Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Think


"DENKE"

"PENSEZ"

"THINK"

Back in the good old days (or you may think of them as "the bad old days") when IBM Ruled The Earth and dinosaurs were cooled with chilled ammonia, it was possible for an IBM employee to order (free of charge) from the Great Parts Depot in Mechanicsburg, PA, a desk sign proclaiming "THINK", and you could get them in almost every language known to man and in any of the four primary IBM colors: blue, mustard, black, and carmine.

Those of us in IT (Information Technology) used to have a mantra: "Machines should work; people should think."  We tried desperately then to do the required thinking so that our machines could do the required working, and I think (!) that we were largely successful.  I don't know who originated the tenet, but it was clear to all of us then that it was divinely ordained truth.  "Machines should work; people should think."

This evening while walking Riqui The Wonder Dog it occurred to me that there is more truth contained in that mantra than anyone may ever have realized.  In The World To Come machines will do more of the 'working' culminating in a time when machines do everything that constitutes 'work'.  What will be left for us, the living, is everything else: thinking.

If we are not training our children to think, we are training them to be unemployed.





Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Codex Magniloquens



When I worked for IBM way back in 19mumble I spent my free time (such as it was) following an internal IBM online discussion group called WORDS FORUM hosted on the many networked mainframes IBM owned worldwide.  Its denizens were among IBM's most gifted 'wordies'.

One of the many delightful products of WORDS FORUM was The Codex Magniloquens, a series of quatrains each restating a familiar proverb or witticism.  The Codex is preserved elsewhere on the web, but I want to have my own copy, so I am replicating it here for your enjoyment (and mine).

To see the 'translation', highlight the entire quatrain.  The explanation is white-on-white next to the first few lines and becomes visible when highlighted.

The Codex Magniloquens:


  1. A lithoid form whose onward course "A rolling stone gathers no moss."
    Is shaped by gravitational force
    Can scarce enjoy the consolation
    Of bryophytic aggregation.

  2. Of little value, his compunctions,        "It's no use locking the stable door
    Who arrogates clavigerous functions,         after the horse has bolted."
    When once from circumscribing pen
    Is fled its equine denizen.

  3. What keeps the avian species warm? "Fine feathers make fine birds."
    It's decorations pinniform!
    When these impress, their owners' pride
    Is comparably fortified.

  4. For none who claims to represent "Time and tide wait for no man."
    The Homo species sapient
    Will loiter Einstein's fourth dimension
    Or sea's quotidian declension.

  5. Conducting to a watering-place "You can lead a horse to water,
    A quadruped of equine race         but you can't make it drink."
    Is simple, but he may not care
    To practise imbibition there.

  6. That unit of the avian tribe, "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush."
    Whose movements one can circumscribe
    "In manu", as a pair will rate,
    Subarboreally situate.

  7. Faced with material esculent "Too many cooks spoil the broth."
    As source of liquid nourishment,
    Avoid excess, 'twill but displease,
    Of culinary expertise.

  8. Observed the coroner: "Perpend, "Curiosity killed the cat."
    "The death of this, our feline friend,
    "Reflects preoccupation shown
    "With business other than his own."

  9. To carry haulm of cereal growth         "It's the last straw
    The tylopod is nothing loath.         that breaks the camel's back."
    But just one haulm too many means
    That dorsal fracture supervenes.

  10. When, nimbus-free, Sol marches by "Make hay while the sun shines."
    The circumambient sky,
    To graminiferous meads repair -
    Your instant task awaits you there!

  11. What's purveyed by the bakery, "You can't eat your cake and have it."
    And oft partaken of at tea,
    Is some temptation to ingest,
    But cannot then be repossessed.

  12. The first arrival hirundine "One swallow doesn't make a summer."
    Should not be taken as a sign
    That it is time to aestivate.
    Hang on until you get a spate.

  13. To offer cranial inclination "A nod's as good as a wink to a blind horse."
    Serves as well as nictitation
    If equine quadruped intent
    Is ocularly impotent.

  14. Observe the avifaunal nations "Birds of a feather flock together."
    Eschewing random aggregations,
    Respecting taxonomic border
    Arrange themselves in Wetmore order

  15. The topologic reconnection "A stitch in time saves nine."
    Of fabricated garb in section
    Is efficacious for preventing
    An ennead of like cementing

  16. The gallon's aliquot divisions "You can't get a quart into a pint pot."
    By eight and four have no provisions
    To compass in the former's hulk
    The liquid of the latter's bulk

  17. Rhetoric art quite fails to turn "Fine words butter no parsnips."
    The lactic oils within the churn
    And (though its hearers stand amazed)
    Leaves pastinaceous roots unglazed.

  18. The felon who purloins the hart "Poachers make the best gamekeepers."
    Reserved for mighty Nimrod's dart
    Will, in exchange for coin or kind,
    With utmost skill preserve the hind.

  19. Omitted from one's cerebration "Out of sight, out of mind."
    Midst periods of isolation--
    Forsooth one ne'er doth ideate
    One's amative consociate!

  20. No matter how he pelf acquires-- "A fool and his money are soon parted."
    Through moil or braving Satan's fires,
    Delict or battle uncontested--
    Erelong an ament is divested.

  21. However bleak the sight may be "Every cloud has a silver lining."
    Of nimbused tenebrosity
    Remember that each vapour floating
    Has within an argent coating.

  22. The pond in some deserted mead "Still waters run deep."
    Is home of bedstead, boot and weed.
    Quiescent surface does not show
    The range of hypogeal flow.

  23. She who attends the bain-marie "A watched pot never boils."
    With diligent expectancy
    Will quit this sphere from inanition
    Before it reaches ebullition.

  24. To Hymen's altar ne'er proceed "Marry in haste, repent at leisure."
    With rash and unconsidered speed;
    For swift espousals oft beget
    Protracted eons of regret.

  25. By Tiber's side what's social law "When in Rome, do as the Romans do."
    Would much offend in Arkansas.
    The wisest custom's to conform,
    In manners, to the local norm.

  26. The whiskered Nimrod now departs. "When the cat's away the mice will play."
    Roll out the cheese! Lift up your hearts!
    The murine nation's on a spree:
    Ailurophobic revelry.

  27. See Cavall, Gelert, and the rest "Let sleeping dogs lie."
    Whose dormant state is manifest.
    Ignore their cynophonic snores;
    Do not alert these carnivores.

  28. Careful observation shows "Blood is thicker than water."
    That, when resisting viscous flows,
    The living fluid in the veins
    Beats that which gathers when it rains.

