend for a minute that I'm right, and that President Jeb Bush is not a realistic outcome.
... Let's also pretend that poor ol' Jeb would like to go down in history as something more than a governor of Florida, son & brother of presidents.

My suggestion for poor ol' Jeb?
Quit the race - BUT, quit with a flourish!
Give the best damn speech of your career to explain quitting.

I happen to have a draft of such a speech... here goes:
Today I am announcing the end of my presidential campaign – I am no longer a candidate for the Republican nomination for President of the United States.
This has not been an easy decision for me, but it’s clear now that I have little chance of winning my party’s nomination, and it’s time to move forward.

Before leaving the stage, however, I would like to comment on some of the disturbing trends I see developing within my party. To some extent, it is these disturbing trends that have contributed to my decision to withdraw from this campaign.

As a candidate, I have found myself compelled to say things I simply do not believe.
I have had to pander to special interests – wealthy interests – proposing tax programs that would clearly help the very wealthy in this country, while at the same time harming our vanishing middle class.
My faith is grounded in the belief that the widow and the orphan deserve justice – not just God’s justice, but our justice, today, in this world.
We – the Republican Party – used to stand up for the middle class, for the poor, for the widows and orphans.
Our heritage is Teddy Roosevelt’s – confronting the monopolists of the Gilded Age.
Where is that party now?

Some in my party shamelessly peddle fear.
They forget Ronald Reagan’s brave challenge to the Evil Empire that was the Soviet Union: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
They would have us believe that we are a weak country, on the verge of collapse, and they would have us fear our fellow man, not embrace him as another child of God.
I recall one of my favorite quotations from the Bible, Exodus 22:21
Thou shalt neither vex a stranger, nor oppress him: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.
We are today and have always been a nation of immigrants.
Immigrants of different nationalities and different faiths.
We Americans are today and have always been compassionate, welcoming “the wretched refuse” to our shores.
Fear of the Other has not made our country great.
Acceptance of the other – knowing that this acceptance will make “the other” in fact one of US – that is what’s made our country great.

In this campaign I found myself being called upon to say things that I simply did not believe.
Perhaps the other candidates DO believe what they say, but for the sake of my party and my country, I hope not!

No, I am not renouncing my membership in the Republican Party, rather I’m asking my fellow Republicans to ask themselves, “Where are we going?”
As Abraham Lincoln stated in his Second Inaugural address:
With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.
That is MY Republican Party.
I'm thinking such a speech would cement Jeb's place in the history books.

I have a question (really) - how's the GOP convention work?

The "establishment" GOP folks seem to loathe Trump.
Question: are delegates to the GOP convention (July 18–21; Cleveland, OH) obligated to vote for whomever wins primaries?... at least on first ballot?
How binding are primary elections/caucuses on state delegates?

I tried - briefly, none-too-diligently - to find answers on the Internet, but was unsuccessful.
(... could be that "briefly, none-too-diligently" thing... )
Anyway - if one of my loyal readers knows the answer, could you post it in comments?

Thursday, December 10, 2015

From the Albuquerque Journal: The rhetoric of "war"

From Winthrop Quigley in today's Albuquerque Journal:
The word ‘war’ is a rhetorical minefield
By Winthrop Quigley / Journal Staff Writer
Published: Thursday, December 10th, 2015

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — “War” might be the most overused and most sloppily used word in American public life, and because it is we end up with sloppy thinking and poor public policies.

Politicians have declared war on drugs, war on poverty, war on cancer. Jimmy Carter called the energy crisis of the late 1970s “the moral equivalent of war.” Pundits and people advocating different causes warn of a war on Christmas, a war on women and a war on men.

George Bush declared a global war on terror, which never made sense, since terror is an emotion. It’s like declaring war on sadness. To declare war on terrorism is no better. Terrorism is a technique of combat. It would be as if the United States declared war on dive bombers after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
The war on drugs militarized a public health problem. Millions of young people, mostly black and Latino, lost years of freedom and citizenship rights once they were convicted of nonviolent drug felonies.
Now come calls for a “war on radical Islamic terrorism.” It’s a sloppy concept that threatens to lead to sloppy policies.
Terrorism has been a tactic in use for thousands of years. Many of the grievances destabilizing the Muslim world today are centuries old. How are we to know when the war is over? Or are we to remain on a war footing for as long as our republic exists? How long can a republic exist if it is always at war?
My editing leaves out a LOT of good stuff.
I encourage you to click on the link and read Quigley's piece in full!

