Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Connecting the Dots: Asthma and Vitamin D deficiency

If I could ask Oprah Winfrey to fund just one act of philanthropy, it would be this:
1. Identify a group of African-Americans who have been diagnosed as asthmatic in each of the following cities: Seattle, Minneapolis, Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, New York, and Boston. Make sure the sample group in each city is scientifically significant, and that all of the group members are currently using prescribed inhalers for a chronic asthma condition.
2. Test the blood Vitamin D levels in all the group members in all seven cities.
3. Under a physician's supervision, give mega-dose Vitamin D therapy to all group members anywhere who are found to be Vitamin D deficient with objectively measured blood Vitamin D levels below the normal range.
4. After the Vitamin D therapy has succeeded in raising the blood Vitamin D levels into the normal range and that success has been verified by a subsequent blood test, determine whether the original asthma condition still exists in each group member who underwent therapy.

My expectation is that Vitamin D therapy will cure asthma in African-Americans in such dramatic fashion that some will call it a miracle.

Steven A. Sylwester

* * *

March 2008

Connecting the Dots: Asthma and Vitamin D deficiency

I am not a physician. Anyone reading this who is intrigued by the information should seek advice and guidance from a physician who is educated in nutrition before beginning self-treatment. Though vitamins and calcium do not require prescriptions, determining correct dosages for optimum benefit requires knowledge that is not self-evident.

My mother developed asthma in her late teenage years and has suffered from it since then. My youngest brother was born with serious asthma. Another brother has had episodes of asthma in his adulthood. I developed a serious asthma condition during adolescence that required ongoing medical therapy into my mid-20s. Consequently, I was not surprised when my youngest daughter was born with serious food allergies that eventually progressed to wheezing and finally to asthma.

Asthma is scary, and is also potentially life threatening. When I was a child, my mother almost died one night from an asthma attack. Growing up, I can remember my mother trying to calm and comfort my youngest brother as he struggled to breathe during the asthma attacks that plagued his childhood. When I developed exercise-induced asthma as an adolescent, I came to know firsthand what it feels like to not be able to breathe.

My youngest daughter had seasonal allergies that manifested in mild asthma, and exercised-induced asthma that sometimes crossed the threshold to something scary. One night, what was scary suddenly became urgent, and we ended up in the local hospital emergency room. After that, my youngest daughter started regularly using a prescription inhaler to control what had become a chronic condition. She was in 4th grade then.

As it happened, my youngest daughter was under the occasional care of a local physician who specializes in preventive medicine. This physician embraces all sorts of alternative medicine in his practice, and is willing to give credibility to treatments that are outside the mainstream. I first encountered homeopathy through a remedy given to my youngest daughter by this physician that was truly miraculous in its effectiveness.

But the story of how my youngest daughter was cured of asthma by this physician beats all. The cure is so simple and potentially so helpful to others that I must finally share it with others through this letter. I am telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth in what follows. The story is a connect-the-dots story that will be unbelievable to most readers, but it is nonetheless absolutely true.

My youngest daughter was born with a very serious cow milk allergy that manifested in horrible, unbearably itchy, skin rashes. As a baby, my youngest daughter was often just miserable in discomfort, and she regularly scratched herself until she bled. A local reputable pediatrician wanted to prescribe cortisone creams, and assured us that nothing my wife was eating or drinking could possibly be affecting my youngest daughter through my wife’s breast milk. We obtained a second opinion from the preventive medicine physician who categorically disagreed with the pediatrician. Following the preventive medicine physician’s advice, my wife eliminated all cow-dairy from her own diet along with mushrooms and all fermented food and drink, and my youngest daughter’s skin rashes entirely vanished as a consequence.

It is a plain certainty to me that a mother's personal diet impacts her breast milk, and that allergens in the mother's diet can pass along to the breastfeeding child through the breast milk.

Now fast forward approximately ten years. When the preventive medicine physician discovered that my youngest daughter was using prescribed inhalers for asthma, he convinced us to have my youngest daughter’s blood tested for Vitamin D. The dots he connected were these:
1. Because my youngest daughter’s diet had never included any cow-dairy products and because her regular drink was water, she consequently was not eating or drinking anything Vitamin D-fortified.
2. We live in Eugene, Oregon, which is famously cloudy during much of the year, so natural Vitamin D from sunlight exposure was likely insufficient.
3. In the alternative medicine literature, there are references to Vitamin D deficiency being a cause of asthma.

