Danger: Constitutional Convention Ahead?

I’ve got a piece today in the Baltimore Sunwarning of the dangers of a second constitutional convention, which a shocking number of state legislatures are proposing willy-nilly.  They need to stop and think.

James Madison fought every proposal for a second constitutional convention, warning that it could be the scene of all manner of mischief.  He knew whereof he spoke, since he and others diverted the first Constitutional Convention from its professed purpose of rewriting the Articles of Confederation and converted it into the vehicle for creating a completely new government.

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Books and (Semi) Mass Media

Having published my book on James Madison last month (Madison’s Gift), I share one trait with most authors of a recently-released book:  A wistful desire that great chunks of the reading public will exercise their right to pay a modest sum to own my book.

This desire to sell books makes authors willing to undergo many forms of humiliation.  One is the media interview.  We do them in order to build the buzz around books on which we have just lavished a significant chunk of our time on earth.

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Truthiness Triumphant!

At page 117 of my novel about the John Wilkes Booth Conspiracy, The Lincoln Deceptiona character laments that the Union and Confederate armies failed to join together at the end of the Civil War to mount invasions of Canada and Mexico.  “A terrible missed opportunity,” he complains at page 118.

I had no historical basis for the interlude.  It seemed like something that some people might have considered in 1865.  My goal wasn’t truth so much as “truthiness” (to borrow from Stephen Colbert).  You know, it’s a novel.  Fiction.

Senator Zachariah Chandler of Michigan

Senator Zachariah Chandler of Michigan

New “Hamilton” Show in NYC: HipHop Hooray!

Nah, I don’t listen to hiphop.  Not ever.  But Lin-Manuel Miranda is building a beautiful bridge between that music and old farts like me with his new “Hamilton” musical, which has opened for previews at the Public Theatre in New York.  I caught the show last night with the Girl of My Dreams, and was blown away.  If you can get to New York in the next couple of months, you’ll curse yourself for not seeing this one.  (Its run has been extended to early April.)

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The Emerging Indian Colossus

A 10-day visit to India this month kindled thoughts about a part of the world I have known only through novels and Merchant/Ivory movies.

The ambitions and dreams of the place are huge.  Indian newspapers speculate avidly about a second Indian mission to Mars.  (Did you even know about the first one, completed just two months ago?)  I was blown away by a tour of a new planned city, Naya Raipur, being built in Chhattisgarh province, an obscure area of heavy industry and relatively backward “tribal” peoples.  Rising from the plains of Naya Raipur are solar arrays, carefully planned infrastructure, lakes, recreational areas, and mixed commercial, office, and residential developments.  It’s an immense undertaking to build an entirely new city of a half-million people, and they’re doing it.

One Perilous Joy of the Season

I vividly recall the Christmas morning.  My father opened the book I had carefully picked out for him.  I hadn’t read it, but I thought it would be perfect for him, neatly matching his interests.  He looked at the spine, regarded the cover, and said, “I enjoyed this very much when it first came out.”

Not a good moment, but the beginning of a lifetime of mistakes — and occasional successes — in selecting books as gifts.

My column this month at the Washington Independent Review of Books takes a lighter look at the risks of giving books for the holidays.

Why F. Scott?

F.Scott Fitzgerald

F.Scott Fitzgerald

This morning brings the inaugural installment of a monthly piece I’ll be writing for the Washington Independent Review of Books.  The subjects will be what I’m reading, writing, or thinking about.  This morning’s effort puzzles over the bafflingly inflated reputation of F. Scott Fitzgerald.  I don’t get it. . . .

Five Books on Impeachment

The conservative-inspired “Impeach Obama” campaign will wax and wane over the next two political years, a weird residue of the benighted effort to impeach President Bill Clinton fifteen years ago.  Even though the Impeach Clinton effort failed somewhat ignominiously, it has empowered true believers of the Left and Right to think of impeachment as an ordinary tool of American politics.

Chief Justice William Rehnquist sworn in to preside over Senate impeachment trial of President Clinton, 1999.

Thus, as the administration of President George W. Bush limped through its final days, liberal Democrats in Congress introduced resolutions to investigate his impeachment, or to flat-out impeach him.  By 2008, liberal gadfly Dennis Kucinich of Ohio worked to force a vote in the House of Representatives on his claims that Bush’s foreign invasions based on false efforts (“he lied us into war” in Iraq) warranted his removal from office.

WWI: Who was the enemy?

As the World War I centennial continues to gear up, and as I slouch to the end of my novel on the Paris Peace Conference of 1919, I have stumbled upon the most remarkable French memoir of the war – Poilu.  (Thanks to Andy Dayton for recommending it.)

World War I soldiers in a Western Front trench.

World War I soldiers in a Western Front trench.

World War I: Fragging Officers and PTSD?

The sequel to my historical novel, The Lincoln Deceptionis set at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919.  Accordingly, I’ve been doing some considerable reading about World War I and the peace treaty that proved to be “The Peace to End All Peace,” as some have it.  Recent forays into two American novels about The Great War have proved fascinating and surprising.

In Three Soldiers  (1921), John Dos Passos drew on his own extensive experience of the war.  In 1917-18, he drove an ambulance in Northern Italy and then in Paris.  His novel is unreservedly antiwar and steeped in a matter-of-fact social realism combined with the occasional romantic over-writing of a young man.  (Dos Passos was 25 when the book was published.)