Monday, December 30, 2019

Hero Stories and the Latest Star Wars Movie

There are only so many story plots in the world. Very limited. I have one book that puts the number at 36, 8 of which are anachronistic now[i]. There are just a couple of those that involve a hero sacrificing for a greater good. But we actually see that story fairly often.

Last week Mr. Spherical Model and I went to see the latest Star Wars movie, The Rise of Skywalker. I’m about to do something of a review—trying to avoid spoilers, but be forewarned nevertheless.

movie poster
image from

About halfway through, a light came on for me. Suddenly I understood, on a larger scale, what story was being told. It’s what I’ll call The Hero’s Story. The list includes Harry Potter; The Hobbit; The Lord of the Rings trilogy; Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight series, Mistborn trilogy, and Steelheart trilogy; the Eragon series; How to Train Your Dragon; The Ranger’s Apprentice series; and a great many others in the sci-fi and fantasy genres, especially. There are some elements you can expect:

·        There’s the hero, who starts out as little known or cared about. Possibly an orphan. Parentage possibly unknown.
·        The undeveloped hero discovers a special skill or power.
·        The hero goes through a development or training process, usually with a mentor or trainer.
·        The hero’s special skill or power develops beyond what one would normally expect, often surpassing expectations—or even abilities—of the mentor or trainer.
·        Nevertheless, the hero doubts himself/herself. Often this is related to learning about parentage and wondering whether heritage is destiny.
·        The hero may even give up temporarily, but will return to use his/her special skills in an epic battle for the sake of all the other people depending on him/her.
·        There may be a parallel anti-hero story—a similar character with similar skills, who is on the side of evil.
·        The hero wins against the otherwise undefeatable adversary. This may require significant sacrifices—and possibly his/her own life, although more likely the loss of someone close to the hero. But the hero must win or the story fails to meet the contract between the writer and the reader. In the battle between good and evil, good always wins.
How does this fit in Star Wars? In the original trilogy (episodes 4-6), Luke was the insignificant orphan. He is mentored and trained in The Force by Obi-Wan Kenobi. He starts out pretty ragged, but gets better. He uses the force at the end of the first movie to destroy the death star.

A lot of the training goes on in The Empire Strikes Back (maybe still the best—at least of that trilogy) by Yoda. He leaves for a while, frustrated in his lack of progress, and distracted by the need to take action elsewhere. At the end of that movie, he learns that he is the son of the arch villain Darth Vader. Back before all details could be leaked on the internet, that was truly a stunning moment in the theater.

In Return of the Jedi, Luke is a force to be reckoned with. Only he has the power to take on the evil emperor and Darth Vader—the essential meta-battle going on while the military battle takes place outside.

There’s another element we’ll see repeated: Luke sees some good in Darth Vader, his father. Instead of simply hating the evil and fighting it—or giving in to join it, which would make the story not even worth telling—he invites the evil villain to give up his evil ways and join forces for good.

I saw this element as not very believable in that original trilogy. And if we’d seen, at that point, the killing of the children that Anakin Skywalker, AKA Darth Vader, did in the second trilogy (episodes 1-3), it would have seemed even more implausible.

And yet, we see this possibility of redemption come up again in The Rise of Skywalker. This time—because we’d seen Kylo Ren murder his father, our beloved Han Solo, I did not see it as even a remote possibility. And yet it’s a valuable part of the story, approached rather believably I thought. (I hope I’m not telling too much here—not saying what the result is.)

one of the duels between Kylo Ren (left) and Rey
Disney/Lucasfilm image found here

In both Darth Vader and Kylo Ren, the story includes their succumbing to the dark side because they saw it as inevitable; they did not believe they had the strength to resist, so they bought into the idea that attaching themselves to the bad guys is the necessary choice—and not really a matter of choice. But it is a matter of weakness. And this is an idea worth exploring further sometime, when we’re using the story to understand evil in our own world.

Anyway, each individual Star Wars movie, if it’s going to work, is going to be its own hero story, or an obvious part of a larger hero story, as in the cliffhanger ending of The Empire Strikes Back.

In the newest trilogy, Rey is the unknown hero this time. She’s an insignificant orphan, making a living as a scavenger when we first meet her. She learns of her powers in the first movie—and uses them against a much more trained adversary, and wins that first battle.

In the second movie, The Last Jedi, Luke is her mentor/trainer. At the beginning of The Rise of Skywalker, Leia is her mentor/trainer. We can see that Rey is extremely skilled. Still, she is frustrated at her lack of progress—and she’s worried about her destiny, because she has discovered her heritage. (I won’t mention it here, but apparently those who speculated that having her and Finn be actual nobodies was not really the point of the second movie.)

This question about destiny came up in the Harry Potter series—where you see a lot of these hero story elements. While his parents are mostly heroic martyrs to the cause against evil, he has the elements about himself that concern him. He speaks Parseltongue—the language of snakes—which identifies him as Slytherin-like, and therefore likely to choose the dark side. Fortunately, his mentor, Dumbledore, advises him that who we are isn’t determined by some destiny we have no control over; it is determined by the choices we make.

