Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Alexander Hamilton: not just another pretty face

Alexander Hamilton. 1757-1804. First Secretary of the Treasury of the United States in the administration of George washington.

Born on the Island of Nevis, in the British West Indies, the bastard child of Rachel Lavien and one James Hamilton, a son of a Scottish laird of Ayrshire.

Because he was a bastard, the infinitely Christ-like and compassionate Church of England denied him both membership in the church and an education in the church school. Hamilton obtained what early education he could from private tutors and by reading his mother's library of 34 books. But these books contained Roman and Greek classics.

The father abandoned them in 1765 and the mother died in 1768, leaving Hamilton not only a bastard but also effectively an orphan before he was a teenager. This was quite depressing, even by eighteenth-century standards. I mention all this to offer a possible reason for Hamilton's later arrogance and big mouth that would eventually be the death of him. (Quite literally.)

From the British West Indies to the the British American colonies, young Hamilton arrived in New Jersey via the port of Boston, in 1772. Revolution was already afoot; the Boston Tea Party occurred the following year when Hamilton was age 16. He was not a participant, though already on the side of the revolutionaries. He applied and was accepted at King's College in New York City (now Columbia University.)

The Americans engaged the British in 1775, laying siege to the city of Boston for months and finally being successful in dislodging the British. During the Siege of Boston, the Battle of Bunker Hill was fought. It was a British victory, but they took 1,026 casualties in the process, leading Washington to remark to the effect he would be happy to lose battles of that sort any day.

It was at this time, in 1775, that 18-year-old college student Alexander Hamilton joined the army. [Many Americans believe that the American Revolution started on July 4, 1776, but that is not true. That was simply the date Washington (and others) finally prevailed on the Continental Congress to issue a formal declaration of independence. The actual fighting had long-since started by then.] Hamilton achieved the rank of Lieutenant in the New York artillery.

Alexander Hamilton was a politician since...God! - since birth, I guess, and soon, as he would all his life, he began collecting friends in high places. It was his modus operandi. His massaged his connections with New York movers and shakers, such as Alexander McDougall and future Supreme Court Chief Justice John Jay. He raised a 60-man artillery company and, surprise, was elected their captain. Age 19.

To his credit, the cocky little fucker firebrand was fearless, and his artillery made a good account of itself at White Plains, and even more so at the Battle of Trenton, where, perched on the highest ground in the city, his artillery kept the rented Hessians pinned down long enough for an even more cocky General Washington's raggedy taggers to disembowel them. It is, I think, safe to say that the name "Hamilton" and his artillery stuck prominently in the unfathomable recesses of His Excellency George Washington's agile mind after that memorable Christmas day feast on the Hessians. All this, you'll remember, came after Washington and his frozen-solid army, ensconced across the Delaware from the Hessians on Christmas Eve, made his historic and monumental decision that, since the British were miles away, partying big-time for the Christmas holiday, leaving only their rent-a-soldiers from Germany to loosely guard the gates to New Jersey, that this would be as good a time as any to have a go at the Krauts. At least that was apparently what Washington thought. Since he obviously wasn't going to be able to spend Christmas in front of the fireplace at Mt. Vernon anyway, why the heck not, right?
And so, leaving a few men behind to keep the campfires burning brightly for the benefit of the not-so-sharp Hessian lookouts, Washington raft-ferried 5000 men across the Delaware amongst the floating ice and the presumed bitching of his cold men, and delivered a fine Christmas present to the rented Germans, who, one must assume, were all deaf as well. I mean, really, how does one float a 5000 man army across the river, stumbling around at night, and not be heard by one's enemy? Okay, it probably happened upstream a bit. But such was Washington's luck his entire life. Did you know that Washington had three horses shot out from under him in the French and Indian war and never once took a bullet to his person? Way. But the French were notorious horse-shooters, so there's that. I made that up. I mean about the French being horse-shooters. But Washington WAS known for his good luck all his life. I think he thought he was invincible. Maybe he was.

"And God created George Washington, perhaps the younger brother of Jesus, to come down and kick the crap out of the British and make for us a homeland free and sacred."

So let it be written; so let it be done.

Washington apparently even had time to have his picture painted that cold night, standing in some bogus boat as he followed his raggedy boys across the Delaware. And then proceeded to kick das Krauters' goose-stepping asses all the way down the road to Trenton, where he then spent what one must assume was a pretty self-satisfied Christmas. Not quite Virginia, but better than Pennsyvania, eh? Valley Forge - Brrrrrrr!

Okay, so Washington only took Trenton for a few hours before the British, not in the least amused that their Christmas Partay-ing had been disrupted, and their rent-a-jerries routed, arrived to re-take Trenton. Of course by the time the terminally-pissed Brits showed, Washington and his shoeless Band of Brothers had, as usual, faded into the countryside like a morning fog, perhaps even singing a peppy Credence Clearwater ditty (Bad Moon Rising??) as they went, and carrying all the Trenton plunder they COULD carry, one assumes. Perhaps even some shoes - who knows? And that was the name of THAT game.

But, back to Hamilton. He had racked up enough brownie points that day to get the big invite to become Washington's aide-de-camp. THE General Washington, boys. The bastard from the islands was beginning to make his move.

