…with this mirror


Looks like a bigass storm is on the way. Hope the power stays on. The cable’s already flickering.

Trying to keep this one light on the spoilers, I’ll discuss the mechanics of my problem with these novels, but won’t give away the baddie!

I haven’t read many mysteries recently, but of the three I have read ALL had the same problem. While reading each of the three I enjoyed them, the characters and plot were fine, but each left me grumpy at the end. Blood Price and Blood Trail by Tanya Huff are paranormal mysteries and Deja Dead by Kathy Reichs is more standard fare-the things that go bump in the night aren’t werewolves and demons. There are several similarities: both series first novels were published in the early 90s, both authors set their stories in eastern Canada, both protagonists aren’t police officers but have ties with the department, both series have been made in to television shows that I haven’t watched. Huff’s Vicki is no longer on the force due to a disease that is slowly destroying her vision, as a result she becomes a PI and allies herself with a Vampire, though the cases involve the paranormal she uses her police connections to help her solve the crime. Reichs’ Tempe is a divorced former alcoholic middle aged mom who works for law enforcement as a forensic scientist with a specialty in skeletal remains. Both women are competent in their profession, think outside the box, and come to the conclusions that solve the case.

What then do I have to whine about? I like a smart, sassy heroine. I like someone who doesn’t depend on her looks to get ahead and builds strong relationships with her team. I like suspense.

I DO NOT LIKE that in all three of these books the heroine figures out what is up but does not make the arrest/capture at the end. In fact, in two of these three novels the heroine is attacked by the perpetrator and then is rescued just in the nick of time. WTF! These are series, so perhaps in future novels this will not be the case, but I am not fully optimistic.  I might not mind so much if the protagonists found a solution, relayed the results to their team and then the team made an arrest, but in these books they reach their conclusions, and then get attacked, leaving the team to figure out what happened on their own just in the nick of time (with some help from a clue the protagonist left behind). Er. Awkward sentence.

Both authors have written solid novels, and I am looking forward to continuing to read their series, but I have reservations.

Dred Scott

While teaching US History I compiled a summary of the Dred Scott case. Here’s an example of a well-written argument that I absolutely do not agree with. It’s fascinating to read. It’s what institutionalized hate looks like.

For a more complete story about Dred Scott, see this page at pbs.org, and/or this page from the Washington University Digital Gateway. The digital gateway also has a timeline and transcriptions of all the documents related to the case (for the documents related to the Supreme Court decision go here)


The following quotes are from the decision against Scott, before each quote I have included a summary of what is said in the quote. When I use the terms “the Court” and “the Supreme Court” I am referring to the “Report of the decision of the Supreme Court of the United States.” On the website I linked above you can read this report, along with the opinions written by each of the judges, six agreeing with the decision, and two opposing it.


This quote makes a distinction between Africans imported to America as slaves, and American Indians. It states that since the Indians had been treated as separate nations since the beginning of European settlement in America, if an Indian decided to leave his nation and live as an American he could apply to become a citizen. According to the last paragraph, the court considers Africans imported as slaves and their decendants as subordinate, and were not meant to have the rights and privileges guaranteed to citizens in the US Constitution, even if they were not slaves.

The question is simply this: Can a negro, whose ancestors were imported into this country, and sold as slaves, become a member of the political community formed and brought into existence by the Constitution of the United States, and as such become entitled to all the rights, and privileges, and immunities, guarantied by that instrument to the citizen? One of which rights is the privilege of suing in a court of the United States in the cases specified in the Constitution.

It will be observed, that the plea applies to that class of persons only whose ancestors were negroes of the African race, and imported into this country, and sold and held as slaves. The only matter in issue before the court, therefore, is, whether the descendants of such slaves, when they shall be emancipated, or who are born of parents who had become free before their birth, are citizens of a State, in the sense in which the word citizen is used in the Constitution of the United States. And this being the only matter in dispute on the pleadings, the court must be understood as speaking in this opinion of that class only, that is, of those persons who are the descendants of Africans who were imported into this country, and sold as slaves.

