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Thursday, April 07, 2016

A Very Knowledgeable Nonlawyer Discusses Who Gets to Interpret the Constitution

The nonlawyer of whom I speak: my husband, Paul Hager, aka The Hoosier Gadfly. If you follow that link, you'll see that the gadfly has not bitten since October 2013. The problem: he's unwilling to put up a post unless he's thoroughly researched every aspect. So once in a while, I summarize points he's made in conversation, or cut and paste sections from his emails. Today, I'm doing the latter.

Paul had the following to say in response to a post by law professor and author Randy Barnett, concerning whether Obama's recent executive orders violate a president's constitutional duty to "take care that the laws be faithfully executed." Paul is, to put it mildly, no fan of President Obama, but in his view, Barnett's argument ignores an important possibility. That possibility: that a president might, acting in good faith and exercising his/her judgment, conclude that a federal statute violates the Constitution, even if the Supreme Court has upheld that statute, and that the president's oath "to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution" therefore requires that s/he refuse to act as Congress has dictated. The implications of this argument become more wide-ranging when we consider that state and local officials swear this same oath.

Enough introduction: here's Paul. (You can tell because he refuses to follow the American custom of putting punctuation inside quotation marks.)


Inevitably, interpretation of the Constitution is almost always performed by lawyers.  Lawyers have been so inculcated to the idea that the judiciary is the final say that they are blind to the Constitution as a POLITICAL structure that is supposed to exhibit homeostasis.  Legal education does not admit of the possibility that anyone NOT a member of the priestly class can figure out for themselves what the Constitution means.

I maintain that to "take care", a President must fulfill the pledge to support the Constitution.  When a law is in conflict with the original meaning of the Constitution, the President cannot enforce it.  If the Supreme Court weighs in and is wrong in the view of the President, (s)he cannot act.  In order to justify defying both Congress and the Court, the President must explain the reason fully and said explanation must be tied directly to the original meaning of the Constitution.  The ultimate remedy for a President who defies Congress and the Court for an unconstitutional reason is impeachment and removal from office.

While it is true that the SC is constrained to deal with only the small number of cases that come before it, bad decisions accrete over time.  They are almost impossible to reverse.  The result is a sclerotic system that is rigid and unable to return to its original state.

Also missing is the fact that state officials are bound to the Constitution.  The SC conveniently decided that state officials must defer to federal authority even if federal authority is wrong based upon the plain meaning of the Constitution.

The federal government is like the pre-Reformation Catholic Church.  Where is the Martin Luther who will challenge the 9 (8 at the moment) black-robed Popes and the rest of the entrenched hierarchy?

Monday, March 28, 2016

Some of what I love about Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow

So I don't blog for months, even as the world lurches further towards chaos and we endure the most interesting and bizarre presidential election campaign in many decades, and now I finally take up keyboard to respond to a book review? And it isn't even a review of one of my books?

Yes, because Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow is one of my very favorite books in any genre, and I cannot relax and digest my breakfast without addressing some points in the review that could discourage future readers.

The blog: Strange Charm, which "showcas[es] speculative fiction by women," and which has reviewed two of my own novels, an attention for which I'm grateful.

The review introduces the book very capably. The general reference to what happens "forty years later" is not a spoiler: the book follows two timelines throughout. However, the members of the mission are not, as the review indicates, "a bunch of people who happened to be at the same cocktail party." They are a well-established group of friends, already drawn together by various circumstances and connections. I do not agree that there is anything "madcap" about the deliberately discussed Jesuit mission to learn about the first sentient alien species discovered. And while I cannot rationally protest the reviewer's failure to like any of the characters other than the priest Emilio Sandoz, I protest nonetheless -- as I fell deeply in reader-love with them all upon first reading, and have remained in love with them for all the years since. I have never read more brilliant dialogue than much of the dialogue in this book (which I would never in a million years have thought of characterizing as "goofing around and telling dirty jokes," although upon reflection, I can see that the description has a certain unilluminating accuracy). And I firmly believe that many a reader who spends hundreds of pages with these complex, varied, fundamentally decent characters will emerge with some renewed hope for the human species.

