Category Archives: Uncategorized

How about grants to pursue your artistic dream?


The Poor Poet (1839), by Carl Spitzweg.

The White House might disagree that there’s a need for a second stimulus, but at least the Oracle of Omaha agrees with me (and his statement came out a day after my blog entry).

Another thing that occurred to me while considering how a second stimulus would work is something that wouldn’t necessarily be part of it, but could be an interesting federal program after we’re flush again.

The idea I have in mind is the Dream Grant, which would be available to all those folks toiling away in offices across the country who find themselves waiting on line at some lunch-rush spot, and during that time their minds wander to the dream they’ve always had of writing that novel, taking that yearlong journey across the rivers of the U.S., or indulging their love of painting, among other things.

These grants would last only a year, but that might be enough time to figure out whether you had it in you to write the novel in the first place. You would have the whole year to do nothing but concentrate on your artistic or humanitarian endeavor, or something similar, and see what you can make of it.

I think the vast majority of people would find out they were not painters and authors or riverine explorers for very good reasons, and would come back after a year chastened and eager to resume a life of office drudgery, which would then seem not so dull after all, and small psychic price to pay for  a steady check and a room to call one’s own.

But they also might come back wiser and more satisfied. It seems to me that the ingredients of quiet desperation are not so much the limited horizons their jobs or family situations consign them to as they are the dreams of the other lives they could be living. What drives us crazy are the what-if moments of the past:

What if I’d gone to that university instead? What if I’d listened to my friends and spent a year in France trying to see whether I could paint? What if I’d actually finished that novel instead of abandoning it at page 75?

The Dream Grants might be only money for self-indulgence, and overwhelmingly pursued by folks in the throes of midlife crises. But I think they would recognize that a lot of us are dissatisfied with our lots in life, and maybe a chance to pursue a long-held dream without having to worry about finances (or jobs, or health care; employers would have to grant the time and keep the job open) would make us better people in the long run.

It’s one thing to silently curse your co-workers or the demands of your family while holding the thought of your unfinished poetic cycle in your head, but it’s another to stifle those curses before they get going because you know perfectly well that you’ve had the chance to try your avocation and you know it’s going nowhere.

At least, not until you get a supplemental grant.

What Bach’s job benefits tell us


In the middle of my current Bach mini-0bsession, I’ve come across a couple interesting things.

The first, and not hard to find, was that I can see the entire documentary of the John Eliot Gardiner/Monteverdi Choir cantata pilgrimage of 1999-2000 on YouTube, and it’s a beautiful thing. This is one of the last major cultural documents from the pre-9/11 era, for me, and it’s poignant to see in the New York section of the program the World Trade Center standing there where it was supposed to be.

But aside from the shading that piece of history casts on the enterprise, this was a remarkable effort, and I would imagine being part of it was extraordinary and something you would never forget. I have cherished my Vol. 15 set of the cycle for some years now, and it’s good to see what part it played in the larger story.

The other thing I’ve found interesting is in the economic arena. J.S. Bach, as we read in Christoph Wolff’s solid, illuminating biography (Johann Sebastian Bach: The Learned Musician), did well for himself when he took a job in Weimar in 1708, when he would have been around the same age as a college graduate today:

And with an initial salary of 150 florins plus incidentals (18 bushels of wheat, 12 bushels of barley, four cords of firewood and 30 pails of tax-free beer) , he could indeed look forward to “a better living,” as his Muhlhausen resignation letter reads.

In addition, as a court servant (he was the organist) he was entitled to lodging in one of several buildings reserved for court employees in the middle of town.

JSBach.jpgFirst, there’s the money, and if we use Wolff’s table at the back, we find that 150 florins was roughly equal to somewhere under $9,500 in 2000 dollars, which is around $11,700 today, according to a couple of calculators I used on the Net. So Bach at 23 was making a little less annually than the pastor of a church,  but about three times as much as a barber, if we can take wages from the 1720s and assume they were comparable a few years earlier.

Not bad, and at this time in his life he already had a reputation as one of the most brilliant young musicians in the German states. But what I find really interesting are the benefits.

Imagine if today you were to get a job in which you would get not just your salary, but guaranteed housing, as well as the equivalent of wheat, barley, beer and wood. In other words, you’re getting bread as well as fuel to heat the house and do cooking. So it would be as though you got your job at some company somewhere, and in addition to a decent salary, you’d get a place to live, as well as some of your power costs and food staples taken care of.