Although Washington, one assumes, probably treated Hamilton more like a pet at first, the Father Of Our Country seemed to take a genuine shine to the cocky little bantam rooster before long. So, that was that. Everyone of importance seemed to detest Hamilton and his accompanying big mouth that he carried around on his face: first VP and second Prez John Adams could hardly bring himself to be civil to him; first Secretary of State Tom Jefferson, who was forced to serve with Hamilton in Washington's cabinet must have spent many evenings in tears and plotting of ways to off Alex. God, how Jefferson despised the wee blighter! And we all know what Jefferson's later VP, Aaron Burr, thought of Hamilton and his mouth. But at least Aaron got the last word, eh? But that's a story for later.

Anyway, George Washington liked the frisky little teen, later older Secretary, so that was that; it didn't mean JACK what the others liked or didn't like. As long as Washington lived, Hamilton had protection. But Washington didn't live long.

And so it came to pass, that when Lord Cornwallis turned around and looked behind himself at Yorktown (in Virginia - wouldn't you know), and saw that the French fleet had come a-callin', the Americans (after fumbling around under the Articles of Confederation for a few years) made a new constitution and formed their REAL government, and stocked it with all these above-named men (well, not Cornwallis, but the rest); then, lo, it came to pass that the little bastard from the back streets way down yonder on the isle of Nevis, became our first Secretary of the Treasury and got, ever since, his etched face plastered on the front of our ten-dollar bill. And you can take that to the bank. Really. You can take that to the bank.

I suppose this should be the end of the story. But Alexander Hamilton was not one to let fame and fortune cause him to let well enough alone and keep his mouth shut. Nosiree bobcat TAIL! A Federalist, he was not a fan of the new Republicans led by Jefferson and his side-kick Madison (himself also a diminutive founding father, you'll recall, who, in his spare time, wrote our constitution. I'm not quite sure how Madison and Hamilton buried the hatchet long enough to write the Federalist Papers - or perhaps Madison never REALLY hated Hamilton and was only pretending to hate him in order to please his mentor Jefferson. Will we ever REALLY know? Will anyone ever REALLY care?) and Jefferson's Vice-President, the ever-scowling Aaron Burr.

Both Hamilton and Burr were New Yorkers, and Hamilton sort of made it a hobby to follow Burr around and bad-mouth him to everyone who would listen. Well, not THAT overtly, but every chance he got. And the darkly furrowed Vice-President was not exactly taking it all that well, so to speak. If you get my drift. Scowling soon turned to frothing at the mouth and soon he called Alex out. Yeah. He do. Out for a duel.

Being as he was the one called out, it was Hamilton's choice of weapons. If Hamilton had been as brave as his mouth would have us believe, he would have chosen a knife in each hand in a pitch-dark room. At least that comes to MY mind as the most effective and inventive kind of duel, yet still somewhat fun - for a while. Well, perhaps not so much fun for the seconds. But nooooo. Dueling pistols.

Now it occurs to me that the simple fact that Hamilton even OWNED a set of dueling pistols says something about his plucky temperment. Don'tcha think? Anyway.

So in the early morning light they had themselves rowed across the river from New York (at that time you couldn't simply WALK across the thick jelly of the polluted Hudson) and Hamilton prepared to give Burr satisfaction. But, since Burr could only kill Hamilton one time, that was hardly satisfaction. Can't get NO satisfaction, as Mick Jagger might have said. Or not.

And so, as the history books tell us, Burr and Hamilton faced each other in the early morning light on the Heights of Weehawken, New Jersey, overlooking what would later become the site of the World Trade Center, and what would soon become New York's Financial District, but what was then only marked by a long stone wall along a street inventively called Wall Street, and they commenced a-dueling. And I don't mean Banjos.

Only the 2 gentlemen and their seconds were there, of course, since dueling was already frowned upon by the Law. The rowers and whoever-the-hell-else-that-had-come-with-them had to stay down in their boats and thus only heard the shots but therefore COULD NOT SWEAR IN COURT that a duel had indeed taken place (although when Vice-President Burr walked back down to his boat and Hamilton had to be carried, one suspects those who had waited down below then got the general drift of things.)

It didn't take the sworn-to-secrecy seconds long to start yapping about what had happened, and this is the story that emerged:

Hamilton got the privilege of the first shot at Burr, since Hamilton was the one challenged. (No, they didn't just start plinking away at each other like the Earps and the Clantons at the OK corral. There was ETIQUETTE to be observed, by damn.) Hamilton fired his shot purposely wide of Burr (his BALL breaking a small limb of a tree next to Burr. Ball-breaking. They WERE near Brooklyn, so it is ok to say ball-breaking.

This was on purpose. So they said. Hamilton had earlier said he intended to waste his shot and fully expected Burr to respond in kind and then, back in New York, perhaps... who knows?... go have a drink together, maybe. It's hard to say what was in Alex's mind these many years later, isn't it? My mind is just trying to reconstruct here. Sorry. I DO assume that as Burr was drawing a bead on him, Hamilton's eyes were probably blinking rapidly as he struggled to find words to the effect, "No. No, wait. I don't think you understand..."

Or, perhaps not. Perhaps just the vacant stunned look of a deer caught in the metaphorical headlights of the (finally-smiling) Aaron Burr.