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Just for fun - really!

Just for fun: an open letter to the GOP

Dear GOP folks:
You've been using the race-baiting "southern strategy" for years to win elections.
Hey, it worked. Why not?

You continue to appeal to St. Reagan to demonize Big Government.
Hey, it's still working. Why not?

You use the Tea Party crazies to challenge Obama's legitimacy.
Hey, it works. Why not?

You happily endorsed lies about Saddam's WMD and his ties to al Qaeda to start a war... and to win elections.
Hey, it worked! - Why not?

NOW - you're flipping out about Trump???
You're kidding, right?

Just for fun: Many of you are self-professed old-fashioned Bible-believing Christians. Here are some quotations that may help you understand your current predicament:
Hosea 8:7 - For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.

Galatians 6:7 - ... for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.

Proverbs 22:8 - He that soweth iniquity shall reap vanity.

Proverbs 11:29 - He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind...
Given The Donald, I'm particularly fond of Proverbs 22:8!

Oh - and that xenophobic, anti-immigrant, anti-Islam "patriotism" you profess? How 'bout:
Exodus 22:21 - Thou shalt neither vex a stranger, nor oppress him: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.

Exodus 23:9 - Also thou shalt not oppress a stranger: for ye know the heart of a stranger, seeing ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.

Leviticus 19:34 - But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.

Deuteronomny 10:19 - Love ye therefore the stranger: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt.
... or are those verses simply inconvenient?

For a more popular, secular take on what it means to be American, how 'bout we consult the movies? Here's the Bill Murray character in the 1981 movie Stripes:
We're all very different people.
We're not Watusi.
We're not Spartans.
We're Americans, with a capital 'A', huh?
You know what that means? Do ya?
That means that our forefathers were kicked out of every decent country in the world.
We are the wretched refuse.
We're the underdog.
We're mutts!

(emphasis added)
Maybe a little soul-searching is in order.
... But, PUH-LEEZE: don't go flipping out about Mr. Trump.
He is YOUR creature!

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Cautious optimism, tempered by dread

Will The Donald be the GOP nominee?
I don't know.
Lots of "establishment" GOPers seem to hope not, but I can't help feeling this is more "hope" than anything else.
(Snarky aside: HEY - establishment GOPers are now Obama fans... that "hope" thing, dontcha know...)

If not Trump, who?
David Brooks's "blue rug"?
Who might that be? Cruz? Rubio?
... is either of these guys any better??

The "cautious optimism" expressed in title of this post reflects that last question: Is either of these guys any better?
Is Jeb better? Is Kasich better?... Huckabee?... Fiorina?... Carson?
All of these folks are HORRIBLE - xenophobic and CRUEL!
Back when I was running for the Democratic nomination (if you blinked, you missed it), I said this:
I don’t know who will be my Republican opponent, but I believe it safe to draw some contrasts between us, anyway. Both of us, I would like to stress at the outset, believe that America is the best and strongest country on Earth, and we are both extremely proud to be Americans. From this basic point of agreement, however, we have very different visions for America’s future.

When he – or she – imagines America’s future, he – or she – harks back to a mythical “Golden Age”:
A “Golden Age” in which labor had no voice.
A “Golden Age” in which “people of color” had no voice.
A “Golden Age” in which industrial “accidents” were both commonplace and acceptable.
In this “Golden Age”, women had no political voice and few property rights.
For me, America’s Golden Age still lies in the future.
I believe that, great as America is, it can still be better.
As that hackneyed bumper-sticker says, “In a perfect world schools would have enough money and the military would have to hold bake-sales”.
Public education is the foundation of an “equal opportunity” society – without it, the privileged few will continue to dominate, while the slaving masses can only hope to put food on the table, with no hope of escaping poverty and degradation.

My Republican opponent – whoever he or she might be – believes that public education is an anachronism, with no place in our society.

My esteemed Republican opponent will need to be reminded that America has ALWAYS been a land of immigrants!... and there has ALWAYS been a fear of immigrants. Benjamin Franklin deplored the presence of lazy, indolent, non-English-speaking Germans in 18th-century Philadelphia. Germans, Irish, Chinese, Poles, Italians, Japanese – all have been the targets of anti-immigrant hysteria. All were at one time viewed as “The Other” who threatened the American Way of Life.

Today, these “Others” are “Us”! – they are our fellow citizens, competing for – and winning – public office.
Running Fortune 500 companies.
Teaching our children.
We are today all Americans.