Well, sure enough, the blood test results revealed that my youngest daughter’s Vitamin D levels were significantly below the normal range; she was clearly Vitamin D deficient by the simple objective measure of a blood test. Consequently, the preventive medicine physician prescribed an intensive daily regimen of vitamins, calcium, cod liver oil, and flax oil to boost my youngest daughter’s blood Vitamin D level into the normal range, and then backed off the regimen a bit after the normal range was achieved. The outcome of this treatment was and remains absolutely stunning: my youngest daughter was completely cured of asthma!

It is now seven or eight years later, and the asthma has never returned. My youngest daughter exercises vigorously without wheezing. She can be exposed to cold and drafts without wheezing. And she goes through all local season changes without wheezing, and the Willamette Valley in Oregon where we live is perhaps the worst place in the entire United States to live if you suffer from hay fever. No wheezing. No asthma. Instead, uninterrupted good health throughout the year!

I cannot be more emphatic than this: Wheezing had become an established expected reality in my youngest daughter’s life, especially exercise-induced wheezing that would invariably trigger an episode of asthma. The condition was bad enough and so predictable that we had reached a point of keeping my youngest daughter home from school during the school’s annual walk-a-thon fund-raisers because her participation in a mere walk-a-thon guaranteed several days of asthma. From this she was cured!

My youngest daughter still takes her vitamins faithfully every day, but she has not used an inhaler at all —not even once— since her blood Vitamin D level was raised to the normal level seven or eight years ago. When we told this story to a local reputable physician who is an allergy and asthma specialist, that physician responded by saying she had never before heard of a connection between Vitamin D deficiency and asthma. The preventive medicine physician had told us back when he first recommended the Vitamin D blood test that physicians in general almost never test blood Vitamin D levels. He was telling the truth. The allergy and asthma specialist we talked with had never tested a patient’s blood Vitamin D level either before or after diagnosing and treating for asthma. Never!

So what is to be done?

These are the dots that can be connected in the general population:
1. Milk consumption is declining nationwide, so fewer and fewer people have Vitamin D-fortified drink as part of their regular diet.
2. A vast majority of African Americans are lactose intolerant as a consequence of racial trait and therefore do not drink any Vitamin D-fortified milk at all.
3. Dark-skinned African Americans have a biological destiny that has equipped their physical bodies for equatorial living in which ongoing regular near full-body sun exposure is common. The dark skin pigments of these people require significantly more sun exposure to obtain any natural Vitamin D. In their natural habitat of the equator zone, this is not a problem. However, when these people relocate to the northern latitudes of the United States and Canada where there is less hot sun and consequently colder temperatures that require full-body clothing during much of the year, the problem of natural Vitamin D deficiency as a consequence of limited sun exposure becomes huge!
4. Asthma is becoming more and more a problem in the United States, especially in the African American population.

Web site references:

Until a large scientific study is done to clearly identify the asthma and Vitamin D deficiency connection, asthmatic people can help themselves by having their blood Vitamin D level tested by a physician. If a blood Vitamin D level is found to be below the normal range, that blood level can be safely raised through a physician-directed vitamin therapy regimen — and that alone could cure asthma!

Steven A. Sylwester

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Building Code Revision Proposal: Photo-Voltaic Systems

I wrote a shorter version of the following that was published as a letter to the editor by several Oregon newspapers.

The Register-Guard : LETTERS IN THE EDITOR'S MAILBAG : "Require photovoltaic space" : Appeared in print Sunday, Aug 16, 2009. See here.

Portland Tribune : LETTERS — Readers' Letters : "Solar heyday for Oregon" : Appeared Sep 10, 2009. See here.

Steven A. Sylwester

* * *

In 1971, Oregon was the first state to enact a “bottle bill” law requiring a deposit and refund for returnable drink containers.

Oregon can again lead the way by enacting a statewide building code revision that requires architectural design inclusion of dedicated efficient space for photo-voltaic system installations according to industry-established minimum space requirements for all new construction of residential, commercial, and governmental structures enclosing at least 1,000 square feet of heated space.

All existing structures are exempt as long as no remodeling involves any structural changes to existing roofs, excluding any structural changes that solely relate to replacing or installing gutters, low profile skylights, vents, satellite dishes, and/or roofing. Any structural additions to existing structures that add or alter roof-lines to accommodate additional square footage are not exempt from the code requirements.

