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We Fought the Law, and Nobody Won

Recently, I watched a couple videos about the causes of the American Civil War.  Naturally, slavery was the central issue.  That was the cause of the tension, but I don’t think that was the cause of the actual fighting, though.  Slavery was nothing new.  It had been practiced on our shores for over 200 years.  The way I see it, the American Civil War was caused by our inability to amend the supreme law of the land, The Constitution. 

With a total of 4,440 words, the U.S. Constitution is the oldest and shortest written Constitution of any major government in the world.  James Madison, “The father of the Constitution,” did an amazing job of outlining the legal masterpiece.  It was packed with detailed instructions on how to operate the brand-spanking-new government, yet it was only 4 pages long.  I have appliance instruction manuals that take several dozen pages just to show me how to use a simple appliance.  Government of the people, by the people, and for the people is exponentially more difficult than operating a microwave oven.  To get all the power of the U.S. Constitution condensed into just four pages was brilliant, but it was not perfect, and both the designers and signers knew it.

Things change, and the young country was bound to go through massive changes if it survived.  Nobody could predict the future, but the designers of the Constitution knew it would be way different, so they allowed for that.  They made the Constitution flexible.  They made it so that it would be able to change with the times.  They incorporated Amendments, a brilliant idea.  The first ten Amendments, known as the Bill of Rights, gave U.S. citizens certain specific rights that we treasure to this day.

Unfortunately, the Constitution did not provide these rights to all people.  Despite the bluster of the Declaration of Independence about all men being created equal, the Constitution did not treat all men or women equally.

When it was ratified in 1787, the Constitution enshrined the institution of slavery through the so-called “Three-Fifths Compromise,” which called for those “bound to service for a term of years” and “all other Persons” (meaning slaves) to be counted for representation purposes as three-fifths of free people. The word “slavery,” however, did not appear in the Constitution until the 1865 ratification of the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery in the United States.

African Americans were not considered citizens, and women were excluded from the electoral process. Native Americans were not given the right to vote until 1924.

-ConstitutionFacts.com

The problem with the Constitution is that it is too difficult to amend.  On some issues, it is literally impossible to change.

The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress…

Thirty-three amendments have been proposed.  27 have passed, but that includes the Bill of Rights.  So, only 17 amendments have been added since September 25th, 1789.  Since the 21st Amendment just repealed the 18th Amendment, there have really only been 15 additions in 233 years.  That’s only one new amendment every 15.5 years, not nearly enough to keep pace with the rapid changes in the country in the last 233 years.

The Constitutionality of any law is determined by the U.S. Supreme Court, and since being a Supreme Court Justice is a job for life, they can be quite a bit older than the average American and have far more conservative views than the country as a whole.

In 1861, a bunch of conservative old Supreme Court Justices mostly from the South, gleefully determined that slavery was protected by the U.S. Constitution in their Dred Scott Decision.  A nation, stirred up by Abolitionists and horrific stories about slavery such as Uncle Tom’s Cabin, wanted to abolish slavery, so this Supreme Court Decision was quite unpopular in the North.

Actually, though terribly biased, their decision was a rather accurate interpretation of the Constitution as it was at that time, because the Constitution was absolutely archaic on the subject of slavery, and it was in desperate need of change. We needed an Amendment to abolish slavery everywhere in the country.

However, with the country equally split on slavery, there was no way that an anti-slavery Amendment could get a 2/3rds vote in both Houses of Congress, let alone the approval from 3/4ths of the states.  There was no way for the problem to legally go away.  Slavery, as morally wrong as it was, had the backing of the both the Constitution and the Supreme Court.  The “will of the people” alone would never be enough to change the Constitution.

There were only two ways to correct the Constitution.  Let the slave states leave, so that the remaining states would have the necessary majority to be able to amend the U.S. Constitution, or go to war to force the slave states out of business.  President Buchanan chose the peaceful way, by letting the Southern States secede from the Union.  President Lincoln chose war, and though he forced the country back together, the wound has never really healed.  Ironically, it was Abraham Lincoln who often quoted John, Viscount Morley, “You have not converted a man because you silenced him.”  I guess he didn’t get the irony.

Today, the President who chose the peaceful solution is reviled as one of the worst Presidents ever, and the President who chose a Civil War in which more than 630,000 Americans lost their lives, is revered as one of the greatest Presidents.  We, Americans, just love our wars, don’t we?  When we don’t have an outside enemy, we just fight each other.  Just look how many Generals were elected to the Presidency.  War, huh, what is it good for?  Getting elected President of the United States, for one thing.

More than a century and a half after the Civil War ended, slavery has long been legally abolished in the United States, but the country is still bitterly divided by racism.  We need to be able to solve our most serious problems with the Constitution much more easily.  We need to be able to add Amendments more quickly.  We may make a few mistakes in our haste to improve things, but like the 18th and 21st Amendments, we can always repeal our mistakes.

We also need to amend the Second Amendment.  Sure, let anyone who wants to own a musket have one, but stop selling military weapons to school kids.

A bunch of old guys on the Supreme Court recently shredded Roe v Wade.  We need an Amendment to the Constitution to give woman back control of their own bodies, and we need it quickly.

Getting 75% of the states to agree on something is next to impossible, nowadays.  Compromise is a thing of the past.  We live in a fast-changing world, and we need to be able to act quickly to pass Constitutional Amendments that will provide workable legal solutions, so that we don’t wind up settling all our disputes by fighting one another. 

Peace & Love, and all of the above,

Earl

In God We Bust

The results of polls can be very misleading.  Just ask Hillary Clinton.

Still, I like to read them, especially if they validate anything in which I believe.  Frequently, the polls disagree with me, though, because I don’t share a lot of mainstream beliefs.  When polls ask, “Who was the worst President of the United States before Donald Trump,” the knee-jerk response of the public is usually James Buchanan.  I live a mile away from where James Buchanan lived in Lancaster, PA, and I’ve visited his home many times.  I’ve read a few biographies of the man, and now I’m the unofficial President of his fan club.  I strongly disagree with the way the polls have ranked him and many other Presidents.  My opinion hasn’t budged the needle of public opinion one bit, though.  I know that I have my work cut out for me trying to elevate the tarnished image of James Buchanan.  The polls are working against me.

