Family reunion

June 20, 2022

Childhood is when grownups are looking out for you, and you have dreams or maybe plans for how great life is gonna be when you're done being a kid.

Adolescence is when you start suspecting your dreams won't come true, and that some or most adults are full of shit.

Adulthood begins, I think, when your dreams get small, and you realize adults don't know anything really, and they're all faking it.

Age has little to do with these distinctions. If you've had it rough you might be an adult at ten or twelve, and most people even my age (mid-60s) are still kids or adolescents. I've known about a dozen grownups in my life, and most of them have been real pricks.

Once every summer, there's a family reunion in Eastern Washington, several hours' drive from Seattle. It's for my mom's family, though, not mine — her parents, both long dead, both had family trees stretching back to the 1700s.

Yeah, yeah, of course, her family is my family, but nobody at the reunion is named Holland. I wouldn't know any of them if I saw them on the street, and here's a key factor: I don't want to know any of them. I'm an introvert and a hermit, with no interest in genealogy, and no hankering to meet my mother's great-granduncle's cousin's granddaughter's four children and their spouses and children.

I attended the family reunion once, in the early 1980s. I don't remember much about it, except that I had a shitty weekend. About 200 people attended, all eating breakfasts together, picnic lunches together, dinners together, and I knew two of them — my mom and my grandma.

40 years later, this year's reunion is approaching, and Mom wants me to go. I've said no. She keeps asking — every time she's seen me in the past month she's asked, and via text every few days she asks, including a wall of text on Sunday morning about how much fun I'd have meeting everyone.

"I've said 'no' more than enough times," I texted back. "Please stop asking and start respecting the answer."

It's been more than 24 hours with no response, which is the longest Mom's gone without texting me since I acquired the technology for texting (which was only a month or so ago).

When I next hear from her, there are only two possibilities:

Most likely she'll apologize, but immediately explain that I'd have a wonderful weekend if I came to the reunion, that she doesn't understand why I'm doing this to her, but that she won't ask again. And she'll say all that again every time we talk or text, until the reunion. Afterward, she'll tell me how great this year's reunion was, and that she doesn't understand why I didn't come, but that she sure hopes I'll come to next year's reunion.

Far less likely but a guy can hope, she won't mention it again, except to tell me that her feelings are hurt.

When I walk into the diner, like I just did, am I allowed to say "Hello, gorgeous" to the waitress, like I just did? Sometimes I said that to Kirstin at the diner in Madison, and this morning I said it to a waitress whose name I don't know at the diner here in Seattle.

She's not gorgeous, to be honest. Neither was Kirstin. I just like to say something nice to start the breakfast transaction. Try to say something nice when it's finished, too — "Thanks," usually, with a generous tip that's doubtless appreciated more than the thanks.

Between "gorgeous" and "thanks," I eat, and rarely say anything at all except, "Yeah, more coffee, please."

Not a paid ad, just a hot tip:

If you're lazy like me, and don't clean the cat's litter box quite as often as you should, let me tell you about Zero Odor Pro. Two squirts and there's no stink.

It's a spray that eats odors, but has no scent of its own. There is a chemically odor when you spray it, but it fades, and half an hour later you'll smell nothing at all, even if there's poop and pee in the litter box.

It'll hold off kitty-litter stink for a day or so, and the cat doesn't object. If you still don't want to clean the box the next day, give it 4-6 squirts for a second day's reprieve, which will only work for maybe twelve hours, but after that you gotta clean the litter box.

The spray can also destinkify slightly yellowed underwear or a pitted t-shirt, when you don't have the time or motivation to do the laundry.

"I'm against global warming," said one man to another on the bus a few days ago. Well, just about everyone's against global warming, but of course as that guy droned on (and on and on) it became clear that what he meant was, he doesn't believe in global warming.

I'm sure global warming is very offended by that.

Yet again, people are idiots. It's the only constant in the universe.

And now, the news you need, whether you know it or not…  

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"While you’re at it," I told them, "please disconnect the car alarm." 

But what really puts the cherry on this ice-cream-sundae of car-owner narcissism? Automobile alarms cause all these civic problems for absolutely no reason, because the alarms do nothing to prevent crime.

We've known this for a long time. Research going back decades has documented that when car alarms go off, it's accidental over 95 percent of the time. As a result, nobody takes them as a serious marker of crime-in-progress, so nobody alerts the authorities.