  29. The bony herald does not spell "Old soldiers never die, they just fade away."
    For martial veterans their knell;
    Translucently their fate is that
    They emulate the Cheshire Cat.

  30. When glazing's used for every tile         "People who live in glass houses
    And panel in a domicile,         shouldn't throw stones."
    We warn the dwellers in these modules
    Against projecting petrous nodules.

  31. A rule regarding cock and hen         "Don't count your chickens
    Learned by successful husbandmen:         before they're hatched."
    Do not commence enumerating
    Ere they have finished incubating.

  32. Those of the fairer sex will find         "Men don't make passes
    Advances from the other kind         at girls who wear glasses."
    Will not come forth in their direction
    Adorned with ocular correction

  33. A porcine choral education         "Don't try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes
    Is not a worthwhile occupation.       your time and it annoys the pig."
    You won't account it time well used,
    And hog or sow will feel abused.

  34. The power over the demesne         "In the kingdom of the blind,
    Whose lords and serfs have never seen         the one-eyed man is king."
    (Though you may think it jocular)
    Is held by him monocular

  35. In the set with every human being         "There are none so blind
    Arranged by faculty of seeing         as those who will not see."
    The minimal elements are those
    Who purposely their eyes do close.

  36. Among the threefold classification "There are lies, damned lies, and statistics."
    Of methods of prevarication
    Are falsehoods simple and accursed
    And those with means and graphs--the worst.

  37. The set of meals served at midday "There's no such thing as a free lunch."
    Whose cost is such that none need pay,
    Though many advertise it, still,
    Its cardinality is nil.

  38. If wistful thinking wanders on "If wishes were horses, beggars would ride."
    To Suffolk Punch or Percheron
    No mendicant shows hesitation
    In espousing equitation.

  39. A Yorkish gate, or ginnel, can "It's a long lane that has no turning."
    Have finite length Euclidian,
    Yet seem to fail to terminate
    If pathologically straight.

  40. Corporeal punishment "It's no use flogging a dead horse."
    With dermal lesions evident
    Is inappropriate if linked
    To eohippus that's extinct.

  41. Who emulates the bird well fed         "Early to bed and early to rise,
    And hesitates him not to bed         makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise."
    Will find a positive correlation
    With vigor, purse, and penetration.

  42. On queen or twin when they recline "All women are alike in bed."
    The span from base to topmost line
    Of one potentially a mother
    Equates to that of any other.

  43. Comparing levels of attainment "Blondes have more fun"
    Of merriment or entertainment
    You'll find the ones with golden braids
    Outstrip those sporting sombrous shades.

  44. Forbearance or but frugal use "Spare the rod and spoil the child"
    Of friendly bar may well induce
    A tendency to spoliate
    In persons of more recent date.

  45. Who emulates the great god Pan "Who pays the piper calls the tune"
    If recompensed by mortal man
    Shall airs and dances play for him
    Pursuant to requester's whim.

  46. Saltation of a sudden kind "Look before you leap"
    Is contraindicated: Mind
    Through observation circumspect
    The end is the desired effect.

  47. A holder that is content-free "Empty vessels make the most noise"
    Or ship abandoned, all at sea,
    In quantity of decibels
    All other sources clear excels.

  48. Of verbiage a minimum "Least said, soonest mended"
    And best of all a zero sum
    Is guaranteed to be the fix
    In the smallest count of ticks.

  49. Accusing sable epithet "The pot calling the kettle black"
    Labeling as but purest jet
    The darkest of all vessels cries
    Ignoring beams in its own eyes.

  50. A great expenditure of force "Easy does it. [?]"
    Or huge amount of power of horse
    On these success does not depend
    The soft approach achieves the end.

  51. At least one object does exist "All that glitters is not gold."
    That is with auric splendor kissed
    But, notwithstanding golden shine,
    Disappoints the ones who'd mine.

  52. Minimize each period's sum "Least said, soonest mended [same as #48]."
    Of verbal entities, and come
    To pleasant circumstances where
    Brief time's devoted to repair.




Numbers 1 to 10 by Hubert Phillips, 1943
Numbers 11 and 12 by Hugh Darwen, 1987
Number 13 by Geoff Butler, 1988
Numbers 14 to 18 by John Bennett, 1988
Numbers 19 and 20 by Paul Cohen, 1988
Numbers 21 and 22 by Christine Wood, 1990
Numbers 23 to 26 by Amy Varin, 1990-91
Numbers 27 to 30 by John Bennett, 1991-92
Numbers 31 to 37 by Evan Kirschenbaum, 2000
Numbers 38 to 40 by Geoff Butler, 2000
Numbers 41 to 43 by Evan Kirschenbaum, 2000
Numbers 44 to 51 by Chris Date 2002
Number 52 by Jerry Friedman 2004






Friday, September 3, 2010

Polluting the Landscape... or not



The IKEA store in Tampa wants to put up a bigger sign.

I'm reminded of a story about Kingwood, Texas, from my days as a resident there.  Herewith...

Kingwood is/was (according to Better Homes & Gardens) 'the best planned community in the world... period'.  That's quite a reputation to live up to, and the boys and girls who 'ran' Kingwood did the best they could.

There was a plot of land on Kingwood Drive set aside for 'convenience/fast food' and Friendswood Development contacted the McDonald's Corporation to see if they were interested.  They were, so Friendswood asked for a scale model/architect's view of the structure to occupy the northwest corner of (if I recall correctly) Kingwood Drive and Chestnut Ridge Road.  A few weeks later the McDonald's crew were back with a scale model with little cars parked in the parking lot and people placed as if they were heading for the nearest BigMac.

"What's this?"  a Friendswood minion asked pointing to a slender shaft sporting a golden "M" rising from the model.

"That's a 150 foot steel shaft so that folks driving by on US-59 will know there's a McDonald's here!"  he was told.

"In Kingwood, nothing protrudes above the (tree) canopy,"  the McDonald's guy was told.

"Oh, but we have to have our logo visible from the highway!"  they protested.  When they were told 'no exceptions', they packed up their stuff.

"Let us know when you change your mind,"  the McDonald's guys told the Friendswood people.

So Friendswood contacted Burger King.  "How about this nice plot at Kingwood and Chestnut Ridge?"

A few weeks later, Burger King showed up with a scale model showing little cars parked in the parking lot and people placed as if they were heading for the nearest Whopper.

"Why is this sign so bright?"  a Friendswood rep asked.

"It's illuminated,"  the BK architect informed him, smiling.

"We don't do 'illuminated signs' in Kingwood,"  he was told.

