Amending the Constitution

The Bill of Rights

It was in September of 1789 that the First Federal Congress of the United States approved 12 amendments to the Constitution that had only been ratified two years earlier.

We have been hearing a lot about our Constitution in the news lately. People are talking about following it and interpreting it and violating it. There are those who consider themselves to be constitutionalists – adherents or advocates of constitutionalism. Constitutionalism is defined as “a compound of ideas, attitudes, and patterns of behavior elaborating the principle that the authority of government derives from and is limited by a body of fundamental law.”

As much as we revere those “founding fathers” and framers of the Constitution, it didn’t take long for some of them to believe that the Constitution had some flaws and gaps that needed to be amended. It was not perfect. It could be improved.

George Mason was a statesman and delegate from Virginia and he was not happy at all with the United States Constitution. Now, he had helped craft it, but he saw too much power concentrated in central government authority. He didn’t see protections for individual rights. On September 15, 1787, the final vote was made to approve the Constitution, and Mason was one of only three who protested. Patrick Henry didn’t feel the Constitution offered enough safeguards against tyranny.

Mason and other “anti-Federalists” called for a “bill of rights” to be added to the document. They were able to, over the course of the next two years, bring Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and James Madison over to their view. Madison introduced a set of 17 amendments to Congress in 1789. Those were trimmed to 12 which were approved on September 25 and sent to the states for ratification. The required two-thirds of the states only ratified ten, which became our Bill of Rights.

Those amendments include a citizen’s right to freedom of religion, speech, assembly, a well-organized militia, and a speedy and public trial, freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, excessive bail, the quartering of troops, and self-incrimination.

Article Ten declares that “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.”

The two failed amendments were about a formula for determining a minimum number of seats in the House of Representatives, and one that prohibited Congress members from voting to raise their own pay without allowing their constituents to have a say in that raise.

There was no statute of limitations on ratifying the original 12 amendments, and that pay raise amendment finally got pushed through on May 7, 1992. It took more than 200 years after it was originally proposed, but those politicians got their right to give themselves more money without our permission. Yes, the Constitution is a living document.

Endless Summer


Just a few minutes ago, at 9:30 a.m. here in Paradelle, summer ended. I didn’t see or feel anything unusual, nor should I have expected to see or feel anything with this astronomical event.

It didn’t feel like summer when I woke up. The temperature outside was 45 degrees.

Things do happen in nature as we approach and pass the autumn equinox. I read that the black-capped chickadee starts to frantically collect seeds and hide them in hundreds of places. I knew that squirrels and the chipmunks in my yard have been gathering acorns and other things too. I also read that researchers have found that those little chickadees’ hippocampus in their tiny brains swell in size by 30 percent as new nerve cells pop up there. The hippocampus is the part of the brain which is responsible for spatial organization and memory which they need to hide and later find those seeds.

I don’t know that anything changes physically in humans but I know in myself there always seem to be changes as the seasons change.

Some people celebrated Rosh Hashanah last weekend – a new year. That calendar is not connected to the equinox. The exact date of Rosh Hashanah varies every year, since it is based on the Hebrew Calendar, where it begins on the first day of the seventh month.

2020 has been a bad year. The pandemic has been a global problem but many personal problems have also occurred because of it or unrelated to it. I’m not Jewish but I would like a new year to start now.

But the problems of yesterday are not going to disappear because of a “new year” or the equinox.

My friend of 51 years, Bob, died a week ago after a long, slow battle with Parkinson’s disease. He was home with hospice for the month and he passed gently from this world with his wife and children there.

Five decades ago his wife loaned me her copy of The Tibetan Book of the Dead. I was 16 and it was my introduction to Tibetan Buddhism. I have been exploring ever since. One thing that has stayed with me from that book is the idea of bardo which is the state of existence after death and before one’s next birth. Your consciousness is not connected with a physical body and experiences a variety of phenomena.

I don’t know that I believe in a next birth but Buddhists believe the bardo lasts for 7 – 49 days (7 X 7) during which time that consciousness can wander the Earth.  I have been lighting a candle every night at sunset just in case Bobby needs some light to find his way. I’m looking for a sign from him that I don’t really expect to appear.

Bobby was, among many other things, a surfer – a better surfer than I ever was back then. We bonded like brothers through surfing, music, playing guitar, cars and a crazy connection to the humor of Jean Shepherd. On the surf side, we both liked a surfing film from 1966 called The Endless Summer.