Religious polls also tend to disappoint me.  My group, the Atheists, always comes in last, way last.  But that was until I saw the chart below.  They combined the Non-Religious, the Convinced Atheist, Agnostics, and the practitioners of any Religion that didn’t have a God into “Total Atheists,” and, by calculating this way, the number of Atheists skyrocketed.

So, the numbers may be slightly inflated, but everything is inflated nowadays.  Rather than just look at the raw numbers, though, I looked to see if there was anything else of interest in the chart.  I found quite a few things.

The first thing I noticed was that few Asians believe in God.  China was the top Atheistic country on the list with 91% of the country not believing in God.  Japan was #2, with 86% of the country Atheistic.  Vietnam came in at #11 with a 67% Atheist population, and Hong Kong was close behind at #13 with 66% Atheists.  South Korea came in at #14 with 65% Atheists.  So, I was quite shocked to see that Thailand came in as the most religious country in the survey with only 2% Atheists.

Scandinavia didn’t disappoint me.  Sweden was #3 on the list with 78% Atheists.  Norway came in at #9 with 70%.  Denmark was #10 with 68%. Finland came in at #18 with 62%, and Iceland came in at #25, with just over half of its population not believing in God, 52%.  I thought that it was ironic that the area of the world that created so many gods, should now not believe in any.  They used to have a stable of gods: Odin, Frigg, the mighty Thor, Loki, Balder, Hod, Heimdall, Tyr, not to mention a couple of fertility gods, to help them get through those cold winter nights.  It turns out that the fierce Vikings were more god-fearing than modern Scandinavians.  Way to go, Scandinavia.  My people.

The next thing I noticed really threw me for a loop.  #20 on the list, with Atheists outnumbering the Religious by a margin of 61% to 39% was Israel.  Yeah, Israel.  According to this chart, which had to be accurate, because I found it on the Internet, there were more Atheists than Jews in Israel.  Maybe it’s because they have so many scientists.  Scientists have a higher percentage of Atheists than almost any other group.  In a recent survey in the United States, 85% of Scientists said that they did not believe in a higher power that hears our prayers.  I didn’t have time to dwell on the quantity of scientists in Israel, though.  There was more shocking news on the very next line.  Coming in right behind Israel at #21 was Ireland.  Ireland?  I thought that all they had was Catholics and Protestants who continuously fought one another, but the chart said they had more Atheists than all the warring Christians combined, 60% to 40%.   Brilliant.  LOL.

The next shock came when I got to country #30, The United States of America, the home of religious freedom.  All the charts I’ve seen in the past put the percentages of Atheists in the United States at around 15%.  This chart said that the religious outnumbered the Atheists but only by a majority of 56 to 43.  That’s almost triple the number of Atheists that I had expected.  It’s a Christmas miracle.  That wasn’t the shocking part, though.  By now, I could tell that this chart was probably compiled by an Atheistic organization, or, at least, one determined Atheist.  So, I was taking all the numbers with a large grain of salt, but I was concentrating on the rankings, especially when I saw that Russia was ranked #33, with religious people outnumbering Atheists 61-39.  The United States had a higher percentage of people who were considered to be Atheists than Russia.  The shock I got from that was mild, but the laugh I got from that was bigger.  Remember when we used to claim to have God on our side?

To counter Soviet propaganda during the Cold War, the United States adopted the motto “In God We Trust” in 1954.  We wanted to let them Ruskies know that God favored us over the Atheistic Russians.  Now, it seems, we have a higher percentage of Atheists than they do.  God knows how that happened, and whose side He is on now.

The next thing I noticed was how religious they were in the Southern Hemisphere, except for Australia.  Africa and South America are easily the two most religious continents, but their Southern Hemisphere Atheistic Mates in Australia outnumber the religious blokes there by a whopping 70% to 31%.  (I know that comes out to a total of 101%, but if athletes can give 110%, why can’t we Atheists give 101%.)

The last thing I noticed was that the 10 most godless countries turned out to be places I would like to visit.  The 10 most godless countries according to the poll are China, Japan, Sweden, Czech Republic, United Kingdom, Belgium, Estonia, Australia, Norway, and Denmark.  (I would need directions to Estonia, though.  I have no idea where it is.)

The 10 most religious countries, on the other hand, were places I would not want to visit.  As mentioned earlier, the most religious country on the survey was Thailand.  The only thing I know about Thailand is that the capitol is Bangkok.  I learned that the hard way as a child.  So, I don’t want to go there.  The next most religious country is Nigeria.  I am curious to see if the Prince has my million dollars ready for pickup yet, but I’ll pass on visiting.   The next most religious country is Papua New Guinea, followed by The Ivory Coast, Ghana, India, Armenia, Pakistan, Fiji, and the Philippines.  Fiji might be fun, but I give a hard pass on visiting the rest of the religious countries.

Scientists have an expression they call “The God of the Gaps.”  Whatever religious people can’t explain or understand is automatically just credited to God.  Back when the Vikings believed in a host of gods, it did not make them holy.  They raped, pillaged, and slaughtered much of Europe and beyond.  Nowadays, the Scandinavians don’t need Thor to be the explanation for thunder, or some other god to be responsible for lightning, or the sun, or the moon, or whatever else they didn’t understand back then.  Today, they understand a whole lot more.  Today, they are a prosperous, happy, peaceful population.  As science unraveled the mysteries, the gaps in their knowledge shrunk, and their gods shrank right along with the gaps, leading to progress.

The most religious countries are often the ones who have the poorest populations and the biggest gaps.  Struggling populations want to believe that there is a God, that He is on their side, and that He hears and answers their prayers.  This chart, however, seems to show that God has abandoned religious countries, and that, contrary to the right-wing bumper stickers, the countries that are moving forward in today’s world are, in fact, the countries who are quickly shedding their belief in an almighty God and taking responsibility for their own lives, and pursuing Science over Superstition.  God bless them.

