Happy birthday, Bill of Rights

Several years ago I penned this for the Review-Journal.

On this day in 1791 the Bill of Rights were ratified by three-fourths of the states. At the insistence of the Anti-Federalists led by Thomas Jefferson the first 10 amendments were added to the new Constitution.

They might more properly be called a Bill of Prohibitions, since they are not so much a delineation of rights as a list of things the federal government may not take away from individuals and the states and local governments.

Bill of Rights

This is our day to celebrate the First Amendment prohibition against establishing a state religion, despite odd rulings about nativity scenes and posting the Ten Commandments, and the right of free speech and press, despite McCain-Feingold limits on campaign spending and advertising. (Since somewhat overturned by Citizens United.)

This is our day to celebrate the Second Amendment, despite requirements to register handguns and other laws.

We celebrate the Fourth Amendment prohibition against unlawful search and seizure, despite the Hiibel case in which Larry Hiibel was arrested for not giving his name to a Humbolt County deputy. (Not to mention civil asset forfeitures.)

There’s the Fifth’s protection against taking of property except for public purposes that was bounced by the Kelo decision that let government take property for private development.

As for the Sixth’s right to speedy and public trial? Forget it. No explanation needed.

The right to trial by jury according to the Seventh? Try that in traffic court, buddy.

No cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth’s prohibition. Lifetime sentences for possession of pot belie that one.

The Ninth’s and 10th’s guarantees that rights not delineated are prohibited to feds? Let’s see the states try to set the drinking age or voting age or speed limits.

There’s still the Third’s prohibition against housing troops in private homes. (Right?)

Happy birthday, Bill of Rights, long may you be respected.

A couple of years ago I ran across the Cato video below. As my ol’ Pappy used to say: Great minds travel in the same plane, while fools just think alike.

Actually, the Third is also suspect as I reported here. The courts have since ruled that cops are not soldiers. They sure look alike and are armed alike.

Louise Penny’s latest mystery, ‘A World of Curiosities,’ weaves an intricate plot leading to a satisfying confrontational ending

In her 18th novel featuring the ever thoughtful and, yes, cunning Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec, prize-winning Canadian author Louise Penny delves into the past — both fictional and real.

Penny opens her “A World of Curiosities” mystery novel at a fictional murder scene at which Gamache first meets with Sûreté officer Jean-Guy Beauvoir, now his right-hand man and son-in-law. There is more than a little friction between them and some comeuppance from the chief inspector for the rookie.

As the plot unfolds in intricate detail, laced with ample introspection and intricate mind games, Penny weaves in accounts of the horrific 1989 massacre at the École Polytechnique, an engineering school in Montreal, in which 14 women were killed by an anti-feminist. In the acknowledgement section at the end of the book, Penny reveals she covered that event as a radio journalist for the CBC and had some trepidation about using the tragedy in a work of fiction, even letting a survivor of the event read her manuscript prior to publication.

Louise Penny

In addition, the author uses a quite real 1670s painting by an unknown Dutch artist called The Paston Treasure to set up clues and interplay between Gamache and his evil arch enemy, a shrewd serial killer. The original painting, on display today in England, depicted a collection of curiosities an English father and son had collected during their 17th century travels around the world. This included decorative art objects, such as mounted seashells, ostrich eggs, musical instruments, goblets, a globe and a clock — as well as a young girl and a young slave. It was dubbed by some: a world of curiosities. It is the author’s Trojan Horse into the mind of Gamache.

In the book, a hand-painted copy of the canvass is found in a bricked up room in a house in the small and quaint town of Three Pines, where Gamache lives with his wife Reine-Marie. The newly found painting has a number of alterations, including modern objects, such as a digital watch. It provides clue after clue for Gamache, Beauvoir and several of the town’s residents, who have been central to previous Penny novels.

Though I have read most, if not all, of Penny’s Gamache novels I dare say the casual reader could pickup this one or any of them in any order and be fully immersed in her thoughtful and detailed story telling. I highly recommend them all.

The book’s plot flows like a zig-zag sewing machine. Each stitch closing up another loose piece of the fabric. Mystery lovers will appreciate Penny’s ability to pull the reader along piece by detailed piece until she wraps it all together at the end in an on-the-edge climax of physical and emotional confrontation.

