Saturday, June 30, 2012

WWW



    Severe thunderstorms in the eastern United states have caused major power outages and affected a number of popular websites hosted by online seller Amazon. The storms knocked out power for more than 1.5 million homes and businesses across Maryland and Virginia on Friday night. Technology site VentureBeat reported that websites using Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud service in North Virginia like Netflix, Instagram, Pinterest, Heroku were all down at one point late Friday evening and
early Saturday morning.
    That's bad news. Let there be no doubt. But the emphasis of this widespread news item itself is interesting. Today if one goes to Google and types in the search field the words STORMS KNOCK OUT POWER IN EASTERN US, you get all sorts of different takes on the first page of results. Fox, naturally, goes for the screaming sirens and electric lights by hollering "Three states declare emergency after storms leave 10 dead." The Los Angeles bureau of the same propaganda machine reports "Storms knock out power to 2m across eastern US."
        ABC's headline resembles the one of Fox's L.A. bureau and that turns out to be fairly typical as of this writing.
    What's the point? The point is that the global version of Fox quite properly assessed that the audience they have spent years creating and programming is interested in the number of dead people caused by acts of nature.
   Here is the first sentence of the CBS story: "Violent storms swept across the eastern U.S. late Friday and early Saturday, killing at least six people and knocking out power to more than 2 million customers across the eastern United States, on a weekend when temperatures across the area are expected to reach triple-digits."
    Again, this is fairly standard fair for most of the reporting sites we reviewed.
    And again, you ask, what is the problem?
    Maybe there is no problem. But notice how none of these lead sentences tell you the specific areas hit, unless by specific you mean the Eastern United States. What we do know is that either six or ten people died, two million people lost power, and the storms were widespread. Granted, if we read on, we learn that the three states most heavily impacted were Virginia, Maryland and New Jersey. We also learn that the respective governors of Ohio and West Virginia declared emergencies.
    What we must drill deeply to get is the story of the record temperatures that precipitated these storms. In Washington DC on Friday, a record 104 degrees exploded the thermostats.
    Just one of those things? Or is there a deeper, perhaps even more critical meaning here? Let's look at a report from July 22 of last year issued by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: "Unhealthy levels of heat and humidity are encompassing much of the eastern half of the U.S. as a persistent heat wave continues its grip on the central U.S. while expanding into the East. According to NOAA's National Weather Service, approximately 132 million people in the United States are under a heat alert (Excessive Heat Warning or Watch or Heat Advisory) as of Friday morning."
    Here is how the geniuses at CNN reported the current summer 2012 heat story. "Tens of millions in the central and eastern United States are bearing the full brunt of summer, in all its sweltering and stormy fury. Temperatures Friday soared past 100 degrees Fahrenheit from Topeka, Kansas, to Washington, and the same scorching conditions are expected to continue through the weekend and beyond. Even as evening set in Friday, the headaches weren't over. A powerful line of severe thunderstorms moved across the Midwest -- fueled by record-high temperatures across the region, according to the National Weather Service -- bringing with them lightning and wind gusts as strong as 80 mph."
    According to the NOAA, seven of the eight warmest years on record have occurred since 2001 and the 10 warmest years have all occurred since 1995.
    If the fear-mongers at Fox and CNN really wanted to shake up their viewers, they could take a look at the June issue of last year's Scientific American, wherein we see the following report: "Until recently scientists had only been able to say that more extreme weather is consistent with climate change caused by greenhouse gases that humans are emitting into the atmosphere. Now, however, they can begin to say that the odds of having extreme weather have increased because of human-caused atmospheric changes—and that many individual events would not have happened in the same way without global warming. The reason: The signal of climate change is finally emerging from the noise—the huge amount of natural variability in weather.
    With concentrated masses of people now living in the twenty largest metropolitan centers in the United States, parking lots, roadways, buildings and other things made of cheap steel and concrete absorb reradiate heat, often increasing surface temperatures as much as ten degrees Fahrenheit. A ten degree surface temperature increase in summer will lead to exactly the kinds of storms that bombarded the eastern half of the country last night.
    Before some idiot calls me up to make the challenge that global warming isn't necessarily man-made, allow me to respond, "Shut up." The main culprits in global warming are greenhouse gases, in particular Carbon Dioxide. 40% of U.S. CO2 emissions come from electricity production, and burning coal accounts for 93% of emissions from the electric utility industry. Our contemporary car culture and thirst for globally sourced goods is responsible for about 33% of emissions in the U.S. The use of forests for fuel is one cause of deforestation, but in the first world, our appetite for wood and paper products, our consumption of livestock grazed on former forest land, and the use of tropical forest lands for commodities like palm oil plantations contributes to the mass deforestation of the planet. Forests remove and store carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and this deforestation releases large amounts of carbon, as well as reducing the amount of carbon capture on the planet. n the last half of the 20th century, the use of chemical fertilizers (as opposed to the historical use of animal manure) has risen dramatically. The high rate of application of nitrogen-rich fertilizers has effects on the heat storage of cropland (nitrogen oxides have 300 times more heat-trapping capacity per unit of volume than carbon dioxide) and the run-off of excess fertilizers creates ‘dead-zones’ in our oceans. In addition to these effects, high nitrate levels in groundwater due to over-fertilization are cause for concern for human health.
    So, yeah, we caused it. Grow up.
    But even if all these things did not contribute mightily to the extreme heat that fuels the severe storms--even if this was not the case--wouldn't it still be a better planet if we saved our forests, stopped polluting of air and water, stopped building houses that admittedly most people can no longer afford and no one who can afford them wants to live in a crowded city anyway?
    So enjoy your summer, get a good tan, curse the rain, and all that rot. Me, I'm thinking of moving to the Arctic circle. The way things are going, I should come back with a helluva nice set of tan lines.


