Bigger Than The Silver Screen–Real Life British Drama

Want to be entertained? Leave it to the Brits to do that, and they have really outdone themselves recently. No, I’m not referring to the just released “Downton Abbey” movie. While that film is wonderful, it simply can’t top the real life drama of current British headlines. Haven’t kept up with the Brexit soap opera? You don’t know what you are missing!

The all too true story is based on Britain’s attempt to leave the 28 nation European Union. No country has tried to leave the group before, so there are no precedents upon which to rely. A referendum was held back in 2016 as to whether the United Kingdom should seek a divorce from this union. Fast forward three years. No exit has yet occurred, a separation agreement has not been approved, and the Prime Minister, the Queen, the Supreme Court, and Parliament have all gotten involved in the mix.

The role of the leading man in this compelling drama is being played by Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Haven’t heard of him? Well, he’s only been the Prime Minister since July 24, 2019. But it didn’t take him long to get involved in a huge controversy after assuming this high office.

Although a new prime minister, Johnson’s been in the political arena for some time. He served as mayor of London from May 2008 to May 2016. Johnson then moved up and on to serve as the country’s foreign secretary from July 2016 to July 2018. He is the leader of the Conservative Party and a staunch advocate of the UK leaving the EU. Johnson spearheaded the successful and cleverly named “leave” campaign in the 2016 referendum on whether the UK should exit the EU.

Don’t care for boring political resumes? Well, Johnson’s a bit of a character as well. At age 55 and twice divorced, he’s moved his 31 year old girlfriend, Carrie Symonds, into 10 Downing Street with him. She’s the first unmarried partner of a prime minister to take up residence there.

Americans may be interested to learn that Boris was actually born in New York City, albeit to English parents. Accordingly, he was eligible for dual citizenship in both the U.S. (as his place of birth) and in the UK (as a result of his parentage). Wow! Americans are just taking over in Britain aren’t they? First, Meghan snags the most eligible bachelor in the world (Prince Harry), and then American born Boris becomes prime minister. Look out, UK, the former colonists are coming!

But I digress. Back to the current drama. As Boris assumed the position of Prime Minister in July, an October 31, 2019 deadline loomed for Britain to exit the EU. Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, had negotiated an exit deal, but it had been defeated in the House of Commons several times. Boris campaigned on a promise to leave the EU on 10/31 even without a deal. Bottom line? He wants out on October 31st period.

Well, that’s what the Prime Minister wants. But he has to deal with that pesky Parliament. (Think U.S. President and U.S. Congress if you are having trouble envisioning this relationship.) Parliament passed a law designed to stop a no-deal Brexit. This measure would force Johnson to request a Brexit delay if no deal was reached by 10/19. But, of course, Johnson does NOT want to make any such request. What’s a Prime Minister to do?

Leave it to Boris to come up with a creative solution. Get rid of Parliament! OK, well, he didn’t actually do away with Parliament, he just closed it down–with help from HRH, the Queen. Say what? Johnson asked Her Majesty to shut down the Parliament on 9/10, a week after the lawmakers returned from their summer recess, and to keep Parliament closed for five weeks. Ha! Parliament can’t get in his way if it isn’t in session, thought Johnson.

To no one’s surprise, this move caused a political uproar. Claims were made that Johnson shut down Parliament in order to stifle opposition over Brexit. (Well, duh!) Opposition leaders called on Johnson to resign, and legal proceedings were begun to challenge Johnson’s authority to take this action. The technical term for what Johnson asked the Queen to do is “prorogue” Parliament. It is hard enough to say prorogue, much less spell it, so we’ll just continue referring to the process as “shutting down.”

The issue was addressed by the UK Supreme Court which held an emergency three-day hearing. The high court made clear that the only issue with which it was concerned was the lawfulness of the Prime Minister’s decision to advise Her Majesty to prorogue–er, shut down–Parliament. The 11 justices came to a unanimous decision which was read by its president Lady Hale, who is hopefully a distant paternal relative of mine. Long story short, Boris got the thumbs down. The court determined that the PM’s advice to the queen to shut down Parliament was outside the powers of the PM to give and was thus null, void, and of no effect. In lay terms, the high court said to Boris, “No, no, and no!”