The situation of this population was altogether unlike that of the Indian race. The latter, it is true, formed no part of the colonial communities, and never amalgamated with them in social connections or in government. But although they were uncivilized, they were yet a free and independent people, associated together in nations or tribes, and governed by their own laws. Many of these political communities were situated in territories to which the white race claimed the ultimate right of dominion. But that claim was acknowledged to be subject to the right of the Indians to occupy it as long as they thought proper, and neither the English nor colonial Governments claimed or exercised any dominion over the tribe or nation by whom it was occupied, nor claimed the right to the possession of the territory, until the tribe or nation consented to cede it. These Indian Governments were regarded and treated as foreign Governments, as much so as if an ocean had separated the red man from the white; and their freedom has constantly been acknowledged, from the time of the first emigration to the English colonies to the present day, by the different Governments which succeeded each other. Treaties have been negotiated with them, and their alliance sought for in war; and the people who compose these Indian political communities have always been treated as foreigners not living under our Government. It is true that the course of events has brought the Indian tribes within the limits of the United States under subjection to the white race; and it has been found necessary, for their sake as well as our own, to regard them as in a state of pupilage, and to legislate to a certain extent over them and the territory they occupy. But they may, without doubt, like the subjects of any other foreign Government, be naturalized by the authority of Congress, and become citizens of a State, and of the United States; and if an individual should leave his nation or tribe, and take up his abode among the white population, he would be entitled to all the rights and privileges which would belong to an emigrant from any other foreign people.
We proceed to examine the case as presented by the pleadings.

The words “people of the United States” and “citizens” are synonymous terms, and mean the same thing. They both describe the political body who, according to our republican institutions, form the sovereignty, and who hold the power and conduct the Government through their representatives. They are what we familiarly call the “sovereign people,” and every citizen is one of this people, and a constituent member of this sovereignty. The question before us is, whether the class of persons described in the plea in abatement compose a portion of this people, and are constituent members of this sovereignty? We think they are not, and that they are not included, and were not intended to be included, under the word “citizens” in the Constitution, and can therefore claim none of the rights and privileges which that instrument provides for and secures to citizens of the United States. On the contrary, they were at that time considered as a subordinate and inferior class of beings, who had been subjugated by the dominant race, and, whether emancipated or not, yet remained subject to their authority, and had no rights or privileges but such as those who held the power and the Government might choose to grant them.
Source: Washington University Digital Gateway p.10-11

The Supreme Court decision continues with evidence to support its argument regarding African-American citizenship. The decision quotes the Declaration of Independence and then states that the Second Continental Congress (the men who wrote and approved the Declaration), clearly did not include slaves when they wrote “all men are created equal” because many of them owned slaves and would not act in a way contrary to their beliefs. In the language of the time, the quote explains, everyone agreed that the men who were created equal clearly did not include enslaved people from Africa.

The language of the Declaration of Independence is equally conclusive:
…It then proceeds to say:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among them is life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights, Governments are instituted, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

The general words above quoted would seem to embrace the whole human family, and if they were used in a similar instrument at this day would be so understood. But it is too clear for dispute, that the enslaved African race were not intended to be included, and formed no part of the people who framed and adopted this declaration; for if the language, as understood in that day, would embrace them, the conduct of the distinguished men who framed the Declaration of Independence would have been utterly and flagrantly inconsistent with the principles they asserted; and instead of the sympathy of mankind, to which they so confidently appealed, they would have deserved and received universal rebuke and reprobation.

Yet the men who framed this declaration were great men—high in literary acquirements—high in their sense of honor, and incapable of asserting principles inconsistent with those on which they were acting. They perfectly understood the meaning of the language they used, and how it would be understood by others; and they knew that it would not in any part of the civilized world be supposed to embrace the negro race, which, by common consent, had been excluded from civilized Governments and the family of nations, and doomed to slavery. They spoke and acted according to the then established doctrines and principles, and in the ordinary language of the day, and no one misunderstood them. The unhappy black race were separated from the white by indelible marks, and laws long before established, and were never thought of or spoken of except as property, and when the claims of the owner or the profit of the trader were supposed to need protection.
Source: Washington University Digital Gateway p.16-17

After this quote the document also discusses portions of the Constitution, state laws, and former court cases related to citizenship and slavery, concluding:

What the construction was at that time, we think can hardly admit of doubt. We have the language of the Declaration of Independence and of the Articles of Confederation, in addition to the plain words of the Constitution itself; we have the legislation of the different States, before, about the time, and since, the Constitution was adopted; we have the legislation of Congress, from the time of its adoption to a recent period; and we have the constant and uniform action of the Executive Department, all concurring together, and leading to the same result. And if anything in relation to the construction of the Constitution can be regarded as settled, it is that which we now give to the word “citizen” and the word “people.”

And upon a full and careful consideration of the subject, the court is of opinion, that, upon the facts stated in the plea in abatement, Dred Scott was not a citizen of Missouri within the meaning of the Constitution of the United States, and not entitled as such to sue in its courts; and, consequently, that the Circuit Court had no jurisdiction of the case, and that the judgment on the plea in abatement is erroneous.
Source: Washington University Digital Gateway p.32-33

In the section quoted below the Supreme Court summarizes their argument for why the Missouri Compromise is unconstitutional. The quote explains that the section in the Constitution that gives Congress power to make rules and regulations regarding the land that belonged to the United States only applied to area owned by the US at the end of the American Revolution, not the land acquired since then.

