The new new problems

The biggest problem I have with writing these days is that the time I feel most able to really sit down and work on something is about the same time I need to be putting on my shoes and going to work. Seriously, that flurry of activity over the weekend started when I woke up early Saturday morning and took a notebook out for coffee. 

Apparently in my brain the best conditions for writing are an early start and hot beverages. 

It carries over, though. Every morning this week I’ve wanted to write something. Like I’ve got it moving again now and want to keep at it before I lose momentum. I’m posting this from my phone while I’m on the bus just to try to keep that going. 

Unfortunately that’s really all I have just now, something to try to keep the momentum going. I have things I want to write about, but they’ll have to wait at least a little longer. 

Honestly, I might have managed something quick during breakfast, but I saw a headline that read something like 8 students burned to death for blasphemy and had to go find something soothing to look at. 

Article 1, Part 2

Quick note before we begin, once again I want to thank the U. S. Constitution Online site, which has made this much easier than it otherwise would be since I can just copy and paste the relevant parts of the Constitution from them. It sometimes feels like I’m not commenting on the original legal document so much as writing commentary on that website.

As usual, I am not a lawyer or scholar, nor an expert on this in any way.

Ok, let’s get back into this.  Read the rest of this entry

Article 1: Part 1

Welcome back to my ongoing series on the Constitution! Like the preamble, my first post was more a mission statement than anything with real content, but I still managed to miss a couple things I wanted to mention.

First is that my primary tools for this project are the U. S. Constitution Online website and my ACLU-printed pocket constitution. I have several more of those pocket books, and if anybody wants one you can either find me in person, or click on that ACLU site and they’ll give you one for free.

I thought there was a second thing, but if so I’ve forgotten it. Oh well, onwards!

My standard disclaimer applies: I am not an expert in any subject, in any way.

Section 1. All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.


From the U. S. Constitution Online.

The first article is about the legislative branch of the government. In fact the first three articles establish the three branches, legislative, executive, and judicial.

It seems likely that starting with Congress was intentional, to draw attention away from one person’s power. Remember that this government was designed to be of and for the people, so most of the power rests with Congress, at least in theory.

Also, note that it says “All legislative Powers”. Only Congress can make laws, not the president, not the courts. But both the executive and judicial branches can have profound effects on laws, as we’ll see in later installments.

Since I’m about to quote the first part to be modified by a later amendment, I’m going to point out that I’ll be following the convention where modified text is (in parentheses and italic), while commentary establishing the nature of the modification is (in parentheses and bold).

Technically this means I’ll be including some stuff that’s not in the original text, but this is probably the best way to do it. I’ll also maintain the original links, since they are useful in many ways.

 Section 2. The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States, and the Electors in each State shall have the Qualifications requisite for Electors of the most numerous Branch of the State Legislature.

No Person shall be a Representative who shall not have attained to the Age of twenty five Years, and been seven Years a Citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an Inhabitant of that State in which he shall be chosen.

(Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.) (The previous sentence in parentheses was modified by the 14th Amendment, section 2.) The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct. The Number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand, but each State shall have at Least one Representative; and until such enumeration shall be made, the State of New Hampshire shall be entitled to chuse three, Massachusetts eight, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations one, Connecticut five, New York six, New Jersey four, Pennsylvania eight, Delaware one, Maryland six, Virginia ten, North Carolina five, South Carolina five and Georgia three.

When vacancies happen in the Representation from any State, the Executive Authority thereof shall issue Writs of Election to fill such Vacancies.

The House of Representatives shall chuse their Speaker and other Officers; and shall have the sole Power of Impeachment.


From the U. S. Constitution Online.

In Section 2 we get to work actually doing stuff. Section 2 is all about the House of Representatives.

I had trouble figuring out what “the Electors in each State shall have the Qualifications requisite for Electors of the most numerous Branch of the State Legislature” is trying to say. After a bit of thinking, it seems to be saying that if you qualify to be an elector for the most numerous branch of the legislature of your state, then you qualify to be an elector for the state. It’s not clear to me if “Elector” in this case just means “person voting in this election” or something else, but it seems the most likely interpretation.

This is the moment when I realize just how ambitious this constitution project of mine is, because I’m having to seriously examine this archaic language cold. I haven’t actually sat down and examined the Constitution with an intent to understand it as a whole since… ever, now that I think of it. I’ve looked things up, and I’ve read it all the way through, but there was always context which narrowed my scope. Having to take a broad view of the entire document really makes it clear how much I don’t understand.

Which is good, however annoying it is. This project is about learning, and I’m doing that.

The second paragraph establishes the requirements to be a Representative. Age, citizen, resident, and that’s it.