The film follows two surfers around the world in search of the perfect wave.  The film’s title comes from the idea that if you had enough time (and money),you could follow summer up and down the world (northern to southern hemisphere and back), and it would be endless.

Summer is not endless, nor is a life. The Earth makes its way around the Sun and tilts along the way in a manner that can be measured and predicted in a way that we can never do with our lives.  That celestial journey will also have an end. It’s the way of this universe.

We think of this day as the autumn equinox but it is really just a moment. A good life always seems to end too soon. Though there is no endless season, I think it’s still worth searching for that perfect wave. I think Bobby might have found it while he was here.

The plan is to have a “paddle out” -a traditional Hawaiian tribute to the life and legacy of people who passed away – on LOng Beach Island where he surfed most often. Bobby’s ashes will be set upon the waves and maybe the tides will carry them north and south and, at least symbolically, he will be in that endless summer.

Endless Summer poster public domain

Autumn 2020


It was quite cool last night. Time to bring in my houseplants that have been vacationing outside. My wife put on the heat this morning to take out the chill in the air. Last week the air conditioning was on. We must be at the autumnal equinox.

For two moments each year the Sun is exactly above the Equator and day and night are of equal length. Here in the Northern Hemisphere, the autumnal equinox occurs on September 22 or 23. For 2020, it is Tuesday the 22nd. (In the Southern Hemisphere it was in March when we marked spring.)

No matter what the weather is in your corner of the world, a new season is beginning that will last until the next solstice in December.

The autumn tree foliage is brilliant and so is another autumn show. The aurora borealis, also called the Northern Lights, now are more likely to appear because geomagnetic storms are about twice as frequent as the annual average during the autumn.


The Fear and Regret of Missing Out


On Whensday – or was it Blursday or Blendsday or Againsday or Wheresday – I noticed how many unread notifications were in my Facebook feed. My collected email inbox had more than 100 unread. I felt obligated to check both places.

Fear of missing out (FOMO) is a social anxiety that comes out of the belief that others might be having fun while the person experiencing the anxiety is not present. Is there any “fun” factor in checking Facebook or email? There must be. If not fun, there is a fear that there is something in those notifications that we need to know. Maybe there is something enjoyable in those places. There might be a cute photo of a grandchild or a vacation sunset photo. Do those things delight you, or make you just a bit jealous?

We often hear that we are living in a continually-connected time. We are much too concerned with what others are doing. FOMO can also be defined as a fear of regret.

Social networking has provided a very rich environment for FOMO. An online search will lead you to plenty of research about psychological dependence on social networks and the resulting anxiety and even pathological Internet use.

It wasn’t a doctor or even a psychologist who first identified this phenomenon. It was identified in 1996 by a marketing strategist, Dr. Dan Herman. He published his research in 2000 in The Journal of Brand Management. He didn’t coin the term FOMO.

FOMO is very much with us during this pandemic. I would say that it has increased, except that now the missing out is quite literal. We are not seeing many people or going many places. We’re not traveling. My social media photos are of my garden rather than the gardens of Europe.

People have moved even more to Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to socialize amid the pandemic despite the research that shows that is more likely to create FOMO than make genuine connections.

I ca children’s book, Seraphina Does Everything! that is about FOMO. The author is a productivity expert, Melissa Gratias.

Seraphina does soccer, ballet, French club, and has a very busy life because she doesn’t want to miss a thing.  But even though Seraphina is doing all the things she wants to do, she’s not happy.

If I don’t open every door to see what lies within,
I’ll miss an opportunity that might not come again.
I stay busy day and night, through winter, fall, and spring.
I crush my fear of missing out by doing EVERYTHING.

Who is this cautionary tale meant for – children or their parents? Is that the Seraphinas want to be busy, or have adults made their days so busy that they’ve become fearful of missing out?

I’m tempted to just click the magic “Mark All As Read” button in Facebook and email. But what might I be missing out on seeing?

Haunted Woods

the falls and pool
Rocky Pool Bash-Bish Falls by John Frederick Kensett, 1865

Robert Frost wrote that “the woods are lovely, dark and deep” but he was seeing them as peaceful and inviting. But the dark and deep woods can also be a bit scary.

