“Time and changes in the condition and [it] may require occasional and corresponding modifications.”Gary Gygax

If you don’t know who Gary Gygax is, he is one of the original creators of Dungeons and Dragons, the pen and paper, sword and sorcery, Cheetos and Mountain dew fueled roleplaying game that has been around for almost half a century. It set the standard for RPG games, both in text and video game form, and it all starts and ends with the D&D Rulebook. It is the tome where all adventures, characters, and worlds begin and end. It is the Bible of the D&D adventures, and it has gone through a lot of revisions. We are on D&D’s 5th Edition as of 2012, and still going, and that makes sense. As the game and its fan base have grown over the decades so has the need for substantial rule and gameplay editions aimed at making the game more enjoyable, more user-friendly, and just more fair for all the players involved… but here is the kick: That above quote is mis-attributed. Gary Gygax never said that, but Thomas Jefferson did, and he was talking about the US Constitution.

Amending the Dragon
Jefferson’s quote goes as follows -and we think it is worth reading in full: Each generation is as independent as the one preceding, as that was of all which had gone before. It has then, like them, a right to choose for itself the form of government it believes most promotive of its own happiness; consequently, to accommodate to the circumstances in which it finds itself that received from its predecessors; and it is for the peace and good of mankind that a solemn opportunity of doing this every 19 or 20 years should be provided by the constitution, so that it may be handed on with periodical repairs from generation to generation to the end of time, if anything human can so long endure.

Despite what you may think of old Tommy J, he was still a Level 20 Constitutional Scholar. He helped write it and he believed firmly that the Constitution should be a living document. He believed that the American people had the right to revisit our founding document every two decades, which also makes sense. The Constitution is basically the D&D Rulebook of government. Sure there are plenty of other sourcebooks that accompany it -The Senate Master’s Guide, the Tax Collector’s Handbook, The Judiciary, and The Forgotten Realms Adventures- but in the end it all stems from this one source. It lays out the basic framework of our government, and to date, there are only 27 amendments, the last of which was created in 1992, and addressed Congressional salary. For comparison, Dungeons and Dragons was in its 2nd edition at that time. That means that the last Constitutional Amendment was made three D&D editions ago…

We have seen more movement on the rules governing D20 dice rolling than we have seen on the rules governing… well governing. Now, some people will argue that is because the founders wanted it that way. After all, in order to properly run a country -much like properly running an adventuring party of five unruly friends with questionable moral compasses- you need a stable set of rules. You don’t want to be changing the basic governing principles every five years to suite the latest needs or crazes. That is why the Congress passes laws. Those laws are meant to be the changing rules that deal with the every day minutia of life, liberty, and the pursuit of the +2 Magic Goblet of Happiness. We understand that, but what happens when the rulebook does not account for all the ways in which the game can be broken?

The Power Players
Any experienced D&D player knows that there are some exploits and multi-class combinations which they can use to make their characters almost uber powerful. Typically these people are called Power-Gamers. They are the ones that figure our how to make characters that deal massive amounts of damage to other creatures, thus giving the GM a headache every time he tries to set up a level-appropriate challenges for the adventuring party. Power-gamers are the people who pour over the rulebook looking for exploits and loopholes, and there are a few. After all, it is a massive game with a lot of varying rules and abilities. That is why one of the reasons why D&D revises their editions is to try and reduce the instances of exploitation that can be used to create unbalanced characters and unfairly tip the game in their direction.

So why would the laws of the United States be any different? After all, people have discovered a fair amount of meta-exploits they can use to power-game the legal system. Issues such as gerrymandering, voter suppression, when executive nominations should be brought to a vote, congressional and judicial term limits, campaign finance, legislative proposal procedures, voting rules, and more are not covered in the Constitution. Thus, these vital rules have been left open to debate by various state legislators, congresses, and judicial courts. We agree that the Constitution should not be a document that is changed with every passing political fad or cultural trend, but it does need to be a rulebook that enshrines how to fairly and accurately create those laws, which are meant to deal with those issues. Right now there is a lot that is left open to interpretation and house rules.

House Rules are basically the verbal agreements that players of D&D make with each other on how to use certain mechanics or improve upon parts of game play that make sense for the group of people at the moment. It is a fine way for friends to find play styles that best suit their own individual tastes and come to an understanding of the social norms that dictate how things should be done. For the government, there are a lot of these “house rules.” For instance a house rule for the Senate may be that senators trade votes on issues, or the sanctity of good-faith debates. However, the problem with these norms is that they can easily be broken with no consequences other than a tsk, tsk from your fellow players. In a D&D group that could mean bad feelings and group chaos, but in the halls of Congress that could mean outright governmental dysfunction. That is why we need to start relying on our Constitution to enshrine some of the more sensible ideas as hard rules.

We have done this in the past. The most prominent example is when the 32nd Level President, Franklin Roosevelt, stuck around in office for more than two terms. Up until that point Presidential term limits had only been a norm. The two term limit started back when the original GM, George Washington set the house rule in 1797. FDR, however, decided that he would just keep going, and there was really no way to stop him. So in 1951, Congress ratified the 22nd Amendment which officially limited the President to two terms in office. It was a good idea, and revising or even just adding several new amendments could really help a lot of the more intuitive norms of our government become unbreakable rules. As we have found out over the past two-years social norms are not strong enough to stop some players from ignoring them. Even worse, confusing rules -or often times unclear grammar and spelling- can embolden these players to do things that the original framers of the rulebook never intended.

A secondary reason to create a revised rulebooks in the gaming world, is because humans are just not perfect, even after fifteen rounds of editing, and that is true of our founding document as well. We’re sorry to break this to you, but -grammatically speaking- the US Constitution is far from perfect and far from clear. For example, the 26th Amendment reads: “The right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age.” Grammatically, that makes very little sense. If you break that sentence down by its commas, it is literally saying that all United States Citizens are eighteen years or older… and by the way their right to vote cannot be denied or infringed. Also, that amendment is not some archaic piece of legislation from the horse and carriage days. It was ratified in 1971. Even worse is the ambiguous grammar and punctuation of the 2nd Amendment, but we have talked about that before, so we won’t go back into it. D&D and other roleplaying games are often forced to release errata to their preexisting rules. These are clarifications meant to clear up ambiguously worded rules or fix other problematic ideas that cannot wait for a new print edition. Jefferson and Madison cannot do that, mostly because they do not have wifi where they are. So, instead, we need to admit all we really have in the US Constitution is a good first edition, but it might be time to move out of beta…

Succeeding over a DC 1789
There is also another reason was have seen 5+ versions of the D&D Rulebook, and that is improvement. The first version of the game was “fine,” but we have played it and from experience we can tell you that it seems a bit lackluster, and the rules are definitely broken or nonsensical in some places. If you go back and play the first version after playing the iterations that have come after it, then it is very easy to see why the game needed to keep growing, and testing, and trying new ideas and mechanics before it became game that nerds in basements all over the world have fallen in love with. Yet, that did not happen all at once. No, continuing improving the game’s core rulebook has led to a better and robust game. Sure there have been some pitfalls along the way, *cough* version 4e *cough* but on the whole the process has produced better results than what we would have gotten if we had just strayed with version 1 for the past five decades. When Dungeons and Dragons was first launched in 1972 the game was new and innovative. Pen and paper RPGs were not as ubiquitous or time-tested as they are today.

Similarly, the US Constitution was unique when it was first created, and yes there was some beta testing by the Greeks, Romans, and Iroquois, but the US system was something fresh in the world. It would make sense that the first version might need some tweaking and revision as the years went on, and to its credit the document has been changed a bit since its original inception. After all, the founding fathers did believe that it should be a living document and did include a way to create amendments. Unfortunately, they made that process incredibly hard to accomplish. Currently, the only way to make an amendment is either by a two-thirds vote by the House and the Senate, or through a Constitutional Convention called for by two-thirds of the State legislatures. In our gridlocked and polarized times, both those two things are as likely as three Critical Rolls in a row. Basically, the document might as well be under a Flesh to Stone spell for all the progress it is going to make in our current political climate.

The unfortunate part is that our current political climate is exactly why we may need to make some revisions. Rules that would ensure a speedy nomination processes, a balanced budget, congressional term limits, judicial term limits, public financing for campaigns, better anti-corruption rules, a right to privacy for all citizens, fair and representative political districts, a federal right to vote -which we do not actually have at this moment-, and possibly even direct Presidential elections as opposed to the electoral college. Now, all of these are just suggestions, and are more or less covered -sometimes inadequately- by other laws, but enshrining them in our highest rulebook… err Constitution might go a long way to help re-balance this game which we call democracy.

Casting Magic Miscellaneous References
Now, you may think we are being ridiculous, comparing the US Constitution to one of the most successfully games ever created… Fine, that is your opinion, but using the principles of a game is not a crazy way to help craft policy or to create a better set of rules for governance. Ultimately that is exactly what the framers were doing. They were creating a set of rules by which they and everyone else would abide by when playing this game of American Democracy. Revising the Constitution could be a good way to remove the power from power-gamers, such a special interest groups and political parties. We could reset the rules so that everyone can have a fair and fun adventuring party as we set out to tackle the dungeons of global uncertainty, or drink ale together in the tavern of political discourse.

No game is ever perfect in its first version. Any game designer will tell you that no matter how you plan or what you do, there are always people out there who will figure out ways to get around rules or break the system for their benefit. Revising rulebooks and taking into account what works and what does not is a good way to correct some of those unforeseeable problems. It is the same for the Constitution. It should not be a static document, and yet the farther from its original creation we have come, the less and less we seem willing to change it… which is crazy.

The Constitution should be an evolving set of rules by which we can keep the intention of our original game designers alive. D&D also teaches us one more important thing that we need to remember. This game should not be about competition, but cooperation. We need rules that help us work together fairly, whether our goal is slaying a dragon or reducing our debt crisis, because at the end of the day we are all players on the same team and we are all friends.