My Republican opponent, whoever he or she might be, will almost certainly be the descendant of immigrants.
But when he or she goes to the grocery store, the mall, the ballpark, he is frightened by what he sees: LOTS of folks who look DIFFERENT! Many of them speak English with a FOREIGN accent… some of them don’t speak English at all.
This frightens him … or her.
He sees his world crumbling before his eyes, and again yearns for a mythical “Golden Age” in the past – a “Golden Age” that has NEVER existed.

I am the descendant of Welsh coal miners, German craftsmen, and Polish farmers.
When I go to the grocery store, or the mall, or the ballpark and see folks who don’t look like me, who speak English with a foreign accent, or who perhaps don’t speak English at all – what I see is the source of America’s greatness.
After more than 200 years, WE are still seen as the “Land of the free and the home of the brave”.
We – America - … this is still THE country to which people aspire – to build for themselves a better future, to become Americans.

Finally, my Republican opponent will seize on “FEAR” as the basis for his or her campaign.
Fear of “illegal immigrants”.
Fear of Iran, or of North Korea.
Fear of “The Other”.
My Republican opponent will cast “The Other” as Existential Threats to America.

I believe America is stronger than that!... and by building his campaign on Fear of “The Other” my esteemed Republican opponent will demonstrate just what he REALLY thinks about America: he - or she - believes the United States is a weak, vulnerable, beleaguered country, on the brink of failure, defeat and collapse.

We – my Republican opponent and I – have very DIFFERENT visions for America.
That speech was delivered in July, 2012.
At the time I had no idea just how accurate my characterization of my nameless "Republican opponent" would be!!!

Okay - back to that "cautious optimism" bit...
"Some of my best friends are Republicans!"
(Well, no - that's not true. But I do know some Republicans, and they all seem like more-or-less decent people.)
I'm cautiously optimistic that if Trump, or Cruz, or Rubio... or Jeb, or Kasich, or... well, or ANY of 'em, end up the GOP nominee, these more-or-less decent folks will just figure, "To hell with it!"
No, I don't expect they'll run out and vote for Hillary or Bernie or Martin - but I do HOPE that they'll just STAY HOME!
Could anyone that I know vote with a clear conscience for ANY of these folks?

An aside: Hmmm... I seem to be basing my "cautious optimism" on something akin to Anne Frank's profession of faith:
"In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart."
This sentiment doesn't appear to be particularly well-founded!

Now for that "tempered by dread" bit.
What if I'm wrong?
What if my fellow Americans in fact ELECT Trump... or Cruz... or Rubio... or, well, or ANY of 'em?
What would that say about MY country?

It's scary.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Albuquerque in the news

Man burglarizes mom’s house for homemade posole, police say

Oh, no! - I agree with Donald Trump

"Without looking at the various polling data, it is obvious to anybody the hatred is beyond comprehension," Trump said in a statement emailed to reporters on Monday.
... oops - wait...
I don't think he means the same thing I do.

Nope - Trump is calling for a halt to Muslim immigration to the U.S.
For a minute I thought he was being self-critical.
My bad.

A wholly solipsistic post, or, "What's the point?"

... or, "Why bother?"

Private Buffoon is not a well-read, mainstream political blog. (Really?)
On a good day, one of my posts will garner perhaps 30 readers.
So, why do I do it?

1) Catharsis. It makes me feel better to vent my frustration with the current state of politics in what I continue to view as MY COUNTRY!
Having an outlet to express my reasoned rage is good for my mental health.

2) ... on a more grandiose level:
"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."
(attributed to Edmund Burke... but the attribution is controversial.)
Though an agnostic, I find it helps to understand the world if I at least pretend to believe in Good, Evil, and Luck.
I'd just as soon confront Evil.

3) Related to both #s 1&2 above: DOING something seems compulsory.
What can I DO?
Precious little.
I've not the $$$ to truly influence events, so I make due with the currency that is readily available:
I write.
I write this blog.
I write letters - to my Congressional delegation, to the President, to CNN, to ABC News (2 such just mailed today!).
... AND... I try to convince other like-minded folks - those at-best-30 or so who read Private Buffoon - to do the same.

What can I do?
Perhaps not much, but I can at least try.

A thought experiment, of sorts

The NRA, and by extension the GOP, hold that an individual's right to bear arms - ANY arms - is sacrosanct.
A previous post noted that I cannot today walk into a gun store and buy a Thompson submachine gun, an RPG, or an M1 Abrams tank.

