Saturday, December 22, 2012

Why I love Article V of the Constitution

There's an excellent article at, called "A More Perfect Union," which goes through the history of the writing of the Constitution, it's ratification, and the adoption of the Bill of Rights. The lack of a bill of rights, enumerating the rights of individuals as a guard against tyranny, became a major sticking point in efforts to ratify the Constitution, and the final states to ratify only did so after receiving a promise that a bill of rights would be added as amendments. Which leads me to this from the article:

Benjamin Franklin told a French correspondent in 1788 that the formation of the new government had been like a game of dice, with many players of diverse prejudices and interests unable to make any uncontested moves. Madison wrote to Jefferson that the welding of these clashing interests was "a task more difficult than can be well conceived by those who were not concerned in the execution of it." When the delegates left Philadelphia after the convention, few, if any, were convinced that the Constitution they had approved outlined the ideal form of government for the country. But late in his life James Madison scrawled out another letter, one never addressed. In it he declared that no government can be perfect, and "that which is the least imperfect is therefore the best government."

The delegates who wrote the Constitution knew it wasn't perfect, and James Madison is probably right that no government can be perfect. It's for this reason, I believe, that the Constitution has written into it the text of Article V:

"The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress; Provided that no Amendment which may be made prior to the Year One thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any Manner affect the first and fourth Clauses in the Ninth Section of the first Article; and that no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate."

This has long been my favorite part of the Constitution, even including, I think, the Bill of Rights itself, and the First Amendment (probably my most cherished of the actual amendments). We talk a lot in America about the intent of the Founding Fathers when they wrote the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and often treat this intent with a near-sacred quality, as if it should trump everything else in our debates about what this country should be. We argue about their intent with the First Amendment, about whether "free speech" only means speech, or whether it means "free expression." We argue about whether freedom of religion was intended to refer only to the various forms of Christianity, and whether the Establishment Clause was intended to keep teachers from leading their students in prayer. We argue about the intent of "well regulated militia" in the Second Amendment, and whether the Founding Fathers would have intended we have an unfettered right to any firearm we can get our hands on. And so on, and so forth.

But you know what? Article V is something that I hardly ever see brought up, and it says something about the intent of our Founders as well. It says that they knew the Constitution was imperfect, that writing it had been fraught with often bitter and acrimonious debate. It says that they intended to make it possible for those who followed to grow, to change, and to recognize those changes in the law of the land. And we have. We have recognized that black people shouldn't be counted as a mere 3/5ths of a person (Article 1, Section 1, para. 3), and so have Amended the Constitution to give full citizenship to people regardless of skin color, and we've abolished slavery (Amendments 13 and 15). We've recognized that women are people, and deserve the same voting rights as men, and we've amended the Constitution to reflect that (Amendment 19).

We've grown. We've changed. We've Improved.

That is the beauty of Article V. As we improve as a people in our understanding of justice, of morality, and of humanity, we can --if necessary-- improve the Supreme Law of our country to reflect that.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Is Jesus the ONLY reason for Christmas? NO.

Recently I saw the following image on Facebook:

I have to admit, as a secular humanist who rather likes certain parts of Christmas, I felt a little insulted. If Jesus is the only reason for Christmas, then why bother with family gatherings? With spending time cooking a special meal to serve to your loved ones? Why bother exchanging gifts? Why bother doing anything except going to fucking church??

In Christmas, I find meaning in love, caring, friends, family, and togetherness. I find meaning in generosity from those who can afford to be generous. I enjoy being with people I like, and love, and feel close to, and having it be a time when people try to get together with those they love, but aren't normally able to see. Goodwill towards men, peace on earth: these may be cliche, but they have meaning and importance.

I don't know about you, but those seem to me to be damn good reasons for Christmas, even if you're not a Christian. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Cigarette addiction

First up, a trigger warning: I'm going to talk about cigarette addiction, which obviously touches on any form of addiction, such as alcohol, heroin, etc. If that's something that is going to be an issue for you, please, scroll down to where I stop talking about it, or go read something else.

When I was 15, I had my first cigarette. I had it in a silly, deliberate and conscious act of rebellion against my mother. It was silly and stupid because frankly, I wasn't going to get in trouble by telling her I had started smoking. And of course, I knew the risks. We were taught all about the risks of smoking in school, complete with pictures of black lungs and the question "If your lungs were on the outside and you could see this, would you really want to smoke?" (which is a stupid argument, because the lungs aren't on the outside, so why the fuck should it matter what I would do if they were on the outside and pricking my vanity?). Now, in my case, it took a full year before I felt like I was an addict, like I really would have a hard time quitting if I tried. This is likely because I wasn't doing a whole lot of smoking at that time. Sometimes I only had smoke a day, other times I couldn't even get a smoke. This wasn't deliberate, it had a lot to do with a lack of funds. Regardless, a year before I was addicted.