The BK architect pulled a pair of wire snips from his back pocket, reached under the model, found the wires leading to the illuminated sign, and 'snip'.  "No problem,"  he said.  Two months later, there was a Burger King on that spot.

The first week that BK was in operation, I happened upon the manager while he was screaming into his phone at his regional manager, flecks of foam spewing from the corners of his mouth, demanding they resupply his store for the third time that week because they were out of everything.  Again.

McDonald's eventually got a site in Kingwood up on Northpark Drive, but it was a second choice and they learned their lesson:  Kingwood was a joint venture of EXXON and the King Ranch (which owns 2/10ths of one percent of all the land in Texas);  you just don't try to impose your will on a conglomerate that size.

So...  what's wrong with Tampa?





Thursday, August 5, 2010

Justice Elena Kagan



Not surprisingly, Elena Kagan has been confirmed to be the 112th Justice of the Supreme Court.  This is a good opportunity to 'take inventory'.  We start with short bios of each of the current justices:

John Roberts, Chief Justice:  received a J.D. from Harvard Law School in 1979.  From 1979 until 1981 he clerked for a series of judges at various levels;  in 1981 he moved over to the DOJ, then the White House Counsel's office until 1986, when he practiced law in DC for three years.  In 1989 he went back to the DOJ until 1993, and then was in private practice until 2003 when he was appointed to the Court of Appeals for DC.  In 2005, G.W.Bush nominated him as Chief Justice, and he took his seat September 29, 2005.

Antonin Scalia:  received his LL.B. from Harvard Law School around 1960 and taught there until 1961.  He was in private practice in Cleveland, Ohio from 1961–1967, and taught law at U Virginia from 1967–1971.  He served the federal government in various law-related positions from 1971–1977.  He taught law at U Chicago from 1977–1982 and served on the American Bar Association 1981–1983.  He was appointed Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in 1982.  President Reagan nominated him as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, and he took his seat September 26, 1986.

Anthony M. Kennedy:  received his LL.B. from Harvard Law School probably around 1960.  He was in private practice in California from 1961–1975.  In 1975, he was appointed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.  From 1965 to 1988, he was also a Professor of Constitutional Law at the McGeorge School of Law, University of the Pacific.  President Reagan nominated him as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, and he took his seat February 18, 1988.

Clarence Thomas:  received a J.D. from Yale Law School in 1974.  He was admitted to law practice in Missouri in 1974, and served as an Assistant Attorney General of Missouri from 1974–1977, an attorney with the Monsanto Company from 1977–1979, and Legislative Assistant to Senator John Danforth from 1979–1981.  From 1981–1982, he served as Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, U.S. Department of Education, and as Chairman of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission from 1982–1990.  He became a Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in 1990.  President Bush nominated him as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, and he took his seat October 23, 1991.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg:  received her LL.B. from Columbia Law School probably around 1959.  She served as a law clerk from 1959–1961.  From 1961–1963, she held administrative positions at Columbia U., taught law at Rutgers from 1963–1972, and at Columbia from 1972–1980.  She was appointed a Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in 1980.  President Clinton nominated her as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, and she took her seat August 10, 1993.

Stephen G. Breyer:  received his LL.B. from Harvard Law School probably around 1964.  He served as a law clerk during the 1964 Term, as a Special Assistant to the Assistant U.S. Attorney General for Antitrust, 1965–1967, Harvard Law School, 1967–1994.  During his tenure at Harvard, he was also Assistant Special Prosecutor of the Watergate Special Prosecution Force, 1973, Special Counsel ofthe U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, 1974–1975, and Chief Counsel of the committee, 1979–1980.  From 1980–1990, he served as a Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, and as its Chief Judge, 1990–1994.  He also served as a member of the United States Sentencing Commission, 1985–1989.  President Clinton nominated him as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, and he took his seat August 3, 1994.

Samuel Anthony Alito, Jr.:  his official SCOTUS biography does not give any information about his credentials, not that this should disqualify him, but his career seems to start around 1976 so it's logical to suppose his law degree also dates from 1976.  He served as a law clerk of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit from 1976–1977.  He was Assistant U.S. Attorney, District of New Jersey, 1977–1981, Assistant to the Solicitor General, U.S. Department of Justice, 1981–1985, Deputy Assistant Attorney General, U.S. Department of Justice, 1985–1987, and U.S. Attorney, District of New Jersey, 1987–1990.  He was appointed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in 1990.  President George W. Bush nominated him as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, and he took his seat January 31, 2006.

Sonia Sotomayor:  earned a J.D. from Yale Law School in 1979 and served as an editor of the Yale Law Journal.  She served as Assistant District Attorney in the New York County District Attorney's Office from 1979–1984.  She then litigated international commercial matters in New York City at Pavia & Harcourt, where she served as an associate and then partner from 1984–1992.  In 1991, President George H.W. Bush nominated her to the U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, and she served in that role from 1992–1998.  She served as a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit from 1998–2009.  President Barack Obama nominated her as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court on May 26, 2009, and she assumed this role August 8, 2009.

There is not yet an official bio for Elena Kagan, but we do know something about her career so far, and it's fair to speculate that her bio, when it's posted, will look a lot like what's already here.


Assuming you had the stamina to wade through all of this, it's time to test you on your comprehension.  The eight justices profiled here have careers which total 221 years of experience -- prior to their becoming Supreme Court Justices.  Lots of it is in 'academia' (about 76 years worth, much of it teaching), and some of it counts as 'private practice' (about 43 years) and some of that overlaps because these guys and gals are Hermione Granger-ish over-achievers and often held more than one job.  The bulk of their experience, however, is time spent working at government jobs:  mostly judgeships, with the occasional AG, AAG, DA, or ADA position thrown in;  almost all of them were also 'law clerks' for prominent judges.

Which job in the 'justice system' do none of them have any experience with?

Defense attorney.

Every one of these Justices of the United States Supreme Court have prosecuted persons as part of their job as an [Assistant] Attorney for the Whatever of Wheresoever, but none of them have ever defended a person against a criminal charge.

Not one.

Ever.

And Elena Kagan won't break the mold.

Isn't it about time we had someone on the Supreme Court who has some experience defending us?





Friday, June 25, 2010

Summer House Cafe, 2605 Washington, Erie, PA



I found a reason to get off the Interstate in Erie (other than that Jessica lives there).

If Erie has a bright central spot, it's located at the corner of Washington and W.26th Street.

