When people say that the US Constitution is a “living, breathing document,” what the really mean is that the amendments to the Constitution are pliable for modern use. But they often ignore the core document itself. The constitutional arguments for the right to privacy, abortion, and gay marriage, for example, come typically from the Bill of Rights and other amendments that followed the document’s initial ratification in 1788. When modern rights advocates play the Constitution card, they pull a Club instead of the Heart.

This snubbing of America’s core document has to end. The time has come for the One Thousand Senators Project. Article 1, Section 3 of the Constitution defines the construction of the Senate this way: “The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, chosen by the Legislature thereof, for six Years; and each Senator shall have one Vote.”

Such clear language worked in the days before flush toilets. At its founding, the entire nation had a mere 3.5 million citizens, fewer if you invoked the three-fifths clause from Article 1, Section 2. Virginia, the largest state at the time, had around 700,000 people in it. Today, even tiny, perfectly rectangular Wyoming has almost that many. At a modern population of around 323 million, the nation is practically bursting its seams. And yet, we still just get a paltry two senators per state.

The Founders certainly never intended for us to be saddled with such an archaic system. The “composed of two Senators from each state” clause is more than 200 years old, from an era before the Common Core standards. With our advanced technology and understanding of mathematics, it’s shameful that a nation as powerful as ours still interprets the “two” in this clause as “two.” And the “six years…one vote” part: what’s up with that? The country has moved on.

I propose that, beginning with the 115th Congress that will convene in January 2017, the number of senators per state be increased ten-fold, to twenty each. The nation has multiplied a hundred-fold since its founding, and some might ask why we don’t jump right to the 200-senator-per-state level. Calm down people, there’s no need to be silly.

This limit on the number of state senators isn’t the only place where the Constitution puts a straightjacket on America. The Strict Constructionist view of the Constitution also shackles us to these tired clauses.

  • The Oath of Office listed in Article 2, Section 1 is boring and, frankly, way too long. If Twitter has taught us anything, it’s that brevity is the soul of wit and intelligence. “Dibs” is really all the president-elect needs to say.
  • Article 4, Section 4 speaks of a “Republican Form of Government.” Concerns over GOP misuse aside, the short-sighted vision of America as a Republic has held down other expressions of governance for way too long. The Republican focus on the “Rule of Law” is a slap in the face to other legitimate and world-tested systems such as Communism, Anarchy, and pure Democracy. Why shouldn’t every citizen have a vote on absolutely every miniscule speck of governance?
  • Article 3, Section 3? Treason? Give me a break.

In time, we will apply flexible standards to these and other core constitutional matters. But the Senate is an essential place to start. The needs of the country are urgent, and increasing congressional membership to 1,000 elected individuals or casual drop-ins will allow us take on the legislative task with a renewed vigor. With so many more hands to do the work, Washington, DC will become the new focal point of power and patronage, virtually eliminating the need for ordinary citizens to be concerned with civic matters. It is certainly everything that the Founders envisioned.

This article was posted on May 24, 2016. Related articles: Commentary, Politics, , .

Footnotes for “Let a Thousand Senators Bloom”

  1. Nice work Tim, but shouldn’t you have published this post the evening of March 31?

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We all lie to ourselves. Some of these lies are harmless, almost humorous: “Is dinner ready? I’m starving!

Other lies carry a little more danger, such as saying to the barista, “Make it a grande. I worked out earlier today.”

Clearly, many of my own personal lies deal with food. But at this level, the consequences are mine to bear, and having a second helping of mashed potatoes doesn’t have that big of an impact on those around me.

But there is one lie we tell ourselves that has severe negative impacts on those around us. This lie is comforting at times, which is why we hold on to it so tightly. Every four years, we let this lie out of our heads and allow it to walk around in public, amidst our politicians, political parties, and fellow citizens.

The lie is that reality doesn’t apply to us.

This lie is a universal one, but Americans are especially prone to believe it. Repeated successes on the world stage have convinced us that things will always work out, no matter how many poor decisions we make, and no matter how many others have failed in the past.

The lie takes many forms, but increasingly it comes neatly packaged under the name of Socialism, or Democratic Socialism, if you prefer. A few years ago, a Gallup poll found that more than a third of Americans held favorable views toward Socialism, and the numbers have certainly risen with so many Feeling the Bern.

The allure is that Socialism is good for incomes, good for equality, and good for America. But it is not good, just as it hasn’t been good for the other nations that have run after it. We believe, against all evidence, that the benefits of Socialism will come to us without any of its problems. We believe that the reality of Socialism’s failings won’t apply to us. But it will apply, because humans are not interchangeable automatons that can be willfully programmed for perfection.

