Archive for April 2016

The Willow Branch is Broadcast   Leave a comment

Front Cover RedMirklin Wood will be #free on Amazon #kindle Sunday May 1 ONLY and The Willow Branch will be 99 cents.

Posted April 30, 2016 by aurorawatcherak in book promotion, Uncategorized

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Fourth Amendment   1 comment

Fairbanks is a big military town, so no one should be surprised that I know a lot of soldiers of various ranks. I’m writing a book that involves soldiers, so naturally, I end up asking the soldiers I know for their advice.

But I’m kind of a borderline anarchist, so those interactions can get sort of interesting. Ah, the conversations I can get into with those who would be our rulers!

A friend (I do count him as a friend, even thought we thoroughly disagree and I consider him the worst kind of tyrant) argues that we would be safer as a society if the government could listen to all of our conversations and read our emails and text messages. When pushed (because I made him angry and frustrated), he admitted that the government ought to have the authority to kick down any doors if it thinks it has a good reason to do so. He believes this would make the country safer.

Possibly, but who would want to live in the former Soviet Union?

Our Founders had never seen totalitarianism (the technology for making it happen did not yet exist), but they knew they didn’t want to live in a country where the government had absolute power over the citizens. They had tasted of tyranny when the British had been in charge and they didn’t want to return to that. So they ratified the 4th Amendment. Justice Louis Brandeis called “the right to be let alone — the most comprehensive of rights and the right most valued by civilized men.” That line comes from his dissent of the first wiretapping case to reach to Supreme Court — Olmstead v. the United States (1928).


Roy Olmstead was a bootlegger who was convicted of that heineous crime on the basis of overheard telephone conversations. The government had tapped the phone at his workplace without breaking and entering, but they had not obtained a warrant for the tap. The Supreme Court decided that Mr. Olmstead had no right to privacy since the tap wasn’t placed by illegal means. Brandeis dissented.

Eventually, the Brandeis dissent became the law. The Fourth Amendment, which protects the privacy of our “persons, houses, papers, and effects,” was interpreted to cover telephone conversations and eventually emails and text messages. If the government wants information contained in those communications, it needs to obtain a search warrant, which the Fourth Amendment states can only be given by a judge — and only if the government can show probable cause that evidence of a crime can be obtained in the communications it wants to listen to or read.

If the government does not obtain a search warrant and listens to phone conversations or reads emails or text messages anyway, then attempts to use what it heard or read to acquire other evidence or directly in the prosecution of a defendant, the government has engaged in unlawful activity. The information becomes “fruit of the poisonous tree”.

Evidence that is the fruit of the poisonous tree has been inadmissible in federal criminal prosecutions in the United States for the past 100 years and in state criminal prosecutions for the past 50 years.

Welcome to the new day.

We know about the super-secret court established by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), reaffirmed by Congress last year under the USA “Freedom” Act. Has anyone besides me noted a trend in the name of federal statutes. They seem to produce the opposite results of what their names imply. There is no freedom to be found anywhere near the USA Freedom Act.

It’s not constitutional, but Congress authorized the FISA court to issue search warrants based on governmental need. Of course, you and I know the government can always claim that it needs whatever it wants. The FISA court does not require a showing of probable cause for its warrants. The myth is that the government is listening to or reading words by foreign people for foreign intelligence purposes only, not for prosecutorial purposes of American citizens.

The Constitution is plain. The 4th Amendment protects all people in the United States, American or foreign, from all parts of the government for all purposes, not just criminal prosecutions. Yet the FISA court still grants general warrants that allow the government to look where they wish and seize what they find. Our innermost thoughts are subject to the prying eyes of the intelligence community, 4th Amendment be damned.

One of its selling points of the USA Freedom Act to Congress was that it would permit the FISA court to appoint a lawyer to hypothetically challenge some of its behavior. The lawyer appointed challenged the policy of the National Security Agency, the federal government’s domestic spying agency, of sharing data it acquires via the unconstitutional FISA warrants with the FBI. She argued that the data sharing goes far beyond the stated purpose of the FISA warrants, which is to gather foreign intelligence data from foreign people, not evidence of domestic crimes of anyone whose emails might be swept up by those warrants.

