Sunday, May 19, 2019

Settled Law and a Living Constitution

We are often told that we have a "living" constitution. I am a moderate and agree with this assessment. After all, if it were not so, we would still be living with a permanent decision in the Dred Scott case. Nobody is in favor of that.

A "living" constitution has given us most of the freedoms we enjoy today. Many of them are bundled within the 14th Amendment, which is somewhat akin to placing all your eggs in one basket. But that's another story......

This year there has been a sea change in our society surrounding the Roe v Wade decision, which was made under the auspices of the 14th Amendment. Several states, almost half at this point, have passed new restrictions on abortion, leading the Pro Choice crowd to talk of "settled law."

While I am pro choice, I am also a Constitutionlist and a believer in a "living" Constitution. After all, it was this belief in a "living" Constitution upon which Roe v Wade was predicated and upheld.

Settled Law implies that once the Supreme Court decides an issue, then it's settled. Court nominees have had to convince Congress that they believe Roe v Wade to be settled law. I do not believe in "settled" law.

So, how do I merge both beliefs, which may seem to be in opposition to one another? Let's explore this.....

A Living Constitution implies that changes made by Amendment will apply as the people change and society grows.

Some people will be saying that the changes to abortion law are all part of a "living Constitution", and there is merit in that argument.

Others will opine that "Settled" Law means there can be no changes made to law after a Supreme Court decision has been rendered. There is also some merit to that view.

To really decide this issue you have to look at which changes by Amendment have been successful and which have not. You don't have to look very far for the example. It was the Volstead Act, the 18th Amendment in 1920. It was a failure and repealed by the 21st Amendment in 1933.

Here then, is the dilemma we face.

If we believe in settled law then we should still have slavery under Dred Scott, or Separate but Equal. Since "settled" law is not possible with an amendable Constitution, we don't have those things anymore.

So, we would have to say we don't believe in settled law. We believe in a "living" Constitution which changes with the needs of the people. (Notice I say "needs" and not "wants.")

People wanted Prohibition, just as they once approved of slavery. We are not populists. So, the "living" Constitution is capable of changing its mind, just as it did with the Volstead Act.

This may seem as being in agreement with a reversal of Roe v Wade under the 14th Amendment, but it wouldn't be true.

The big difference in all of this argument, and the point which most often goes unsaid, is that "settled" law has only always applied to our being granted more rights under the law.

The one time they tried to use the Bill of Rights, which is comprised of all 27 Amendments, to tell us what we could not do, was a failure and needed to be reversed.

Abortion is a right granted, not removed. As such, "settled" law is not contradictory to our "living" Constitution. It is compatible with it.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Pi Day

We all take Pi for granted. It’s loaded into our computers and calculators for us, and we use it in equations all the time without ever thinking of it beyond it's formulaic utility. Some years ago, while working as an estimator of utilities, I found it necessary; or maybe desirable; to understand the exact meaning of Pi and how it worked in relation to the circle.

Having failed at the subject all through high school, and even before that, I had this “fear” of math brought on by my parent’s assertions that I was not able to understand the subject. I was, like my mother; and remember, it was my mother who said it; used to tell me, “You take after me and I could never understand math. But you can read well, and your brother can’t.” What a stupid statement to make to any child, even your own! Water under the bridge. Having navigated around the world, by sextant, in the days before Nav Sats etc., I can truly say that I am perfectly capable of working out any mathematical problem thrown my way. The failure was in the teaching method.

Had they wanted to really engage my passion all they would have had to do was make the problems relevant to real life. Like, you are on a ship and headed in this direction for 8 days at so many mils per hour. How far have you gone? That would have got me interested. And by high school, rather than the mundane tasks of geometry and trigonometry, nautical astronomy would have proven more effective at teaching not only both of those subjects, but given the student a true perspective of just where we were on the terrestrial plane, and also how insignificant we actually are; individually, or collectively, in the grand scheme of things.

What is Pi? 3. 14159 is the most common answer. Then browse Wikipedia for what that means. Ask the “math” student in your family. The answers you get will all be concerned with the number rather than what it really means, or stands for. That was the purpose of charting it, as I did above, almost 40 years ago while estimating the volume of pipe necessary to hold a specific amount of water. I used a 6” pipe for the example, mostly because it was easily equated to decimal form, and I had a boatload of 6” pipe on hand.

But I kept running into Pi while figuring it out, and then rechecking my figures. So, I did what Captain Ellison used to tell us at the Baltimore School of Navigation; “Draw it out!” And, I did. And while putting some of my papers in order a few years ago; I actually did that; I ran across this and decided to post it for posterity.

In short, while Pi represents the factor used to determine the area within a circle, by careful calculation; and drawing the problem out; it becomes apparent that Pi actually represents .785% of the area of any circle. Will this change the world as we know it? I hardly think so. But it is an example of the beauty and perfection of numbers.

While I have rounded off the number to obtain this new factor, it should not pose any real problems for any calculations confined to construction, travel etc. Would I use it to build a spaceship and plan a trip to Mars? Hardly. But for the average needs of an estimator; or carpenter; this factor works out just fine.

I hope someone finds this useful and lets me know! Pi for now!

Note: Though I was able to find something about the factor .785 referenced on line; and one fellow even describes drawing a square with a circle inside the perimeters; I still find this explanation and diagram easier to follow.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Daffodils



See the pretty daffodils,
they grow in gardens;
grow on hills.

Unless the wind blows
they stand still;
like Guardians of the spring.

🌞


Photo by Sarah Ruth Williams - Chapel Hill, NC

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

"The Man Who Watched Trains Go By" with Claude Rains (1951)


Claude Raines plays a man who has been the head clerk/bookkeeper for 18 years at a firm in Holland. He lives by the sound of the train whistling to and from Paris his whole life, while he remains where he is.

A scandal at a rival firm leaves that firm bankrupt. But, though it has been proven the bookkeeper was innocent of any wrongdoing or knowledge of the crime by his boss, his life and career are ruined anyway. Even Claude cannot help him find a job.

Through a set of circumstances a police detective arrives from Paris tracing some Dutch currency which has been circulating in Paris on the black market. He comes to Claude's firm. The boss is most cooperative. Too cooperative.

Out walking one night, Claude finds his boss burning the books and running away with the firm's money. They struggle and the boss falls in the canal and drowns. The firm's money is strewn on the ground where it fell, along with a train ticket to Paris. What should he do about that? There are no more books, but keeping the money will make him guilty of embezzlement.  And leaving his family behind is not an option he really cares for. But this is an extraordinary situation.

What should he do? Tell the authorities the truth and risk disbelief and ruin? Or is there another way? And does that train whistle to Paris have an influence? Who can say?

Will he go to Paris so that it looks like his boss stole the money? Is it morally okay? After all, the boss was going to leave him holding the bag.....

Wonderfully adapted from the novel, and filmed in beautiful, almost muted color. This 1952 film stands the test. Also released as "The Paris Express".