Saturday, August 25, 2012


“When the Almighty himself condescends to address mankind in their own language, his meaning, luminous as it must be, is rendered dim and doubtful by the cloudy medium through which it is communicated.”
James Madison, The Federalist Papers

Friday, August 17, 2012

Who Killed the Constitution? by Thomas E. Woods and Kevin R. C. Gutzman

I’ve started reading some libertarian-leaning books lately and this is one of them. It’s a little dense at times—even though I assume it was written for the lay public—going into some detail about the constitutional arguments surrounding a dozen or so historic Supreme Court decisions or Presidential actions. In many ways, it was a good history lesson for me, but more fundamentally, it left me asking a very specific question.

Is nationalism inevitable?

Let me explain. There was a debate that happened while the U.S. Constitution was being written and ratified. The debate had two sides:

1. The “Nationalists,” who thought the government in Washington should be a national one, with wide-ranging powers to act, especially in places were the separate states were thought to be incompetent, and

2. The “Federalists,” who thought the government in Washington should be a federal one, with only a specified set of powers granted it by the states.

In 1787, the Federalists won. In fact…

Federalist proponents of the new Constitution…pointed to this feature of the Constitution to assure doubters that the new government would not subvert the principle of local self-government for which the Revolution had been fought. As Governor [Edmund] Randolph of Virginia put it, the federal government was to have only the powers it was “expressly delegated.”

…and the Constitution was ratified by the states with that express purpose in mind. And today, in fact, the Constitution still reads this way. It lists the limited powers that the federal government has and, expressly in Article Ten of the Bill of Rights, says that all powers not explicitly stated are reserved to the states.

But that is not how we interpret the Constitution today. Today, we have a much more “nationalistic” perspective, and Woods and Gutzman’s book is a catalog of the major steps that took us along that path.

There are several examples of presidential power expanding beyond the letter of the Constitution—Roosevelt confiscating gold, Truman seizing the steel mills, Bush’s policy on the unitary executive during wartime—but so are there examples of the Supreme Court expanding the scope of Federal power through (according to the authors) unconstitutional decisions. Desegregating and banning organized prayer in the public schools both fit into this category and, I have to admit, their arguments for the unconstitutionality of these decisions are logically sound, as much as we (and even the authors) might support the intent behind them.

And that, I think, is the key idea. It’s human nature. If you want to do things badly enough, you inevitably find ways to get them done, regardless of any rules that have been written to prohibit them—especially if you are the one responsible for interpreting the rules. The authors credit Thomas Jefferson with first making this observation with regard to the American experiment.

He knew that if the federal government had a monopoly on constitutional interpretation, it would naturally read the Constitution in its own favor, always announcing that it had discovered in the text yet more power that it could exercise. He insisted that the states, twelve of whose delegates had drafted the Constitution, and all of which by 1790 had ratified it, were entitled to make ultimate constitutional determinations, because the only alternative was a central government monopoly that in the end would swallow up the states.

This is where things stand today. There are some fledgling “Tenth Amendment” movements that are gaining some ground—most notably with regard to what states want to do with medical marijuana and their clashes with federal drug policy—but we are largely a nation with a monopoly on power at the federal level. I’m not ready to say that’s either good or bad, but it does make one of the authors’ closing paragraphs much more compelling.

It is perhaps jarring to consider the possibility that constitutions are destined to fail. After all, we are indoctrinated from early childhood with the idea that the Constitution is the font of our liberties—even though Americans were free before it was written. And it is to the U.S. Constitution that every government official still swears his fidelity. But when we look beyond the grand rhetoric to the actual record, we must confront a troubling conclusion: once an institution obtains supreme force, it is probably utopian to expect its powers to remain limited over time—especially when the one thing doing the limiting is a document that is interpreted and enforced by the very institution it is supposed to restrain.

So again, I ask. Is nationalism inevitable?