Eventually Rey realizes that her choices do indeed matter more than her bloodline.

You know going in that she will win the final battle against the ultimate evil. That is giving nothing away. It’s the getting there that is interesting.

I’m interested in hero stories, because, in a world where truth and goodness—even reality—have been made relative, it’s harder for a younger generation to understand meaning and purpose. They long to be important—to be a hero in their own story. Failing to find that in work or other pursuits, they might spend endless hours experiencing a hero’s success in a computer gaming world. (I wrote about this here.)

Being the hero in our own story is actually important for all of us. We need to know our purpose. We need to find meaning in our lives.

Our life mission and our special power or skill will be related. Sometimes we learn our mission by noticing our developing skills. Sometimes it’s the other way around; we develop the skills we need in order to meet our mission. We find meaning in our life when our unique contribution and mission meet.

I’m going to take one tangent here, in this partial movie review. It’s about the actor who plays Kylo Ren. I’ve seen Adam Driver in other things (I recommend Silence, in which he plays a missionary to Japan several centuries ago). I respect him as an actor. But I’m puzzled at making him the “leading man” possible love interest of Rey. He isn’t an attractive person. I remember being shocked the first time he took his helmet off in The Force Awakens—a helmet he didn’t need, as Darth Vader had needed his; it’s just a personal prop. That first view was surprisingly disappointing. This was the son of Leia and Han? Really? Were we supposed to see him as attractive, and I just didn’t happen to? There’s always that possibility, because of taste differences, and my being in an older generation.

Fortunately, when son Economic Sphere and his wife came for Christmas, they had already seen the movie, so we could discuss freely. Mrs. Economic Sphere, suggests that this was purposeful. Kylo Ren was always intended to be inferior. She may be right. He’s undisciplined. His anger gets out of hand with various tantrums in The Force Awakens. In all of this trilogy, there are rivals not quite willing to accept his leadership, where there really weren’t any to Darth Vader in the earlier trilogy. He seems to idolize his grandfather but can never measure up to his stature, although his size and build are probably adequate.

He also seems to miss the fact that his grandfather joined Luke against the emperor at the end of Return of the Jedi. And my very observant DIL also noted that Kylo Ren probably got swindled when he acquired that Darth Vader helmet he reveres. Remember, the face and helmet were separate parts, as we saw just before Darth Vader’s death-after-redemption. On the funeral pyre he’s not wearing the helmet. And yet, what Kylo Ren has is a battered—presumably because of the funeral pyre—helmet attached to face part. DIL concludes it must be a fraud.

There’s a Studio C skit that emphasizes the sniveling weakness of Kylo Ren, called out by Rey, included below. Worth watching for a chuckle.

Anyway, while this might not be my favorite Star Wars movie (I still prefer The Empire Strikes Back, and the non-trilogy prequel Rogue One is probably in second place), the good guys win—with some sacrifice along the way, but still very decisively, as it should be. And it’s a fun and interesting ride getting there.

Speaking of riding, Finn gets a great scene in which the bad guy controllers can’t shut down the speeders, because Finn and crew are not riding speeders. Fun moment to watch for.

Also, let’s note for the sake of the real world, the central controllers are the bad guys. Enough said about that for now.

[i] The 36 are listed in the appendix of Theme and Strategy by Ronald Tobias, Writer’s Digest Books, © 1989. The Hero’s Story, as I describe it, is from my own understanding and reading experience.

Monday, December 23, 2019

I Love the Nativity Story

About 32 years ago, we started a tradition for Christmas Eve. We act out the nativity story, with kids and whoever is there. That first year, son Economic Sphere played the baby Jesus, and Political Sphere was a shepherd. I wrote a script based on the scriptures that tell the story, and, with just a few adjustments, that’s the script we’ve used over the years. We’ve accumulated costumes and props over time. Some years we've invited friends to join us.

Last year was the first year we didn’t do it. It had come time for the kids and grandkids to do their own traditions in their own homes. And then we get together later in the day. It was a little sad for me to retire that tradition, but it was time.

However, the nativity story fits practically everywhere else during this season too. I have made our Christmas card every year for even more years, and always it’s related to a nativity theme. The year our first grandchild was born, I started using photos for the card, with grandkids in costumes. All four of them have started out as the baby (the last baby is two now), and then as shepherds and other parts. Facebook has been bringing these photos up as memories every day or two all month, which has been a delight for me.

This past summer I prepared for the card by taking the costumes along when we visited the out-of-state grandkids. We found a place with sheep and took photos. It didn’t exactly go smoothly, but we got enough images that we could piece the shepherd scene together, thanks to Mr. Spherical Model, who has both a better photo editing program on his computer and better skills to use it than I have.

My two youngest grandchildren, being shepherds, abiding in the fields,
keeping watch over their flocks by night.
Special thanks to the family who let us come and feed their sheep.

Inside the card, besides the message to the recipient, I usually have a scripture or the verse of a Christmas carol. This year it was this:

While shepherds watched their flocks by night,
All seated on the ground,
The angel of the Lord came down,
And glory shown around.