We all know, or should after Edward Snowden, that the NSA actually makes its repository of raw data from emails and text messages available for the FBI to scour at will, without the FBI’s obtaining a warrant issued by a judge as required by the 4th Amendment.

In November, the FISA court rejected the hypothetical challenge of its own appointee and ruled that the NSA could continue to share what it wants with the FBI. That ruling just became public knowledge last week.

I object. The hypothetical nature of the challenge is ridiculous. Federal courts do not exist in a vacuum and they cannot render advisory opinions. They hear real cases and real controversies involving real plaintiffs and real defendants. There is nothing hypothetical about the damage their scrutiny causes, so entering into a law school-like moot court is ludicrous. But watch as the state and federal law enforcement start supping on this fruit of the poisonous tree.

FISA and the USA Freedom Act were enacted under the pretense that data collected under them would be used for foreign intelligence purposes, to thwart terrorism attacks, but if the FBI is able to obtain that data for use in ordinary criminal prosecutions, it contradicts the 4th Amendment.

I like walking down the street without fear that my favorite coffee shop is going to explode, but I also like my freedom and privacy. I’m not convinced that giving my freedoms up will keep that coffee shop intact. I am much more afraid of tyranny than terrorism.

When those who swore to uphold the Constitution defy its core principles, who is going to keep us safe from them?

Posted April 30, 2016 by aurorawatcherak in Liberty, Uncategorized

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Jefferson on the Federal Government   2 comments

This is Part 2 of a 2-part series.

Turning his mind from the Constitution and form of government, Jefferson hoped to explain the checks and balances of the federal system and also asked if perhaps the country should not be so attached to any one system

Jefferson knew that most foreigners did not understand how the United States worked and he attempted to explain the interaction to Major Cartwright.

With respect to our State and federal governments, I do not think their relations correctly understood by foreigners. They generally suppose the former subordinate to the latter. But this is not the case. They are co-ordinate departments of one simple and integral whole.

Jefferson rightly surmised that most foreigners though the states were under the authority of the federal government (which is how a national government works), but he was quick to correct this misunderstanding. Were he to suddenly be resurrected in the 21st century, he would quickly and probably forcefully remind us that our government was never supposed to involve the states kowtowing to the federal government. They were meant to be equal partners.

To the State governments are reserved all legislation and administration, in affairs which concern their own citizens only, and to the federal government is given whatever concerns foreigners, or the citizens of other States; these functions alone being made federal. The one is the domestic, the other the foreign branch of the same government; neither having control over the other, but within its own department.

Jefferson understood that the states were to focus on their own domestic matters while the federal government was only to function in matters with other countries or when states could not agree. He rightly states that the federal government is the foreign branch of the same government. Neither was supposed to have control over the other. I think this would be one of those times when Jefferson would want to amend the Constitution, if he could see how bloated and tyrannical the federal government has become.

There are one or two exceptions only to this partition of power. But, you may ask, if the two departments should claim each the same subject of power, where is the common umpire to decide ultimately between them? In cases of little importance or urgency, the prudence of both parties will keep them aloof from the questionable ground: but if it can neither be avoided nor compromised, a convention of the States must be called, to ascribe the doubtful power to that department which they may think best.

Jefferson foresaw conflicts and saw two solutions to them. One would be where the two parties just ignore when one oversteps on unimportant issues. That has not worked well fo us in the 200 years since Jefferson wrote the letter. His second option for dealing with overreach has never been used. We’ve never called a convention of the States to discuss whether doubtful power should be ascribed to the states or the federal government. Instead, the federal government has continually assimilated powers to itself and told the states to sit down and shut up. Jefferson, were he alive today, would be organizing committees of correspondence and militias in Virginia and urging Alaska and all the other states to do the same.

