TWP - 5, Tea Dumping

Greetings, loyal minions. I don’t recall if I’ve ever mentioned it before, but I am a tea drinker. I come from a long line of tea drinkers. Considering my ethnic background, drinking tea is not a surprising character trait.

I am not, however, a coffee drinker. Others in my family are, but not me. Something about coffee gives me a headache. It isn’t the caffeine. I drink plenty of caffeine (in tea, soda, and other things). Something in coffee, that is not caffeine, gives me a headache. For what it is worth, I like the smell of coffee. When I do drink it (in small quantities and very infrequently), I like coffee (when enough milk and sugar is added) enough to say that if I could drink it I’d probably be a cafe au lait type of guy.

So I drink tea. Iced tea. Hot tea. Lukewarm tea. A bunch of tea.

When I make tea, I prefer to use leaf tea and a diffuser. I don’t use bags very often. Tea bags are for when I am rushed. I keep a number of types of loose leaf tea around to satisfy the usual tea cravings I have. The usual suspects in my cupboard are: (the almost cliched) Earl Grey, English Breakfast, Scottish Breakfast, and Russian Caravan. (NB: I do love Russian Caravan tea. It is a strong full-bodied black tea that goes through periods of popularity. I wish it was more widely available when I want to buy it.) From time to time I will end up with something very posh like some “Des Steppes” from Petrossian in New York City. Sometimes friends travelling through London will drop off some loose Darjeeling (or Earl Grey) from Harrods, or Fortum & Mason.

If you notice, all these teas have something in common. They are all regular black teas. They aren’t herbals, or weird infusion teas. Those aren’t my style or preference.

As I mentioned, I come from a family of tea drinkers. Both my side of the family and my wife’s family have numerous tea drinkers. As you might imagine, tea is often a gift to members of the family and among family members. When tea is gifted within the family, it is always something the receiver would like. But when the tea comes into the family from outside is where one can go a little off the rails.

I recognize that gift-giving, thoughtful gift-giving certainly, is a tough job. So I appreciate that someone takes time to go to a store, look at various teas, and picks something out that they think will be well received. But often the choice of tea as a gift isn’t what the receiver really wants. They get a flavor that doesn’t sound appetizing or a description that doesn’t appeal to them. When someone gets tea that they don’t really like, it often finds its way to me. I am a sort of tea dumping ground.

I’ve become the tea dumping ground for a number of reasons. Firstly, I don’t mind free stuff. I don’t question the motivation of the giver and I try to be cheerful and thankful when I receive a gift. Secondly, I almost always accept foodstuffs without exception. Some people can be a little particular about accepting foodstuffs. Not me. Bring them on. Thirdly, people know that when they give me foodstuffs, I always use them. Even when I’m not sure about the foodstuff, I still try to consume it. I just can’t throw it away and I am generally committed to breaking the cycle of re-gifting. (NB: Breaking the cycle of re-gifting could be another topic all to itself.) I chalk up my inability to no consume food I’m given to my Catholic upbringing and being told that to waste food is sinful. Thus, when I am given food, I always consume (at least part) of it. As tea is a frequent gift in the family, I find myself often getting tea that I would never buy in a million years…

At any given time, you will find at least two (sometimes as many a six) teas that if you know me you would say to yourself, “Self, why does he have this tea in here?” These are teas that have made their way to me through re-gifting. The vast majority of these teas are herbals. They contain all sorts of fruits (peach, apricot, passionfruit, and “citrus”) or herbs (cinnamon, peppermint, lavender, and ginger). (Here is a whole page of them from Teavana.) Some of these teas have some sort of black tea leaf as a base. But many just seem to be an infusion of stuff that discolors and flavors hot water into something that is “tea” in the loosest sense of the drink.

This year has been one where I’ve done my best to get rid of all of these teas that have, through one means or another, been dumped here. Unless the tea is completely vile and noxious, I will use it all. As I said, I just can’t stand to throw it away. That being said, I have little “tricks” to make the tea disappear faster than it should. I have tea infusers of different sizes. I find myself using the largest one possible, and packing it as tightly as possible to utilize as much tea as possible to make a pot of tea. With some I find myself drinking half a pot of this tea, letting it sit for a while, then making a whole fresh pot rather than re-heating the remainder. (NB: I know that this might fly in the face of “not wasting food.” But I do it just the same.)