Live animals are a challenge. As are live kids. Last year we involved a camel. The photo was actually several years old, from a visit Mr. Spherical Model made to Saudi Arabia. So we used a green screen and had him sit on a chair as he’d been on the kneeling camel, and stood the kids beside him—all bearing gifts. Again, this did not go smoothly. But we were able to accomplish the task with photo editing. I showed some behind the scenes here

Most other years have been more straightforward photography—even the year we had “Mary” and “Joseph” arriving in “Bethlehem” with their live donkey—which happened to be feral but open to standing still for a carrot.

Who knows what will come next year! I am already planning—just warning all the kids.

But I do love the nativity story.

If you’d like to share a special moment during a quiet family time (if you have any quiet time) on Christmas Eve, I suggest watching together the video below, new this year from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I’ve seen many film portrayals of the story, even many beautiful ones (including this short one, also done by my Church, in 2012). But this new one reached my heart this year.

There are three main parts to this telling of the story: the parents arriving at the inn with no room, the shepherds who come to see the baby that the angels told them to seek, and the wise men who arrive much later bearing gifts.

I learned something interesting this week. Bible scholars believe the shepherds out in the fields that night were tending the lambs meant for temple sacrifice. It was probably during lambing season, so they had to be on hand, out in the fields. What they would do, when a lamb was born, was inspect it. A lamb needed to be a first-born male without spot or blemish to qualify. When they found such a lamb, they wrapped it in swaddling cloth and laid it in a manger, for special protection. When the angel told them to find the baby—who was to be the Savior of the world—they would have immediately understood the symbolism.

I hope this story helps you feel the love of God, who gave us the ultimate gift—His Son as our Savior.

One more little thing. Music is one of my favorite parts of the season. There’s this video of 7-year-old Claire Crosby singing “Silent Night” with our 95-year-old prophet Russell M. Nelson at the piano, and then having a conversation that just shows the love. As we say here in the South, "Oh, my heart!"

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Ironies and Analogies on Impeachment

I’m wondering whether what I’m about to write about will be moot by the time we get through the day and I get this posted. Still, I’m going to comment—on the impeachment, and then on Nancy Pelosi’s threat not to pass the articles of impeachment along to the Senate.

President Trump at rally while House votes to impeach
screenshot from here
Yesterday, for the third time in history, the House voted to impeach a US President. For the first time in history, the House voted to impeach a president without there being an underlying crime that the president may have committed.

What happened the other two times?

There were 11 articles of impeachment against Andrew Johnson in 1868, but the main charge had to do with the violation of the Tenure of Office Act—a bill he had vetoed, but that the legislature had overruled. It was designed to protect a particular Secretary of War. Andrew Johnson dismissed the man and replaced him anyway. This was during the contentious post-Civil War era, when, granted, there was a lot of division. Add to that, Johnson had come to office replacing Lincoln, after the assassination, and was of the opposite party of Lincoln. Lincoln had chosen him to help bring people together. But it’s hard to imagine that sort of setup today—mainly because you’d need to worry about assassination. Not that Johnson had anything to do with that, but you can see the motive.

By the way, Johnson was not removed from office by the Senate.

According to the Wikipedia article on that impeachment, here’s the takeaway: 

The impeachment and trial of Andrew Johnson had important political implications for the balance of federal legislative–executive power. It maintained the principle that Congress should not remove the president from office simply because its members disagreed with him over policy, style, and administration of the office.
A hundred and thirty years later, there were two articles of impeachment against Bill Clinton: lying under oath and obstruction of justice. This was the case in which several women had accused him of sexual assault, and he lied under oath in a court of law. Somewhere during his testimony in that trial was when he famously equivocated by saying, “It depends upon what the meaning of the word 'is' is.” He also lied directly to the American people about his affair, in the White House, with intern Monica Lewinsky, saying, “I did not have sex with that woman,” which of course semen stains on the blue dress he had given her proved was a lie. He did both the literal crimes and the heinous acts. For lying under oath, he lost his law license. Still, the Senate did not vote to remove him from office, reframing the lying and abuse of power as, his sex life is his private business and has nothing to do with running the country.

The takeaway is that, if the Senate wants their president to stay, there’s almost no limit to the wrongdoings they will justify for him.

The other time there was almost an impeachment was with Richard Nixon, in the 1970s, who stepped down rather than put the country through the ordeal of an impeachment. There was a break-in at the Watergate Hotel, into Democrat Party headquarters. The thieves were caught. It turned out they had been hired by members of the president’s re-election campaign. The president had been unaware, and not approving of any such break-in, but he did participate in the coverup in order to distance his campaign from the crime. That didn’t work out so well. That was in fact obstruction of justice, and it’s likely he would have been both impeached and removed.

Ironically, the Nixon re-election campaign was doing well without the information the crooks were trying to obtain. Add to that, if Nixon had told the truth, that he didn’t know about the scheme, and if he had then disavowed anyone involved, he’d have probably survived the scandal. Truth is better.