Required will be a minimum of 100 square feet of clear roof surface to accommodate solar modules or panels faced due south at an angle that matches the location’s latitude with an allowable 15- to 20-degree variation east or west from due south. The solar panels cannot be located where they will be shaded by trees or intruded upon by vents, chimneys, or other roof structure penetrations. An efficient accessible routing path from the roof array to a centralized inverter and then to the structure’s load center for the PV system’s generated energy will be required.

A careful reader will notice the building code revision only requires that appropriate dedicated space be included in new construction to allow for the efficient installation of a PV system at some time, not that a PV system actually has to be installed as part of the new construction.

The equivalent parallel thinking in Oregon's Bottle Bill is this: as a consumer, you must pay the "bottle" deposit at the time of purchase, and you are then entitled to a refund of that deposit, but you are not required to ever actually collect that refund. The refund might go uncollected forever, or be collected by someone else; whoever returns that particular "bottle" to a grocery store receives the refund.

Similarly, the original builder of a structure is not required to ever take advantage of the established opportunity to collect and generate solar power by constructing according to a building code that maximizes that potential, but any future owners of the structure will have that opportunity fully in place if they ever choose to install a PV system.

Just imagine the obstacles that faced the politicians who championed Oregon’s Bottle Bill, yet they persisted in their efforts and got it done. My proposal can be done, too. If we want to control our energy destiny as a state and as a nation, my proposal is a start.

Steven A. Sylwester
October 25, 2009

XXVIII Amendment to The United States Constitution: Supreme Court Gender Equality

I wrote the following five months ago. Since then, I have directly forwarded the commemoration letter and amendment proposal to many important women via email.

Steven A. Sylwester
October 25, 2009

Supreme Court Gender Equality PAC website is here.

* * *

Today is Memorial Day, May 25, 2009, a day on which all war dead are commemorated in the United States.

Today I commemorate Elizabeth Cady Stanton (November 12, 1815 — October 26, 1902) and Lucretia Mott (January 3, 1793 — November 11, 1880), who together in July of 1848 in Seneca Falls, New York, organized the first convention in the U.S. regarding women’s rights (the convention at which Stanton first read her Declaration of Sentiments calling for the right to vote for women), and Susan B. Anthony (February 15, 1820 — March 13, 1906), who joined the cause after first meeting Stanton in 1851 and who then fought tenaciously for the right to vote for women until the day she died 55 years later. Though the cause began in New York on July 19, 1848, New York did not pass a law giving women the right to vote until 1917. In 1918, President Woodrow Wilson began to support the need for a constitutional amendment granting women the right to vote, and the amendment was officially proposed on June 4, 1919. During the following two weeks, six states ratified, and the required 36th state ratified on August 18, 1920, which finally made the Nineteenth Amendment to The United States Constitution a constitutional law. Remarkably, the remaining twelve states that then formed the Union took over sixty years to add their ratifications to the amendment, the last state being Mississippi on March 22, 1984.

The Nineteenth Amendment (Amendment XIX) to The United States Constitution reads: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.

Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”

On this day, I am simultaneously sending the following document I have written proposing the Twenty-Eighth Amendment to The United States Constitution granting Supreme Court Gender Equality to the editors at Ms. Magazine, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, The Oregonian, The Atlantic, Harper’s Magazine, and Boston Review; and to six women who have each served as the dean of a law school: Elena Kagan, Herma Hill Kay, Kristin Booth Glen, Katherine Bartlett, Colleen A. Khoury, and Suellyn Scarnecchia.

Steven A. Sylwester

* * *

XXVIII Amendment to The United States Constitution: Supreme Court Gender Equality

The Congress shall determine the number of Justices that sit on the Supreme Court according to the following:

The Supreme Court shall be composed of an odd number of Justices numbering no fewer than nine in total, all of whom shall be citizens of the United States from birth. The total number of Justices shall include one Chief Justice of the United States and the remaining even number of Associate Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States.

The total even number of Associate Justices shall be the sum of two equal-numbered groups of Justices: one group being male by designation of legal birth certificate and the other group being female by designation of legal birth certificate.

When vacancies occur, the President shall nominate Justices to the Supreme Court who are then appointed by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate. The Chief Justice shall be appointed for nine years, and shall not be reappointed Chief Justice thereafter. Associate Justices shall be appointed to hold their offices during good behavior. Successive Chief Justices shall alternate between male and female without exception.