Would the NRA and their GOP enablers rescind this Depression-era law?
SHOULD I be able to walk into my neighborhood gun store (there is one) and buy a Tommy gun, a grenade launcher, or a tank?
These are, after all, "arms".

Does the NRA's and the GOP's support for my Second Amendment "right" to buy a semi-automatic assault rifle extend to support for my currently legally-impeded right to buy a fully automatic weapon? An RPG? A tank?
Where would our friendly GOP candidates - and the NRA - draw the line, were they free to re-draw it?

Would they nominate Supreme Court justices who favored repealing the National Firearms Act of 1934 and the Gun Control Act of 1968?
Would they encourage the NRA to bring cases before the Federal courts to challenge these laws?
Do they believe that my "right to bear arms" extends to the entire available arsenal of military-grade weapons?

Maybe someone should ask 'em.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

... a quick follow-up

... basing debate questions on the Preamble - in addition to informing the viewers about the Preamble - might also have the added extra benefit of acquainting the CANDIDATES with the Preamble!

Hint: There's nothing in it about, "... all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights...".
Nope - not there.
No Creator.
No unalienable rights.
No life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.

Sorry guys & gals!

A modest proposal

I've sent a version of this suggestion to the folks over at CNN who will be moderating the next GOP debate.
The suggestion also works for the next Democratic debate.
The idea is get candidates to reveal their basic philosophy of government and of the Presidency, and to avoid stupid, snarky, "gotcha" questions.

Here goes.
Base at least the first half of the debate on the Preamble to the United States Constitution.
We the People of the United States, in Order to
form a more perfect Union,
establish Justice,
insure domestic Tranquility,
provide for the common defence,
promote the general Welfare,
and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity,
do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
Start by asking each candidate, "What can and should the Federal Government do to help form a more perfect union?"

After this, distribute questions appropriately so that each candidate has a chance to respond to at least two (maybe 3, depending on number of candidates).:
"What can and should the Federal Government do to establish justice?"

"What can and should the Federal Government do to insure domestic tranquility?"

"What can and should the Federal Government do to provide for the common defense?"
(The GOP candidates should be salivating for the opportunity to answer this one!)

"What can and should the Federal Government do to promote the general welfare?"
(The contrast between GOP & Dems should be stark on this one!)

"What can and should the Federal Government do to secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity?"
That's it.
Not snarky, just simple questions about the government's role in fulfilling the mission statement articulated by the Preamble.

Another potential benefit: framing the debates along these lines would help inform the voting public - or at least the folks watching the debates - about the Preamble!

Saturday, December 5, 2015

"I was gratified to be able to answer promptly."

... The title of this post is the first part of one of my favorite quotations, from Mark Twain's Life on the Mississippi:
"I was gratified to be able to answer promptly, and I did.
I said I didn't know."
This is my response to current epidemic of gun violence in America.
What's to be done about it?
I don't know.

Do I favor more restrictive gun laws?
Yes... but with severe reservations.
The Second Amendment is notorious for its ambiguity:
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
I suspect that 'twas fight between Madison & Hamilton that led to this convoluted single sentence.
(A more knowledgeable Constitutional scholar could well correct me - maybe it wasn't Madison & Hamilton, but it was clearly a fight that led to this horrible construction! - on the one side a staunch Federalist, on the other an equally staunch Republican.)
I'm very far from a Second Amendment scholar, so will refer interested readers to the Wikipedia article, which includes a nice summary of the judicial history with which we must deal.

... all this is somewhat beside the point, however.

My real concern is that any attempt to tamper with the text of the Second Amendment will lead to a very slippery slope.

The Bill of Rights stands as a unified whole in our collective understanding of our Constitution.
An apparent afterthought, these first ten amendments have been known since they were first drafted as THE Bill of Rights.
Once we mess with one, all the others are up for grabs.

Every one of 'em is controversial.
When we are FEARFUL, every one of 'em looks like a MISTAKE.

Since 9/11:
First Amendment
Freedom of religion, press, speech, right to assemble.
All have been challenged.

Fourth Amendment:
Protection against warrantless searches.
Challenged... I mean, really: How can we catch the bad guys if we have to get a warrant? Why shouldn't we be able to check someone's library records, or record their phone calls, or monitor their Internet searches?
(See, e.g., Edward Snowden or NSA.)
Fifth Amendment:
Due Process?
For terrorists? You're kidding,right?

Sixth Amendment:
"... the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial... to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence... ".
(See, e.g., Guantanamo.)
Well, you get my point.

