Duty done (for today)…

There are times when doing your duty is also an absolute pleasure. I’ve always, for instance, enjoyed physically going to cast my vote on Election Day.

Today, though, was not one of those moments when duty and pleasure merge. There’s nothing that fills me with less confidence in our justice system than looking around at my fellow citizens in the jury pool holding area. Just in my little room of 20 COVID-distanced potential jurors we had granny in her housecoat and fuzzy slippers, the 20-something reeking of patchouli oil, the open mouth snorer who sat directly in front of me, and two people who spent hours inexplicably staring at a blank wall.

These, should I ever find myself in the dock, are the pool of those eligible citizens who would constitute a duly sworn jury of my peers. That idea makes me tremble down to my very core.

I don’t suppose we can institute an IQ test as I’m sure that’s bound to offend someone… but maybe a general knowledge quiz… or demonstrating the ability to dress yourself or even just to stay awake. Those feel like reasonable expectations for an alleged peer group.

No matter how low I set my expectations when faced with the general public, coming face to face with that them never fails to give them the opportunity to find the bar and drag it lower than I would have normally thought possible.

Four more days of on call status. Sigh.


For most of the history of the republic there have been three main pathways to citizenship. You could be born to parents who were American citizens (citizenship by blood), or born physically inside the territorial boundaries of the United States (citizenship by soil), or you could go through the process of naturalization by renouncing your allegiance to a foreign country and swearing allegiance to the United States. That seems simple enough, right?

Except, of course, nothing is ever that simple. Maybe it was once, but from our seat here in the 21st century, when every aspect of government has been bureaucratized and politics has been almost weaponized, it’s not as simple as it seems. Or perhaps it’s not as simple as it even should be.

The complexity arrives in the form of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which says, in part, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States…”

At first glance, it’s straightforward enough. If you’re born or naturalized in the United States, you are a citizen. Except maybe not. The argument here rests on what the phrase “and subject to the jurisdiction thereof” means. Is the physical act of being withing the boarders of the United States sufficient to meet the threshold of being subject to the jurisdiction? Does it apply only to those who find themselves lawfully within the jurisdiction (green card holders, for example)? If you are in the country illegally does that in itself create a situation where you have placed yourself, by definition, in a position of being not subject to the jurisdiction by virtue of not abiding by the laws and statutes governing immigration.

Among the many things I’m not is a constitutional scholar, but I am an avid student of history. The president, it’s reported, intends to test the limits of the 14th Amendment with an Executive Order. Since the court has been silent on this particular constitutional detail for the last 120 years, the administration seems to feel the time is ripe for a test case. Sure, it will cause both sides of the political spectrum to lose their minds even more than usual, but the discussion of constitutional merits by people who can manage to keep their heads will be fascinating.

For years studying history and politics all I heard was “how could you do that” or “oh, it’s so boring.” It’s 2018 and if you’re bored by politics do you even have a pulse?


The House of Representatives has on deck this week, a bill known as the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act. This bill says, in part, that a concealed carry permit issued by a citizen’s state of residence must be honored by the rest of the several states. It imposes limitations on this reciprocity in the case of people who are not eligible to possess a firearm under federal law (felons), those who are dangerously mentally ill, domestic abusers, and those who have several other disqualifying factors.

Suddenly the Democrats find themselves standing up as the party of state’s rights and the Republicans are the party pushing for federal law to supersede the will of states like New York, New Jersey, and Maryland, so called “may issue” states, where concealed permits are virtually impossible to get for the average citizen. Given the way the law is written, as an American citizen residing in the State of Maryland, this bill, if passed, does precisely nothing to allow me to carry concealed either within Maryland or in any other state. It does mean that residents of Pennsylvania, Delaware, or the District could carry their firearm concealed into the state based on permits issued by those jurisdictions.

I don’t buy that this should be a state’s rights issue any more than I buy that argument when it’s used in opposition any other Constitutionally protected right – same sex marriage, for example. The Constitution should apply equally to all people regardless of the state in which they reside – and that’s why I have a hard time supporting the CCRA.

From my vantage point here in Maryland, it creates a condition under federal law where a resident three miles away in Delaware is allowed to exercise a Constitutional right that I, living in Maryland, cannot. The solution in this case isn’t to overlay the current patchwork of state permits with another layer of federal law. The solution is for federal law to recognize that all citizens, with limitations spelled out clearly for felons, the mentally ill, etc, have the same rights and standing under the Constitution. The solution is for the Congress to recognize the inherent right to self-defense found in the 2nd Amendment and clarified by the Supreme Court’s Heller decision and legislate accordingly.