Socialism never results in true equality or satisfying incomes. In fact, it tends to make the divisions between rich and poor more stark, and institutionalizes the position of the powerful over the weak. A century of Socialist experiments across Europe and Latin America bear this out. It’s not because people aren’t trying hard enough to fix things. It’s because there are underlying realities that cannot be changed by brute force: people are not completely equal; life is not always fair; some people take advantage of others, and still others allow it.

Humans are complex bundles of conflicting abilities and desires, and attempts to “socialize” everyone to a specific pattern only tends to exacerbate the differences. Socialism says that, given the right leadership, it can make all things right, correct every wrong, and bring true equality and happiness to all. It’s a lie. A comforting lie, but still a lie.

Socialism is a lie primarily because everyone can never be equal within a human society. Even if you force everyone at gunpoint to behave equally, someone has to hold the gun.

Socialism does not hold a monopoly on the lie that reality doesn’t apply to us. There are plenty of proud Capitalists who believe that, if only the federal government will get out of the way, or if only we build a wall, riches and peace will come to these United States. Capitalism has certainly been good for America, and when configured well, is always preferable to Socialism. But just like Socialism, it is incapable of helping all members of a society because there is an underlying reality concerning the human condition that makes such goals impossible to achieve. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. But we should also be honest about the reality of human interactions.

Americans have attuned themselves to the siren song of utopian fantasies. Politicians prey on our hunger for security and peace, promising us that if we vote them into office, pain will cease, the haughty will be brought low, and life will be fair. The claim that “we will end poverty in our generation” is enticing, but it is a promise that cannot be fulfilled, because it doesn’t accurately reflect reality.

No matter how many times we raise the minimum wage, no matter how many colleges we make free to students, no matter how high we impose taxes on the rich, there will always be people in poverty. It’s a miserable, terrible truth. But it is truth nonetheless. It is within the context of this truth that we reach out and help those in need.

Until we come to terms with the truth about human nature, and understand that there will always be trouble among individuals and groups, we will keep voting for politicians who get elected by lying to us. That’s the reality.

[Image Credits: Fox Broadcasting Company]

This article was posted on May 10, 2016. Related articles: Commentary, Politics, , .

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If Donald Trump wins the 2016 presidential election, thank a Democrat.

Trump, of course, is running as a Republican, and his votes will come from those who align with the GOP. Yet it will still be a victory brought about by Democrats, especially left-leaning Democrats. This political group, more than any other in America, has spent the last seven decades building the conditions under which a Trump presidency becomes likely.

If the three branches of government—the Executive, the Legislative, and the Judicial—held a beauty contest among Democrats, the Executive would win every time. Democrats love the Executive branch and its elected official, the president. That’s because the Executive is charged with enforcing the laws of the land, and left-leaning political views—represented in America by moderate to leftist Democrats—require strong enforcement to be effective.

Although the three branches of government were designed to be co-equal, with checks and balances put in place to maintain this equality, those on the left have long viewed the Oval Office as the actual seat of power, with Congress and the Supreme Court doing the president’s bidding. This isn’t meant as an insult, but as an observation that in the Socialist-style Democratic worldview, enforcement of government mandates is seen as the most effective way to maintain the social order.

This view goes at least as far back as Franklin Roosevelt, who as president built the modern Democratic Party from its former regional splinter groups. When the Supreme Court ruled that some of FDR’s policies were unconstitutional, he attempted to pack the court by increasing its membership from nine to thirteen, adding four new justices who would vote in line with his policies. For Roosevelt, the Judicial Branch was meant to be subservient to the Executive.

Just last week, Chelsea Clinton confirmed this view, stating in a campaign speech in Maryland that her mother, as president, would direct the court’s decisions. In speaking of gun control issues before the court, Clinton said, “The next time the Court rules on gun control, it will make a definitive ruling,” implying that a President Hilary Clinton would make sure of it.

Democrats hold similar Executive-first views when it comes to Congress. It’s no mistake that the Affordable Care Act is commonly known as “Obamacare,” or that President Obama is proud of that moniker. Whether it is energy policy or healthcare or social concerns like gay marriage and gun ownership, Democrats look to the power of the presidency both to set the tone and to make things happen, through Executive Order if necessary. The current Democratic president, Barack Obama, boasted proudly of this power, the power of “fundamentally transforming the United States.”