And how did Boris take this news? He gave a thumbs down to the thumbs down the Supreme Court gave him. The PM stated that he “profoundly disagreed” (translation: Are they nuts?) but he would “respect” it (whatever that means). Interestingly, Boris was in New York City at the U.N. at the time the Supreme Court decision was announced. He cut his trip short to return to London to be available to answer lawmakers’ questions when Parliament resumed meeting. Question #1 is likely, “So you thought you could cut us out of the picture, did you?” (No need to answer, Boris, that’s a rhetorical question.)

The clock is now ticking. Will Johnson attempt to shut down Parliament again? Will there be calls for Boris’ impeachment? (Maybe Donald Trump could offer moral support and guidance to the PM.) Deal or no deal for Brexit? Will the Queen remain above the political fray?

Fans of “Downton Abbey” are already pining for a sequel to the recently released movie. The world may not be pining for a sequel to this Brexit soap opera post, but the drama will continue. Sure the situation involves royalty, intrigue, wheeling and dealing, etc., but it can’t top the “Downton Abbey” movie for costuming and romance. Wish I could have Carson bring me a spot of tea when I read the next news report on what Johnson is up to at Downing Street.

JUST WONDER-ING:

Have you been following the Brexit story in the news? Is it comforting as an American to note that other countries have political drama and judicial intervention like we do? Is the allure of “Downton Abbey” that the British drama is fictional as opposed to the reality of the Brexit soap opera?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fun Constitutional History We The People Didn’t Learn In School

 

Americans are more likely to know that September 18th is National Cheeseburger Day than that September 17th is Constitution Day. Why is that? Because eating good food is enjoyable. History is perceived as dry and boring. But maybe we think of history that way because we didn’t learn all the facts. Let’s take a look at a few fun facts about the signing of the U.S. Constitution that we didn’t learn in school.

Politicians today cannot make the slightest move without it being all over the media. So were the media front and center at the Constitutional Convention of 1787? Nope. Delegates to the convention voted to keep their deliberations secret. Reporters and other visitors were barred from convention sessions. Eavesdropping wasn’t an option either. Windows at the convention hall were kept shut throughout the entire hot summer the convention took place.

OK, so the media was kept at bay, but certainly things were handled in a PC manner, right? Nope again. All 55 delegates to the Constitutional Convention were white and male. There were no women and no minorities among the delegates.

But back in the day, everyone got along, didn’t they? Certainly it wasn’t divisive and contentious like things are today. Wrong. Things haven’t changed much over the years. Rhode Island didn’t even send a delegate to the convention because it was opposed to overhauling the framework of the national government. Of the 55 delegates who did participate in the convention, only 39 of them actually signed the Constitution. While .710 is a great batting average for baseball, it was a far cry from unanimity among constitutional convention delegates.

One of the delegates to the Constitutional Convention and a signer of the document was beloved American historical figure Benjamin Franklin. Ben held an honorary position and rarely engaged in debate. Well, you have to give the guy a break. At over 80 years old, he was the oldest delegate in attendance. He was so infirm that he had to be carried to the convention sessions in a sedan chair.  Had Jimmy Carter been around then, he probably would’ve used poor old Ben as Exhibit A for Carter’s contention that 80 years old is too old for filling an important political position.

But not all the convention delegates were OLD, white men. One was a YOUNG white man. Jonathan Dayton of New Jersey, age 26, was the baby of the group. The remainder of the white male delegates averaged age 42.

Anyone who knows anything about U.S. history is aware that the U.S. Constitution is an important document. But how was that document produced? It was 1787, after all, so there were no computers, typewriters, or even fountain pens. The U.S. Constitution was produced the old fashioned way–it was handwritten.