For what it's worth, which I recognize isn't a great deal, I also had no problem with the pacing of the story or the revelation of what happened to the mission and its members. I will confess to a whisper of doubt as to the Father General's approach to psychology, but that is an unimportant quibble.

As for the strengths that Strange Charm identifies in the book, I agree heartily with all of them.

I have recommended The Sparrow many times, and do so again, with a caveat: terrible things happen. In fact, with a flippancy that neither the book nor its characters deserve, I have sometimes said that The Sparrow should bear the subtitle: When Terrible Things Happen to Good Jesuits and their Friends (a reference to this book).

The sequel, Children of God, is also very much worth reading. It is not quite as excellent as The Sparrow, but it is very good indeed (though its otherworldly politics are somewhat more intricate, which may be a challenge for those like me who can find intricacy a challenge). I recommend it to anyone who finishes The Sparrow with curiosity about Rakhat and its people, or about the intelligent, well-intentioned crew of humans who journeyed there.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Making It Easy: Links to All My Paperbacks on Amazon and B&N

In case any of you out there are looking for thought-provoking science fiction paperbacks to give as gifts, I thought I'd make it easy for you to find a few. And while I'm at it, I'll throw in my women's fiction/afterlife fantasy/family mystery novel and my nonfiction book about law and lawyers.

So here, in one convenient and easily shared post, are All The Links. (Well, all the U.S. links. For other countries, you can follow the link and then tweak it manually for your country.)

Twin-Bred (Book 1 of the Twin-Bred series, set in a human colony on the planet Tofarn)

Reach, a Twin-Bred novel (Book 2)

(Book 3 should be out in February or March of 2016.)

Division (near-future SF involving conjoined twins and a technology that could give them separate lives; winner of Readers Favorite's 5-star award)

Playback Effect (near-future SF thriller; winner of Awesome Indie's Seal of Excellence and Reders Favorite's 5-star award)

Wander Home (that mixed-genre novel I mentioned . . . .)

And finally, my latest release and first nonfiction book:

Closest to the Fire: A Writer's Guide to Law and Lawyers (useful not only to authors but to law and prelaw students, not to mention anyone who'd like to know more about the legal landscape surrounding us all)

Happy shopping, and happy celebrating!

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Overdue cartoon post re Donald Trump, courtesy of artist Livali Wyle

If I'd posted this cartoon back when I commissioned it from my talented artist daughter Livali Wyle, I'd have bragging rights vis-a-vis master blogger Instapundit, who used the same idea (though applied to the Democrats rather than the GOP primary electorate) in a much-publicized column this week.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

A link to a cover, because I sometimes need one

Sometimes I need a handy way to link to this cover. So here it is. Credit goes to Elizabeth DiPalma Design+.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Yes, Dry-Sounding Legal Concepts Can Lead to Thrilling Stories: Rusch's Retrieval Artist Series

I know. Some people will hear about my new book, Closest to the Fire: A Writer's Guide to Law and Lawyers, and they'll say: come on, now. How many interesting stories can you really base on obscure legal concepts?

Let us appreciate and ponder Kristine Kathryn Rusch's Retrieval Artist series.

In this science fiction series, going strong for thirteen years now, humanity has encountered and is doing interstellar business with a number of different alien species. Naturally, they all have their own world views and ways of doing things -- including their own legal systems. The premise of the series: that humans have consented to have these various aliens apply their own laws to humans who work on or otherwise visit the their planets. The problem: some of these alien laws are, by human standards, barbaric. For example, misunderstandings and the actions that flow from them may be crimes that condemn not only the criminal, but one or more of the criminal's children to anything from death to the transformation into something other than human.

In order to continue employing talented workers, the various multiplanetary corporations must provide some way for their employees to escape alien justice. The resulting industry "disappears" people, providing them with alternate identities and the means to assume them. But then there are the Trackers, who try to find the Disappeared and bring them to alien justice, as well as Retrieval Artists, whose function is at least supposed to be more palatable to human sensibilities. And that's just the beginning of all manner of plots and complications, not to mention fascinating characters.

My point: here's an engrossing, suspenseful, often mind-blowing, and successful science fiction series fundamentally based on . . . a choice of law issue. And yet, if you asked lawyers and law students (those who aren't already Rusch's ardent fans) what legal subject is too dry to use as the jumping-off point for exciting fiction, "choice of law" might well be one of the more common responses.