I’ve been rather successful at consuming the “unconventional” tea flavors this year. So successful in fact that I am, right now, drinking the last of the tea that has found its way to me. I am drinking the last pot of that tea as I type these words. Not only that, but I am thankful that the last pot of this tea is only the second pot of this tea that I can possibly make with the amount of tea that has been given to me. This tea is an herbal/fruity blend. It contains bits of dates and dried peaches (or apricots - I’m not sure). It also has the brightly colored petals of some sorts of flowers. I don’t believe there are any leaves of the camellia sinensis in this blend at all. In a few more minutes, this tea will be gone and I’ll be left with only plain ole Earl Grey in the cabinet.

That being said, Christmas is coming… And stockings will be stuffed… With tea…

Carry on.

A Link for your Edification

Greetings, loyal minions. Back in the heady days of blogging, some 15 years ago now, it was common for bloggers to link to entries on other blogs. Sometimes these links with be with comment, sometimes without. Your Maximum Leader’s moribund blog hasn’t linked another blogger in some time. This is going to be rectified right now.

A little while back there circulated around the interwebs an interview with Ta-Nehisi Coates on Vox.com. Your Maximum Leader listened to part of the podcast and read some of the piece. He can’t say that he fully digested either, because of the furor of the subject. Coates is a revolutionary waiting to happen. He is intellectually loaded and standing by. He awaits his moment to set the world straight through bloodshed. It makes your Maximum Leader shudder. There is danger in words and ideas on both ends of the political spectrum. One hopes that the dangers in both sides can be kept in check with clear thinking and civility.

Your Maximum Leader’s blogging friend FLG read the piece too. His reading of the piece caused him to remember some passages he’d read. They are worth your time. Take a moment and read FLG’s: Politics and the English Language. It is short and clear. Just as Orwell would have wanted it.

Carry on.

TWP - 4, Rights and Stuff

Greetings, loyal minions. I suppose it is time to put some thoughts down on the blog about guns, gun rights, individual rights, and political discourse…

Like any decent person, I was horrified at the mass shooting in Las Vegas. In fact, I can’t imagine anyone who wasn’t. Now, one week removed, we are into the cycle of argument and recrimination. Sadly, this cycle is just that, a cycle. It has phases that are more or less predictable and will eventually come to an end with all sides remaining angry at one another. There are so many reasons for this and to unpack them all is going to take more time than I am willing to spend writing, but I’ll take a shot at addressing some of the broader topics in the public square.

It should be no secret that I am a gun owner and supporter of the Second Amendment. Further, I am a member of the NRA. If that causes you to stop at this point, fine, but I hope that you might proceed a bit further.

Because I am a gun owner and NRA member doesn’t mean that I am part of a monolithic block of Americans. I find that gun owners opinions on various aspects of gun rights will vary between them. In this we (I?) am no different that other Americans that may not agree when we discuss the nature and possible limitations to our rights in our Republic. In one important point of discussion we are unified, we believe that Americans have a right, enshrined in the Constitution, to keep and bear arms.

And we immediately hit the first sticking point in the broader discussion of guns, such as that discussion is able to be had. The Second Amendment does enshrine the right of Americans to keep and bear arms - that is to own guns. There are many people who will parse the wording of the Second Amendment to say that the right exists only as part of an organized militia. Those people, are now, wrong. This particular piece of debate was ended when the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in District of Columbia v. Heller that the right to keep and bear arms was an individual right. This ruling confirmed what I had always believed. And it is the law of the land now.

There are, as one might expect, those who believe Heller was wrongly decided and that they would like to see it overturned. I don’t believe it will be, at least not under the Supreme Court’s current make up. And if Heller is not overturned soon, it will not be overturned.

I am going to take a dangerous turn here to illustrate and illuminate my thinking on this point. My point is that Heller affirms an individual right to keep and bear arms. It is currently the law of the land. As such, it’s authority is shaping our view of the law across the nation. If it is not overturned or limited soon, the hold of that decision will become more a part of the fabric of our legal system and will become less and less able to be overturned. To illustrate this point I will direct you to Roe v. Wade. Roe was decided in 1973. It has been the law of the land forty-four years. During those 44 years attempts to overturn it have been unsuccessful. Many of the attempts to limit the potential scope of the decision have been made, to various degrees success. To be frank, most of those attempts have been unsuccessful. I will posit to you that it will never be overturned and limitations to abortion rights will be minimal.