The President shall nominate the Chief Justice according to gender from among the Associate Justices, except no person shall be eligible for nomination who would be more than 69 years old at the time of appointment. If no Associate Justice is qualified by age to be appointed the Chief Justice, the President shall appoint any other qualified person.

If an Associate Justice is nominated to be the Chief Justice by the President but fails to be appointed by the Senate, that Associate Justice shall retain the position of Associate Justice. If an Associate Justice becomes the Chief Justice, that Justice shall retire from the Supreme Court when the nine-year appointment as Chief Justice expires.

Upon ratification, the amendment shall be enacted straightforwardly as existing Associate Justices retire and are replaced by female Associate Justices until an equal number of male and female Associate Justices are seated on the Supreme Court. Thereafter, all Associate Justice seats will be identified as being either male or female, and will be filled as the need arises according to strict gender distinction without exception. The current Chief Justice shall complete a nine-year term from the date he was sworn in as Chief Justice, and shall then immediately retire from the Supreme Court and shall be replaced by the first female Chief Justice of the United States. If the current Chief Justice leaves his position for any reason before his term expires, his appointed successor shall be female.

Dianne Feinstein should be the next U.S. Supreme Court justice

Now that Sonia Sotomayor has been robed and accommodated in her new sworn duty as Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court, it is time to start advising President Obama on his next nomination to “The Nine.” Next April, John Paul Stevens will celebrate his 90th birthday, and he will celebrate his 35th anniversary as an Associate Justice eight months later. Even so, Stevens might choose to continue in his position for many more years if his health allows it, and he may long outlast some of his junior colleagues. For example, 76-year-old Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who has served on the Court for 16 years, has had recent health problems. Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy, who are each now 73 years old and who have each served on the Court for more than 21 years, could also leave before Stevens.

We the people seem to share an opinion that wisdom arrives in a person’s sixth decade and then plateaus in the general case, but that wisdom somehow sophisticates and refines itself in a special way for those few people whom we have ensconced as U.S. Supreme Court justices. This is a silly notion, and perhaps a foolish notion, too. Yet we persist — and we live with the consequences as they unpredictably unfold decades later as 50ish liberals turn conservative in their old age while 50ish conservatives turn liberal. John G. Roberts took his seat at age 50. Samuel Alito sat down at age 56, and now Sonia Sotomayor is seating herself at age 55. Roberts, Alito, and Sotomayor might all still be sitting in their seats on the Court in the year 2040 — imagine that!

President Obama needs to break this mold he has inherited and has now continued, and to that end he should consider the following.

The U.S. Constitution and its supporting and elaborating laws require no specific qualifications for U.S. Supreme Court justices. Simply, the U.S. president nominates someone — literally anyone — and the U.S. Senate then either approves or disapproves of that nomination. If approval is granted, the nomination is confirmed, and a new justice is then seated on the Court.

Specifically, there is no citizenship-by-birth requirement, no age requirement, no education requirement, no licensing requirement, no American Bar Association acceptance requirement, no professional work experience requirement, and no requirement that in any way specifies any needed credential whatsoever.

Felix Frankfurter was born in 1882 in Vienna, Austria, where he emigrated from with his family when he was twelve, after which time he became a naturalized U.S. citizen. Frankfurter was a justice on the Court for more than 23 years. The youngest justice ever seated on the Court was Joseph Story at the age of 32, and the oldest was Charles Evan Hughes at the age of 67. Every justice who has served on the Court has been an attorney, but fewer than half of them ever graduated from an accredited law school. The last justice without a formal law degree was Stanley Forman Reed, who served on the Court from 1938 to 1957.

The longest-serving justice in the Court’s history, William O. Douglas, who was a justice for 36 years and 209 days, was 40 years old when he took his seat. He had graduated from Columbia Law School at age 26 despite a financially meager upbringing in the Pacific Northwest. After spending two years making false starts, Douglas taught law for seven years (mostly at Yale where he became an expert on commercial litigation and bankruptcy). He then joined the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, and three years later became SEC Chairman. Two years later, he became a U.S. Supreme Court justice. Before he became a justice, Douglas had never been a judge.