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The controversial history of the US military building shaped like a swastika 

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Yuppie upscale Kansas City suburb outlaws boarding houses 

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Turns out, there's a punishment for states that restrict voting rights, and it's right there in the Constitution. When Georgia and Texas and Wisconsin et al make it increasingly difficult for black people and poor people to vote, the Constitution says Georgia and Texas and Wisconsin et al could lose some of their representatives in Congress.

It's in the Fourteenth Amendment, second clause, but even saying it's there is a waste of time. It's simply one more thing elected Democrats won't do, to protect elections and democracy.

Also, turns out The New Republic really, really doesn't want to make links to its articles work on the web, so instead of giving them a few clicks by linking to it, I'm just copy-and-pasting the entire article below. Screw over-protective paywalls.

A Forgotten Section of the Constitution Could Help Democrats Save Voting Rights 

by Patrick Caldwell, The New Republic  

The Republican Party is attacking democracy on many fronts, but none so direct as their assault on voting rights. In 2021 alone, 34 laws to restrict ballot access passed in 19 states. Democrats had hoped to pass national voter protection legislation, but were stymied after they failed to reform the filibuster. That doesn’t mean they’re out of options, though. In fact, they have a potential nuclear weapon sitting right there in the Constitution—if they’re willing to use it.

Imagine that Speaker Nancy Pelosi were to declare that several states have violated a clause largely unused and forgotten for 154 years: Section 2 of the Fourteenth Amendment, which mandates that states lose a portion of their congressional delegation if they unduly restrict the right to vote. Sorry, Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, but Georgia went too far in rolling back voting rights; your state lost a seat in Congress—and it’s yours.

It would be a radical decision, one that some could compare to conservative lawyer John Eastman’s “coup memo” urging Vice President Mike Pence to nullify Electoral College votes. But unlike Eastman’s memo, it would have actual grounding in the text of the Constitution.

Ratified in 1868, the Fourteenth Amendment is the most consequential tweak to the Constitution since the Bill of Rights. The amendment, passed in the heady Reconstruction era following the Civil War, has had wide-ranging consequences on American life. It’s the basis not just for racial justice case law such as Brown v. Board of Education, but also for Gideon v. Wainwright (guarantees your right to a free attorney), Griswold v. Connecticut (made birth control legal for married couples), and Roe v. Wade. “The Fourteenth Amendment has never really been fully utilized to protect the rights of Black people the way Congress intended,” said Eric Foner, one of the preeminent historians of Reconstruction. “But when you get to other kinds of rights, it’s been used in a very vigorous manner.”

Most people know the first clause, the one that guarantees “equal protection of the laws.” But what comes next is often forgotten. It focuses on guaranteeing the right to vote and punishing states that suppress it. The relevant portion states: “[W]hen the right to vote … is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State … the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such State.”

Or in simpler words: States can come up with specious reasons to block people from voting if they wish, but as a consequence, they will lose seats in the House. But the clause has never been successfully used. “One lesson of Section 2,” said Gerard Magliocca, a law professor at Indiana University, “is that even if you craft very specific language and you put it in the Constitution, that doesn’t mean it does anything.”

That doesn’t mean it won’t ever be used, however. Democratic Representative Jamie Raskin told me that he and a handful of colleagues discuss how Section 2—along with Section 3, which bars serving in Congress if you’ve “engaged in insurrection or rebellion”—might be implemented to fight back against anti-democracy forces. “We’re in the fight of our lives for democracy, and we need every tool in the constitutional toolbox on the table,” Raskin said. “This is absolutely something we need to consider.”

With a conservative Supreme Court eroding long-standing voting protections, an inept Congress unable to act, and state Republicans feeding off Trump’s Big Lie to block Democratic voters, perhaps it’s time to consider finally giving Section 2 some teeth.

In the beginning, the Fourteenth Amendment might have just been Section 2. When the House first passed the amendment, it consisted solely of an early version of the section. But it failed to garner the necessary supermajority in the Senate. As a result, the Fourteenth was built out into its final, five-section version. “Originally, [Republicans] envisioned Section 2 as the crown jewel of the Fourteenth Amendment, not Section 1,” said Franita Tolson, a law professor at the University of Southern California.

