Saturday, January 28, 2017

My Qualms About the Trump Administration Have Little to Do with Those of the Left

I have my own qualms about the incoming Trump administration, so it takes a degree of mindfulness to discriminate between my concerns and those of people who seem to hate President Donald J. Trump for reasons that have little to do with mine, although, there is some overlap, which requires even more clarity on my part.

President Donald Trump

Unlike others, I doubt that Trump will abolish gay marriage. I know that people who are worried about such things do not want to be told that they are worrying about nothing, but the fact is that, as someone has pointed out, Trump is the first president to enter the office unopposed to gay marriage—in case you have forgotten, his predecessor, President Barack H. Obama, was officially opposed to same-sex marriage until the last year of his first term. “These cases have gone to the Supreme Court. They’ve been settled. And I’m — I’m fine with that,” Trump has said. And despite alarm-ism about Roe v. Wade being overturned, I will believe that when I see it. At most, Roe v. Wade might be narrowed from a federal mandate to a matter of state discretion, but even that seems far from Trump's genuine interest and, in any case, unlikely because at least seven justices on the current court would not allow it.

The false fears of so many of Trump’s opponents remind me of the stories of the Okinawans who, near the end of World War II, threw their children and themselves off of cliffs at the southern edge of their island rather than surrender to American troops. Japanese authorities had drilled it into them that if they were captured they would be raped and tortured by the Americans. The Americans actually treated surrendered Okinawan civilians with relative decency, which astonished the Okinawans, leaving many of them forever to blame the Japanese for their needless suffering, and the loss of family and friends who committed suicide because of the Japanese government’s false narrative. If it seems a bit steep to compare the experience of the Okinawans to that of Democrats ho are fearful of the Trump administration, consider the case of the man who tried to set himself on fire during the week before Trump’s inauguration.

Trump probably won’t abolish any departments (even though I personally think he should jettison a couple of them). Last time I checked, he had no plans to rescinded DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), which has allowed illegal aliens (I’m using the politically incorrect but accurate term, here) to stay in the United States if they came here before 2007, were under age sixteen at that time, and have legally kept their noses clean (disregarding the fact that they almost certainly have been guilty of numerous infractions just by being improperly documented while applying for schools, jobs and various services).

I am certainly not afraid that Trump is going to institute the policies of the Third Reich. No one will be forced to wear emblems of their ethnicity, culture or ideology—though I gather that many on the left would actually embrace the opportunity to show off their identification with whatever group they think they belong to.

I am equally doubtful that Trump is going to roll back civil liberties including the freedom of the press. I saw a video made by professorial leftist rabble-rouser and former Bill Clinton cabinet member, Robert Reich, in which he claims that Trump is a tyrant because he “belittles and intimidates” the press. It makes me wonder where Reich was when Obama belittled and intimidated the press. By Reich’s own definition, wasn’t Obama a tyrant when he spied on reporters or threatened news organizations that criticized him? The truth is that Trump and Obama have many faults in common including egomania and hostility toward political opponents—but not toward our actual enemies. Neither Obama nor Trump (yet) has opposed Russia, and each has made a foreign ally feel the president’s ire, Israel in Obama’s case and Mexico in Trump’s (more about that anon).

One of the memes that the late administration promoted, and which was parroted by an administration-friendly press, is that the Obama administration was remarkably scandal free; yet I can think of about seven scandals just off the top of my head. The press simply declined to cover these scandals or to call out the administration on their (often not subtle) cover ups. The press is already going after Trump in ways that suggest that he is not going to get away with the kind of highhanded behavior that Obama got away with. Trump is more likely to be over-criticized for things that are of no importance than to be allowed to get away with outrages. When Jesus complained of the hypocrite who strains at a gnat but swallows a camel, he could have been talking about today's American media.

While his left-wing critics fear that Trump is another Hitler, the new president’s protectionist economic philosophy is more comparable to that of Herbert Hoover who was president from 1929 to 1933. Like Trump, Hoover was a businessman who had not held an elected office before. When the country went into a depression less than a year into his administration, he started government spending programs and signed the protectionist Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act into law. The result was a deeper depression—and Hoover’s defeat in the next election.

Trump said in his inaugural address that “protection” will be good for our economy. By “protection,” of course, he meant protectionism, and by protectionism he means tariffs on imported goods. If protectionism turns out to be good for our economy, it will be for the first time in history. It did not work well for Hoover and is unlikely to work for Trump.

Sometimes, my concerns do seem to overlap with the concerns aspects of the Left’s, calling for that clarity on my part so as not to get my own concerns conflated with theirs. Take, for example, Trump’s linkage of political and trade issues in foreign relations. Trump himself seems unable to separate such issues as controlling immigration from Mexico with imposing tariffs on Mexican goods.

Trump takes business (and now politics) personally and tends to be reflexively combative in any negotiation. He currently is engaged in measuring penises with Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto rather than taking a position more conducive to negotiation. Trump thinks that throwing the other side of a negotiation off balance is always a good strategy, no matter who the other side is. The trouble is, Mexico is not actually an enemy and not much of a serious threat to American interests. The reason why Trump is tuning up Mexico’s president, presumably, is not anything to do with making Mexico actually pay for a wall between our countries, but has more to do with preparing for re-negotiation of the North American Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which Trump and his acolytes have it in their minds is responsible for America’s economic woes. They are wrong. There are many factors that have contributed to our economy’s lack of energy, but NAFTA is not one of them; yet it is an easy target of knee-jerk nationalists.