There’s a waterfall in Massachusetts that is supposed to be haunted. The legend is that a young Mohican woman named Bash Bish was accused of adultery. Her punishment was to be lashed into a canoe and pushed over the top of Massachusetts’ highest waterfall. She fell Though the pool at the bottom of the falls is relatively small, her body was never found.

You can now add more than two dozen other possible ghost as people have died at the waterfall primarily from misguided cliff jumps and falls. Hikers have reported seeing the figure of a girl watching them from behind the mists of the falls. The place is now called Bash Bish (a very odd name) and it is part of a state park.

I read about Bash Bish online and the story reminded me of a local “haunted woods” tale from my own state of New Jersey.

Ghost Lake Trail
View from the trail of Ghost Lake

The legend of Jenny Jump is now also part of a state forest.  Jenny Jump State Forest is a very pretty 4,464 acres located in Warren County along the rolling terrain of Jenny Jump Mountain Range.

The legend is that the Minsi tribe of the Lenni Lenape ambushed a young girl named Jenny and her father along the mountain’s edge. To save his daughter’s purity, her father yelled to her, “Jump, Jenny, Jump!”

Visitors have added to the legend with reports of spirits rising from the frequent fog over what is now called Ghost Lake.

To further add to the legend are rumors that the manmade lake lies atop a sacred Native American burial ground. There’s also a small cave near the lake, now called the Fairy Hole, which is believed to be on sacred ground. Don’t plan a cave visit because it is not open to the public but back in 1918 it was surveyed by archaeologists who found Native American artifacts in it. Further creepiness comes from the lake-accessible road for cars being named Shades of Death Road. The road isn’t a death trap and is used for car-top boat launches.

Besides recreational walks, hikes, boating, biking, etc., one reason you might visit Jenny Jump at night is that it is one of the few “dark-sky” locations left in New Jersey. You can do a nighttime visit to the Greenwood Observatory for special programs.

Researching the Jenny Jump legend, I found a much less spooky version of the origin on the Atlas Obscura website.  This version centers on a Jenny Lee. On her wedding day, Jenny was taking a morning walk in those woods and ran into Arthur Moreland. He wanted Jenny for himself, but her fiancĂ© was Dr. Frank Landis. Moreland once again pressed her to marry him and the frightened Jenny backed up to the edge of a cliff and threatened to jump, saying “Death would be preferable to dishonor. If you come one step nearer….” Moreland came closer and Jenny jumped.

The supposed end to this version is that Jenny survived the jump, though badly injured, and was taken home and cared for by her fiancé Dr. Landis.

I don’t know that any of these three stories have any truth to them, but all that is kind of irrelevant to legends. Don’t get me started about the Jersey Devil.


Fumbling Through the Pandemic

broken bottle

I hadn’t really thought about it until I read an article on The Atlantic website by Amanda Mull but I have been more clumsy the past few months.

Amanda’s klutziness included a tree that tried to kill her, an iPhone that flew out of her hand, and lots of objects falling to the ground – a pitcher, bottles of cold-brew coffee, pickle relish, and cocktail sauce.

Can we blame this clumsiness on the pandemic, sheltering at home, lack of contact with people, kids at home instead of school, closed bars and restaurants, no many hours of streaming video and too many calories and alcoholic beverages?

Out of curiosity, I looked up “clumsy.” It is a word from the late 16th century. It comes from the obsolete clumse  meaning “to make or be numb.” It probably is of Scandinavian origin and related to the Swedish klumsig.

I doubt that you think of being clumsy as being “numb” but isn’t the current clumsiness that Amanda and I – and maybe you – are experiencing a kind of numbness that has fallen over us since March?

There is a numbness many of us have to the passing of the days and weeks. I’ve seen these indistinguishable days as Blursdays.  We need to give shape to our time.

Health organizations are offering ways to deal with this pandemic anxiety. Prioritize your health. Stay intentionally calm. Get outdoors. Be kind to yourself. Connect with others. Limit media exposure. Get creative.

Some parting advice from Amanda:
“It would be difficult for any particular person to determine if their accelerated quarantine clumsiness is real, a function of their attention, or both. No matter what, it seems unlikely to decline soon—for the foreseeable future, many Americans will be working and parenting from home, laboring within a pressure cooker of stress. With summer nearly over, much of the country will soon lose the opportunity to spend lots of time blowing off steam outdoors. In the meantime, it might be smart to get a case for your phone and some hard-plastic drinking glasses. Think of them as safety gear for the long haul.”

broken phone