Although the old language is harder to understand, I prefer the oldest parts of the Constitution for their brevity. When we get to the amendments you’ll see what I mean, in the 19th century they start getting longer and longer.

Section 2 also contains our first hint of slavery in the infamous three-fifths compromise. I’m interested that they used such indirect language about it, I wonder what the discussions were like leading up to that.

Slavery was a contentious issue at the time, and would remain so right up until it was abolished. When people speak, as some do, of the framers of the constitution as though they were nearly super-humanly wise and all in agreement with each other, remember that this early in the document we’ve established that slaves are 3/5 of a person because the framers could not agree on whether to count them or not.

In fact whether or not slaves counted for population figures was a pretty big deal, with the standard practice being to count them when it was beneficial to your interests and not when it wasn’t. The southern states in particular had large slave populations and wanted them to count for the number of representatives they got in the house, thereby increasing their influence.

So not only were they owning people, they were using them as tokens for power.

What else do we have? Establishing the census, limiting the size of the House and providing provisional numbers until the first census is taken. Then we see that when there’s a vacancy in the House, the state Governor has to have an election to fill it. Finally, the House is obligated to choose its Speaker and officers, and the House has the power of Impeachment.

I’m starting to pick up that 18th century habit of capitalizing nouns. This will probably get worse before it gets better. Also, dig that old-timey spelling of “Chuse”! I kinda like it, shame we went with the double-O instead.

Anyway, this is over 1200 words, so I’m going to end the post here. I’ll try to have Article 1, Section 3 up tomorrow.

Feel free to share your analysis in the comments, and have an excellent day.

We the People

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.


From the U. S. Constitution online.

So begins the United States Constitution. And so begins my series on that venerated document. Yes, I know I said I didn’t want to dive right into a series, but it was all I could think more or less coherently about.

This was inspired, more than anything else, by something I saw on Facebook, or rather the reactions to it. It was a short explanation of the amendment process, pointing out that Obama can’t repeal the second amendment because it takes two-thirds of congress to change the constitution. And people reacted with surprise.  Read the rest of this entry

Ch ch ch Changes

Things are changing around here.

You might even have noticed some changes already. I doubt I’ll be messing around with my site’s design or WordPress theme any time soon, I still like the way it looks, but I’ve become more and more irritated by internet advertising and so I’ve decided to stop being a part of the problem.  Read the rest of this entry

Life goes on

So last night I worked late. I headed home anxiously looking forward to kicking my shoes off and relaxing. 

In the elevator of my building I smelled smoke. Faintly, just enough for me to wonder who burned dinner.

When I got into my apartment I could really smell smoke, and could faintly hear a smoke alarm thru the walls. I got concerned then. 

After wandering the halls for a bit, I went upstairs and find the halls filled with smoke, and I could hear smoke alarms from the apartment directly above mine and next door to that one. About the time I was noticing this I encountered security guards hunting for the smoke and sent them that way. I then grabbed my bag and cleared out, not wanting to be in the way of professionals. 

As I walked away from the building, fire engines and hook-&-ladder trucks started converging on it. I walked to a bar a few blocks away, ordered a beer, and settled in to wait. I filled in the bartender and some friends on the situation, and tried not to think of the idea that I might be suddenly homeless. I became painfully aware of the renter’s insurance that I had allowed to lapse thru poor budgeting. 

After my second beer I went to find out what had happened. The bartender advised me to come back if my building head burned down, he’d give me a couple free drinks to help cope.

In hindsight, I under-tipped him.

The building was fine. My upstairs neighbor had left a pot on the stove. I’ll add that to the crimes of late-night stomping and dropping condoms out the window that they are already guilty of in my mind. This morning I could still smell the smoke, but I kept the windows open until I left and I think it’s mostly cleared by now.

The moral of this story, if there is one, is that things can go very wrong very fast. I’m going to renew my renter’s insurance, because at $200 a year it’s frankly a bargain compared to suddenly having everything I own burn up because some dipshit never learned not to leave a stove unattended. I mean, I can’t actually stop my things from burning, but I can get compensated for them so I can rebuild if something like that happens. 

Three other lesson here is that you should never ever leave hot things unattended unless they are specifically designed to deal with that. Which is pretty much crock pots and the specialized ovens we use at work, in my experience. I’m sure there are other things, but seriously if you aren’t sure, don’t leave it alone. Fire can go from no big deal to a major catastrophe in less than a minute, so be careful with it!

In other news, you are probably already aware that I like to have a Bloody Mary on a weekend morning. Today I decided to try the Vesuvio Cafe in North Beach, which makes a big deal of the fact that Kerouac used to frequent it. I’m am definitely impressed by the atmosphere, its an awesome and comfortable place to hang out, but I’m also stunned (almost literally!) by how strong the drinks are. I usually think of a Bloody Mary as a tomato beverage with a little  vodka in it, but this is a vodka drink with tomato juice for color. Damn. 