The Paston Treasure

On this day in 1941

“At a time in their lives when their days and nights should have been filled with innocent adventure, love, and the lessons of the workaday world, they were fighting in the most primitive conditions possible across the bloodied landscape of France, Belgium, Italy, Austria, and the coral islands of the Pacific. They answered the call to save the world from the two most powerful and ruthless military machines ever assembled, instruments of conquest in the hands of fascist maniacs. They faced great odds and a late start, but they did not protest. They succeeded on every front. They won the war; they saved the world.”    —       Tom Brokaw in “The Greatest Generation

Herbert Aubrey Mitchell

My father joined the Army when he was 16. He lied about his age.

He knew what was coming and was there when it came. He was in Pearl City that Sunday morning in 1941 when World War II began.

He spent the rest of the war hopping from island to island with his artillery unit. He said he chose artillery because he wanted to make a lot of noise.

I know he was in the Philippines about the time the survivors of the Death March of Bataan were rescued. The rest is a blur in my memory, though I recall him telling about how they censored letters home lest they fall into enemy hands and give away troop locations — you couldn’t write that the food was “good enough,” because the ship was at Goodenough Island.

He was a decorated hero, but said he refused to wear the Purple Heart so he wouldn’t have to explain exactly where the wound was located.

When he and his war buddies got together they seldom talked about the fighting, only the antics, like climbing on the hood of a truck and stealing eggs out of the back of another truck as it slowly climbed a steep hill.

But one of his friends once let slip that Dad, a bulldozer operator, actually did that scene from a John Wayne movie in which the bulldozer operator raised the blade to deflect bullets while rescuing pinned down soldiers.

To hear him and his friends talk, it seemed like they spilled more beer than blood, but somehow still managed to win the war and save the world.

Trump advocates lawlessness, while claiming laws were broken

After Twitter released internal memos that showed how corporate execs decided to suppress on Twitter discussion of a New York Post news story about the content of Hunter Biden’s laptop, former President Donald Trump came unglued, unhinged and utterly outrageous, calling for the termination of portions of the U.S. Constitution.

Trump posted on his online account Truth Social, according to various online news accounts: “So, with the revelation of MASSIVE & WIDESPREAD FRAUD & DECEPTION in working closely with Big Tech Companies, the DNC, & the Democrat Party, do you throw the Presidential Election Results of 2020 OUT and declare the RIGHTFUL WINNER, or do you have a NEW ELECTION? A Massive Fraud of this type and magnitude allows for the termination of all rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution. … Our great ‘Founders’ did not want, and would not condone, False & Fraudulent Elections!”

How suppression of discussion of news on one online account constitutes election theft is a leap beyond any semblance of rationality.

Trump’s call for “the termination of all rules, regulations, and articles, even those found in the Constitution” is the definition of lawlessness and rule by dictatorship by the one man who thinks he has all the answers. This from a man who has also practically condoned the Jan. 6 attack electoral vote counting process.

Of course the White House put out a statement condemning Trump’s remarks. According to the AP, the statement says: “You cannot only love America when you win. …

“The American Constitution is a sacrosanct document that for over 200 years has guaranteed that freedom and the rule of law prevail in our great country. Attacking the Constitution and all it stands for is anathema to the soul of our nation.”

Trump has already announced he is running for president again in 2024. This should certainly be a talking point for any Republican who has the fortitude to counter someone with such an outrageous ego and who is willing to demonstrate this by shooting off his mouth without thinking about anything but himself.

This ain’t my first rodeo

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Trevor Brazile ropes and ties a calf in 8 seconds in 2009.

When National Finals Rodeo returns to Las Vegas this Thursday, I won’t be in the press box as I have in years past feeling the dirt kicked up by bucking broncos in the Thomas & Mack arena.

The closest I ever came to rodeoing was the time Grandpa Hicks put me on his horse Skeeter and sent me down to the lower pasture to bring back the cows for the evening milking.

Now, I say pasture in the kindest North Texas sense — a relatively open area dotted by scrub oak, mesquite, nettles, sandburs, cockleburs, goatheads and Johnson grass, populated with scorpions, red ants, sidewinders, diamondbacks, jackrabbits and coyotes. It was a place where the butcherbirds hung their prey, young snakes, on the barbed wire (I was a grown man before I learned it was barbed wire and not Bob wire.) fence to keep the other vermin from stealing their victuals. Etched throughout this verdant landscape were gullies as deep as a man on horseback.

