Election Follies, 2016

So, let me be sure I’ve got this right.

You can go to the Trump website and sign up to be a “Trump Election Observer” in order to prevent Hillary from winning through rigged election processes.

You can then proceed to a polling place in, say, Alabama, Arizona, etc., etc. (i.e., states with liberal open and/or concealed weapons carry laws).

You can hang around (“peaceably assemble”) outside (and inside?) said polling place with your holstered or slung  weapon of choice.

Police, marshals, sheriffs and other law-enforcement officers — also suitably armed — will be conspicuously present at said polling place in order to keep the peace and deter fraud.

And no one (including the violence-averse) will be intimidated to the point of avoiding such polling places on Election Day.

Hello!?

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Brexit Redux

BRUSSELS – The EU governing council, meeting in closed session, today decided to one-up Great Britain by expelling it from the Union before it has a chance to resign.

Citing recent incidences of the UK “acting out” and having a “bad attitude” not conducive to the principals of the European Charter, the Council dismissed the issue “with prejudice”, legalistic jargon meaning it can’t be brought up again, as in: So long. Farewell. Auf weidersehen. Adieu.

Reaction from the Continent was swift. The prospect of a dramatic reduction in football (aka, soccer) hooliganism was foremost in everyone’s mind, as stadia throughout Europe outlawed body paint and resumed the sale of beer.

A spokesperson for the Council told this column that they had waited until today for the vote in order not to have to compete for U.S media headlines with Macy’s 4th of July celebration, Hilary Clinton’s FBI probe results or Donald Trump’s germaphobia.

London, out-maneuvered and humiliated by this unexpected turn of events, blamed Parliament for having gone “all wobbly”, while stiffening its collective upper lip in anticipation of further bombshells.

Fail, Brittania

That giant sucking sound you hear is the vacuum created in Europe by the departure of Great Britain from the EU.

But one nation’s stumble is another’s opportunity, so several putative nation-states, from Ruritania to Svenborgia, are petitioning Brussels to fill the void by granting them membership.

Kyrzbekistan, made famous by the New York Times, and autonomous since the implosion of the USSR, is another contender, but its unfortunate geographic position, somewhere east of the Urals, coupled with its history of peaceful co-existence with its neighbors, belies its claim to echt European-ness.

The Grand Duchy of Käseburger, a microstate founded by flamboyant Freibeuter Ulrich Hackfleisch in the aftermath of the Napoleonic wars when nobody knew what belonged to anybody any more, is a strong contender for accession to the Union, given its salutary history of intrigue, duplicity,  perfidy, backbiting, and double-dealing.

On this side of the pond, lame duck U.S. president, Barack Obama, after a few formulaic “business-as-usual remarks” on Brexit, retired to the Oval Office to weigh in on the appointment of Ithaca-born architect Billie Tsien as designer of the $500M Obama Presidential Library to be built in Chicago. Once persuaded that Ithaca is indeed located within the United States, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel sanctioned the appointment.

Asked to comment on Europe’s refugee influx problem, D. J. Trump, the presumptuous GOP presidential nominee, replied: “They’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists, and some, I assume, are good people”. Questioned on the global economic impact of Brexit, he bloviated: “I knew it! Hadda happen! I pulled out of London just before the Pound tanked. I made millions. Millions!”

Harried British PM, David (“Brits Don’t Quit”) Cameron, pressed by the Daily Mail to explain why the UK had turned its back on Europe, responded cryptically: “Kipling would have understood”.

Constitution Day

September 17 is Constitution Day. The commemoration was established by Congress in 2004 to memorialize the signing of the final draft of the U.S. Constitution on that date in 1787. Subsequently ratified by the requisite number of states in 1788, it became “the law of the land” (Article VI). It is the world’s oldest written constitution…and the shortest.

Now, 228 years later, some of its provisions can be as contentious as when they were drafted. Eighteenth Century Federalists (who favored a strong central government) and the Anti-Federalists (who didn’t) would instantly recognize — despite some evolutionary cross-breeding — their political heirs of today, who, having inherited a republic almost miraculously intact, can still find ambiguity in some of our most fundamental laws.
The ultimate interpretation of those laws falls to the Supreme Court, to which the Constitution grants limited original and broad appellate jurisdiction, particularly in cases arising under the Constitution (and other federal statutes) or in disputes between the States.