That’s a pretty good deal. Say you worked at Acme Widgets in its accounting department. They pay you $30,000 a year. Then in addition they pay most of your power costs — somewhere in the neighborhood of $2,000 a year — plus enough wheat and barley to make bread all year round, and the table suggests that the 30 bushels of wheat and barley was worth in the neighborhood of $2,000.

So you get free housing, $30K a year, plus $4,000 for food and energy costs. Well done, Sebastian! And that’s not even counting the beer!

When was the last time an American employer paid its workers anything but salary? Wouldn’t it be nice to get a Cost of Living Voucher along with the salary, plus a Beer Voucher to go along with that? Is there anything else we generally require? This also is at a time when you weren’t expected to keep horses and a carriage for yourself that you bought from Dietrich down at Hohenstaufen Motors. Transportation was on foot or it was public, unless you were an aristocrat, in which case you hired people to do that.

The real fact of the matter is that we as workers in today’s global economy are required to support a gigantic industrial complex that influences most of the laws under which we live and which burdens us to the point of bankrupcty. We have to have cars, which cost far more to buy and operate than most of us have, but we don’t have any choice if we live in a place like South Florida; we have to pay for power, which for most of human history we provided ourselves; we’re forced to subsidize the private insurance industry on pain of breaking the law; if we’re ordinary people the only access to credit we have is at absurdly usurious rates.

It’s a giant, bruising, endless ripoff, and sometimes it takes looking at the economic arrangements of people a few centuries ago to see how out of whack things have become. Sure, not having money in the old days was just as bad as it is now, but nowadays, because we are forced to support so many enormous business operations, the fall is much sharper and steeper, and far more painful. And if you’re in the United States, the social services system is almost nonexistent, pace the selfless volunteers who work tirelessly on behalf of their fellow man simply because it’s the right thing to do.

Bach had it pretty good in most places he worked, even though the folks in Leipzig made him tear off his peruke from time to time and curse in a manner most unbecoming a Lutheran church official. And I think we should recognize that and insist our employers help us meet cost of living right off the bat.

Beer vouchers for everyone!

Gottschalk, Lincoln and history


Concert at Washington. The President of the United States and his lady are to be there. I have reserved seats for them in the first row. The Secretary of State, Mr. Seward, accompanies them. Mrs. Lincoln has a very ordinary countenance. Lincoln is remarkably ugly, but has an intelligent air, and his eyes have a remarkable expression of goodness and mildness. After an encore I played my fantasia, The Union, in the midst of great enthusiasm.

Thus Louis Moreau Gottschalk, writing on March 24, 1864. The country’s first real crossover composer, the New Orleans-born Gottschalk was a fervent Union man. He was on a boat off Mexico and heading for California when he heard of the assassination in April 1865 from a steamer captain who came on board to tell Gottschalk and his fellow travelers not only that the Civil War had ended, but that the president had been killed:

We do not know the details of the horrible outrage — the name only of the assassin is mentioned — Wilkes Booth. I remember having seen him play a year ago in Cleveland. I was struck at the time with the beauty of his features, and at the same time by  a sinister expression of his countenance. I would even say that he had something deadly in his look. A literary lady among my friends who knew him told me that he had as much natural talent for the stage as his brother Edwin, but that his violent and fantastic character would not permit him to polish the natural brutality of his manners any more than to restrain the fury of his acting within the ordained limits of his art.

The next day, the ship’s passengers gathered to remember the fallen president by voting on resolutions that then were presided over by a Supreme Court justice who apparently happened to be on board (Stephen Field, 1816-1899):

Where now are those frivolous judgments on the man whom we are weeping for today? His ugliness, his awkwardness, his jokes, with which we reproached him: all have disappeared in presence of the majesty of death. His greatness, his honesty, the purity of that great heart which beats no longer, rise up today, and in their resplendent radiancy transfigure him whom we called the “common rail-splitter.” O Eternal Power of the true and beautiful! Yesterday his detractors were ridiculing his large hands without gloves, his large feet, his bluntness; today this type we found grotesque appears to us on the threshold of immortality, and we understand by the universality of our grief what future generations will see in him.