There are many, many other things that I want to write about, but I have people to meet and things to do, so they’ll have to wait. In the meantime, take care of yourselves, make sure the important insurance is paid up. And always watch while the bartender makes your drink. 

Morning Raindrops

This morning I’m sitting in a historic gay bar, sipping a Bloody Mary and watching the weather waffle over whether to rain or not. I’m trying to figure out what mix of breeds the dog that just walked by is. Maybe corgi and golden retriever? Adorable dog, short legs, fluffy golden coat. The kind of dog you desperately want to hug, who will probably let you even though dogs don’t really like or understand hugs.
Overall, I’ve had far, far worse Saturday mornings.
But the reason I’m writing this is that I can see a tour group forming in the plaza across Castro street. City Guides offers free tours all over the city, and I highly recommend them for anyone who has an interest in history.
I’ve taken that particular tour before, a lovely trek through Castro neighborhood history, with a sizable chunk of gay rights history. At this point I’ve given you enough information to figure out which bar I’m sitting in, although the number of bars open this early, even on a Saturday, is probably small so it’s not as big a challenge as it first seems.
Anyway, City Guides gives a time and location for the start of each tour and their FAQ entry on how to recognize the guide includes this phrase, “If you don’t see the badge, just look for someone at the appointed place who seems ready to lead a tour.”
I love that phrase.
In context, it totally works. You go to the right place at the right time, and you’ll see someone standing around, slightly awkwardly, holding a clipboard while looking around at people to see who’s looking for them and gather the group. But as a standalone phrase, it really fires of my imagination. I can picture someone just hanging out, and a group of people deciding that this person “seems ready to lead a tour.” In the movie of my mind, the ersatz tour guide plays along and leads them around the area telling stories and giving as much history as possible from memory, resulting in a colorful, if apocryphal, experience for the hapless group.
I’ll admit this post is light on substance, but I so loved and wanted to share the mental image of that tour group; wandering around and gradually realizing that they hadn’t found the proper guide and were just following some random passerby, and that they were enjoying themselves enough to be OK with that.
Have a wonderful Saturday, everybody. I hope all of your adventures are instructive and enjoyable, even if they weren’t what you had planned.

Big bags of Dice

I Kicked a D-Bag

Okay, so after two months of silence I’m posting what’s little more than an advertisement. What can I say, I’m a jerk sometimes. But despite the eyeroll-inducing name, D-Bags look pretty cool.

The basic idea is very straightforward, and will be instantly obvious to anyone who’s played Dungeons & Dragons or any other game where you need lots of dice in different denominations: it’s a dice bag with pockets inside to sort your dice.

They come in a wide variety of colors and textures, and the true dice collector can get the giant version, a marvelous thing which is just absurdly huge!

So if you’re a player of games, go check out the kickstarter. It ends today, so hurry! Here’s the link!

I meant to include more pictures, but ran late and had to finish this post on my phone. Sorry about that.

Tonight while I was waiting for the metro a man walked up talking to everybody and nobody in an agitated voice. Like most city dwellers my first instinct was to ignore him, but his words were so… self affirming, I suppose, and lacking the usual warning signs of someone who might get violent, that I felt compelled to sort of cheer him on. “Damn right you’re worthy!”
As we boarded the train, he calmed down, asked me what line we were on, and left at the next station. I find myself wondering if he was mentally ill, or on drugs, or perhaps had just had an encounter with someone who vocally disapproved of him being, I think his words were “a beautiful black queen”, and needed to reassert himself.
Whatever the case, I hope his evening has gotten better since.

The Short Big Whine

I’m honestly trying to write more, but everything is pissing me off to the point where it always feels like anything I start will turn out to be nothing but a big long whine.

We have a political candidate (I almost wrote “political theater candidate,” which feels more accurate, to be honest) who’s getting serious support whose entire platform is based on being rich and hating a lot of people.

That scares the hell out of me, because even if he doesn’t have a chance of actually getting elected, what does it say about our country, and our culture, that he’s doing as well as he is? Hell what does it say about our world that hate and fear are still driving forces in societies? That a major point of so many social groups is that it will make you feel justified in treating other people like shit?

I remember a couple years back reading (and writing) about Christian Fascists in Greece, the part that comes to mind is a young man proudly proclaiming himself a Christian Fascist and declaring that this gave him the right to tell someone to leave. Now here in the USA we have audiences cheering a man for saying that given power he would institute torture.

I just don’t even want to live on this planet anymore.