You will perceive by these details, that we have not yet so far perfected our constitutions as to venture to make them unchangeable. But still, in their present state, we consider them not otherwise changeable than by the authority of the people, on a special election of representatives for that purpose expressly: they are until then the lex legum.

Jefferson explained that the Constitution of the United States and the constitutions of the states were not set in concrete, but could only be changed by a special committee, elected by the people for the purpose of making changes. Until such a convention had been organized and met, the constitutions were considered the “law of laws.”

But can they be made unchangeable? Can one generation bind another, and all others, in succession forever? I think not. The Creator has made the earth for the living, not the dead. Rights and powers can only belong to persons, not to things, not to mere matter, unendowed with will. The dead are not even things. The particles of matter which composed their bodies, make part now of the bodies of other animals, vegetables, or minerals, of a thousand forms. To what then are attached the rights and powers they held while in the form of men? A generation may bind itself as long as its majority continues in life; when that has disappeared, another majority is in place, holds all the rights and powers their predecessors once held, and may change their laws and institutions to suit themselves. Nothing then is unchangeable but the inherent and unalienable rights of man.

Jefferson touches on something that we can go around and around on. Should constitutions be unchangeable? Should one generation bind the next to what was important to that earlier generation? That earlier generation is dead and dead things should not dictate to the living, Jefferson said.

But it should be noted that Jefferson considered rights and the powers that issue from them to be the same from generation to generation. So while subsequent generations can change the structure of government set out in the constitution, the inherent and unalienable rights of men remain the same.

You see, that’s where folks like me disagree with those who would be our rulers today. They’re fine with the current structure of government, but want our rights to be changeable based on what they think is best. Rights, to them, flow from the government. Jefferson and our founders saw rights as being inherent in the individual. I live, therefore, I have a right to an opinion and to state it, a right to practice my faith as I see fit, a right to bear arms, a right to security in my person, property and papers, a right to a fair trial, and a right to be unmolested in my efforts to support myself and my family (in so long as those efforts do not harm anyone else). I don’t live in that world anymore. I live in one where my rights can be taken away whenever the government decides they are inconvenient to the government or some group the government favors.

I object.

I Did Not Consent

Jefferson’s Lament   3 comments

Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to Major John Cartwright in 1824, when both were elderly men. The purpose of the letter was to praise Major Cartwright’s book on the history of Anglo-Saxon rights, but Jefferson also attempted to explain the American experiment to Cartwright. Although I might enjoy reading Cartwright’s book as much as Mr. Jefferson did, as an American, I am much more interested in what Jefferson had to say about the country he lived in.

After remarking on what he found interesting and hopeful in Anglo-Saxon history, Jefferson turned to America.

Our Revolution commenced on more favorable ground. It presented us an album on which we were free to write what we pleased. We had no occasion to search into musty records, to hunt up royal parchments, or to investigate the laws and institutions of a semi-barbarous ancestry. We appealed to those of nature, and found them engraved on our hearts.

The American Revolution was based on Lockean notions of natural law, which Jefferson insisted issued from human nature. The Anglo-Saxons had an ancient history of exercising those rights, lost in the Norman invasion, but reconstituted when kings were put in their place as limited monarchs once more. For them to move toward liberty had required an exploration of and a negotiation with their past. The Americans had mostly a blank slate on which to draw.

Yet we did not avail ourselves of all the advantages of our position. We had never been permitted to exercise self-government. When forced to assume it, we were novices in its science. Its principles and forms had entered little into our former education. We established however some, although not all its important principles.

“We were,” Jefferson seems to say, “Like kids in a candystore, complete novices at this self-government notion.” Americans didn’t really know what they were doing, so they established some of the guiding principles of self-government, but they also missed some. It’s important to remember that Jefferson was in France at the time of the Constitutional Convention. John Adams was in Holland. Ben Franklin was old. The old guard of the Revolution was not well represented in Philadelphia that hot summer of 1787. Had they been there, the Constitution might have been a better document. At least, Jefferson thought so.

