"Yeah, well, you know, that's just like, uh, your opinion, man."

Originalist? Moi?


It's funny how everything seems connected. Makes life more interesting.

I got a new Swiss Army knife yesterday. A Victorinox, Swiss Army Multi-Tool, EvoGrip Pocket Knife (Yellow).

I don't like it. It's too wide. The lock-release interferes with deploying the scissors. The "EvoGrip" feels weird. It lacks the small blade, which would have been a deal-breaker had I noticed. I thought the little nail-file thingy was the small blade, because it doesn't look like a nail-file in the photos. Had I read the description more carefully, I might have noticed, but I'm visual guy first. Anyway, I don't like it.

So I ordered a Victorinox, Swiss Army Multi-Tool, Tinker Pocket Knife. This is identical to a model I had a few models ago, and apart from the absence of a corkscrew, most closely resembles my idea of the ideal Swiss Army Knife. It's Red, it's the ideal width, it feels "right" in your hand, it's got the appropriate assortment of tools. I should have ordered this in the first place.

Pocket knives, I'm sure, are one of those things a lot of people, men in particular, are very opinionated about. Opinionated to the point of passionate. It's a guy-thing. I'm probably just shy of passionate, but I am strongly opinionated. The Tinker has a parcel hook, and it made me laugh in the photos that they illustrate using the parcel hook by using a photo of opening a pull-tab on an aluminum can! Never use it for that. Blasphemy! The parcel hook is for carrying packages (parcels) by the string, from back in the day before we used miles of plastic tape to seal boxes and drove everywhere. You could walk home from the post office, holding your parcel from the hook of your comfortable, just-the-right-size, Swiss Army Knife and not sever your fingers holding it by the packaging twine.

It still comes in handy like that from time to time. At least, I have a vague memory of using it in that fashion for something. The only thing it's missing is the corkscrew, but since I don't drink wine, and Mitzi doesn't drink anymore, I probably won't miss it.

The most-used blade on a Swiss Army Knife is the small blade, though the bottle-opener is probably a very close second if you prefer your beer in bottles. One uses the small blade to slice through the miles of packaging tape that encloses packages from Amazon that you didn't have to carry home with your parcel hook because Amazon delivers them to your door. The small blade is also safer to use when cutting open those plastic blister packs that hold many of the modern conveniences of life we purchase from retailers. They're designed to protect the product and deter theft, but I'm surprised we don't hear more about severed fingers as people try to open them using kitchen knives, folding knives, machetes, whatever you have lying about with an edge and a point. The small blade is ideal for that, and in a consumer-based society, one should never be very far from a small blade with which to liberate whatever your heart's desire happens to be trapped inside a prison of plastic.

Opinions vary on the other blades, but I find a can opener useful from time to time, and the screwdrivers are essential, especially the phillips.

I always carry a Swiss Army Knife in my pocket.

So, you may be wondering, why I was buying a new one? Because I always carry a Swiss Army Knife in my pocket. I just put it in my pocket and forget about it, knowing that when I need it, it'll be there. Which is a problem on the infrequent occasion of me going to the airport to board a commercial aircraft. Because, you see, for the safety of all the passengers and crew, we cannot be permitted to bring a Swiss Army Knife aboard a commercial aircraft, and I forgot, again, I had mine in my pocket.

I was going to fly to Los Angeles, helping my youngest daughter move to her new apartment, and one of my specific tasks was to carry her cat, Sir Charles. Her original thought was that she would purchase the tickets and I would be a (free) companion fare on her American Express. This implied that I would be in coach, with her, her French bulldog, and the cat. And I am too old for that.

So, flush with my new Social Security income, and being the generous father that I am, I offered to purchase two first-class fares to Los Angeles. That way, we could sit among the well-heeled with our animals and annoy them, instead of the hoi polloi confined in steerage and suffering enough for the privilege of getting to Los Angeles in a reasonable amount of time.

But I'm not a man of unlimited means, and I am blessed with a wife who is skilled at finding the cheapest air fares, even first class. So the cheapest first class fare to LA from Jacksonville involved a flight to Atlanta that departed at 5:30 a.m.