History tells us the Vice-President did NOT respond in kind to Hamilton's noble gesture, but instead shot the great Hamilton in the stomach when it was his turn. In my mind's eye, I can visualize Burr's finger repeatedly jerking on the trigger just in case the dueling pistol happened to turn into a semi-automatic and he could cap Hamilton a few more times. But that mental image of mine is probably not valid. Be that as it may, I'm thinking Burr would have happily killed Hamilton another 8 or 10 times if he had been able.

As it was, he was only able to kill him once. But it did take Hamilton a whole day to die. So there was at least THAT satisfaction.

Then, I guess, Burr just went back down to Washington on the evening stage and presided over the Senate the next morning. I couldn't find any mention of his next-day's activities.

The end.

The flag in the painting is wrong. There were no stars on the American flag when Washington crossed the Delaware. At that time, they were using the Grand Union flag. It looked like this:

Monday, April 27, 2009

What is Federalism?

I am pleased to present a guest post by Stephanie Barr of Rocket Scientist. This is something you that will help your understanding of our American government, and how it came to be.


Relax Max has asked me to write a blog on what federalism is.  In

concept, this is simple.  Federal, as define by Merriam Webster

[] defines it as a

compact where political units "surrender their individual sovereignty to

a central authority but retain limited residuary powers of government"

and several variations on that theme.  Wikipedia

[] also has a well-defined

description of what a federation is.

In many ways, it's easier to describe what a federation is not.  It is

not a single unit of government, such as a unitary state, with districts

and towns governed and rule by that central government, just as layers

of a hierarchy.  In this case, in a federation, there IS a central

authority, but the governments at the state and county and city level

are all independently operated and elected, rather than run and

appointed at the central level.  

The relative advantage for a federal government relative to a unitary

state is that people in an actual geographic area get to have more

direct say in how their part of the country is run, rather than have

everything, down to the smallest iota, defined at a national level and

imposed down.  For example, hurricane building codes for Florida and the

Texas Gulf Coast aren't imposed on Iowa or even west Texas, where they

aren't necessary and would impose unreasonable burdens on developers.

A relative disadvantage for a federal government relative to a unitary

state is that the law tends to be convoluted and complex and standards

from even adjacent districts can vary widely.  This makes law

professionals essential to do even simple tasks, as they sift through

the various local, state and federal statutes and means that government

services like police or education or social services, can vary widely

depending on where you live.  It also allows for distinct inequality

depending on the relative wealth of some areas and some populations over


A confederation, on the other hand, often has the same structure, but

more of the "central" authority is at the discretion of the states.

States can leave if they choose.  Decisions and changes in the central

government are often dependent on the voting/consensus/even unanimity of the sovereign states.

The advantage of a federation over a confederation is that the central

government can function more expeditiously and simply.  The central

government in a confederacy's central government can readily become like

a paritioner, starved of power except in name, begging and pandering for

power to do ANYTHING.  Depending on the distribution of power, the

advantages of the actual pact between "states" can be worn away or lost.

The advantage is that those in a geographical area have nearly complete

control over their own laws and requirements, their taxes, social

services, etc.  Adverse effects in a different state may have minimal

impact on their own.

The differences, actually between a confederacy and a federation, are

largely a matter of degree.  Often a confederacy has a shared defense,

but usually has individual armies as well.  Confederacies can have

individual monetary systems or share monetary systems, ditto for


So, why give up sovereignty for a federation?

Defense is more effective in a federation (though there's always the

possibility of war that serves on certain areas or interests).  A

uniform set of services can exist to serve all (i.e. post office) and

monetary system can greatly facilitate economic interaction.

In our federation (US), we have a centralized army/navy/defense and the

state governments do not directly control the federal government but

rather individuals from different geographical are elected to serve the

interests of their constituents in the central government.  Single

monetary system, certain independent services.  But the key, in my

opinion, is the Bill of Rights, where certain key "rights" were defined

that no other agency could undo, including the states.  That, in my

opinion, is what set the original federation apart from the different

examples that came before and influenced our constitution.

Note that this is flavored with my own view, so you are free to disagree

with aspects and opinions expressed here.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Graphic Design: Colors

Looking for fantastic-looking blog designs? Twitter my pal Kellzo!
Another fantastic designer's website here.
His portfolio here.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Fun with nerve endings

It's called Paradoxical Hotness.

You have several specialized nerve endings. The neurons that sense temperature are just beneath the skin. You have one type that senses warmth and another that fires when it senses cold. Oddly, we don't have receptors for hotness. That's where the fun comes in. I mean, if you ever get bored enough. Or if you have a little brother you want to bully.

The way hotness works is BOTH the warm and cold sensors fire. ("Fire" means they send a message to the brain. The brain accepts messages from nerves as true.) For example, if you jam your hand into, say, a bacon slicing machine or an electric toaster, pain neurons fire. The brain believes you and tells your vocal chords to start screaming. Or wherever screaming comes from. The point is, the brain believes the messages the nerves sent it. And that is a good thing, by the way.