I use this example to help to frame the way in which the issue of guns is discussed, or not discussed, in America. As a people, many Americans have strong opinions on abortion. These opinions are quite polarized and the two sides mostly talk past each other when they even try to talk. Those who are pro-abortion can always fall back on the legal fact that abortion is legal, and it is enshrined as a right by a decision of the Supreme Court. A right that was not specifically enumerated in text of the Constitution but has been determined to exist nonetheless. Those who are pro-life hope that they can limit this right through legal and judicial means, or have the Supreme Court change its mind. After years of observing, I don’t think the pro-life side will ever get Roe overturned. I also have my doubts that they will ever be successful at limiting the scope of legal abortion.

Now take the Second Amendment. Here is a right that is specifically enumerated in the Constitution. The actual right to keep and bear arms is right there in the text for anyone to read. The right to keep and bear arms doesn’t emanate from a penumbra of another enumerated right. To hear or read many of those who want to restrict the right to keep and bear arms, you wouldn’t know it. This is not to say that all rights are unlimited, there can and ought to be limits on our rights. The first that should jump to your mind is not being able to yell fire in a crowded theatre. But many gun control advocates do want to severely curtail or eliminate the right to own a gun.

If you have not, you probably ought to read a very good piece from Meredith Dake-O’Connor at The Federalist. I want to cite two of her “6 Reasons Your Right-Wing Friend Isn’t Coming To Your Side On Gun Control.” They are reasons 1 and 6. Here they are:

1. We Rarely Get to Come to the Conversation in Good Faith
The most destructive, divisive response when dealing with Second Amendment advocates is the notion that we aren’t on your side of the issue because we “don’t care” about the tragedy and loss of life. Two years ago at Christmas I had a family member, exasperated that I wasn’t agreeing about gun control, snarl, “It appears that if your [step] daughter was killed because of gun violence you wouldn’t even care!”

I’ve seen journalists, politicians, and friends in recent days say something to the effect of “If children dying (in Newtown) won’t change their minds, nothing will!” The obvious implication is that we are unmoved by the loss of life.

It is a true dehumanization of Second Amendment advocates to think that we didn’t see the events unfolding in Las Vegas and have the same ache deep in our souls. That we, too, haven’t read the memorials of those who gave their lives for others and silently cried over our computers or phones. We felt it, and we hurt, and some of us even died or were heroes and rescued others. As hard as it may be to imagine, a person can watch this, ache, hurt, and be profoundly affected by these events and not change his or her position on the Second Amendment.

You may be thinking that the right-wing kneejerk response to assume that progressives just want to confiscate guns is also a denial of coming to the table in good faith. You would be right. However, I suggest assuming progressives just want to ban guns, or some other policy, is not equivalent to thinking, “If you really cared that people died you would agree with me.”

6. We Really Do Consider Owning Firearms a Right
I view the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence as declaring the intrinsic and inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And I believe the framers knew that liberty is only achieved when the citizenry is known to keep tyrannical government, and those who would do me harm, at bay. My favorite explainer on citizens and their relation with tyrannical government is James Otis’ “Rights of the British Colonies” essay, but many like to use Hamilton’s Federalist Paper No. 29.

Beyond that, part of having liberty is personal safety from harm. Outside of the grace of God, I am the one primarily responsible for my safety, because I am able to be responsible for my safety. While I view the government’s primary responsibility the safety of its citizens, I am first responsible for my safety. Further, because I am able to be responsible for my safety, I have a duty as a good citizen to be prepared to protect others who cannot protect themselves. This is part of liberty. And the primary way I can ensure my liberty is by owning a firearm (and voting for those in favor of limited government—but that’s another debate).

Second Amendment advocates truly view owning a firearm as an intrinsic right and a must to preserve liberty. It has nothing to do with hunting. It has nothing to do with hobbies. That’s why when discussions of firearms that aren’t meant for hunting come into the debate you don’t see many advocates conceding they aren’t needed. Further, it’s the primary reason we seem unwilling to budge on this policy when tragedies occur. Evil acts don’t cancel out a law-abiding citizen’s rights.

So many gun control advocates are begging for a conversation on this issue, and it’s unfortunate they don’t see the Second Amendment advocates as willing to engage. I find it hard to have an honest and vulnerable conversation about a deeply held right when the starting point is often challenging my motives while coming from a place of ignorance on firearms. If you’re really looking to win over your gun-loving friend, try reading up on firearms, dumping anti-NRA talking points, and assume her or she is equally committed to preventing these evil acts.