I flew extensively in my working life, and I'd worked out a fairly comprehensive routine that reasonably assured me that I would not be throwing away Swiss Army Knives, or getting invited back to a private booth for an intimate search of my person because I had taken exception to the performance of the TSA agents assessing my overall threat to the safety and security of the aircraft. This wasn't my first rodeo. But, because I haven't flown in some time, and I'm not a morning person, and I was somewhat preoccupied by the uncertainty that my daughter would not be arriving in time to actually make the flight, I didn't observe my usual routine in preparing for this flight and forgot about my Swiss Army Knife in my left front pocket until we got to security (in the nick of time, as it happened) and started emptying my pockets. There was no time to fill out a mailer and mail it back to myself. And I'm loath to think of some security clerk amassing a collection of Swiss Army Knives at my expense just a bit more than I'm loath to consigning it to a landfill where it may or may not one day be excavated by some future archeologist, I tossed it into the trash and cursed the fear we Americans have that allows us to willingly surrender our civil liberties.

So, everything seems connected, as I mentioned above. I'd ordered the yellow "EvoGrip" knife on Monday. On Monday evening, Mitzi and I watched Netflix and a standup comedian named Ronny Chieng in a show called Asian Comedian Destroys America! Highly recommended. In his show, he contrasts how foreigners view America with how Americans view America. Foreigners tend to be far more appreciative than Americans. To Americans, "everything sucks!" And he makes reference to TSA, "TSA sucks! (Trying to save everyone.)" I'm paraphrasing because I don't recall his exact words. But the idea is that TSA is actually a good thing. Which made me sad. Because it's not, really.

Anyway, also in the show and that particular part of the routine is a riff about the abundance in America. How much stuff we have. So much stuff! There's a long riff about Amazon and Prime and how we order stuff and it's delivered to us instantaneously, nearly. And I thought of my yet-to-be-delivered Swiss Army Multi-Tool, EvoGrip Pocket Knife (Yellow), and how many different models of Swiss Army knives I browsed through before I got suckered into buying that one.

So that was kind of cool.

But that wasn't all. Because, just the Friday night before, at my brother-in-law's house in Irvine, California (Mitzi has family there too, and they graciously allowed us to stay with them for New Year) a vigorous exchange of opposing points of view regarding TSA took place. My brother-in-law has four kids, I think they range in age from 19 to 36 or so, and they were all there that last evening, along with my wife's daughter who's 34 or thereabouts. We had a family dinner together at a restaurant and everyone gathered at my brother-in-law's house afterward and chatted. They filled the living room, so I was seated on the periphery, in the dining room kind of checking in with my daughter before we departed the next morning. There were a number of interesting conversations going on about topical subjects, as one would expect whenever a group of young, intelligent people is together.

At some point, a chair opened up in the living room and I'd already said goodnight to my daughter, so I sat in with the rest of the group. I don't recall exactly how the topic came up, I expect it had something to do with my wife's nephew having to fly back to school the next morning, the topic of air travel came up and, as could have been predicted, I offered my opinions on the experience of flying, and the tragedy of Americans surrendering their rights under the Fourth Amendment for the illusion of security.

Now, I didn't think this would be a controversial view. To my surprise, however, it turned out that I was in the minority. Mitzi's nephew and her daughter were decidedly in favor of TSA screening, in return for the safety and security it supposedly assured. She pointed out that TSA regularly posts images of all the weapons and dangerous items it collects from the traveling public. I pointed out that they routinely fail their own tests, and dangerous weapons are brought aboard aircraft all the time without their knowledge. (I'd actually had a Swiss Army Knife make it through screening when I tossed it in my backpack and figured I'd try to get it through and surrender it if they found it. It works sometimes, sometimes it doesn't. One of the several I've "lost" was discovered on X-Ray, the other time it wasn't.)

As we're going back and forth, and I don't recall everything that was said but I do recall this, my wife's daughter asks me, "So are you an originalist?" in the context of the Constitution. This took me somewhat aback, because "originalists" (which, I could be wrong, but I think are the same as "textualists") are the right-wing folks who believe that we should interpret the Constitution strictly as it is written and not try to instill in it some meaning that was not contemplated at the time of its creation. This took me aback because, in general, I think this is a pretty liberal group, at least I'm pretty sure my wife's daughter is, and I know for damn sure I am, and this suggestion that I was an "originalist" felt like an ad hominem attack.