Of course, the problem with handwritten papers is that sometimes they cannot be read. What a waste of time the Constitutional Convention would have been if all that was produced after meeting in Philadelphia from May 25th through September 17th was an illegible document. Riding in to save the day and win a penmanship award was Jacob Shallus. Mr. Shallus, the son of German immigrants who was employed by the Pennsylvania General Assembly as an assistant clerk, was hired to physically write the Constitution from drafts provided by the delegates. He was paid the handsome sum of $30 for his efforts in writing 4,543 words (less than a penny a word) on four sheets of parchment paper in two days’ time. Although Mr. Shallus had good handwriting, he wasn’t perfect. An errata paragraph was placed between the end of the articles and the delegates’ signature. These errors were mostly words or phrases left out. And for all his efforts, Mr. Shallus’ name appears nowhere on the document.

And exactly what did Mr. Shallus write 4,543 words on? Parchment paper with the dimensions of 28 3/4″ x 25 5/8″ was used to record these important words.Parchment is a general term for animal skin prepared for writing or printing; the animal skin is treated with lime and stretched. While parchment is expensive, it does last for a long time. The type of animal that gave its life for the production of the constitution is unknown; a calf, a goat, and a sheep are possibilities.

Mr. Shallus used a quill pen with which to write the 4,543 of the U.S. Constitution. A turkey or goose feather quill was likely utilized. (Thankfully, our national bird, the bald eagle, was spared the indignity of having a tail feather pulled for this purpose.) The feather would have been cut so a nub would be available to hold ink and with which to write. Since the feather could not hold a reserve of ink, the quill would have to be dipped in the ink every few words.

Iron gall ink, a purple or brownish-black ink, was the type of ink commonly used for producing important documents at the time the convention took place. Due to its solubility, this type of ink would penetrate the surface of the parchment paper making it difficult to erase or alter. Iron gall ink was made from iron salts and tannins derived from vegetable sources, specifically galls which were most commonly found on oak trees.

A subtle message might be found in the type of ink utilized. The delegates avoided the use of red ink, perhaps not wanting to set a poor precedent for future generations of American citizens. If the Constitution creating the appropriate government framework was awash in red ink, wouldn’t it be okay for the operating government to operate with red ink?

While the constitutional delegates may have had some creative ideas about future government operations, they were still creatures of habit. The constitutional convention was held in the same location where the Declaration of Independence was debated and adopted. In fact, a number of the delegates at the constitutional convention, such as Ben Franklin, had also been in attendance at the same building for the proposal and signing of the Declaration of Independence back in 1776.

The delegates to the convention were wise enough to recognize that they could not devise a perfect governmental plan, and that future circumstances might call for changes to the framework which they would establish. Wisely they aimed to create a “more perfect union” instead of a perfect union. They included procedures in Article V as to how amendments to the document could be added. Over the years, that procedure has been utilized 27 times to amend the original Constitution.

The convention’s final product lives on 232 years later. A hard original copy is on display in Washington, D.C. at the National Archives. But, more importantly, the governmental plan set forth in the Constitution continues to operate. In fact, the U.S. Constitution is the oldest written national constitution in existence today. Maybe we should consume a cheeseburger to celebrate that achievement.

JUST WONDER-ING:

What new facts about the constitutional convention have you learned by reading this blog? Was Ben Franklin too old at 81 to have made a difference at the constitutional convention? Is your view of the Constitution one of an organic document subject to change over time? Would a different governmental plan have been devised if women and minorities had been among the delegates to the convention?

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s Blowing Smoke To Say Vaping’s Safer Than Smoking

 

Holy smoke! There’s no smoke involved in vaping, but there sure has been a firestorm of controversy about the safety of vaping in recent days. CDC is investigating 450+ cases of severe lung illness linked to vaping. Moreover, six deaths have been reported from vaping-related severe lung illness. Wow! Good thing vaping is so much safer than smoking cigarettes–not!

What exactly is vaping? Well, in the first place, if you don’t know and haven’t tried it–DON’T. Vaping is the inhaling of vapor produced by an electronic cigarette. These cigarettes heat liquid into an aerosol that the user inhales.