Games give you a chance to excel, and if you’re playing in good company you don’t even mind if you lose because you had the enjoyment of the company during the course of the game -Thomas Jefferson… err Gary Gygax

Social Credit

Have you ever watched Black Mirror and thought, “That’s terrifying, but it could never actually happen?” Well, our pals over in China are about to test out at least one of those modern and terrifying concepts… and its not the one that involves the pig. China is introducing a Social Credit System which should be fully active by 2020. In essence, Chinese citizens will be assigned a “citizen score” which will determine how many perks or punishments they will receive in their everyday lives. It’s essentially a version of the Black Mirror episode, Nosedive starring Bryce Dallas Howard… or -if you are like us- it is also kind of like that Community episode, App Development and Condiments. And if you are confused, let us explain:

Jeff Winging It
You see Community was an underrated Dan Harmon show -the Rick and Morty guy- that lasted for six seasons -without a movie- on various networks and platforms and was an absolutely stupendously fabulous… Oh, you thought we were going to explain the Chinese Social Credit System? Fine, I guess we can talk about that too…

The Social Credit System is the Chinese government’s newest experiment in controlling their citizens. In a way, it is actually a fairly genius idea. It essentially gamifies the idea of citizenship. Chinese citizens earn a points for doing things that fall inline with the ideals of their government: paying taxes on time, being a loyal party member, shopping at the right stores, visiting the right websites, etc. Their score also decreases for doing things that are not inline with the ruling party of China: visiting the wrong websites, committing crimes, speaking out against the government, reading the wrong sorts of articles, spending too much times playing video games -yes they can monitor that- or posting on social media about controversial topics. Having a high Citizen Score means getting discounts on hotels, car rentals, insurance, and getting paperwork, like visas, fast-tracked. Having a low Citizen Score means going on a public blacklist, getting denied admittance to the best hotels, having your children denied entry into the best schools, only being able to use low speed internet, getting denied job opportunities, not getting approved for certain permits, and being banned from travel on flights or trains.

In the world of Community, when the gang is introduced to the MeowMeowBeanz app which allows people to rate other people based upon their agreeableness and interactions it only takes about three hours for the school to devolve into an homage of Logan’s Run. Anyone with the best score is elevated to the level of gods, while anyone with a score of 1 MeowMeowBean or lower is banished to the Outlands. The episode’s premise is treated with the usual tongue-in-cheek nonchalance which the show is famous for, but it does lampoon a very scary idea, which is not that far off, and we’re not even talking about just in China.

Abed You Didn’t See that Coming
What China is doing is as ingenious as it is evil. The systems they are using: facial recognition, pattern data, internet cookies, and more are already in place. They were not put there by the Chinese government, but by tech firms and corporations in order to track our spending habits and better collect data on how we live our lives. All China is doing is connecting these systems into one big massive citizenship game that emphasizes their values and interests as a country and de-emphasizes the elements of society they wish to see eradicated. That is gamification in a nut shell. It is the idea of using our human love of competition and earning rewards in order to modify our behavior through a game-like mechanic. Companies and people, like comedian Samantha Bee, already use gamification to promote all sorts of behaviors. In the instance of Sam Bee she create an app meant to get people to register to vote… which is a good thing… but where does this idea end?

You may want to judge China for creating such a system, but the truth is that it is actually just the next technological step to things we are already doing today. Our government already regulates criminal behavior and give incentives for good behavior. Various crimes carry appropriate punishments based on how heinous they are to our value system. We implement policies to change people’s behavior all the time. In a rudimentary way our laws and tax breaks are meant as signposts of how citizens should behave, and what they are supposed to value as a society. However, they are also inefficient. The Social Credit System of China is essentially a 2.0 model for social engineering, and we know its effective because it may not even need to be mandatory. China’s system will become compulsory starting in 2020, but their pilot version is working right now, and those using it tend to respond positively. Now take into account that only the good citizens would probably willfully apply to this system, and saying anything bad about the system may actually cause your score to go down… so its a grain-of-salt-type-thing, but there is a lot of incentive to join systems like this, especially if they are beneficial to the individual.*

MeowMeowBeanz was entirely voluntary. It was an app that people could either download or not download, but through a combination of social forces, competitiveness, and potential rewards everyone in the school -even Jeff Winger- eventually succumbed to the peer pressure and contributed to the ensuing hellscape -and out-of-place Tim and Eric cameos- that became Greendale. It’s like if we offered to mail you a ten dollar bill simply for giving this article a good review. Why not? Ten dollars is ten dollars… but what if we then threatened to take ten dollars from you if you reviewed us negatively. Well, that is even more incentive to give us a good review. After all, what does it matter: it’s just an internet article… its just paying your taxes on time, its just not sharing that possibly-negative-meme-that compares Xi Jinping with Winnie the Pooh, it’s just not speaking out against the human rights violations you see being committed by your government, its just choosing to keep your head down and remain purposely unaware of anything that might make you uncomfortable or affect your citizen score…

*Please note that we are not saying these megalomaniac-super-villain-esque plot by the Chinese government is at all good. We believe that it is scary and dystopian and almost as bad as anything Mark Zuckerberg has done. We are just saying it may be incredibly effective.

Better Britta than Dead
Now, we are not saying that the US Government or the UK or the EU or even New Zealand -We got our eyes on you New Zealand- are going to implement a state-wide citizen score system anytime soon, but they may not have too. China’s influence is rapidly expanding across Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Europe with the construction of their New Silk Road. Countries are lining up to get the benefit of Chinese products and trade, and that also means more incentive to enact laws that better align a country with China. This is conjecture, but that might be enough incentive for countries -especially more authoritarian ones- to start using this social credit model. In essence, China could start rating countries the way it rates its own citizens, and in the end it may all be done voluntarily.

Simply creating a system like this is often enough to draw people in and start them on a path to a tiered social system where all those with the power have to do is sit back in their white robes and enjoy luxury as the lowest rungs toil under a surveillance state of their own making with nobody to blame but the people who try to speak out against it… and Britta Perry. It will be interesting to see how this Social Credit System works going forward, and if it is successful we may find ourselves in a new and unfamiliar world.



Revenge of the Sith is mostly Revenge of the Sh… well… you get what we’re saying. However, there is something for which we should give them more credit. George Lucas’ prequels -made between 1999 and 2005- actually give us some surprising insights into our own times, here in the United States. No, we are not talking about the racists overtones of Jar Jar Binks, the rise of the American Order of Jedi, or the fact that Chris Christie is a Hutt. We are talking about the fact that prequels give us a surprisingly realistic insight into the rise of fascism… yeah, its going to be a long one.

…With Thunderous Applause
As Americans we have sort of a general lexiconal idea of Fascism. We banter it around enough that we think we understand what it is, but the truth is that we don’t… and that can be dangerous. The United States, much like the Galactic Republic at the beginning of the Clone Wars is already in the first stages of fascism. Many people will reject that statement, because they think they know what fascism is, and again… they are wrong. People think of Germany in 1940 and say that is fascism: the marching, the swastikas, the vilifying of the free press, the persecution of minorities, the shouting crazy man who holds rallies… hmm… Well, that is fascism too, but remember Germany did not turn into that over night. It was a process that transformed the Weimar Republic into the Third Reich. It was a process that transformed the Old Republic into the Galactic Empire, and if we aren’t careful it could transform us as well.

The word “fascism” comes from “fasces” or “fascio littorio.” That is a bunch of rods tied around an axe. In ancient Rome it was used to symbolize the authority of the magistrate, and was used for corporal and capital punishment. Mussolini and his compatriots in the early 20th century picked the symbol as a show of unity and strength, but the truth of fascism is that it is a movement that is typified not in unity, but in opposition. In Germany and Italy before World War II, it rose in opposition to Communism and Liberalism. That is important to remember, because even though it was called the “National Socialist German Workers’ Party” the Nazi’s were not socialists. It’s a purposely misleading name, like the “People’s Republic of China” or “Award Winning Director JJ Abrams.” Nazis despised the idea of socialism. Fascism is the opposite of socialism. It is about rationing resources for the select and worthy few, the “right” people.

At the start of A New Hope Palpatine disbands the Imperial Senate, ridding the Empire of the last vestige of liberal democracy. That is important, because fascism is a reaction against liberal democracy. The Emperor gives direct control over the systems to the governors and moffs, the strongmen of Imperial society. They were the wealthy, the connected, and the loyal. In essence they were the “right” sort of people. Fascism thrives in societies of strongman machismo and totalitarian one-party rule, but that doesn’t happen overnight. Military coups and juntas are quick and bloody, but electoral authoritarians come to power gradually. They chip away at democratic institutions until they are toothless or non-existent. Fascism isn’t an overnight event. Despite Padme’s on-the-nose proclamation at the announcement of the formation of the Galactic Empire, she did not suddenly wake up that morning and find herself in a totally new government. She had been living under fascism for a long time, but she never realized it.

The Prequels We Don’t Talk About
Robert Paxton, is one of the most acclaimed authorities on the study of fascism and authoritarianism. We giving you a very brief argument here, but if you are interested in learning more you should check out his writings. Paxton, claims that there are five stages of fascism, and they are worth talking about:

  1. Intellectual Exploration, where disillusionment with popular democracy manifests itself in discussions of lost national vigor;
  2. Rooting, where a fascist movement, aided by political deadlock and polarization, becomes a player on the national stage;
  3. Arrival to Power, where conservatives seeking to control rising leftist opposition invite the movement to share power;
  4. Exercise of Power, where the movement and its charismatic leader control the state in balance with state institutions such as the police and traditional elites; and
  5. Radicalization or Entropy, where the state either becomes increasingly radical, or slips into traditional authoritarian rule.

In Star Wars we see all of these five stages. Intellectual exploration happens in Episode I when Chancellor Valorum is ousted with a vote of no-confidence, after it is shown that the Galactic Republic has no way to enforce laws in regards to the Trade Federation’s blockade of Naboo, a core world. This also shows stage two, Rooting, where deadlock and polarization in the senate give rise to Palpatine, a strongman leader who becomes a player on the galactic political stage. Arrival to Power happens when the Clone Wars begin. Palpatine uses the existential threat for the Separatists to rally the senate and the people. The other politicians -Jar Jar Binks- invite Palpatine to have emergency powers in order to control the rising threat and benefit themselves. The fourth stage, Exercise of Power happens throughout the three-year conflict of the Clone Wars. Palpatine rules in balance with the existing laws, while slowly chipping away at them in the name of security. He uses the fear of the people to reduce their rights and make the Galactic Republic into a more militaristic society. We even see the Jedi transform from peace loving monks into battle-hardened generals.