The Summer House Cafe serves breakfast and lunch every day, and dinner on weekends.  In marked contrast to far too many restaurants, the food arrives at your table hot and not unreasonably delayed.  You won't mind the prices, either, and the menu is varied enough that even I found several dishes to enjoy (and you know how hard-to-please I am...).  Along with the traditional a-whole-week's-cholesterol-in-a-single-meal fare, there are several dishes that are not merely healthy, but tasty as well.  Order the hot chocolate.  I won't say it arrives in a 55-gallon drum, but it's close;  you'll be impressed.

Chef Jack Eaker tweaks the recipes every so often trying to improve individual dishes.  He's already got a winning formula.  If he makes it much better, Perkins' can pack their bags.

We (almost literally) stumbled across this place on Monday in time for breakfast, then went back Thursday for lunch, and Friday for breakfast again.  It's that good.





Wednesday, June 23, 2010

OMG!!! You're driving so FAST!!!



We're in Pennsylvania helping Jessica move into her new apartment, and as usual, I have (a) complaint(s) about Pennsylvania and Erie, her new hometown.

Pennsylvania seems not to have gotten the memo that the National Maximum Speed Limit  (you know...  '55 Saves Lives')  has been repealed...  in 1995.  Pennsylvania's Interstate highways are still posted with the old double-nickels.

If you check the Internet for statistics relating speed to highway fatalities, all you get are opinions  --  no hard facts, just  "we feel strongly that...".  Nobody wants to tell you what happened in Montana when NMSL was repealed.

When Congress finally faced the reality that NMSL was widely ignored  (despite a change in 1987 allowing '65' in rural sections), they repealed it in 1995.  Montana immediately  (April 1)  went to no numerical speed limit for their interstates.  Their rule was  "reasonable and prudent".

In the first nine months of R&P, Montana 'suffered' a 28% decline in highway fatalities.  You're shocked;  I can see it on your faces.  "You mean I can do 150 and I'm safer than at 55????"  Not precisely.  At 150, if you have an accident, it will be memorable to everyone not involved;  you'll be dead as a doornail.  It's just that under R&P, accidents happen less frequently.  Can you guess why?

There are two primary reasons:

With no speed limit per se, you won't have some fossil out there in the left lane 'doing the limit' and feeling justified about being a law-abiding citizen.  With no limit, such drivers are forced to the realization that headlights behind them means they are 'slower traffic' and they move to the right lane and stay there.  The technical term for this behavior is 'lane discipline'.  It is the primary feature of the safest roads in the world.  It's the reason the German Autobahn has such an enviable safety record.

The second reason was 'leaked' to me by a cousin who is a minion of justice on Long Island:  '55' is fast enough to kill you, but slow enough to make you think you're safe.  People who shouldn't be on the road at all then go driving at this safe speed and leave tragedy in their wake.  In Florida we see this all the time:  some Q-Tip driving the limit (or under) in the left lane (often with their left-turn signal blinking) because four miles ahead they have to turn left.  Their erratic driving style can cause accidents that they simply drive away from.  With no real speed limit traffic becomes, to the eyes of these 'road hazards', chaos and they abandon the high-speed roads to drivers who can actually drive.  Incautious drivers who overrate their own ability to drive soon become 'Darwin Award winners'.  What remains are cautious drivers with adequate skills, and you have an American Autobahn.

Postlude to Montana:  under severe criticism from many quarters, not the least of which were localities whose speeding-ticket revenues went to zero, and insurance companies (fronted by their lobbying group, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety -- IIHS) who therefore had little or no reason to arbitrarily raise rates on individual drivers, the Montana legislature a few years later repealed R&P and set a fixed numerical speed limit.  Montana's highway fatality rates obediently rose to near-historic levels.

It is widely recognized in medicine that 'quack remedies', even if they themselves are 'harmless', actually cause harm because they displace remedies which work.  The same is true of 'quack legislation'.  When we let organizations such as IIHS lobby legislatures for laws which benefit their constituents (in this case, the 80 insurance companies which fund its operations) we are the ones who suffer.

* * * * * * * * *

Beautiful Downtown Erie PA:  Norene and I had occasion to go looking for an ATM that wouldn't charge us an arm-and-a-leg to make a withdrawal and so found ourselves driving north on State Street in Erie into the heart of deepest downtown.  While stopped for a red light, I noticed that the next light was green, the next red, the next green, and so on.  Because of the way the lights cycled, we stopped at every cross street all the way to our destination.  It sure guarantees you won't speed through downtown, but it also guarantees that no one will actually want to go there, either.  It has certainly cured both of us of any desire to see any part of Erie that can't be viewed from the interstate at the legal maximum speed as we flee the control freaks of PA.






Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Why 'Strict Constructionism'?



The recent candidacy of Ron Paul struck a chord with many Americans largely because of Dr Paul's strict adherence to Constitutional principles.  He is known in the House of Representatives as  'Dr No'  because his is often the one  'nay'  vote when all others vote  'yea'.  This was the case when the  USA PATRIOT ACT  came before the House.  He is the only Representative to have voted against it.  With hindsight, many have discovered what it was he found so objectionable.

So perhaps it's time, at last, to ask why following the Constitution strictly is so all-fired important.

 


  1. Background – How Legislation Happens

    In 1994 Newt Gingrich and the Republicans took control of Congress launching their 'Contract With America', promising to reduce the size of government, lessen the impact of regulations, and generally to make government more responsive to the needs of the people.  Of the 10 clauses in their Contract With America, ten promises they made in exchange for our votes, they managed to deliver two.  I don't want to discuss whether this was a good thing or a bad thing, but I want to use it as a lesson in legislating and the impact of the Constitution.

    If we read the Constitution  'for comprehension'  we get an unusual education.  We come away from it with the notion that it's  (supposed to be)  very difficult to get legislation passed.  First, you need majorities in both houses, and then you need the approval of the Executive.  If the Executive disapproves  (vetoes the bill)  it takes 2/3rds of  both  houses to override the veto.  That's a lot.

    It's very much simpler to prevent things from happening, and it's clear that's what the Framers intended.  To prevent things from happening you only need a majority in one house.  If the Executive agrees that something ought not happen, you only need 1/3rd control of one house to sustain the veto.  Like jiu-jitsu, it takes less than half the effort to halt the process as it does to push it forward.  This is not an accident, and it's in large measure why the Contract With America was a failure.

    When the Senate was appointed by the state legislatures, there were three clearly distinct factions, and getting legislation passed required substantial agreement among all of them or the overwhelming agreement of two.  The intent of the Framers was that only laws which were both good for the people and good for the states would ever see daylight.