These are excerpts from Gottschalk’s valuable memoir, Notes of a Pianist, which tells us a lot about what the life of a traveling musician was like at the time. He’s also a sharp-eyed reporter, giving us good detail about the things he sees in language that’s vivid and immediate.

(A pianist named Richard Alston plays The Union in this clip I found on YouTube:)


It’s a voice I found myself wanting to hear today on the bicentennial day of Lincoln’s birth. He’s a hard man to really know amid all the worship that has followed him since his momentous presidency of only four years. Had he lived as long as the man who shared his exact birthday, Charles Darwin, he would have lived to 1882, and thus a few years past the ivention of the phonograph, and perhaps we would have a snippet of his voice to listen to.


I’ve thought a lot about Lincoln over the years, and what strikes me today is that he is one of the singular examples of the single-man view of history. Had he not existed, or come to the political stage just when he did, it’s very unlikely the country would have remained intact, and it’s further likely that slavery would have lasted as long as it did in Brazil, where it hung on into the 1880s. 

In addition, there’s little question in my mind that had Lincoln not gone to Ford’s Theatre, and had he survived to carry out his apparent plan of different strategies of renewed Unionship for each of the Confederate states, I doubt Jim Crow would have taken root the way it did after the fraudulent election of 1876, which doomed African-Americans to second-class status for the next 90 years. Four days before his death, his announcement that he favored giving the vote to “very intelligent” black men and in addition those who had fought  for the Union was the thing that set off John Wilkes Booth.

And it took until 1965 for a right Lincoln proposed 100 years earlier to be guaranteed by the law. I think that shows how bold Lincoln was planning to be; if it doesn’t seem like much now, in 1865 it was a thunderbolt.

But many other people have written more eloquently about Lincoln, and I only wanted to add a word or two by bringing up Gottschalk’s memoir and by saying that Abraham Lincoln was the only real genius ever to occupy the White House, and I’m including  Thomas Jefferson when I say that. Lincoln is unique: not just a politician who was decades ahead of his time, but a writer of extraordinary power, a craftsman who belongs on the small shelf of canonical American writers. Like most of our greatest historical figures, there’s no end to the man, no end to the interest he provokes, no getting around the essential miracle of his providential arrival on the scene.

I also wanted to mention something briefly about Lincoln and music. He doesn’t appear to have been particularly musical, but he responded to the music of words. I read somewhere that he was fond of the old Irish song Oft in the Stilly Night, and we have this newspaper account of what he said the day after Appomattox:

I propose closing up this interview by the band performing a particular number which I will name. Before this is done, however, I wish to mention one or two little circumstances connected with it. I have always thought Dixie one of the best tunes I have ever heard. Our adversaries over the way attempted to appropriate it, but I insisted yesterday that we fairly captured it. [Applause.] I presented the question to the Attorney General, and he have it as his legal opinion that it is our lawful prize. [Laughter and applause.] I now request the band to favor me with its performance.

Here’s the Federal City Brass Band from YouTube, doing The Bonnie Blue Flag, Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean, Dixie and Battle Hymn of the Republic.


Remembering World War I


I have never understood why World War I broke out, and the more I read about it and study it, the more I listen to the speeches, the more I read the contemporary coverage of it, the more mysterious it becomes.

The best conclusion I can draw about the origins of the war is that it was nothing less than a calamitous perfect storm of violent events, leftover nationalist hubris from the 19th century, and unbelievably bad leadership from the men in charge of the combatant powers. For me it is the single greatest catastrophe in 20th-century history, even worse than World War II despite the second war’s far higher level of butchery. Without World War I, there would have been no World War II — no Hitler, no Holocaust; no Lenin, no Stalin, no gulags.

What it really ruined, as the British historian John Keegan pointed out in his 1998 history, The First World War, was the consensus about good governance and civilized behavior that had emerged in the Enlightenment:

Why did a prosperous continent, at the height of its success as a source and agent of global wealth and power and at one of the peaks of its intellectual and cultural achievement, choose to risk all it had won for itself and all it offered to the world in the lottery of a vicious and local internecine conflict? Why, when the hope of bringing the conflict to a quick and decisive conclusion was everywhere dashed to the ground within months of its outbreak, did  the combatants decide nevertheless to commit the totality of their young manhood to mutual and existentially pointless slaughter?