At the same time, Trump seems to be heading, at least in the short-term, for conflict-free talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who definitely is a threat. While it is absurd to believe that Trump is some sort of Manchurian candidate, somehow beholden to the Russians, it is troubling that he seems outwardly naïve about the threat Russia poses to American interests all over the world, not only in the Middle East but in terms of Russia’s rapprochement with China, which also threatens our interests and allies in the Pacific. (Why some Russians have, indeed, thought that Trump would be preferable to Hillary Clinton is not clear to me, unless it is because they believe that Trump is more of an unalloyed isolationist than Obama and Clinton have been; yet the two Democrats never mounted much opposition to Russian aggression or foreign intervention—and Clinton actually facilitated Russian acquisition of some U.S. uranium mines.)

Trump has said that the American taxpayer will ultimately not foot the bill for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. I have zero confidence that he understands economics well enough to be so sure of that. He recently made a vague claim that he will make Mexico pay for the wall through an indirect, complicated method, which he is not ready to explain. What is this complicated method? Is it tariffs on goods imported from Mexico? If so, then the American people will pay for the wall twice: once through our taxes and a second time when we pay higher prices for Mexican imports such as food, alcohol, electronics and clothing.

There is also a scheme that has been floated whereby money sent by Mexicans working in the U.S. to their families in Mexico would be taxed when it is wired across the border; this might work, but there is no guarantee that Trump will adopt such a plan, especially when he is obviously more enamored of tariffs.

The bother is that many taxpayers would be glad to pay for the wall through their taxes because they believe that it would benefit the nation as a whole. They would beg the president not to worry about making Mexico pay for the wall. That is an unnecessary goal, seemingly having more to do with the president’s ego than with any sound economic policy. Tariffs, on the other hand, do not benefit the whole country; they only benefit the particular American businesses that are the domestic counterparts of the Mexican industries on which the tariffs would be imposed. Tariffs would mean that American consumers would pay higher prices whether they bought Mexican or American. (The same goes for Trump’s threats to impose high tariffs on China and other trade partners; the only winners there can be from trade wars are the advocates of shooting wars.)

While conservatives and even libertarians claim that Trump’s proposed “trillion dollar” spending bill on infrastructure is different from the stimulus packages of presidents Clinton and Obama, others think it is too similar to its disappointing predecessors. (Obama himself noted that those shovel-ready jobs he had promised “were not so shovel-ready.”)

I do not get why the projects under the umbrella of Trump’s proposal are under the federal umbrella when some of them are already being financed and directed by state, regional and private interests. It almost looks to me as if the Trump stimulus plan would mean that the federal government will take over control of projects that are already planned, funded, and started by local authorities.

While proponents of Trump’s plan criticize Clinton’s stimulus bill for being “a grab bag of government spending projects includingpublic works expenditures… [and] funding for mass transit,”  Trump’s plan, so far (it has not been rolled out in its entirety), seems to fit the “grab bag” description. Trump’s proposal includes intercity mass transit in Texas and California, airport improvements in some states, and the repair of federal highways within state borders, which, theoretically, is supposed to be paid for by those federal airport and highway funds that have not been used for repairing airports and highways for decades. Why not just repair all of the federal highways and airports out of their respective funds instead of creating a new spending program to do it?

The title of Trump’s proposed package is to include the words “national security” and “infrastructure,” but none of the component projects named so far have anything to do with national security and several have nothing to do with infrastructure since they will be building something new (and probably unnecessary) rather than repairing what already exists. Maybe when the whole proposal comes out, its relationship to national security will become clearer. Will Trump’s proposal include the wall along the border (if it is ever built)? Will it include the reinforcement of our national power grid, which for a one-time cost of one billion dollars could be protected against an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack that might otherwise knock out power for the entire country for months or years? (I have never heard that Trump is interested in or even knows about this problem or the necessity of its solution.) At this point, all of these questions seem as murky as the question of why Trump’s federal package is even necessary.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Fan Fiction and Me

“A horrible massacre has taken place at Sunnydale High, and Buffy is missing. Also, Principal Snyder fears that smoking was involved.”

That is how I promoted one of my fan fictions, a multi-chapter novella called “Reversal of Fortunes: The Sunnydale High School Massacre,” which I wrote over ten years ago and which is among the eleven stories I have posted at This particular story blends the “canonical” storyline of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” with my own “what-if” alternative universe. 

By far, “Sunnydale High School Massacre” is the most popular of my fan fictions. Since I re-published it at the end of 2014, this story has been viewed 3,561 times. To give you some context, my next two most viewed stories have 638 and 607 views. My least read story has only 35 views. I attribute the relative popularity of this BtVS fan fiction to its homage to the spirit of the original series and its use of humor, perhaps suggested by the promotional description of it above. (Too many BtVS fanfics rely solely on the author’s fantasies about character relationships and not at all on the Buffy canon or anything to do with a plot.)