    In 2006 the Democrats swept into power in mid-term elections largely on their promise to end the War in Iraq.  Once in power, however, they had a long series of excuses as to why they couldn't manage it.  As we have seen above, all of that is bogus, because to stop a war you merely have to cut funding.  That is, you need to prevent an appropriation bill going forward.  The Democrats had slim majorities in both houses of Congress and yet couldn't manage to stop the minority Republicans ramming through a supplemental appropriation adequate to continue the war.

    The American people,  largely unaware of what's in the Constitution,  gritted their teeth and muttered  "Curses !  Foiled again !"  (Oh, did I mis-spell  'fooled'?)

     

  2. Why there are so many laws

    You don't have to be in Mensa to figure out that something has gone seriously wrong with that plan.  We now have laws that are clearly no good for the states, and laws that are clearly no good for the people.  'NAFTA'  jumps to mind as a single example that fits both:  it imposes draconian restrictions on the states' ability to police their own territory and this in turn causes increased danger for motorists confronted by unsafe vehicles on their highways.  It's good primarily for corporations and it's a continuation of America's long tradition of mercantilism  –  government action on behalf of 'big business'.

    'Federalism'  is the system in which power is divided between a central government and multiple states  (in our case).  The idea is that the central government has the ability to limit actions by the states and the states have the ability to limit actions by the central government due to each having powers in different arenas.  Few Americans today understand this concept and consequently develop what the Framers would have considered  'bizarre'  notions of the relationship between the states and the central government.  Many people today assume that any law passed by Congress and signed by the President binds the states absolutely.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

    The problem is  'bi-partisanship'.  That is the doctrine that  'laws are OK if almost everybody agrees they're OK'.

    Article One, Section Eight of the Constitution disagrees.  It says (among other things):

    "Section 8 - Powers of Congress

    The Congress shall have Power To ...

    ...legislate in seventeen fairly specific areas,

    And ...

    To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof."

    The plain wording of the Constitution says  'just these things and no others'.  Not including a Department of Labor.  Not including a Department of Energy.  Not including a Department of Education.  Not including a Department of Housing and Urban Development.  Not including the FBI,  or the CIA,  or the ATF,  or the FDA,  or the FCC,  and not including a host of other alphabet-soup agencies.

    'But... but... but...'  I can hear you protesting,  'no FAA ??  Do you want planes crashing in mid-air ??'.  Well,  no,  and I suspect few people do,  but if you think you need an FAA there's a method enshrined within the Constitution itself for fixing that;  it's called  'the amendment process'.  We have an FAA today without there being an amendment to legalize it because the American people looked at the problem and said  "That sounds like a good idea;  I won't object."  We have a Federal Reserve System for the same reason.  We have a Department of Education for the same reason.  We have a myriad of departments and agencies for the same reason.

    And none of them are legal, because Congress never had the authority to create them.

    Instead, we were supposed to have 50 potentially-different solutions being tried more-or-less simultaneously, a technique known as  'massively-parallel trial-and-error'.  In such an environment we would pretty soon understand that the Wisconsin Plan for Educational Improvement is a winner and the other 49 are something less, and that the Vermont Approach to Crime Reduction is the method we want to switch to next legislative session.  That's federalism.

    What we have, alas, is a  one-size-fits-all  solution mandated by the central government upon the states, none of whom any longer have the will to resist  given that most of their citizens think that's the way the system works.  In fact,  it's the way the system is  broken  because it turns out that one size does  not  fit all.

    In the rare case that a state actually challenges a federal law in federal court  (does that sound like a stacked deck?)  the federal court judges almost invariably side with the ones who pay the bill.  They dance with the one 'at brung 'em.  In the 2005  Raich v Gonzales,  the Supreme Court had the opportunity to comment on the absolute absence of federal authority to deal with drugs of any sort and declined to do so.

    Beyond that, there are those pesky amendments 1 through 10, known as  The Bill of Rights.  That is, in my opinion, a horrible name for them.  It gives people the impression that those amendments grant us some rights.  That's not even approximately true.  Those amendments are all,  each and every one of them,  restrictions on the powers of the central government.  "Congress shall make no law...";  "...shall not be infringed...";  "No soldier shall...";  "...no warrants shall issue...";  "No person shall be held...";  "Excessive bail shall not be required...";  "...shall not be construed...".  The ones which come closest to actually granting something are #6:  "...the accused shall enjoy...",  #7:  "...the right ... shall be preserved...",  and #10:  "...reserved to the States...".  The clear and unmistakeable conclusion from their language is that these are all rights which existed before there was a Bill of Rights and before there was a Constitution and which,  presumably,  will still be with us after there is  no longer  a Constitution.

    It is, nevertheless, clear that we are now living in  post-Constitutional America,  and we did it to ourselves.  We continually vote for the politician who promises to do the most  (and to bring home the most loot).  We never seem to question the assumption that the function of Congress is to pass more laws.  In fact, we encourage politicians to pass more laws;  we insist on bi-partisanship;  we insist that our Congressfolk must be  'team players'  so that they can get more done.

    The result,  among other things,  is a tax code which,  when printed,  occupies eight feet of shelf space.  No one has ever read the entire thing, not even the so-called experts at IRS.  No one knows what it says.  No one understands it, and no one can follow its labyrinthine ways, and everyone,  even the Commissioner of the IRS,  has violated some of its many conflicting provisions.  We are all criminals,  and we volunteered for it.

     

  3. Why you should care

    The Declaration of Independence tells us why governments exist:  we are  "...endowed ... with certain unalienable rights;  ... that, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men...".  Everybody got that?  Government exists to secure your rights.  It goes further.  It says that when the government is not doing that, we have  "...the right ... to alter or abolish it...".  That's pretty revolutionary talk.

    The Constitution elaborates on this,  especially in Article One, Section Eight  that I mentioned earlier.  Congress is there given certain powers and the presumption is that Congress will use those powers to fulfill the proper function of government,  that is:  securing the rights of we, the people.

    That's not happening.  Every day Congress passes another law that violates that principle.  They've even passed laws  (like the USA PATRIOT ACT)  which violate our rights wholesale, and people shrug it off as if that's the way things ought to be.

    But we know,  deep down,  that something is wrong.  The government acts as if  we, the people,  exist to fulfill the needs of government.  When we open our eyes and read our own history we have no trouble understanding that,  to the contrary,  government exists to fulfill our needs.

    So...  how did we get here?  And where,  exactly,  is  'here'?

    'Here'  is  post-Constitutional America.  President George W Bush is reported to have snapped at one of his aides who warned him of a potentially-unConstitutional act:  "Don't keep throwing the Constitution in my face.  It's just a god-damned piece of paper."  There was a suitably-short period of outrage among those who think the Constitution is not,  in fact,  "just a god-damned piece of paper".  Since they were in the minority, their outrage never amounted to much in a country which is now,  de facto  if not  de jure,  a democracy;  where the bulk of the populace thinks the Bill of Rights can be repealed by a popular vote.