On the other extreme, William Howard Taft became the 10th Chief Justice of the United States two months before his 64th birthday. At age 30, he had been an Ohio Superior Court judge, and then was Solicitor General of the United States before becoming a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth District at age 34. Nine years later, he was appointed Governor-General of the Philippines, and four years after that he became Secretary of War under President Theodore Roosevelt. When he was 51 years old, Taft became the 27th President of the United States. As President, Taft appointed six justices to the U.S. Supreme Court. After his one term as President of the United States, Taft taught at Yale Law School and served as president of the American Bar Association before becoming Chief Justice.

Prior to becoming the 14th Chief Justice of the United States at age 62, Earl Warren had never been a judge. However, he had served as California district attorney for Alameda County for fourteen years, Attorney General of California for four years, and Governor of California for almost eleven years. Warren retired from the Court three months after his 78th birthday and five years before he died.

Fifteen men who had been U.S. senators also served as president of the United States. However, only six men who had been U.S. senators also served as U.S. Supreme Court justices, including one who became Chief Justice. The last serving justice who had previously been a U.S. senator was Hugo L. Black, who had been a U.S. senator from Alabama from 1927 to 1937. Black then served 34 years as a justice on the Court, retiring on September 18, 1971, just one week before he died at age 85 years 7 months — 38 years ago! Only two U.S. Supreme Court justices were ever mayors. The last justice who had been a mayor was Frank Murphy, who was mayor of Detroit, Michigan, from 1930 to 1933. Murphy was a justice on the Court from 1940 to 1949 — 60 years ago!

The startling demographics of the current U.S. Supreme Court are these: 1) seven men and two women; 2) six Roman Catholics, two Jews, and one Protestant; 3) four Harvard Law School graduates, three Yale Law School graduates, one Columbia Law School graduate, and one Northwestern Law School graduate; 4) all nine justices had previously served as judges of the United States Courts of Appeals; 5) at least five of the justices are millionaires; and 6) Birthplaces: two from Trenton, New Jersey; and one each from Buffalo, New York; Brooklyn, New York; The Bronx, New York; Chicago, Illinois; Pin Point, Georgia; Sacramento, California; and San Francisco, California — eight city birthplaces and one small town, and seven birthplaces east of the Mississippi River.

What can be done about this? How can the mold be broken responsibly?

The answer is simple: nominate U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein to be a U.S. Supreme Court justice the next time a seat becomes vacant.

Dianne Feinstein is 76 years old, so her career as a justice would probably last less than ten years. Feinstein was born in San Francisco, California, and graduated from Stanford University in 1955 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in History. In the late 1950s, she worked in the San Francisco District Attorney’s office. She first entered politics in 1961 when she worked to end housing discrimination in San Francisco.

Feinstein was first elected to public office in 1969 when she began her nine-year tenure on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. She was President of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors when San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk were assassinated on November 27, 1978, so by law she succeeded to the mayoralty on December 4. 1978. She was elected mayor of San Francisco in her own right in 1979 and was reelected in 1983, serving until January 8, 1988. In 1987, City and State magazine named Feinstein the nation’s “Most Effective Mayor.”

In 1990, Feinstein made an unsuccessful bid for Governor of California, losing in the general election to then U.S. Senator Pete Wilson. On November 3, 1992, she won a California special election to fill the U.S. Senate seat vacated in 1991 by Pete Wilson. She then won reelection to the U.S. Senate in 1994, 2000, and 2006.

Throughout her almost seventeen years as a U.S. senator, Feinstein has continuously served on four U.S. Senate committees: Rules, Judiciary, Appropriations, and Intelligence. During the 110th Congress (2007—2009), she was chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration. During the current 111th Congress (2009—2011), she is chairwoman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Additionally, she is chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Interior and Related Agencies of the Senate Committee on Appropriations, and is chairwoman of the Senate’s International Narcotics Control Caucus.

In her service on the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Feinstein currently serves on five different subcommittees: 1) Administration Oversight and the Courts; 2) Constitution; 3) Crime and Drugs; 4) Immigration, Border Security and Citizenship; and 5) Terrorism, Technology and Homeland Security.

Though U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein has not earned a law degree from an accredited law school, she is certainly more knowledgeable and more steeped in the law than almost anyone else in the United States, including law school professors, practicing attorneys, and sitting judges — even perhaps including some sitting U.S. Supreme Court justices! Though her education in the law was not “formal,” it was no less complete than if it had been formal; in fact, her law education was both firsthand and thorough, and it was ingrained through and through like only front-lines political battles can — and do — ingrain things.