My reason for writing these fanfics was to play with some of my favorite movies and TV series: “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” the James Bond series (actually the books as well as the movies), “The Maltese Falcon,” “Twilight Zone,” “Fringe,” “The Outer Limits,” “The Americans” (The only recent show included.) and “The Bob Newhart Show.” It was a lot of fun, most of the time, to write these stories.

Several of my fanfics – if not, indeed, all – are experiments. I wrote a slash parody of “The Maltese Falcon” just to see if I could write one of the lowest forms of fanfic. “The Casino” was written because an online writers’ forum I belonged to was discussing the inadvisability of writing in the second person, so I had to try it. (The result seems moderately unappealing to me, yet it is not the least popular of my eleven posted fanfics (and has 123 views).

I published the last of these fanfics at the end of 2015. In “A Very James Bond Christmas: Until the Day I Die,” I even suggest an imaginary sound track, including Portishead’s “All Mine,” implying that the reader might enjoy listening to certain songs at appropriate points in the story.

I learned a lot about my writing process. Creating an outline is helpful because it gives you your plot, and then all you have to worry about is writing each scene or chapter without having to worry about what is going to come next.

Writing “A Very James Bond Christmas” made me realize that all James Bond movies follow a folk tale trajectory: A wizard (Q) grants the hero several magical enchantments (high-tech gadgets) that turn out to come in handy in each subsequent adventure. The hero uses each gadget to rescue himself or others until he has used all of them and has defeated the villain.

These are my personal favorites among my fanfics:

Reversal of Fortunes: The Sunnydale High School Massacre (A novella set in the “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” world)

Reversal of Fortunes: End of (School) Days (A novella and a sequel to the first “Buffy” story)

Lorne in Vegas (A novelette and a crossover between “CSI” and “Angel,” the latter being part of the “Buffy” universe)

A Very James Bond Christmas: Until the Day I Die (A novelette that originally was almost done as a screenplay)

Star Wars (A short story based on the Cold War series, “The Americans”)

The Naked Scream (A short story and an alternate version of “The Bob Newhart Show” from the 1970s)

Four O’Clock Today (A short story that updates a classic “Twilight Zone” episode)

The Barrier (a more or less original short story but in the familiar genre of “The Outer Limits”)

(The two “Reversal” stories and “Lorne in Vegas” were written over ten years ago and were originally published on a now-defunct website.)

Monday, January 16, 2017

"Dr. Chinn," an Idea For a TV Series I’d Like to See

There is a Hollywood joke about a mover-and-shaker in the Business who explains what he does by saying, "I take a notion, develop it into a concept and turn that into an idea, for which I get paid a lot of money."

Well, this is kind of like that, although I don't anticipate getting paid anything. The reason for that is that the concept I am developing is far from original, although I have already put some effort into the development. While working as an attendant at a laundromat some years back, I came up with the idea of an American version of a story that has already been done in both Japanese and Korean versions. The story was originally created by an author of Japanese graphic novels (manga), Motoka Murakami. His series was entitled “Jin.” It was then produced as a Japanese TV miniseries by the same name, and subsequently as a Korean miniseries, “Dr. Jin.”

Spoiler Alert Spoiler Alert Spoiler Alert

The original story,
 Murakami's manga

Japan TBS
Although there are variations in the three versions, there are basic similarities, as well:

A twenty-first century neurosurgeon named Jin is depressed because his fiancée is in a coma. He is cajoled into performing surgery on an apparently homeless man who has a head wound. (This man is facially disfigured so that no one would recognize him even if they knew him - or maybe nobody looks at his face under the bandages. Plot holes happen.) Jin discovers a fetus-shaped brain tumor, which he removes and puts in a jar, intending to write a paper about the odd find. In the night, the patient gets out of bed, steals the jar with the fetus-tumor along with some basic medical supplies, and tries to escape. Dr. Jin tries to stop him but instead grabs the jar and the bag of medical supplies and falls from a great height (e.g., from the hospital roof).

When he wakes up, Jin finds himself in 1860 when his country was in a turbulent period, and people - including a young captain of the guard who is to become Jin’s nemesis - almost immediately start trying to kill him. However, he manages to find a ready ally in someone who turns out to be a more or less well known historical figure.

Jin is introduced to a middle-class family whose eldest daughter looks exactly like his fiancée in the twenty-first century. She has promised to marry another – the very captain of the guard who tried to kill Jin upon his arrival in 1860 – even though she does not love him. Her older brother has been struck on the head with a sword, and Jin performs life-saving brain surgery using primitive tools like chisels and hammers. He begins an on-going process of improvising with what is available in 1860 in order to achieve twenty-first century medical results.
Jin has a few allies now, but he also has many enemies. He manages to meet more and more important people and usually finds his way into high society by performing surgery on someone who otherwise would not have survived using 1860s medicine. This ultimately begins to bother Jin as he realizes that he could change history by saving someone who was otherwise fated to die.

A highlight of the story is Jin being faced with a cholera epidemic, which he at first despairs of doing anything about because it would mean reinventing all of the medical technology used to treat cholera, including IV drips for the worst cases. He nevertheless meets the challenge and also launches a public sanitation campaign, becoming a kind of ad hoc public health officer. At first resistant, other doctors come around as Jin gets results.