But there are no specialized neurons dedicated to feeling hotness. Fancy that. And God's little attempt at nerve economy can be the source of entertainment, if you like. Here's how:

First, let me remind you (since it has been two or three paragraphs ago since I mentioned it) that the body senses hotness because something hot triggers BOTH nerve receptors - warm and cold. If you hold your hand under very hot water, you will jerk it away quickly because the hot water has triggered both the warm and cold nerve cells near the surface of the skin. Are you with me?

Do this experiment. Run two small copper tubes side by side. Have cold water running through one tube and warm water (not hot water) running through the other tube. Now simply reach out and grasp both tubes in your hand. Simple, right? Har!

Even though your logic tells you it isn't hot (because it isn't really hot) you still can't hold onto the tubes. You simply must let go because you feel searing hotness. This is such a marvelous discovery. Or at least it is to little boys.

So, what you do is, you get a victim (or you try it on yourself because you know your superior reasoning skills will prevail over your brain's reflexive reactions) and you let the person feel the pleasantly warm water coming out of one tube; then you prove the other water is cold. Neither is hot.

If you ARE able clench your fist around them both for more than a second or two, I guarantee you will feel the pain of extreme hotness. But DO try it sometime.

Perhaps you have discovered other ways to amuse yourself with your body. If so, please share.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Selling the new constitution

Before many years had passed it became obvious that the Articles of Confederation needed to be replaced by a more effective government.

Oddly, there was no actual provision for the calling of a Constitutional Convention (just as there is no such provision in our present constitution), but representatives of the soon-to-be 13 states agreed to convene a convention anyway, with the intent of producing a governing document that would serve the intent of the people more responsively than the Articles had.

Whether or not our federal government in its present form was what those framers had in mind, and whether or not what our federal government has become is what WE want, will be the subject of our next few polite exchanges.

Soon after our present constitution was drafted, but before ratification, an attempt was made to "sell" it to the American people through a series of  articles which appeared in selected newspapers. These essays were intended to argue the merits of the new constitution, explain the intent of the new document and sway public opinion in its favor. The letters were all signed by the Latin name Publius, but were in actuality written by three men: Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison.

Alexander Hamilton became our country's first Secretary of the Treasury, in the administration of George Washington; John Jay was to be the first Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court; James Madison (who is called the father of the constitution, and was the principal author of it) was a member of the Virginia legislature and later served in the U.S. Congress as a representative of that state. He then became Thomas Jefferson's Secretary of State, and finally he became the 4th President of the United States.

If you have a desire to learn the reasons our constitution was framed the way it is, the thinking that went on in the minds of the men who wrote it and what they were trying to accomplish, read the Federalist Papers. There are 85 essays altogether, most published between October, 1787, and August of 1788. A complete collection of all the essays (including 8 additional essays) was also published in book form in 1788.

One thing that Americans don't often think about, but should realize, is that these men and the rest of the men on your personal list of founding fathers, absolutely were mindful that they were being watched, were making history, and, that future generations of Americans - you - would be looking back and judging them. Their writings and the writings of their contemporaries make that clear.

The Federalist Papers were, of course, advocating the ratification of the new constitution. But, even more importantly, they serve as a first-person primary resource for our interpretation of the constitution. They outlined both the philosophy and motivation of the system of government they were proposing. There is little doubt, simply by the way they are written and the points they repeatedly and painstakingly address, that their intent was to shape future interpretations of their baby. To that end, it is generally agreed that no analysis by later historians matches the incredible depth and breadth of the political science masterpiece contained in the essays of the Federalist Papers. Read the Federalist Papers directly; they are available to you. You do not have to rely on someone else's interpretation of them.

Students of American Government cannot fully grasp, I don't think, the reasoning that went into our constitution unless they read and study the Federalist Papers of Hamilton, Jay and Madison. Especially read Madison's essays and you will come away with a new appreciation of the then-groundbreaking concepts that have been mimicked by dozens of governments over the years.

(Then click on the red "Federalist 29" to enlarge it.)

[Next: The problems with the Articles of Confederation, how the new constitution would remedy those problems, and an explanation of the concept of Federalism. Please don't shy away; this will be fun!]

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Happy St. George's Day

Happy St. George's Day to our English readers. And thank you for following us.

The American Flag

The flag of the United States of America is the symbol of the world's oldest republic.

In 1776, the Continental Congress passed a resolution that there should be a seal of the new United States of America. They intended this seal to be a symbol of the values that the founding fathers wanted the new nation to embody.

Each of the colors on the Great Seal of the United States had a particular meaning, and these meanings have carried forward to our flag.

The color red represents hardiness and valor. These were the qualities the founding fathers felt the new country needed in order to stand up to the British government. The red in our flag also reminds us of the blood shed by the Sons of Liberty to secure our independence, as well as that shed over the years to preserve our republic.

The color white represents purity and innocence as would befit the birth of a new nation. The white should also remind us of the pure vision and intent of our founding fathers. Even when we falter and become less than that vision, we should look to the white in our flag to remind us to return to the path of purity of purpose.

The color blue symbolizes vigilance, perseverance and justice. Vigilance against those who would do us harm; perseverance in the continuing pursuit of the vision of our country's founding fathers; justice for all Americans regardless of station in life or circumstances of birth, and for people of good will around the world.

Let the blue in our flag also remind you of the virtue of peace. The American Eagle depicted in the Great Seal grips the arrows of war in one talon, but be ever mindful that it carries the olive branch of peace in the other.