The final stage, Radicalization or Entropy is what Padme remarks on that day in the Senate. Palpatine has successfully won the Clone Wars. He has convinced the people of the evils of the Jedi and the justification for their eradication. He has scapegoated them, and in that zeal of victory he makes the people fear the all-powerful menace of the Jedi. So, with a promise of a greater future, greater protections, and the rebirth of the galaxy, he proclaims the formation of the Galactic Empire. Yet, that Empire had been growing all along. Radicalization comes when the populace fully accept the myth of the fascist state. The Galactic Empire radicalized many of its citizens, but it also forced many more into complacent acceptance of the new status quo. Palpatine accomplished this through a slow series of changes that resulted in a larger radical shift in galactic politics. It was done through cunning, patience, but also fear.

Fear will Keep the System Inline
This brings us to the second part of fascism. It is about excluding people, and scapegoating others for your troubles. In Germany those troubles were heavy economic woes brought about by the Great Depression and the harsh penalties inflicted on the German people after WWI. Jews were the easy target for blame and resentment. They were culturally apart, but they also tended to be fairly affluent. In a way they were like the Jedi, different and enviable. Palpatine blamed the Jedi at the formation of the Galactic Empire and used them as another threat to help unify the people’s hatred. He also “dehumanized” non-humans -such as wookiees- who became slave laborers and second-class citizens. The human population of the Empire was given a place of high regard. They were special, the “right” type of people. This is a page from the fascist playbook.

The Nazis also blamed the international community. Hitler and his ilk isolated Germany from the world, and transformed it into a militaristic society.  At its core, a fascism state is a cult of personality, often centered around a populist nationalism that embraces a rebirth myth. Fascism feeds on people’s fears, but also on their anger. Fascists often walk an odd line between playing the victim and being the bully. It is a philosophy meant to convince the people that they have been unfairly treated by their enemies, and only the strongman, the great leader, is the one who is capable of saving them. As such that means the people can trust no one else, but him. This is often an appealing lie that removes blame and shifts responsibility.

People were drawn to the Nazi cause, because it offered the German people an alternate explanation to their woes. It wasn’t their fault they were poor. It was an international Jewish conspiracy that kept down the German people. In reality, the German people were the master race, the “right” people. Hitler gave them an attractive myth to latch on to. The Third Reich wasn’t conquering the world, they were retaking it and placing the Aryan race back on top where it belonged. Hitler was making Germany Great Again.

That is the appeal of fascism. It is seen as a return to some imagined past, or some fictional right of heritage. We like to think that we -in the United States- are somehow immune to this phenomena. We look around us and say, “We’re not in danger of becoming a fascist country, because no one is out there hanging swastikas and iron crosses. No one is talking about rounding up the Jewish people. No one is goose-stepping or doing the Hitler salute in the streets…” but that’s not fascism, that’s Nazism. Italian fascism had its own trappings, which were different than those of their German counterparts. The most effective symbols of fascism in any country are the familiar ones, the ones that can be twisted to mean something new. These new symbols will resonate with the people of the country. In this country our fascist symbols could take the form of an ultra-obsession with the flag, or a near-fanatical devotion to the National Anthem. They could be symbols as simple as a red hat, or polo shirts, or monuments to slavery… and that’s the point. If you think it cannot happen here, than you would be wrong, because it very nearly did once before.

Not So Long Ago in a Place Not So Far Far Away
The United States was never immune to the dark side of fascism. In July of 1942, a Gallup poll showed that 1 in 6 Americans thought Hitler was “doing the right thing” to the Jews, and a 1940 poll found that nearly 20% of Americans saw Jews as a national “menace,” which was more than any other group in the US, including Germans. One third of Americans believed that there would be “a widespread campaign against the Jews,” and 12% of Americans were willing to support it. The German-American Bund held a rally at Madison Square Garden in New York in 1939, to a crowd of 20,000. It was complete with swastikas, American flags, and goose-stepping. Their leader, attacked President Roosevelt, calling him “Frank D Rosenfeld” and referred to the New Deal the “Jew Deal.” Then there was also William Dudley Pelley, a radical journalist from Massachusetts.

He founded the Silver Legion of America, or the Silver Shirts. They were a truly American fascist movement that ticked off almost every single box of American fascism. He opposed Roosevelt, believed in isolationism, ran for president, and was ultimately arrested for treason and sedition. He also believed in UFO’s and the sort of spiritualism that let you travel to other plains of existence. In essence, he was a laughable figure that no one could take seriously… except that people did, and except that people said the same thing about Hitler right before he took power. Fascist movements hardly start as mainstream. They are fringe groups:,laughingstocks, failed painters, or even reality TV stars who are thrust into power and bolstered by conservatives as a quick way to gain power and/or oppose a rising liberalism.

In the 1940’s American fascism began to grow for a few main reasons, fear of communism, the economic depression, a distrust/fear of the Jews, and as a reaction to Roosevelt and his New Deal, which many perceived as dangerous socialism. So in 2018, is it so hard to believe that fascism can grow again? People don’t fear communism anymore, but they do fear the affects of globalism. Maybe there is no Great Depression, but you do have a lot of downtrodden people who feel forgotten by the government and the mega-wealthy of our time. Also, a modern day fascism is not going to target the Jewish people as their scapegoat. It will target more vulnerable people, like immigrants and Muslims. It is worth noting that Hitler was praised by Christians, like American pastor and Presidential advisor Frank Buchman who said in 1936, “I thank heaven for a man like Adolf Hitler… who built a front line of defense against the anti-Christ of communism.” Ultimately, modern day American fascism will be a reaction to progressive policies and politicians, such as Obama and policies like Obamacare. Yet, most importantly they will not call it fascism or Nazism. They will call it something new… like Trumpism.

Yes, American fascism is already here. We are not Germany in 1941, but what if we are Germany in 1928, or Germany in 1932? What if we are the Galactic Republic right before the Clone Wars? We have a misguided belief that our institutions, our checks and balances will save us, but according to Robert Paxton they have already failed us. The Third Reich didn’t spring up over night. Hitler came to power -without being popularly elected- because the Weimer Republic was plagued with corruption and ineffectiveness. Its institutions failed long before Hitler became chancellor. The Old Republic Senate was ineffective and no longer represented the will of the people, even as one of their own core worlds was being starved and occupied by an army. It failed, long before Palpatine came to power.

That’s No Moon… It’s a Dictator
If fascism is taking hold in America -and it is- than our systems have already failed us. We have an electorate where the overwhelming majority of people support issues like gun control, healthcare, and yet our politicians do not act or make laws in accordance with the majority of that electorate. Instead they act with lobbyists, and we all just take it for granted. We laugh it off and say “well you know politicians.” That’s the same complacency that has allowed fascist states to flourish both on this planet and others. Donald Trump was not popularly elected. He was a joke at first, but its not funny anymore. He has the full support of the American Nazi Party and the KKK. According to a recent study by George Washington University, over the last five years white nationalist and neo-fascist movements in the US have grown by 600% on Twitter, outperforming ISIS in number of followers and in number of tweets.

This is where we would usually end this article with some cutesy and corny Star Wars metaphor or bad joke, but we don’t want to. You may laugh off this article or the things we are warning. You may say we are being paranoid or hysterical, but remember this: The majority of German citizens in the 1930’s were not part of the Nazi party. They were just ordinary people who got swept up. They were as smart and as real as you are right now. The truth that if you -the person reading this- had lived during that time, there is a good chance you would have got swept up too, assuming you were the “white”… err “right” type of people. There is a good chance that you would have been sent off to die for the glory of Fatherland and the Aryan race, and truly believed it was justified. That is Stage 5 Fascism. That is Radicalization.  America is not there yet, but that also does not mean that we are not at one of those lower stages.

The real question is which one?

Designated Survivor

We don’t normally comment on brand new shows at The NYRD, but it is worth talking about Designated Survivor, the Kiefer Sutherland political thriller about how a terrorist organization blows up the Capitol building killing most of the American government and leaving an earnest and inexperienced Housing and Urban Development Secretary as President of the United States. It is not the plot or the characters that we want to discuss but the deeper implications that such a show offers about the current American mindset and the fun-house mirror reflection that it casts on our current Reality-Star-in-Chief.

Mr. Kirkman Goes to Washington
It is worth remembering that Designated Survivor, premiered in the Fall of 2016, two full months before the election of Donald Trump. Yet the issues that the show tackled with casting the unassuming Tom Kirkman as President were very present in the political landscape of the election and the aftermath. We have mentioned before how our fictional Presidents often seem to be created in response to our actual Presidents, but with Kirkman and Trump there is something more going on. Not only did Kirkman precede Trump, but the turmoil surrounding his Presidency shares tones with The Donald’s ascent to power.

The most important correlation comes from the fact that both Kirkman and Trump are more or less Independents. Yes, Trump has an (R) next to his name, but there are also several asterisks next that too -and there will probably will be several more before the year is up. There is something about a man who holds no allegiance to any particular political party that is appealing to the American voting and viewing public, at this moment in history. Of course, that was evident in the campaigns leading up to the election, with the rise of candidates like Trump and Bernie Sanders. The difference -of course- is that Kirkman leans left, and Trump leans somewhere right of Stalin, but they are still both non-political outsiders who inexplicably found themselves in the most powerful seat in the world.

TV shows, like Designated Survivor, shoot their episodes several months before airing, and are written at least a few months before that. Stunt shots, location scouting, even craft services need to be set up well ahead of premiere time. Story-arcs and plot lines are developed so far in advance of air dates that it is hard for TV shows to really make concise comments about breaking news -except if you’re South Park. Still, even with that lag time it is obvious that the writers and producers were aware of this trend in American politics, -primaries seem to go on for years and years in advance of the actual election- and decided to capitalize on it for their show. Yet, we cannot imagine even they realized how cogent and timely some of their themes would end up being past November 9, 2016.

Spoilers in Politics
There has been criticism of the heavy-handed way in which Designated Survivor sometimes goes out of its way to criticize Trump, and we cannot argue that. This is Hollywood after all, and the second half of the first season -filmed after the November election- definitely made more than a few coy winks and nods at the idiocy of our actual President. Filming for Designated Survivor, began in July 2016, but did not wrap-up for the season until April 2017. Though we doubt it altered the overall story-arc of the show, the course of our real elections did give writers plenty of opportunities to tackle issues such as Supreme Court nominees, a politically motivated congress, refugee bans, military operations, and other C-plot political crises that demonstrated how well the serious and academic-minded Kirkman was able to handle governing as opposed to other current Presidents who will remain nameless… except if you look at one of his buildings.