Jin opens a school in which he trains doctors in scientific methods and his reputation eventually brings him into the upper circles of political power where he becomes a rival to the court physician and therefore a target of the intrigue that is already in progress against various political figures.

Complicating matters, Jin is in love with the woman who is betrothed to another man – who is something of a bad guy. meanwhile, the first man who befriended Jin upon his arrival in 1860 uses Jin as a pawn in his own political intrigues, sometimes with Jin’s knowledge and sometimes without it.

Jin worries more and more about how his actions will change history. He most wants to return to a future where he will be reunited with his fiancée, well and whole, but, he worries, will his actions in the 1860s make this more or less likely? He also learns that there are others who are trapped in the past or who have been to the future. He begins having blackouts which he discovers are caused by a tumor in his brain. He eventually experiences a head trauma that disfigures his face but also sends him back to his own time where he becomes the homeless man who is brought to the hospital to receive brain surgery.

Could This Story Be Adapted to an American Setting?

Now here is my re-imagining of this idea as an American TV series, and I must risk giving it away because I do not have the rights to the original Japanese sources:


Michael Chinn (a quirk of Korean pronunciation is that “Jin” and “Chin” are pronounced identically) is an African-American neurosurgeon who is on staff at a hospital in Maryland in the year 2018. His fiancée is in a coma for which he blames himself. In a flashback he meets her, they fall in love, have a fight, and she goes into a coma. Incidentally, we learn that Michael’s ancestors go back many generations in Maryland.

He is ordered by the hospital administrator to operate on a homeless man with a head trauma, and discovers a bizarre-shaped tumor. He also runs across a little girl who is wandering the hospital but does not speak. He gets someone to take charge of her and does not think anything more of her. (She will later turn out to be a time-traveler from the 1850s, whom Michael will meet in the 1860s.) At night, Michael finds his patient trying to escape with the tumor in a jar, and Michael chases him to the roof where Michael grabs the jar and a bag from the patient but falls off the roof. (The bag turns out to contain antibiotics, rubber tubes, gauze and other medical supplies.)

He wakes up in Maryland in 1860 and is almost immediately pursued by slave-catchers who are being aided by the local sheriff and a police lieutenant from DC. He escapes with the aid a freed slave, Lem, who is also being chased by the slave-catchers, who do not care that he is free. Lem, the free man, has a pair of pistols and he manages to help Michael escape.
Lewis S. Leary,
abolitionist, how I
imagine Lem appears

Lem finds Michael puzzling. “Are you slave or free?” Lem asks. “Free, of course,” replies Michael. “Why ‘of course’?” asks Lem. Lem is on his way to Washington, DC, and takes Michael with him. Along the way, Lem finds Michael some clothes and fills him in on the political situation. As soon as he does, of course, Michael realizes that he knows more about what is about to happen than Lem does. Abraham Lincoln has just been elected, and the start of the Civil War is only months away.

Just outside of Washington, Lem and Michael come upon two white men who are dueling over the issue of slavery. The man who opposes slavery loses and is shot in the head.  To everyone’s surprise, horror and wide range of other reactions, Michael steps forward and insists that he can save the duelist’s life. Lem is torn between trying to protect Michael and giving up on this crazy man who might get them both killed. Michael prevails by demonstrating his ability to keep the patient, Tom Purcell, alive until they can get him home, which is complicated by the fact that dueling is illegal and, once again, they must evade the same Maryland sheriff and same DC police lieutenant who were after Lem and Michael earlier.

At Tom’s home, Michael and Lem meet the patient’s family, which includes his widowed mother and younger sister, Becky, who looks exactly like Michael’s twenty-first century fiancée. Michael asks for things such as carpentry tools and grain alcohol and persuades everyone to help him save Tom’s life. He does, and the Purcell family gives him a place to stay. Lem leaves but promises to keep in touch with Michael. Becky’s fiancé, Benjamin Tyrell, comes to visit and turns out to be the DC police lieutenant who was chasing Michael and Lem, but he does not recognize Michael even though he is generally suspicious of him. A childhood friend of the Purcell’s, he suspects that Tom is one of the duelists he was supposed to arrest, but he pretends not to be able to solve the crime.

Abraham Lincoln
When a cholera outbreak threatens Washington City, Michael again steps up and figures out how to improvise with primitive technology and a sanitation program to save neighborhood after neighborhood. He enlists other doctors, most of them reluctant, to adopt more effective treatments. Michael thus comes to the attention of President Abraham Lincoln who, over the objections of his regular physician, takes Michael on as a medical consultant, especially after Michael wows the president with his knowledge of marfan’s disease, the president’s condition that makes him so tall and gangly but also gives patients double vision and a heart defect. Lincoln is impressed because, although, he does not have any medical knowledge about his disease, he confirms that he has double vision and some relatives who had the same condition died young from sudden heart attacks.

Frederick Douglass,
abolitionist newspaper
Sen. Charles Sumner,
Through his unorthodox medical practice, Michael meets various political figures including abolitionist newspaper editor and orator Frederick Douglass (who turns out to be friends with Lem), Senator Charles Sumner (the man who first suggested that Lincoln should issue an emancipation proclamation) and others. Michael also treats some runaway slaves – a man, woman and their son – whom he realizes are his own ancestors. This freaks him out, especially when he is unable to save the father and mother on two separate occasions. One of his ancestors, then, is this orphaned boy for whom Michael becomes responsible.