Hot Pages

  1. Stephanie Rice, gold-medal swimmer, criticized for wearing racy swimsuit
    http://sports.yahoo.com/blogs/olympics-fourth-place-medal/stephanie-ri...
    Swimmer Stephanie Rice, who swims for a living while wearing a swimsuit in a swimming pool, is catching flak in her native Australia for tweeting a picture of herself in a swimsuit. The nerve of some people. | The three-time gold medalist took the shot of herself wearing a birthday gift from designer Ellie Gonsalves and posted it on Twitter. It made figurative waves one month before she defends her Olympic titles in both individual medleys.
    sports.yahoo.com
  2. Cher upsets church group with alleged slur
    http://wonderwall.msn.com/music/cher-upsets-church-group-with-alleged-...
    WENN | Cher has upset Mormons by using a derogatory term in a Twitter attack on presidential hopeful Mitt Romney. | RELATED: Celebs React to Obama's Support of Same-Sex Marriage | The pop superstar, who is a fervent Democrat, sent out a tweet on Friday, urging President Obama and his aides to get organized or risk losing November's election to Republican Romney, who is a Mormon.
    wonderwall.msn.com
  3. Pelosi-Boehner photo: lots of buzz
    http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/sideshow/pelosi-boehner-photo-captures-emo...
    House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and House Speaker John Boehner (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP) | Click! This photo speaks louder than words. | The snap of House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., seemed to say it all, about the emotions surrounding the Supreme Court's decision to uphold President Obama's health care law--even though the photo was taken the day before and had nothing to do with the health care news.
    news.yahoo.com
  4. http://sports.yahoo.com/news/ncaaf--joe-paterno-role-jerry-sandusky-co...
    The Penn State administration had finally hatched a plan. It was too kind, backward and included possibly tampering with a criminal investigation. Still, it was enough of a plan that it could've stopped Jerry Sandusky, child molester, back in 2001. | Just a couple weeks earlier, a football graduate assistant, Mike McQueary, had witnessed Sandusky abusing a boy in a Penn State locker room shower. He told coach Joe Paterno. He told vice president Gary Schultz and athletic director Tim Curley.
    sports.yahoo.com
  5. Bizarre fish with scary-looking teeth throw scare into lake community
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    Bizarre fish with scary-looking teeth throw scare into lake community GrindTV.com - Outdoor Outdoor GrindTV Yahoo! Sports Search GrindTV GRINDTV Home HOME Skate SKATE Surf SURF Snow SNOW Moto MOTO Bike BIKE Film FILM Style STYLE Outdoor OUTDOOR More MORE GrindTV Blog GrindTV Blog Weekly Grind Weekly Grind All Videos All Videos All Photos All Photos All Athletes All Athletes All Brands All Brands All Links All Links All Users All Users All Contests All Contests Upload Video Upload Video Outdoor Home OUTDOOR
    www.grindtv.com
  6. Millions lose power as heat wave continues
    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/48024138/ns/weather/
    Millions lose power as heat wave continues - Weather - msnbc.com MSNBC - Top Stories Jump to story headline MSN Hotmail More Autos My MSN Video Careers & Jobs Personals Weather Delish Quotes White Pages Games Real Estate Wonderwall Horoscopes Shopping Yellow Pages Local Edition Traffic Feedback Maps & Directions Travel Full MSN Index Bing msnbc.com sites & shows: TODAY Rock Center Nightly News Meet the Press Dateline Morning Joe Hardball Ed Maddow The Last Word msnbc tv Home US World Politics Business ...
    www.msnbc.msn.com
  7. Deadly Land Hurricane Strikes Midwest, Mid-Atlantic
    http://www.accuweather.com/en/weather-news/deadly-super-derecho-strike...
    A land hurricane left a trail of destruction across the Midwest and mid-Atlantic on Friday, cutting power to millions and killing ten people. | More than 450 damaging wind reports were received by NOAA's Storm Prediction Center (SPC) as the land hurricane took roughly 12 hours to race from northern Indiana to the southern mid-Atlantic coast. | A land hurricane is also known as derecho, a widespread and long-lived wind storm that produces gusts to hurricane strength.
    www.accuweather.com
  8. McDonald's worker reveals secrets of fast-food giant (and warns against ordering grilled chicken)
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2166611/McDonalds-worker-revea...
    By Daniel Bates | PUBLISHED: 11:51 EST, 29 June 2012 | UPDATED: 14:58 EST, 29 June 2012 | A McDonald's worker has lifted the lid on what it is really like to work at one of the restaurants in the chain in a candid and hilarious Internet conversation. | The unnamed man claims that some staff at his branch deal marijuana from the parking lot and that if somebody comes in high they will 'practically give you free food'.
    www.dailymail.co.uk
  9. http://xfinity.comcast.net/?cid=xfinityconnecttocomcastnet
    XFINITY by Comcast -- Official Customer Site | Email | Watch TV Online Access Email using the XFINITY Mobile app » Come here often? Make XFINITY.com your homepage » close Get ready for the Summer 2012 Olymics Go Now close Your XFINITY Connect session has timed out due to inactivity.
    xfinity.comcast.net
  10. Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes: 5 Warning Signs of Divorce
    http://www.seattlepi.com/ae/tv/tvguide/article/Tom-Cruise-and-Katie-Ho...
    Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes: 5 Warning Signs of Divorce - seattlepi.com ( skip this header ) Register Sign In Seattle Traffic Seattle Weather Mobile Saturday, June 30, 2012 seattlepi.com seattlepi.com Web Search by YAHOO! Businesses Home Local U.S./World Business Sports A&E Life Comics Photos Blogs Forums Traffic Shopping Real Estate Index ▼ Close [X] Quick links to other pages on this site | Still can't find it? see Site Index Weather Politics Joel Connelly Neighborhoods Around the Sound Environment ...
    www.seattlepi.com
  11. Instagram
    http://instagram.com/
    It's a fast, beautiful and fun way to share your photos with friends and family. | Snap a picture, choose a filter to transform its look and feel, then post to Instagram. Share to Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr too - it's as easy as pie. It's photo sharing, reinvented. | Oh yeah, did we mention it's free?
    instagram.com
  12. Miami Heat's top priority is Boston Celtics guard Ray Allen
    http://espn.go.com/nba/truehoop/miamiheat/story/_/id/8115909/sources-m...
    If the Miami Heat have it their way, they'll have a commitment from Ray Allen within hours of Sunday's start of free agency. The longer the process plays out, the less it may favor them. | The Heat, according to sources, have made Allen their prime offseason target and will pursue him strongly when free agency opens Sunday at 12:01 a.m. ET.
    espn.go.com
  13. http://espn.go.com/mlb/story/_/id/8116408/source-houston-astros-carlos...
    The Los Angeles Dodgers are looking for a bat to help their anemic offense, and Houston Astros first baseman Carlos Lee doesn't think he wants to be that guy. | Lee told MLB.com that he has been informed by Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow that the Dodgers made an offer for him. Since he has a limited no-trade clause, he would have to approve the deal. | Lee has told the Astros, though, that he doesn't want to waive the no-trade clause, a source told ESPN The Magazine's Buster Olney.
    espn.go.com
  14. http://www.weather.com/
    National and Local Weather Forecast, Hurricane, Radar and Report The Weather Channel - weather.com Make it Your Weather Select non-U.S. weather.com website United States (English) United States (English) United States (Spanish) UK & Ireland (English) France (French) Brazil (Portuguese) Germany (German) India (English) Italia (Italiano) Fahrenheit is Selected °F Change to Celsius °C Sign In Weather.com Gold Notify My Profile Sign Out Weather Local National Forecast Severe Weather Alerts Hurricane Central
    www.weather.com
  15. Boston Celtics' Kevin Garnett returning to team
    http://espn.go.com/boston/nba/story/_/id/8115843/boston-celtics-kevin-...
    Kevin Garnett is returning to the Boston Celtics after considering retirement, according to multiple reports. | The forward will receive a three-year, $34-million deal, according to Yahoo! Sports. | "The decision came down to whether KG wanted to keep playing," a source told the Boston Herald. "And once he decided that he did, it was going to be Boston.
    espn.go.com