As Foner writes in The Second Founding: How the Civil War and Reconstruction Remade the Constitution, Section 2 shifted the boundaries of federalism, presenting an “unprecedented degree of national authority to intervene in local affairs.” Yet almost no one was happy with how it was worded. It helped splinter abolition from suffrage groups, since the amendment explicitly mentions “male” enfranchisement. And Radical Republicans were disappointed that the voting section wasn’t fully affirmative. “The Radicals couldn’t get Black suffrage into it,” Foner told me, “so they were looking around for ways to at least encourage the Southern states to give the right to vote to Black men.”

Congress debated enforcing it in 1872, but it deemed numbers from the 1870 census unreliable, and nothing happened. Two years after the Fourteenth was ratified, the Fifteenth Amendment’s broader right to the vote for Black men came into effect, and Section 2 receded to the background for a time. Republicans—particularly Black politicians—regained interest and brought it up in Congress and their party platform in the 1890s and early 1900s, but it never gained real traction. “Congress never did it by itself,” Foner said, “and the Supreme Court said this is a political issue.”

Section 2 has rarely been invoked in constitutional law. But it does allow restrictions based on “participation in rebellion, or other crime,” and courts have cited those last three words to justify felon disenfranchisement. An estimated 5.2 million people lack the right to vote due to that clause, 1.8 million of whom are Black citizens.

Nearly a century after its passage, Section 2 appeared poised for a revival. “There was some more talk of doing something with it in the ’60s,” said Magliocca. The fourth of the 10 demands for the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom called for “Enforcement of the Fourteenth Amendment—reducing Congressional representation of states where citizens are disfranchised.” The NAACP Legal Defense Fund filed a lawsuit to spur the federal government to enforce Section 2. And the 1964 Civil Rights Act required that the next census include data on voting. It didn’t explicitly name Section 2, but members of Congress pointed to possible enforcement as motivation. “But once the Voting Rights Act passed [in 1965], everybody decided that’s a better way of dealing with the problem,” Magliocca said.

For a time, that may have been true. But decades later, after the 2013 Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder that gutted the central provisions of the Voting Rights Act, it’s hard to make that argument. “Section 2 is a statement that the electorate is supposed to be broader and more inclusive,” Tolson said, “and that Congress is going to take a greater role in protecting that.”

“The problem,” Raskin said, “is that the central equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment has been so eviscerated by a right-wing Supreme Court that we need to examine the congressionally activated portions of the Fourteenth Amendment as a counterweight to the disenfranchisement schemes.”

Delineating what would or would not constitute a violation raises tricky questions. Is it voter-ID laws? Voter roll purges? “The devil’s in the details,” Raskin said. “It needs to respond to active disenfranchisement efforts. But there are certainly a lot of those going on.” He noted that many of the broader voting restrictions—repeals of weekend or early voting, say—aren’t as clear-cut. It would be up to Congress to sort out. “It’s been dead for so long that it’s hard to imagine it being resurrected,” Foner said. “Much as I think it should be.”

But that doesn’t mean it’s not time to raise the possibility. We are living in dangerous times—ones that require a revival of the spirit of Reconstruction if we hope to maintain representative democracy. “Everything is hypothetical until it becomes urgent,” Raskin said. “Both Section 2 and Section 3 could be waking up soon. There’s no such thing as a dead letter in the Constitution.”

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One-word newscast, because it's the same news every time...

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The End
Harry Gesner 


Cranky Old Fart is annoyed and complains and very occasionally offers a kindness, along with anything off the internet that's made me smile or snarl. All opinions fresh from my ass. Top illustration by Jeff Meyer. Click any image to enlarge. Comments & conversations invited.
Tip 'o the hat to Linden Arden, ye olde AVA, BoingBoing, Breakfast at Ralf's, Captain Hampockets, CaptCreate's Log, John the Basket, LiarTownUSA, Meme City, National Zero, Ran Prieur, Voenix Rising, and anyone else whose work I've stolen without saying thanks.
Extra special thanks to Becky Jo, Name Withheld, Dave S, Wynn Bruce, and always Stephanie...

1 comment:

  1. > I attended the family reunion once, in the early 1980s. I don't remember much about it, except that I had a shitty weekend. About 200 people attended, all eating breakfasts together, picnic lunches together, dinners together, and I knew two of them — my mom and my grandma.

    Jesus that's my definition of a shitty weekend too. Stick to your guns and say no louder if necessary.


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