Peace & Love, and all of the above,

Earl

The Most Atheistic Countries:

RankCountryReligiousTotal Atheists 
1China9%91%
2Japan13%86%
3Sweden22%78%
4Czech Republic24%75%
5United Kingdom27%72%
6Belgium28%72%
7Estonia28%72%
8Australia31%70%
9Norway30%70%
10Denmark32%68%
11Vietnam33%67%
12Germany34%66%
13Hong Kong33%66%
14South Korea35%65%
15Azerbaijan35%64%
16Spain37%63%
17Canada37%63%
18Finland39%62%
19Latvia37%62%
20Israel39%61%
21Ireland40%60%
22Austria41%59%
23Slovenia41%59%
24France45%55%
25Iceland46%54%
26Lithuania47%52%
27Bulgaria51%50%
28Ukraine53%46%
29Albania56%44%
30United States56%43%
31Indonesia58%42%
32Portugal59%41%
33Russia61%39%
34Palestine61%39%
35Mexico61%38%
36Iraq64%36%
37Italy69%31%
38Peru72%29%
39Lebanon71%29%
40Mongolia71%29%
41Greece73%27%
42Turkey74%26%
43Serbia75%25%
44Bosnia And Herzegovina75%24%
45Iran77%23%
46Argentina78%22%
47Ecuador78%22%
48DR Congo80%21%
49Bangladesh80%20%
50Brazil82%18%
51Poland82%18%
52Colombia84%16%
53Panama84%16%
54Paraguay87%13%
55Romania89%11%
56Philippines90%10%
57Fiji92%8%
58Pakistan93%7%
59Armenia92%7%
60India94%6%
61Ghana94%6%
62Ivory Coast94%6%
63Papua New Guinea94%6%
64Nigeria97%3%
65Thailand98%2%

Uneasy Rider

The electric bike I ordered a few weeks ago, arrived today, and I spent quite a few hours doing the “15-minute assembly”.  The instruction manual came in an assortment of languages and two of them actually resembled English, but neither of them were any more helpful to me than if they had remained in the original Chinese.

Remove Item #1 from package.

Install it.  Use tool provided.

Repeat with next item, until done.

It made an Ikea manual look like, by comparison, it should be in line for a Nobel Prize in literature.  So, after struggling for quite a very long while, and even trying to use a powerful magnifier to just try and figure something out from studying a close-up of the fully-assembled bike on the cover, I finally ran to my computer for help.

I watched a few YouTube videos.  Why didn’t I do that in the first place?  Am I getting senile?  The YouTube videos were way more helpful that the manufacturer’s instruction manual.  A thousand times more helpful.  Now, I knew why the front wheel of the bike didn’t turn the same direction as the handlebars when they turned.  That’s what the Allan wrenches were for.  Now I understood.

The toolkit that came with the bike looked like something the AAA Club tow-truck driver might always have with him.  It had multiple different kinds of wrenches in multiple different sizes and a screwdriver that never seemed like the right tool for anything, but the instructions were often not very explicit about which tool to use with the part being installed. They just read, “use tool provided.”

So, now, thanks to YouTube, my e-bike is almost-fully-assembled, and the battery is charging as I write this.  The only reason that the bike isn’t completely assembled is because the back fender kept getting knocked around every time I tried to lift my leg high enough to actually get on the bike.  The whole reason I got the bike in the first place is because my arthritic hip has been giving me mobility problems.  For some reason, I failed to realize ahead of time that my hip might actually prevent me from getting on the bike in the first place.  I’m not sure if that was another Senior Moment or just blind optimism.

Anyhow, I just decided to remove it – the back fender that is, not my hip.  I’m not going to be riding an electric bike on rainy days anyway.  I may live in Pennsylvania now, but I’m no Ben Franklin looking to prove that lightning is related to electricity.  However, even without the back fender getting in the way, it still wasn’t easy for me to lift my leg over the seat, but if I tilted the bike enough, I could manage it.  I’m hoping that a with a little exercise and practice, it will loosen the hip joint enough that getting on and off the bike will become much easier.  I’m just hoping that getting off doesn’t become too easy (If you know what I mean, wink, wink).  I’ll wear a helmet just in case.  I saw the Joe Biden video.

Funny thing.  When all was said and done and the bike was fully assembled, I found that I still had a couple pieces left over.  Those Chinese are so wasteful.

Peace and Love, and all of the above,

Earl

The Majority Doesn’t Rule

Many of us are under the illusion that the majority rules in this country.  You would think that would be the way a Democracy works, but the United States is not a Democracy.  It is a Republic, and when we Pledge Allegiance to the flag, we pledge our allegiance “to the Republic for which it stands.”

A Democracy works when you have just a few people.  When you have 330 million people, it is just not practical for everyone to vote on every single decision.  This is why we elect representatives to make the decisions.  We have to do our regular jobs, drive trucks, wait tables, build houses, etc.  We don’t have time to study each and every decision the government makes and come up with perfect solutions.  Our representatives do have the time to study the issues and make reasonable decisions.  Even so, they don’t always make the right decisions.  Party politics can sway the way our representatives vote, just as party politics can immensely affect who the representatives are, who we vote into office.

The Founding Fathers, in their wisdom, knew that our representatives would not always make wise decisions.  They incorporated a system of checks and balances into our government.  If you ever took a Civics class, you were taught that there are 3 branches of the U.S. Government that can check and balance each other.  Like many other things you might have learned in school, this just isn’t so.  There are actually 4 branches of the government required to check and balance each other.  They are the Executive Branch, the Legislative Branch, the Judicial Branch, and the most important branch of the government, We, the People.

You hear statistics all the time, like 70% of Americans want gun control, or 70% of Americans want abortion to be legal.  These are huge majorities, but majorities don’t rule.  The Legislative Branch of the Government, bowing to the gun lobby, refuses to make the changes needed in our gun laws.  The Judicial Branch, bowing to the Conservative ideas of an ancient past, refuse to allow women to make their own decisions about their bodies.