You can’t “smoke” an e-cigarette since there’s no smoke, only vapor. Rather than producing tobacco smoke, an e-cigarette produces an aerosol that consists of fine particles which quickly enter the lungs and then go into the bloodstream. And by “fine” particles, I am referring to size and not desirability. These particles contain varying amounts of toxic chemicals.

E-cigarettes are relatively new having been introduced to the mass market here in the U.S. in 2007. Their popularity has exploded; currently it is estimated that 10.8 million adults and 3.6 million teens use them in this country. In fact, e-cigarettes are more popular among youth than any traditional tobacco product, and their use  is higher among high school students than adults. Between 2011 and 2015, e-cigarette use grew 900% (yes, that is 100% X 9) among high school students.

So what’s the big deal with youth or even adults using e-cigarettes? I mean they are advertised as being healthier than smoking traditional cigarettes. But, in actuality, e-cigarettes are not healthy period. Saying that they are healthier than traditional cigarettes is like saying arsenic is healthier than strychnine. The fact is BOTH E-CIGARETTES AND TRADITIONAL CIGARETTES ARE BAD FOR YOU.

In the first place, e-cigarettes have not undergone strict FDA testing. Therefore, any claim that they are a healthier alternative to traditional cigarettes is unsubstantiated. Secondly, vaping may not put a user on the highway to hell, but it is likely to put him on the street to smoking. According to Yale health researchers, vaping increases the risk that a teen will smoke regular cigarettes later. Third, e-cigarettes may have fewer toxins in them than traditional cigarettes, but they still put harmful matter and chemicals directly into one’s lungs.

E-cigarettes are considered tobacco products because most contain nicotine which comes from tobacco. Nicotine is the primary agent in both regular cigarettes and in e-cigarettes, and it is highly addictive. Not only is it addictive, but it is toxic. It can raise blood pressure and spike adrenaline.

Currently, the most popular vaping device by far is the JUUL, a small device that looks like a USB flash drive.This product, which only came out in 2015, commands a whopping 72% of the market for vaping products. Not only is its market share high, but so is the product’s nicotine content. One pod or flavor cartridge contains the same amount of nicotine as a whole pack of cigarettes.

And nicotine is not the only substance about which to be concerned. Scientists have found harmful chemicals such as formaldehyde in e-cigarette vapors. Formaldehyde? Wasn’t that the horrendous smelling substance used to preserve that frog you dissected way back in high school biology? Yup! Want some of that stuff in your lungs? Not me! And if you do get it in your lungs, you might end up like that poor, lifeless frog.

The substance e-cigarette users breathe in and then exhale can contain harmful or potentially harmful substances like chemicals and heavy metals in addition to nicotine. A study from Johns Hopkins University found that e-cigarettes can potentially release significant amounts of toxic metals in its vapors which users inhale. Discovered in the vapors released by e-cigarettes were potentially unsafe levels of lead, chromium, manganese, and/or nickel. Yes, the word “potentially” has been used several times in this paragraph, but are you willing to risk such “potential” harm to your body?

The recently reported lung illnesses related to vaping are believed to be associated with chemical exposure from  vaping. Vaping leads to inflammation within the lungs, and the chemicals in e-cigarettes can cause permanent lung damage. Accordingly, CDC has urged Americans to stop using e-cigarettes while investigations are ongoing.

Need specific case examples? A 17 year old Texas boy who had been vaping since 8th grade nearly died. An x-ray of his lungs showed a complete blockage. He was placed in a medically induced coma, and his parents were not sure he would live. Happily the boy did recover, and even more happily, he pitched all his e-cigarettes and swore off vaping when he got out of the hospital. In another case, which lead to death, a female in her 50’s died in Kansas a week after starting to use e-cigarettes.

Obviously people get to make their own life choices. One may choose to abuse alcohol, drugs, and nicotine. Adults can and do make poor decisions which have adverse health consequences; people can choose to use e-cigarettes despite the health risks. But should we allow youth to be targeted to make poor decisions along these lines? Unfortunately, that is exactly what is occurring with vaping.