The haters will call it “liberal Hollywood commentary,” and the cheerleaders will call it, “screw you President Orangeman,” but regardless of intent, comparisons will always be drawn between fictional and non-fictional Presidents. So, let’s go ahead and just do that right now: Tom Kirkman is a former architectural college professor who does not naturally seek the spotlight, and values his family above everything else. He is level-headed, rational, and fully cognizant of the weight and complexity of the office he must burden and the issues he faces on a daily basis. On the other side is Trump, a former building tycoon, a consummate con-man and reality star, who has had so many wives he has stopped counting. He is ruled by his emotions and his Twitter thumbs, and -for some reason– believed that being President was going to be easier than being a trust-fund baby who played golf all day and drove casinos into the ground. Kirkman shows a firm understanding of history and civics. Meanwhile it is questionable if Trump even understands the basic layout or function of the three branches of our government.

One of those is a description of a Presidential character so unrealistic that the pitch for it would have been laughed out of every TV executive’s office in Hollywood… the other is a character played by Kiefer Sutherland. However, these forced comparisons and the show’s obvious commentary are not really what we want to talk about. After all, anyone could write a show to overtly criticize the President -we’re pretty sure that is still legal. Anyone can write a scene where President Kirkman goes to a NATO summit and is articulate, well-meaning, and measured among our allies… you know, like an adult, and set it up in opposition to a real-life NATO meeting where our allies have to keep their comments to below four minutes to keep The Donald’s attention from wandering… you know, like a child. No, we do not want to focus on those obvious constructed moments. What we really want to talk about is the deeper implications.

The Unconscious Current
TV Presidents, like Designated Survivors‘ Tom Kirkman often arise as unconscious desires and feelings driving the American viewers. These same currents also drive us at the voting booth. They are worth examining. The rise of Kirkman and Trump show that America is looking for an Independent, someone new who is not beholden to the old political machinations of Washington. However unlike Trump, Kirkman is an every-man, Sure he is an academic, but his views on issues tend to reflect the majority opinion of Americans. Moreover, Kirkman inherited a country that was in an actual life-or-death crisis, as opposed to Trump -who only thought that, and- actually inherited a relatively peaceful country in the midst of an economic upturn and record low crime rates. Yet, we can also not deny that there is still some sense of overwhelming dread in the factual America. It is a sense that we have gone through some great tragedy in Washington, a perspective shift in how we see ourselves and our country. For Designated Survivor this comes in the form of an actual terrorist attack, but for us it something more subtle: foreign cyber-hacking, immigration issues, or just the felt affects of globalization. Designated Survivor manifests our feelings in a tangible and knowable way, and it sets up a competent -but not perfect- President to deal with it.

The overall plot of the first season deals with defeating the terrorist organization responsible for the bombing, but it is not an Islamic one. In the end, we learn that the terrorism that most affects the nation are not from Islamic extremists, but from crazy white people believing what they read on Twitter, all the while believing that they were doing the best thing for America. There can be an argument made that the make-up of the final conspiracy/terrorism group was altered a bit to more closely resemble Alt-Right ideals, but Designated Survivor did a pretty good job in the first half of the season -the pre-election half- of illustrating that the perpetrators of the bombing were always going to be an organization very similiar to what we think of as Alt-Right nationalist groups. The show’s Pax Americana group are extremists who ultimately believe that America had fallen from grace. They are authoritarians who follow a strongman leader that believes that the country is faltering in the light of refugees, globalization, and other “liberal” ideals. In a sense they want to return to an idealized past, in an attempt to make America… something… Again. You get the point.

The great attack perpetrated against America in Designated Survivor does not come from without, but from misguided patriots manipulated through false dogma. In the fictional America of the show, this group uses their influence and power to blow up the Capitol building, and throw a megaton brick through the window of the Washington establishment. Meanwhile, in our world a group of very similarly minded individuals spread false news and inflamed Facebook and Twitter to set off a bomb in the halls of Washington by the name of Donald Trump. In essence, Donald Trump is our national crisis, except unlike Designated Survivor we do not have a Tom Kirkman to guide us through.

Now, we are not making the explicit claim that all of this was done without forethought. On the contrary, some TV writers and producers are very good at anticipating the next big thing, and by the time of July 2016 it was hard not see the orange iceberg on the horizon -even if we thought we were going to miss it. The writers of Designated Survivor are semi-conscious humans living on this planet, so it is no surprise that they grasped at least some of the underlying tensions of the past Presidential race. However, the comparisons, the reflections, and all the rest would not resonate with the American viewing public unless there was not a majority of viewers ready to accept the reality and concepts of the show. The success of Designated Survivor comes from the fact that it touches a relevant nerve in us, and really that says more about the reign of Donald Trump than anything else we ever could.

Science March

They came out. They came out in their lab coats. They came out in their rain ponchos. They came out in their Starfleet uniforms. They came out in their Ms. Frizzle and Captain Planet outfits. Even The Doctor came out. They came out with signs, and slogans, and science-jokes. Yes they did, despite the rain and the heat and the cold. Scientists and science-supporters alike all came out for this past weekend’s Science March. In similiar fashion to the Woman’s March, April 22nd’s March for Science took place, not just in Washington DC, but across the nation and across the world. Over 15,000 marched in Washington; 12,000 in Los Angeles; 20,000 in New York, 40,000 in Chicago, and even 2,000 in Oklahoma City. Over 600 marches took place on Saturday, not just in the United States but also in cities like London, Sydney, Auckland, and more. 10,000 people marched in Philadelphia, which included a few members of the NYRD staff.

The Science March was not a condemnation of anyone or anything -not even the Orangeman-in-Chief. No, it was about supporting science and science-based reasoning. It was, as the organizers put it, “political, but not partisan.” However, we also must acknowledge that these marches are in response to many of the policies of Donald Trump and his top law makers in the Senate and Congress. Scott Pruit, the EPA chief, is a known climate-denier. The Donald is threatening to cut science spending by more than 10% in his budget proposal. Climate change is continuously questioned by the GOP. And all of these are cases of lawmakers not understanding or downright denying real and verifiable facts. These reasons, and more, are why we need events like the Science March.

Scientists are not always known for their politics. In fact, when the Science March was first conceived there was an argument over whether it was a worthwhile idea. Many people hesitate to politicize science anymore than it already has been, but the truth is that if scientists are not part of the policy conversation, than they have no notable impact in the decisions being made. The Science March is a march of necessity, made in hopes of making a better and more rational future. However, Saturday’s demonstrations were only the beginning. Now the real work must commence.

Take a look at the gallery below to see some of Saturday’s marchers and the causes that rallied them on a rainy weekend morning in the city of brotherly love. Don’t forget to share and do your part to support science-based policy.

Dear Great Britain,

When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation… but on this side of the Atlantic we’re not entirely sure you have done that adequately. Speaking as friends, we’re concerned for you. We just want to make sure that you have really thought out this whole “Brexit” thing. Leaving the European Union is a big decision and maybe its time we had a real conversation about that.

In a week’s time it will be 240 years since we last sent you a formal letter of declaration. We all know how that one turned out, but if We the People of the United States were to be really honest with ourselves, the truth is that a lot of our reasons for leaving the British Empire were specious at best. In fairness, you treated us better than we usually like to admit. So please know we completely understand the impulse to be rebellious for no other reason than anger and the desire to thumb your nose at the establishment. However, our circumstances were also not the same. In 1776 we were colonies with no representation in Parliament and no choice but to follow your rules. In 2016, the United Kingdom was not a colony of the European Union, but a voluntary member. You had a vote -and an important vote- in how things were done. Now, thanks to Brexit you have thrown that away, and there are going to be consequences… for all of us.

To be James Blunt about it, your actions have weakened your own country, weakened Europe, and weakened global stability. There is now a very real possibility that Scotland and even Northern Ireland will be leaving the United Kingdom in order to stay members of the EU. For anyone who voted for Brexit with delusions of getting the old Empire back together, than that notion should be quickly dispatched. Speaking as a former colony, those days are gone, and now you are on the verge of losing at least half of what you still have, including the lucrative oil fields of Scotland. Yet, the problem goes much deeper than that, because the European Union is now weaker and may even face similiar referendums from hard-line conservatives in places like France. A united Europe has been good for the world, especially when it came to dealing with threats like Russian aggression, piracy, and terrorism. An EU without the might of Britain and especially its military will no longer be as strong or connected.

Many Americans do not yet understand the ramifications of Brexit. Some will even incorrectly applaud it as a “blow for freedom,” or other such cliched rhetoric, but it will affect us as it will affect the world. The day after the Brexit Referendum passed the global stock markets, including the NYSE, plunged to record lows. The British pound dropped to about $1.37 against the dollar, the lowest it had been in decades. Even worse, America has now lost its most trustworthy ally in the EU. Great Bee, we know you always have our backs and we will always have yours, but that was why it was so important that you remained in the EU. You were the counter-voice to nations like Germany and France. Don’t get us wrong we love the Germans and the French as well, but sometimes they have strange ideas. Don’t believe us? Check out the EU’s national anthem. You were our voice of reason, our rock, our everything, and now that’s gone. Even worse we are going to have make all new trade treaties with you, but quite frankly we’re the least of your problems.

You see the United States is Britain’s second largest foreign market, guess who the first is? It’s the European Union. Now, economically speak it’s very complicated, but one of your biggest reasons for Brexit was because of the insistence that Europe was creating Draconian regulations that were stifling the UK’s economy. Unfortunately, leaving the EU is not going to fix that. Your private industries still need to trade with Europe, which means they still need to follow those regulations for export, and since it makes no sense to manufacture the same goods in two different ways, so will the UK. Even US companies follow certain EU regulations, because we want to sell our goods to Europe and Britain will too. That means your country is going to have negotiate all new trade agreements with a Union you basically just told to go “Sod off.” They are going to look to make an example of you so that no other countries *cough France* gets any similiar ideas. That probably means higher exports and limited access to some markets.

You may think, “well that’s alight, as long as we get to keep those bloody refugees out of our country.” See… here’s the thing. You’re probably not going to be able to do that either. Unless the UK is planning on going full isolationist, the EU is not going to allow you to close your borders indefinitely if you want to keep trading with them. Your economy needs the European markets. Even worse what are you going to do with the thousands of Europeans living and working in the UK? Do you give them citizenship or do you boot them out? Kicking out foreigners and refugees may feel good, but it is also another way to nosedive your economy. More labor import actually increases a country’s value. In fact, many experts are expecting an economic boost for Europe thanks to the influx of refugees. There are also 2 million Britons working in Europe. What happens to them? Do they have to come home? Do they become European citizens? You see by withdrawing from the EU you are also withdrawing your citizens from the EU and that means they are going to lose a lot of privileges when it comes to travel and overseas work. Not everyone is going to be happy about that.