Friday, June 29, 2012

BEFORE THE BEGINNING

Ohio

    I was born in a hamlet within an already small town. The town was Portsmouth, Ohio, which slumps along the banks of the Ohio River and hides as best it can from the trickle of the less impressive Scioto River. Within Portsmouth’s zip code there reclined a nestling little jut of road that led to my first home in a nook called Pond Creek. To say that we were out in the country was to say that they eat sushi in Japan. The statement contains truth, yet somewhat understates the matter. Looking out the front window of the house my father and mother spent thirteen years building you would see a large yard with a fat evergreen tree near the paved driveway and beyond that a road composed of thick gravel and cheap asphalt. Across the road were the footsteps of a hill thick with trees which in the autumn boasted beautiful leaves that crackled in the wind like the sound of old paper being wadded in an angry fist. South of the hill sat my Uncle Leo and Aunt Edna in a house of their own, one that looked older than ours but which was no less friendly. Down the road a quarter mile, across a short, thin and low bridge, lived my grandparents, on my father’s side. Clay and Macie Mershon were their names and I cannot recall a time when they looked to me anything less than ancient. Their house felt older still and even had an outhouse in the backyard, although that was mostly for show. Their inside toilet functioned just fine, even though their house always smelled vaguely of excrement.
    If you went much beyond my grandparents’ house, you started getting into a part of Pond Creek that was strange to me and so I tried hard to stay away from it, except when I was in the family car with my folks. The road wandered like the skin of a dried copperhead, almost disappearing at times and then reemerging narrower than before. Eventually it led up a frightful hill along the sides of which were abandoned cars turned to rust, grown up in tall weeds and grass, through which you would occasionally see old women hanging clothes onto homemade lines. I have been told that when our family would begin to ascend this hilly road in our car from the other side on our way home, I would rouse from my sleep in the backseat and mumble something about being on the “rough road.”
    Charles and Martha Mershon had been married thirteen years before I—their only child—popped out into this unprepared world. My father worked for a company called Ashland Oil. He always called the place the bulk plant. That was what everyone else called it, too. A bulk plant was a wholesale receiving and distributing facility for an oil company. My dad did many different things for Ashland Oil in those days, often involving delivering fuel oil to residential customers who lived even deeper in the boondocks than we did. My mother, as long as I remember, worked in retail clothing stores: Sears, Martings, JC Penny’s and all the others that little Ohio river towns had in those days, such times being the early 1960s.
    Our house was small and unlike kids who think their homes are huge until they move away, grow up, and come back for a visit, I recognized right away that ours was small. What was large was the expanse of land upon which the house sat. The front yard was a half acre. The back yard was the same. Behind the backyard was at least two acres of wasteland that my father was always mowing with a big, noisy fat tractor. To the north of our house the land continued beyond a small creek for about an acre and a half. This was the best looking part of the whole property as far as nature was concerned. We had all sorts of apple trees and the occasional strange copse of bushes and shrubs.
    We lived on Pond Creek until shortly after my ninth birthday and I cannot remember even one day of my life there when I was less than terrified of one thing or another, most of it having to do with the natural creatures that also considered the area home. Snakes, for instance, were a constant problem. I have no conscious memory of this, but my mother never tired of relating how one day when I was one year old, she was in our basement ironing some clothes while I crawled around on the cool concrete floor, sniffing and poking my tongue at things the way a child will do if no one is paying attention. My mother became aware that she had not heard me make any sounds for a few minutes, looked around and saw that I was preparing to pet the head of a rust-colored and highly venomous copperhead. According to the story my mother told, she dropped the iron, grabbed a long-handled hoe with one hand, lifted me with the other and chopped the head from that snake with one fast and frantic motion.
    Not all my reasons for fear linked with the creatures of the country life. When I was a bit more than two, I was sitting outside our garage while my father did some painting nearby. Again, according to the stories I was told, I decided it would be great fun to sample a taste of the turpentine that my dad was using to thin the paint. He looked over just in time to see me wheezing and choking as I wiped the thinner off my mouth. They rushed me to the doctor’s office in a cold sweat of terror, but the doctor said that I had probably saved my own life by spitting out the foul brew before ingesting enough of it to be fatal.
    I attended a school in the area, although I have no idea what it might have been called. I do remember the three teachers who were charged with my instruction while we live there. Mrs. Farley was a lovable, church-like lady. Mrs. Ralston I recall did not flail me across the room when she discovered that most potent of swear words written in pencil on a small piece of paper inside my tiny fist. And Mrs. Benner, the third grade teacher, was a major hoot who all the boys wanted to marry when we grew up. In part because I did not have the distractions that kids with brothers and sisters have, and in part because I was terrified of being out of doors where the snakes were, I studied hard the three years I went to school there and for my efforts received at the end of each year a nice little trophy that implied that I was quite the little scholar.
    It did not take long for me to become disabused of this laughable notion once we moved into what I thought of as the obscenely large city of Portsmouth itself. All of the kids in my fourth grade class already were adept at something they used to call the New Mathematics. What was new about it was that the Soviet students across the planet from us were thought to be scientific and mathematical wizards and local schools seemed to feel it was their patriotic duty to change the pedagogical approach to the teaching of math. And so I found myself surrounded by kids my own age who were quite comfortable speaking of sets and subsets, commutative law and associative properties, functions and matrices, and all manner of things that did not fit into the apparently useless concept of multiplying eleven by forty-eight. Fortunately for the United States, by the early 1970s most schools had gotten away from attempting to whip abstract thinking onto children breast-fed on television. I’m sure it is merely a coincidence that the decline of New Math coincided with the United States no longer sending rockets to the moon.
    We only stayed I the city of Portsmouth for a little more than one year and so it may be odd that I still recall our address: 2202 Grant Street. The yard was considerably smaller than what we’d had on Pond Creek. And the kids were a lot tougher. If I’d been frightened by snakes and wasps out in the sticks, that was nothing compared to the junior league terrorists who actually walked along on two legs.
    There was an expression popular among the tougher kids in my new elementary school. “Meet me after school at Mound Park.” I did not expect that anything bad could happen that far away from living reptiles, so when a kid in my class named Eddie said those words to me, I smiled and shook his hand, assuring him that I would be there with bells on. On my way out of the school building that day, I ran into my neighbor, a girl one year younger than me. Her name was Tootie. She wanted to walk home with me and I explained that I had to meet Eddie at Mound Park. Her face went white.
    “Eddie Schooner?”
    “Yeah, I guess so.”
    “Big guy, black hair? Brass knuckles?”
    “That’s the guy.”
    “What did you do to get him mad?”
    “Mad?”
    “Jesus, you really are from the country.”
    That was what Tootie always said when I was in the process of doing something stupid. It turned out that being invited to Mound Park after school was a challenge to attend your own beating at the hands of tough kids. Tootie had many occasions to remind me of me recent heritage in the hills.
    The only thing that probably saved me from permanent disfigurement was that my mother had become a Block Watch parent. That meant that if a kid was in danger, he or she could run to our house, throw open the door, and hide out until the trouble subsided. What saved me that particular day was that Tootie escorted me past the Park—it was on the way home and there was no avoiding it—and steered me clear of the violent assault I might have taken.
    Eddie didn’t show up for school the next day. I felt relief at this, at least until another kid told me that while Eddie had been waiting for me to show up, two sixth graders had come along and given him some lip. Eddie didn’t take lip and told them so. One of them held him down on his back while the other beat him about the head until Eddie passed out. He didn’t come out of the coma for two months.
    Far and away, the best thing about living in Portsmouth was the drug store just down the street from our house. I loved that place so much that I wish I’d bought stock in it. They sold Topps baseball cards, seven to a pack with a stale and wonderful stick of bubblegum. Even better were the comic books. I was big into the DC brand, DC originally standing for Detective Comics, of which Batman had been the first popular character. But there was also Superman and his friends Lois Lane and Jimmy Olson, as well as the heroes Hawkman, Wonder Woman, Green Arrow, Flash, and the Submariner. What Dr. Seuss failed to teach me about reading I learned from those comic books, to this day among the most fascinating writing and drawing I’ve ever encountered. A regular book comic cost twelve cents. An “eighty-page giant” was a quarter. Money well spent, in either case. After we had lived in Portsmouth for a little more than a year, my father requested and received a promotion in a different city. We moved to Circleville, the town I still think of as home.