While other U.S. Supreme Court justices would consider and ponder the law before making a ruling in a case, Feinstein as a justice would relate to and experience the law instead — and there is a HUGE difference in those distinctions. While the other justices have an inherited ownership of the law that is mostly academic and intellectual, Feinstein would bring to the Court something new: a battlefield-scarred sensibility that would sometimes rightly claim “I helped build it” ownership, which is an ownership that knows exactly what is buried inside the constructs of the agreed upon language that was signed into law.

The language of the law can be messy, especially if it is what remains after contentious political battling and is the stuff of uneasy and unwanted compromise. As is, the U.S. Supreme Court sits distant and removed from the legislative fray, and consequently functions out of a mixture of deep learning and active imagination instead of firsthand knowledge. The U.S. Constitution allows for the Court to be “distant and removed;” such a thing is not forbidden, but neither is it required. It is the folly of our times that we have failed to cross-pollinate the Court with influences from outside of our nation’s judicial system, even though the law fully allows that cross-pollination to occur.

The United States has three branches of government in its Constitution that together in their interplay make and define the whole: The Legislative Branch, The Executive Branch, and The Judicial Branch. Fifteen of the 44 men who have served as president of the United States also served as a U.S. senator. At the same time, only six of the 111 men and women who have served as justices of the U.S. Supreme Court also served as a U.S. senator — again, the last serving justice of the six was Hugo L. Black, who left the U.S. Senate more than 71 years ago in 1937. What an enormous waste of talent!

During her career in politics, Dianne Feinstein has spent more than nine years as a government executive being mayor of San Francisco and more than sixteen years as a legislator being a U.S. senator. No one currently sitting on the U.S. Supreme Court comes even remotely close to that level of experience; in fact, no one currently sitting on the U.S. Supreme Court has ever served outside of the judicial branch of our government. Though Feinstein is a consummate team player, it is easy to imagine that she might give new definition to the term “upbraid” someday along the way if she were made a justice on the Court, especially in her dealings with Chief Justice Roberts and Associate Justice Alito. Certainly, Feinstein would be a quick study, and would also be a fierce and clever opponent in the forging of a majority.

Does Feinstein have faults? Yes, absolutely! Does Feinstein have political enemies? Yes, absolutely! Has Feinstein made mistakes along the way? Yes, absolutely! All of those “Yes” answers are the inevitable consequence of a long and successful political career in both local and national politics. In a December 2007 SurveyUSA News Poll in California, 51% approved of the job Diane Feinstein was doing as a U.S. senator while 39% disapproved. A 51% vote wins political elections, and Feinstein knows how to win political elections.

If all politics is local, then final considerations are things personal. Dianne Feinstein’s only child is San Francisco Superior Court Judge Katherine Feinstein. Dianne Feinstein is the daughter of a surgeon, and is the widow of a neurosurgeon, who was her second husband. She divorced her first husband, who was an attorney who later became a judge. Her current husband is a wealthy international businessman. But the deeper truth is this: Feinstein’s ethnic heritage is Jewish, though her maternal grandparents were of the Russian Orthodox faith after converting from Judaism to Christianity. Feinstein attended the Convent of the Sacred Heart High School and received a Catholic religious education while also going to Hebrew school and synagogue while growing up in San Francisco. Her stated religion is Judaism. On a U.S Supreme Court that currently has six Roman Catholics serving as justices, throwing Dianne Feinstein into the mix could create quite a show.

And so I nominate U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein to fill the next vacant seat as an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. President Barack Obama should do the same.

Epilogue: If Feinstein opened the U.S. Supreme Court door to wise people of all sorts, who might follow her? Four names come to mind: Bill Moyers (age 75), Madeleine Albright (age 72), and Ted Koppel (age 69), none of whom have law degrees; and John Danforth (age 72), who has a law degree and served as the U.S. Senator from Missouri for eighteen years, but was never a judge.

Steven A. Sylwester
October 25, 2009

The Second Amendment

The Second Amendment to The U.S. Constitution in The Bill of Rights states: “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.”

The U.S. Supreme Court has announced that it will hear the case of McDonald v. City of Chicago, which challenges a Chicago law banning handguns and requiring the annual taxation of firearms. Those who brought the case assert that a citizen has a right to “keep and bear Arms” without government interference.