What fascinating fiction might the next writer base on some legal doctrine most people have never heard about? (And (ahem) where might the writer learn about that doctrine in the first place? . . .)

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Drumrolls, Trumpets, Bronx Cheers, Whatever: Closest to the Fire: A Writer's Guide to Law and Lawyers now available

After what, consulting my files, I find to be more than two years of effort, I've finally published my nonfiction reference work Closest to the Fire: A Writer's Guide to Law and Lawyers. This book started life as three guest blog posts on Indies Unlimited, titled "Getting It Right" and aimed at helping writers avoid errors one commonly sees in books and movies about legal matters. The book shares that goal, but even more, it seeks to entice writers and potential writers to come and explore the legal landscape with its many dramatic possibilities. It could also be of use to law students, as long as they treat it as a supplement to assigned texts rather than a replacement.

Did I say "published"? At least, I've released the paperback, which sprang up promptly on Amazon and has now made it to Barnes and Noble's online store; and I've put out less elegantly formatted Kindle and Smashwords editions. If my ebook formatter ever conquers numerous obstacles and provides the fancier ebook version he's undertaken, I'll update the Kindle edition with that, and also make it available in the Nook Store, Kobobooks, Apple, and Google Play. (If the fancy version never materializes in usable form, I'll just upload the more stripped-down version to those retailers.)

I somehow failed to "reveal" the cover here when I received it, so here's the lovely cover, designed by Elizabeth DiPalma Design+.

I asked Elizabeth to look for 19th-century law-related engravings, and she came up with one I absolutely loved and built a great cover around it. (The paperback is even prettier, what with a spine and back cover. The Amazon link, which I provided just above, lets you turn the cover image around, though it skips the spine on its way.)

So far, most people with whom I've discussed the matter lean toward the paperback rather than the ebook. I myself like to flip through actual pages when I'm looking something up. However, the ebook has one significant advantage: the numerous cross-references in the text, and all the Index entries, are live links.

Even if you wouldn't be interested in owning the ebook as opposed to the paperback, Amazon's page for the Kindle edition lets you investigate the book more thoroughly: since it's such a long book, the "Look Inside" feature lets you read the extensive Table of Contents plus the first five chapters and part of the sixth.

And if you'd like a peek at the paperback's loooong Index, you can head to the book's website and click on "Online Extras." That link also takes you to deleted passages, including one of my favorite rants, reluctantly excised from the discussion of interstate commerce and the case of Wickard v. Filburn.

Finally, a blatant plea: if you know an author or student who might want to learn more about this resource, please inform them that it exists.

Post-finally (sorry): I'll be posting updates on the book's website, and occasionally updating the ebook. Updating the paperback is a more daunting prospect, as it'd mean redoing that monster Index; but if the book does well enough, I will. A possible compromise: new appendices from time to time adding updates instead of integrating them into the main text.

First, the fiction update

When I went to my blog to post an update about my first nonfiction book, I saw the last post and realized I had some novel-related updates to do as well.

First, Playback Effect has acquired some more bling. :-) Long after I'd forgotten that any review was in the works, Readers' Favorite gave the book five stars, a rating which comes with a "five star seal" in one's choice of shiny or flat versions. Well, I like shiny . . . .

I don't think I'll try to cram it onto the paperback cover, where I already have the Awesome Indies award. And if I update the ebook cover, I'll probably use the AI badge as well. However, I'm considering adding the Readers' Favorite seal to the ebook and/or paperback of Division.


When I stashed the RF seal away on my PC, I stumbled on a similar seal for Division. Which I had, once again, forgotten about, and which I don't believe I ever mentioned here. So what the hey -- I'm mentioning.

Nothing else in the way of breaking news on the fiction front. After the grueling process of preparing my nonfiction book for publication, I finally had a chance to give a bit of attention to the third Twin-Bred book, still languishing in mid-revision -- but then had to turn what time I had to planning (a bit) for National Novel Writing Month. (The one backhanded benefit we get from Daylight Savings Time this year: that extra hour turns up on November 1st, giving Nano participants a little more time to come up with those first 1,667 words.)

Next up: The Announcement (re my writer's guide to law and lawyers).