Ohio

Thursday, June 28, 2012

WINSOME DAYS AND STUPID NIGHTS

Stripper
    
    One of the first jobs I acquired after leaving American Express presented itself to me through a newspaper advertisement in the local Phoenix newspaper. A furniture store called Globe Furniture Rentals begged for applicants to send them a resume for the position of Credit Analyst for their nearby store. Globe was for a time part of a larger concern, the name of which fails to come to me, although the deeply tanned fellow who claimed to own the operation introduced himself to me as Blair Neller. He and I talked about tennis. He mentioned that he had been semi-pro right out of college and I suppose that he and I impressed one another with our respective egos. A lot of people who enjoy playing tennis are guilty of overstating their proficiency with the sport. Blair Neller was not one of those types. Weeks after our initial meeting, he and I opposed one another in a private match and he cleaned up the court with me. And I'm good. He was simply fantastic, as his permanent tennis tan indicated he would be.
    I was hired with an almost suspicious haste and in short time was brought into my tiny office where I was to be in charge of one employee, a tiny redhead named Tammy. She and I were to review the credit applications that the affiliate stores faxed to us so that we could tell those affiliates whether or not their customer's credit application was approved. Globe was not a high-end store. It was, however, a medium high-end store and a long ways from junk and Neller wanted to make sure that his sales people weren't letting the merchandise just roll out the door.
    The job managed to keep Tammy and I pretty busy. More than a little of our work involved soothing the fragile and enormous egos of the sales people in the various showrooms throughout the west. A clerk would have a regular client in to look over some furniture that she wanted to place in a demonstration model of an apartment complex targeting corporate housing, for instance. Certainly, the salesperson wanted to keep good will between herself and that client. Then Tammy or I would run a credit bureau report on the signor, only to find that he or she had never paid a bill on time in twenty years. We would check to see if the client had any outstanding debts with our company, often to find that he or she was many months in arrears. Now personally, I didn't care much one way or the other. I was never one of those guys who takes the process of a job all that seriously. Put simply, I prefer to think rather than to pound rules into my head. I knew what the company wanted and I did it, with one exception which we will get to, very well indeed. But as I say, I had a job and part of that job was to make what Blair considered a sound business decision and a lot of the time that meant telling some very wealthy and frequently spoiled clients that they would have to put down thousands of dollars worth of deposits in order to get what they wanted. This opened up all sorts of opportunities for Tammy and me to be hated by the salespeople, many of whom simply made the sales without our knowledge rather than take the chance of losing a nonpaying customer.
    After a while Tammy got involved with one of the delivery truck drivers and ended up leaving the company rather than run the risk of presenting a conflict of interest. That left an opening which I intended to fill with my buddy Lisa Ann. She and I had worked extremely well together back at American Express. I knew she needed a job. After a tiny bit of finagling with some emotionally confused managers, she was hired. 
    I had known that Lisa Ann would be easy to teach. She was smart and even better, she had a grand sense of humor. That latter skill would be essential, I knew, because we worked in a small, window-less office in the rear of one of the downtown stores, the credit bureau machine made a horrible racket, the phones never stopped ringing, and the owner's office was directly next door. So there was a certain pressure that we had to bear.
    Once I showed her how things worked, I asked her if she liked her chair. She said it was fine, thank you, and looked at me as if to ask why. I anticipated her question, spun around in my own ergonomic seating device and shouted, "Because it's time to play bumper chairs!" Whereupon I kicked off and rammed the back of my chair into the back of hers. 
    We ended up doing this little tension-breaker several times a day, usually when one of us was locked in a tense conversation with a customer. "Yes, Miser Jones, I understand, but you are two months behind and--" Wham! A chair right out of nowhere.
    One of the other reasons I had known Lisa Ann would be well-suited for this particular job was that she was a highly sociable person, whereas I was--occupationally, at least--something of a curmudgeon. I didn't know about sales, I didn't care about sales, and I didn't have much use for the sales people themselves, only because they were a high-strung lot who struck me as being superficial, whereas I fancied myself as situationally laid back and deep as a mighty river. With Lisa Ann on board, I would no longer have to go out and mingle with the staff in order to maintain some semblance of good relations between the sellers and the credit department. 
    She handled relations between the two departments with great aplomb and it is entirely appropriate to say that she was quite the hit with the whole company, especially with the folks in the headquarters in Cincinnati, Ohio. Our immediate boss was not Neller, but rather a senior associate named Pat who did not suffer fools or anyone else, for that matter. She took a keen liking to Lisa Ann, as well she should have.
    One of the unfortunate and truly sad manifestations of my own behavior in those days was the lethal combination of drinking and womanizing. A more modest man would not have seen himself as some type of modern day Lothario.
   I had never been accused of modesty. Indeed, the truth was quite the opposite, however self-deluding my behavior turned out to be. 
    One of the things I quite enjoyed in those winsome days was to spend my evenings tossing back gin and tonics in one of the valley's multitudinous strip clubs. I especially favored, at least for a while, an established topless venue known as Cheetah 1. I never learned if there evolved somewhere a Cheetah 2, but one was more than sufficient for my salacious purposes. Because I was, in those days, young, somewhat charming, with ego to burn, I often did not leave those clubs alone. I mention this not so much by way of bragging as to point up a flaw in my own character, one which remained with me for far too many years and despite much evidence to the contrary. On the one hand, it struck me that this behavior was not only physically stimulating, but even reasonable, since I had, as it were, the upper hand in the situations. After all, I knew what the young women were like in their most exposed conditions, and because they tended to meet a lot of creeps in their work, to a small degree I was a bit of a relief from the typical lecherous perverts who tended to frequent such places. All the same, it did not escape my notice that as a free spending high roller, I tended to fair better than most of my less-well-heeled fellow customers and it is to that particular point that you, the reader, deserve some candor. 
    The women who work in strip clubs do not work there because they are initially more sexually inclined than other women. Their sense of morality is curiously no different than, say, a salesperson working at a furniture store. Where the difference lies, I suspect, is in one of two areas. Either the dancer perceives her own financial needs to be somewhat greater than those of the population as a whole, or else she is in some type of dire circumstance and simply needs to make some fast cash without having to become an executive with a multinational corporation. However, changes sometimes do happen to these women once they begin working as dancers and one of those changes is that they are quickly amazed at how much money they can make dancing in a bikini, the top half of which they soon divest themselves of, while standing as close as the law allows to their intoxicated customers. Some of them also learn to savor the effects of alcohol, marijuana and cocaine, an interesting mix when you recall that they are earning their living wearing only about a quarter of an inch of clothing. 
    The first woman I dated from Cheetah's was named Roxanne and she was quite the joy. (When I say "dated," it should be understood that prostitution is not what we are talking about. No money ever exchanged hands and there was never a quid pro quo. However, it was understood that I would show them a good time and they would do the same.) Without going into the naughty specifics of the matter, she introduced me to Hershey's syrup, whip cream and maraschino cherries in manners I had never fully comprehended previously. Then I had to go and ruin things. Lying on my naked back on my living room floor with her on top of me--our third date, as I recall--I involuntarily muttered something to the effect that I really liked her a lot. She leaned her radiant face close to mine and said, "Phil, I love you. And you need to know that I'm married."
    As a man once said, "Well, hell." 
    I had not considered that possibility. 
    That was my last evening with Roxanne.
    A few months later I found myself in a similar, though admittedly not quite as satisfying, circumstance with a woman whose stage name was Butterfly, but whose real name was Catherine. She mentioned during the course of our adventure that she liked the furniture in my apartment. I told her it came from work and that led me to explain what I did for a living. Bear in mind that throughout this conversation, Catherine and I were locked in sweet sexual congress the likes of which would have been enough to satisfy most men for the duration of their lives. But I was entering a greedy stage of my own being. At some point between champagne and orgasms, I apparently invited her to come to the local showroom and I'd see what I could do to get her a discount on some furniture. 
   Two days later the feeling returned to my fingers. That same day, Catherine/Butterfly and three of her dancer girlfriends came into the showroom looking for some furniture.
    I ran their credit applications. They stank on ice. These women had never paid for anything in their lives, ever. But they had not allowed that to get in the way of their avarice. Two of the applications I set aside as thoroughly impossible. One of the remaining two belonged to Catherine. She had never paid for anything either, but at least her own greed was the best of the bunch. One of the other applications was similar. 
    I declined the first two outright, an act which turned out to be my downfall. I approved Catherine's and the other woman's. The salespeople were a little surprised. Still, they were happy for the sales.
    Two months went by. Lisa Ann and I kept playing bumper chairs. Then one day the store manager, Tom, invited me into his office. He wanted to know if I'd ever been to a topless joint called Cheetah 1. 
    You can probably guess what happened. One of the dancers I had declined got her g-string in a bind and called Tom to tell him that her credit was no worse than Catherine's and where did I get off? Well, where I had gotten off was nobody's business, but I had absolutely been wrong in approving the two rentals that I'd authorized. Tom also mentioned that Catherine had thus far not made her first payment, was a month past due, and apparently no longer lived at the house where they had delivered the goods. 
    As another wise man once said, "Shit."
    Lisa Ann had nothing whatsoever to do with any of this, knew nothing of it before hand and was devastated when she found out. It was a real shock and I felt terrible that I'd let her down.
    I lost that job. Rightly so. 
    I did not, however, learn anything from the experience. As a matter of fact, things only got worse from there. 
stripper

