Later On

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Archive for December 2012

Serious thoughts on the Constitution

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The Constitution seems to be the sort rules, common in many games, which work well so long as the players exhibit good faith and cooperate with the spirit of the rules but fail when one or both sides look (in effect) for loopholes in the rules that allow wins outside the spirit of the game—for example, the chess matches in the 19th century in which one player simply sat without moving until his opponent abandoned the game, thus securing a win in accordance with the rules of the time.

The Constitution, as Newt Gingrich was the first to demonstrate, depends on a common understanding of, and cooperation, with the spirit of representative democracy, but its rules turn out to be riddled with loopholes that are open to politicians (and parties) of bad faith. Perhaps it’s time to rethink a political instrument that is now failing so spectacularly, with minorities able to destroy the functioning of Congress. Louis Michael Seidman writes in the NY Times today:

AS the nation teeters at the edge of fiscal chaos, observers are reaching the conclusion that the American system of government is broken. But almost no one blames the culprit: our insistence on obedience to the Constitution, with all its archaic, idiosyncratic and downright evil provisions.

Consider, for example, the assertion by the Senate minority leader last week that the House could not take up a plan by Senate Democrats to extend tax cuts on households making $250,000 or less because the Constitution requires that revenue measures originate in the lower chamber. Why should anyone care? Why should a lame-duck House, 27 members of which were defeated for re-election, have a stranglehold on our economy? Why does a grotesquely malapportioned Senate get to decide the nation’s fate?

Our obsession with the Constitution has saddled us with a dysfunctional political system, kept us from debating the merits of divisive issues and inflamed our public discourse. Instead of arguing about what is to be done, we argue about what James Madison might have wanted done 225 years ago.

As someone who has taught constitutional law for almost 40 years, I am ashamed it took me so long to see how bizarre all this is. Imagine that after careful study a government official — say, the president or one of the party leaders in Congress — reaches a considered judgment that a particular course of action is best for the country. Suddenly, someone bursts into the room with new information: a group of white propertied men who have been dead for two centuries, knew nothing of our present situation, acted illegally under existing law and thought it was fine to own slaves might have disagreed with this course of action. Is it even remotely rational that the official should change his or her mind because of this divination?

Constitutional disobedience may seem radical, but it is as old as the Republic. In fact, the Constitution itself was born of constitutional disobedience. When George Washington and the other framers went to Philadelphia in 1787, they were instructed to suggest amendments to the Articles of Confederation, which would have had to be ratified by the legislatures of all 13 states. Instead, in violation of their mandate, they abandoned the Articles, wrote a new Constitution and provided that it would take effect after ratification by only nine states, and by conventions in those states rather than the state legislatures.

No sooner was the Constitution in place than our leaders began ignoring it. John Adams supported the Alien and Sedition Acts, which violated the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of speech. Thomas Jefferson thought every constitution should expire after a single generation. He believed the most consequential act of his presidency — the purchase of the Louisiana Territory — exceeded his constitutional powers.

Before the Civil War, abolitionists like Wendell Phillips and William Lloyd Garrison conceded that the Constitution protected slavery, but denounced it as a pact with the devil that should be ignored. When Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation — 150 years ago tomorrow — he justified it as a military necessity under his power as commander in chief. Eventually, though, he embraced the freeing of slaves as a central war aim, though nearly everyone conceded that the federal government lacked the constitutional power to disrupt slavery where it already existed. Moreover, when the law finally caught up with the facts on the ground through passage of the 13th Amendment, ratification was achieved in a manner at odds with constitutional requirements. (The Southern states were denied representation in Congress on the theory that they had left the Union, yet their reconstructed legislatures later provided the crucial votes to ratify the amendment.)

In his Constitution Day speech in 1937, . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

31 December 2012 at 3:35 pm

Posted in Government

On the way to the cafe

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We stopped by Toasties for breakfast (The Wife) and lunch (me), and as we approached, saw this little mushroom cluster growing beside the sidewalk. The Wife pointed and exclaimed, “Breakfast!” :)

Mushroom cluster

Written by LeisureGuy

31 December 2012 at 12:04 pm

Posted in Daily life

Venezuelan Poodle Moth

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From this collection, a wonderful moth:

Venezuelan Poodle Moth

Written by LeisureGuy

31 December 2012 at 9:19 am

Posted in Daily life

Closing out the year with a perfect shave

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SOTD 31 Dec 2012

An absolutely terrific shave. The shave soap is Lavender & Rose from The Shave Den, and this is the first use. My Vie-Long horsehair worked up a fine lather, and I enjoyed loading the brush so much that the handle got covered in lather—and surprise, a smooth surface that’s wet and soapy is quite slippery! A quick rinse, though, and as soon as the soap was gone, the handle was grippy again: water alone doesn’t make it slippery.