I am neither lawyer nor Constitutional scholar, but I anticipate no challenge when I remark that the Supreme Court’s most potent weapon is that of judicial review, i.e., having the power to ultimately decide whether a law – when challenged – is, or is not, constitutional. That power was effectively established under Federalist John Marshall, “the great Chief Justice”, in the case of Marbury v. Madison in 1803.

The ideological makeup of the Court from conservative to liberal and back again has, over the years, shifted with the political winds (Justices are, after all, appointed by a politically elected President) and it has at times been accused of undue activism; i.e., of making law (a privilege presumably reserved to Congress) instead of simply interpreting it.

Of late, those accusations have been coming mostly from the political right, but redoubtable former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, hardly the embodiment of extreme liberalism (and a canny reader of the public mood) is quoted by author Jeffrey Toobin in “The Nine” as having said, “We’re a common law court…Of course we ‘make’ law as we go along.” Judicial activism, like beauty, is often in the eye of the beholder.

The Constitution is, however, written on paper, not chiseled in stone, and time and institutions change. The Confederacy contended that Article VII of the Constitution allowed them to secede, a view not dismissed as baseless by every legal scholar at the time, Northern or Southern. That particular debate was, of course, settled by force of arms, but Ulysses S. Grant, in his memoirs, contended not that the South was wrong in its interpretation, but, rather, that the Constitution itself was in need of revision, to wit:
“[it is] preposterous to suppose that that the people of one generation can lay down the best and only rules of government for all who are to come after them, and under unforeseen contingencies. The application of steam to propel vessels had not yet been thought of. The instantaneous transmission of messages around the world by means of electricity would [in the revolutionary era] have been attributed to witchcraft or a league with the devil. Immaterial circumstances had changed as greatly as material ones. We…ought not to be rigidly bound by the rules laid down under circumstances so different for emergencies so utterly unanticipated. The fathers themselves would have been the first to declare that their prerogatives were not irrevocable.”

Indeed, Article V, by providing for ongoing amendment to the Constitution, ratifies Grant’s assessment of the intentions of the framers, a view pre-affirmed by the philosophical founder of modern conservatism, Edmund Burke and echoed in unmistakable language over the years by such diverse political thinkers as Thomas Jefferson, John Marshall, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., Richard Posner, and others. Thus it not a question of whether the Constitution may be changed, but how such change may proceed.

The crux, of course, is that amendment must arise out of due process, and many Americans are concerned lest change come via flawed interpretation by “activist judges” — on the left or the right — rather than by legislative deliberation. That the Constitution may be interpreted was foreseen – however obliquely – by the 9th Amendment, but contemporaneous theories of Constitutional interpretation evidence more shades of coloration than a rainbow.

Close scrutiny of the actual language used by the framers in order to divine their individual and collective intent has long been the normative standard, as in: “what did he mean by that”. But modern Constitutional interpretation has taken on complex dimensions not easy to get one’s arms around.

One could, for example, write an article longer than Rapunzel’s tresses on the interpretive theory of Originalism (and its corollaries, original intent and original meaning) which contend, in short, that the Constitution has a fixed meaning, established at its drafting, which must be always applied in pertinent cases. Justice Antonin Scalia, often referred to inaccurately (and to his great displeasure) as a strict constructionist is, rather, a commonsensical textualist, i.e., one who relies on the “fairly understood” meaning of words rather than trying to guess at the intent of their writer. But “fairly understood”, in the lexicon of original meaning theorists begs the question: what would the words have meant to a normal speaker of English at the time they were originally promulgated?; not what they might mean to the average American in the 21st Century.

Originalists postulate that it is the then-prevailing understanding by those who originally voted to ratify the constitution that gives the text its power as law; hence their view – if ascertainable — should prevail. The view of the then unenfranchised, who at the time comprised two-thirds of the population, is, regrettably, lost to history.