When the Civil War breaks out, Michael becomes caught up in the preparations and in the crises of battles near Washington including First Bull Run where Michael helps with the wounded. He continues to see the Purcell family, falling in love with Becky. Ben Tyrell joins the Union Army, becoming a captain and a member of General George McClellan’s staff. Tom joins a different unit of Union volunteers as an officer. Lem journeys to Massachusetts and joins an all-black regiment. The war rages, presenting everyone with challenges and dangers, not least Michael whose medical skills are repeatedly called upon.
Michael becomes a public health official and among other things heads the program to have doctors certify that the city’s many prostitutes are clean. In this capacity he meets an African-American madam who comes to him with a brain tumor. Eventually she reveals that, when she was a little girl, she found herself in a hospital in Maryland in 2018, and before she was brought back to 1851, she met a doctor named Chinn. She has been watching Michael and knows when and where he is from. Ever since becoming a time-traveler she has had headaches that eventually turned into blackouts. She believes that all time-travelers develop a brain tumor. Michael has been experiencing headaches and blackouts.

Michael is always reminded that he is a black man in a high position in a time when this is not generally accepted. He is held in contempt by some, suspicion by others, and occasionally Confederate agents try to assassinate him. Michael hires Lem as his bodyguard.

At last, the war ends and Michael tries to prevent the assassination of Lincoln, becoming involved in intrigues between members of Lincoln’s cabinet at the same time, and he is unable to get anyone to take the Booth conspiracy seriously. Michael is at Ford’s Theater when the assassination occurs, and he tries to save Lincoln’s life, but he realizes that the damage to Lincoln’s brain is devastating. Even if he could technically save the president’s life, it would not be any kind of a life. So he decides not to take any heroic measures, and he explains to Dr. Charles Leale that there is nothing to do but keep the patient comfortable. The three other doctors attending the president know Michael by reputation and expect him to perform a miracle, but Michael accepts that he cannot.
Dr. Charles Leale
Meanwhile, Becky becomes severely ill and Michael is trying to save her, but his antibiotic factory is burned to the ground by a mob that blames him for not saving the president. On his way back to Becky’s side with the last and only vile of antibiotic, Michael is attacked by assassins. Lem is killed giving Michael a chance to get away, but Michael falls head first from a building and wakes up in a twenty-first century hospital, his head wrapped in bandages. (All of these falls from roofs must be short falls or else cushioned by trash bins or other fall-breakers.) He feels only the urge to get back to 1865 for Becky. He puts on scrubs and steals some antibiotics and other supplies. Then he sees the jar with his tumor in it. He has developed the theory that this tumor itself facilitates time-travel, so he takes the jar, too, and he heads for the roof with the intention of jumping and the hope of being transported back in time to save Becky. Instead, he runs into the other Dr. Chinn. They struggle and Michael grabs the other Michael’s lapel and ID badge before they both fall, but it is the other Michael who is transported back.

Michael wakes up in a hospital bed, his face wrapped in bandages. “Welcome back, Dr. Chinn,” says a nurse he knows. A doctor he also knows explains to him that his face was so badly smashed by the fall that they only recognized him by his ID badge. Now he has had the first in a series of plastic surgeries that should restore his face. Then the doctor leaves, saying, “There is someone here to see you.” Michael’s fiancée walks into his view. She smiles at him and takes his hand in hers.


Friday, January 13, 2017

Convention of States Opponents Clueless and Disingenuous

Tim Brown’s arguments range from the careless (morphing “Conference on Constitutional Conventions” into “Convention on Constitutional Conventions”) to the dishonest, twisting Robert G. Natelson’s argument that there have been “conventions” in the past into claiming that Natelson maintains that there have been “Article Five conventions” before.  BTW the fact that the 1861 "Peace Convention" sent its amendment to Congress is not what distinguishes it from an Article Five convention which would also keep Congress in the loop from the outset, which is what the word “Application” suggests in Article Five; who do you think a Convention of States (COS) would apply to other than Congress?

The site of the 1861 convention in Washington, DC,
that proposed an amendment to prevent the Civil War

Participants in the Conference on Constitutional Conventions should not be assumed to endorse every other participant’s views on the subject. They might want to listen to others, discuss the history and, importantly, offer alternatives. (I am reminded of the joke about the Unitarian who faces the choice of going to heaven or attending a discussion about heaven and chooses the latter.)

The fact remains that the Articles of Confederation were weak precisely because Congress had no legal way to prevent, stop or invalidate a Constitutional Convention. All power rested with the states, and the Constitutional Convention had the lawful endorsement of the states - or at least ten of them. It did not need Congress’s approval. When the 1787 Convention was finished, George Washington sent an official copy of the new Constitution to Congress, and Congress was powerless to do anything but submit to the will of the states.

But the ratification of the Constitution meant that the states gave up things, among them, the right to call a future constitutional convention, because that would be unconstitutional under the Constitution.