Thursday, August 9, 2012


“You deal with the madmen. All men are mad in some way or the other; and inasmuch as you deal discreetly with your madmen, so deal with God’s madmen, too—the rest of the world. You tell not your madmen what you do nor why you do it; you tell them not what you think. So you shall keep knowledge in its place, where it may rest—where it may gather its kind around it and breed.”
Bram Stoker, Dracula (Prof. Abraham Van Helsing)

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Chapter Twenty-Five


Speculative Fiction
Approximately 69,000 words Copyright © Eric Lanke, 1991. All rights reserved.

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It was still raining when my father, Gildegarde Brisbane II, arrived at the edge of the cliff that held Farchrist Castle above the city below, Raveltown. His career as a Farchrist Knight ended in disgrace, he felt his life and purpose crashing down all around him. He loved Amanda, my mother, and that might have been worth living for if he hadn’t loved his god more. He looked out over the rainy expanse of the Sea of Darkmarine and offered a little prayer up to Grecolus. He did not ask for forgiveness. He did not ask for mercy. All he asked for was for it to end when his body crashed into the rocks so far below. After a life lived in devotion to Grecolus, in his last moments, he wanted no part of the afterlife the god offered him. His body was found the next day by a pair of young boys who had come to dig for clams.

+   +   +

During the march forced upon him for the rest of the day, Brisbane decided the rumors he had heard about orks may not have mentioned their use of magic, but they had hit the nail on the head when it came to their brutality and downright meanness.

It took them many hours to come to the end of the dark tunnel that started in the ettins’ cave and bored down into the earth, sometimes at unbelievable angles. Brisbane spent the whole time lost in the pitch that surrounded him, his eyes never adjusting to the point where he could see anything. At times, he wasn’t sure if his eyes were open or closed.

His constant companion in the blackness was the pain, the pain that seemed to have intensified with the deprivation of his sight. His chest still labored for breath from the abuse his lungs had sustained in his near-drowning in the Mystic River. The pain in his stomach was dull and constant, and the left side of his face felt like it had swelled up to epic proportions. He started to cough, his face and his abdomen competing to see which could hurt him more when he did so, and he brought up something behind his gag that could only be blood by the way it tasted. Unable to spit it out, he was forced to choke the fluid back down.

He was a mess. One ork always had his hand clamped on his wrists and every time he staggered or slowed his pace, the ork would give him a shove that hurt his arms and caused him to trip over his own feet. Three times, he actually fell to the ground and had to be hauled back to his feet amidst the echoing sounds of what he could only assume were orkish curses.

Besides these orations, the orks were mostly silent as they made their way through the rock of the mountain. He tried to carry on some sort of mental conversation with Angelika, who Snaggletooth still carried in the darkness, but his mind was too preoccupied with his pain and Angelika was too preoccupied with their inevitable vengeance. She seemed unable to tell him anything else, nothing except warnings to be strong and promises of revenge. She knew nothing specific about his fate or the fate of his friends, and these were the two subjects he was most concerned with.

First, he had no idea what was to become of him. Shortwhiskers had said orks captured people to be slaves, for food, or for both. He hated to think Snaggletooth was taking him back to his village, or clan, or tribe, or whatever it was, to roast him over a slow fire until his juicy meat fell right off his bones. He supposed that could be his eventual fate, but he thought they would want something else from his first. Snaggletooth had been ready to kill him when he had finally gotten him off their ex-leader, but the ork’s sword arm had been stayed by the sight of his medallion. Groo-mack, Snaggletooth had said to his goons, and they had quickly tied him up and gagged him. They gagged him. That was something they hadn’t done the first time he was captured. They did it the second time, though, and very effectively. A balled-up rag had been stuffed in his mouth and a second one tied around his face to keep the first one in place. He could make no articulate sounds and his screams were muffled into whimpers.

Why did they gag him? Who could he call out to for help? There was no one here in the wilderness or in this tunnel beneath the earth. They may just not want to hear him jabbering, but he had a hunch it was something more than that. Something much more than that.