To counter the poor response of the government to the will of the people, We, the People, have to become actively and intelligently involved in the business of selecting the people who will best represent us in the government.

The problem is that We, the People, are too busy fighting each other to tackle this problem.  We are divided, and everyone knows the old quote, “A house divided cannot stand.”

Also, in our system of Checks and Balances, a simple majority does not work.  To override a Presidential veto, the Senate and House must have a two-thirds majority.  To pass a proposed Amendment to the Constitution also requires a two-thirds majority vote in both the House and the Senate.  That’s not easy, but it is even tougher for We, the People.  A proposed Amendment to the Constitution needs to be ratified by three-fourths of the States.  (That means, 38 of the 50 states).

If we want to amend the Constitution to make it bend to the will of the people, a simple majority is not enough.  We need a three-fourths majority.  We need to be united.  The United States requires a united population.  Otherwise, we are at the mercy of the political parties who control the other 3 branches of government.

We have to learn to compromise with one another, so that we can move forward instead of going backwards.  We need a super majority agreement on the items we find important to override the vetoes we’re getting from Congress and the Supreme Court.  We have to go beyond party loyalty, because the political parties do not want us united.  They want us to fight with one another so that they continue to hold the power.  We have to learn to get along if we want that power to go back to the people.  United we stand.  Divided we fall.

We are part of the system of Checks and Balances, and one simple thing we can do is that we can simply defund the politicians.  We can refuse to write checks to politicians who are not responsive to our needs.  We can vote them out of office, and we can elect people, who are responsive to our needs.  However, to do this, to beat the powerful lobbies that have hijacked our government, we will all need to work together, and we will all need to work smarter.

Working together is something that Americans can usually only do when it is extremely urgent and important.  But, in case you haven’t noticed the school shootings and the Capital protests coming from both sides, right now is one of those times.  If we want to find solutions which we can all live with, it is urgent and important that we look for the things we like about one another, instead of the things we hate.  If our country is to succeed, We, the People need to get to work and hammer out some solutions to our many problems.

Peace & Love, and all of the above,

Earl

The Lancaster Journey

Every couple years, the town inspector in charge of rented buildings comes around to make sure the building doesn’t have any health or safety issues.  The inspector tests the smoke alarms, makes sure that there is easy access to fire exits, and looks to see that the apartment isn’t a health hazard.

I’ve been here 8 years, so I’ve been through a few of these routine inspections.  They usually are over in 5-10 minutes.  This was no exception.  The results were strange, though.  After the inspection, the tenant upstairs and myself both got text messages from the landlord, that we were going to be evicted.

He then put eviction notices that he had typed up himself in our mailboxes.  I asked to speak with him.  He told me that the inspector said that unless he got rid of the tenants, he was going to condemn the building.  We had 30 days to vacate the premises.  What was that supposed to mean?  Is the building being condemned for something specific, or for just having tenants?  To me, that’s like saying, “This racetrack would smell much better if they got rid of the horses.”

Was there any real health or safety hazard, that we should know about?  The landlord didn’t know, or, at least, he wasn’t telling.  He said he just acted on the advice of the inspector, that he hadn’t seen any written report.

I smelled a rat.  Not literally, as that would be a health violation.  The rat I smelled was my landlord.  I didn’t trust my landlord.  So, I told him I was getting a lawyer and fighting it.

Since then, I decided to move out anyway.  I’ll still fight the eviction, but just to give me more time to pack and move whatever I decide to pack and move.  So that’s what I’m deciding now.  Where do I draw the line?  What stuff do I take with me?  What gets left behind?

The Legendary guitarist Chuck Berry was known to travel to a show with just his guitar and a toothbrush.  I have both of those items.  I could just do a Chuck Berry and walk away with just my electric guitar and a toothbrush.  But I can’t.  I’d have to take my e-saxophone, too.  At least I know how to play that instrument.

In the movie, The Jerk, with Steve Martin, there is a scene where he says that he is leaving and he’s not taking anything with him, “except for this ashtray,” and he begins to grab more and more of the contents of the room as he is sadly leaving.

Brother X hasn’t really weighed in on the issue, but I’m pretty sure that he’s rooting for the landlord to evict me.  I know that his biggest fear in life is that I will die before him, and that he will have to be the one to go through all my stuff, and I have a lot of stuff.  He says that he will rent a dumpster and put a chute in my window and just dump all my stuff down the chute without even looking at it, and I believe him.

That’s no way to treat a legend.

So, I better pack what I want to keep carefully, and choose wisely.

The key to the problem is first to know where you are going.

Back in the 1980’s, I used to teach a computer class at the Albert Merrill School in Manhattan.  I taught the first two weeks of school.  Basically, it was an orientation and a preview class for people thinking about taking a computer course.  If they decided to drop out in the first two weeks, their money would be completely refunded.  I had the highest retention rate, so I taught the first two weeks and reeled in all the fish, that the other teachers would teach.

I would go to soup kitchens and food pantries and pick up stuff to serve as refreshments.  On the first day of school, I would always write a quotation from the Ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu that read, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

What do I want to take with me to begin my next journey?  What’s my first step?

In addition to the musical instrument, I have a few computers, that I’d want to take wherever I go.  Throw in my DVD player/boom box, books, and some clothes.  I know I would have to get rid of a lot of my outdated clothes.  I have a few hundred t-shirts.  Can I get that number down to just my 20 favorite t-shirts?  Maybe.

What about Knick-Knacks?  I don’t think I need to pack the wooden duck decoys I take to the ballpark when the Stormers are playing the Long Island Ducks.  But there are memories attached to all the knick knacks I have.  Solution:  Capture the memories with a picture and kick them to the curb.

Well, not really kick.  More like gently nudge to the curb.  I’m thinking of putting a table in front of the building and having a free yard sale.  Maybe I can also have people sign a petition.  Maybe it could be a petition to Mayor Sorace for better treatment of 73-year old Navy veterans who are being evicted by heartless landlords.  I could put up signs.  Street theatre.  That could be fun.  Sign the petition get a free knick knack (or t-shirt).