The fifth article of the Constitution, even though it does not use the term “convention of the states,” says that the states can propose new amendments to the Constitution by means of a convention. The idea of a convention is offered because that was the primary way of doing things in those days. In fact, Article Five explicitly offers the convention as the means of ratifying amendments under either mode of making amendments, although it also allows that the state legislatures can vote on ratification of new amendments in their state houses under either mode. (Mark Levin has recommended a housekeeping amendment that would dispense with the need to hold conventions to propose amendments so that state houses could propose them going forward without a special convention.)

The anti-COS movement seems bloody-minded in upholding the half of Article Five that allows corrupt federal politicians to produce amendments (or not) while denying the legitimacy of the other half of the Article that allows legislators, who are officers of the respective states and closer to the people, to make amendments to our Constitution even though that is the right of the states under the Constitution. Fear of changing the Constitution is absurd when the members of the federal government have already been changing it for the worse and getting away with it, with no end in sight.

Just to give you a taste of how wrong are those who try to argue an alternative history of the Constitutional Convention and the meaning of Article Five, consider this quotation taken out of context by anti-COS advocate Kelleigh Nelson:

“Having witnessed the difficulties and dangers experienced by the first Convention, I would tremble for the result of the second.” —James Madison

James Madison

The context of this quotation is crucial: After the Constitution was presented for ratification, some anti-federalists, pointing out the flaws that they saw in it, called for a new convention to write another, better constitution. Such a convention would have been held while the United States was still governed by the Articles of Confederation, which gave Congress no power to prevent a new constitution from being written, and it would have been just as lawful as the 1787 Convention. Madison was speaking about this situation and not a constitutional convention called after the ratification of the Constitution – and he was certainly not against a convention of the states, which he had just voted to put into the Constitution. BTW, it is entirely possible, though he might have trembled at the idea of "going back to the drawing boards" in 1788, that Madison might be wrong about the advisability of doing so. James Madison was a great man but hardly infallible.

Nelson joins many in the error of thinking that Congress ordered the Convention not to go beyond discreet revision of the Articles, but the Congress actually advised and begged because they had no power or assurance that the Congress would not do what the states authorized it to do. She further believes that the states directed the Congress not to write a new constitution, but, in fact, only two states, Massachusetts and New York, forbade their delegates to write a new constitution. The rest empowered their delegations to do whatever was necessary to improve the Articles, including completely rewriting them. This is why there were three definite runaway delegates - Alexander Hamilton, the only New Yorker to sign the Constitution, and two delegates from Massachusetts - yet, on the whole, there was no runaway convention. (The delegation from Delaware might be considered runaway because, although they had instructions from their government allowing them to endorse a new constitution, they ignored one restriction that the Constitution violated.)

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Convention of States is Neither a Runaway Convention Nor a Constitutional Convention

The Constitution of The United States allows for the states as well as Congress to propose amendments to the Constitution. (Article Five of the Constitution.)

By Drdpw - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Whenever (including recently) anyone has suggested that there be a Convention of the States to propose new amendments, critics have raised the hobgoblin of a "runaway convention" and then they refer to the Convention of States as a constitutional convention, thereby muddying the waters.
Part of the problem is the myth that the Constitutional Convention of 1787 was a runaway convention. Well, there never was a runaway Constitutional Convention at any time in American history. Tons of historians are wrong about this!
Under the Articles of Confederation, which was the original constitution of the United States for the first decade of its existence, the 1787 Convention was not unconstitutional because the states withheld their sovereignty under the Articles, making Congress a mere creature of the states. The federal government was not the boss of the states, and if the states wanted to give their delegates in a convention a mandate to write a new constitution, they could and most did.
While the 1787 Convention was not unconstitutional under the Articles of Confederation, the Constitution that came out of that Convention made constitutional conventions, going forward, unconstitutional.
Nine out of 12 states at the Constitutional Convention (yes, there were only 12 - Rhode Island sat it out) had full mandates to write a new constitution; 1 state had a partial mandate; 2 states had no mandate. This is why most of the Massachusetts and New York delegations walked out of the Convention - they had no mandate to write a new constitution.
Delaware had a partial mandate. Technically, they should not have signed on to Article One because it created a Congress with several voting representatives from each state whereas Delaware's government had told its delegates to the Convention that each state should only have one vote; but everything else in the Constitution was kosher as far as Delaware was concerned.
So while the 1787 Convention itself was not a runaway, there were some half dozen runaway delegates (out of a total of 39 delegates). Alexander Hamilton was chief among them. The rest of his delegation walked out because New York had not authorized its delegation to write a new constitution. Hamilton went completely renegade when he actually signed the Constitution. Massachusetts also was not supposed to write a new constitution, but one of their delegates, Elbridge Gerry (the pol for whom "gerrymandering" was named) struck a conscientious compromise: he participated in the debate over the Constitution, but he declined to sign it.
Alexander Hamilton
Originally, Article Five only allowed for amendments to be proposed by Congress, but George Mason, a delegate from Virginia, insisted that the article should include language allowing the states to propose amendments. This language was added at the Convention.
The Constitutional Convention of 1787 thus made it unconstitutional for there to be another constitutional convention, because, in ratifying the Constitution, the states each gave up a portion of the autonomy they had retained under the Articles of Confederation, which autonomy had allowed them to shoulder aside the existing constitution, and the Congress created by it, and write a new constitution. The new Constitution was stronger than the Articles and gave the new national government power over the states that the old government never had.
Along with erroneously conflating a Convention of States (which is constitutional) with a Constitutional Convention (which is unconstitutional), critics who invoke a chimerical concern about a "runaway convention" often complain that a convention might change our Constitution in ways that undermine the rights of both the states and of individual citizens.
This worry is mistaken on two counts. One, a Convention of States can only propose amendments and, to take effect, these must be ratified by a super-majority of the state (three-fourths). Two, our Constitution has already been rewritten and is being rewritten with and without benefit of lawful procedure. A Convention of States is a legal way for the states to determine the limits of the federal government for a change, rather than having the federal government decide its own limits.
What might be in the amendments proposed by a Convention of States? A number have already been proposed. One popular suggestion has been term limits for members of Congress. Interestingly, Sen. Ted Cruz has just proposed a term limits amendment for Congress to consider. If it is successful, it would be unnecessary for a Convention of States to consider the same proposal; however, this is not the first time that such an amendment has been proposed, and it has failed in the past. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is adamantly opposed to such an amendment.
A Convention of States is not a Constitutional Convention and cannot change the whole system of government. It can only propose specific reforms, the more precise the more likely to be ratified by the rest of the states. Thomas L. Pangle, professor of government at U. of Tex. (Austin) has suggested that perhaps there is no middle ground between a powerful national government and a confederation of autonomous states ready to break apart and go it alone, but the Convention of States could be the mechanism by which the states can assert their power to counterbalance that of the federal government by passing and ratifying amendments that will force the federal government to do what the states want, in place of what we have now, which is a system of the states gradually (or rapidly) losing more and more of their autonomy to an expanding leviathan of a national government.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Some German Words and Phrases Are Like Their English Equivalents