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

RUTH ANN AND THE RAINCIRCLES

Mandala
    
    Why is the very fact of the existence of Ruth Ann Hendrickson manifestly essential to the continuation of life on this here madly spinning orb? I'm glad I asked. Walk this way, won't you? [If you could walk this way, you'd already know the answer.]
    Now, here's the deal. She and I met in college and you probably have already scanned in these pages that she and I used to playfully aggravate certain professors in whom we were in awe. There is, however, far more to Ruth Ann than a mere prankster, although I like to image that she has retained much of those mischievous impulses. One of my favorite recollections of this infinitely wonderful person was one day when she came into our office in Marshall University's Student Union Cafeteria. Of course, we did not really have an office in the cafeteria; it was just a favorite table that the rest of the school population unconsciously considered to be reserved for my friends and myself.  Ruth Ann sat herself down, wearing a white shirt of some sort and those famous rainbow suspenders (which I also tell myself she still owns) and a pair of straight leg blue jeans with the bottoms rolled into cuffs. She sat down, offered me a grin which I returned in kind, and slipped two book across the table. The first one was called The Tao of Physics: An Exploration of the Parallels Between Modern Physics and Eastern Mysticism, by  Fritjof Capra. My immediate thought upon reading the title was: "Oh, shit. She's smart. The only mistake this woman has made lately is in thinking that I am, too."
    The title of the second book she proffered escapes me, although I believe it was along the lines of The Art of the Mandala. I do know that I had never heard of this thing called mandala, unless it was a misspelling of a South Africa Civil Rights leader, which seemed unlikely. Ruth Ann patiently explained that the mandala is a concentric, radially balanced art form considered sacred by many Buddhist and Hindu religions. Psychologists such as Jung believed that the mandala could be used to gain a better awareness of one's own subconscious. 
    I thought many of the pictures in the book were pretty.
    Well, one thing and another and I realized that I wanted very much to impress this young woman with my extremely limited savoir faire, as well as my petite amounts of je ne sais quoi, so I quickly brought to the table the fact that the University's philosophy department was hosting some sort of conference and wouldn't it be interesting to go to it?
    Ruth Ann had a better idea. "I think we should make a mandala and take it to the conference."
    Suddenly aware that this vivacious individual was not about to be derailed from the mandala subject, I  stumbled out some words to the effect that she had put her finger on a mighty fine idea. 
    A couple evenings later, I showed up at the house she shared with her friend Judy. I remember that they lived very near the school and that an African-American woman with delusions of being a world renown Gospel singer lived next door. Ruth Ann's house had a wonderful smell that I couldn't quite place, but the aroma was something like a mix of fresh vegetables and lilacs. On the stereo played an album by a group called Sparks. A couple neuvo-Impressionist paintings adorned the walls. She had books everywhere. As I recall, you entered her house directly into the living room, went by an opened bedroom area down a short hallway and then found yourself in the kitchen, which was where we began our ambitious project. We were prepared with canvas and wood, acrylic paints and brushes, rubber cement and a staple gun of some sort. 
    The idea we developed may sound primitive now, but I'm inclined to believe that it was nevertheless a pretty good one, especially given that a couple middle class kids had the hubris to bring to creation a form of art favored by ancient Buddhists living ten thousand miles away, most of whom had never even heard of Appalachia. 
    We broke the screen down into four quadrants, each of which had two arcs joined at the endpoints. The arcs themselves were divided into five or six miniature arcs of progressive colors, resembling a child's version of a rainbow. The twist--and there was always a twist where Ruth Ann and I were concerned--was that the bottom half of the rainbow arcs were the exact complementary colors of the top half, so that the red mini-arc met a complementary green one, the orange top met a blue one, the yellow met violet, et cetera. As I say, these "raincircles," as we called them, were placed in four equidistant quadrants upon the squared canvas. 
    That's nice, I thought to myself. Now what the hell do we do?  
   Ruth Ann supplied the answer, one which I must admit was quite brilliant. From the center of each raincircle, she suggested, we bring a line of white light which pours directly into the center of the canvas, which will be a black dot. The rationale was that white--the presence of all color--would enter, or emanate from--the black center--the absence of all color. From this, the theory went, developed the color spectra as represented by the visible top half of the raincircles, as well as the normally invisible bottom and complementary halves. 
    Once we put this together and shellacked the wood onto which the canvas was stapled, we stood back and admired our handiwork.  Pretty good, we said, for an evening's work. 
    Now here's the funny thing: I am probably the least cosmic person on this planet. I do not hold with anything of a metaphysical nature. If I even had a soul, I was certain that it was--even then--a twisted manifestation of some radioactive protoplasm that accidentally stumbled on its way out of some primordial pool and served no greater function that to disrupt my own limited brain waves. However, I have always tried to be a realist and that requires, on occasion, to admitting to the existence of things that I cannot otherwise explain. Sitting at her kitchen table, moving out onto the more spacious area on her living room floor, cracking jokes with her roommate, dabbing paint here and there, silently admiring the way Ruth Ann's hair positively glistened all the time, I became very much aware of being filled with a wonderful sense of contentedness, one which I hadn't felt since I'd been a child, and one which I have--with rare exceptions--felt seldom in the years that have run by since. It was like sitting in warm water up to my shoulders, with tiny jets forcing streams against my back. It was like the first time you fly in an airplane, once the fear has subsided. It was like noticing colors in the world that had always been there yet somehow previously avoided calling attention to themselves. It was bliss. 
    Some amount of time moved on and the big day of the philosophy conference arrived. Ruth Ann and I stood outside the small room where this gathering was to form. I recognized Dr. Slaatte and some students from my classes. They were mumbling together about modes of alienation, the multitudinous of existence, the omnipresence of Being, and that type of gibberish. I imagined standing before these men with our modest mandala, explaining to their quizzical, condescending faces that the psychedelic experience was the joiner between mysticism and physics, as any fool could see by imploring one's own unconscious mind to become one with the mighty mandala before them.
    I looked at our project. I looked at Ruth Ann. I said, "You have a rather bemused expression, don't you?"
    She laughed. "Why don't we get out of here?"
    I have only on rare occasions been as relieved to hear any words in my life. 