According to the U.S. Surgeon General, the number one reason young people give for using vaping devices is because of the flavors offered. It isn’t stinky tobacco like regular cigarettes. Want crème brulee? Mango? There are over 7,000 flavors of e-cigarettes on the market, including cotton candy and gummy bear. Tell me that such flavors aren’t aimed at appealing to kids.

Clearly not appealing to me as an adult is the popular “unicorn puke” flavor. It is advertised as a “delicious and refreshing rainbow sherbet vapor that will remind you of a summer day.” I’m sorry, but delicious and refreshing are not adjectives I connect with puke, unicorn or otherwise.

To me what would be refreshing is Americans engaging in behaviors that are smoke free and toxin free, i.e., no cigarette smoking OR vaping. Sure the vape flavors are enticing. But eat creme brulee, don’t inhale it. If you want a refreshing taste, buy an Icee or some fruit-flavored hard candy. OK, these purchases involve the risk of consuming additional calories, but isn’t that better than putting toxic chemicals and heavy metals directly into your lungs? If you care about your health, then blow off any suggestion of vaping.

JUST WONDER-ing:

Have you, or anyone you know, tried vaping? Before reading this post, was it your impression that vaping was a healthy alternative to smoking? If so, has reading this post altered that impression? How do you feel about young people being targeted to indulge in unhealthy activities such as vaping?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Not So Secret Storm Stories

As a child I was intrigued with the name of a soap opera, “The Secret Storm.” While domestic drama on that serial may have been hush-hush, news about a hurricane is anything but secret. You couldn’t turn on the TV, get on the Internet, or engage in a conversation in the past few days without Hurricane Dorian being mentioned. We’ve been flooded with updates on the behemoth storm’s progress and blown away by projected paths which targeted our state and even our local area. As devastating and damaging as hurricanes are, they do have a positive aspect–they can provide us with lessons for succeeding in life..

Life Lesson #1: Expect The Expected

As a native Floridian who has lived in the Sunshine State for over forty years (albeit not consecutively), I have experienced my share of hurricanes. And why wouldn’t I? If you live in Florida, you are in a prime location for out of state friends and family as well as hurricanes to come calling. When the Atlantic hurricane season (June 1st through November 30th) rolls around, you have to face the facts. One of three things WILL happen. You will be hit by a storm, you will be threatened to be hit by a storm, or your local area will be hit with evacuees fleeing from a storm elsewhere. That’s just how it is.

Floridians have to be realistic. They can stick their heads in the sand (we have plenty of the pretty white stuff here on the Emerald Coast) and pretend that terrible weather won’t affect them. But Florida residents are living in la la land if they think that is really the case. Expecting that some terrible weather will occur sooner or later makes it less traumatic when the storm eventually shows up.

Real life is similar to being a Florida resident. The storms of life will at some point affect all of us. If we expect life isn’t always going to be a bed of roses, we are not as shaken up when difficulties arise. People get sick, family members die, relationships end (sometimes badly), friends disappoint you, jobs stress you out, etc. That’s life. It has its ups and downs. Expect that there will be downs.

Life Lesson #2: You Can Run, But You Can’t Hide

A dream trip to the U.S. Virgin Islands provided me way more than I had imagined. Fabulous scenery? Check. Lots of leisure time? Check. Fun adventures? Check. A hurricane? Check. WAIT–a hurricane? You betcha.

For years I had longed to travel to St. Thomas and stay at a hotel called Pavilions and Pools. Finally, I was able to check this desire off my bucket list. A vacation to this U.S. territory was booked for August. (NOTE: Refer back to paragraph two above detailing the timing of hurricane season.) August worked for various reasons for our family (the kids were in school and my parents could come stay with them) and it was off season, so we could get a discount rate at the hotel.

The vacation was the best. We were free of parenting duties. I spent hours reading. We became acquainted with iguanas down the hill from the hotel and fed them lettuce from our villa’s kitchen. We toured the island. We walked on the beach. We swam in our own private pool. We ate conch fritters. The hotel had few occupants since it was off season, so it was quiet, and we had the place pretty much to ourselves. BUT…the news reports began talking about–you guessed it–a possible hurricane.