As to original intent, who in the present day could unerringly speculate on the unified intent of 50 such highly idiosyncratic individuals as our Founding Fathers, who were divided more by regional and philosophic differences than united by any collectively held credo other than a consummate love of liberty and the urgently compelling need to get the document written and ratified before fractious regionalism unraveled the nascent union?

And so we come to the antithesis of Originalism, the Living Constitution, an unfortunately-labeled characterization of a theory embraced by those who would welcome more flexible interpretation into the judicial review process. I say “unfortunately labeled” because it is yet another of those liberal coinages that, in its earnest good intentions, invites scathing parody. Even Justice Scalia was moved to quip, “I prefer the dead [later modified to ‘enduring’] Constitution to a living one”.

Living Constitutionalists agree with Originalists that where the constitutional text is clear, it controls; but they prefer to view the Constitution as a dynamic, “living” document; a durable structural framework upon which to build, rather than a set of static commandments resistant to evolving changes in society except via an arduous and sometimes immovable political process (see Equal Rights Amendment, Child Labor Amendment, etc.).

Such thinking is, of course, anathema to conservatives who see it as simply opening the door to activist judges to inject their personal values into constitutional interpretation.
Thus, the essential stasis between liberalism and conservatism in America is preserved in this issue, and seems unlikely to be disturbed anytime in the next 228 years.

Annals of Cape Cod

The following document, recently made public by the Cape Cod Film Commission, was discovered five years ago by souvenir-seeking scavengers in the basement of the recently demolished Buzzards Bay Theater. It purports to be a draft of production notes written by the Continuity Director of “The Cape Cod Story”, a six-hour motion picture shot in and around the town of Bourne and released April 1, 2010.

Promoted as a blockbuster epic of its genre (historical drama), the film’s domestic box office gross of $111.56 was a major disappointment to its Hong Kong financial backers, and it was pulled from distribution shortly after the producer was institutionalized. All existing prints and negatives were subsequently destroyed as a condition of the Studio’s bankruptcy proceedings. Googling “The Cape Cod Story” generates 5,470,000 Results, none of which are related.

The recovered continuity notes read as follows:

Having now screened the rushes, I have the following comments to make re a number of geographic, historical, and other anomalies (presumably caused by our L.A. crew’s unfamiliarity with the local zeitgeist) which should be corrected before the cast disperses and the sets are broken down:

Act I, Scene 1 – The Sagamore Bridge off-ramp does not connect directly with Commercial Street in Provincetown, no matter how much this “harmless” fiction helps to move the story along.
Act I, Scene 2 – A BlackBerry® is partially visible tucked into the loincloth of the actor playing Sachem Iyannough.
Act III, Scene 13 – Edit the “Nantucket wind turbine…” reference to read, “Nantucket windmill.”
Act IV, Scene 7 – John Smith and Pocahantas were not Cape Cod historical figures; that was a different movie. Ditto references to “Hiawatha”(Scene 8), “Uncas” (Scene 11), and Crispus Attucks (Scene 33).
[Yes, I am well aware that Attucks Lane in Hyannis is named after him, but nevertheless…]
Act V, Scene 3 – The cameraman’s egregious effort to frame the closeup shot of John Alden and Priscilla Mullins in flagrante delicto as a “selfie” is not only anachronistic, but is in decidedly poor taste for a family film.
Act VII, Scene 7 – The terms “Upper Cape” and “Lower Cape” should be dropped from this scene, as well as from Scenes 8, 9, 11,13…ad infinitum. They will be as confusing to the audience as they are to actual Cape Cod residents.
Act X, Scene 12 – (Melody Tent sequence) Contrary to popular belief, Patti Page visited the Cape many times before recording “Old Cape Cod”. Her sojourns here were not noted at the time because everybody thought she was Anne Murray.
Act X, Scene 56 – Probably too late to bring it up, but casting the unknown child actor Justin Bieber as the young “Squanto” should have been rethought.

Schroedinger’s Cat: The Real Story

No doubt many readers are familiar with the 1935 thought-experiment known as Schroedinger’s Cat. It theorized that if one were to put a cat into a closed box equipped with a Geiger counter rigged to trigger the release of a poison gas when an atom introduced into the box begins to decay, the device would kill the cat…or not. The point of the exercise being that one cannot know whether the cat is dead or alive until one opens the box and observes its contents. Quantum theorist Schroedinger posited that – until the moment of such observation – the cat is both dead and alive.