As an aside, I wondered later how "originalist" anyone who believes in the Bill of Rights could be, since they were added after the Constitution was originally written. I mean, they're an afterthought! Anyway, another time maybe.

I pointed out how meekly we've surrendered our Fourth Amendment rights, while there's a whole lobby that defends Second Amendment rights, even when they assure the mass murder of children.

And then we got into an intense discussion of guns and why people buy and own guns. Also a topic I'm somewhat passionate about. That got kind of interesting, and as it was getting late I think everyone decided nothing would be decided except maybe it was time for bed.

But it was interesting. The question about being "an originalist" stayed with me for some time.

I'm not an originalist, but I do believe in the Bill of Rights. For twenty two years, I was in the profession of arms, a commissioned officer of the United States, under oath to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States." For much of that time, we believed the Soviet Union was the greatest threat to the West, and our "way of life" (chiefly, "freedom" - to buy shit, as it turns out). I believed, quite naively it seems, that I served to preserve our way of life, so that we wouldn't have to live beneath a state security apparatus, surrounded by ubiquitous surveillance, subject to the whims of the members of a police state.

And here we are. That was all just a joke.

But, as it happens, I am something of an originalist.

At least when it comes to the subject of Swiss Army Knives.

Happy New Year?


Well, another decade and I'm still here!

Just got back from almost a week in Los Angeles. My youngest daughter has moved there to pursue her career and I tagged along to help carry her pets and get her set up in her apartment.

It was bittersweet, because this is the first time one of my children is going to be so far from me. But it made me think of my parents and how it might have been for them when I first went off to the Naval Academy, and then went on to my first ship, deployed at the time in the Med. My youngest is older than I was when I landed in Italy and had to figure out the trains to get to Taranto to meet GLOVER (FF-1098). For some reason, as a parent, it didn't come naturally to me to credit my daughter with the same capability that I had to manage my own affairs and solve my own problems.

But as we spent four days together, I think we had some of the best father-daughter conversations we'd ever had. I came away very impressed and proud of the preparations she'd made, and the goals and objectives she'd set for herself. While I still have some anxiety about my little girl (who is, after all, a grown woman) in the great big city, I'm also much more confident that she's going to be fine and have great success.

I did buy her a baseball bat. (Little league, aluminum, shorter, lighter weight. Easier to swing in the tight confines of the apartment. She's a 2nd degree black belt in taekwondo and I reminded her of her stick-fighting training.)

We spent some time with my wife's family while we were there. Mitzi flew into San Diego to be with her daughter and son-in-law. After Caitie and I got her settled, I met up with Mitzi at her brother and sister-in-law's place in Irvine to ring in the New Year and spend a few days visiting.

We viewed the floats from the Tournament of Roses parade at a street exhibition the day after the parade. While I think it was more appealing to Mitzi and her sister-in-law, there were some very impressive creations. It might have been a good opportunity for some interesting photography, but the crowd was a constraint I couldn't really work around. We also visited San Clemente, which I'd never been to before. It was interesting to note some efforts underway to protect a lifeguard facility at the beach that was at risk from either beach erosion or sea level rise. The state was also making some efforts to establish artificial reefs off the beach to help reduce wave energy and therefore beach erosion.

We flew back yesterday. Apart from the separation, one of the things that most troubles me about my daughter being so far away, is that the only practical means of visiting her, or her visiting us, is by air travel, the most carbon-intensive thing we do. I've been retired since 2013, so my air travel has been significantly reduced from what it was when I was working. But I'm still very conscious about the consequences of my choices. While I don't believe it negates the legitimacy of my concerns regarding the climate emergency, it does give me pause. Ideally, we should have regular, high-speed trans-continental rail service by now. I wouldn't mind spending a day or so on a train getting to LA, but the fastest regular rail route from Jax to LA is three and a half days! We really need a significant commitment to overhauling our national transportation infrastructure.

I hope to spend more time here in the year ahead. But I've said that before, and it hasn't worked out that way. This time feels a little different, but maybe it's just my imagination. Time will tell.

Until next time, thanks for dropping by. My best wishes to you for a safe, healthy and peaceful year.