Maybe that’s why Brexit so was heavily rejected by the younger generation of Britons. The generation that grew up under the EU and experienced all the privileges that if offered. It was the older generation that favored leaving. We do want to say that the United States completely understands this knee jerk impulse. Similar to your former mayor of London, Boris Johnson, we here in the States also have a crazy-haired insane man screaming nonsense from an undeserved pulpit. We are months away from possibly electing an orange skinned bigot to our highest office. We know how you feel, because whenever we mention the chance of a Donald Trump Presidency everyone still sort of chuckles at the impossibility of it, than quietly weeps to themselves at the sheer terror of it. Brexit was a lot like that. No sane person probably ever thought it was going to pass, and now it has. All over the world, we are seeing countries having sporadic and terrifying ultra-conservative reactions. In our progressive world we want to believe that these are simply the last gasp of an older way of thinking, but they still pose very real dangers to the stability of our planet, and that has been illustrated in no clearer way than with the United Kingdom’s most recent referendum.

So in response, and the real reason we are writing this letter is because we are hoping to get your permission for the United States to join the European Union. We hear they have an opening and it just feels like the right decision. We will of course have to change the name to something like the Transatlantic Union or the United Federation of Planets or something, but we can work all that out going forward. You see, under the EU, Britain’s unemployment rate has been consistently lower than our own, even during the financial crisis of 2008. Your economy is one of the strongest and has grown tremendously thanks to access to the European Single Market, as well as benefiting from the individual trade deals that the EU has set up with 52 countries around the world. As EU citizens, Americans would be allowed to move and work freely throughout most of Europe, and quite frankly a lot of our people could use a little more worldly travel.

Being part of the EU would be a great opportunity for any country. In America, our economy would grow, we could become less dependent on China, our citizens would become part of something much greater, and we could gain a seat in the governing body of the EU and help them make decisions that better affected the stability and peace of the world. Yet, and more to the point, it’s not 1776 anymore, and the world is no longer separated by vast oceans of wooden sailing ships. We’re sorry to be the ones to tell you this, but the British Empire is never coming back, except in steampunk novels. Similarly, the “American Century” is over. Both our countries need to accept that our powers are starting to wane, but instead of railing against it, we should be using what we have to build a better and more peaceful world. As countries and people we can no longer stand apart from one another. The challenges of climate change, radicalism, Daleks, and more must all be met with unified resolve. This planet is more connected than ever and it imperative that we start to learn how to live, work, and pull together as nations and as citizens of Earth.

So… would you think the European Union would be open to letting us join? After all we have a strong economy and a decently sized military, and we hear those are two things they are going to be needing now. Listen, we know this is an awkward request to make. After all, you two just broke up, and its going to take at least two-years of a messy and painful divorce before it is all over, but we were kind of hoping you could put in a good word for us? Also, we wanted to ask your permission first, because we’re best buds and all. We wouldn’t want to do anything that might make you uncomfortable. So, what do you think? Are we cool?

Anyway, thanks again. Say hello to Wales for us and let us know what the EU says. We would really like to maybe get this done before November… for reasons.

Love Always,

The United States of America

It’s hard to unpack the events that happened in Orlando last week. There are a lot of elements to what is going, terrorism, violence against LGBTQ, but at the core of it is a very familiar debate about gun rights in the United States and a very familiar pattern of outrage, ineffectual silence, and a frustrating inability to change our laws or do anything about it. We here at The NYRD were on vacation while these most recent events took place, and normally we would try to write some sort of witty article about gun rights and statistics, maybe by comically comparing them to movies or cartoons or whatnot. After all, we have in the past, but this time around that doesn’t feel appropriate or especially effective.

We don’t want to clutter this already jam-packed issue with more noise or nonsensical pop culture references. Instead, we have decided that this time around we are just going to give you a list of straightforward and researched facts and let you be the judge. And, quite frankly, we are sick of using the phrase “this time around,” but we have to, because unless things truly change “this time” will keep coming around again and again.

So we’re just going to leave this here:

Mass Shootings
A Mass Shooting is a “single shooting incident which kills or injures four or more people, including the assailant.”

  • There were 372 Mass Shootings in America in 2015.
  • 457 people were killed and 1,870 people were injured in Mass Shooting incidents in 2015.
  • There were 64 school shootings in 2015. (This includes incidents where a gun was discharged but no one was hurt.)
  • Every major American City, except Austin, Texas, has experienced a Mass Shooting incident since 2013.
  • Mass Shootings do not follow any clear seasonal patterns.
  • In incidents involving high-capacity magazines, an average of 13.3 people were shot.
  • 50% of Mass Shooting victims are Female, but Females only make up a total of 15% of gun homicide victims each year.
  • In 57% of Mass Shootings a perpetrator killed a spouse or family member.
  • In 58 of 133 incidents examined the perpetrator committed suicide during the incident.
  • In 16 of 133 incidents examined the concern over the perpetrator’s mental health had been previously raised to medical practitioners.
  • Mass Shootings only account for less than 2% of gun deaths each year.

Other Gun Statistics

  • 13,286 people were killed by guns in the USA in 2015. (This excludes firearm suicides)
  • In 2012, in the US 60% of all murders were committed with a firearm.
  • 88.8 per 100,000 American residents own at least one gun.
  • There are 794,300 police officers armed in the USA compared to about 800,000 armed civilians.
  • Police error rate with a firearm is 11% compared to the Civilian firearm error rate of 2%.
  • Between 1968 and 2011 1.4 million Americans died in gun deaths.
  • Between the Revolutionary War and the Iraq War, 1.2 million Americans have been killed in war.
  • There are estimated to be 300 million civilian guns in the USA, all owned by a third of the US population.
  • From 2005 to 2015, 71 Americans were killed in terrorist attacks.
  • From 2005 to 2015, 301,797 Americans were killed by gun violence.
  • 40% of Americans know someone who committed suicide with or was killed by a firearm.
  • 50% of men killed by guns are men of color.
  • In total, 756 American school children were killed by gun violence, in 2015.
  • In 2015, on average, at least 1 American toddler shot a person at a rate of once a week, a total of 59 incidents for the year.
  • In 2014, gun deaths equaled motor vehicle deaths for the first time in history, about 10.3 per 100,000 people per year.
  • Homes that have a history of domestic violence and own a gun are 12 times more likely to result in one or more gun deaths.
  • 8% of gun owners own 10 or more guns, that is 6 million Americans.
  • Chicago police seize an illegally purchased and unlicensed gun every 74 minutes.

We are not sure what else we can really do, but we cannot let people like the NRA or hard-line conservatives turn this argument into a gun/anti-gun argument, because it is not a black and white issue. No one is talking about banning weapons altogether, but putting restrictions on the selling and purchasing of such weapons does seem a common sense solution. We are not anti-gun. In fact, we believe strongly in the Second Amendment, but no amendment is absolute. Unfortunately though, the results of our country’s loose gun laws often are… absolute.

For those of you out there who aren’t literary majors -we forgive you- you may not be entirely certain of the story of Jason and the Golden Fleece. Brave Prince Jason, in order to prove his worth to be king, sets out on an impossible task to capture the Golden Fleece. Many believed it be a fool’s errand, like sending someone to find headlight fluid or to define the appeal of Nicholas Cage’s acting ability. People just saw it as a waste of time and money, and that is exactly what some people believe about Government science funding. We’re not talking about the exciting stuff, like Tony Stark blowing up a mountain. No we’re talking about the minutia of research that gets done every year on the taxpayer’s dime, such as studying the mating habits of the screwworm. After all, how can we justify millions of dollars in research when we have terrorism, poverty, and crumbling infrastructure? Our only answer is: Because no one else will do it.

The Golden Fleece Award
The above example of “studying the mating habits of the screwworm,” was not just a random hyperbolic anecdote, with a comically named twist. It was a real study conducted by the US Government to understand the sex-life of a parasitic fly that targeted cattle. It was awarded the Golden Fleece Award by Wisconsin Senator, William Proxmire. He started the award to call out government waste, often by citing some “silly” research being done by the National Science Foundation, NASA, or others. Such as the time in 1978 when NASA proposed to spend $15 million on searching for extraterrestrial life, or when the Smithsonian spent $89,000 to make a dictionary of Tzotil, an obscure Mayan language spoken by 120,000 farmers in rural Mexico. Other recipients of the award included a $500,000 study in 1975 to determine why rats, monkeys, and humans clench their jaws, and another study to determine why drunk fish are more aggressive than sober fish. These were the kinds of things that Senator Proxmire laughed at, and cited as a waste of good taxpayer dollars.

Yet, here’s the thing… The study on drunk fish ultimately resulted in significant insights into how alcohol affects and impairs humans, and has helped shape our understanding of how to save lives. The jaw clenching study was later used by NASA and the Navy to help improve the quality of life for humans kept in confined spaces for long periods of times, such as in spaceships and in submarines. Those are not the only examples, either. Studying acoustic trauma in guinea pigs resulted in a way to treat hearing loss in infants. Another study on dog urine taught scientists the effects of hormones on the human kidney especially for patients with diabetes. All of these seemingly inconsequential and “silly” studies won the Golden Fleece Award at one time or another and they all turned around to pay massive dividends both economically and in quality of life. In fact, the study that was conducted on the mating habits of the screwworm -still a great name- cost the US taxpayer about $25,000 dollars. In turn, the research was used to save the US cattle industry more than $20 billion dollars. By studying the mating habits scientists were able to create a sterile population that they introduced into the wild that ultimately resulted in the eradication of the screwworm pest.

That’s the thing with science. You never really know where the wind will lead until you open your sails and try. Creating something like the Golden Fleece Award and then taking a study out of context to ridicule it is not only a complete misrepresentation of the scientific process, but it is dangerous and runs the risk of demonizing and isolating scientists that are doing important and groundbreaking research-based study. In fact, we find ourselves agreeing with Ed Catmull, the founder of Pixar, when he said that things like the Golden Fleece Award have a “chilling effect on research” It could render researchers and government agencies so terrified of being “awarded” that they take fewer risks and innovate less. The idea that the government should not be wasting money on research -even funny sounding research- is a triumph of ignorance over progress. These projects are important, even when they are failures.