The experiment was summarily abandoned when PETA – having caught wind of what was going on –picketed Schroedinger’s lab, bringing things to a screeching halt.

That is, until 1975 when (according to information provided to this reporter by reliable sources) the physicist’s grandson, noted microbiologist Franck N. Stine-Schroedinger, came across his grandfather’s notes and determined to validate Opa’s theory by actually carrying out the experiment.

Availing himself of state-of-the-art technical facilities at Tokyo University, where he then headed the Biology department, Stine-Schroedinger elected to conduct the experiment alone and in secret, lest his efforts attract the attention of Japanese animal-rights activists.

Unfortunately, things did not go as planned.

For starters, the electro-magnetic coupling between the Geiger counter and the poison flask failed to operate, dousing the cat with radiation instead of cyanide. Furthermore, the Cesium-55 atom which was to have been delivered to the lab in a lead-lined Ziploc® bag by collaborators at the recently completed Fukushima power plant was, in fact, Cesium-137, a highly toxic isotope which left the cat in a state of suspended animation, i.e., neither dead nor alive.

The unnamed cat, a white, female, Japanese Bobtail, was rushed to Sanrio Animatronics where she was successfully re-animated. Adopted by employees of Sanrio, she became the inspiration for Sanrio’s cartoon character, Hello Kitty, a global brand-marketing phenomenon that – at peak popularity – was generating $500M a year in licensing fees.

Prof. Stine-Schroedinger, not wishing to claim ownership of the cat lest his failed experiment come to light, did not participate in the windfall.

Ombudsmania

This column frequently fields inquiries from its readers as to how we decide on subject matter, a question familiar to all wordmongers since the Gilgamesh tablets were chiseled.

For a hodgepodge blog like this, it’s actually easier to list topics we don’t cover, for example: embarrassing public gaffes by celebrities, such as the time Charlton Heston was spotted streaking (remember streaking?) through a Ladies Sodality meeting in Goleta, provoking squeals of scandalized delight from those attending. Not covered here.

Or the occasion when Julia Roberts left a tooth behind after pressing her face into wet cement at Grauman’s Chinese Theater in order to preserve her radiant smile for posterity. We took a pass.

When then Israeli PM Golda Meir was taken in flagrante with dashing young IDF commando, Benjamin Netanyahu, did we spike it? You bet your Bibi!

Did Ted Cruz, in his cruzada to discredit climate-change science, conflate Flat-Earthism with Geocentrism? Yes, he did, but we ignored it.

When Bill Clinton was “not having sex with that woman”, he was apparently unaware that LBJ’s secret White House recording system was still running. We erased the tapes.

Furthermore, any item having to do with the Third Reich coming to our attention is scrutinized in strict accordance with the memetics of Godwin’s Law.

As responsible journalists, we take our job very seriously. You will never find us crowing over the misadventures of the misguided, be they the sappier breed of Liberals or harder core Wingnuts.

This pledge will remain in effect until whim or circumstances demand reconsideration.

Missing Emails

Hillary rang over the weekend. She was seeking advice from this old newsosaur on how to get out in front (however belatedly) of her personal server problem. At first I thought she said “personal savior”, and was about to refer her to my old pal Francis in Rome, whose enviable global image says volumes about the PR campaign I designed for him.

But, when I realized she was actually referring to her email problem, I said, “Hill (we’re really close ever since I counseled her not to get into a messy divorce proceeding back in ‘98), let me give you some free advice. Nobody will remember this issue in 2016; the Democrats because they won’t want to, and the Republicans because they will have fruitlessly beaten the subject to death in front of the House Oversight Committee over the next couple of months.

Anyway, I said, there have been so many incidents in history wherein official documents were lost to posterity because they (a) never existed, or (b) never reached their intended addressee, or (c) were clandestinely destroyed, lest they surface and embarrass somebody.

Take, for example, the wax tablet King Leonidas sent to Greek Army HQ from Thermopylae complaining that he had only 300 men to hold off Xerxes’ Persian hordes. Never got an answer! Tablet probably melted when Persians burned Athens shortly thereafter.