I like the fragrance and took my time lathering, then picked up the Micron. It is actually set on 3, not on 7: this model has a red dot on both sides of the base  so you don’t have to worry about cap orientation, as you do with the similarly designed Progress—just tighten the cap and see which of the two dots is above the 1, and that’s the dot to use. That dot is the one on the other side. The blade is a newish Gillette Rubie.

It was an interesting shave. When I first got this razor, I nicked myself in every shave, but I liked the look of it so much that I persisted in shaving, and somehow I unconsciously learned how to wield it. This morning I shaved with abandon and felt as though I couldn’t cut myself if I tried—and I indeed got no cuts, no nicks, and a BBS shave.

It reminded me of the time I played golf. A guy with whom I worked, an avid golfer, took me out to show me the game. I could putt pretty well (lots of previous croquet playing on good greens), but when I tried to drive the ball, it would go straight for about 10-20 yards, then turn at right angles. Very weird. He told me that it was due not so much to holding the club face, but to the swing. He held the face at a slight angle, swung, and the ball hurled straight down the fairway. According to him, if your swing was right, it was hard to hook or slice no matter the head position.

I have no idea whether that is true—as it turned out, that was also my last golf outing—but today I felt as though no matter how I handled this razor the shave would be good—probably a combination of good razor design and a thoroughly skilled adaptive unconscious.

At any rate, it was a truly enjoyable shave, in which I more or less stood back and watched myself shave. A final rinse, a splash of 4711, and the year draws to a close.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 December 2012 at 9:16 am

Posted in Shaving

Strong and important column by Krugman

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The most recent column by Paul Krugman is very much to the point:

Howard Schultz, the C.E.O. of Starbucks, has a reputation as a good guy, a man who supports worthy causes. And he presumably thought he would add to that reputation when he posted an open letter urging his employees to promote fiscal bipartisanship by writing “Come together” on coffee cups.

In reality, however, all he did was make himself part of the problem. And his letter was actually a very good illustration of the forces that created the current mess.

In the letter, Mr. Schultz warned that elected officials “have been unable to come together and compromise to solve the tremendously important, time-sensitive issue to fix the national debt,” and suggested that readers further inform themselves at the Web site of the organization Fix the Debt. Let’s parse that, shall we?

First of all, . . .

Continue reading. Read the whole thing, by all means.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 December 2012 at 9:36 pm

Posted in Business, Government

Heating buildings with body heat

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Written by LeisureGuy

30 December 2012 at 3:25 pm

Posted in Environment, Technology

Corporations trying to end tinkering

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Why let you repair something when it possible to force you buy a complete new unit? “Profits must grow”: the prime imperative of the corporation. Alec Foege has an interesting book excerpt in Salon:

A few years ago I engaged my then two-month-old smartphone, a BlackBerry of some sort or another, in a very nontechnical road test: I sat on it. I only noticed the damage when one afternoon I reached to check my email. The small screen, usually jittering and scrolling with plenty of new messages, was suddenly a disconcerting Technicolor swirl with a huge black spot in the middle.

I drove in a mild panic to the nearest Verizon Wireless store and met with a sales representative. After asking for my vitals, he typed for a few seconds and waited. Then he typed, then he waited. Then he sighed.

“You can get a new phone,” he said. “At retail price.”

“How much is that?” I asked.

“Four hundred fifty dollars.”

Could I get my current BlackBerry fixed? The rep shook his head sadly. “They don’t let us repair the phones in the store anymore,” he said.

I felt his pain. Having grown up tinkering with Radio Shack electronic kits, I used to love taking things apart—radios, tape players, anything I could get my hands on.

But in the last twenty-five years or so, the number of household devices we can easily tinker with has dwindled.

I Googled my model number to see if I could find a more affordable replacement. What I stumbled onto instead was a short video on YouTube. The video showed a pair of hands disassembling a BlackBerry and replacing the screen in a matter of minutes.

I was hooked.

Through another Google search, I found an online retailer selling replacement screens for around $45, as well as a small smartphone-specific toolkit, including a tiny torque screwdriver and a little plastic tool for prying apart the BlackBerry’s flimsy case. One FedEx delivery later, I had my phone disassembled and its parts neatly laid out on my desk.

Just ten minutes after starting the process, I powered it up. Good as new.

My tinkering journey ended at the point when I had a working phone again. But it certainly didn’t have to. Having discovered through my own persistence that this modern-age bit of machinery wasn’t quite as complicated as I had first thought, I might have been emboldened to make my own alterations to it.

Perhaps the best example of the smartphone-tinkering phenomenon is the remarkable case of . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 December 2012 at 1:51 pm

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