    Why is he relating this story?
    I am telling you this because I am certain that there are people in your own life who have helped make you the things that you most enjoy about yourself. Someone may have inspired you to read. Someone may have inspired you to draw. Someone very well made have worked with you on something that you didn't understand, inspiring you in the process to understand yourself better than you ever would have otherwise. 
    Years later, Ruth Ann Hendrickson continues to be the embodiment of all that I consider great and glorious in the world. If that sounds like the obsessive ramblings of an adolescent infatuation, then I say that's just fine. Call it what you will. But deep inside each of us there germinates the essence of someone who helped make us better than we could have been had we not spent time in their company. In this case, Ruth Ann had to endure some highly aggravating behavior on my part, more than a few times. It was not unusual for me in those days to walk around quite confused, misunderstanding myself and being even less clear on others. Yet she remained patient, most of the time, and when she was less patient, it was because she knew my potential and was irked that I didn't live up to it.
     Today she lives in her part of the country and I live in mine. Yet she took it upon herself recently to do me a big favor, one which I will not mention here, because I do not wish to embarrass her, other than to say that she thought it up on her own and was gentle in even offering it. When you know that someone who spent the evening with you years ago in the development of raincircles still cares about you, well, friends, that awareness can fill you up with a sense of contentedness that feels like sitting in warm water up to your shoulders, warm jets and the smell of lilacs and vegetables. 
    Now if it would only rain.
    

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

TIP MY HAT TO THE NEW CONSTITUTION

    
    Before plunging ahead, you may want to reexamine what you think you know about our friend, The United States Constitution. The preceding five Philropost articles will hip you to what's going on, as you will see by reading Idiots Without ChainsNew Liner Notes to the ConstitutionRe-Configuring the ConstitutionRevisiting the Constitution, and Rethinking the Constitution

   While no document in and of itself can or should possess the authority to grant rights which already belong to a person by simple virtue of that person being a citizen of the grand concept known as the United States, nevertheless this Constitution does seek to affirm those pre-existing rights so that the people of the United States can and may form an intellectual access to an awareness that those rights must not be abridged by any other person, society, or organization, including by any collective or corporation, as well as by the institution of government itself. These unambiguous rights to which we dedicate this document include the right to shelter, sustenance, healthcare, education, reproduction, communication, and environmental purity.


    Article 1
    A person must have a home in which he or she can reasonably feel safe and secure. Therefore, without regard to the reigning political parties, economic systems or prevailing theologies, the federal government shall guarantee and promote everyone as being entitled to a comfortable dwelling.


    Article 2
    Access to food and water is essential. No society can celebrate its freedoms so long as any member of that society suffers hunger or thirst. The federal government shall therefore, through nationalized energy resources and tax revenues, fund the sustenance of anyone who asserts a compelling need for such. Further, any house of worship wishing to maintain a tax-exempt privilege will funnel whatever un-taxed earnings they accrue to subsidize this process.


    Article 3
    Whereas in many instances the government shall exist to protect the interests of the individual from those of the business corporation, for the advancement of the public health there will be a merging of the federal institutions with the healthcare industry so that the former may guarantee the latter services of the population's mental and physical well-being rather than any economic or profit motive.


    Article 4
    Public, non-religious, non-doctrinaire schools are obligated to address society's needs for a liberal arts education, including language studies, mathematics, the sciences, the social sciences, the arts, history, and critical thinking. Cognizant that learning is a lifelong process, anyone of any age seeking admittance to a public school or university shall not be inhibited by cost or by any other means of discrimination. Likewise, schools with a theological, political, ideological or other private agenda shall not be aided by the federal government either by the granting of scholarships or by the benefit of tax reduction.


    Article 5
    Any female of any age who is within the first trimester of her pregnancy shall be free to exercise her absolute right to an abortion without cost, publicity, or shame, as she shall likewise be free to exercise the same absolute right to carry the child through to its eventual birth. Abortions after the first trimester shall be performed only following the informed and mutual consent of the patient and her physician.


    Article 6
    Ideas give form to words and words in turn generate new ideas. To stifle either of these, no matter how repulsive those words may be to people who consider themselves righteous, is to give blessing to not only oppression but also to ignorance and willful stupidity. Therefore, the right to free expression is absolute, bearing in mind the distinction between word and deed. One may shout "fire" in a crowded theater, or shout "theater" in a crowded fire. One may call for the overthrow of the government. One may curse in church, or pray among sailors. The test lies in the difference between shouting "fire" and starting one. 
   The only type of communication that is reasonable to thwart is the type that surreptitiously or otherwise seeks to limit the freedom of another's speech, so long as the "another" remains an individual and not someone attached to an organization whose mandate seeks to generate profits or any other accumulation of wealth. By this reasoning, a person may call for an end to a particular newspaper; the newspaper, however, being larger and presumably more powerful, cannot call for an end to a particular person.


    Article 7
     The health of the environment guarantees our own longevity. Therefore, anything agreed upon by a simple plurality of those in the scientific community to work against the interests of the natural environment's ability to sustain itself shall be on a par with the crimes of murder and treason.


    Article 8
    The only rights afforded the separate states are those concerning domestic governors, county leaders, and common defense. Each state may elect a proportionate number of county leaders who will seek redress with the federal government for any needs not specifically referenced in this document.
    Regarding defense, the publicly-elected governor of each state shall determine--in consultation with the other publicly-elected governors throughout the nation--the defensive needs of the United States and of the ability of the separate states to support this need. In the event of a military attack against the United States or against any state therein, it shall be the duty of the other states to deliver enlisted troops, machines and material for the reconstruction of any damages done. 
    Any war of offense against another country, as determined by a simple majority of the governors of the several states, shall be grounds for immediate impeachment and removal from office of the Chief Executive. 