Jeff Davis swore to his dying day that he’d penned a conciliatory Emancipation Proclamation just before intolerable Northern provocations forced him to fire on Fort Sumter. Never found!

The hastily scribbled cuneiform tablet sent to Caesar warning him to stay out of town on the Ides of March. Never found!

I could have gone on, but Hill interrupted to say she and her people were running late for a meeting with Monica and her people about declaring an entente cordiale for 2016, so she signed off and I hung hanged hung up, cussing myself for forgetting to send my regards to Bill.

O’Reilly and Me and the FNC

Got a call the other day from my old CBS News colleague, Bill O’Reilly. Although I can’t recall ever having actually seen him around the newsroom during my time there (tall as he is), he was undoubtedly off in some high-risk war zone, not hanging around 524 W. 57 looking to score brownie points with the brass.

Anyway, back to the phone call. “Citizen”, he started off (he’s called me that ever since this column panned his book, “Killing Robespierre”, thereby ruining its chances for a slot on the NYT Best Seller list), “I want to get out in front of this ‘stolen valor’ thing and I’d be grateful to see some plausible ameliorating spin from an influential blogger such as yourself”. “Certainly, Mr. O’Reilly”, I replied (I try to keep my relationships with celebrities formal, so as not to be open to charges of cronyism), “I’ll get my people on it tout de suite.”

After exhaustive research, we managed to unearth this creditable item from The [Racine] Journal Times:

“Is O’Reilly guilty of the same offense as [Brian] Williams, exaggerating the danger he faced while on assignment as a war correspondent? Yes. Does it matter as much? No. Williams is the managing editor of NBC News; he is in charge of a journalistic, news-gathering operation; in effect, the reporter-in-chief. Williams’ factual inaccuracies, especially with regard to a life-or-death situation such as coming under enemy fire in a war zone, damage the credibility of NBC News. Williams is a reporter, obligated to truthfully and accurately report the news. O’Reilly, in contrast, is a commentator; if Fox News were a newspaper, he’d be its star columnist.

O’Reilly’s “No Spin Zone” is, of course, an “all spin all the time zone”, and everybody knows it…fans, foes and frenemies alike. A commentator is not a reporter, and I would apply the same distinction to any of the host of opinion-mongers who post comments on the Internet, including myself.

Not so incidentally, resumé padding by those engaged in the high-stakes pursuit of Fame & Glory in the entertainment industry is hardly unknown, and is rarely punished by more than a slap on the wrist, if even that; so going after a performer (despite his genuine journalistic creds) like O’Reilly seems like selective prosecution.

To those who would have it that this is all an effort by Liberals to bring down FNC’s fattest cash cow, I hasten to concede that they’re almost certainly correct. Meanwhile, anyone who thinks that the Murdoch/Ailes/O’Reilly axis is just going to roll over and apologize, had best not hold his breath; these are guys who bring guns to a knife fight.

This Is Not About Jon Stewart

Despite the dearth of press coverage (the weather having soaked up most of the available ink and air time), most of you will have learned by now that I did not, in fact, get the Jon Stewart job.

I realize that my readers will want to know the full story, so here goes:

My agent at William Morris, Ari Emanuel, suggested that I “take a meeting” (agents really do talk like that) at Comedy Central, so I caught the red-eye from BOS to LGA and headed down to their studios on Manhattan’s Lower West Side.

The interview did not go well; largely, I believe, because of the linguistic barrier created by the roughly 60 year age difference between their HR VP and myself.

He started out by saying that “all you people with actual journalistic experience think you can handle this job. This is not just about ‘fake news’, bro, Fox has already got that covered.

Also, you have to be able to convincingly simulate righteous indignation, on cue. This isn’t journalism, dude, it’s acting!

And, finally, you actually have to be Jewish. A cultural tradition of kvetching is a prerequisite for the job. Your just looking Jewish doesn’t hack it, nor does casually dropping colorful Yiddish expressions into your blog.”

The interview obviously wasn’t going anywhere, so at this point I excused myself to use the men’s room, and never went back.

I’m confident that my agent, Ari, will quickly sign another client, especially if his brother Rahm decides to take a run at the White House.