I think I’ve got a handle on the Zen way to move.  Try to give everything away so you don’t have to move it.  Giving stuff away is so much better than just throwing it in a landfill.

Lao Tzu also said, “Beautiful new beginnings are often disguised as painful endings.”

I should have put that quote on the blackboard at Albert Merrill on the last day of the 2week introduction course.

I’ve got all the motivation I need to whittle my pile of stuff down to a manageable level, but I am also reminded that the ancient recipe for Rabbit Stew advises, “First.  Catch a Rabbit.”

I need to “catch a rabbit.”  I need a place to move to.  Something inexpensive, with few stairs.  So far, I got one offer.  Crazy Debbie, my first girlfriend in Lancaster, and most likely the reason why I stopped dating completely, came by to make me an offer.  She has a two-family house with her Mother, but her mother was admitted to a nursing home over a year ago and will not be coming home.  I could have her Mom’s apartment, which is the top half of a house built on a hill, so that the 2nd floor apartment entrance is actually on street level.

I went to look at it today.  It was spacious with lots of closets.  Norman Bates would have loved the closets full of old lady clothes.  There were religious objects all over the place, including two huge angels, which must have been made to be lawn ornaments in the cemetery.  Perfect, for an atheist like me.

There were 3 bedrooms, but Debbie said that she’ll retain one of those rooms for storage of her mother’s belongings.  I hope that includes the two angels.  Even losing that room, there were still more bedrooms than I needed but a guest room would be nice for when I have out of town guests.  There was also a living room and an office.  The bathroom had a shower and a bathtub.  I could finally soak my hip in an Epson salt bath.

The house has a huge backyard where I could relocate the Butterfly Ballroom.

If I was making up a list of Pro’s and Con’s, there were a lot of positives.  On the negative side, it’s 10-miles out of town.  The bus to town only runs every two hours, and the landlady (Debbie) is certifiably insane.  So, there would be a lot to consider, if I was trying to narrow down my choices.  Truth is, though, there were only two choices, either move into Debbie’s place or go back to where my Lancaster adventure began, a monthly residency at the Knights Inn on Route 30.  So, I said yes to Debbie’s offer.

I don’t know if this is going to be the beautiful new beginning or the painful ending that Lao Tsu wrote about, but it’s certainly going to be an exciting adventure.

Peace & Love, and all of the above,

Earl

Here Comes the Sun

Little darling, it’s been a long, cold lonely winter.  Little darling, It feels like years since it’s been here.

Here comes the sun.

Since Covid struck, it’s been a long, cold, lonely winter, and it’s lasted for two years.  I used to travel to parties in New York regularly, but I’ve only been on three trips outside of Lancaster in the past two years.  All of them were for funerals.  The most recent was for my sister-in-law, Mrs. X, who passed away in February.

Now the pandemic is finally waning, but Mr. Putin is threatening us with another long, lonely winter, a nuclear one.  As each new sorrow arrives, I keep reminding myself of the words in the song Dedicated to the One I Love, “The darkest hour is just before the dawn.”

I think that we’re all anxious for dawn to get here.  At least, we’re starting to see some light at the end of the tunnel, and, fingers crossed, this time it just might be sunlight, not another Covid mutation or the headlights of another trainload of disasters heading our way.

People are slowly getting back to normal.  Restaurants are reopening.  The Fulton Theatre here in Lancaster recently reopened.  My friend Marianne in New York let me know that she is finally going to be able to see the Broadway show she bought tickets to before Covid hit and the lights went out on Broadway.  Normal is coming back.  Locally, we no longer need to wear a mask everywhere we go.  That might not sound like much, but it is a big psychological boost.

After 9/11, much of New York shut down and it was baseball that finally brought New York out of its doldrums and back to life.  Now Major League baseball is having a contract dispute with the ball players, but the Minor Leagues are unaffected by the dispute, and the Lancaster Barnstormers will be leading the return to normalcy here in Lancaster.

They ran a special promotion today for 2022.  You could buy 20 tickets for just $22.  The tickets are good for any home game during April, May, and June.  The gimmick was that the promotion was only available for 22 minutes this morning, between 9 a.m. and 9:22 a.m.  I’m not usually awake that early, but it’s not every day that tickets to see my favorite ball club can be had for just a buck.  So, I got there at 7:30 and I was the first one on line.  As soon as I stood at the ticket window, though, dozens of car doors opened, and other bargain-loving baseball fans emerged from their warm cars to queue up with me on the chilly morning.  There are only 28 home games during this span, but I bought 2 packages, 40 tickets.  As I held the big stack of tickets it felt like I held a little sunshine in my hand.  As I stepped out of the ticket office, I also felt some warm sunshine on my face.  Here comes the sun, I thought.  Here comes the dawn.

Let’s go Barnstormers.  Let’s go Lancaster.  Let’s go world.

It’s a new dawn, people.

Peace & Love, and all of the above,

Earl

Ten-Cent Jimmy

It’s Presidents’ Day, and I have another chance to write about my favorite President, the much-maligned James Buchanan.  History treats him unkindly, but that is more to the credit of the rival newspapers of his day than it is the fault of Buchanan.  In this article, however, I will acknowledge some of the mistakes that James Buchanan actually did make, but I will also try to give his side of those stories.

Back in 1856, many newspapers were like the PACs of today.  They were arms of the political parties that supported them.  The newspapers of the South were Democratically controlled and those in the Northeast United States were mostly Republican controlled, and like FOX news today, they spread the word, not the truth.

There was a kernel of truth, however, in the pejorative nickname they gave to James Buchanan in the campaign of 1856.  They called him Ten-Cent Jimmy.  Times were different back then, and, as hard as it may be to believe today, the newly-formed Republican party of that day was trying to establish itself in the North by showing support for the working man.  They campaigned for wage increases.

Buchanan employed a staff to maintain his household at Wheatland, here in Lancaster, and he was known for paying low wages.  It would be politically incorrect to blame this on his Scotch heritage, but that might have been part of the problem.  This is one reason why his household staff often quit to seek more lucrative employment, and why he so rarely got a cook, who was actually a good cook.