In fact, the Amendments cited above have ALL been abrogated since 9/11.

Why do we allow these basic freedoms to be denied, but continue to insist on our artificial and arbitrary "right" to bear arms?

I note that as a private citizen today I cannot walk into a gun store and buy a Thompson submachine gun, a Rocket-Propelled Grenade launcher (RPG), or an M1 Abrams tank.
Yes - we DO, even today, have restrictions on our "right to bear arms"!

Why is it such a stretch to restrict my "right" to buy an AK-47 or M16 assault rifle?

Friday, December 4, 2015

Was he perfect?

This post is tangential... no, not tangential - rather, completely unrelated to anything that's gone before.

"Was he perfect?"
The "he" here is Shakespeare.

I've just read a couple of reviews of the latest film version of The Scottish Play - known to folks not subject to theatrical superstitions as Macbeth, directed by Justin Kurzel.
One of these reviews was in The New Yorker.
The other in the New York Review of Books.
(Yes - I'm showing off!)

Both reviews reference Orson Welles' 1948 version, Polanski's 1971 version, and, of course, Kurosawa's Throne of Blood.
But what I found interesting in both reviews was the implicit assumption that there is a genuine Macbeth, the play written by Shakespeare.
To be judged a good film version, apparently, means to capture Shakespeare's intent, whatever that might be.
Any deviation from this intent, or any novel interpretation of the play is judged somehow, if not exactly sacrilegious, at least wrong-headed.

Now I'm in no way qualified to dispute Shakespeare's reputation as the greatest playwright in the English language...
BUT - he was a WORKING playwright, trying to produce something that both his patrons and the hoi polloi would PAY to see.
He had to make decisions based not always on "artistic" criteria, but on the basis of getting butts in seats, paying his actors, meeting expenses.
Producing plays was his livelihood.
Working within real-world constraints, I'm betting he wasn't PERFECT.

Perhaps - just maybe - someone else's vision of Macbeth, or for that matter, someone else's vision of the character, Macbeth, also has merit - regardless of whether or not that vision corresponds to Shakespeare's original intent.
(I note that in the field of Constitutional Law, "original intent" is a nice-sounding but very difficult criterion on which to base decisions.)

Perhaps reviewers could allow later interpreters to give it a go, and decide if the choices made contribute to a unified, coherent production.
Base the review not on how well or poorly the director captured Shakespeare's intent, but whether the work he or she has produced is a satisfying artistic whole.
Does it hang together on the director's terms? (... which may or may not coincide with Shakespeare's!)

Just a thought.

Demented, delusional, or simply in denial?

David Brooks in today's New York Times:
No, Donald Trump Won’t Win
Somewhat bizarrely, he starts by talking about buying a rug.
The pink one really stood out, and he liked it a lot on first glance...
... but then he decided the blue one would be easier to live with.

He then suggested that Donald Trump is the current "pink rug" of the GOP "likely primary voter".

This may have been a nice homey analogy... IF he'd been able to suggest a plausible "blue rug" alternative.
But - no.
In fact, Brooks doesn't even TRY to suggest a plausible alternative.
The best he can do is to suggest that
When campaigns enter that final month, voters tend to gravitate toward the person who seems most orderly. As the primary season advances, voters’ tolerance for risk declines. They focus on the potential downsides of each contender and wonder, Could this person make things even worse?

When this mental shift happens, I suspect Trump will slide.

Where's the blue rug?

Thursday, December 3, 2015

A very short story

In August 2014 my wife & I took the train from London to Leeds (UK).
We shared a table with a young woman - perhaps 18- or 19-yrs old - returning home after a "gap year" (time off between high school & college).
Noting that we were Americans, she had only one question for us:
"Do you own a gun?"

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Sometimes I forget...

... there's more to life than politics.
Donald Trump is fun, and scary.
... BUT: there's more.

I'm reminded of this today
I had lunch with a long-time friend who professes to be completely apolitical...
... and, in fact, the lunch conversation was free of politics.

Then again, one of my long-time correspondents, a former statistics colleague, is the most conservative person I know.
We somehow manage to engage in civil discourse on... well, politics, religion, family, the state of the world...
... all without coming to blows.
(Did I mention that this correspondent is a USMC reservist who's been deployed to Iraq & Afghanistan MANY times since 9/11? ... and he's still alive!)

LIFE is not co-extensive with politics & religion.
Sometimes it may feel that way, but really ... no.

Simple answers to stupid questions

Could Donald Trump win the GOP nomination?