I agree very strongly with Ms. Dake-O’Connor in this. It is hard, almost impossible in fact, to have a discussion about guns in America when one side denies that owning guns is a right, and furthermore starts the discussion from the position of “we must do something” and “something” is restricting your rights.

This is a good a time as any to address that favorite trope of “if there is a right to own a gun, it would be a flintlock or other gun available in 1787.” This particular point upsets me greatly. More than it should really. If you put forth this argument are you also willing to apply it to the First Amendment? Your free speech rights are perfectly secure, as long as they are only exercised in a way that they would have been in 1787… Published paper broadsheets? Protected speech! Talking to your neighbor face to face? Protected speech! Internet? Not protected speech. Talking on the telephone, radio, or TV? Not protected speech. Is that really the heart of the argument? It would seem you have to believe the people who wrote the Constitution didn’t know that flintlocks were improvements on hand-cannons, which were better than crossbows, which were better than a regular bow, which was an improvement over a thrown spear, which was better than a thrown rock. I really wish we could retire this whole line of “argument.” And by the way, I will direct you to my previous point on the dangerous issue of abortion. If your right to bear arms were to be restricted to an 18th century firearm, do you want your abortion to be an 18th century affair as well?

So if it is the right of Americans to own guns, what then do we do about gun violence? There again, we’ve hit a very sticky wicket. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had discussions that all boil down to me talking about reasonable restrictions on purchasing guns, and the person I’m talking to throwing up their hands in disgust because that will not prevent all gun violence. Should I just go full Sadiq Khan on guns and declare that mass shootings are “part and parcel” of living in America and we all have to learn to live with it? On the face of it that seems to be a pretty awful thing to say. But at some level it might be what we have to say.

I feel I have to state that we might have to deal with mass shootings in America, just as we are having to live with terror attacks around the world, because I am not willing to seriously curtail the rights of law abiding Americans. There is never going to be a foolproof system that will prevent a person wanting to do violence with a gun and who can legally acquire a gun from doing so. I am all for strict enforcement of the existing laws that can prevent those who should not be able to get guns from getting them. I also would be amenable to the restriction of transfers of guns between private citizens. (NB: I think there could be a system whereby a dealer who can run a background check for a nominal fee can be used to make sure transfers between non-related people don’t result in someone who shouldn’t have a gun getting one.) The fact remains that there has never been a foolproof system for preventing bad, even evil, things from happening. There will not be one on this issue either.

This is as good a place to address a proposal put forward by a great number of people. I’ve read about proposals to insure that anyone on a “terror watch list” to not be able to buy a gun. This seems like a reasonable proposal on its face, but it is rife with difficulties. It doesn’t actually take suspicion of terrorist ties to get on a terror watch list. Having a similar name to a terrorist could be enough. Posting something to Facebook or Twitter (or your blog) could get you on a watch list. A whole range of items can get you on a watch list. The big problem is discovering you’re on a watch list, and then getting off of it. I think it is bad policy to restrict a person’s Constitutional rights without a judicial hearing with due process to make it happen. Again, just like I have stated a number of times already in this missive, would you apply this standard to other Constitutional rights? Are you okay with having a person’s right against search and seizure to be restricted or eliminated because they were on a terror watch list? How about their right to free speech or religion? I am not. Neither am I okay with restricting access to a gun because someone is on a watch list.

So have I thrown up my hands and said that there is nothing we can do about gun violence? In some sense I have. Don’t think I don’t feel awful about it either. While we can’t stop every violent act committed with a gun, there are things we can do on the periphery to start to address some of the causes of gun violence. The recent and oft quoted op-ed piece by Leah Libresco entitled “I used to think gun control was the answer. My research told me otherwise.” is a good starting point. Many gun control advocates point to Great Britain and Australia as places where gun control and confiscation was enacted to some success. However, if you’ve read some of the linked pieces I’ve provided here, they are not analogous situations at all. First off, neither of those countries has a written Bill of Rights that specifically and clearly states that there is a right to keep and bear arms. Rights in Britain and Australia are more able to be changed by a law passed by their Parliaments. They don’t have the same tradition, or Constitution, that we do. Believe it or not, that makes it a hugely different matter.