There are a couple of things that make this current impeachment historic. First is that there is no underlying crime that the president has committed; it is a purely partisan political maneuver.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, following impeachment vote
screenshot from here
Second, the articles of impeachment have been voted on; the impeachment has happened. Except that the Speaker of the House is hesitating to pass the articles of impeachment along to the Senate. She’s insisting that the Senate run their hearing on whether to remove the president from office based on Democrat-led House demands. She wants the Senate to go by the House’s rules. She’s saying, “Unless you do as I say, I’m not giving you the articles of impeachment.” (That’s a summary, not a verbatim quote, of course.)

This is odd in so many ways. Let’s try a couple of analogies to clarify.

I follow a lot of bills when the Texas legislature is in session, as it was this past January to June. I keep a list, and update whenever there’s been movement. Every bill goes through several stages, but the simplest version is, it goes through the originating body, House or Senate, and when that body passes it, it goes on to the other body. If it passes there, but with amendments, it goes back to the first body for reconciliation. And finally, if passed by both chambers, it is sent on to the governor for signature or veto.

So, it’s a significant movement when the bill passes in, say, the House and gets sent to the Senate. I tend to think of this passing from one body to the other as automatic. But sometimes it takes a day, or maybe even two, for the bill to actually appear in the Senate to be dealt with. But it never fails that the bill does get sent.

There is no possibility that a bill gets passed in the House and doesn’t get sent on to the Senate. The House is required to send it on. And it would be both a pointless and unlawful betrayal of the House and the people the House represents to take their votes and pocket them. If it were up to any individual member of the House to “table” the bill following a lawful vote, wouldn’t such an individual be tempted to do that any time it suited him or her? It. Can’t. Happen.

Yet that is what Nancy Pelosi is doing. All of the representatives are now on record for whether they think the president should be removed from office; for some, that is a political risk, because they’re in districts that elected this president. But she doesn’t care; she’ll just withhold the articles, because she wants to use them as leverage.

Except, that’s not really how leverage works. As Senator Ted Cruz, an actual constitutional scholar, puts it,

Her threat to the Senate is, “Do exactly what I want or I’m not going to impeach the president; I’m not going to send over the impeachment articles.” My attitude is, OK, throw us in that brier patch. Don’t send them. That’s all right. We actually have work to do. 

Yeah, pretending they didn’t impeach the President makes Republicans chuckle, not shake in their boots.

One more analogy. Let’s say there’s been suspicion of a crime. Between the investigating officers and the district attorney’s office, there is a case built. Say the prosecutor announces, “We’re pressing the following charges—” and then lists them. But then he doesn’t actually file the charges. The accusation is out there in the media, possibly hanging over the accused, but it doesn’t go to court. It’s nothing but words.

That is similar to what Nancy Pelosi is doing. She is announcing the pressing of charges, but she is not presenting any of the charges to the court. As far as the court is concerned, then, there are no charges. Until they are delivered to the Senate, there can be no impeachment trial.

Each body of the legislature is entitled to set up its own rules. What incentive is there for the Senate to bow to this demanding Democrat-led House to conduct their business against their own interests?
Nancy Pelosi has no power to do what she’s attempting to do. No right to do it. And no rationale for doing it.

Nancy Pelosi is trying to usurp power—that is, take power that has not been granted to her. That is an abuse of power—what the House has accused the president of without showing he has actually abused his power. She is literally abusing power and obstructing Congress.

So many ironies. Let’s add one more.

Another option for the House would have been to censure the President. This would have held no legal standing, but it would have sent the message, “We don’t like what you said in that July phonecall, because it could be misinterpreted, so we censure you for not being more careful with your speech when officially representing our nation.” It’s possible that there would have been no Democrat defectors for that (there were two nays joining all the Republicans, plus one abstention, in yesterday’s vote), and maybe even a Republican or two would have been willing to send that message. This would not have required passing anything along to the Senate, where there is virtually zero chance of the President being removed from office.

It would have saved face without any betrayal of House members. It would have been essentially the same outcome as voting to impeach but then not delivering the articles of impeachment—without any embarrassing lawbreaking on Pelosi’s part.

My guess is that this wasn’t done because the radical base of the Democrat party has insisted on impeaching the President since before his inauguration.

It’s inconceivable, simply because of its lawlessness, that this holdout will continue. I expect Pelosi will give in, with some sort of speech about how much she cares about the Constitution—more irony—and eventually deliver the articles of impeachment. We’ll see.

But one thing to consider is, if the Democrats are accusing someone of some wrongdoing, it is highly probable that they are committing that very wrongdoing. I’d sure like to see the truth laid bare for the world to see on every one of their collusions, quid pro quos, obstructions, and lies.

One more analogy. We recently used a pressure washer to clean the bathroom tile, and got rid of twenty years of ground in grime, hairspray, and whatnot. It's like new again. Our government could use a good pressure washing like that. Then we could get back to thriving with greater freedom, prosperity, and civilization.

Monday, December 16, 2019

What Is an Impeachable Offense?