The constitutions of most of our States assert, that all power is inherent in the people; that they may exercise it by themselves, in all cases to which they think themselves competent, (as in electing their functionaries executive and legislative, and deciding by a jury of themselves, in all judiciary cases in which any fact is involved,) or they may act by representatives, freely and equally chosen; that it is their right and duty to be at all times armed; that they are entitled to freedom of person, freedom of religion, freedom of property, and freedom of the press.

Jefferson found little fault with the state constitutions. For the most part, they stated:

  • All power is inherent in the people and is theirs to exercise in direct democracy and/or by selecting representatives
  • They have a right to be armed at all times
  • They have freedom of person
  • They have freedom of religion
  • They have freedom of property
  • They have freedom of the press

I wonder what Jefferson would think of our current state of affairs, where we have the largest prison population in the world, major presidential candidates who want to disarm the entire country, survelliance programs that potentially are tracking each and every one of us on a daily basis, government telling people they must violate their faith to obey the government, eminent domain, and press corps that lick the boots of the White House.

In the structure of our legislatures, we think experience has proved the benefit of subjecting questions to two separate bodies of deliberants; but in constituting these, natural right has been mistaken, some making one of these bodies, and some both, the representatives of property instead of persons; whereas the double deliberation might be as well obtained without any violation of true principle, either by requiring a greater age in one of the bodies, or by electing a proper number of representatives of persons, dividing them by lots into two chambers, and renewing the division at frequent intervals, in order to break up all cabals.

Jefferson here praises the separation of powers and encourages the frequent flushing of the legislature. What would he think of us today?

Virginia, of which I am myself a native and resident, was not only the first of the States, but, I believe I may say, the first of the nations of the earth, which assembled its wise men peaceably together to form a fundamental constitution, to commit it to writing, and place it among their archives, where every one should be free to appeal to its text. But this act was very imperfect. The other States, as they proceeded successively to the same work, made successive improvements; and several of them, still further corrected by experience, have, by conventions, still further amended their first forms. My own State has gone on so far with its premiere ebauche; but it is now proposing to call a convention for amendment.

All right, first, I have to thank Jefferson for teaching me a new word “ebauche” which is the preliminary sketch of a canvas prior to painting. I didn’t know it had a specific term.

Jefferson was very proud of Virginia and its exercise in self-government. Virginia may, he said, have been the first nation (note that he calls it a NATION, not a state) to write a constitution and put it on permanent record for everyone to appeal to. Yet, he admitted, it was an imperfect document and wanted amendment. Other States had discovered improvements, areas of liberty that required acknowledgment. It was time for Virginia to amend its constitution as well.

Among other improvements, I hope they will adopt the subdivision of our counties into wards. The former may be estimated at an average of twenty-four miles square; the latter should be about six miles square each, and would answer to the hundreds of your Saxon Alfred. In each of these might be, 1. An elementary school. 2. A company of militia, with its officers. 3. A justice of the peace and constable. 4. Each ward should take care of their own poor. 5. Their own roads. 6. Their own police. 7. Elect within themselves one or more jurors to attend the courts of justice. And 8. Give in at their Folk-house, their votes for all functionaries reserved to their election. Each ward would thus be a small republic within itself, and every man in the State would thus become an acting member of the common government, transacting in person a great portion of its rights and duties, subordinate indeed, yet important, and entirely within his competence. The wit of man cannot devise a more solid basis for a free, durable and well administered republic.

Jefferson then laid-out what he hoped a republic might look like. He wanted small wards to divide larger counties. Each of those wards should:

  1. educate its children
  2. provide for its defense
  3. assure peace within its borders
  4. take care of its own poor
  5. build its own roads
  6. hire its own police
  7. elect jurors
  8. vote for representatives

Jefferson envisioned each ward being a republic unto itself, where every man would have a voice, exercising their rights and duties. He saw this as the foundation of republican self-government.