During the campaign, when it was brought up, that laborers in the Northeast were working for only 10 cents a day Buchanan didn’t take umbrage.  He didn’t fight for wage increases.  The Republican newspapers were quick to pounce upon this wealthy man’s inability to sympathize with the plight of the low-paid laborers.  They nicknamed him “Ten-Cent Jimmy” and it stuck.

There was little else to criticize about the man, though, and James Buchanan became the 15th President of the United States, despite the continued onslaught of negative press from the new Republicans.

The Press also hounded him for interfering in the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott Decision, and they blamed him for what history records as one of the worst Supreme Court decisions ever.  The Supreme Court is known for making some awful decisions, so you know that to be the worst, it must have been really bad.

Actually, the Supreme Court didn’t make a decision in the case.  A Decision by them would have been bad, but they made it even worse by deciding to throw out the case entirely because they determined that the plaintiff, Dred Scott, being black, had no legal right to even present a case to the Court.  They leaked their intentions to throw out the case to the incoming President, James Buchanan.

There were 5 Southerners and 4 Northerners on the Court and the racially charged outcome was going to be determined by a vote of 5 to 4.  You can guess who was sympathetic to the black man’s case, and who was not.  Buchanan knew the effect the decision would have on the country, and he also knew that the country was already headed for a North-South Civil War.  He did not want the Supreme Court to make a decision that the public would see as a strictly North/South thing.  He could not get any of the Southern Judges to change their mind, so, to try to pour oil on troubled waters, he persuaded one of the Northern judges from Pennsylvania to change his vote.  James Buchanan was deathly afraid that a 5-4 strictly South/North split would upset the already fragile situation in the already North/South split country.  In his Inaugural Address, he pleaded with the country to calmly accept whatever decision the Supreme Court handed down in the case, and let that be the end of all the North/South bickering about the slavery question.  Two days later when the Supreme Court made public their 6-3 decision not to decide, the country exploded, and instead of putting the slavery question to rest, it divided the country even more.  By getting involved, Buchanan has taken the historical blame for what was really the Supreme Court’s bad decision.

Critics try to make it sound like the Court was leaning in favor of Dred Scott and a pro-slavery Buchanan swayed them otherwise.  That was never the case.  Buchanan was only trying to ease North/South tension by making a bad decision not look like such an obvious North/South decision.  He has been paying for that intervention for the past 160 years.  As Oscar Wilde said, “No good deed goes unpunished.”

The Supreme Court decision also cast Buchanan as Pro-Slavery, which he was definitely not.  In fact, he had purchased many slaves in Washington D.C. where slavery was legal, brought them to the Free State of Pennsylvania and given them their freedom.  He offered many of the freed slaves jobs in his household, but when they heard how little he paid his staff, most just thanked him for freeing them and went on their merry way.

Buchanan is also blamed for splitting the Democratic Party by not running for re-election in 1860.  Again, this was another negative that could be blamed upon his Inaugural Address where he made a promise to the American people to spend all his efforts on trying to heal the country and none on seeking re-election.  The soon-to-be 67-year-old President was still recovering from a bad case of National Flu at the time, so he was also admitting that he would be too old and sickly to run for re-election in 1860.  Instead of being given credit for his integrity, he made himself an instant lame duck, and the fighting began for the control of the Democratic Party.

The last point I would like to make is that he was vilified for not turning over control of the Party to Stephen A. Douglas, the powerful Senator from Illinois.  First of all, Buchanan personally detested Stephen A. Douglas.  When the unctuous Douglas gave him a $20,000 check for his 1856 Presidential campaign, Buchanan cashed the check, but he wrote the thank you note to Stephen “D.” Douglas.

Secondly, Buchanan correctly predicted that Douglas was only popular in states that were going to vote Republican anyway.  In the 1860 election, Douglas didn’t even win his home state of Illinois, a state that is now famous for being “the Land of Lincoln,” not the home of Stephen A. Douglas.  Douglas only carried one and a half states in that election.  He won in Missouri and split the electoral votes in New Jersey.  As Buchanan predicted, he came in second in all the states that the Republicans carried, and as Hillary Clinton and so many others have recently learned, you only win an election if you get the electoral votes, not the popular vote.

I could go on and on about the many ways that history has short-changed “Ten-Cent Jimmy,” but I’ll save them for another day.  I’ll just close by wishing everyone a Happy Presidents’ Day and give a special shout out to the wonderful folks who work so hard to preserve the home and history of James Buchanan at Wheatland, especially all the volunteers, who don’t even get ten cents a day for all they do.

Peace & Love, and all of the above,

Earl

St. Vivian the Baptist

This week we celebrate President’s Day and my Mom’s birthday, so let me tell you a story about my Mom and a few Presidents.

Mom always gave her age as 21 plus.  In a way Vivian was both hiding and revealing her real age, as she was born in ’21, February 23rd, 1921.  So, doing the math…that would make her…21 plus.

Since George Washington was born on February 22nd, my Dad once joked that Mom was one day younger than Washington.  He only ever made that mistake once.  He was a tank commander in World War II, and fearlessly fought Nazis in Germany, but he quickly learned not to pick a fight with my mother. She would never surrender.

Mom grew up in Flood City — Johnstown, Pennsylvania — a town which has spent much of its time under water, lots of water.  There were two things to do in Johnstown back in the day, learn to swim or get out.  She got out.

She went to Nursing School in Brooklyn, where she was famous for two things.  One made the school proud, and one made them angry.  Nurse Vivian (as my brother Kevin refers to her in his Chronicle articles) was the first nurse to get 100% correct on the Nursing exam, and that made everyone proud.  Then she made them all mad.

Mom wrote a letter to Eleanor Roosevelt, proudly noting her achievement and inviting the First Lady to attend her Graduation from Nursing School.  To the shock of everyone but my mother, Mrs. Roosevelt accepted.  Rather than feeling honored, the school executives were very upset because they knew that they would have to spend their every waking moment in the weeks ahead, preparing and polishing every inch of the school to get ready for the distinguished visitor.