The act of Congress, upon which the plaintiff relies, declares that slavery and involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime, shall be forever prohibited in all that part of the territory ceded by France, under the name of Louisiana, which lies north of thirty-six degrees thirty minutes north latitude, and not included within the limits of Missouri. And the difficulty which meets us at the threshold of this part of the inquiry is, whether Congress was authorized to pass this law under any of the powers granted to it by the Constitution; for if the authority is not given by that instrument, it is the duty of this court to declare it void and inoperative, and incapable of conferring freedom upon any one who is held as a slave under the laws of any one of the States.

The counsel for the plaintiff has laid much stress upon that article in the Constitution which confers on Congress the power

“to dispose of and make all needful rules and regulations respecting the territory or other property belonging to the United States;”

but, in the judgment of the court, that provision has no bearing on the present controversy, and the power there given, whatever it may be, is confined, and was intended to be confined, to the territory which at that time belonged to, or was claimed by, the United States, and was within their boundaries as settled by the treaty with Great Britain, and can have no influence upon a territory afterwards acquired from a foreign Government. It was a special provision for a known and particular territory, and to meet a present emergency, and nothing more. Washington University Digital Gateway p.38-39

The emergency referred to is that during the American Revolution individual states claimed land outside the boundaries of the state. After the war, instead of allowing states (ie. Virginia) to use the land they claimed to help pay the state’s individual debts, Congress wanted to use money to help pay off the national debt. Remember that the Articles of Confederation created a very weak central government, and Congress could not force states to agree to this plan, though the states voluntarily agreed to give up their claim and allow the land to be common property. (Summary of p. 39-41)

If the powers of government are strictly defined by the Constitution, then it was necessary to include a statement giving Congress continued authority over the territories. Therefore, according to the Supreme Court, the statement “to dispose of and make all needful rules and regulations respecting the territory or other property belonging to the United States.” only applied to the situation at the end of the war. The second part of the clause was “that nothing in the Constitution shall be so construed as to prejudice any claims of the United States, or of any particular State.” Georgia and North Carolina hadn’t given up their claims to land, and this statement meant that Congress wasn’t given the authority to make them give up the claim. In addition, the Constitution didn’t say “any territory” or “all territory” or “territories” only “the territory,” as a result the Supreme Court interpreted the Constitution as only giving Congress the right to make regulations for the territory held at the end of the war.

This was the state of things when the Constitution of the United States was formed. The territory ceded by Virginia belonged to the several confederated States as common property, and they had united in establishing in it a system of government and jurisprudence, in order to prepare it for admission as States, according to the terms of the cession. They were about to dissolve this federative Union, and to surrender a portion of their independent sovereignty to a new Government, which, for certain purposes, would make the people of the several States one people, and which was to be supreme and controlling within its sphere of action throughout the United States; but this Government was to be carefully limited in its powers, and to exercise no authority beyond those expressly granted by the Constitution, or necessarily to be implied from the language of the instrument, and the objects it was intended to accomplish; and as this league of States would, upon the adoption of the new Government, cease to have any power over the territory, and the ordinance they had agreed upon be incapable of execution, and a mere nullity, it was obvious that some provision was necessary to give the new Government sufficient power to enable it to carry into effect the objects for which it was ceded, and the compacts and agreements which the States had made with each other in the exercise of their powers of sovereignty. It was necessary that the lands should be sold to pay the war debt; that a Government and system of jurisprudence should be maintained in it, to protect the citizens of the United States who should migrate to the territory, in their rights of person and of property. It was also necessary that the new Government, about to be adopted, should be authorized to maintain the claim of the United States to the unappropriated lands in North Carolina and Georgia, which had not then been ceded, but the cession of which was confidently anticipated upon some terms that would be arranged between the General Government and these two States. And, moreover, there were many articles of value besides this property in land, such as arms, military stores, munitions, and ships of war, which were the common property of the States, when acting in their independent characters as confederates, which neither the new Government nor any one else would have a right to take possession of, or control, without authority from them; and it was to place these things under the guardianship and protection of the new Government, and to clothe it with the necessary powers, that the clause was inserted in the Constitution which gives Congress the power

“to dispose of and make all needful rules and regulations respecting the territory or other property belonging to the United States.”