    Article 9
    Whereas the office holders of Congress are now vacated by edict, the states shall hold public and direct elections once every four years, or at such time as a vote of no confidence arises, whichever shall occur sooner. Anyone residing within a state for six months or longer who has reached the majority age of eighteen years or above shall be free to vote for the County Leader as well as the State Governor and National President. The several County Leaders shall, with the Governors, form the government of each state.
    The election of the President, or Chief Executive of the Country, shall likewise take place in four year increments, though staggered so that they occur at the end of the state government's second year. 
    The elections of all offices mentioned above shall be the result of publicly-funded campaigns which shall not exceed a duration of fourteen days. The financing of any campaign shall not exceed the total of the federal minimum wage multiplied by the number 2080.
    Each state shall be charged with the humane rehabilitation of its convicted criminal population, except in the case of federal criminality. To that end, the states with the lowest criminal recidivism shall receive additional funds from the federal government. 
    The death penalty, as well as the concept of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, are hereby deemed against the Constitution and indeed are against the cause of Humanity itself.
    The judicial branch of government shall consist of fifteen judges elected by majority vote of the populace, each of whom shall serve a nonrenewable term of nine years. This court will remain in session eleven out of twelve months of the year and shall only rule on matters pertaining to the administration of Justice as that is determined by the popular mind reflected in this Constitution. The Court is admonished to consider Justice rather than guilt or innocence, a broadening of individual rights rather than a lessening of those rights, and shall weigh the collective rights of the nation over any rights sought or unsought by the states themselves.


    Article 10
    This Constitution shall be amended as the interests of collective Justice require and shall be reworked by representatives of the Judiciary and State Governors once every nineteen years, in keeping with the foresight of one of the Original Framers. 

Monday, June 25, 2012

IDIOTS WITHOUT CHAINS

    
    Seeing as how we have, o'er the past few Diem, made a mess of the U.S. Constitution, we thought it nice, if not entirely apropos, to toss in the Amendments while at it, if for no other reasons than to further alienate the inalienability of us all. If you missed our last thrilling episodes, you can still catch them  (Rethinking the ConstitutionRevisiting the ConstitutionRe-Configuring the Constitution or New Liner Notes to the Constitution). 
    But now to the Bat-cave.
    The Constitution was amazing, yet in many ways inadequate. For one thing, it did not include a specific declaration of individual rights. It specified what the government could do but did not address itself to what it could not do. For another thing, it did not apply to everyone. The "consent of the governed" meant propertied white men only.
    The absence of a bill of rights turned out to be an obstacle to the Constitution's ratification by the states. It would take four more years of ferocious debate before the new government's form would be resolved. The Federalists opposed including a bill of rights on the ground that it was unnecessary. The Anti-Federalists, who were afraid of a strong centralized government, refused to support the Constitution without one.
    In the end, popular sentiment won out. Recently freed from the despotic English monarchy, the American people demanded guarantees that the new government would not trample upon their newly earned freedoms of speech, press and religion, nor upon their right to be free from warrantless searches and seizures. So, the Constitution's framers heeded Thomas Jefferson who argued: "A bill of rights is what the people are entitled to against every government on earth, general or particular, and what no just government should refuse, or rest on inference."
    The American Bill of Rights, inspired by Jefferson and drafted by James Madison, was adopted, and in 1791 the Constitution's first ten amendments became the law of the land, if not of the sea.

