Big Head Press

L. Neil Smith's
Number 530, August 2, 2009

"They don't read it,
they can't vote on it."

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And Charo, Too
by L. Neil Smith

Distribute Widely and Attribute to The Libertarian Enterprise

She would likely be the only one to deny it, but my wife Cathy is a genius. Not only is she the quickest learner I've ever met, but she sees straight to the heart of a problem, undeterred by evasions and other intellectual detour signs, and the answers she arrives at reflect that same, direct beauty of line and form that her thinking does.

Cathy also gets angry at the oddest things. I remember a moment in our lives when, once I explained it to her as a phenomenon of Quantum Physics, she was outraged over the famous Double Slit Experiment for a week.

You can imagine, then, how my lovely and talented wife reacted upon learning that when possibly the worst legislation in the history of our rapidly-declining United States was being voted on, most or all of the congressmen and senators had never read the bloody things, nor, apparently, had the president whose bright ideas they were supposed to have been. Come to think of it, I'm pretty damned hot about that, myself!

Nobody was allowed to read the so-called USA Patriot Act before it was rammed down the Constitution's throat. Not many politicians read Patriot II for fear of finding out what they'd allowed in Patriot I—credible deniability, a unique new concept for legislators. And nobody is allowed to read anything Obama has spawned, especially his birth certificate.

Cathy's response was swift and deadly: they don't read it, they can't vote on it. At first she considered administering mandatory tests to check up on these so-far unindicted criminal conspirators, but these are the guys, I reminded her, who can turn the clock back (I watched it literally done once, in the Alabama House to get around a deadline) and they could probably find some obvious dodge around this requirement.

Her next thought was that somebody might read the bill to them (possibly pausing to explain all the big words), and, if the roll was taken, and they weren't all there, the reading wouldn't happen and the vote would be delayed for as long as it took to get them all in their proper seats. Like most of life's important facts, it seems to come as a surprise to the mass media that, in many states, the legislative chamber's Sergeant-at-Arms (not the governor) has the legal power to send state troopers out and "arrest" members in their favorite saloons and houses of swell repute until a full quorum is present in whatever condition of inebriation or pantslessness they happen to have been discovered.

Here we have the seeds—or even the cuttings—of a great idea. But it could probably use some trimming. First, why send uniformed thugs out to "arrest" anybody—and why is it always in quotes when we're talking about politicians? If the buggers want the law passed, then they can show up at the reading. If they want to do something else, then let them do it to the content of whatever organs may be involved.

Just don't tell me about it.

And what's with all this happycrap about a quorum? defines a quorum as "the number of members of a group or organization required to be present to transact business legally, usually a majority." Okay, then, a quorum of any group with legislative power just became a full 100 percent, as far as I'm concerned. How about you?

No substitutes, no administrative assistants ("secretaries" as we called them in the Era of Plain Language), no pages slowly seeping K-Y Jelly from various bodily orifices. You get elected, you sit and you listen.

No interruptions permitted.

And not just once, either. In my home town, the City Council can't vote on a measure until it has been read, aloud, at least three times on successive weeks. Plenty of idiotic laws get passed, to be sure, but many fewer than in the United States Congress. My guess is that the hangings and poisonings would start, most of them self-inflicted, around the middle of the second reading of the average piece of legislation.

Of course it would also be necessary to read the entire bill three times in the case of even the tiniest amendment, too. Politicos can get mighty damned sneaky with those semicolons—just ask any present or former member of the Libertartaian Party's national platform committee.

It should be obvious by now that mandatory multiple readings (and listenings) of all proposed legislation would immediately produce what our badly-battered nation needs most: many fewer and vastly shorter bills.

I don't know how long reading a bill today would take. Let's do a little calculation. Assuming charitably that the typeface these things are printed in is about the same size as the average paperback book, and that they're printed only on one side of a page (of course I could easily be wrong about that, too), a 1000-page bill would consist of 500,000 words—over six times the length of the average Star Trek novel. At a professional annnouncer's speed of 100 words a minute (and not the guys who spew the "fine print" at the end of medicine and insurance commercials), it would take 5000 minutes, or 83 hours to read.

Eighty-three hours in which our lives, liberties, and property are safe—at least from whatever hasn't been mentioned in the bill being read. We might sweeten the pot a little by hiring professionals with beautiful voices to do the reading, people like James Earl Jones, Helen Mirren, Anthony Stewart Head, Queen Latifah, Morgan Freeman, Angelina Jolie, Lawrence Fishburn, Amber Benson, Gabriel Byrne, Ellen Degeneres, Will Smith, Judy Densch, Wilford Brimley—well, you get the idea.

One hundred sixty-six hours if we got Antonio Banderas, Jennifer Lopez, Ricky Martin, Salma Hayeck, Enrique Iglesias, Hector Elizando, or the immortal Charo to do the reading, politically correctly en espanol.

Don't forget American Sign Language.

One of the nation's leading douchebags, Congressman John Conyers (C-MI),is whimpering already that it won't do any good for he and his accomplices to read a 1000-page bill if they don't have at least two lawyers to explain what it means to them. Aside from the fact that most of these putrescently festering boils on our collective glutea maximi are lawyers, what in the hated name of Alexander Hamilton are they doing passing laws they need a lawyer to interpret when it is an established principle that ignorance of the law is no excuse for its violation?

A lot more people would tune in to watch when the TV cameras went back on. Maybe they could even sell the recordings—and that gives me an idea. Every single session should begin, every day, after the roll is called, with a reading of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Not a big thing. Just another step back toward a free country.

Four-time Prometheus Award-winner L. Neil Smith has been called one of the world's foremost authorities on the ethics of self-defense. He is the author of more than 25 books, including The American Zone, Forge of the Elders, Pallas, The Probability Broach, Hope (with Aaron Zelman), and his collected articles and speeches, Lever Action, all of which may be purchased through his website "The Webley Page" at

Ceres, an exciting sequel to Neil's 1993 Ngu family novel Pallas is currently running as a free weekly serial at

Neil is presently at work on Ares, the middle volume of the epic Ngu Family Cycle, and on Where We Stand: Libertarian Policy in a Time of Crisis with his daughter, Rylla.

See stunning full-color graphic-novelizations of The Probability Broach and Roswell, Texas which feature the art of Scott Bieser at Dead-tree versions may be had through the publisher, or at where you will also find Phoenix Pick editions of some of Neil's earlier novels. Links to Neil's books at are on his website


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