With what’s going on in Congress this week, I thought I’d dig in to discover the meaning of a troublesome phrase: “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

Article II, Section 4 of the US Constitution

I’ve had my own idea of what this means—that the “high” is an adjective modifying “crimes,” and is simply an alternative phrase meaning “felony.” So the whole phrase simply means felonies or misdemeanors—which is fairly broad.  As I’ve always seen it, the phrase cannot be rewritten as “high crimes and high misdemeanors,” which was the approach taken by Clinton defenders in the 1990s.

A felony, in most cases that a lay person can come up with, ought not to be committed by a president, a judge, or other government official. They’re not above the law. But a misdemeanor is more troublesome. Depending on how broadly you look at it, a misdemeanor might be anything from rolling through a stop sign to committing voter fraud. Let’s agree that we shouldn’t be removing a duly elected president for something trivial. But there are some misdemeanors—such as the voter fraud example—that could qualify as seriously breaking trust with the American people.

So, what does this phrase mean? And, maybe more pertinent, what did it mean to those who wrote it? That’s what I’ve been trying to find out.

Let’s start with the actual meaning. A year and a half ago, law professor Michael Stokes Paulsen wrote a series of pieces addressing this question[i]. According to his research, I’m somewhat wrong about what I’ve always thought the phrase meant. Specifically, it does not necessarily refer to actual statutory crimes, either felony or misdemeanor. While felonies and many misdemeanors would fit within the definition, actual statutory crime is not necessary. But it does refer to a misuse of office and abuse of the public’s trust.

He says it was a phrase familiar to the founders. It had been in use for at least four centuries, so they had a specific picture in their minds of what it would mean:

The meaning of “high Crimes and Misdemeanors” was, so to speak, its own distinct thing. It was not a combination of “crimes” and “misdemeanors” as understood in today’s criminal-law sense. It was instead a unique legal term with its own meaning. The framers of the Constitution understood and used the phrase in that specialized sense, consciously adopting a known English-practice term of art in preference to other proposed formulations of the impeachment standard. And the ratification debates uniformly reflect that same broad understanding. 
There was a case in the British Parliament, prosecuted by Edmund Burke, against Warren Hastings, in the Spring of 1787, just months before the Constitutional Convention, in Philadelphia, so we can assume the founders were well aware of the impeachment case, and the phrase “high crimes and misdemeanors,” which it entailed. It held a specific meaning for them.

What were the concerns of the founders that led them to choose this phrase? They had alternatives: treason, bribery, abuse of power. They needed a way to encompass these things, plus whatever else ought to be covered.

We know some of their concerns from the convention notes, for example the report to the Committee of the Whole on June 13, 1878, shows:

·         George Mason was concerned about “corruption.”
·         Gouverneur Morris wanted to guard against a president “corrupting his electors” to gain office, betraying his trust, being in foreign pay, or engaging in “bribery,” “treachery,” or other corruption.
·         James Madison had quite a list, fearing: a president’s “negligence,” “perfidy” (dishonesty), that a president might “pervert his administration into a scheme of peculation [self-dealing] or oppression,” or might “betray his trust to a foreign power.”
Here’s are notes from the floor debate of September 8, 1787:

The clause referring to the Senate, the trial of impeachments agst. The President, for Treason & bribery, was taken up.

COL. MASON. Why is the provision restrained to Treason & bribery only? Treason as defined in the Constitution will not reach many great and dangerous offences. Hastings is not guilty of Treason. Attempts to subvert the Constitution may not be Treason as above defined. As bills of attainder which have saved the British Constitution are forbidden, it is the more necessary to extend the power of impeachments. He movd. To add after “bribery” “or “maladministration”. Mr. Gerry seconded him –

Mr. Madison. So vague a term will be equivalent to a tenure during pleasure of the Senate.

Mr. Govr Morris, it will not be put in force & can do no harm – An election of every four years will prevent maladministration.

Col. Mason withdrew “maladministration” & substitutes “other high crimes & misdemeanors agst. the State”

The question, then, was how to handle the “many great and dangerous offences” that didn’t qualify as treason. Would adding “bribery” or “maladministration” cover those fears? No—too vague. As Madison said, if it’s too vague, you’re essentially giving the impeaching body power to determine whether or not the president is allowed to serve. This is, I think, an essential point to think about this week.

So they removed “maladministration,” which would be handled by the next election, and substituted the phrase “other high crimes & misdemeanors against the State.” The final version in the Constitution leaves off “against the State,” but otherwise leaves Mason’s suggestion intact.

One other way we know what the founders were thinking is through The Federalist Papers, a series of op-eds written mainly by Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, and James Madison, to answer questions about what the Constitution meant, to encourage the states to ratify. My copy skips from No. 64 to No. 69. But No. 65, written by Hamilton, is actually about impeachments—as a continuation of the powers of the Senate being covered by Jay in No. 64. So, here is Hamilton, writing Federalist No. 65 March 7, 1788:

A well-constituted court for the trial of impeachments is an object not more to be desired than difficult to be obtained in a government wholly elective. The subjects of its jurisdiction are those offenses which proceed from the misconduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust. They are of a nature which may with peculiar propriety be denominated POLITICAL, as they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself. The prosecution of them, for this reason, will seldom fail to agitate the passions of the whole community, and to divide it into parties more or less friendly or inimical to the accused. In many cases it will connect itself with the pre-existing factions, and will enlist all their animosities, partialities, influence, and interest on one side or on the other; and in such cases there will always be the greatest danger that the decision will be regulated more by the comparative strength of parties, than by the real demonstrations of innocence or guilt.
Much of this paper concerns why the Senate is the correct body to conduct an impeachment. But let’s look at the requirements for impeachment first.