Our flag has thirteen stripes, one for each of the original thirteen colonies that rebelled against Great Britain. On the field of blue there are 50 stars in our firmament; one for each of our current 50 states. The number of stars is the only thing that changes on our flag.

The 1777 "Betsy Ross" flag is considered, at least in retrospect, to be the first "official" U.S. Flag. Several flags by several different designers were in use before (and after) the Betsy Ross flag. A popular story which has been passed down through the years tells us that one Betsy Ross sewed the first flag from a pencil sketch drawn by George Washington. That sounds a little too good to be true, and probably isn't.

Our flag has changed 26 times since that first flag, as other states and groups of states have entered the Union. States number 47 and 48 (New Mexico and Arizona) entered the Union in 1912 and there were no more changes to the flag until 1959 when Alaska and Hawaii were added. No version of the flag has lasted longer than the current 50-star flag.

A list of the dates each state entered the Union appears below. Each of the 50 sovereign states also has its own flag.
  1. Delaware (7 Dec 1787)
  2. Pennsylvania (12 Dec 1787)
  3. New Jersey (18 Dec 1787)
  4. Georgia (2 Jan 1788
  5. Connecticut (9 Jan 1788)
  6. Massachusetts (6 Feb 1788)
  7. Maryland (28 Apr 1788)
  8. South Carolina (23 May 1788)
  9. New Hampshire (21 Jun 1788)
  10. Virginia (25 Jun 1788)
  11. New York (26 Jul 1788)
  12. North Carolina (21 Nov 1789)
  13. Rhode Island (29 May 1790)
  14. Vermont (4 Mar 1791)
  15. Kentucky (1 Jun 1792)
  16. Tennessee (1 Jun 1796)
  17. Ohio (1 Mar 1803)
  18. Louisiana (30 Apr 1812)
  19. Indiana (11 Dec 1816)
  20. Mississippi (10 Dec 1817)
  21. Illinois (3 Dec 1818)
  22. Alabama (14 Dec 1819)
  23. Maine (15 Mar 1820)
  24. Missouri (10 Aug 1821)
  25. Arkansas (15 Jun 1836)
  26. Michigan (26 Jan 1837)
  27. Florida (3 Mar 1845)
  28. Texas (29 Dec 1845)
  29. Iowa (28 Dec 1846)
  30. Wisconsin (29 May 1848)
  31. California (9 Sep 1850)
  32. Minnesota (11 May 1858)
  33. Oregon (14 Feb 1859)
  34. Kansas (29 Jan 1861)
  35. West Virginia (20 Jun 1863)
  36. Nevada (31 Oct 1864)
  37. Nebraska (1 Mar 1867)
  38. Colorado (1 Aug 1876)
  39. North Dakota (2 Nov 1889)
  40. South Dakota (2 Nov 1889)
  41. Montana (8 Nov 1889)
  42. Washington (11 Nov 1889)
  43. Idaho (3 Jul 1890)
  44. Wyoming (10 Jul 1890)
  45. Utah (4 Jul 1896)
  46. Oklahoma (16 Nov 1907)
  47. New Mexico (6 Jan 1912)
  48. Arizona (14 Feb 1912)
  49. Alaska (3 Jan 1959)
  50. Hawaii (21 Aug 1959)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Earth Day

Of runcible spoons and dancing by the light of the moon

"Dear Pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling
Your ring?" Said the piggy, "I Will."
So they took it away, and were married next day
By the turkey who lives on the hill.
They dined upon mince and slices of quince,
Which they ate with a runcible spoon,
And hand in hand on the edge of the sand
They danced by the light of the moon.
The moon,
The moon.
They danced by the light of the moon.

[Last verse of "The Owl and the Pussycat": Eward Lear, 1867]
Edward Lear, Highgate, London, was the 20th child of Ann and Jeremiah Lear. If you are not familiar with Edward Lear you damn well ought to get yourself familiarized with him before the day is out.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Let's Be Friends

Thank you Stephanie. Stephanie gave me an award that says "Let's Be Friends."  Awwww. :)

"These blogs are exceedingly charming. These kind bloggers aim to find and be friends. They are not interested in self-aggrandizement. Our hope is that when the ribbons of these prizes are cut, even more friendships are propagated. Please give more attention to these writers. Deliver this award to those bloggers who then may choose at least 5 more and include this cleverly-written text into the body of their award."

That means a lot to me that you would give me this award, Stephanie. I am not quite sure you got the right person because I am all about self-aggrandizement, but thank you! Kidding about being after self-aggrandizement. No I'm not.

Although I don't pass awards along, I do appreciate your thought. I don't have anyone I could think of to pass it to anyway that I am not already friends with already. True.

Thanks again. I hope you still think this way at this time next week. :)

Monday, April 20, 2009

Madonna released from hospital after horseback riding accident

LONG ISLAND, NY -- Singer-actor-publicity hound Madonna has been released from a Southampton Hospital with "minor injuries and bruises" following being thrown off a horse earlier on Saturday, Vice President Joey Biden disclosed Sunday Morning at an undisclosed golf course in the Hamptons.

The accident occurred when the horse Madonna was riding was startled by paparazzi who jumped out of the bushes screaming, "Look this way like a virgin!"