Eventually the possibility became a reality and the projected path brought the storm, Hurricane Debby, right to us. While tourists around us panicked, we remained calm. Hey, we were Floridians. We knew what to do under these circumstances. Instead of buying t-shirts and trinkets like the masses, we bought candles, matches, and two liter soda bottles (Note to those living in non-hurricane prone areas: You can fill up soda bottles with water in case the storm -disrupts the water supply/service.) An island-wide curfew was imposed, and we calmly enjoyed ourselves by candlelight assured that we had sufficient provisions and lighting.

Again, life is like our vacation predicament. We left an area where a problem was known to exist (the threat of hurricanes) and went off to an exotic vacation destination, a Caribbean island, where everything was going to be paradise. Only the problem followed us. Yup! Hurricanes threaten the Caribbean as well as Florida.

Most problems we have in our life aren’t tied to a specific location. Suffer health issues? Say heart problems or cancer? You’ll still have them even if you pack up and move from Florida to Arizona. Having relationship issues? Is changing your address automatically going to resolve them? No. You can run, but you can’t hide from whatever the problem is. Just deal with it.

Life Lesson #3 — There’s Always A Teachable Moment

In September 2004 Hurricane Ivan ravaged our area. My family  was without power for a week. We suffered from the lack of air conditioning and a daily routine. Having a hot meal was a luxury instead of something to which we didn’t give a second thought.

As uncomfortable and difficult as things were for my family, other area residents had it much worse than we did. The National Guard arrived and set up a staging area to distribute water, ice, and food. Volunteers were needed to help with the distribution. My husband and I stepped up to the plate and decided to take my teenage stepdaughter with us.

This volunteer work was eye-opening to all of us. It was heart-breaking to see how grateful those who came to receive basics like water and ice were. It was gratifying to see how the National Guard members and the volunteers worked together to assist our fellow state residents. It was reassuring to know that disaster plans were in place and could be followed when the need arose. My stepdaughter learned just how yummy (NOT) MRE’s are and had a greater appreciation for our military members who have to subsist off of them.

The aftermath of a hurricane gives us some insight into real life. No matter how bad your situation is, there is always someone else in a bad situation, sometimes even worse than yours. You can learn things (the value of teamwork, the value of having a plan for dealing with problems, etc.) even from difficult/bad situations. Bad situations provide an opportunity to teach your children by example. You can sit at home and grumble about how hot it is or you can get out and sweat to make a difference helping others.

Life Lesson #4 — Be Flexible

Why are Floridians glued to their TV sets and Internet screens? They want to see where the storm is going, i.e., are they in the bulls-eye? If there is one thing you quickly learn about hurricanes, it’s that no one can predict with much reliability what a storm is going to do in advance. Cones are simply predictions. As conditions change, so do the projected paths.

The only thing predictable about a hurricane is that it is unpredictable. The most vivid example of not being able to predict a storm path was Hurricane Opal. Safety-minded parents that we were, we stayed up to watch the late news to see where the storm was said to be headed. Whew! Off to the west of us. (Good luck Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana.) A few short hours later we were awakened by a call to my active duty Air Force husband. He was being recalled to the base to batten down the proverbial hatches and then observe mandatory evacuation orders because Opal had changed course and was headed straight for us. Yikes!

Life is often like our Hurricane Opal story. You think you know what’s going to happen; then, all of a sudden–BAM!  And now for something completely different….That’s why it is helpful to be flexible. Be able to shift gears and deal with contingencies even if you don’t think that they will happen.

Those who watched the old soap, “The Secret Storm,” got something positive from the storm–entertainment. Those of us who have experienced hurricanes, real life storms, have had the opportunity to get something positive from those experiences. Hopefully we have learned to be realistic (expect the expected) and flexible. In addition, we should have realized that our problems will find us no matter where we are and that we can always learn something from bad situations. These takeaways aren’t a secret, but if we don’t apply them, they might as well be.

JUST WONDER-ing:

Have you ever been through a hurricane? Did you learn anything from the experience that has helped you in life? What’s your secret to surviving a storm, whether a weather phenomena or trouble in life?