What we Learned from SETI
You may have heard of SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. Aside from being the first people to notice when we are being invaded at the start of Independence Day, SETI is also one of the programs we talked about in the first section. In 1978, Senator Proxmire heavily criticized NASA for wanting to spend $15 million on searching for aliens. The idea sounded crazy, and in 1981 he succeeded in getting funding pulled for the project. It took Demigod Carl Sagan himself to convince Proxmire to restore funding a few years later. It was ultimately killed again in 1993 and is currently funded by private donations, but that’s not the point. Searching for extraterrestrial life is probably the biggest scientific longshot there is, and as of the publishing of this article the project is still a failure. -And if by some chance you are reading this in the future and it no longer is a failure, we here at The NYRD want to be the first to apologize to our alien overlords for ever doubting them- Yet, is any science ever really a failure?

That is thing some people don’t always understand about science. Just because an experiment fails to confirm a theory does not mean the experiment itself is a failure. In fact, any experiment that disproves a theory is just as valuable as one that proves it. That is the nature of science, it is subjective and not driven by positive results alone. So far we have failed to prove the existence -or at least the proof- of intelligent alien life, but those failures continue to teach us new things, not just about how we conduct our experimentation, but about how we see the world. After all, Jason and the Argonauts did not find the Golden Fleece on the first island they checked, but they persevered and learned from their failures. In the same way, science’s failures drive our knowledge as much as its successes. It also drives our imagination and creativity. SETI especially challenges our views of the world, forcing us to ask “are we alone,” and to confront fundamental truths about ourselves. We look out into the night sky and wonder what might be staring back at us. We wonder who they might be. Do they love? Do they hate? What are their opinions on Jar Jar Binks? Science, even in its failures, makes us grow in ways we never thought possible, but science and innovation are not built in a bubble. We have Google because we have the Internet. We have the Internet because we have home computers. We have home computers because we have electricity, and so on down the line. Science works in the same way and that means it has to all start somewhere.

Discovering a New World
Unfortunately, when it comes to the US Budget, organizations like NASA, the National Science Foundation, and other pure science programs are usually the first to get cut, usually in the face of military or social security spending. In 2009, Scientific research only received $111,664 million in federal spending. That is a total for all departments across the board: Health and Human Services, The National Nuclear Security Administration, etc. Defense got the largest chunk at $56,224 million. The National Science Foundation only received $4,156 million. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration got even less at $567 million. Those are the people, by the way, who manage our National Weather Service, and who study the effects of things like extreme climate… which is something we should probably consider putting more money into. Thankfully, the Federal Research Budget has been increasing again after it dipped in the 2000’s. Things are looking up for science, but some people still wonder why the government has to fund seemingly useless projects. Why not private industry or universities?

The truth is that private industries and universities do contribute to research based science, but only so far as it supports an end goal. Businesses are not going to spend money without expecting a return on investment. Universities are a little better, but professors still need to produce results to publish papers to keep their jobs. That means a lot of university scientists will tend to stick to “sexier” topics, ones that will guarantee them a published paper and another few years of tenure and unpaid undergrad assistants. It is an environment of “publish or perish.” Government funded projects are different. Research funded by the National Science Foundation or other government agencies are often not so focused on positive results as they are on the science behind the process. It is science for science’s sake and that is unmistakably important.

Take Space X for example. We all love the musk of Elon, but without NASA and government funding he would never have gotten into the space game. NASA was the first to chart near-Earth orbit and learn the necessary science that it takes to get rockets into the sky and put create stable satellites. Governments always have to go first. They are the entities that take the risks for the sake of science. Private industry then follows in their footsteps, taking the lessons and mistakes of governments and streamlining them. A private corporation would never risk billions on an untested theory. It was not the East India Company that first sent ships to the new world. It was not Elon Musk who put a man in orbit, but he is perfecting the process and making it cheaper, accessible, and more profitable. Private companies cannot be relied on to conduct science for science’s sake. There is no profit in it. That is why national funding for science is so important, but much like Queen Isabella, that does not mean the US Government is always doing it out of the kindness of their hearts.

The End of Dividends
Despite what some senators may want you to think the government is not just throwing away money on useless research. They do evaluate the projects and determine what sort of results it can have, and that pays off in big ways. Everything from the Internet to vaccines have come from government research. In fact, investment in research has -what statisticians have called- a very “heavy-tailed” distribution. That means given the amount of government funded research that has taken place over the years statistics would predict a certain average amount of positive benefits to result from the work. In reality, a significantly more amount of positive benefits have resulted from these studies, much higher than the expected average. Everything from the atomic bomb to modern electronics have flourished from government funded research. In fact, studies have shown that investment in basic research -low level screwworm research- can produce returns between 20% and 60% annually, which becomes a positive feedback loop. Scientific progress begets scientific progress.

America may not be as old or as wise as some of our European cousins, but we have always had a leg up because of our focus on innovation. The “American Century” was made possible by our dedication to science and technology, but we’re starting to lose our competitive edge. Less students are going into fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, in part because there are less job opportunities there. This is where funding and big ideas can really help. Creating science jobs and inspiring kids to love science will help restore our flagging scientific deficit. If we, as a nation, want to remain competitive, we need to start funding research and science.

Remember, King Pelias sent Jason on the quest to find the Golden Fleece because he thought it foolish, but like drunk fish and screwworms, the endeavour proved to be extraordinarily fruitful. That is the moral of the Golden Fleece and the the Golden Fleece awards.

One thing has been made painfully clear this election cycle, America is in need of an overhaul of its political system. For the past century the United States has been stuck with two powerful political parties and now both the Democrats and Republicans are showing more holes than the plot of Spider-Man 3, except maybe with more believable acting performances. Both monolithic political parties have maintained a stranglehold on American ideology and the election process, and if the popularity of Bernie Sanders and even Donald Trump show anything it is that America is ready to split from a world dominated by only two options. It is time for a new vision of American politics. It is time for a third party to arise form the ashes. Now is the time of the nerd.

The Baneful Effects
In his farewell speech to the American public -before ascending to Asgard- George Washington warned the newborn country against political parties, believing that it could undermine the electoral process and incite Americans “with ill-founded jealousies.” Now, he did not mention Donald Trump by name, but we like to think that Washington saw exactly what was coming, because Donald Trump is the end result of the party system. The Republican Party has spent the last eight years turning Congress into a game of “Us versus Them.” The GOP stopped being about governing and became about opposing everything that President Obama and the Democratic party tried to do. Donald Trump is nothing more than the cave troll that they uncovered in their excavation of the American political landscape. He does not need to run on any coherent policy platform. The GOP has laid the groundwork that politics is no longer about governing, but winning, and if there is one thing “The Donald” is good at it, it is inciting his followers to believe that winning is all that matters.

That is what the modern political party system has become, a game of winners and losers, Yankees vs. Red Sox, Giants vs. Eagles, X-Wings vs. TIE Fighters, etc… and the Democratic Party shares as much blame in this as their rivals across the aisle. The Dems often like to play the victim card -portraying the Republicans as the intractable bullies and bogeymen- which only further radicalizes the political parties, and that is something they benefit from as much as their opponents. Too often the Democratic call to action is not so much “Vote for Our Candidate,” as it is “Vote against Their Candidate.” When people stop thinking about governing in terms of individual candidates and their individual policies or ideas, and start thinking about voting out of fear, then we have to admit the process is no longer working. Even worse, Democratic Presidential candidates know they can ignore states like New Jersey and New York, because they are perpetual blue states. That means unless you live in Iowa, Florida, or the mansion of Lex Luthor your individual concerns are never going to be fully addressed by any national level candidate, and the effects are even worse when it comes to Senators and Representatives. With our two-party system, staunchly Democrat or Republican districts have little say in their elected officials. In areas where party loyalties are unbreakable then elections are a foregone conclusion, and you basically have the political party deciding who will get to be the next Congressman and not the voters.

According to a recent Gallup Poll, 60% of the American people say that they are ready for a major third party, but where would this new party fall on the political spectrum, the right side, the left side, the dark side? No, it is pretty clear that any major third party needs to be both centrist and youth based. We need a party that can approach the political table not with dogmatic party standards, but a real desire to affect change that can be embraced by the Millennial Generation and beyond. That is why we here at The NYRD are suggesting the formation of the Nerd Party. Think about it, what does being a nerd truly mean? It means we are outsiders, just like the kind of people that America is clamoring to vote for. It also means that we are stereotypically intelligent, which is more than you can say for a lot of the candidates still in the race. Lastly, it means that nerds are in touch with pop culture and the next generation of voters. Also we can quote Star Wars and Family Guy, and that always make filibusters more entertaining. At the very least, the introduction of the Nerd Party could help break down the established party lines, and get our elected officials back to becoming governors instead of perpetual campaigners, because like Magic: The Gathering, it is always more interesting when you have three or more sides playing rather than just 1 vs 1.

The Good the Bad and the Nerd
The Nerd Party will encourage its candidates to think about every decision as part of the larger picture, not based upon the political interests of the party, or left versus right. As centrists  we extremely believe that extreme beliefs are usually extremely wrong. Eating ice cream for every meal can be just as hazardous to your health as nuclear war -and is just as extreme as that last example. Very few people are completely conservative or completely liberal. In fact in 2015 the number of independents in America reached an all time high, with 43% of Americans claiming to be neither Democrat nor Republican. So the Nerd Party understands that it is unreasonable to make the voting public choose between entirely liberal or entirely conservative candidates, despite the fact of how our system currently works, or doesn’t work.

Political parties -and certain cable news networks- have convinced the public that they only ever have two choices, and that misrepresentation benefits no one but the political parties themselves. Individual candidates -like their voters- are often an amalgamation of beliefs and ideas, like some kind of publicly elected Voltron. Privately candidates may support some aspects of their party’s official platforms and not others, but in our modern world of Red vs. Blue, there is no room for gray… or purple. Instead, moderate conservatives, centrist liberals, New York Republicans, conservative libertarians, Dwarven socialists, and Vulcan Marxists all get pushed to the fringes of one side or another, lumped together with one ideological platform or its opposite. That means reasonable elected officials are forced to promote the extremes of the political spectrum in order to keep favor with their party. Toeing that party line often requires many moderate candidates to compromise or discard any difference they may have, and any refreshing or well-meaning ideas often get lost in the constant pitched battle of the political arena.