It was intended for a specific purpose, to provide for the things we have mentioned. It was to transfer to the new Government the property then held in common by the States, and to give to that Government power to apply it to the objects for which it had been destined by mutual agreement among the States before their league was dissolved. It applied only to the property which the States held in common at that time, and has no reference whatever to any territory or other property which the new sovereignty might afterwards itself acquire.

The language used in the clause, the arrangement and combination of the powers, and the somewhat unusual phraseology it uses, when it speaks of the political power to be exercised in the government of the territory, all indicate the design and meaning of the clause to be such as we have mentioned. It does not speak of any territory, nor of Territories, but uses language which, according to its legitimate meaning, points to a particular thing. The power is given in relation only to the territory of the United States—that is, to a territory then in existence, and then known or claimed as the territory of the United States. It begins its enumeration of powers by that of disposing, in other words, making sale of the lands, or raising money from them, which, as we have already said, was the main object of the cession, and which is accordingly the first thing provided for in the article. It then gives the power which was necessarily associated with the disposition and sale of the lands—that is, the power of making needful rules and regulations respecting the territory. And whatever construction may now be given to these words, every one, we think, must admit that they are not the words usually employed by statesmen in giving supreme power of legislation. They are certainly very unlike the words used in the power granted to legislate over territory which the new Government might afterwards itself obtain by cession from a State, either for its seat of Government, or for forts, magazines, arsenals, dock yards, and other needful buildings.

And the same power of making needful rules respecting the territory is, in precisely the same language, applied to the other property belonging to the United States—associating the power over the territory in this respect with the power over movable or personal property—that is, the ships, arms, and munitions of war, which then belonged in common to the State sovereignties. And it will hardly be said, that this power, in relation to the last-mentioned objects, was deemed necessary to be thus specially given to the new Government, in order to authorize it to make needful rules and regulations respecting the ships it might itself build, or arms and munitions of war it might itself manufacture or provide for the public service.

No one, it is believed, would think a moment of deriving the power of Congress to make needful rules and regulations in relation to property of this kind from this clause of the Constitution. Nor can it, upon any fair construction, be applied to any property but that which the new Government was about to receive from the confederated States. And if this be true as to this property, it must be equally true and limited as to the territory, which is so carefully and precisely coupled with it—and like it referred to as property in the power granted. The concluding words of the clause appear to render this construction irresistible; for, after the provisions we have mentioned, it proceeds to say,

“that nothing in the Constitution shall be so construed as to prejudice any claims of the United States, or of any particular State.”

Now, as we have before said, all of the States, except North Carolina and Georgia, had made the cession before the Constitution was adopted, according to the resolution of Congress of October10, 1780. The claims of other States, that the unappropriated lands in these two States should be applied to the common benefit, in like manner, was still insisted on, but refused by the States. And this member of the clause in question evidently applies to them, and can apply to nothing else. It was to exclude the conclusion that either party, by adopting the Constitution, would surrender what they deemed their rights. And when the latter provision relates so obviously to the unappropriated lands not yet ceded by the States, and the first clause makes provision for those then actually ceded, it is impossible, by any just rule of construction, to make the first provision general, and extend to all territories, which the Federal Government might in any way afterwards acquire, when the latter is plainly and unequivocally confined to a particular territory; which was a part of the same controversy, and involved in the same dispute, and depended upon the same principles. The union of the two provisions in the same clause shows that they were kindred subjects; and that the whole clause is local, and relates only to lands, within the limits of the United States, which had been or then were claimed by a State; and that no other territory was in the mind of the framers of the Constitution, or intended to be embraced in it. Upon any other construction it would be impossible to account for the insertion of the last provision in the place where it is found, or to comprehend why, or for what object, it was associated with the previous provision. Washington University Digital Gateway p.42-44

The court concludes that even though other countries might make a distinction between slaves as property and other sorts of property, in the United States Constitution there is no such distinction, and that, in fact, the Constitution deliberately describes slaves as property, like any other kind that can be bought and sold.

But in considering the question before us, it must be borne in mind that there is no law of nations standing between the people of the United States and their Government, and interfering with their relation to each other. The powers of the Government, and the rights of the citizen under it, are positive and practical regulations plainly written down. The people of the United States have delegated to it certain enumerated powers, and forbidden it to exercise others. It has no power over the person or property of a citizen but what the citizens of the United States have granted. And no laws or usages of other nations, or reasoning of statesmen or jurists upon the relations of master and slave, can enlarge the powers of the Government, or take from the citizens the rights they have reserved. And if the Constitution recognises the right of property of the master in a slave, and makes no distinction between that description of property and other property owned by a citizen, no tribunal, acting under the authority of the United States, whether it be legislative, executive, or judicial, has a right to draw such a distinction, or deny to it the benefit of the provisions and guarantees which have been provided for the protection of private property against the encroachments of the Government.