At one point, a few years later, I actually did quit. When I was smoking, there were times when I completely enjoyed it, and other times when I didn't enjoy it, and the only reason I was smoking is because of the addiction. During one of those periods when I wasn't enjoying it, I quit, cold turkey. A month after, I tried a smoke again, to test how well it was going, and threw out the cigarette and the pack. It tasted nasty. And I actually did feel better, physically. But at a street dance six months after I quit, I was offered a smoke by someone I was hanging out with, and since it was a social event, I was with a girl I found attractive, and I was in a good mood, I accepted. I wound up enjoying it, and bumming another. Eventually, I bought a pack for myself. I smoked until I was thirty after that, with the occasional attempt to quit which never lasted more than a few days.

When I smoked, I usually enjoyed it. I enjoyed the taste, and the smell. I enjoyed the feel of the cigarette between my lips. The repetitive movement of bringing the cigarette to my mouth, inhaling, lowering the cigarette, and blowing out the smoke was soothing, relaxing. I enjoyed how the taste interacted with the aftertaste of food and toothpaste. I enjoyed how easy it was to break the ice with someone new, simply by asking for a light (assuming you'd seen them smoking, anyway). It gave me a good way to escape from a crowd for at least a few minutes, meaning that I could survive longer at parties and gatherings. Do you get what I'm saying? I enjoyed smoking, in it's entirety. 

Yes, I did have those times when I wasn't as into it, and when I was thirty, I once again used that to help me quit. I was in a period of a few weeks where I wasn't enjoying it as much, I knew that my fiance (now wife) wanted me to quit (though she never pressured me), and I figured I'd try to quit again. I knew myself though, and knew that I would require some help to do so. I made a deal with Michelle (fiance) that if she bought me the patch, I would make an effort to quit. She agreed immediately. Now, I did this not so I could try and blame her if I failed, or some stupid thing like that. I did it to trick myself. I knew that if I simply bought the patch myself, I'd be likely to smoke again when I started wanting the part of smoking that wasn't just nicotine. On the other hand, if Michelle bought the patch for me, I would feel an obligation to her. That obligation would cause me to put forth more of an effort to resisting the urge to smoke, to resist the pleasure I knew I could get. It worked. I quit, and haven't smoked in four years.

But, damn, do I want to. Four years later, I want to smoke. I want to a lot. I miss it. I miss the pleasure, the soothing sensations, the everything. There are days when I don't think about smoking at all, and then there are days when I feel that urge. That urge to go three blocks west, to the nearest SuperAmerica convenience store, and buy a pack of cigarettes. That urge to smack the top of the pack repeatedly against either my hand or a hard surface, packing the tobacco tighter into the individual cigarettes. That urge to open the pack, flip one cigarette over and put it back in upside down as my "lucky" cigarette. That urge to take another one, light it up, and inhale. There's a tension in my chest right now, from typing this, and examining that urge so closely. It's a tension that is, in a sense, reaching for that sensation of smoke being drawn into my lungs. My body wants it, and as I am my body, I want it. Bad.

Sometimes, this can be triggered by specific events. A month or two ago I took clients to a Special Olympics bowling tournament. There were so many people, in a space that was too small for all of them, and so much noise, and I really needed to be away from it all, but couldn't leave. I stepped outside for a few minutes, and there was one of the bowling alley staff smoking. Holy crap, that was one of the strongest temptations I had felt in a long time! I wanted so bad to ask her if I could bum a smoke from her. Almost did. Ever since, the temptation, the urge, seems to be more frequent, and stronger.

So, it's a struggle, and more so lately. I don't really know from personal experience how this compares to alcoholism, or heroin addiction, or other drug addictions. I can only base any comparison to those things on what others have said, or what I've read. My experience with cigarette addiction certainly sounds similar to other forms of addiction. I've heard that nicotine addiction is one of the strongest there is, but I don't know if that's true. I don't know that it's not true. Frankly, I would guess that even if true, other addictions are bad enough that I wouldn't care to try pressing the point at all.

In general, the worst times are when there's some other stress going on, like at the bowling tournament. Those aren't the only times, but they're probably the worst. Although, the other night I was standing in line at the convenience store, and someone in front of me bought a pack of cigarettes. Suddenly, I was so tempted to buy one myself. When I reached the counter, I could almost feel the words forming on my lips to ask for a pack. That was a moment of strong temptation, but I don't remember any particular stress, so I guess bad moments can happen even without stress. I didn't give in.

At this point in time, I think the only reason I haven't yet given in to temptation is because of how disappointed my wife would be. If she were no longer with me, I don't think I could resist the temptation.

A friend of mine once told me that she'd asked her grandfather once when he stopped craving cigarettes, how long it took. He replied, "I'll let you know when that happens."

That sounds about right.