Believe it or not, both political parties actually have good ideas and bad ideas. The beauty of the United States is supposed to be our ability find the compromise between them. In the past, the moods of the electorate have swung back and forth like an oiled pendulum from Republican to Democrat to Republican to Democrat: Carter to Reagan, Bush to Clinton, Bush to Obama, but now extreme forces in both parties have pushed that pendulum to its breaking point. “Reasonable compromise” has become akin to consorting with the enemy and it could cost a Congressman the ire of his or her party which in turn could cost them their position. That is what the Nerd Party aims to fix, because -as our grandparents always told us- we’re good with fixing that “technology stuff.” So, did you try turning the electorate off and then back on again?

The Millennial Factor
Bernie Sanders is a hit with “the kids.” According to recent polling, Sanders has a 16% lead among voters aged 35 and younger, especially young women voters. There is a reason his message resonates with the younger electorate. Sanders tends to talk about the issues that Millennials are most concerned with. According to USA Today voters under the age of 35 are 80% in favor of renewable energy, 82% in favor of background checks for gun ownership, even among young Republicans. They are also increasingly in favor of marriage equality, gender equality, and much more. However, the halls of power and the political parties are still very much controlled by older generations who only seem to care about political infighting. That means for Millennials and other young Americans there is a disconnect between what they want to see happening and what is actually happening. That can be frustrating, especially as Senators and Representatives cling to their elected positions for thirty or forty year -thanks modern medical science- never once forced to change their opinion on anything, and often with no viable political rival to replace them.

The irony here -for both political parties- is that younger voters identify with both conservative and liberal ideas. Even though the next generation tends to tilt toward Democrats rather than the GOP by 41% to 28%, Millennial voters are more likely to identify with the conservative party on policies of economics, international relations, and BBQ recipes. Again and unfortunately, the Dem/GOP system is binary, and that hurts candidates more than it helps. Even if a Republican candidate had a smart and effective plan to cut spending and lower the college debt they will still lose youth voters because they are forced to follow their party’s script on banning marriage equality or background checks for firearms. For younger voters who tend to vote with their social ideals they may never find a candidate they agree with on all fronts, and very often that leads to a system of “voting against the opposition.”

Bernie Sanders may not win the nomination, and if that happens you will have a lot of people -especially Millennials-  who will be forced to support Hillary Clinton -a candidate they do not want- in order to defeat the greater of two evils. The truth is that a candidate like Bernie probably would have fared better in an electoral system where there were three or even more established political parties to choose from. Unfortunately, for the Independent Senator from Vermont -and his legion of Twitter followers- to be considered a viable candidate for the US Presidency under our current system you need to run as part of one of the two major political parties. That means going through political primaries, which is basically the Hunger Games of politics.

Battle Royale
The nomination process is especially hard on candidates. Winning the vote of the American people is hard enough, but convincing a political party that you stand for everything they want you to stand for often forces even moderate candidates to move to one side of the spectrum or the other. Regardless of what a candidate looks like at the beginning of the process the end result is often someone who has been forced into being a poster child for the acceptably branded message of either the Republican or the Democratic party. Remember when John McCain was the maverick of Congress. The top gun Tom Cruise who never feared crossing the aisle to find a compromise to solve a problem? Then he ran for president, and by the time he was done with the primaries there was nothing left but an angry old white conservative man whose only companion was a squawking Alaskan Dodo bird.

That is why the Nerd Party is going to do it differently. We say forget primaries, instead we are going to conduct candidate vetting the same way every other American applies for a job. Our candidates will be expected to submit a letter of interest and a resume, before being asked in for a job interview, because you need four years experience to manage a McDonald’s, and it is not unreasonable to ask the same thing of the people applying to run our country. Moreover, we will not pick our candidates based upon their blind adherence to doctrine or dogma, in fact we encourage our candidates to be free thinkers and find creative solutions to problems. That is why we will also design a series of tests that the potential candidate must pass, including a written exam which will quiz our potential candidates on general knowledge, leadership potential, moral and ethical standards, pop culture, and possible psychic potential. If the candidates score well on the written exam and during the interview process then they will move on to the physical challenge, where they will be tested for strength, mental acuity, leadership abilities, endurance, speed, comedic performance, hand eye-coordination, and martial arts abilities, because you never know when the President may have to retake a hijacked airplane. Once candidates have passed the internal party tests they will be placed into the race with the full support and backing of the party. From that point on their only mandate is do what is best for the country as a whole, and specifically not for the party.

Ain’t No Party Like a Nerd Party
The current political parties are broken. It is time to start thinking toward new political horizons, and the rise of a third party, and that is not actually as far fetched as you might think. Mainstream media and the political parties themselves like to portray the Republican and Democratic parties as permanent fixtures of our political landscape, but historically that has never been true. As much as the Democratic or Grand Old Party would like to have you believe, they are not our country’s first or even second political parties. The first Democrat in the White House was Andrew Jackson, and the first Republican was Abraham Lincoln. Before that there were Federalists, and Whigs, and even the Democratic-Republican Party. You may not believe that the Nerd Party or any new third party could ever rise to prominence in the United States, but thanks to the Internet and the democratization of information that is more possible now than ever in the history of our nation.

The popularity of Bernie Sanders and even Donald Trump show cracks in our old political system. Voters of all ages are pushing back at the political parties whom they feel no longer represent their views. This election has -in a sense- become a battle between the old process and the desire of the next generation to have their voices heard. Sanders persists on Facebook and Twitter even as CNN and Fox News claim he is finished. Donald Trump was able to build a support base, despite being the butt of every late night talk show joke for six months. The time for change is now and the power to do so resides in the very thing you are using to read this absurd piece of rambling information. Now is the time to believe in change. Now is the time to vote Nerd.

For the American people it seems like the grass is always seems greener on the other side. And the grass in question happens to be sitting behind a wrought-iron fence guarded by the secret service on the front lawn of the White House. As Americans we have a very unique relationship with our leader, the President of the United States -POTUS to his friends- as he is both our boss and our employee. We have had good Presidents, strong Presidents, war heroes, statesmen, peanuts farmers and actors, but it may be our fictional Presidents that say the most about us as a people and a nation. With House of Cards returning to Netflix this week, we thought this would be a good time to take a closer look at our fictional leaders like President Underwood or his West Wing counterpart, President Bartlet, and do some Presidential comparisons, both fact and fiction.

A Proportional Response
Let’s start with President Josiah Edward Bartlet. His fictional term lasted from 1999 to 2006. He is a economics professor from New Hampshire, who won the Nobel Price for his work in that field. He is also a former Governor of New Hampshire and a direct descendant of Josiah Bartlett, who signed the Declaration of Independence. By all accounts he is a New England academic from a very old family, and also a liberal Democrat who believes in gays in the military, campaign finance reform, and education. He is a bit long winded in a folksy way, but above all he is shown as being the best of us. Sure he lied about having Multiple Sclerosis and was embroiled in his fair share of Washington scandals, but it was never anything serious and when all was said and done he always took responsibility for his actions. He was shrewd, intelligent, compassionate, and warm. His legacy was defined by compromise and doing what was right. He stood by his friends, his family, and his staff, even when it wasn’t always politically savvy to do so.

His real-world counterpart was President George W. Bush, from 2000 to 2008, a Republican. Perhaps one of the only things he shared with his fictional counterpart was a sense of idealism and the fact that they were both Governors. Other than that, Bush was known for his war policies, his persona as a cowboy, and his inability to speak words. Under his administration the country saw the Patriot Act, the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, and an amendment to the Constitution to prohibit same-sex marriage. Now, we are not trying to paint Bush as a bad President, but we do want to show that he is a sharp contrast to the persona of President Jed Bartlet, who continually enjoyed a higher approval rating than the sitting President.


Though one can argue that President Bartlett existed before President Bush, there is no denying that the fictional POTUS is -in at least some way- a response to his more conservative and inarticulate real-world counterpart. Continuously throughout the Bush Presidency, a time when the President of the United States enjoyed some of the highest and then lowest approval ratings in history, it was Bartlet whom people turned to every week for solace and hope. His liberal policies were ahead of their time, and though he was sometimes accused of being overly sentimental the show often tackled national issues in thoughtful and heartfelt ways. By all accounts it often seemed as if Bartlet was the President people were looking for. Yet, it was Bush they voted for in 2000 and again in the 2004.

Chapter 2
Next let’s look at President Francis Joseph Underwood, whose Presidency started only in season 3, but has been with the American public since 2013. His public persona is one of a judicious and fair-minded liberal. He ended a naval standoff with China, and started an ambitious domestic job program. However under this congenial appearance lies a different person. In reality, Underwood is a conniving, Machiavellian, and sometimes over-the-top evil character. He uses any means he can to rise to power, and has cheated on his wife, blackmailed, and manipulated the events around him to get to the White House. He is from a family that dates back to prominence during the 1800’s. Unlike Bartlet his public persona is completely different than his inner thoughts and private actions. A Southern Democrat and lawyer, he was the Majority Whip, then the Vice President before scheming his way into the Oval Office. President Underwood has no sense of tradition, decorum, or even a caring for the rules of fair play, and it is a role he almost revels in.

The real President since 2008 and during the run time of House of Cards is President Barrack Obama. He is from Chicago by way of Hawaii, and unlike the other three Presidents talked about already, has no famous ancestors or famous American name. Obama has passed laws for universal healthcare, repealed “Don’t Ask Don’t tell,” and is working on gun reform and climate change. He has partially helped to end some of our wars in the Middle East, and has had an overall positive effect on the American image overseas. Say what you will about the current President of the United States, but he is not Frank Underwood. Though, there has been some questionable tactics used under the Obama Administration in the area of drone attacks, it is hard to see our even tempered Commander-in-Chief embroiled in plots of power, sex, and murder.


Thus, we must wonder, that if Bartlet is a response to Bush, then is Underwood a response to -or even a condemnation of- Obama? Our current President is mild mannered and has been embroiled in very little and minor Washington scandals. Underwood, on the other hand, is fierce and has no qualms about things like corruption or adultery. The real POTUS rose to power on the tide of a national movement, while the fictional one gained his power by discrediting his predecessor and taking over his position. Many perceive President Obama as weak and lacking of a plan or the conviction to make America strong. President Underwood is anything but weak, and he always seems to have a plan. Unlike Bartlett and Bush, these two men are not from different parties and even have similiar liberal agendas. Also, Underwood like Obama shows a very politically attractive face to the American public, much like our current President. Instead, the House of Cards President differs more in his personal tactics and hunger for power. It can be argued that this match-up may say something -at least in part- about what some secretly suspect about our POTUS. Obama is sometimes too perfect, too congenial or too well behaved. Yet, we highly doubt our leader is playing from the Underwood playbook, so it is more likely House of Cards is just another form of Presidential wish-fulfillment. Still, the popularity of the Netflix show makes us wonder if we, the American people, tend to feel an attraction to fictional Presidents that embody everything our real-world Presidents do not.