It hadn’t changed a whole heck of a lot since Gen. Philip Sheridan rode through in 1866 and panegyrized the place by proclaiming, “If I owned Texas and Hell, I would rent Texas and live in Hell.”

My grandparents churned their own butter and smoked their own meat. Grandma Hicks could snag a fleeing pullet by the leg with a length of wire and wring its neck in seconds, leaving the headless bird to run around for a minute or so till it could be picked up and plunged into boiling water, then plucked for a fried chicken dinner with biscuits, gravy and all the fixin’s.

At night as we listened to radio with the glowing De Forest tubes, the only thing to read was the Bible and the Sears & Roebuck’s catalog, which, when the new one arrived, would be, shall we say, recycled out in the outhouse.

Every year we’d go to the Chisholm Trail Roundup in Nocona. This was back when the factory still made boots and leather goods, like my three-fingered baseball mitt that had to be oiled and tied around a baseball to form anything resembling a pocket. Every year they’d introduce Miss Enid Justin, the owner of the boot company. It was always “Miss” Enid Justin.

The Chisholm Trail Roundup had no lasers or fireworks or ear-splitting rock music, like the NFR in Vegas, but it did have a booming-voiced, smart aleck announcer who would trade snappy patter with the rodeo clown during the bull riding events. We sat on cold, splintering wooden bleachers in boots and jeans and hats. Not in an 18,000-seat arena.

This was back when the stars of the sport were Casey Tibbs and Jim Shoulders.

In 2009 at the National Finals Rodeo at the Thomas & Mack the star was then 33-year-old Wise County, Texas, roper Trevor Brazile. Unlike most in the sport Brazile earned a couple million dollars in prize money over the years, as well as a barnful of gold buckles. Most cowboys are lucky to cover their expenses — pickups, horse trailers, horses, tack and gear, as well as fuel for vehicles, horses and selves.

On that Saturday, the morning newspaper rodeo reporter Jeff Wolf, who also covered auto racing, wrangled me a press pass and took me down to the pressroom in the bowels of the T&M to meet the assorted rodeo officialdom. Along the way we bumped into Clark County Commissioner Tom Collins and T&M manager Pat Christensen. I was just there to show the flag for the paper as its editor, to show the rodeo the newspaper welcomed them, so maybe they’d think of us when there were news scoops to reveal.

I shook hands with and joked with everyone from the head honcho to the doctor to the hangers on. But I had one boon to ask. If Trevor Brazile happened by, might I get a chance to shake his hand and say hello?

Just before the rodeo was to start, they brought through the pressroom mild-mannered, soft-spoken, polite-as-hell Brazile. I shook his hand and wished him luck from a Wise County expatriate, who, like a kid collecting autographs, could now tell his family back home he’d actually met the star of the rodeo circuit. He was from Decatur. I was from Bridgeport, 11 miles down the road, and Decatur’s arch rival in high school sports. Perhaps, this being Las Vegas and all, you’ve heard that old craps shooter’s plea: “Eighter from Decatur, county seat of Wise.”

As a lagniappe, I also shook the tiny, soft, splayed hand of bashful 2-year-old Treston, who, like his dad, was dressed in black from hat to boot. If I live so long, perhaps someday I can say I met him when …

Wolf talked the rodeo communications director into letting me sit in the press box up at arena side for a couple of go-rounds, where I dusted bits of arena floor kicked up by passing riders off my program and watched poor Trevor Brazile finish almost out of the money in both calf (I refuse to call it tie-down roping as a sop to the animal rights whiners.) and team roping.

The closest I ever came to that kind of rodeo action was because I did not know Skeeter was a cutting horse. I think I was about 10. For the purposes of this story and an aversion to too much self-embarrassment, I’ll not admit to being any older. Only my mother could proffer a contrary accounting, and she never owned a computer.

So, when I got down to the pasture where that half dozen or so head of docile milk cows were grazing, either through some unintended signal from me or his own instincts, Skeeter decided that one suckling calf keeping devotedly near its mother just had to be cut out of the herd for purposes only Skeeter could fathom.