Around the world, many people find themselves living next to neighbors who speak a nominally different language that they can nevertheless understand. There is a Scandinavian movie called “Kitchen Stories” about the friendship that develops between a Norwegian and a Swede who converse by each man speaking his own language. Occasionally, they must ask each other for clarification where a word is different, but, for the most part, each has little trouble understanding the other because Norwegian and Swedish are just that similar. (Danish is pretty similar to both of them, but don’t tell a Dane that.)

Much the same is true between the Serbs and Croatians even though they famously hate each other, and many peoples in third world countries such as on the African and Asian continents are able to understand their neighbors. On the other hand, though some Arabic speakers I have met pretend to the world that Arabic is the same everywhere, I have been told by others that it is entirely possible for a Moroccan not to understand much that an Egyptian says, even though both nominally speak Arabic. This is a problem, too, for languages like English and Spanish that are widely spoken: the further apart their speakers are, the more divergent their ways of speaking become, until it becomes difficult for them to understand each other.

English is generally regarded as a unique language in that it has no sister languages that are easily understood, and this is generally true. There is an obscure language called Frisian that is spoken off the coast of England and in other places, such as the Netherlands, that some regard as similar to English, although it seems to me more similar to Dutch or Africaans than English. In any case, I believe that most Frisians, nowadays, learn the Queen’s English, or Dutch if they live in the Netherlands.

The family of languages called “Germanic” cover northern Europe and include German, Dutch, Flemish (one of the two languages of Belgium and very similar to Dutch), Scandinavian (Danish, Norwegian, Swedish), English and Frisian. These languages have much in common although there are many differences that make them mutually unintelligible. Nevertheless, there are many striking similarities between, for example, the vocabularies of German and English. It is almost (but not quite) as if they are mutually intelligible—at least they might be if speakers were to limit themselves to a very small and selective vocabulary. There are also many examples of what linguists call “false friends” or words that seem like equivalents in another language but have minorly or majorly different meanings. The German word “bei,” for instance, sounds like the English word “by” and could be used similarly in some contexts but more often means “at.” (The diphthongs “ei,” “ai” and “ay” in German are pronounced like the English word “I.”) The word “gift,” however, means a “present” in English but in German means “poison” (Gift—nouns are always capitalized in German). Even so, the two languages’ ancient relationship is reflected in many examples of similarities between them.

Consider the names for numbers in German and English:

Nummer… (“Number,” although another commonly used word for “number” in German is “Anzahl.”)

ein = one (It also translates as the articles “a” and “an.”)

zwei = two (There are regular equivalents between different German and English sounds and spellings. Notably, words that start with “t” in English sometimes start with “z” in German. This “z,” however, is not pronounced like “z” in English but like “ts” as in the middle or end of some English words like “Betsy” or “puts.” The German “w” is pronounced like the English “v.”)

drei = three (Words that begin with “d” in German often have equivalents in English beginning with “th.” As seen below with the equivalent words “Tochter/daughter,” words that begin with “t” in German can have equivalents in English that begin with “d.”)

fier = four (The diphthong “ie” in German is pronounced like “ee” in English.)

funf = five

sechs = six (Often an initial “s” in German in pronounced like the English “z.” The combination “ch” can be pronounced like a “k” or, unpronounceably for most English speakers, like the “ch” in the Scotish word “loch.” An exception is found in words borrowed from, or based on words borrowed from, foreign languages. “Charmant,” for example, means “charming” and is pronounced “sharmant.”)