Groo-mack. It kept coming back to that. What did it mean? If a pentacle meant the same thing to orks it meant to humans, groo-mack could mean any number of things, all of them in the same vein. Magic and magic-using. Did Snaggletooth think he was a wizard? That would explain the gag. If they thought he was a hostile wizard, a gag would effectively prohibit him from speaking the proper vocal tones to cast spells. And his hands being tied prevented him from making the right hand gestures.

That had to be it. The truth of it hit home for him. It made sense. They thought he was some kind of wizard so they had tied and gagged him so he couldn’t cast any spells against them.

But he did not consider himself anything but the most paltry kind of wizard. His talent was confined to a small amount of cantrips, and his one offensive spell, shocking grasp. He certainly hoped the situation never came about where he would have to prove his magical skill to the orks. He could only imagine the orks would be disappointed with his performance.

But these thoughts were secondary in his mind. Foremost was concern over his companions’ welfare since he had left them on that platform atop the peak overlooking the mountain lake. His heart still fluttered over what the absence of Roystnof’s light spell might mean for him, but Roystnof was not the only one on his mind. He felt concern for Shortwhiskers and especially Stargazer. Hopefully, they would, or had already, survived the attack of that strange bird-monster. He was sure they could, if things had gotten really nasty, have easily retreated back into the endless corridor and escaped the monster.

They would come looking for him, he was sure of that. If able, they would come looking for him. Dantrius might not like it, but that had never stopped the party’s actions before. They would come looking for him—but what would they find? Shortwhiskers might be able to find the spot on the bank of the Mystic where his scuffle and capture had taken place, but then what? A guess to look in the ettins’ cave and a lucky discovery of the secret door they could not open without the magic orkish word? He had to accept the fact that he could not count on a rescue by his friends. He was going to have to orchestrate that himself. He had been effectively separated from his friends and any reunion they were ever going to have would only result if he stayed on his toes and took advantage of the first and smallest opportunity to escape his captors.

Roystnof, Shortwhiskers, and Stargazer—their faces flashed before his blind eyes and he tried not to moan out in desperation. Other faces flashed before him, people who had passed out of his life for reasons as different as their individualities. Roundtower, his mother, even Otis seemed to hang in the air before him with the solidity of regret. They all seemed so far away now, almost as if they had never really been, and he wondered if he would live long enough to forget them entirely. He wondered if he could live long enough to forget them entirely.

Angelika, are you sure?

Strength and patience, young Brisbane. Vengeance shall be ours.

These are the thoughts that filled Brisbane’s head when the pain of his injuries allowed him to think as he marched down the steep grade of the dark tunnel. They were not unusual things for a young man in his situation to be thinking, but an objective observer privy to his thoughts might have found two thoughts missing from his concerns a bit unusual.

The first was that even though he was in a cramped, dark tunnel, lost impossibly far under the pressing weight of tons and tons of mountain rock, he had no traces of the claustrophobia clouding his thoughts like he had experienced in the meditation chamber. A sympathetic voice might be able to explain this away by saying he had much more realistic threats to his health to worry about than the thought-induced paralysis that seemed to seize claustrophobics, and there aren’t many who would argue against this being the case. But it was not so easy to explain his seeming unconcern for his near-lunatic behavior when the ex-leader of the orks had taken Angelika away from him. Granted, Angelika was no ordinary sword, but it might profit one to speculate on what kind of hold she must have had on him to illicit such a reaction.

The small group spent many hours in the dark tunnel, slowly making their way down and through it. Brisbane began to wonder—like he had done not long before in a different place and what already seemed like a different life—if it would ever come to an end. Like all things, however, the tunnel eventually did end and it surprised him as endings often do. The orks suddenly brought him to a halt with a rough jolt. He still had trouble seeing his surroundings, and for the past few hours he had begun to rely on his other senses. His strangely sensitive ears heard Snaggletooth’s voice mumble another ursh-low and suddenly bright light stabbed into his eyes like knives. He tried to bring his hands up to cover them but his hands were still tied behind his back and he could only shut his eyelids and try to turn his head away from the light.