Now, as we have already said in an earlier part of this opinion, upon a different point, the right of property in a slave is distinctly and expressly affirmed in the Constitution. The right to traffic in it, like an ordinary article of merchandise and property, was guarantied to the citizens of the United States, in every State that might desire it, for twenty years. And the Government in express terms is pledged to protect it in all future time, if the slave escapes from his owner. This is done in plain words—too plain to be misunderstood. And no word can be found in the Constitution which gives Congress a greater power over slave property, or which entitles property of that kind to less protection than property of any other description. The only power conferred is the power coupled with the duty of guarding and protecting the owner in his rights. Washington University Digital Gateway p.57-58


Normally I carefully phrase my comments in order to avoid offending others and leaving space for their opinions. This habit is useful in maintaining friendships with people from a variety of political and religious backgrounds, but one reason for this blog is to practice saying exactly what I believe. Here goes!

I almost started cheering in a gym full of strangers as I saw the news on CNN that Proposition 8 was overturned. Yes, I know the decision will be appealed, but this is still a victory and the precise wording of the decision fills me with hope. I love reading a well written argument, and Judge Walker’s decision is excellent reading.

I strongly believe that human rights are not up for a vote. Citizens of the United States are guaranteed equal protection under the law and Proposition 8 violated that principle absolutely. Churches mark changes in a person’s life, and they are welcome to, but they should not have a say on the rights granted to citizens of the country. How ridiculous would it be if people had to take communion in order to vote? Have a Bar/Bat Mitzvah in order to attend secondary school? The United States chose to recognize partners who have made a commitment to one another by giving spousal rights, this protection must be extended to all partners who decide to make that commitment. If churches wish to add their blessing to such unions, that’s on the church, but churches should not deny the rights of people who choose to marry. Even within the United States religious groups hold different opinions. It is not the right of the many to impose their will on the few.

In many ways the arguments of people supporting laws stating that marriage can only be between a man and a woman, remind me of arguments supporting “states’ rights.” States’ rights supporters were NOT only arguing for their individual state’s rights, but they were imposing their state’s decision on other states by requiring a strong fugitive slave act and punishing people from other states that did not comply. In a similar fashion, denying gay and lesbian couples the right to marry enforces foreign religious beliefs on these couples, while allowing marriage does not force people who are against the idea to change their beliefs. Yes, banning slavery did force federal law on slaveholding states, but this was absolutely justified.  I am not arguing that gay and lesbian couples face the same discrimination as slaves did in the antebellum south, however, denying human rights, and denying rights to citizens of this country is never justified. Ever.

Overview of Same Sex Marriage Debate

Maddow on the difference between a democracy and constitutional democracy

Article summarizing the impact of this decision


Apple Muffins
Preheat oven to 400F

Grate 1 1/2 c. apples with their juice (I guesstimated and used two Fuji apples)
Stir in 3/4 c. sugar (I used demerara) and 2 large eggs, let sit for 10 minutes

In a separate bowl combine:
1 1/2 c. flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda (I didn’t have any, but the muffins still turned out fine)
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground cloves (next time I’d add more of these spices, or possibly ginger/nutmeg/etc)

Melt 5 tbsp. butter and add to apple mixture, then fold in the flour mixture, do not overmix!
Distribute batter in muffin tin (line with paper)
Bake for 14-16 minutes (mine were just done at 15 min)

Atheism II

No person is your friend who demands your silence, or denies your right to grow.
— Alice Walker (via An Effort in Memory)
This quote from a friend’s tumblr really struck me. It sums up exactly why I felt more and more out of place in Formertown. My religion of origin claimed that people of any religion could go to heaven if they did good works (this is a simplification obviously). I thought this was a pretty good philosophy, and it is one of the beliefs I liked the most in this religion, but some people within the religion seemed to believe that it had the very best answers of all the religions in all the world. The implication was that sure, you could belong to a different religion and still be a good person, but why would anyone want to when OUR religion was the very best one? As a student in the religious high school and college I felt encouraged to question religious beliefs because we were taught questioning was preferable to blind faith. Of course, as a result of questioning we were supposed to reach the conclusion that of course OUR religion had all the best answers. There was room to question, but not room to disagree.

In the community many people had different opinions of what the religious doctrine meant and how it should be interpreted, but within the school community I felt strong pressure to conform and toe the party line. Ultimately this felt harmful and led to increasing dissatisfaction with the community and church. Disagreeing with a community mindset or individual church’s culture did not cause me to “rebel” by becoming an atheist, but it did make moving away seem much more appealing.