    We're here because we've stopped understanding the Constitution.  We don't understand it because it's not much taught in the schools these days, and that's at least understandable.  Jefferson warned us:  "If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be."  Part of that education must be to know whence we came and whither we go.  We cannot rely on schools which are run by the government to teach our children that the government is the servant.  We might as well expect Catholic schools to teach their students that the Pope is just as fallible as anyone else.  Fuhgeddaboudit.

    Instead, we must educate  ourselves  about what the Constitution says, and even more importantly, what it doesn't say.  And we have to teach others.  Whenever someone says  "There oughta be a law !"  we should ask ourselves whether,  in fact,  there really ought to be a law and what it will cost us, not simply in money, but in personal liberty, if there is such a law.  And maybe we should stand up and say, in reply, no, there oughtn't be a law.

    Lyndon Johnson famously said:  "You do not examine legislation in light of the benefits it will convey if properly administered, but in light of the wrongs it would do and the harms it would cause if improperly administered."  That's something we need to keep constantly in mind.  And we need to make sure nobody else forgets, either.

     

  4. What you can do about it

    September 17th is  'Constitution Day'.  It commemorates the day in 1787 when 39 convention delegates affixed their signatures to the Constitution.  Exiting the building, Benjamin Franklin was accosted by a woman who demanded:  "Dr Franklin, what sort of government have you given us?"  Franklin responded:  "A republic, madam, if you can keep it."

    What can we do to keep it?

    Most of us limit our  'public politics'  to writing letters to the editor, and that's a great way to raise awareness of this magnificent document among our communities.  So, first, speak up.

    I won't suggest volunteering to address an American History class at your local school, since most of us who don't have stage fright might still feel some trepidation about taking on a subject as vast as The Constitution.  We do, however, have to put ourselves in the position of being able to do that if we're to be effective spokesfolk for our way of life.  So,  second,  educate yourself.  Read the Constitution  'for comprehension'.  Learn what our government should be doing, and what's it's doing that it shouldn't be doing.  And complain.  The squeaky wheel gets the grease.

    Third,  and most importantly,  hold your legislators' feet to the fire.  Don't ask them  "what are you going to do in Washington?"  Ask them  "what unconstitutional laws are you going to work to get repealed if we send you?"  All day long our legislators hear  "Gimme, gimme, gimme".  It's only natural for them to concentrate on the actions so many of their constitutents demand.  We have to change that if we're going to keep our republic and our Constitution.

     

  5. Appendix A

    I spoke earlier about the FAA and that it has no Constitutional cachet.

    Years ago I approached an official of the Libertarian Party and challenged him:  "OK, the FAA is unconstitutional, but isn't this something the government has to do to keep planes from falling out of the air?"

    He paused a moment to formulate an answer and then asked in return:  "If the President went on TV tonight and announced that at the end of the  month/year/fiscal year/whatever  the FAA would cease to exist, what would happen?"

    I must have had a dumb-founded look on my face, so he continued:

    "At 9am on the following Monday morning, the CEOs of  Continental,  United,  Delta,  USAir,  Southwest,  and several other carriers would all be in the same conference room to discuss what they were going to do without a government-run FAA.  And within the week they would announce the formation of  'FAA, Inc',  and every Air Traffic Controller from Bangor to San Diego would have received a job offer with the new company, because Delta doesn't want their airplanes colliding with United's airplanes any more than you do."

    The point he wanted to make was that services,  if they're something valuable,  will be provided by the free market.  How do you know if they're  'valuable'?  If people are willing to pay for the service, they're valuable, and someone will step forward to supply the service for a fee.  If government doesn't structure a monopoly, there will even be competition by vendors vying to provide the service to you and to collect your money.

    What if people aren't willing to pay for the service?  In that case, it's fair to ask whether that service actually has value.  Under the current regime, someone in Washington decides that some service,  foreign aid perhaps,  has value, and taxes you for it whether you agree with their assessment or not.  This is the heart of the old saw that  'foreign aid is an excellent method for transferring wealth from poor people in rich countries to rich people in poor countries'.

    Most government  'services'  would quickly go out of business if they were forced to rely on voluntary contributions from people who couldn't live without that benefit.  It has even been suggested that all of government be funded strictly on voluntary contributions.

    I wonder what size government that would get us?

     

  6. Appendix B

    Government isn't very good at doing most things.

    The Framers of the Constitution understood the nature of bureaucracy.  It was little different then than it is today.  The basic problem is one of 'mode'.  We have this tendency to engage in  mono-modal  problem-solving.  We have a problem, so we all gather together and discuss it and take a vote, and whatever  51%  of us decide is what we  all  do.  Typically, if the problem is big enough, we'll hand it over to some bureaucrat for solving and give that bureaucrat a budget.

    Well,  if you give me a big budget and a staff and tell me to solve some problem, I absolutely guarantee that it will not be solved for several years...  possibly never...  because the instant I solve that problem, I'm out of a job.  It's my civic duty to keep unemployment low.

    The Framers understood this, and so they handed over to the central government  a very small menu of tasks,  and they are all  (or almost all)  tasks that truly require centralized control or coordination or both.  So the Congress has the power to establish post offices and post roads, but not the power to run them.  The federal government is not assigned responsibility for delivering the mail, just for saying where the depots will be and how to get from one to the other.

    Big-government fanatics are fond of pointing to the  Interstate Highway System  as an example of a task that isn't in the Constitution but surely needed to be done.  Until just recently the contrary arguments were strained and relied primarily on philosophy.  We now have the perfect countervailing argument.

    I-35W crosses the Mississippi River in Minneapolis MN,  or did.  On August 1st, 2007  it collapsed into the river killing 13 and injuring 111.  The cause was faulty maintenance.  Engineering reports over the course of at least four years indicated advancing problems with the bridge.  Oddly, these problems were not addressed in a timely fashion.  The State of Minnesota,  the bridge's owner,  is not capable of being sued because of the doctrine of  'sovereign immunity'.

    Had that bridge been privately-owned, can anyone seriously assert that those engineering reports would have been ignored?  Or that,  having been ignored,  the private owner could hide behind sovereign immunity?  Because the latter is impossible,  the former is implausible.  There would still be a bridge over the Mississippi at Minneapolis.  Yes, it would cost money to cross it, but which would you rather:  a bridge toll  or a death toll?