Excellent points, those, and a very fine book. (Other good WWI reads are The Great War and Modern Memory, by Paul Fussell, and The Guns of August, by Barbara Tuchman. Robert Musil’s The Man Without Qualities gives a wonderful picture of the stasis of Austria-Hungary in 1913, and a book I’ve just finished reading, The Book of Ebenezer Le Page, by G.B. Edwards, is in its first part haunted by World War I.)

Keegan goes on to note that in addition to the hatreds unleashed by the war, the conflict also saw a great deal of heroic behavior by regulars in the trenches who knew it was hopeless but fought on for their countries and their fellow men anyhow. Understand why they fought in the first place, and why they committed such heroism, and you get closer to the essential mystery of human life, Keegan writes.

When I read that the first time about 10 years ago, it struck me as a bit much, the understandable hyperbole of a passionate historian immersed in his subject and perhaps too close to it to render a more temperate verdict. But today, on the 90th anniversary of the armistice, I think he’s exactly right: There is indeed something conflict-obsessed about us higher primates, and the reverse side of that difficult coin is the immense fortitude in adversity our species also demonstrates at times of great trial. We’re an all-or-nothing kind of creature, and perhaps the Great War is better understood as an inevitable outburst of the way the human psyche is wired.

But then again, the other critical element here is how people are led, and that seems to me to matter more than what it is we want to get up to as human beings. The people who sent the world to war in the summer of 1914 were not statesmen but bureaucrats, bad politicians who got themselves in too deep and then realized they had no idea how to get out. In need of vision, they found themselves blind.

On this most somber of days, when we honor the millions and millions of living and dead war veterans, I always take time to think a little about World War I and its poisonous legacy. More than any other conflict it shows us how causally all the gains we have won as civilized nations can be thrown away, discarded in a moment of bluster. World War I is what the trigger looks like, and once pulled, the bullet cannot be returned to the chamber. It’s worth remembering that the way nations deal with each other every day is a fragile and tenuous thing, and that the work of remaining a civilized country is just that: Work.

Here’s a Website that contains wonderful vintage audio and video from the World War I years. It’s fascinating to see the faces of Austria’s Franz Josef, for example, and then hear his voice endorsing war relief, and to see the crowds gathered outside the palace hearing Nicholas II of Russia declaring war. And the songs, too, tell us a lot about the culture of the time. (Another good read is Glenn Watkins’ study of music in WWI: Proof Through the Night: Music and the Great War, which has a good CD of contemporary rarities such as songs by John Alden Carpenter and Maurice Ravel.)

Obama inspires us older guys, too


Among all the many millions of words spilled in the wake of the election of Barack Obama to the nation’s highest office, a good many dilate on the idea of inspiration, specifically, that young African-Americans can now fully participate in the world remade for them by the civil rights acts of the 1960s and aspire to anything they wish.

This is undoubtedly true, and Obama’s election will have far-reaching effects that we’ll only begin to appreciate in future decades. He undoubtedly already has set many dreams in motion.

But I’d like to speak up for the idea of Obama as an inspiration for other people: People like me, as odd as that might sound. I was born the same year as the new president, but a few months earlier. And unlike Obama, I am a man of very modest accomplishments. That’s true of most people, it seems to me, though many of us had hoped and tried for more.

When you look at Obama’s past, though, it’s humbling and admirable at the same time. Here’s a man of obscure beginnings who made the most of his talent and abilities; his family was critical in helping him get there, but he figured out early that he could make an impact if he applied himself and thought big.

It’s hard to find as clear an example of the age-old idea of American striving than the new president. Yes, he had a good share of luck in his life, but had he less drive and ambition, he could have made a perfectly respectable, admirable life for himself as a community college associate provost, or a country lawyer in the wilds of Hawaii. And the world at large would never have heard of him.

But Barack Obama makes me want to get to work, to abjure my attacks of self-pity, to get up earlier than I want to and get cracking on the things I want to do. Time is passing, and there are things that need to be done, and if I’ve learned anything in my life it’s that you really can ignore something until it goes away, and if that happens to be a dream you had, it won’t matter at all to the world at large if you didn’t do it. It will only matter to you, and as you get older, it’ll bother you less and less.

And yet that attitude seems like the wrong one to have in the age of Obama. His example is an example of skill and courage, of luck and timing, but more than that it is the example of hard work and an absence of making excuses. It is in that sense a bedrock American attitude, and I can’t help but feel that I should sit up straighter and try a little harder in order to pay respect to the idea that, yes, you can: You can be anything you want to be if you seize the opportunity and don’t kid yourself about how much work it’s going to take to get there.