Left behind

Intergalactic superstar David Bowie returned to his home planet yesterday, we who remain on Earth mourn his departure.
Wil Wheaton said it pretty well on his blog, Bowie didn’t seem mortal. The idea of him dying doesn’t seem real somehow.
I can’t possibly do him or his career justice, all I can do is listen to Blackstar, his most recent album, and try to get thru the day.
Take care of each other everyone.
Fuck cancer.

Easing back into it.

The title of this post is what I should have done when I decided to start blogging again. What I did instead was start plotting out a post that should probably be split into multiple posts, a project so ambitious that while scribbling notes over coffee this morning, two full weeks after deciding to do it, I finally realized just how much I had put on my plate. In hindsight, I should really have written several smaller posts first to get back into the swing of things.

In the meantime, here’s a video that really communicates the power of history. It’s not just a neat example of how historians try to make sense of events when it is impossible to know the full story, but it also has a verisimilitude to it that makes me think it should be part of the Star Wars canon. I can easily imagine exactly this being produced (within the fictional setting, that is) a few generations after the events of the movies.

I give you: The Galactic Civil War.

Read the rest of this entry

The Future of this Blog

I suppose I should start by saying that this blog does have a future.

That may be surprising to some of you. Over the last few years I’ve written less and less here, to the point where any thought about blogging tends to be followed immediately by wondering how long ago I last posted something.  Read the rest of this entry

Siblinghood Challenge! (Kinda)

I’ve thought long and hard about it, and I simply cannot complete the Siblinghood Challenge that E.H. gave me. I’m not really a part of the blogging community these days, rarely writing or reading blog posts. And there’s no way I can scrape up the brainpower to think of ten good questions, or even five bad ones.

But I ought to at least attempt to answer them. Maybe it’ll be the first step in writing frequently again. Maybe even thinking frequently, though we really shouldn’t get our hopes up. So let’s examine these questions.  Read the rest of this entry

I’ve been struggling with this post in the back of my mind for a month now, so I’m just going to type it out stream-of-consciousness style and hope I can edit something coherent out of the result.

First and foremost, thank you, E.H., for your flattering words here. I sat down that weekend to write something, I forget exactly what, and saw the comment that lead to your post, and haven’t been able to figure out how to respond since!

On the one hand, I’m thrilled that someone holds my writing in such high regard! On the other, I really haven’t written much this year. Read the rest of this entry

On logistics and software.

Reading this Wired article made me both wish I’d stuck it out for a software career & at the same time breathe a sigh of relief that I didn’t. The sheer scale of it is literally awesome.
The logistics of the thing fascinate me. I mean, it’s hard to convince 25,000 people to show up at one place on a specified date. To coordinate all that code, and the constant changes being made to it…. Well, it just makes Caesar’s British campaign seem a bit trivial, you know?
But I keep thinking about it. This huge thing that people are writing, where each part has to work with every other part. It’s amazing. And it’s not just a weird quirk, this is the future. This is how the next generation of the internet is going to be made.
It’s amazing, and I’m excited to think about what may come next.

“I love you, I just don’t support you or your right to get married.”

So I saw this posted on facebook.
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I am so angry about this I can’t even think straight. I expected better from the person who posted it.
Saying you “do not support” marriage equality is the same as saying it shouldn’t be legal. I can’t see another way to interpret it. That means you’re saying they should not be able to marry the person of their choosing, that they should be denied the benefits and privileges of the marriage contract. That this legal contract between equals should be restricted to certain types of people.
That all adds up to second-class citizen status because of who they love.

In this context, “stand for what we believe” means denying legal equality to an already persecuted minority. You’re not defending anyone, you’re not helping anyone, you’re hurting people for no benefit to anyone.

Furthermore, the stereotyping of Christians as hateful, small-minded bigots comes from statements exactly like this, statements that claim being a Christian means being anti-gay. The ones who push this stereotype the hardest are hate groups who want to pressure Christians to support them by convincing them that this is part of being a Christian. If you really want to separate Christianity from bigotry, you need to stop claiming it as your motivation every time you act like a bigot.

Incidentally, you can be a Christian without denying equal rights. If you don’t believe me, come to San Francisco Pride next year and see how many churches of various denominations march in it, often carrying signs advertising “I will marry you!”

Finally, the whine about “name-calling and stereotyping” being “what we don’t want done to you” grates me on another level, because while Christians do get called names and stereotyped, LGBT people get denied services, fired from their jobs, beaten, raped, and murdered. Don’t pretend that you’re equally persecuted with people who literally just won the right to have their marriages recognized throughout the country, and in half the nation the right to marry the person they choose at all.

Consider what friendship means before you imply all that, and then say “we’re still friends.”
I want my friends to be better people than that.

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