FDR wasn’t the only President involved in my mother’s life story.  She previously had a run in with Abe Lincoln, too.

The country was in the middle of World War II and needed to sell War bonds to finance the operation.  Somebody got the idea of promoting the cause by having the nurses sing a song at the Lincoln Memorial.  The statue was undergoing some work and there was scaffolding everywhere, but that was no problem.  They were not going to be on TV.  This was the age of radio.

When the nurses gathered at the statue, everyone quickly found out that Mom’s remarkable intelligence was not accompanied by a beautiful singing voice.  They told her to stand way in the back and just move her lips, and not to sing under any circumstances.  Since she was not going to get to sing on the radio, she decided that there was another way to enjoy the field trip to the Lincoln Memorial.  She climbed the scaffolding and sat on Lincoln’s lap.  It was the age of radio.  You could do those things back then.

Besides nursing, Mom was also famous in South Ozone Park for the Halloween costumes she would make.  Mostly they were for her sons, but occasionally she got into the act, too.  Here she is as Groucho Marx.  “Say the secret word and the duck comes down.”

Groucho had a secret word, but Mom had a real secret.  I’m only revealing it now for the first time, because of all the flap about the Arizona priest who for decades baptized babies using the wrong words.  The Catholic Church ruled that all the Baptisms he performed were invalid.

That never would have been a problem if Mom had lived in his parish.  She was a devout Catholic and a nurse in the maternity ward.  No child was going to be put at risk of dying unbaptized and being denied Heaven while she was on duty.  As an insurance policy, she secretly baptized every child in the hospital who was born to a Catholic mom.  She might have secretly spritzed a few Jewish babies, too, but that has never been confirmed. Nobody was going to Limbo on her watch, and you can be 100% sure that she got all the words right.

Happy 21 plus Birthday, Mom.

Love,

Your 73-year-old son.

Peace & Love, and all of the above,

Earl

The Next Elvis

I play a game online with some friends and we have to come up with a song with the day’s word in it.  Today, my Brother X brought up the Edwin Hawkins singers, and it reminded me of one of my favorite true stories.

Settle back, because I’m going to tell the long version.

As a child, I was diagnosed with Asthma and encouraged to play a wind instrument.  I picked one of the lightest, the clarinet.  As I grew older, I wanted to be cooler, so I switched to the saxophone.

As a teenager, I got into a Rock N Roll Band with John Karolefski and some friends from high school.  They weren’t impressed with my saxophone playing, so I only got to play two songs, Summertime (and the living is easy) and Tequila.  The rest of the time I banged a tambourine and sang lead.

Years later, when I went to boot camp in Great Lakes, they were looking for musicians for the boot camp band.  I auditioned and wound up in a company that was made up of musicians, drill team, and other assorted entertainers.  Seven of us played the saxophone and only a couple were ever needed, so I never once played with the band.

But I used it as an excuse.  Whenever my company was scheduled for the obstacle course or some other disagreeable duty, I told the company commander that I had band practice.  Then I would go to the band hall and goof off for an hour or two.  In nine weeks of boot camp, I never once set foot on the obstacle course.

About a year later, I wound up in Adak, Alaska with nothing to do when I wasn’t on duty.  So, I joined a band, a band so horrible that they let me play saxophone and be lead singer.  We rarely played anyplace, but we practiced frequently.

Fast forward to another year later, and I was stationed in Todendorf, a small town in northern Germany.  I was too busy having fun to form a band there, but I often spoke highly of my musical experience.  Rock band as a teenager.  Navy band in Boot Camp.  Rock band in Alaska.  Since Elvis had just finished his tour of duty in Germany, I was sarcastically referred to as his replacement, The Next Elvis.

There wasn’t a whole lot to do in the sleepy town of Todendorf, except drink and chase German girls, but that kept me busy.  Occasionally, though, we would go on a road trip.  We were only about a half hour away from the bustling city of Kiel on the North Sea, and there were plenty of discoes there.

The largest of the discoes was The Star Palast, which had a number of floors and held thousands.  We knew that this would be the place to be during “Fleet Week” when numerous American ships would be docked there.  So, when Fleet Week arrived, we put on our civvies and got to the Star Palast early.  There were numerous bars in the place, but we all went to the main bar near the stage and dance floor, where the owner tended the bar.  We took up all the seats at that bar.

My supervisor, Dave Johnston, a New York boy, was at the other end of the bar talking to the owner, and they kept looking over at me.  I ignored them, and paid more attention to the hundreds of German girls dancing with about a thousand American sailors.

The sailors were spending money like drunken sailors, and everyone was having a good time.  At the height of the evening, there were probably almost two thousand happy drunken people dancing to the beat.  It was the party to top all parties, but then something happened.

The owner walked away from Dave and approached me.  “He told me who you are,” he said to me.  “Who did he say I was?” I responded.  “He said you were the next Elvis.”  I looked at Dave and he was practically falling off his barstool laughing.  The guys around him, who were in on the joke, were laughing their asses off, too.

The owner pointed to the thousand sailors overrunning the place and asked me if I would do him the great honor of going on stage and singing one of my songs for the crowd.

Looking at all my friends, who were laughing hysterically, I tried to back out gracefully.  “I would love to sing one of my songs, but I don’t have my band here.  So, I can’t.”

He apologized for not thinking about that, but then said, “But since you are such a big Rock N Roll star in America, would you just go on stage and say Hello to all the Americans.  I’m sure that they would all appreciate that.”

He had backed me into a corner, and all my laughing friends knew it, but I came up with an out.  “Since my band’s not here, would it be okay if I got a few of these sailors to join me in a song?”

“Of course.  Anything you want.  Thank you.  Thank you.”

I climbed onto the stage, grabbed the mike, and said that I would like to sing a song to all the Americans in the crowd, if I could just get a few of them up on stage to sing with me.