In the Texican lexicon skeeter is short for mosquito, another blood-sucking denizen of those parts, which darts about in the air, changing directions so fast as to defy the laws of physics. If you’ve not had the pleasure of seeing one work, that’s what a good cutting horse does. It dashes and stops and cuts back, doing whatever it takes to prevent that calf from doing what it instinctively wants to do, rejoin the rest of the herd.

Normally, most people get to see this performance in a nice flat arena from comfortable seats. Did I mention the gullies? Somehow I managed to stay on Skeeter’s back instead of flying off under the force of kinetic energy as he made all those hair-pin turns and stops.

After awhile, Skeeter decided I did not know what the heck I doing and allowed me to point him toward the barn, leaving behind that calf and all the milk cows with bulging udders. Grandpa was so angry I almost wished I’d tumbled off into a gully so I could at least have Grandma’s sympathy.

As I told the NFR communications director back in 2009: “This ain’t my first rodeo.”

This first appeared as a column in the morning newspaper in 2009.

The real meaning of Thanksgiving

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Thanksgiving is rich in traditions. The turkey. The dressing. The pumpkin pie. The family assembled in prayerful reverence in remembrance of the plight of the early settlers of this country — much of which is complete fiction.

The Plymouth colonists set out to live in an idealistic communal fashion. Everyone would share equally in the products of the colony. But after nearly starving to death in 1621 and 1622, Gov. William Bradford abandoned the social experiment and gave each family its own plot of land, and whatever was produced on it was the rightful property of the owner to consume or trade.

The result was a prosperous harvest in 1623 followed by a feast of Thanksgiving.

Capitalism saved the colony.

The American Institute of Economic Research has posted online its own retelling of the Thanksgiving story, along with passages from Bradford’s recollections from “Of Plymouth Plantation,” translated into more modern spelling.

The AIER notes that the colony was attempting to live in the manner described in Plato’s Republic in which all would work and share goods in common, ridding themselves of selfishness and achieving higher social state. The problem was that hard work was not rewarded and laggardness and sloth went unpunished.

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William Bradford

Bradford wrote:

“For the young men that were able and fit for labor and service did repine that they should spend their time and strength to work for other men’s wives and children, without recompense. The strong, or men of parts, had no more division of food, clothes, etc. then he that was weak and not able to do a quarter the other could; this was thought injustice. The aged and graver men to be ranked and equalized in labor, and food, clothes, etc. with the meaner and younger sort, thought it some indignant and disrespect unto them. And for men’s wives to be commanded to do service for other men, as dressing their meat, washing their clothes, etc. they deemed it a kind of slavery, neither could man husbands brook it.”

Before the colony could die off from starvation, Bradford divvied up the land and introduced private property.

The governor wrote:

“And so assigned to every family a parcel of land, according to the proportion of their number for that end. … This had a very good success; for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted then otherwise would have been by any means the Governor or any other could use, and saved him a great deal of trouble, and gave far better content. The women now went willingly into the field, and took their little-ones with them to set corn, which before would a ledge weakness, and inability; whom to have compelled would have been thought great tyranny and oppression.”

And the result was, again in Bradford’s words:

“By this time harvest was come, and instead of famine, now God gave them plenty, and the face of things was changed, to the rejoicing of the hearts of many, for which they blessed God. And the effect of their planting was well seen, for all had, one way or other, pretty well to bring the year about, and some of the abler sort and more industrious had to spare, and sell to others, so as any general want or famine hath not been amongst them since to this day.”

This is the real lesson of the first Thanksgiving: Capitalism always triumphs over communist utopian fantasies. Humans will work for their own self interest and, instead of it being greedy and rapacious, all benefit and prosper.

But Americans elected Joe Biden and Kamala Harris anyway.

A version of this blog was first posted in 2011

Connelly weaves another fascinating detective tale

Michael Connelly’s latest book has just come out and, of course, it already is atop the bestseller lists. In “Desert Star” Connelly rejoins Los Angeles Police Department detective Renée Ballard and now retired LAPD detective Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch in a newly minted cold case unit.

Connelly painstakingly guides the reader through the evidence maze of two cold cases. One was the murder and desert burial of four family members — two parents and two children. It was one Bosh had not been able to solve as a homicide detective, though he had a suspect’s name.