I have to say that if our communities were organized in this way now, we might have less frustration with our government. In the borough that I live in, we have a geographic divide between conservatives — mostly working-class (although some are college-educated) and former military who live on the east end of the borough (sort of like a county) and liberals – mostly university professors and government employees who live on the west side of the borough. These two broad groups are in a tug-of-war with one another, each trying to coerce the other into doing things their way. Would it not be better if we had smaller units where folks with similar ideas could work together to achieve their goals and pretty much ignore adjacent neighborhoods that have divergent goals?

Jefferson himself admitted that this letter was long and rambling (he was 84 years old, after all), so I’m going to make this a two part series.

Jefferson on the Federal Government

Faces of Money   Leave a comment

These days there is a movement to take the old “heroes” off our money and put new “heroes” on them. Remember, I’m not a big believer in “heroes”. I think people commit acts of courage and sometimes live through heroic seasons, but people are a pretty crap foundation on which to hang the label “hero”.

This is a part of the Open Book Blog Hop’s yearlong exploration of courage. When you have 52 weeks to explore a topic, you can range rather wide on your explorations.

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I don’t really care who is on the face of our currency …

Well, except … I do because other people do.

I know some politically foolish American Indians who have boycotted the $20 bill for years because Andrew Jackson was guilty of Indian genocide and they hated seeing his face. That’s their right, of course, and I would never try to stop them from expressing their opinion in this way, but I think Andrew Jackson’s been dead for some years and not using $20 bills is just silly. So, as an American Indian, I’m glad to see the US Treasury is finally removing Jackson from the $20 bill and I think Harriet Tubman is a fine choice … except ….

If you’re trying to make a statement apologizing for the North American Indian genocide that Andrew Jackson represented, then maybe an American Indian as his replacement would be a better choice. I can name a few potential candidates. I’m not big on warriors, but American Indians did have some peacekeepers: Denanawidah of the Huron-Wendat who sought peace among the Iroqois nations; Massasoit of the Wampanoag who sought peace with the Plymouth Colony; Tarhe of the Wyandot, who had been a warrior for many years, but when he became Sachem tried to make peace with settlers in the Ohio Valley; Handsome Lake of the Seneca, who preached peace during Tenskatawa and Tecumsah’s violent uprising; Sweet Medicine who was founder of the Cheyenne Peace Chiefs; Black Kettle, White Antelope and Lean Bear also Cheyenne Peace Chiefs; Chief Komotalakia of the Sanpoil …. Just a few thoughts there.

Before you complain that Harriet Tubman deserves to be on the $20 bill and excluding her would be racist … how about we replace Alexander Hamilton on the $10 bill with Tubman. Despite his revisionist press, Alexander Hamilton was a monarchist and opportunistic con artist whose economic policies re-instituted mercantilism in the American economy, mixing with nascent capitalism and eventually leading to the mess we have today. I’m not surprised that he ended up on our money, but he doesn’t belong there anymore than Andrew Jackson or King George. He is as much a symbol of tyranny … we just don’t realize it because the tyranny he espoused was economic rather than political. So give Harriet Tubman her due by replacing him.

There is discussion of removing Benjamin Franklin from the $5 bill to replace him with some feminist rights leader. I object. First, Benjamin Franklin EARNED his place on our money, maybe more so than George Washington and certainly more than Alexander Hamilton. Franklin, Jefferson and Adams co-wrote the Declaration of Independence, after all. Second, many of the feminist rights leaders were horrible people. Margaret Sanger was a racist child-murderer. Alice Paul promoted violence as a means to “equality”.  Elizabeth Cady Stanton was a virulent supporter of extremely liberal divorce and Christian heresy.

Lucy Stone, Carrie Chapman Catt, or Matilda Joslyn Gage might be good choices, but the above shows that just selecting some random women’s rights activitist would be as bad as selecting Andrew Jackson. Just because a woman was loud and obnoxious does not mean she was a good role model for women’s rights.