Friday, May 14, 2010

Asking The Wrong Questions in Arizona




Arizona has begun their own  'immigration enforcement program',  stopping anyone who appears to be in the state illegally  (that is:  if they look like Mexicans)  and requiring them to prove their right to be where they are.

Now, don't get me wrong:  my position on  'the powers of states'  (I hate the meaningless term 'states rights')  is that Arizona may legally do what it is they're doing.  I just think it's a remarkably poor idea.  It's another one of those all-too-common examples of the syndrome I call  'ask the wrong question;  get the wrong answer'.

The  'wrong question'  in this case focuses on  'immigration', and it will generate the wrong answer:  send 'em back where they came from.

If you ask any of those  'illegal immigrants'  why they come here, they'll tell you it's because they want to be able to support their families.  Few...  make that 'none'...  will tell you they've come here to get on the welfare wagon.  Similarly,  few of those in favor of Arizona's draconian new  'Papieren, Bitte'  regime will admit that what's behind all this is an attempt to keep those  'illegal aliens'  from using up all of our valuable public services:  police, fire, food stamps, unemployment compensation, etc.  Yet, that is the baseline problem.  The supporters of that new Arizona law firmly  (and in their own minds, justifiably)  believe that those 'benefits' are for the use of citizens, dammitol...

So...  we frame the problem in terms of  "they're doing something illegal and we have to stop all this law-breaking behavior".  This allows us to completely ignore the underlying problem:  that we make it attractive for slackers to live in this country.

Again, I'm not saying those illegal-border-crossers are coming here to stick their snouts into the welfare trough.  It may be true, but I'm not saying that.  It's irrelevant, in any case.  What is relevant is that we American citizens stick our snouts into the welfare trough with a frightening regularity.  Given the kinds of jobs those illegal-border-crossers typically work at, there also seems to me some room to doubt they've just come here for 'the easy life'...  although it's almost certainly easier than what they're used to south of the border.

Raise your hand if your ancestors arrived here as immigrants.  Hmmm....  there's a lot of you out there...  OK,  should we have sent all those immigrants back?  No?  Why?  Because they applied for entry 'legally' during a time when there were no 'quotas' for immigration?  (And, surprise! no passports, either, which did not become 'mandatory' until 1941!)  At a time when anyone who knocked on our door was allowed in as long as they weren't carrying plague or a felony record?  That's not the way the world is today, but I'm sure you know that.

Today, we require new immigrants to apply months or years in advance, go through a lengthy investigation, fill out a mountain of forms.  The process is a pain-in-the-ass...  deliberately.

Given all the good things immigrants have done for this country in the past few centuries, why do we now make it such a PITA?  Now we're asking the right questions, or we're about to.

The process is now a royal PITA because unchecked immigration could overwhelm our welfare system.  This was not the case when your great-grandfather/mother arrived from The Old Country.  Back then we didn't have a welfare system to overwhelm, yet people came to us nevertheless.  Why?

They came because America was The Land Of Opportunity.

In the absence of an all-pervasive welfare system, it would be again.

Are you ready to start asking the right questions?



Tuesday, May 4, 2010

'Avatar' as 'not-best-picture'




God bless Blockbuster Express.  For $1 we got to rent 'Avatar' and view it at our leisure at home.  Now I have just one question outstanding:  how did 'The Hurt Locker' beat out 'Avatar' for best picture?


True, Avatar presented  'corporate America'  as rapacious savages and  THL  presented Iraqi-occupation troops as bravely heroic, and neither meme is as true as some would like to have us believe  (or, in fact, as many people actually do believe).  Perhaps it is because it is more acceptable to  'support the troops'  (as they kill in the name of corporate profits)  than to  bash the capitalists  (who make their profits the old-fashioned way)?


'Avatar' used lots of computer graphics.  I don't know what the price/performance ratio is for CGI, but it still needs voice-overs, and that can't be cheap.  THL looks like it was shot on-location and it had scads of 'extras' that all had to be paid.  Also 'not cheap', merely 'cheaper'.


The thought that keeps gnawing at the back of my mind is that 'Avatar' is very much an avatar of Western Civilization's treatment of the native Americans:  we killed them and/or burned them out of their ancestral lands because they were 'in the way'.  It's not pleasant to have one's nose rubbed in one's own history...  like a puppy being bowel-trained.  Perhaps the Academy found it as distasteful as I did.


On the other hand, how else will we learn history's lessons?




Saturday, April 24, 2010

'The Hurt Locker' as best picture



I just watched "The Hurt Locker" which this time around won the Academy Award for best picture.  Somebody please tell me that was a joke.

Granted, the staging was very accurate as to its portrayal of Iraq as a typical Moslem Middle Eastern hell-hole:  garbage in the poorly-maintained streets, the locals living in 12th century luxury, and a complete disregard on nearly everyone's part for the niceties of the rule of law.  It probably also was accurate as to the intelligence level of everyone involved on the military side:  the smart ones stay alive by being as wily and as suspicious as a feral cat;  the others die in various gruesome ways that are, for the most part, painless for being mercifully quick.

If this film has any value it is that it shows the American people what all that money is being spent on, and it may urge a few more to wonder whether rescuing Iraq (or Afghanistan or Kuwait or ...) from its instant condition is worth the expenditure of even one American soldier's life.  If it does that it's worth watching, but does raise the interesting follow-on question "how would we know we've 'rescued' them?"

But...  best picture?  The only way this could be a 'best picture' would be for the producers to take all the money they saved on script-development and cast salaries and use it to grease the palms of the judges.  I'm not a film critic by any means but shouldn't an award like 'best picture' have some positive correlation to the coefficient of I-want-to-see-it-again ?



Tuesday, April 20, 2010

How to Write the Decision in McDonald v Chicago in 1 Page (no footnotes)



Early in March the Supreme Court heard oral argument in the case of McDonald v Chicago, a case pitting one Otis McDonald, a black resident of The Windy City against the city fathers (sic).  Otis wants a handgun so that he can protect himself, his family, and his property from the drug dealers who frequent his part of town, the poor part.  The city fathers (sic) are opposed to letting the peasants have arms for their defense.  You just never know what a peasant might do with such things.

Alan Gura of Heller v DC fame is lead attorney for the plaintiff and has written a brilliant brief arguing that the Second Amendment should be 'incorporated' against states, counties, and municipalities via the Privileges or Immunities clause of the 14th amendment.  If it isn't already plain, let me make it so:  I think Gura is 100% correct on this issue and his strategy.  There is a problem, however.  For SCOTUS to incorporate via 'P or I' will overturn the 1873 Slaughterhouse decision.  'Overturning prior decisions' is something the Supreme Court prefers to avoid if at all possible.  Slaughterhouse, most modern Constitutional scholars agree, was decided incorrectly by an obviously biased court and represents 'bad precedent' at its worst.  A moral SCOTUS would have burned that decision to the ground decades ago, which tells you something about how long it's been since we had a moral SCOTUS...