Her only apparent injuries were a shifting of recent Botox injections in her lips and left eye.

Madonna will be having further tests and continues to remain under observation by doctors. Should camera crews show up, she has pledged to also have X-rays taken.

It wasn't the equestrian star's first horse-related injury. Earlier this year in Malawi, she fell from a zebra and nearly broke her ass. Madonna also broke several bones in a 2005 fall on her English country estate on her 67th birthday, including three cracked ribs, a broken collarbone, a broken hand and a severely wounded pride.

Madonna has vowed to confine her publicity stunts the for rest of this year to adopting African children who already have parents.

She is recovering at the New York estate of her friend and fellow bulimic Gwenyth Paltrow.

Send donations in care of Relax Max at this blog. All monies guaranteed** to be promptly forwarded.

**Not to be construed as an actual guarantee.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Believe it or don't

Presidential trivia: At 4 feet 6 inches, James Madison was our smallest president. He did have the third-largest head of any president, however, behind James Garfield and Ronald Reagan. (Teddy Roosevelt had the largest teeth.)

Madison disliked having himself painted with others, and always tried to claim he was seated when the above painting with gun collector Alex Hamilton and Supreme Court Justice and practical joker John "JJ" Jay was done.

He wasn't.

John Jay went on to be another unrecognized Founding Father. Alexander Hamilton went on to become shot in the gut by Vice President Aaron Burr. James Madison merely went on.

Believe it or don't.


The Founding Fathers: Prelude to the constitution

There is one more post I would like to slip in before we go to war, if we do, about what actually went on during the framing of our present constitution (as well as the very concept of Federalism), and that is a post about the "Founding Fathers." (The picture above is not the founding fathers per se, but the men who wrote the Federalist Papers.)

I want to talk about the Founding Fathers for a bit because I think it is important that we try and crawl inside their heads and attempt to determine where they were coming from, because only if we can follow their thought processes can we ever hope to have an intelligent conversation about what they created.

First, who were they?

It is easy to generalize, and most Americans do, that anyone who was part of the drafting and debate of our constitution, anyone who was a delegate to the convention, should, at least loosely, be considered a "Founding Father." Not surprisingly, I disagree with this broad definition.

I believe that a lot of those people who have generously been included in the term "Founding Fathers" were merely along for the ride, swept along with the tide, and present simply by virtue of their standing as a representative or Favorite Son of this or that state, and who were among those persuaded at the convention rather than being one of the persuaders.

To me, the Founding Fathers were a small group of men who were in the fight from the beginning; prominent men whose names were known and hated by by the British Government. Most importantly, they were the few men without whom we wouldn't even have a country today—or they were the ones who set the chain of events in motion, the ones who convinced the necessary people that there should be independence, should be a revolution with Great Britain; who fought one way or the other in that revolution, convinced foreign powers to support our cause and loan us money, raised armies and planned military strategy and engaged the British Armies, and, in the end, came up with the plans for a government so far-sighted  that it still exists today.

The historian Joseph J. Ellis, in his book "Founding Brothers", postulated that there were seven Founding Fathers. I say there were only six. Six that meet the criteria listed above, and without whom the United States of America simply would not exist today—certainly not in its present form.

Ellis lists his seven:

Benjamin Franklin
George Washington
John Adams
Thomas Jefferson
James Madison
Alexander Hamilton
Aaron Burr

I omit Aaron Burr.

Not all of these men were intimately engaged in the framing of our constitution, to be sure. But they got us to the place where we were an actual country in need of a constitution. Others not on the list contributed greatly to the concepts that are actually contained in the constitution, but I would not call them Founding Fathers within the strict criteria I laid out above. Not everyone who attended the convention and debated and contributed and voted and signed the paper were necessarily deserving of the term Founding Fathers.

As stated in previous posts, these men and their millions of sisters and brothers did not yet consider themselves Americans. They were New Yorkers. They were New Hampshiremen. They were Georgians.

And they were Virginians.

I think many present-day Americans don't quite understand the importance of Virginia in our history. Virginia, the first colony. The largest population. The wealthiest. The colony where most of the movers and shakers lived. The colony of gentility and even aristocracy.

The land of slaves.

When it came to framing and wording of the new constitution, Virginia was a force to be reckoned with. No Union would be viable without Virginia in it, and everyone knew it. What Virginia wanted in the constitution, well... you get the picture.

Four of the first five presidents were Virginians. Later, when we fought a Civil War, the capital of the confederacy ended up in Virginia and the Supreme commander of the Confederacy was a Virginian - and this was over 80 years after the constitution!

If you would understand some of the odd things that got put into our constitution, some of the tremendous compromises that went into hammering out that constitution, then look to Virginia and the rest of the South. Look to the Republicans** Thomas Jefferson and his protoge James Madison and their crew. Look to the institution of slavery.

I think we should also discuss the debates about federalism and thoughts about what the nature of the constitution should be, by Madison and Hamilton and others. Next, perhaps?

But first, I think, a few posts on other matters are in order before I lose all my other readers.