·         There must be an abuse or violation of some public trust.

·         This is of a “political” nature, because it injures society itself.

Because the violation injures the whole community, it’s going to ignite passions and emotions. And people will divide into those for and against the accused—most likely along existing party lines, with all their existing animosities and partialities. That means there is a danger that judgment could come down to the strength of the parties, rather than the evidence of innocence or guilt.

The Senate as a Court of Impeachment for the trial on Andrew Johnson,
Library of Congress LC-USZ62-1732

We’re seeing that play out now. Members of this House of Representatives declared they would impeach the President, starting before his inauguration—at which time he had not yet had any opportunity to wield power, let alone abuse it. And, while some members of the majority Democrat party are likely to vote against impeachment this week, no Republicans will vote for it, because no evidence of a crime has been produced. The charges have been watered down from “bribery” to a broadly used “abuse of power” that comes down to “We don’t like him in power,” plus a made up “obstruction of Congress charge,” which is not only not wrongdoing, it is part of the design of the separation of powers, what we might call “checks and balances.”

Congress is impeaching the President because they do not like him, or what he says or does—and they really don’t like that he doesn’t take orders from them.

Remember back to the Clinton impeachment hearings. He was accused of lying under oath in cases in which he was accused of sexually abusing women and using the power of his office for sexual favors. He did indeed lie under oath—the main impeachable offense; he was convicted and lost his law license over it. He also lied directly to the American people, which may not be illegal, but might certainly feel like a betrayal of the public trust. He did indeed use the power of his office for sexual favors, engaging in sex, in the People’s Oval Office, with a 21-year-old intern, who, while technically an adult, was at a huge power disadvantage—something that recent #MeToo stories would recognize as foul.

The Republican-majority House impeached him, sending charges along to the Democrat-led Senate. There, the argument came around to “Does this rise to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors?” Some of those very same Democrats now are trying to claim Trump’s situation—lack of evidence of wrongdoing notwithstanding—is somehow much worse than Clinton’s actual crime had been.

That’s why the final decision of removing a president from office could not be left to the House. It is a politically led body.

But, originally the Senate was elected by state legislatures, for the purpose of representing the interests of the individual states. That changed with the 17th Amendment in 1913, after which senators were directly elected by the people of the state.

It’s debatable whether we’d ever want to go back, but it does mean there’s less attention to the interests of the state than when the state legislature would decide whether to re-elect—and more attention to the interests of the people who get the senators’ attention.

With what the House has done to President Trump, there is danger that, if there is ever a time the president is from a different party than the majority in both the House and Senate, they could conceivably impeach and remove him from office at will. That’s the very fear Hamilton thought had been addressed.

[i] I started with the Michael Stokes Paulsen’s “The Original Meaning of ‘High Crimes and Misdemeanors,’ Part I,” from August 8, 2018,  and “Part II,” from August 9, 2918, but there were five before these, and possibly more after, enough to comprise a small book. Here are the additional ones:

·         Taking Impeachment Seriously,” June 28, 2018.
·         Constitutional Interpretation and the Impeachment Power,” July 5, 2018.
·         Could Aaron Burr Have Been Impeached for theDuel?” July 11, 2018.
·         Impeaching Judges: Some Preliminary and Prior Thoughts,” July 18, 2018.
·         The Propriety of Presidential Impeachments, Past and Present,” July 19, 2018.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Education Conversation

Some friends and I have been thinking a lot about education lately. It is a two-month theme for our local Tea Party meetings. I spoke, and wrote about that, a few weeks ago. (Someone recorded it, and it’s actually available for viewing here. If you go to the website of the person who recorded it, the other speaker and the Q&A are available there as well.)

We’re having another meeting this Saturday, hearing from two members of the State Board of Education.

The entire public education system is something of a mess, and not succeeding in what we want it to do. There are many approaches to solving that. But key is getting the decision making more local. 

Toward that end, a friend shared with me, and I’m going to pass along to you, some things from a tele-townhall in which Hugh Hewitt interviewed Dr. Larry Arnn, President of Hillsdale College, and Dr. Kathleen O’Toole, the provost for K-12 education for Hillsdale, which covers their Barney Charter School Initiative.

Hugh Hewitt (left), Dr. Larry Arnn, and Dr. Kathleen O'Toole
at tele-townhall for the Barney Charter School Initiative

A conversation between Hugh Hewitt and Larry Arnn is always fun to listen in on. They typically talk once a week for an hour on radio, called the Hillsdale Dialogue. Dr. O’Toole happens to be Dr. Arnn’s daughter, and she is a good addition to the discussion, particularly on the issue of education.
This discussion was meant to provide information about their charter schools, and to give people an opportunity to donate—because they try to give away as much education as they can, which they can only do when there are enough donations.