Now here’s the thing — they can change the faces of our money and I ultimately won’t care because I have more important things to do with my time than lament that a genocidal racist from 200 years ago is on the $20 bill or the $10 bill or the penny, but there are people who really care about these things and maybe we should stop and take a deep breath and be absolutely sure that the people we’re holding up as heroes actually did some courageous things rather than just won a military battle or three or yelled more loudly at a suffragette gathering.

Heroism should always include some measure of actual courage and effort toward something actually worthwhile.

Stay Tuned for Thoughtful Thursday   Leave a comment

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I’m still exploring the many faces of courage. If you would like to join us —

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Cover Design   5 comments

So I’m working on the cover for Objects in View, the second book in Transformation Project. Someday, maybe, I’ll be able to afford a cover designer, but for now, I can’t and I am not without skills in this department, so why not use them?

I am not without bravery when I create my covers. I could go with a generic faded background where you can’t tell what the book might be about, but I don’t. I’ve always liked books that gave me a hint of what is inside the cover. Books don’t just speak with words. The way they are designed communicates so much.

I honestly think a lot of authors and publishers miss the point that the cover is a teaser. You want folks to see the cover and say “Hey, I want to read this book.”

The trend in book covers these days is to stick a face somewhere against an out-of-focus background with a nice bold title. There’s a similarity to many that doesn’t tell me much. I like a book cover that presents a puzzle, that makes the reader think.


You clearly don’t want to overdo this and confuse the reader, but you want the cover to create questions that the reader would now like to have answered. At the least, there should be something from the book on the cover. Hence why I added the cover images of other authors to this blog post.

You can buy cover images from websites and I’m not denigrating these. They’ve opened up a world of decent covers for indie authors who are not artists or who don’t know any artists or who can’t afford more expensive cover art. Just be aware that generic covers may lack what you want most from a cover, the “free” marketing potential of a cover that says “Hey, there’s something good beneath this cover. Come check it out.”

So, let me critique the covers I’m featuring here. Katharine Kerr’s Deverry Cycle had smack-awesome covers after the first two books were published. The scene from the cover actually occurs in the book, by the way. That’s Rhodry and Yren sheltering in a broken dun. More, though, if you had never read one of Kerr’s books, you might be curious about the clothes these men are wearing and what those strange ruins are behind them. They’re in intense conversation about something. What? And why the heck do the horses still carry their burdens when the men are resting by a campfire?

fantasy_coverThe Way of Kings has less detail, but it makes it really clear that there will be epic battles in this book and probably involve very challenging landscape — which the book has. And the use of color definitely catches your eye even in a thumbnail. Brandson Sanderson’s name dominates the cover, and would eclipse the title if the title weren’t in red. That’s fine … for Brandon Sanderson who is just coming off finishing the Wheel of Time series. He’s an A-list fantasy writer. As an indie author, my name has no marketing value. The title is far more important and it should take center stage.

Now, let’s use an example here. I have published two epic fantasies. Would this generic cover be appropriate for either one of them?  I would argue “no”. The cover says to me that there will be a weak female with a fencing sword being victimized in this novel and maybe it’s going to rain and … is that a campfire near her butt? None of that occurs in The Willow Branch or Mirklin Wood. So why would I elect to put this cover from The Book Cover Designer website on my book?

Willow Branch Blue White Recreation CoverI wouldn’t. This is not a complaint against The Book Cover Designer website. They have some cool covers advertised and a few I actually would buy if I needed a cover and couldn’t create one of my own. I can go out and buy my own images and put them together in a collage that will hint at what is inside the book. So why wouldn’t I do that since I actually have those skills?

My point in this article is not to discourage indie authors from using cover designers, but to point out that we don’t need to be constrained by rules when we are indies. The “authors should never design their own covers” rule should be grouped with the “self-publishing is only for bad books” thought. The point of self-publishing is to put out a quality product. If you can’t do that with the skills you have, hire the skills you need. If you can … that leaves you with more money to spend on some other facet of book publishing where you need help.

Don’t be discouraged by rules that other people put on you. It’s okay to get advice, but ultimately, remember that its your name that ends up on the front of the book.

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