The other is the rape and murder of a 16-year-old girl in her own bedroom. The only clue is a smudged palm print on the window sill. Her brother is now a city council member and was instrumental is resurrecting the cold case unit. So, of course, that case is of highest priority.

Connelly tells the story with brusque prose, snappy dialogues and the occasional heart-pounding action sequences that sometimes leave the aging Bosch a bit worse for wear. As with all of his books, it is a true page turner.

Here is a snippet that shows Connelly’s writing style and reveals the derivation of the book’s title. Bosh has driven early one morning into the sweltering Mojave Desert, where the four Gallagher family members were buried, just to help him recall the various aspects of the unsolved case. He runs into a local cop who stopped when he saw Bosch’s battered Jeep aside the remote road. That cop also had worked on the Gallagher case.

Bosch stood up and dusted off his pants. He was done here. Orestes reached down and picked one of the flowers.

“Hard to believe something so beautiful can exist in this place,” he said. “And people say there is no God. You ask me, there’s God right there.”

He turned the stem between his fingers, and the flower turned like a pinwheel.

“You know what that is?” Bosch asked.

“Sure,” Orestes said, “This one’s called the desert star.”

Bosch nodded. He wasn’t convinced that it was God on earth, but he liked that.

They started back toward their vehicles.

“What about McShane?” Orestes asked. “ He poke his head up somewhere?”

“Not as far as I know,” Bosch said. “But I haven’t started to look again. I will today.”

McShane is is the aforementioned suspect, of course.

I highly recommend this book, as well as the three dozen or so books this former newspaper reporter has written over the past three decades.

And, yes, Hieronymus Bosch is the name of the Dutch painter also known for complex depictions of large groups of people doing depraved deeds.

Judge reminds Biden that just a pen and a phone aren’t adequate

It is nice to have a federal judge with a grasp of history and humor.

In Texas on Thursday U.S. District Judge Mark Pittman blocked President Joe Biden’s plan to cancel up to $20,000 in debt for the holders of federal college loans, which would cost taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars. Pittman called the proposal an “unconstitutional exercise of Congress’s legislative power.”

Pittman wrote, “In this country, we are not ruled by an all-powerful executive with a pen and a phone. Instead, we are ruled by a Constitution that provides for three distinct and independent branches of government.”

Now, where have we heard that before?

Oh yes, in 2014 President Barack Obama stated, “I’ve got a pen, and I’ve got a phone,” indicating he planned to use his pen to sign executive orders and his phone to generate support for his agenda even if Congress failed to act.

That’s not how the Constitution works, thank you judge.

Obama said he had a pen and a phone.

A state divided

Welcome to Nevada and California East, otherwise known as Clark County.

The election results as of Wednesday morning show a state divided. There is Democrat blue Clark County and Republican red the rest of Nevada. Republicans appear to be sweeping all but one statewide office, though there are likely many mail ballots yet to arrive from those blue Clark County voters.

In the all-important race the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto, Republican Adam Laxalt leads statewide with 49.88 percent of the vote to Cortez Masto’s 47.19. Laxalt trails Cortez Masto by more than 28,000 votes in Clark, but he won every other county, several with two-to-one margins or more.

In the race for governor, Republican Joe Lombardo, currently Clark County sheriff oddly enough, is leading Democrat Gov. Steve Sisolak by 50.56 percent to 45.82. Lombardo is ahead in every county save Clark, where Sisolak leads by more than 16,000 votes.

It’s the same partyline divide in the races for lieutenant governor, secretary of state, treasurer and controller. Republicans are leading in the statewide vote count thus far, and the Democrats are winning only in Clark. The exception is attorney general, where incumbent Democrat Aaron Ford is winning statewide, but only in Clark, Carson City and Washoe. The Carson City margin is less than 100 votes for Ford.

The voting difference is also reflected in the ballots cast for or against the three ballot questions — Question 1: equal rights amendment; Question 2: minimum wage amendment; and Question 3: ranked voting amendment. Clark voters are widely backing all three questions, while Washoe voters are backing only Question 1 and Mineral County voters only Question 3.

In 1864 Nevada became a state by slicing off the western part of the Utah territory. Three years later a northern chunk of the Arizona territory was added. It was called Lincoln County. In 1909 Clark became a separate county. Perhaps, it might fit in better now with California. Just thinking out loud.