Many Americans fear a President Donald Trump or a President Hilary Clinton because they believe, and rightly so, that the power available to such a president could bring real danger to the nation. If the power of the United States was still “reserved to the States respectively, or to the people,” or if that power was divided more evenly between the three federal branches, the fear of such abuse of power would not be as great. But the Democrats, especially in their more left-leaning moments, made sure that such populist views were pushed aside.

Today’s Republicans are no less to blame, seduced as they were by this same desire for easy power in a single political package. But it was the Democrats who long embodied this utopian ideal of a glorified, all-power Camelot. The Democratic Party successfully built up the image of the president in the eyes of the public, so that it is now the focus of nearly all electoral thought in America.

Donald Trump, as president, would be an Executive Branch-lovers dream, and although they will vote against him, he is also what Democrats have been hoping for in a president.

[Image Credits: Donald Trump photo by Michael Vadon, under a Creative Commons license.]

This article was posted on April 26, 2016. Related articles: Commentary, Politics, , .

Footnotes for “Democrats for Trump”

  1. So when did the “Well-Read Man” become the “Prolific Political Polemicist?” (Just poking you. Always good to hear from you.)

  2. This election season seems to be turning everyone into a polemicist, even when being the nicest person in the world!

  3. Tim, we have not spoken in such a long time, but I must take this opportunity to disagree. The obstructionists of the Republican Party created an atmosphere in which Donald Trump has been able to succeed. Karma.

  4. Hello Patricia. It’s great to chat with you again. In this election cycle, there is certainly plenty of blame to go around. The article focuses on one aspect that ties closely with how Democrats have approached national politics since the FDR era. But the Republicans have their own issues that, as you say, contributed to the rise of Trump. The American public also shares some of the blame, since a lot of fervent supporters of all the candidates do so without actually studying or understanding any of the policies uttered by each candidate.

    None of this is new. One need only look back to the Democratic National Convention of 1968 to see how crazy things can actually get. In that convention, Humphrey got the nomination without having won any primaries, a result that Cruz supporters now look at fondly. And as for bluster, there are some races back in the early nineteenth century that make this year’s race look like a gentlemanly hand of bridge.

  5. “…since a lot of fervent supporters of all the candidates do so without actually studying or understanding any of the policies uttered by each candidate.”
    Well put Tim. Zeal without knowledge can result in a lot of noise but makes for shaky ground under a polemicist.

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Start-to-Finish Visual Basic 2015, my latest book on software development, is now available from many popular online bookstores. An update to the 2005 original, the latest edition of the text has been fully revised with details on all new Visual Basic features added over the past decade. The accompanying source code is also fully updated, with major enhancements stemming from the new ways that Visual Basic is used by developers in 2016.

The paperback edition weighs in at nearly 600 pages. For those looking for a book with a lighter carbon footprint, consider the MOBI (Kindle) and EPUB (everything else) ebook editions. For more details about the book and a partial list of online stores that sell the book, visit the Start-to-Finish Visual Basic 2015 page on the Owani Press web site: owanipress.com/STFVB2015. While you’re waiting to click that link, read through the back cover description for the book.

Nobody learns a programming language just to brag about writing loops. Instead, languages exist so you can create great software. That’s the purpose of Start-to-Finish Visual Basic 2015, to show you how to write a complete, useful, working application in Visual Basic and .NET.

Each chapter introduces essential Visual Basic concepts, and shows you how to apply them by crafting a full business-level application. With this comprehensive book, you will:

  • Understand how to design and implement .NET applications
  • Learn the core features of the Visual Basic language
  • Access and modify database content using ADO.NET
  • Perform advanced development activities, including cryptography and localization
  • Master cool VB features, such as Generics, XML Literals, and LINQ
  • Get a head start on programming via the downloadable source code

Whether you’re new to programming, or want to add Visual Basic to your existing skillset, Start-to-Finish Visual Basic 2015 will guide you step-by-step through the learning process.

This article was posted on April 5, 2016. Related articles: Other Books, Technology, , , .

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I once made a kid fear yogurt. I swear it was an accident. It was about fifteen years ago, and I was explaining to my son and some of his young friends how yogurt is full of active cultures—real living things. One girl’s eyes got real big, and I’m pretty sure that she avoids all milk products to this day.

My son’s friend was fascinated (read: terrified) to hear that living things existed where they weren’t expected. That same fascination seems to pervade the general population when it comes to water in space. Every time there is a scientific announcement of water being found somewhere in the universe other than on Earth, news outlets insist that it is a clear, absolute, definitive, unwavering, eternal, and very probable sign that there might be a chance that somehow life is teeming in that remote puddle, maybe. The assumption that remote sources of water must harbor life has appeared in articles about distant Earth-sized planets, just-right “Goldilocks” planets from which aliens may be looking at us, and even Earth’s own deep oceans, which surprisingly has lots of water, and is on Earth.