About a hundred drunken sailors climbed up, filling the massive stage.  I sang a spiritual song that was currently one of the top Rock N Roll songs, Oh Happy Day.  I didn’t even know the words, but I just kept singing “Oh Happy Day” and the drunken hoard behind me kept echoing the words.  The place went wild.

Nobody knew me, but a thousand drunken sailors cheered on a hundred of their drunken shipmates, who were on stage in a foreign land singing “Oh Happy Day” at the top of their lungs.  Before long everyone in the place was singing “Oh Happy Day” and having a great time.

Picture this, but instead of a choir, it’s a bunch of drunken sailors, singing to an even bigger bunch of drunken shipmates.

When the song was over, I said, “Thank you,” and invented the “Mike drop.”  I leaped off the stage, put a big smile on my face, and went back to my barstool and my buddies.  The owner scooped up all our bar tabs off the bar, and ceremoniously tore them in half.  “Thank you,” he said.  “You really are the next Elvis, and you and your friends will never ever have to pay for a drink in my club.”

My ruse worked, but that was the last time I ever went to the Star Palast.  When you catch lightning in a bottle, you enjoy the moment, but you know better than to ever expect to be able to catch it twice.

Peace & Love, and all of the above,

Earl

A Tale of Two Countries

Both are called the United States.  Neither are united.

The recognized country is led by Joe Biden, a 79-year-old man, who desperately wants to lift up America, one more time.  He was part of the Obama team that got us out of the big 2008 Fiscal Crisis, and now he’s determined to solve two new big problems threatening our nation’s health – Covid and Division.

The unrecognized country is led by Donald Trump, a 70-something year-old man, who desperately wants to lift America’s wallet, one more time. His problem is also health, his own.  He’s completely power crazy.

When John Quincy Adams won the Presidency many years ago, he received congratulations from the entire world, except from his father, John Adams, the former 2nd President of the United States.  He asked his father why and dad replied, “No man who ever held the office of president would congratulate a friend on obtaining it.  He will make one man ungrateful, and a hundred men his enemies, for every office he can bestow.”

George Washington did not want to run for a second term.  The silver tongue of Thomas Jefferson had to be summoned to convince the old boy to have another go at it.

After his second term, they tried to convince him to run again.  History praises Washington for stepping down, declining a third term, and showing that America was a Democracy, not a Monarchy.  One man isn’t king for life, and all that stuff..  In reality, Washington hated the job.  And when they begged him to run for a third term, he said, and I quote, “I’d rather be in my grave.”

Thomas Jefferson’s epitaph, that he wrote himself, oddly omits the fact that he was the third President of the United States.

My favorite President, James Buchanan, is often maligned for his eagerness to vacate the White House.  On the day that Lincoln was inaugurated, James led old Abe to the ceremony, and told him, “If you are as happy to be here as I am to be going home to Wheatland, then you truly are a happy man indeed.”

There are only a few Presidents who wished that they could have been President for longer than they were, Teddy Roosevelt, and the dead ones.

Teddy even headed up his own Bull Moose Political Party, in an unsuccessful attempt to win another term.  Grover Cleveland, our 22nd President was voted out of office, and his wife told the White House staff, “Take care of the place.  We’ll be back.”  and they were when he became the 24th President four years later.  He fought back to regain the title, but most of it was his wife’s idea.  He was never very crazy about being President.  Men who want to remain President are rare.  Most of the people who have held the job, realize the extraordinary toll it took on them, and are glad to leave when their days are over.

We’ve only had two Presidents from Pennsylvania, James Buchanan and Joe Biden.  Both coveted the job but were rebuffed for years and years, until when they were finally too old for the job, but the country was in serious trouble and turned to them in the Country’s hour of need.

James Buchanan wrote, “I had hoped for the nomination in 1844, again in 1848, and even in 1852, but now I would hesitate to take it.  Before many years the abolitionists will bring war upon the land.  It may come during the next presidential term.”

He wound up accepting the nomination in 1856, anyway.  He had served his country for so long, that it was all he knew how to do.  His nickname wasn’t Buck.  His adopted nephew James Buchanan Henry was called “Buck”.  James Buchanan was known simply as “the Old Public Functionary.”  He served in the militia, the state house, the congress, the Senate, Secretary of State, Ambassador to Russia, Ambassador to Great Britain.  After his fiancé died in 1820, he had dedicated his whole life to his country, and he didn’t refuse to serve his Country in 1856, when that Country was even more divided than today.

Most Presidents were glad to leave the White House.  Lyndon Johnson said, “I will not seek, nor will I accept my party’s nomination for President.”

Joe Biden should be enjoying his golden years, but he looked around and saw that he was the best, and maybe only, chance for Democracy to beat the juggernaut that was Donald Trump.  Like Buchanan, he is probably proud of taking the helm of the ship of state when it was floundering in a violent storm, but I’m sure he wishes that somebody younger might have taken the reins, instead.  Joe probably wishes that his son Beau was running the country today.

Donald Trump does not feel the same way about his sons.  Don Trump, Jr. probably will take over the franchise when Donald Sr. dies, but since the good die young, Donald Sr. might be around for a long, long time.  Poor, neglected son Eric, meanwhile, has been voted son most likely to turn states evidence when the shit hits the fan in the January 6th Investigation.

Richard Nixon didn’t want to go.  So, it was only Teddy Roosevelt, Grover Cleveland, and Richard Nixon, who were forced to vacate the office before they actually wanted to.

And now, Donald Trump.  One year into the Biden Presidency, Trump still hasn’t conceded.  He’s still holding on, which is Joe Biden’s second problem.  If this was a third world country, he could just shoot him.  Or a drone could accidentally  “go off course” and blow up Mar a Lago.  But Joe Biden is a decent man.  He won’t stoop to the tricks that Donald Trump would stoop to in a heartbeat.

How do you take the high road, and succeed?  I don’t know.  If it was me, I would just have the CIA put exploding golf balls in Trump’s golf bag whenever he had a foursome that included Mitch McConnell, Ted Cruz, and Lindsey Graham.

Peace & Love, and all of the above,

Earl