Anyway, I’d like to share parts of their discussion, just because I think it helps us see the gap between what we know works to educate students and what our schools typically do—often at no fault of the teachers.

The Barney Charter Schools are about classical education. That’s another name for liberal education—but not what liberal means in the political sphere. It means open-minded and clear thinking. It implies studying the classics, and the good. That’s probably going to include Aristotle and Plato, who pointed out that there’s evidence of the divine everywhere. Wherever you rate one thing as being better than another, you imply there is an ultimate good. That is God; and God is the arbiter of what is good.

These schools will talk about the role of ethics and religion. They’re public schools, but they can still talk about what a religion believes, what it is, and the role of the three major monotheistic religions in Western thought.

Dr. Arnn often speaks about defining what is good. He references C. S. Lewis’s The Abolition of Man, which comes up in this discussion as well. In that book, Lewis talks about the problem you have when you strip out conscience from a person. Humans are the only creatures with a conscience. Without that, all you have left is appetite; you lose what makes you human. You need to build character, which is the condition you build in yourself, foregoing pleasure, enduring pain, so that you can become educated and just.

Dr. Katherine O'Toole
at the tele-townhall for Barney Charter School Initiative

Schools are going to teach what the adults in the school believe to be virtue, that that might as well be intentional. Dr. O’Toole says,

If you send your child to any school, you are sending your child to a group of people who are giving examples to your child of what adults and bigger kids are like. That’s what school is.… Every school is teaching kids about right and wrong, good and bad, who you should be and who you shouldn’t be. That’s just what school is, in part. If you send your kid to one of these classical schools, you will send them to a group of people who are thinking about that question explicitly, and talking about it explicitly. They’re talking about virtue. We recognize that kids are going to be learning about right and wrong by being around us, so we might as well make a point of doing it right.
Dr. O’Toole points out that education is an activity performed by the student. You cannot educate someone against his or her will. She says,

The teachers are there to guide them, set up framework, hold them accountable, introduce them to the ideas. But students are the ones doing it. If a class is run well, they are the ones asking questions. They are being asked questions. They are interested in what is going on. They are connecting what they’re learning in one subject to what they learned in another subject in the previous period. They’re talking about what they’ve been learning all day every day with each other. It’s part of who they are. It’s not some other thing that they do besides their real life. It is their lives.
There’s a key, she says, to an excellent school. It’s “involved parents, excellent teaching, and a sound and solid and robust curriculum.”

And what does it take to have an excellent teacher? Teacher have to have learned and studied the content. Dr. Arnn suggests getting rid of the teaching of teaching. It’s a waste for teachers to spend time studying methods for teaching the subject matter—which takes away time from actually studying the subject matter.

I used to notice this in college, as an English major. Many people in my major headed toward education. But I didn’t like taking the time out from what I wanted to study and spending that in classroom preparation classes. In addition, let me note that, many English majors going into teaching (in my experience) struggled with grammar—where we diagrammed sentences, among other things. It was their worst subject, typically a C, D, or Fail class for them. If you’d taken a foreign language, it came much easier, which I had. But future teachers took English because they loved reading stories. Maybe, if they were good, they could help lead a discussion for students on what they’d read. But they were typically subpar in grammar and writing. They needed more time learning those skills, rather than taking that time to learn how to write out a lesson plan.

Dr. Arnn talked about the rights and responsibilities of parents, which I think is an essential part of any discussion on education, and why the control has to be local.

The school, should absorb this. You have a right, as a parent to raise your children—the duty and the right. And the natural love that parents have for children is the strongest force on earth. Human babies take longer to raise than any other kind. And they would die, for years, if they were not tended. So that love that you have should be influential in the school.
Now, the second thing is teachers. Teachers are smart people. And they could do a lot of things with their lives, and this is not the highest paying profession. So, they’re people who are devoted. And they and the parents and the administration of the school—which shouldn’t be very many people—they are the right ones to run the school. And that is the way education worked in America.
Charter schools, he says, are a step back toward self-government, toward management by the people who know and love the kids. Also, he points out, as I would expect, that education is not among the things enumerated for the federal government to do.

There is some discussion about learning phonics, rather than whole language. And getting young children to memorize important writing, such as the Preamble to the Constitution, the Gettysburg Address (both of which we memorized in our homeschool), or maybe Lincoln’s Second Inaugural, which is only seven minutes long. Kids memorize, and then they understand the words and the concepts.

There’s discussion about learning math facts, so when you get to more complicated equations, you’re not taking time to work out 6 time 7 on your fingers; there’s no time for that. In our homeschool, we memorized through 12X12 for multiplication, but we have a book that recommended memorizing up through 25X25, which would be handy.

They discussed connecting subject matter, rather than keeping each subject disconnected.