    Although First Amendment jurisprudence is almost entirely a phenomenon that began in the 20th century, common law protection for free speech began much earlier, in the 18th and 19th centuries.
    An attorney friend of mine and I were talking just last evening about the so-called crime of libel and we each made reference to the fascinating case in 1964 of Sullivan v The New York Times wherein the newspaper ran an advertisement that the paper knew contained factual inaccuracies and ran the ad anyway.
    The trial of printer John Peter Zenger in 1735 was a landmark in the development of common law protection for free speech. In the Zenger case, a New York jury returned a verdict of "not guilty" on a charge of seditious libel--in contrast to the practice in England where juries were permitted only to decide whether the defendant printed the allegedly libelous words. As a result of the precedent set in the Zenger case, and the reluctance of juries to support prosecutions for seditious libel, the common law of seditious libel in America became generally unenforceable.
    Madison's original draft of the Bill of Rights contained two proposed amendments dealing with freedom of speech. One proposed amendment said "The people shall not be deprived or abridged of their right to speak, to write, or to publish their sentiments; and the freedom of the press, one of the great bulwarks of liberty, shall be inviolable." The other proposed amendment from Madison read: "No state shall violate the equal rights of conscience, or of the press." Congress, however, did not support Madison's efforts to apply free speech protections against the states, even though Madison called that amendment the "most valuable amendment on the whole list." (It would not be until the 1920s, when the Supreme Court held the First Amendment protections to be incorporated through the Fourteenth Amendment, that freedom of speech guarantees would apply against the states.)
    The final version, which I hope is familiar to everyone, but probably is not, reads as follows: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
    The absolutist approach to an interpretation of this most vital of all amendments is often associated with Justice Black, who held that the First Amendment meant exactly what it says: that Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech. Under this approach, the only question is whether the action in conduct is truly "speech" (and therefore protected) or "conduct" (and therefore subject to reasonable governmental regulation). Even absolutists such as Justice Black recognized that words might be so closely connected with producing a specific action (such as entering into a contract with a hitman or yelling "Fire!" in a crowded theater) as to be unprotected. I, on the other hand, completely disagree and understand that freedom of speech is absolute and on a par with the freedom to have an idea, in which case the freedom of thought should never, under even the most unpleasant of circumstances, ever been restrained. Throwing a bomb or injuring another person is not an idea; it is an expressed act. Saying that something ugly should be done is the expression of an idea and not an action in and of itself and should not be abridged.
    The Second Amendment has generated almost as much controversy as the First. It reads 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 original draft of amendment read thus: "That the people have a right to keep and bear arms; that a well regulated Militia composed of the body of the people trained to arms is the proper, natural and safe defense of a free State. That standing armies in time of peace are dangerous to liberty, and therefore ought to be avoided as far as the circumstances and protection of the community will admit; and that in all cases the military should be under strict subordination to and governed by the civil power."
    It's a tough issue because the clear intent of the Framers was to ensure that the people themselves--meaning property owners--were not to be pushed around by standing armies, a rather ambiguous term that might mean either invading armies (in which case the value of the Constitution might be mute anyway) or presumably legitimate armies getting carried away with their own power. The murkiness extends to the concept of a "well-regulated militia." The expression well-regulated suggests gun control. It cannot mean anything else. At the same time, the contemporary meaning of militia and the notion of the eighteenth century are likely not quite the same thing. What any of this has to do with foreign invaders taking away your right to point your gun at grandma is beyond me. I will say that no one needs to openly carrying assault rifles to prove that they are more American than the guy next door. I will also mention that when I lived in West Virginia, I responded to an advert about the opening of deer season by writing a letter to the sponsor of the ad saying that I thought it would be amusing if a deer popped up out of the woods and shot back at the hunter. The fellow who had placed the ad called my home a little after midnight and accused me of sedition. 
    The Third Amendment reads No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law. The first part is clear. The second part is unclear. Whose law? City, state, federal? What exactly is meant by war? 
    The Fourth Amendment has also endured its share of controversy. The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized. Question One: Does this apply to the Internet? Question Two: What does "unreasonable" mean? Question Three: What is probably cause?
    Answer one: Yes, according to me. Answer two: In the case of Hoffa v. United States in 1966, Justice Powell delivered the opinion of the Court, writing "What the Fourth Amendment protects is the security a man relies upon when he places himself or his property within a constitutionally protected area, be it his home or his office, his hotel room or his automobile. There he is protected from unwarranted governmental intrusion." Powell explained that because an informer named Partin had not entered Hoffa's hotel room by stealth or by force but had been invited, and that every conversation testified to by Partin was either directed at him or freely made in his presence, no legitimate interest protected by the Fourth Amendment had been violated. 
    In regard to the third question, we may look to Board of Education v Earls in 2002. In this case, the Tecumseh, Oklahoma School District has a drug testing policy that requires all middle and high school students who wish to participate in extracurricular activities to undergo a urinalysis that tests for the presence of illegal drugs. At the time of this case, this policy had only been applied to activities sanctioned by the Oklahoma Secondary Schools Activities Association. The school district was sued by some students and parents in an attempt to have this policy vacated on Fourth Amendment grounds.
    The District Court hearing the suit granted the school District a Summary Judgement (a ruling without a full trial). On appeal, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the decision, holding that the testing of the students was a violation of the Fourth Amendment. They ruled that because the School District had failed to show that there was a drug abuse problem among a sufficient number of students who were to be tested and that the test was suspicionless, the testing program would not have an effect in reducing a problem with illegal drug use.
    Justice Clarence Thomas (in a rare instance of actually doing anything) wrote the opinion for the Supreme Court. In reversing the decision of the Appeals Court, he held that "a probable cause finding is unnecessary in the public school context because it would unduly interfere with maintenance of the swift and informal disciplinary procedures that are needed." He ruled that there need not be suspicion of an individual or individuals for a search of students to be deemed reasonable. He noted the the "special needs" of public schools are beyond the needs of law enforcement. Relying on Vernonia School District v. Acton (1995), Thomas, concluded that the students affected by the drug testing had a limited expectation of privacy because they voluntarily participated in extracurricular activities. Additionally, the results of the urinalysis were not used to penalize students academically or shared with law enforcement. For these reasons, the drug testing policy was not a significant intrusion on the student's privacy expectations and therefore, was not a violation of the Fourth Amendment.
    Here is the Fifth Amendment. No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
    This Amendment attempts to cover as much ground as the First and has come in for almost as many varied interpretations. The first portion requires that if you are charged with a serious offense, usually a felony, you are entitled to have a Grand Jury convened to determine if there is enough evidence to warrant bringing you to trial, the goal being to prevent government prosecutors from harassing people they do not like. Sounds good, except that prosecutors have found thousands of ways around the protection, including forbidding the presence of the accused's attorney during the proceedings, as well as charging with contempt anyone who refuses to cooperate with such a proceeding, to the extent that the requirement against forced self-incrimination is waived in most of these events. 
    The prohibition against double jeopardy is a good one in the sense that it keeps evil prosecutors from bringing the same charges against a defendant until he or she is finally found guilty.
    The proscription against self-incrimination is a bit more murky. One of the most fascinating aspects of this is whether it is permissible for police to coerce an incriminating statement from a suspect which advances their case against him even if the prosecutor chooses to not use that coerced statement in the trial itself. In 2010 the Supreme Court Jesters refused to hear a case that addressed itself specifically to this issue. The case involved a 13-year-old boy who said his right against self-incrimination was violated when a police officer coerced an incriminating statement from him – even though the statement was never used in a trial. At issue in the case, Jensen v. Stoot, was whether the prohibition applies only to statements admitted as evidence during an actual trial, or whether it also applies whenever a coerced statement is used to advance a criminal case toward a trial. The case centered on Paul Stoot II, a boy accused of sexually abusing a three-year-old girl in Everett, Washington. Police Detective Jon Jensen interrogated Paul Stoot in the principal’s office at his middle school. The detective informed Paul of his Miranda rights but did not inform him that, as a juvenile, he had a right to have his parents present during the interrogation.
Mr. Jensen questioned Paul for roughly two hours, repeatedly rejecting the child's denials of wrongdoing. The detective used targeted interrogation techniques. Eventually, Paul said he did moleste the girl, and wrote out a statement. He was charged with child molestation in the first degree.
    A juvenile court judge determined that Paul did not understand that he had a right to remain silent and a right to have a lawyer and his parents present for the entire interrogation. The judge ruled that police coerced Paul’s confession. In addition, the judge ruled that the accusing girl’s statement was not credible. Both statements were thrown out and all charges against Paul were dropped. The boy and 
his parents responded by filing a civil lawsuit against Jensen, claiming the police officer violated Paul’s Fifth Amendment right against self incrimination.
    Finally, what is meant by the phrase "due process"? In 1950, in the case of Solesbee v Balkcom, the Supreme Court ruled that "It is now the settled doctrine of this Court that the Due Process Clause embodies a system of rights based on moral principles so deeply imbedded in the traditions and feelings of our people as to be deemed fundamental to a civilized society as conceived by our whole history. Due Process is that which comports with the deepest notions of what is fair and right and just." [Emphasis added.]
    That is one of the few references to justice in any Supreme Court ruling of note. Unfortunately, the Court counter-balanced this ideal with a grave error when it went on to say "All persons within the territory of the United States are entitled to its protection, including corporations, aliens, and presumptively citizens seeking readmission to the United States, but States as such are not so entitled."
    Amendment the Sixth looks like this and stands as one of the least ambiguous sets of words coined by the Framers. In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; 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.
    The Seventh Amendment, which is typically forgotten, reads thus: In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law. One might expect the twenty dollar figure to have been increased over the years.
    The Eighth Amendment is tremendous. Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted. In practice, bail is often used as punishment. As to cruel and unusual punishments, the "unusual" word is a curious one, suggesting as it does the arbitrary rather than proscribed implementation of a certain punishment. In other words, regardless of one's view on capital punishment, the word unusual addresses itself to the punishment's swift and immediate use in some cases and its simultaneously drawn out and random use in others. 
   The Framers obsequiously addressed themselves to fairness and justice with the Ninth Amendment.  The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people. This is another way of saying, "Imperfect as we are, we may have neglected certain rights that you should possess. Not being prognosticators, the world may change in ways which we cannot foresee. So apply the tenets thus enumerated to new circumstances as decency requires."
    The Tenth and Final Amendment contained within the Bill of Rights reads The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people. There is nothing in the history of the adoption of the Bill of Rights, or this amendment to suggest that it was more than declaratory of the relationship between the national and state governments as it had been established by the Constitution before the amendment or that its purpose was other than to allay fears that the new national government might seek to exercise powers not granted, and that the states might not be able to exercise fully their reserved powers.
    In any event, those are the Big and Heavy Ten, the ones people die for, the ones most people do not recognize. According to a recent survey conducted by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation:

  • More Americans could identify Michael Jackson as the composer of "Beat It" and "Billie Jean" than could identify the Bill of Rights as a body of amendments to the Constitution. 
• More than 50 percent of respondents attributed the quote "From each according to his ability to each according to his needs" to either Thomas Paine, George Washington or President Obama. The quote is from Karl Marx, author of "The Communist Manifesto."

• More than a third did not know the century in which the American Revolution took place, and half of respondents believed that either the Civil War, the Emancipation Proclamation or the War of 1812 occurred before the American Revolution.

• With a political movement now claiming the mantle of the Revolutionary-era Tea Party, more than half of respondents misidentified the outcome of the 18th-century agitation as a repeal of taxes, rather than as a key mobilization of popular resistance to British colonial rule.

• A third mistakenly believed that the Bill of Rights does not guarantee a right to a trial by jury, while 40 percent mistakenly thought that it did secure the right to vote.

• More than half misidentified the system of government established in the Constitution as a direct democracy, rather than a republic--a question that must be answered correctly by immigrants qualifying for U.S. citizenship.