For a moment, he wondered if this was how Roundtower felt when Roystnof had transformed him from stone back to flesh.

He was pushed forward again and with his eyes closed he tripped over his own feet and nearly fell to the ground for the fourth time. He tried to open his eyes a crack and the light wasn’t as bad so he opened them a little more. Another secret door had been opened before him and through his half-masted eyelids he could see the door opened onto the outside.

The sun was out, warming the late afternoon sky as if it had never been raining. His eyes were quickly getting used to the light as he stepped out into the sunshine behind Snaggletooth. He could see they had exited the mountain at its base and now stood upon a sparse and hilly plain. The Windcrest Hills, he realized. They had cut through the heart of the Crimson Mountains and now stood on the southern edge of the Windcrest Hills. He had traveled through the mountains before, but that had been along the bank of the Mystic, and that river must have been leagues to the west. The orks were going to take him into the heart of the hills, to their home, their campsite, their village.

Before they moved on, Snaggletooth came over to Brisbane and forced him down onto the earth. He was speaking to his men as he did this, and when he got him down he took out a sharp-looking knife and pressed it against Brisbane’s throat. It felt sharp, too.

Another ork, this one whose pig ears didn’t seem to stand up like those of his comrades and whom Brisbane mentally named Floppy, brought out a length of thick rope and began to tie each end of it around one of Brisbane’s ankles. When Floppy was finished, his feet were connected with a sturdy rope not much more than a foot in length.

He was hauled back up to his feet, Snaggletooth putting his sharp knife away, and the day’s forced march continued. The rope prevented him from taking a full step and he was forced to hobble along on little stutter-steps. He dismally realized the rope snuffed out his hope of running for it if the orks ever left him unguarded for so much as a second. He had a hard enough time just trying to keep up with Snaggletooth’s walking pace like this. He couldn’t beat a cripple in a foot race. And besides, Floppy had retaken his place behind Brisbane, holding onto his bound arms. These orks were determined not to let him escape, and he guessed Snaggletooth had a lot more experience at preventing an escape than he had at effecting one.

The pain of his injuries continued to plague him as he was pushed over and around the Windcrest Hills, but new aches began to sneak up on him as well. His hands had gone numb in their constraints and the aches developing in his contorted arms would have made an arthritic wince. His legs were suffering too, the strange pace and cadence forced upon him was taking its toll in muscle spasms and strains. He felt like he could not go on for much longer.

But overshadowing all of this was the growing pang of hunger that seemed to have taken over his abdomen, moving in without permission and taking up more space than it deserved. Brisbane realized he hadn’t eaten since breakfast that morning, a cheery little meal he had shared with his friends before the entrance of the forgotten temple. It had been some simple warmed-over stew, what had been the staple of their diet since they had left Queensburg, but now it seemed like it had been a gourmet feast. He could only hope the orks would take off his gag long enough to feed him, but guessing at how much they would mistrust him if he were indeed a powerful wizard, he doubted he would receive much nourishment. He bit angrily at his gag and wondered if he would ever eat again.

The late afternoon amidst the hills was warm and still, and his unusual effort was beginning to make him sweat heavily. He saw Snaggletooth had a canteen at his belt, surely filled with clean water and surely acquired from some poor merchant the orks had ransacked on the road between Queensburg and Scalt. The dirty rag stuffed in his mouth had become saturated with his own saliva, and he could get some meager relief by sucking on it, but it was nothing compared to what ten seconds with Snaggletooth’s canteen would bring.

Being forced through that dark tunnel had been a walk in the park compared to marching under the sun with his feet tied together. He began to watch the sun, begging for it to move faster across the sky. He was sure the orks would take a break at sundown, or maybe even camp for the night, but this certainly came out of desperation and not any visible evidence. The orks did not seem to tire and they looked as healthy now as they had at the beginning. He tried not to let his mind entertain surely mad notions that orks were indefatigable and never needed to sleep.