Well, heck, if they don't want to overturn Slaughterhouse, I can help them out.  Herewith, the McDonald v Chicago decision in under one sheet of legal paper -- without reference to Slaughterhouse (footnotes omitted):

* * * * * * * * *

Plaintiff McDonald wishes to keep and bear a firearm within the city limits of Chicago for a lawful purpose but fears prosecution under the laws of the City of Chicago based on municipal firearms regulations.  Defendant City of Chicago pleads that the city has a 'substantial public safety interest' in minimizing the number of firearms within the city limits.

This court notes the wording of the Second Amendment to the Constitution of The United States of America which reads as follows (some punctuation eliminated for clarity):  "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 court further notes that said Constitution is a limited grant of authority from the people to the federal government and that, together with its amendments, is the Law Of The Land.

The court further notes that the term  "well-regulated"  meant (at the time of its adoption)  "operating as intended"  and retains that same meaning in perpetuity, and that the term  "militia"  refers to the whole body of the people acting on the basis of that original authority which has been lent (not surrendered) to the federal government.  All of this has been thoroughly covered in Heller and there is no need to plow that field again.

The remainder of the text of the Second Amendment to the Constitution declares that the (pre-existing and naturally-occurring)  "right of the people to keep and bear arms"  shall not be infringed.  Unlike the First Amendment which declares that  "Congress shall make no law...",  the Second Amendment's requirement is much stricter:  "shall not be infringed"  certainly by the federal government, but this appears not to be limited strictly to any particular level of government.  Presumably the power of the federal government may be used, perhaps is to be used, to ensure that this right is not infringed anywhere.

We therefore confidently assert that the federal government may not infringe the (pre-existing naturally-occurring)  "right of the people to keep and bear arms"  as by such devices as the  National Firearms Act of 1934  (which imposes significant fees, arbitrary waiting periods and registration of otherwise-useful firearms and other weapons)  and the Gun Control Act of 1968  (which prohibits unlicensed interstate commerce in firearms, ammunition and other weapons),  and we strike these as unconstitutional  in their entirety.

The court further asserts that a (pre-existing naturally-occurring)  "right of the people to keep and bear arms"  may not be infringed by States in violation of the Second Amendment to that Constitution which is  "the Law Of The Land".  As a consequence we strike existing and future schemes at the state-level to restrict, prohibit, tax, and register the acquisition and possession of firearms, ammunition and other weapons by  'the people'  in their entirety.

Consequently, it should be clear that similar restrictions and prohibitions at the  county, parish, and municipal levels  as well as at all lower levels such as school districts and water districts (to name a few)  are equally impermissable and we strike them  in their entirety.

So ordered.

* * * * * * * * *

Now, that's what a proper Supreme Court decision from a moral SCOTUS looks like.  Note the clear absence of any trace of equivocation.


Thursday, April 15, 2010

Thoughts for Patriot's Day (April 19th)


 



He said to his friend, "If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch
Of the North Church tower as a signal light,--
One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country folk to be up and to arm."

Paul Revere's Ride
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

 

On the evening of April 18th, 1775, two friends, co-conspirators, made plans for rousing the colonial militias in Middlesex County west of Boston.  Paul Revere was to row across the harbor to a point outside the city where he would be able to ride a northern route into Middlesex to raise the alarm.  William Dawes was to stay in Boston and signal Revere from the belfry of The Old North Church when the 'redcoats' started to move.

They had heard a rumor from an informer within the inner circle of General Sir Thomas Gage, military governor of the Province of Massachusetts Bay, about upcoming troop movements.  The Governor General had just recently received orders from William Legge, Earl of Dartmouth, to disarm the colonial militias in Middlesex by seizing their arms and ammunition stored at Lexington and Concord.  Gage had done this once before in 1774, just after his arrival from England, and that act had put the militias on a permanent high alert.  The present action was scheduled for the 19th of April with the 700 British troops moving late on the 18th.

As Revere waited on the far shore in Charlestown, Dawes hung two lanterns in the Old North Church tower to indicate that British regulars were coming 'by sea' across Boston harbor.  Revere took off westward to let the militias know that "The British are coming!  The British are coming!"  At the same time, Dawes slipped out of Boston and rode the southern route toward Lexington doing the same thing.  Why everyone knows about Revere and almost nobody knows about Dawes is my favorite mystery.

At about 5am the British arrived in Lexington and were met by 77 militia and 100 spectators who had gathered to watch the 'festivities'.  A British officer rode forward and ordered the militia to disperse and many of them decided to go home at that point.  Just then, a shot was fired; no one knows to this day who fired the shot, but it was enough to get the battle started.  Following a bayonet charge, the battle of Lexington was 'over' with 8 militia and one British regular dead.

At Concord later that day, perhaps 8am, the British forces clearly did fire the first shot and this was met by effective return fire from the militiamen assembled.  The British managed to do some searching for weapons, but found little or nothing to compensate them for their time.  By mid-morning, other militia companies began arriving and jumping into the fray.  By mid-afternoon, it is estimated there were between 2,000 and 4,000 colonial militia engaging the British troops, although half-heartedly.  Many clearly thought this was a minor incident and would operate to chasten the regulars and make them leave the colonials alone.  There were enough hardened militia, however, to chase the British troops back to Boston, inflicting 287 casualties along the way.

By the following morning, 20 April 1775, more than 15,000 militia ringed Boston, beseiging it.  The War for Independence had begun.

* * * * * * * * *

For the longest time, the identity of the informer within Gage's organization was a mystery.  Historians now believe they know who the 'mole' was:  Lady Margaret Kemble Gage, the Governor's New Jersey-born wife is now considered the prime suspect.

* * * * * * * * *

Other important events which also happened on April 19th


In 1943, the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising began.

In 1993, the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, TX, was burned to the ground.

In 1995, a bomb exploded at the Alfred Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

In 2010 (this year) American citizens, many of them, like me, 3%-ers, will hold a rally in Fort Hunt National Park on the Potomac River south of Washington DC.  Many of them will be armed as a sign that (among other things) the federal government no longer enjoys their support.  If things go very badly awry, we may get to hear the first shots of the next American Revolution.  If things go very well, we will have started our long march back from the edge of darkness.  That would be 'a very good thing'.