The Second Amendment has been misunderstood because of its three commas ever since its adoption by the states in 1791. Certainly, the men who wrote the amendment and fought for its adoption were men who were properly educated in punctuation and the various grammatical constructs of the English language. They understood the correct usage of commas to purposely isolate a clause or to otherwise reorder a sentence’s clauses to achieve an effect, and they used that mastery deliberately. In having and exercising that sophistication, they also were men who would agree that a complicated and confusing sentence could be made uncomplicated and clearly stated by simply reordering the clauses to indisputably form the sentence’s root sentence — that straightforward plain sentence which reduces the need for commas to an essential bare minimum if it does not eliminate all commas altogether.

There are four clauses in the Second Amendment and three commas. To aid the forming of the root sentence, number the amendment’s as-is clauses 1, 2, 3, and 4. Because of the existing commas, clause 2 cannot follow clause 1, clause 3 cannot follow clause 2, and clause 4 cannot follow clause 3 in the root sentence. Clause 4 is the only predicate/verb clause of the four clauses, so the root sentence’s subject/noun clause must be clause 1. A clearly stated root sentence must lead with its subject/noun clause immediately followed by its predicate/verb clause. Therefore, the clauses for the Second Amendment’s root sentence must read 1, 4, 3, and 2, with the “3, 2” pairing giving added definition and clarification to the “1, 4” pairing, which justifies the remaining comma punctuation.

Correctly reordering the clauses of the Second Amendment to eliminate unnecessary commas results in this: A well regulated Militia shall not be infringed, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms being necessary to the security of a free State.

What does this mean? Plainly, it means that “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms” is not a Constitutional right except insofar as it serves the needs of “a well regulated Militia,” which means not at all as long as the government is able to maintain an adequately stocked and well distributed armory to guarantee “the security of a free State.” Webster’s Dictionary defines “militia” as: “a part of the organized armed forces of a country liable to call only in emergency.” In the United States today, the militia is the National Guard.

Furthermore, the use of capital letters in the words Militia, Arms, and State is telling. According to the Handbook of Style in Webster’s Dictionary: “Capitals are used for two broad purposes in English: they mark a beginning (as of a sentence) and they signal a proper noun or adjective. … 7. The names of persons and places, of organizations and their members, of congresses and councils, and of historical periods and events are capitalized. 8. The names of ships, aircraft, and spacecraft are capitalized. …” Therefore, very specifically, the Second Amendment’s use of capitalization is referencing Militia, Arms, and State as those terms define U.S. government-controlled military groups, weaponry, and geography and its political governance.

The only conclusion that can be drawn then is this: The private ownership of guns and ammunition is not a right that is protected by the U.S. Constitution. Certainly, federal, state, and local governments are fully within their Constitutional rights to regulate and control the sale and ownership of “Arms,” including any type of gun and its ammunition — even to the point of banning guns of any and all sorts. This is not a matter of honoring misguided legal precedents that have now spanned more than 215 years. Instead, it is a matter of honoring the English language and its rules of punctuation and grammar.

“A well regulated Militia shall not be infringed, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms being necessary to the security of a free State.” Believe it!

Steven A. Sylwester
October 25, 2009

All citizens of the U.S. are eligible to be President

The United States Constitution reads: Article II, Section 1. [5] No person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; …

The intended meaning of those words has been misunderstood for more than 180 years because of three commas. The misunderstanding took root because all of the first five Presidents were Founding Fathers: George Washington (two terms: 1789 – 1797), John Adams (1797 – 1801, who was also George Washington’s Vice President for two terms), Thomas Jefferson (two terms: 1801 – 1809, who was also John Adams’ Vice President), James Madison (two terms: 1809 – 1817), and James Monroe (two terms: 1817 – 1825). By the time John Adams’ son John Quincy Adams became the sixth President in 1825, most of the Founding Fathers had already died. Both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died soon thereafter on the same day, July 4, 1826, within hours of each other (Adams at age 90 and Jefferson at age 83). James Madison was the last Founding Father to die; he died in 1836 at age 85 — almost 49 years after he signed the U.S. Constitution.