The election of Barack Obama means the end of the Reagan era for the country, and for me, it means the end of not trying hard enough. I’m not going to be the president, but I can do better at getting things done than I have. Whenever I want to cut myself another break, I have only to look at Obama’s example, and say: That’s what happens when you take your talent and make the most of it.

It’s a salutary example, and I have a feeling there’s more than one middle-aged American out there who might be thinking about a second career, or starting that business, or getting up early all this next week to finish that screenplay.

He’s certainly done that for me.

Mariinsky performs: On Election Day I hied myself over to the Kravis Center for a performance by the Mariinsky Orchestra (until this week known as the Kirov). I wrote a concert notice for the South Florida Classical Review, which you can read here.

A long pre-opening line at our polling place

For what it’s worth, when Sharon and I arrived at the polls today at about 6:45 a.m., there already were at least 60 to 70 people in line at my polling place just outside Delray Beach. People in line seemed chatty, eager to vote, and energized; much of the discussion I heard had to do with the difficult wording of the proposed constitutional amendments.

It took about an hour for us to get inside and vote, but everything went smoothly. One of the optical scanners, however, already had broken down, and we all had to use one scanner. But still, things went well, we moved through process quickly once we got our ballots, and we were delighted to have finally reached this day.

The turnout in 2000 and 2004 as I remember it at this very same polling place was busy, but nothing like this.  It was thrilling, frankly, to be there, and to take part in this time-honored process.  There’s something beautiful about the normality of getting to express our opinions in a secret ballot, and I couldn’t help but get a little misty-eyed when I was done.

The national opinion polls still lean toward Obama, and if he is elected, I think it means two things above all: A reorientation of national politics toward home concerns (the things that have been left neglected while we pursued international adventures), and the end of the Reagan era. I, for one, hope that we can indeed address things such as health care, energy and the environment, and an overall more progressive agenda than what we’ve pursued in this country for many years.

Everything I’m hearing from radio and television this morning is of long lines everywhere, and that’s a good thing to see. It restores your faith in the abiding virtues of the voting process, especially after the disaster in this county back in 2000.

Used bookstores: A joy forever

My California columnist friend Dave Allen recently wrote a nice little piece about used bookstores, which both he and I consider a joy forever.

Here’s Dave’s piece.

I’ve got two favorite used-bookstores down here: Hittlel’s, in Fort Lauderdale, where I found interesting rarities such as the theater impresario Billy Rose‘s autobiography, and the third volume of John Houseman’s memoir, which I greatly enjoyed reading years ago and have enjoyed even more re-reading in recent days.

I also like the used-book section of Miami’s Books & Books, a legendary store that has a good section of used books in one of the rooms. My finds there: A critique of the work of Austrian novelist Robert Musil, and a copy of Robert Browning’s epic The Ring and the Book.

The whole point of shopping for used books is serendipity, and it always reminds me that this is not only one of the delights of shopping in actual bricks-and-mortar outlets, it’s also one of the best ways I know to fruitfully spend a few hours just letting your brain take you where it wants to go.

Few other experiences are as much fun or so nourishing.

The way we visit now

Count this among the ways technology has changed our lives, and in a way I hadn’t noticed before.

My mother-in-law and sister-in-law recently paid us a week’s visit, and there was something different about this get-together that distinguished it from ones in the past, and I don’t know a better way to put it than there was an absence of news.

And I attribute that to cellphones and e-mail.

In days not too long past, visits from out-of-town family meant not only seeing kin in the flesh again, but catching up with all the happenings since the last time we all were together. Sure, you might call folks at home every weekend or on holidays, but calling more often than that was very expensive and you almost had to rehearse what you were going to say if you had something big to talk about. Putting together a picture of what was happening back home required assembling evidence from letters and cards, and that was about it.

But when I finally decided to get cellphones for us a couple years ago, I signed up right away for unlimited minutes so Sharon could call her folks anytime she wanted and not worry about it. They’ve been in daily contact, more or less, since then, and while it’s not the same as being there in person, she’s plugged in to what’s going on back home.

E-mail makes these links even stronger, with our inboxes filling up with pictures from all kinds of family events.