His body, in its pain and discomfort, reached a point of separation from his mind and he began to lose the image of his surroundings. They did not matter. He could be walking through scrub land, in a forest, down the main street of a city, or even across the surface of the Sea of Darkmarine. All that mattered was that he was walking, walking, walking until Snaggletooth said it was okay to stop. He just hoped he could understand the ork’s order when it came.

As it turned out, Brisbane had no trouble understanding Snaggletooth when he finally called the procession to a halt. The sun was dipping into the eastern horizon, and the party was following the curve of a large hill, when Snaggletooth stopped. Floppy let go of his wrists and Brisbane walked a few more steps until he almost collided with Snaggletooth. He looked up and around, seeing they had stopped and he was no longer being held onto, but instead of making a mad, hobbling dash for it—something he might have tried two long hours ago—he dropped to his knees and slowly put his forehead on the hard, compacted earth in front of him.

He heard Snaggletooth and his goons laugh at him. At that moment he felt so beaten, helpless, and pathetic that he would have sold his soul (assuming he had one to sell) to Damaleous himself just to be free of his gag. Not so he could cast a spell on them but just so he could stand up and spit in Snaggletooth’s face.

Go to the hells you pig-faced son of a bitch. Angelika says I’m going to stomp around in your intestines and I’m going to enjoy it.

The orks went about setting up a camp for the night, or what must pass for a camp in orkish circles. They had no mules to carry their gear and, as a result, they had no items of luxury such as tents, bedrolls, or cookware. An ork camp consisted mainly of a hastily made campfire around which they huddled for warmth. Brisbane should have expected this from the orkish campsite they had stumbled onto during their journey up the Mystic, but he wasn’t exactly thinking clearly. The orks had left him where he had collapsed and they built their campfire a little way off to his left.

When they had their fire going well and the sky had darkened enough to be called night, Brisbane looked around him and saw Floppy producing and handing out thin strips of preserved meat from a pack he had been carrying. Brisbane’s stomach growled at him and, even though he knew he had little hope of getting anything, he got to his knees and crawled over to where the orks were reclining on the ground.

He was nearly on top of them before anyone noticed him. They all turned to look at him and he stopped where he was, putting his best look of vacuous hunger on his face. The orks turned to look at their leader and Snaggletooth addressed them in curt tones.

They’re not going to feed me! The thought flashed across Brisbane’s mind like a brushfire. They’re too scared of my magic to take off my gag. The only spell I know requires the use of my hands, too. Please, please, I won’t try to do anything.

One of the orks got up and started coming over to him. This one, at close to six feet, was at least two inches shorter than any of his companions. Half-Pint had a canteen of water in one hand and two strips of the preserved meat in the other. He knelt down before Brisbane and began to growl at him in his harsh-sounding tongue. He put the canteen down on the ground and the strips of meat down on top of it. He took a sharp knife out of his belt, one much like Snaggletooth’s, and pressed the tip of the blade against Brisbane’s throat.

The ork put his finger across his lips and said, “Shhh…”

Brisbane got the point. If he made one sound, Half-Pint was going to stab the knife into his neck. No noise, Half-Pint, you can trust me, nothing but chewing and swallowing. He slowly nodded his head.

Half-Pint reached behind Brisbane’s head and untied the gag. He took the securing strap off and Brisbane let the wadded-up rag fall out of his mouth. He stretched his jaws and they popped painfully. Half-Pint picked up one of the strips of meat and stuffed it into Brisbane’s mouth, the dagger still pressed against his throat. He began to chew. He did not know what kind of meat it was, but it was delicious. Whatever had been used to preserve it had dried it out a little, but he was in no position to complain. It was soon gone and Half-Pint stuffed the second one in.

Half-Pint held the canteen while he waited for Brisbane to swallow his second strip of meat. Brisbane quickly did and opened his mouth to show he was finished. Half-Pint held the canteen up to Brisbane’s lips and began to pour waves of crystal-clear water down his throat. Brisbane gurgled noisily as he swallowed as much as he could before Half-Pint took the canteen away and closed it up. When the ork did, Brisbane felt like a puppy deprived of its favorite treat. He looked pleadingly into the ork’s eyes, but Half-Pint only stuffed the rag back into his mouth and retied the gag, tighter than it had been before.