Water is certainly everywhere. In 1998, NASA launched its Submillimeter Wave Astronomy Satellite (SWAS) to better understand star and planet formation. According to a NASA summary of the mission, “Water, a key component for life, is prevalent throughout space. Water was detected in almost every dust cloud in space observed. High amounts of water were found in warm gas, while very low amounts of water were seen in cold dense gas.”

Despite being “a key component for life,” water is not life. It’s a great medium for life to work and play in, but by itself it is dead. Its core molecular structure includes no carbon, no nitrogen, and no body parts. And thanks to pervasive levels of radiation and temperatures near absolute zero in all but a few extremely tiny pinpoints of interesting density (such as planets), most water exists in sterile, lifeless regions.

Last month, NASA held a news conference announcing the discovery of fluid water on the surface of Mars. Once again the expectation of life began, with “boost” being the required journalistic term.

  • “Boosting hopes for life.” (CNN)
  • “Liquid water flows on Mars today, boosting the odds that life could exist on the Red Planet” (Christian Science Monitor)
  • “The search for extraterrestrial life has gotten a big boost from NASA’s stunning announcement” (Japan Times)
  • “Now the search is on to find living organisms on the red planet.” (The Guardian)

The UK’s Independent saw fit to bump the Earth out of its orbit, headlining that “life might have started on Mars and come to Earth on a meteorite.”

Even NASA, who should know better, got into the let-there-be-life frenzy. John Grunsfeld, a five-time astronaut and current administrator for the agency, said that water on Mars “suggests that it would be possible for there to be life today on Mars.”

Why do news outlets and reputable scientists jump on the pro-life bandwagon every time there is a discovery of a little more moisture in the galaxy? The reason, even if it is not stated outright, is a desire to answer the probing question of why we are here on Earth.

There are only two possible reasons why life exists on Earth. Either some intelligence—God or super-smart beings from a parallel universe—created it intentionally, or it happened by accident. For those who believe in a Creator, the question of life on other planets may be interesting, but it doesn’t alter the dynamic of life. Life is awesome, but the giver of that life would be awesomer.

For those who view life as a chance happening, the question of whether life exists elsewhere becomes much more existential. The laws of physics, stars and planets, cells and DNA, organs and organisms; all these things are complex, to the point where it is difficult to comprehend how they all came into being by chance, and with such quality. Evolutionary theory does a fairly good job at describing the differences between existing species. But there are no answers for most of what makes life possible. What caused the Big Bang? Why is there stuff? What is gravity? How did the first biological thing form in the first place? Why does Earth provide such a great habitat for life?

Some of these questions are not only difficult, they might be unknowable. In such cases, “I don’t know” becomes indistinguishable from “It was all an accident.” It’s like asking a young child why there is a giant grape juice-colored stain on the carpet. “I don’t know.”

It’s not due to a lack of effort by scientists, or a lack of smarts. The eminent scientist Stephen Hawking, among others, has advocated the “multiverse” hypotheses as an explanation for our existence here. He understands that the universe is just too amazing to have been a one-off accident. The multiverse theory posits that our universe is just one of many, possibly infinite, universes out there, each with its own accidental properties. This increases the odds that some of them, or at least this one, has life for the good reason that you are bound to have life show up given enough chances. However, the theory can only be validated if you can show that these other universes exist, which given the closed nature of our physical universe, is unlikely.

A similar idea holds for water in the universe. Call it the “multiwater hypothesis” if you like. Given enough pockets of water, some of them are bound to have life in them. If so, then life must have been a chance event, and all it needed was enough chances. The problem is that if there are no other wet spots in the universe with life in them, then the multiwater hypotheses remains nothing more than an unproven multiverse-like theory. But if you can find life teeming in some other body of water, then you have a good chance of declaring life a complete random accident.

The question of whether life exists elsewhere in the universe is, by itself, not a thing that separates theists from atheists and agnostics. There are plenty of God-fearing Star Trek fans in the world, after all. Movie franchises like Star Trek and Star Wars are nothing more than fictional speculations about the state of the universe, and don’t matter that much when dealing with the ultimate questions of life. But for many people, the presence of water in the universe brings hope that yogurt isn’t the only thing with unexpected life.

[Image Credits: http://pandasthumb.org]

This article was posted on October 14, 2015. Related articles: Biology, Technology, , .

Footnotes for “There Is No Life on Mars”

  1. Why are we here? George Carlin says: Plastic.

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