The Founding Fathers were intelligent men — many were brilliant, and all were educated in grammar, punctuation, and the various sentence constructs of the English language. The Framers who actually wrote the Constitution were certainly thought to be both articulate and especially skilled in writing by the others. Because the presidency was filled by Founding Fathers throughout the first 36 years of the Nation’s history, the intentions of the U.S. Constitution’s Article II, Section 1. [5], were not issues of concern during the years when an easy clarification could have been had. Consequently, we are now left to the rules of the English language to find correct understanding.

In writing, commas are used to reorganize the clauses of a plain sentence for some effect. If correct understanding is ever disputed, commas force a reader to put back in order the hidden "plain sentence" to discover the sentence’s true meaning.

In this case, the reconstructed plain sentence is one of two possibilities:
1. No person except a natural born Citizen shall be eligible to the Office of President at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, or a Citizen of the United States; …
2. No person except a natural born Citizen at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution or a Citizen of the United States shall be eligible to the Office of President; …

Possibility #1 is an awkward sentence. Furthermore, it wrongly implies through the word "or" used after a comma that "a Citizen of the United States" is only defined as "a natural born Citizen," which is not true according to the law.

Possibility #2 does not require the use of commas. Also, it reads well and is articulate. The key word "or" is not used to restate more simply what was previously stated, but is instead correctly used to describe a different group of people who are eligible for consideration.

Certainly, Possibility #2 reveals the true intentions of the Framers, which is that any person who is "a Citizen of the United States shall be eligible to the Office of President."

Therefore, both California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (a Republican who was born in Austria in 1947 and who became a U.S. citizen in 1983) and Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm (a Democrat who was born in Canada in 1959 and who became a U.S. citizen in 1980) are eligible to the Office of President of the United States according to a correct understanding of the Constitution. Anyone who thinks otherwise does not understand the correct use of commas.

Consistent with the intentions of the Framers, the Constitution could be restated:
No person except (either) a natural born Citizen at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution or a Citizen of the United States shall be eligible to the Office of President; …
Because no one now living could possibly be in the first eligible group, a simpler restatement that would be consistent with the intentions of the Framers would read:
No person except a Citizen of the United States shall be eligible to the Office of President; …

Steven A. Sylwester
October 25, 2009

The Bill of Rights in Plain Sentence

The following texts in their original form are the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution. These amendments were ratified December 15, 1791, and form what is known as the Bill of Rights.

By reordering the clauses separated by commas in the original form to discover the plain sentence at the heart of each amendment, the true meaning of each amendment is uncovered according to straightforward declarative English that is not obfuscated by clever sentence construction. The following rids the amendments of many commas by correctly ordering the clauses of each plain sentence in the way that requires the fewest commas. In doing so, no individual words have been deleted, no clause-defined wording has been changed, just one hyphen in “well-regulated” in the Second Amendment has been added, and just one word spelling from “defence” to “defense” in the Sixth Amendment has been changed. In the First Amendment and in the Eighth Amendment, the original form is unchanged.

Amendment I (unchanged)

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Amendment II

Plain Sentence: A well-regulated Militia shall not be infringed, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms being necessary to the security of a free State.

* * Commentary here.

Amendment III

Plain Sentence: No Soldier shall without the consent of the Owner but in a manner to be prescribed by law in time of peace be quartered in any house, nor in time of war.

Amendment IV

Plain Sentence: The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects shall not be violated against unreasonable searches and seizures, and no Warrants shall issue supported by Oath or affirmation but upon probable cause and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Amendment V

Plain Sentence: No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, when in actual service in time of War or public danger except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

May 8, 2010, Restatement:
Plain Sentence: No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, when in actual service in time of War or public danger unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

Amendment VI

Plain Sentence: The accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial in all criminal prosecutions and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.

Amendment VII

Plain Sentence: The right of trial by jury shall be preserved where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars in Suits at common law, and no fact tried by a jury than according to the rules of the common law shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States.

Amendment VIII (unchanged)

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

Amendment IX

Plain Sentence: The enumeration in the Constitution shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people of certain rights.

Amendment X

Plain Sentence: The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution or to the people, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively.

There are some surprises in the plain sentences uncovered, and one can only ponder why the obfuscating was allowed. Perhaps a review of the minutes of the Constitution meetings would tell of arguments over emphasis, though it might be that the Framers were deeply educated in grammar and complex sentence structure, and that they confidently assumed their progeny would be as well.

Steven A. Sylwester
October 25, 2009