The meal had lasted no more than a minute and Brisbane had done just what he had been told. He wished he did know some ultra-powerful spell so he could speak just one word and have Snaggletooth and his goons burst into never-ending flames. He bet himself Roystnof would know some kind of spell like that and he would have used it as soon as that spit-soaked rag had fallen from his mouth.

Half-Pint pushed Brisbane around and got him to lay face down on the ground. He offered up no resistance even though he did not know what the ork was going to do. Half-Pint sat on his back and began to undo the bonds that had held his hands behind his back all day. He couldn’t see, but he knew Half-Pint had his sharp knife in his teeth, ready to plunge it into his back if he even flinched the wrong way.

Soon his hands were free and they dropped numb to his sides. Half-Pint began to massage them roughly and the blood started to run back into them. It hurt, but he decided the pain was better than no feeling at all. He still ached all over and the side of his face felt swollen and tender. He tried to rest it against the ground, but it was too painful and he had to lay his head down with his nose pointed the other way.

All too soon, Half-Pint began to retie his hands together behind his back. He tried not to whimper as his bonds were returned to him and the ork got off his back and went back to the campfire, his duties completed. Brisbane rolled over onto his side and watched the orks finish their meal, seeming to gorge themselves, and chat in their strange language. He was still hungry, but at least he was no longer starving, and he tried to keep his mind off his stomach.

For quite some time, Brisbane tried to make some kind of sense out of what the orks were saying to each other, but it was impossible and eventually he had to give it up. It was hard for him to make out individual words, he was unfamiliar with the syntax of the language and it was a chore just to figure out where one word ended and the next one started. He heard the groo-mack word several times, and he could only assume they were talking about him, but what they were saying and what it meant for his future were as unknowable as the secrets of creation.

Eventually, the orks began to get ready for a night’s rest and Brisbane had a glimmer of hope that perhaps they would sleep without guarding him and he could slip away into the night. But this was not to be the case, as he saw Half-Pint preparing a spot where he could sit up and watch him. He didn’t know how many watches the orks were going to set, but he realized that with five of them, they could set enough so no one would be in danger of falling asleep while on duty.

He stayed just where he was, lying on his side, and let his head rest in the dirt. He watched Snaggletooth settle down to sleep with Angelika laying length-wise by his side.

He cursed the ork. Four, they only have four available for guard duty because Snaggletooth is the leader now and leaders don’t stand watch. Leaders get to sleep the night through and wake bright-eyed and fresh in the morning. Just ask the ork laying at the bottom of the Mystic River what it’s like. He knows. He used to be a leader. Leaders are special people with powers above the regular man, aren’t they, Snaggletooth? You’re the leader now and you’ve got the power, but let me ask you something. Why can’t you pull that sword out of her scabbard? Big strong leader like you should be able to do that. Why can’t you pull Angelika out of her scabbard? I can.

He began to drift off to sleep despite the hardness of the ground and his uncomfortable position. He had been walked to exhaustion, and his body just shut down for a night of much needed rest.

Sometime during the night Brisbane had a dream. In it, he and Stargazer were in the clearing where they had met Ellahannah. But they were not petting the unicorn, they were making love underneath a soft shower of pink flower petals. Ellahannah was there, but she was not alone. Dozens of unicorns were there, all running in a mad circle around the lovers in the center of the clearing. Stargazer was on top of him and as she quickened her pace, taking more and more of him inside her, the unicorns began to run faster and faster in an ever-tightening circle. His head reeled with sexual ecstasy, his hands cupped around Stargazer’s buttocks and his eyes fixed on her full and swinging breasts, and just as his dream-body thundered in climax, he jerked himself awake and found himself staring into the eyes of his guard. The ork was smiling at him and Brisbane was sure he somehow knew what he had been dreaming about. He rolled over onto his other side, turning his back on the ork, and tried to go back to sleep.

Eventually, he did.