My reading is the CCRA is a half measure that adds complexity rather than clarity.

Citizen of the world…

Muhammad Ali was a world class boxer. That’s indisputable. He was also a draft dodger and embraced an organization known for their extremist ideology. Heroic figures deserve heroic flaws, I suppose. What’s struck me most, though, is that in the coverage of his death I’ve heard at least 647 times that he was a “citizen of the world.”

I’ve always been a bit bothered by that phrase. Some of my favorite places on the planet are far from our golden shores. Although I have an affinity for the close at Salisbury Cathedral or the spectacular blue waters of the Caribbean or Rome’s ancient Forum, I don’t think I could ever consider myself a citizen of England, or Barbados, or Italy – and certainly not all of them.

While it’s impolitic to say such things now, I’m an American first and always – a Citizen of the United States born of the blood and of the soil. As whackadoodle crazy as we can be nationally I can’t imagine a circumstance where I would want or seek any other… and if anyone has the audacity to challenge that once I’m dead and gone I will find a way back and haunt them to the end of their own days.

Being engaged is important. Knowing about the wide world is important. Having an educated interest in events beyond our own farms and cities is important. But I’ll never be ashamed to hold myself apart from those other places. I will never confuse my interest in the world with my true loyalties. If that makes me an anachronism in the modern age, well, I’m sure I can live with that.

Au naturel…

I said it eight years ago when then Senator Obama was running for president and I’ll say it again now while Senator Cruze is running: If you are the genetic offspring of a United States citizen you are the very definition of a “natural born citizen.” For better or worse, American citizenship is granted through the “right of the soil” and well as the “right of blood.” You’re a citizen because at least one of your parents were citizens or because you had the great good fortune to be born upon this happy land of ours.

It buggers the imagination that we are even entertaining this discussion. Again.

That is all.

Blank space…

Usually by the time I get home at the end of the day I’ve got half a dozen post its or a few hastily scribbled margin notes to remind myself about whatever blogworthy ideas I had during the course of the day. Yeah, I’ve long since given up the illusion that I can remember something that happened at 8AM when I sit down to write ten hours later.

It didn’t happen today. Not one single note anywhere. Plenty happened, of course, just nothing that I would consider even marginally entertaining… and certainly not something I’d want to relive for 30 or 45 minutes this evening. What I’m saying is that tonight I’ve got nothing. Just wide open blank space where a blog ought to be.

I’m honestly surprised it doesn’t happen more often. Even surrounded by the best topics, some nights it just doesn’t happen. Missouri is burning again. A card carrying socialist is drawing 25,000 people to his political rallies. China devalued its currency. The EPA just dumped millions of gallons of toxic waste water into a clear mountain river. The state of Alabama is the subject of a Go Fund Me campaign. There’s plenty enough going on that seems worth commenting on.

Any one of those issues would chew up 300 words without looking back and yet even while I sit here, just naming the jackassery in the air today makes me exhausted. It’s not so much that I don’t care as that I’m too annoyed by what passes for civilization to even be bothered to comment. All I really want to do is shut down, pull a cork, and settle in with a good book. It’s not one of my finer or more engaged moments, but it’s the fact of the matter.

Maybe tomorrow it will matter, but for tonight I just can’t be bothered enough to give a damn.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. History. Throw the date June 6th out there and ask the average man in the street what the significance is, I’m willing to bet the dollar in my pocket that maybe one in ten could tell you that it’s the anniversary of the day America and Great Britain launched the liberation of continental Europe. I won’t even give you odds on them knowing that much of Italy had already been liberated by the time the Normandy landings took place. I’m a history guy, so the nitnoid facts and trivia have always been important to me, but I weep that for so many the pinnacle of American achievement is Keeping Up with the Kardashians and the vastness of our shopping malls.

2. Vaccinations. I’m not a parent. Baring some kind of catastrophic misfire on the range, I never will be. I intellectually understand that when it comes to issues of the health and welfare of their child, a parent is very nearly sovereign. However, in a world where polio, measles, and a host of other diseases that we collectively obliterated in the last century start popping up again, I’m forced to draw at least a tentative connection between those illnesses reemerging and the small but vocal group of parents who have decided that vaccines are bad. It just strikes me that as bad as the adverse reaction to a vaccine can be, getting the actual disease it prevents is quite probably worse. We take our lives in our hands every morning when we get out of bed… I just wish more people would realize that a risk assessment needs to account for both the probably of something happening as well as the severity of the negative impact if that thing does happen. Then again that assumes people operate from a place of reason. Fat chance of that happening any time soon.