sieben = seven (You will notice that one language might have a “b” where another has a “v” in a related word. This is quite common in many languages and is related to the way sounds change over time in the human mouth. This can happen both between languages and within the same language, as in the case of the words “move” and “mobile,” which are relatedgoing back to Latinand yet have different middle consonants.)

acht = eight (“a” is pronounced like “ah” in English.)

neun = nine (“eu” is pronounced like “oy” in “boy.”)

zehn = ten

elf = eleven (I like that this word looks and sounds like the name of a fairy tale creature.)

zwölf (This word is pronounce “tsvolf”—rhymes with “wolf.” The two dots over the “o” make it pronounced differently from the “o” in the English word “doll,” which BTW is closer to the usual pronunciation of “o” in German.)

dreizehn = thirteen

fierzehn = fourteen

funfzehn = fifteen

sechzehn = sixteen

siebzehn = seventeen

achtzehn = eighteen

neunzehn = nineteen

zwanzig = twenty (The “-ig” ending in German is more or less equivalent in meaning to the “-y” or “-ly” ending in English.)

Many basic nouns in German are surprisingly similar to their English equivalents. Note that nouns in German are always capitalized and the word for “the” has three different forms in German, which divides all nouns into masculine, feminine and neuter categories. (Did I say that it is not as if there are no differences between German and English?) “Der” is like “the” for masculine nouns, “das” is for neuter ones, and “die” is for feminine ones but also is used for all plural nouns. As mentioned already, “ein” is equivalent to “a” and “an.”

der Sand = the sand

das Glas = the glass

das Feuer = the fire [In Alfred Hitchcock's movie, Torn Curtain,” Paul Newman yells “Fire!” in a crowded German theater and succeeds in clearing the place, even though Newman's character does not speak German. The word is similar enough in the two languages that no one in the theater could have misunderstood.]

das Leder = the leather

der Finger = the finger

die Hand = the hand

der Arm = the arm

das Plastik = the plastic (material)

das Silber = the silver

das Gold = the gold

das Metall = the metal

der Stahl = the steel

das Kupfer = the copper (The “pf” combination is very common even at the beginnings of German words. This consonant combo also appears in German words like “Apfel” which means “apple.”)

die Wolle = the wool (But “Baumwolle,” which is pronounced “bowm-voll-eh,” means “cotton.” BTW, I should note that there are rarely if ever any silent letters in German as there are in so many English words. So the final “e” is voiced.)

There are even some simple sentences that can more or less be understood if you recognize a few equivalent letters and sounds between German and English:

Der Sand ist weiss. (The sand is white.) [Actually, “weiss” is usually spelled in German “weiß” with a special letter standing in for the double “ss,” but I am already giving some of you way too much information, right?]

Das Licht ist an. (The light is on.)

Ich esse sieben Äpfel. (I eat seven apples.) [The German word “essen” means “to eat.” In the Mel Brooks film “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid,” some of the characters go for a cruise, sailing on a luxury liner called the SS Immer Essen, which means “Always Eating.”]

A note about Apfel” and Äpfel.” Most words in German are made plural by adding the suffix “-en,” but very old words—in fact, several of the words that are likely to be similar to English words—become plural by putting an “umlaut” (two dots) over a vowel. Accented letters like “ä,” “ö” and ü can be difficult to pronounce, although “ä” is actually pronounced more the way the “a” is pronounced in the English word “apple” whereas the singular German word “Apfel” is pronounced more like “Ahp-fell.” I never said that German is entirely easy.

Sie ist meine Mutter. (She is my mother.) [“Mein,” which sometimes carries additional pronounced endings “-e” and “-en,” means “my” and rhymes with “mine.” This sentence is pronounced “Zee ist mine-eh Muh-ter. I apologize for not being able to do justice to the way that “uh” is pronounced.]

Sie ist meine beste Freundin. (She is my best friend.) [Freund is friend; -in is feminine; Freudin means girlfriend.”]

Ich habe acht Brüder. (I have eight brothers.)

Der Vater hat neun Töchter. (The father has nine daughters.)

Er hat elf Schwestern. (He has eleven sisters.)

Note that the personal pronouns in German are a combination of the very different and the almost familiar vis a vis their English equivalents. Ich means I and “Wir” means “we.” “Du” is equivalent to the archaic English word “thou.” “Er” is he and “es” is it.” One of the most confusing to beginners is “Sie” and “sie.” The first (with a capital “S”) is “either “you” (plural) or “they,” while “sie” with a lower case “s” is “she.” Bets are off, however if “she” is the first word in the sentence because then it will be capitalized. The trick is to pay attention to the context and the verb used. “Sie sind” can mean “you are” or “they are,”  but “sie ist” always means “she is.” 

Wir sind Bruder und Schwester. (We are brother and sister.)

Ich trinke Bier. (I drink beer.) [The “t” sound in a German word can correspond to a “d” sound in an English word.]

More complex thoughts and even jokes may be understood with only a little help:

Ein Zwilling kommt selten allein. (A twin seldom comes alone.)

Psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, whose own theories about sexuality got him into trouble, once said the following to Wilhelm Reich, who had an even more radical theory:

Hier stecken Sie in ein Wespennest.

(Here you are poking [or sticking a stick] in a wasps’ nest [Wesp + en (plural) + Nest].)