Living in their Shoes
We can attribute some of the popularity for fictional Presidents to the fact that viewers get to live their triumphs and tragedies. We get to know our fictional leaders in ways we will never get to know our real ones. We can sit in on meetings with Jed Bartlet and see him struggle with decisions. We can follow the scheming of Frank Underwood and quietly cheer for his successes, even when we know it’s wrong. The very format of television is designed to put the audience on the side of the main character. When we look at our real-life Presidents we only get the snapshot, the man behind the podium, or the polished and cleaned-up sterile image of the leader of our country. We don’t get to see him joking with his staff, suffering from marital issues, or filing his tax returns. So in a way, our factual POTUS becomes less real -just a prop we see on our TV- when compared to the fictionalized and idealized President, especially by comparison.

What is more interesting is that The West Wing and House of Cards -though diametrically different from one another- offer a look into the evolution of how the viewing and voting public have thought of our elected officials over the years. To go from Josiah Bartlet to Frank Underwood is as much a change in what Americans look for in an elected official as it was to go from George Bush to Barrack Obama. The West Wing portrays the entire political process as one filled with smart and caring people who are doing their best to make the world better. Even Republicans are often portrayed as articulate and intelligent, except with differing views. House of Cards, on the other hand, goes out of its way to be a theatrical and ruthless look at modern American politics and governance. Each is a fictionalized version of the truth -we hope- yet each equally holds the attention and imagination of America. Perhaps these fictional Presidents and their shows are so popular because they give us an ideal we feel we don’t have or that we’ve lost in real life. Thus, each still holds enough truth to be believable and worthwhile, regardless of your political persuasion.

So, maybe this all really comes down to human nature, and our natural yearning for wanting what he don’t have. We, as the American public, are like a soccer mom dreaming about the pool boy, yet knowing all along that our dreams are nothing but fiction. We seem to lean toward a TV President that is the opposite of the current sitting POTUS, because we do that with everything else in our lives. We accept the factual while romanticizing the path not chosen. We use fiction all the time to ask the question, “What if?” and to condemn those in power who do not meet are sometimes exacting standards. Really, all this means is that if Donald Trump is elected, then after 2016 we may find ourselves with the most sane, humble, caring, and brilliant fictional President ever to be portrayed on television.

Second Amendment

There is a little document that a lot of Americans really enjoy fighting over, and for once we’re not talking about the draft sheet for your fantasy football league. The United States Bill of Rights were the first ten amendments added onto the US Constitution after its ratification, and much like the Bible or a Quentin Tarantino movie people try to use it as justification for doing almost anything. Now, like all good Americans we have all 10 amendments memorized -okay maybe only like 4 of them- but we all have our favorites. For example, we know that Todd particularly enjoys the Third Amendment, because every year during the Memorial Day parade, when members of the military band ask if they can use our bathroom, he screams “stop violating my civil rights,” and slams the door. Others out there may enjoy the First Amendment or the Sixth Amendment, however, most people these days are doing a lot of talking about the Second Amendment. So we thought it might be good to get a little historical context on what the Second Amendment was and how it has shaped the national debate currently going on around us.

Our Forefathers Can Beat-Up Your Forefathers
The full text of the Second Amendment reads, A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed. Odd capitalization aside, we often find ourselves discussing the second part of that sentence but forgetting the first part. The ambiguity of the sentence has led to more than a few arguments. It is just another thing we can blame on our Founding Fathers, because the argument we are having today still echoes the argument they had more than 200 years ago.

Before the Constitution was ever ratified the men who created our nation found themselves divided into two camps, Federalists and Anti-Federalists. Federalists essentially favored the Constitution and a stronger central government while Anti-Federalists favored stronger rights for the States. Sufficed to say, the Federalists won in the end, but not without a few compromises, and the biggest contention was over the right for the new US Government to raise a standing army. Federalists argued that a standing regular army was needed to protect the interests of the nation. The Anti-Federalists believed that a standing army, loyal to the government, was the first step toward tyranny. They resolved the debate by granting Congress the ability to raise an army, but could only fund it two years at a time. However, the second and more crucial safeguard against the oppression of a Federal army was the idea of militias.

Local militias were something the colonists were very familiar with. Colonial militias had existed for years and had fought with mixed success in the American Revolution, but State and local militias in colonial times were a lot more than just what the National Guard is today. They also served as the nations first paid police force. Aside from elected Sheriffs, militia men were tasked with bringing dangerous criminals to justice. So when the Bill of Rights was finally written in 1789 one of the first amendments passed by the House and Senate was for the establishment of State militias as a check against the existence of the Federal army and as a lawful body to help keep local peace. That makes sense, because at the time our Founding Fathers were more preoccupied with States rights versus Federal rights rather than if people could own guns.

The NaRrAtion of the Law
Even the original wording of James Madison, who wrote the Bill of Rights, seems to be more focused on the military aspect rather than a private citizen’s “right to bear arms.” Before it was altered by the Senate the amendment originally read, A well regulated Militia, composed of the body of the people, being the best security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; but no person religiously scrupulous shall be compelled to bear arms. Madison even included a clause for conscientious objectors, which again points to the fact that the amendment was more focused on the military aspect rather than gun ownership. However, we feel compelled to point out that the Founding Fathers may not have specifically pointed to the “right to bear arms,” but there is also evidence that in their day it was considered a natural and normal right and they may not have felt the need to codify it more than they already did. Thus, the “right to bear arms” part cannot be completely negated.

Going forward there became two narratives concerning the Second Amendment. Up until about the 1970s and 1980s, the narrative of “collective rights,” or “states rights” dominated the political and judicial thinking of the Second Amendment. This narrative argued that the amendment only protects gun ownership of the States, and not individual private citizens. Basically, it argues that the Second Amendment is meant to be interpreted as the Constitutional right of each State to establish National Guards that are controlled and armed by State officials. Fifty years ago, no one was having a debate about the right to gun ownership. Then in the late 20th century the narrative suddenly shifted to favor what is known as the “standard model,” which argued that the amendment was meant to be dominated by the second part of the sentence, in that it really grants individual citizens absolute rights to own and keep arms. This narrative became popular around 1977, when a little known organization called the National Rifle Association went from being a group that promoted gun safety to a group that suddenly began to lobby for gun ownership.

It is worth noting that even when the NRA started proclaiming that the Second Amendment was about the “rights to bear arms,” the conservative Supreme Court Chief Justice at the time, Warren R. Burger, openly mocked the idea as “one of the greatest pieces of fraud on the American people.” He thought it was a laughable interpretation. Yet, the NRA kept pushing, and their new narrative was bolstered by the election of Ronald Reagan, a pro-gun rights President, and by the gun manufacturers themselves who gave large sums to make sure that the people in Congress got behind it too. Still it was not until 2001, in the Fifth Circuit Appeals Court, in the case of The United States vs. Emerson, that any judge even voiced acceptance of the the idea that the Second Amendment protected the rights of individual gun owners. Even then, the opinion was not legally backed until 2008 in the case of The District of Columbia vs. Heller, when Antonin Scalia ruled that the government did not have a right to infringe on the ownership of handguns.

An Infallible Right
In 2011, gun manufactures made 4.3 billion dollars, thanks in no small part to the new interpretation that the American public had come to accept about the Second Amendment. Suddenly, it was American to own a gun and un-American to want to regulate guns, and they had a vested interest in keeping it that way. Yet, even during the entire period when the majority of Americans accepted the idea that the Second Amendment was about regulating militias, gun ownership was not illegal, but by changing the dialogue and making gun ownership a right -on par with free speech and religion- gun ownership went from “not being illegal” to “protected by the law” and those are two very different things. Gun ownership suddenly became so sacred as to be untouchable, but we feel compelled to point out that no other right granted by the constitution enjoys such unfettered legality.

George Washington famously said, “Individuals entering into society, must give up a share of liberty to preserve the rest.” In other words, yes we have rights as citizens but we have to understand that when those “rights” interfere with the lives and rights of other citizens than we have to recognize the need for moderation. Thus, it is illegal to yell “fire” in a crowded theater, or to say “bomb” on a plane when there isn’t one, because those are not examples of free speech. They only serve to put others at risk. We have laws limiting or mitigating the effects of almost every amendment in the Bill of Rights, so why is it suddenly so unfathomable to have laws limiting gun ownership, regardless whether the Second Amendment was meant to refer to that specific right or not.

A lot of the problem goes back to the way the amendment was worded. People who claim it refers to the individual gun ownership model argue that the first part of the sentence, A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, is meant as a justifying preamble to the second half, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed. And that could be true, but it is worth mentioning that no other amendment in the Bill of Rights starts with a justifying preamble. Everything else just states what it means to say without beating around the Constitutional bush. Still, it is worth remembering that the words are in there, and we know that the Founding Fathers did see gun ownership as a natural part of life. Yet, to them guns were single fire muskets that required a full minute of reload time, and that is also worth remembering.

The Right to Bear History
Times change, opinions change, and laws have to change to change with them. It is ironic how worried our Founding Fathers were about the existence of a standing United States Army, and yet there is not a single person today who still argues if the USA should have a standing army. Even more ironic Federalists like Washington, Adams, and Hamilton did not want a Bill of Rights at all, believing that the Constitution was enough to guarantee the freedoms of the people. They believed that codifying what they saw as the natural rights of man would ultimately make those rights “colorable” and open to be misinterpreted and used for demagoguery, kind of like exactly what is happening today with the Second Amendment.

Lastly, our Founding Fathers were men, who fought and argued, and bickered same as we do today. They compromised and struggled. They were not divine beings who granted us a document from the almighty. They were not perfect, and you do not need to look any further for proof than in their Three-Fifths Compromise. They also could not predict a future of drones, tanks, or assault weapons, and that is why they made the Constitution a living a document, one that could change with the times and be amended. They knew that future generations would face new problems and need to find new solutions. So, regardless, of how they, or the NRA, or you, or this website chooses to interpret the Second Amendment, it is also worth remembering that all those famous historical founders that stare at us from the fronts of money, entrusted us to make laws and interpret them to fit today’s world, and not the world of the single shot musket.