3. Bergdahl. What he did or did not do while in captivity is a matter of open dispute. That’s fine. However, I tend to agree with General McChrystal, who stated it most clearly: “We don’t leave Americans behind. That’s unequivocal.” SGT Bergdahl is an American soldier. He was held by a foreign power and now he’s not. If there is legitimate evidence he violated his oath or otherwise broke the law, then by all means, drag him before a court martial and try the case. We don’t leave Americans behind. Period. That should be a sacred trust between the government and the people both in and out of uniform. There’s plenty of room for honest and frank discussion, but I have a hard time arguing that getting an American citizen back is ever the wrong thing to do. If he’s guilty, lock him away and lose the key, but if he’s innocent, thank the young man for his service and let him get on with his life.

Kevin Bacon or: The Everlasting Know-It-All…

I find myself in the incredibly awkward position of agreeing with the United Nations, Germany, France, and Brazil all at the same time. Just writing that sentence makes me feel vaguely dirty on the inside. Still, it seems to be a fact of life these days. It’s not that I mind our government spying on other countries. I actively encourage it. Mostly, I’m simply Seperationembarrassed at the ham handed way our country seems to be handling its clandestine affairs. At this point, I really think job should be to get themselves off the front page of every newspaper in the world expeditiously as possible.

While I’m more than happy to let the boys at Ft. Meade do some quiet spying across the ocean seas, I want to make it perfectly clear that I don’t think that my government has the right to listen in on my phone calls, or read my email, or track my location just because in some Kevin Bacon-esq way, my latest tweet could be six degrees separated from the local Elkton Al Qaeda cell. Frankly, I think I’d rather take my chances with the terrorists than with the Everlasting Know-It-All that our government seems bound and determined to become. An American citizen shouldn’t have to sacrifice essential liberty for the convenience of the government simply because it’s easy to point the big ear inwards and suck up every available byte of data. If the American government wants to spy on Americans, it should be hard. It should be damned hard. I won’t make any apologies for my lack of interest in making it easy for the NSA, or CIA, or any of the other three letter agencies out there.

When it comes right down to it, I’ll trade being a little less safe for being a little more free every single time. After all, it’s hard to be overly afraid of the terrorists when our own government is spending an outsized amount of time watching us, listening to us, kicking in the doors of those who dissent, and generally acting like a bunch of terrorists and thugs themselves.


A year ago, hell, six weeks ago I would have called Edward Snowden a traitor. Handing information to the press, especially classified information, goes against the grain and against a decade worth of training and experience. I can’t fathom a circumstance under which I’d do it… I’m philosophically opposed to finding myself in a Video-Surveillance-Usefederal prison or being “disappeared” by some of the more clandestine elements of our government, you see.

Maybe the country would be a happier place if we were all left fat and ignorant of what happens behind the fence line. With reality TV and the celebrity of the moment to entertain us, I wonder how long our collective national focus will remain fixed on what I think we can agree is at best an egregious violation of our collective rights as citizens of the republic. I’m sure it won’t be for as long as it should.

Look, our data is out there. We’re giving it freely to companies like Apple and Google every second of every day. It’s not that I have a problem with Uncle having a peek now and then, it’s that he’s blatantly said for so long that he’s not doing it. If the president or the Director of National Intelligence stood up and said “yep, we’re keeping an eye on phone calls and email and we’ve stopped X, Y, and Z as a result,” I’d probably be on the government’s side of this one without a second thought.

It’s the lie that chafes. It’s always the lie. That’s why I’m conflicted. And that’s why I can’t quite bring myself to condemn Mr. Snowden.


It took two months to get the widgets lined up and a particularly bruising two hour visit to the Motor Vehicle Administration, but I’m pleased to announce that as of two days ago, I am now officially licensed and registered in the State of Maryland. Add that to the recent income tax deduction from my pay and it seems that I’m a citizen again and not just a resident alien. I sincerely hope that this brings to a close the saga of moving home from Tennessee. After this experience it’s safe to say that I have no intention of going anywhere ever again. Well, technically, I think that means I’ll be leaving my stuff here. I still have a little too much of the old wanderlust to stay put completely. But as far as a home base goes, it’s me and Maryland till the wheels come off.