There’s more, but I’ll leave it to you to listen to the whole thing, if you want to know more specifics about their charter schools. But, here’s something to think about. They started in 2010, and opened their first school in 2012. They now have 22 schools in 11 states. Dr. Arnn’s goal is to have 50 schools. They can be smaller, but the one Dr. O’Toole headed in Leander, Texas, had about 650 students K-12.

When you look at the total number of students who would like this kind of education instead of what they’re getting, it seems like just a drop in the bucket. We've talked about the difficulty of getting in here and here.

The hope is that getting started, and doing even this small number, will have an effect on society as a whole.

If you’re interested in taking a look at their curriculum for free, email them at and they’ll quickly get back to you and provide it—no charge. There was also a fair amount of information at the link to this tele-townhall, here.

If you’re interested in donating, call 800-437-2268, or click the link at the bottom of the page below the tele-townhall.

Dr. Larry Arnn
at the tele-townhall for Barney Charter School Initiative

Dr. Arnn ended with a thought I’d like to repeat here, while we’re in the midst of this conversation on education:

Nothing is more important than to become an informed citizen, because we’re losing the whole constitutional fabric of the nation, and the principles that gave rise to it. That [loss] started in education, and it’s proceeding through it now. We have to interrupt that. So, first of all, inform yourself. Anything you don’t know, always learn more. And then, talk to your neighbors…. If you’ve got opinions and influence, use it. And we will help you; we will give you things to know. It’s very possible to save the country by saving the education system.
People who know how to learn, and how to teach, and how that all connects to raising people to become great souls—we can find a way together to make that happen. We have to.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Go Ahead and Light the World

As it has the past several years, our Church has a worldwide campaign for the month of December called #LightTheWorld. Each year it’s a little different. This year has the theme One by One. The idea is to do small acts of service every day. And if enough of us do that, we light the world—we make it a much brighter place. Here’s this year’s introductory video:

An innovation this year is a daily prompt that comes to your phone (sign up here), suggesting a small act you can do that day. If the day’s idea doesn’t work for you, you can ask for an alternative. It’s suggested that you use the hashtag #LightTheWorld on social media, so we can all see how it spreads. I’ve had friends doing that. But, I don’t really understand hashtags, and also I’m hesitant to tell what I’m doing. Hard to know whether that’s because I feel like my contributions are so small, or are things I would be doing anyway, or if it’s because of modesty about the quiet service I’m doing. Suffice it to say I’m trying to do some little good thing, intentionally, every day during this lead up to Christmas.

Yesterday’s prompt was “Share a scripture with a loved one.” I like this one:

Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.—Jude 1:21
The day before was “Perform an act of service for a family member.” That day I did a thorough cleaning of the bathroom floor, with Mr. Spherical Model. We used a pressure washer along with a carpet shampooer to suction up the water. It was hard and messy. And more his service to me than the other way around. But then I cooked dinner for him, which I don’t always do on a Saturday.

One day was to donate to a reputable global charity. We had talked about what charities we would give to this year, which was more than usual despite not having more funds. But I added to that a small donation (the amount of a music lesson I earned) to Hillsdale College, from whom I have benefited much but to whom I had never contributed. (You can donate here.) 

One day was “Offer a prayer of gratitude for Jesus Christ and His mercy.” That was both easy and something that is part of daily life. But I did it intentionally that day.

The #LightTheWorld 2019 Calendar
found here

We should be doing these things all year. But, even so, refocusing on what we should be doing helps us do more of it. So I’m glad that’s one of the benefits of the Christmas season.

Our reading this past week, for church, was the three epistles of John plus the epistle of Jude. It seemed appropriate for this time of year that the theme of these chapters is light and love.

In 1 John 1:7 we’re told we should start with fellowship to God, and that leads us to fellowship with our neighbors. This is how we share our light together.

In 1 John 2:9–11 we learn that anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness. But anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light.

Being holy, or filled with light, or any other way to define being followers of Christ, is about more than avoiding doing wrong, or sinning; it’s about showing love toward one another.

Is the world better when we do these things? Look at the list in 1 Corinthians 13. We’re expected to show Christlike love:

·         By being long-suffering.
·         By being kind.
·         By ridding ourselves of envy.
·         By not making ourselves out to be better than we are or better than others.
·         When our behavior is not unseemly—that is, not indecent or unbecoming.
·         By not being selfish or self-centered.
·         By not being easily provoked.
·         By thinking no evil.
·         When we don’t take joy in evil-doing.
·         When we do take joy in truth.
·         When we’re open to believing,
·         And to hoping,
·         And when we endure in the light no matter what.
Is the world better off when people try to emulate these attributes than when they do not?

Put another way, do we have more civilization when people choose these behaviors and ways of thinking? An honest person would have to say yes. We’d rather live with kind, unselfish, honest neighbors than mean, self-serving, dishonest neighbors.

photo by Hakan Erenler

We’d rather live in the light than in darkness.

So let’s spend this month trying a little more intentionally to add light to the world each day. The world will be that tiny bit brighter. And, if we do that every day, it may become a habit beyond the month.

Go ahead; #LightTheWorld.