**Not in the least related to the political party of the same name that exists today. Some historians call them "Democratic-Republicans" for some reason. They called themselves simply "Republicans", in their writings - believers in the definition of "Republic" rather than in the concept of Federalism. The original "State's-Righters" if you will.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Chugging right along. Part 3

As we begin to deal with more and more detailed events, I will no longer rely on my memory to tell this story, as I mostly have up until now. I revert to my more-loved role of interpreter.

After the American Revolution, a new country called the United States of America was formed by a union of the 13 separate former colonies. Hereafter, these colonies would begin calling themselves "states."

As mentioned in the earlier posts, this union was not really an easy or natural thing, since the colonies had always been (and would continue to be) separate entities, each with its own government, and each with differing values and goals.

The revolution, however, as well as the previous common experience of the French and Indian War, had brought them closer together and, now that they were free of British rule, there was a need for some sort of central government to be established to handle the interactions between the several former colonies who suddenly found their fate and survival very much tied together - at least in terms of self defense from outside powers. They still weren't too keen on banding together for other purposes, save, perhaps, the regulation of commerce between the several new "states."

The Continental Congress was a legislature, consisting of representatives from the various colonies, which was, in effect, the central government of the colonies during the time they were in rebellion against Great Britain. They met in Philadelphia. The British would not have minded a bit hanging the members of this legislative body of the rebels. They even sailed a fleet up the Delaware to clear out the irritating nest, but the rebel legislators simply moved out of Philadelphia for a while. Frankly, they knew the lay of the land much better than the British, and were able to simply fade into the population. But the government in rebellion is a story for another day.

As early as 1776, following the declaring of independence from Great Britain, the Second Continental Congress, with the conviction, I assume, that the colonies would prevail against the mother country and gain their independence, had appointed a committee to draft up a plan for future confederation. The final draft was approved by the Second Continental Congress in 1777. However, these Articles were not ratified by the states until March of 1781. In the meantime, there was a war going on.

So, with a lot of input and debate from each colony's representation, the official document was drawn up, and eventually ratified, which outlined what powers they would delegate to the new central government. Not very much, as it turned out.

The word "confederation" simply refers to the fact that certain parties, or groups, have banded together for some common purpose. The current entity called the European Union, for example, is a "confederation" of several countries which have agreed to act in concert for a common (in this example, economic) purpose. Similarly, when the 13 former American colonies agreed to band together for economic purposes and for a common defense, the result of that agreement was called a confederation.

The ratification in 1781 resulted in the formalization of this agreement to form a confederation, and the document that stated the rules for the confederation, and told what powers the states agreed to give to the new government, was called "The Ariticles of Confederation." In effect, these Articles were the basis our first constitution, though that constitution was a separate document.

The Articles stated that our name would be "The United States of America". Our first president was Samuel Huntington of Connecticut. It should be noted that, under the Articles, the "president" (although called "The President of the United States") was not the Chief Executive authority as the office is today under our present constitution, but was the presiding officer of the congress, chair of the cabinet, and performer of various administrative functions.

This first attempt at a federal government failed pretty miserably and was later replaced by our second federal government which still exists today, empowered by a new constitution ratified by the states in 1787.

But let's stop for a moment and talk about what the Articles of Confederation were all about and why that government failed. It is important that we understand this period of our country's beginnings, because from the mistakes in the original Articles came many of the enduring strengths of our current constitution.

If one were to make one general statement to explain why our first federal government failed, it would probably be that the individual states still saw themselves as too individual and independent, and therefore were not willing to delegate enough power to the new central government for it to do its job. At least that is this blogger's opinion. Almost everything the new government did had to be approved by the several states. Without sufficient authority, nothing ever got done and the government failed.

In our next post, we will concentrate on the failings of the Ariticles of Confederation, and the subsequent struggle to produce a stronger, more viable, constitution. The struggle was pretty fierce, as the individual states fought to protect their own sovereignty and agendas.

This struggle, and the eventual compromises that produced our present constitution make for lively debate and interesting conversation so I hope you will stay tuned for tomorrow's post.

May the force be with you.


Although never proven, the current belief is that the "lost" settlers of the second Roanoke settlement were not killed by the Roanoke Indians, (who the governor of the first Roanoke settlement had really pissed off) but instead were taken under the protection of the friendly Croatoan Tribe who lived on an island to the south, in the Outer Banks. This is the most likely explanation, since that tribe (the Croatoans) had always been friendly to the English settlers, and, indeed, the governor of that (second) settlement had asked the Croatoans to take in the settlers if anything ever happened to threaten their survival. This was before the governor returned to England for supplies and was not able to return. Before he left, he had asked the settlers to leave a sign of some sort if they were forced to move to another location. It would therefore be logical to assume that is what happened to them in the intervening three years: the Croatoans took them in and absorbed them into their tribe.

This is further borne out by the fact that, 50 years later, members of the Croatoan Tribe had European features and spoke English. Ironically, this evidence of mixed blood is why the U.S. Government today does not recognize the Lumbee (successors to the original Croatoans) as an official Indian Tribe with the benefits that accompany such recognition. Is that unfair, or what? Thank you for taking them in and interbreeding with them! The State of North Carolina does recognize them as a tribe. (The Croatoans lived on an island in the Outer Banks of North Carolina just south of Roanoke, which is in Virginia. Today that island is called Hatteras.)