But it might be the cellphones more than anything else that really change the tenor of family visits. Sharon and her family were basically in the middle of a continuing conversation rather than renewing contacts after a long absence. There was no need this time around for a day of news, lots of catch-up questions, and the like.

It struck me after they left that it is this sort of non-momentousness of long-distance visits that is the result of technological advances that allow us to stay in touch with each other at all times. This may have something to do with what friends of mine in the education business have said about the continued lengthening of childhood: With a technological tether that never gets broken,. younger people don’t have to move on as sharply as they did in the past.

I’m not sure whether that’s true, but I do know that we don’t visit the way we used to, because we can instantly show our folks in distant places exactly what we’re up to at any given moment. It’s probably a good thing on balance, since it keeps those family ties fresh.

It does, however, spoil some of the excitement, because the big news has already been broken.

Concert news: I couldn’t make it to the Yuja Wang performance this weekend, but Larry Johnson at the South Florida Classical Review loved her performance. I thought her Verbier Festival recital on earlier this summer was a knockout, and it looks like she’s making real inroads into piano stardom. Read what Larry had to say here.

Housekeeping: Reviews done, and to come

I’ve yet to write anything much about upcoming events in the local classical season, but will do so in the next couple days. There are some not-to-be-missed concerts on the way, and in the next week or so I’ll start doing regular Friday previews of what’s coming for the weekend.

For the time being, my friend Larry Johnson at the South Florida Classical Review has some good ideas for concerts this weekend down Miami way. You can also read the Seraphic Fire review I did for him here.

Also, a radio man named Doug Brown out in Tulsa has launched a concert band music show called Wind & Rhythm on KWTU-88.7 FM out there. This Sunday, he’ll be talking about the Ron Nelson disc I reviewed last month. I’m glad there’s someone out there devoting radio programs to this musical niche, and I wish him every success. I’m going to try to listen in at 8 p.m. Sunday (7 p.m. in Oklahoma) to hear what he has to say.

I’ve also just finished John Worthen’s biography of Robert Schumann, and I’ll have more to say about that in the next couple days, too. It’s got important things to say about the life Schumann led and the way music history looks at him, and I greatly enjoyed it.

Just a housekeeping entry, in other words, for today. I’m trying to finish two pieces of music in the next week, and I also am working on a freelance writing project that has an imminent deadline. So it’s back to work, even on a relatively relaxed weekend.

Here’s a nice video of Pierre Fournier playing the Schumann Cello Concerto (this is the first of four parts on YouTube):


A call for Publius to speak once more


I love to go back and  read some of the sacred founding texts of our government on important commemorative days, which is why over the past couple days I’ve been reading The Federalist Papers.

Today is Constitution Day, the anniversary of the day in 1787 when the Constitution was approved and submitted to the states for approval. There were two basic schools of argument: that the new country was best served by being united under a strong federal government, and on the other hand, that it would be best served if the individual states had more power, the argument being that common interests in commerce would keep them from acting against one another.

I’m oversimplifying, but it was an important debate, and reading The Federalist essays (which tend to be repetitive in the aggregate) is to be struck anew with how relevant for us today the arguments the three Federalist Papers writers — Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay — were making back then. Here’s something from Federalist No. 8, for instance, which was written by Hamilton:

Safety from external danger is the most powerful director of national conduct. Even the ardent love of liberty will, after a time, give way to its dictates. The violent destruction of life and property incident to war, the continual effort and alarm attendant on a state of continual danger, will compel nations the most attached to liberty to resort for repose and security to institutions which have a tendency to destroy their civil and political rights. To be more safe, they at length become willing to run the risk of being less free.

Nothing old about that argument in a time of post-9/11 fear.

And that gets me to wondering: Is it time that we as a nation have a new examination of how our government works? Should the voice of Publius return to debate at length the kind of country we should have? The Federalist is a narrowly conceived series of briefs defending the idea of a strong federal framework, but might a new Federalist Papers take a look at some of the national security state apparatus that has  developed in the last 50 years, or consider what the real power of the presidency should be, or even weigh the merits of a parliamentary system as opposed to the one we have now?

I’m just pulling ideas off the top of my head as they come to me, without any particular ax to grind. But it occurs to me that on a day we celebrate the creation of the Constitution that has been our national blueprint for 220 years we might, in the spirit of the men who debated its merits and shortcomings, take a fresh look at how our national government works and consider some structural reforms.