This post has been, at so many levels, a sad and unfulfilling exercise. I make no apology for my support of the Second Amendment, and for the Bill of Rights, and the Constitution more broadly. But, after an atrocity is committed it is hard to feel like a full-throated statement of support is the proper thing to do. But it IS the proper thing to do. It is when it is most difficult to support your rights as an American that those rights need the most support. I strongly support the First Amendment, and I believe it is being severely and sometimes violently curtailed on college campuses across the country. I believe that the power of the police and state is expanding and our rights under the Fourth and Fifth Amendments are being diminished. It is in this time that we must stand up for our rights and fight that they not be reduced.

No matter what the costs may be.

Carry on.

TWP - 3, Political Brain Dump.

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader has, if you noticed, decided in the header line of these posts to abbreviate “The Writing Project” as “TWP.” No big deal really. At some point it will make sense to drop the “TWP” all together. But it will stay for now as a reminder that this is still a project. If the “project” takes and writing returns to being a habit, then the “TWP” will probably be dropped…

So what to write about…

This episode will be on politics.

On Friday night I had a long conversation with Villainette #2. My younger daughter is a freshman at Virginia Tech. She is also 18 and eligible to vote in November. As you may know, we here in Virginia have elections every year. We love democracy so much we have to keep practicing it every year. In odd numbered years we have state and local elections. On November 7, 2017, Virginians will elect a new Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, and House of Delegates. We will also elect county Supervisors and School Board members.

Villainette #2 has a very logical and reasoned mind. She approaches things very analytically. She received her absentee ballot earlier in the week, and between the date she got the absentee ballot and last Friday she watched all the gubernatorial debates on YouTube and found all the websites of all of the candidates on her ballot. Then she called me for questions.

Without violating her confidence in any way, we had a very wide-ranging talk that took about two and a half hours. We concluded that either of the men running for Governor (Ralph Northam - D, or Ed Gillespie - R) would probably be pretty good. I find them both to be good and honorable men who would serve the Commonwealth well. I plan on voting Gillespie myself. I do think, from the polling I’ve seen and the people I’ve spoken to, that Northam has an edge. I don’t know if Virginia will lead the way in a much-desired-by-Democrats wave of anti-Trump sentiment. We very well could be the leading edge of such a wave. I am not sure we will be, but the race will get heated in these last four weeks.

We also concluded that the people running for Lt. Governor are spending a lot of time and energy talking about issues that they will not have ability to do anything about once elected. We also had a very tactile conversation about the Attorney General’s job and the two men running for the job.

I don’t feel it is my place to say much about our conversations, but let it suffice to say that I am very proud of my daughter and her diligence in finding out what the issues are and where candidates stand on various issues.

I’ll probably write a little more about state political races in the next few weeks…

Here is a thought for you to mull over…

What if the only skill a politician has is getting elected?

Think about that for a minute. Office holders are skilled at getting elected, but might be (perhap probably might be) inept or unlearned at other things. Say you have a Congressman that is good at getting elected, but not all that savvy in understanding the nuances of public policy. I will submit to you that at least a slight majority of office holders in this nation are good at getting elected, and mostly inept at the jobs to which they are elected. There are notable exceptions at all levels, but they tend to prove the rule of ineptitude…

Or perhaps I am being particularly cynical today.

One that thing, concerning Puerto Rico. I am, like I think the majority of Americans are, concerned about the speed at which recovery/rebuilding/relief activities are taking place in Puerto Rico. The citizens of Puerto Rico are Americans. They are our brethren. I want them to get the same treatment that any other place in the United States would get. That being said, I am well aware of logistical difficulties of getting supplies to an island that is pretty far from the mainland. All this being said, let me get to the heart of the matter. I am disappointed that I can’t get a straight answer about what is actually going on in Puerto Rico. Things are not good. That is clear. But the Mayor of San Juan is proclaiming that “We are dying.” The official death count has gone from 13 to 16 over the past few days. If they dying the Mayor is describing is metaphorical and not literal, she should ratchet down the hyperbole. I see reports of towns without supplies. I see images of acres of containers with supplies sitting at the docks. Depending on the source, either the roads are not not passable and there is no way to get supplies to where they are needed, OR the truckers are on strike and will not drive the supplies to where they are needed. Both of these situations are plausible. I have no idea the scope of either. This is a major problem with news coverage. It seems very slanted and trying to fit a narrative. I realize that this is nothing new, but it is also not helping.

This is just griping of course. I’m not empowered to take decisions that will change the situation quickly. I am just a guy typing away on a computer and pushing his ranting out into the ether.

I am, though, a voter and will be able to exercise what power I do have at some point. I also have a long memory.

Carry on.

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