Friday, April 17, 2009


This is a pretty big subject we are taking on here, maybe too big for a blog. Even so, we can use blogging to at least bring out some facts, air some points of view, and, above all, discuss the issues.

I started this series of posts because I am tired of hearing Americans calling each other names.

What I hope to accomplish, as always, is to clarify. Knowledge is power. Knowledge and clarity of purpose will defeat those who would manipulate you.

At first, I thought my premise for these posts was simply that our federal government has gotten too big and too intrusive, far beyond what the writers of our constitution intended or envisioned it to be, and, as a result, many important things today are not being taken care of effectively. After only two posts, I realize already that simply pointing out the bigness and resulting unresponsiveness to the needs of the people, is not going to accomplish much. Many people already agree with me that government is too big and too unresponsive.

So, instead, I think it might be more productive for us to try and formulate a consensus of what we would want our federal government to become, and what issues we would like to see addressed, and come up with ways for these problems to be effectively addressed. Along the way, I hope we can also begin to drop the labels.

Where to begin? Since this is going to take awhile, why not begin at the beginning and lay the proper foundation? Starting at the beginning may be especially useful because I am blessed with several readers who are not Americans, who are not necessarily completely familiar with our origins and our government, but whom I hope to still involve in this discussion. In a larger sense, this discussion affects non-Americans very much indeed. So, by starting at the beginning, I can maybe bring some of them along with me if I can keep their interest. I should also mention that if one's goal is truly clarity, it is always a good idea to start at the beginning anyway.

I intend to sprinkle in posts on other subjects to keep the interest of readers who may not be interested so much in the ways and perceived sins of our federal government.

Before we begin at the beginning, though, how many of you can tell what form of government we have in the USA?

1. A monarchy
2. A dictatorship
3. A democracy
4. Something else

On to the beginning. The real beginning might be Athens, Greece, a long time ago. It might even be farther back in time than that. I don't want to go quite that far back though. How about we start with a simple summary of where the country called the United States of America came from, and work our way up to the point where we got ourselves something called a federal government? Feral government. Whatever.

Europeans began coming to this part of the world a long time ago. The Spanish came in 1492, but even before that the Vikings came. The British began coming in the late 16th century, and the first permanent British settlement, at Jamestown, was in 1607 if memory serves. There was an earlier British settlement, also in Virginia, that failed. The Dutch came only a few years later, 1612 I think, concentrating only in what is now the city of New York and up the Hudson to Albany. Feel free to correct me.

This land when all these various Europeans came was hardly uninhabited, so none of them "discovered" the Americas. They did discover the new lands for the Europeans, though, and soon there were plenty of Europeans camped out in the Americas.

The British settled on what is now the East Coast of the country now called the USA, primarily between present-day Massachusetts and Georgia at first.

The various British colonies were established by companies or men who had royal charters or investors to explore and settle the new lands, with the usual intent being to prosper the land for the benefit of the British crown or the company's investors. In the end, there were 13 of these British colonies.

Again, feel free to make corrections to this overview, since I am doing it from memory and there may be errors.

In a sense, even before our revolution against the British crown, we have always had a sort of federal government. Back then the "federal government" was simply the British government, and our ancestors' fortunes ebbed and flowed pretty much at the whims of the British Parliament.

The actual country called the United States of America didn't come about until after our ancestors fought a successful revolution against the government of Great Britain.

It is important to remember that up until that revolution, the 13 colonies were very much separate entities. Travel between them was allowed and common, but they each had their own legislatures and their values and were not necessarily all that compatible either. In those days of few and poor roads, and travel by horse, it was serious business to travel even from Boston to New York - and travel to the Carolinas or Georgia was a major event. This was long before the railroads, of course.

I bring these points out only to  remind you that the colonies at that time were not exactly united entities with overall common purposes. A Virginian was very much a Virginian. A New Yorker was very much a New Yorker. The life of a backwoods planter in South Carolina was almost as foreign to the life of a Massachusetts lawyer as the man in the moon.

It is especially important for you Europeans and Africans reading this to take note of this individualism of the several colonies, and the states that subsequently evolved from them. It would be a huge mistake for you to think of our states in the same general manner as you think of your counties.

The colonies, later states, were almost more akin to separate countries than merely united geographical subdivisions of one big happy country: no such big happy country existed yet. To a certain extent, you would be wise to think of even the present-day states as being very separate in many ways. You will understand the inner workings of the current USA better if you keep that in your mind.

When the rotating inattentions and oppressions of the British Parliament, and other reasons, finally brought on a revolution, those very different colonies united against their common enemy and each contributed men and materials to a common army (although they often remained colonial militias, as do many present-day U.S. Army units remain state militas, or "guards.")

This unification for a common cause was unnatural for the separate colonies. It was the revolution that gave them their first taste of some sort of larger unity, although even after the revolution they still didn't quite think of themselves as part of a larger country. This feeling of separateness, or independence, and distrust of an outside government would continue through even the first attempt at a national government: quite frankly, the first attempt at a central government failed.

Tomorrow: the USA's first federal government.
Answer to question about the form of government the USA has:

4. Something else.

The United States of America is a republic. A republic is a state whose power derives from the people rather than from a ruler. This, as opposed to a (true) monarchy or dictatorship where the power is at the top and the people at the bottom are the subjects.


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