Sunday, December 24, 2006

yonder ponderous things to ponder

There's a section in every month's issue of The Sun called "Sunbeams," and it's a collection of quotes from various famous and/or notable people. Honestly, it's usually the portion of the magazine I could do without...but this month's has a few comments that appealed to me. So I will share a few...

"When one has a famishing thirst for happiness, one is apt to gulp down diversions wherever they are offered." - Alice Caldwell Rice

"All sins are attempts to fill voids." - Simone Weil

"Do not be too moral. You may cheat yourself out of much life so. Aim above morality. Be not simply good, be good for something." - Henry David Thoreau

I won't go into why these particular quotes have special significance for me; if you know me well enough, you should understand. However, they also have some importance to a few of my friends who are experiencing some personal turmoil at the moment. I'm hoping maybe they'll read this post and take a little something from them...

And speaking of quotes - albeit completely unrelated to the previous themes - I was reading a fairly hokey (for the most part) biography of Harry Truman this morning. The interviews with the former president were conducted in 1971, right around the time ugliness of the Watergate scandal was coming to light. Anyway, he said a couple things that I thought were worth repeating, considering our present political situation here in the U.S.

Truman was relating a story about an unpleasant exchange he'd had with a Democratic committeewoman from Alabama (a traditionally Democratic stronghold at the time), who had just pulled her support of his presidency and upcoming candidacy because she was so disgusted by his recent orders to integrate the military, his appointment of a new Committee on Civil Rights, his request to Congress to create a federal law against lynching, a strengthening of existing civil rights laws, his creation of the Federal Fair Employment Practices Committee, and additional protections of the right of all Americans to vote. This was particularly galling to the Alabama woman because she was, obviously, from the south, which was still seething over the Confederacy's loss in the Civil War less than a century earlier. She considered Truman an ally with regard to the proper southern policies and politics at that time, what with Truman being from the "southern" state of Missouri.

When he confronted the woman, Truman said, "Well, I read her the Bill of Rights; I doubt that she'd ever read it, probably hadn't even heard of it. Anyway, I read it to her, and I says to her, 'I said what I said [in his message to Congress requesting the above-listed measures] because I meant it, and I have no intention in any way whatsoever in taking back one word, and you can go back down there and tell them what I said. Those...the Bill of Rights applies to everybody in this country, and don't you ever forget it.'"

At the end of this particular interview, Truman added, "I was just thinking of that old woman's face when I started reading her the Bill of Rights. It was quite a sight...But you know something? It's not a bad idea to read those ten amendments every once in a while. Not enough people do, and that's one of the reasons we're in the trouble we're in."

I couldn't agree more, and it never ceases to amaze me how we continue to elect political party hacks for whom the Bill of Rights and the Constitution itself are little more than quaint historical documents which have little relevance to the politics of the present. And so, I will repeat the Bill of Rights a service to anyone who might want a refresher, and as a reminder to everyone who blindly follows party rather than principle, paying little mind to the fact that both major parties often consider the Constitution something to work around rather than uphold. (And, yes, I know the founding fathers were from a different era with a profoundly different collective value system than what we have today. To my mind, the importance of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights is in the spirit in which they were written...though, I know that's a nebulous statement that those on the left and the right can use as a means of reinterpreting the ideals behind our Constitution.) In any case, they are as follows...

The Bill of Rights (first ten amendments to the Constitution of the United States of America)

First Amendment – Freedom of speech, press, religion, peaceable assembly, and to petition the government.
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

Second Amendment – Right for the people to keep and bear arms, as well as to maintain a militia.
"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State; The right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed."

Third Amendment – Protection from quartering of troops.
"No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law."

Fourth Amendment – Protection from unreasonable search and seizure.
"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

Fifth Amendment – Due process, double jeopardy, self-incrimination, private property.
"No person shall be held to answer for any capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation."

Sixth Amendment – Trial by jury and other rights of the accused.
"In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district where in the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense."

Seventh Amendment – Civil trial by jury.
"In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law."

Eighth Amendment – Prohibition of excessive bail, as well as cruel and unusual punishment.
"Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted."

Ninth Amendment – Protection of rights not specifically enumerated in the Bill of Rights.
"The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people."

Tenth Amendment – Powers of states and people.
"The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people."

Now if only "the people" would hold our government responsible for upholding these statements and documents. It saddens me that so many of us take these enumerated freedoms and rights for granted, and that we continually go out of our way to prevent our fellow citizens from enjoying these same rights because of our disagreements with them. We simply cannot allow our constitution to become obsolete through indifference or ingratitude. We owe this to ourselves and to the events in history that gave use these rights.

That's all I've got to say today.

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