Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Archive for December 29th, 2022

Five will get you seven

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Virginia creeper, Parthenocissus quinquefolia, seems ubiquitous in the woods of northwest Austin, including in our yard. Much less common is its two-more-leaflets-per-leaf genus-mate Parthenocissus heptaphylla, a little group of which I came across in Great Hills Park on December 1st (quinque is Latin for ‘five’ and hepta is Greek for ‘seven’). Both species happily turn colors in the fall. Update: I hadn’t realized this is the debut of seven-leaf creeper here, nor did I know that the species is endemic to central Texas.

Also welcome that morning was a bit of cedar sage, Salvia roemeriana,
flowering well past or before its habitual time in the spring. 




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Last week the Congress of the United States passed a so-called omnibus spending bill. The Latin word omnibus means ‘for all’—appropriate, given that the legislation provided mountains of “pork” for all the members of Congress, regardless of their political party. Passage meant that we the taxpayers will be on the hook for borrowing another $1.7 trillion that the government doesn’t have, and doing so at a time when interest rates on debts have returned to their normal range after 13 years of practically interest-free loans brought on by the financial crash of 2008.

The printed version of last week’s bill ran to 4,155 pages. Probably no member of Congress read it all; probably most members read only the bits that benefited them; probably some members voted without having read any part of the bill at all.

The whole thing is a scandal.

Last year I brought forth what I called fantasy amendments to the United States Constitution. They’re things that I believe most citizens would agree with but that political and monetary interests will likely keep from ever being adopted. Congress’s shameful behavior last week impels me to reprint the two fantasy amendments that are relevant to last week’s disgrace.


Prerequisites for a member of Congress to be allowed to vote on a bill.

  • A.  The member shall read the final version of the bill in its entirety.
  • B.  The member shall create an uncut video showing the member reading the entire bill, and shall post, at least 48 hours before voting on the bill, the complete video online in an easily accessible place where the public can view it.
  • C.  The member shall pass a test about the contents of the bill, such test to be created and administered by a non-partisan commission established for that purpose. The test shall contain at least 10 questions and the passing grade shall be set no lower than 80%. A member of Congress who fails may take one retest consisting of a randomly different set of questions about the bill. A second failure shall bar the member from voting on the bill.
  • D. Each revision of a bill that comes up for a vote shall trigger these requirements anew.


Requirements for a legislative bill.

  • 1. A legislative bill shall deal with only one subject.
  • 2. The first line of the bill must state what that subject is, and it must conform to the general understanding among the public of what that subject includes.
  • 3. For each pending Congressional bill, every sentence shall be identified by the name and position of the person or persons who wrote the sentence. If the writer(s) acted on behalf of or at the behest of some other person(s) or organization(s), those identifications must also be included.
  • 4. Unless Congress by a three-quarter majority in each house separately declares a national emergency, the complete text of a bill must be released to the public and made readily available online at least 14 days before a bill is brought to a vote.
  • 5. A non-partisan commission created by Congress shall thoroughly examine every final bill and remove all parts of it that don’t conform to points 1–3 above. The commission is also empowered to prevent, and must prevent, voting on any bill whose final form the public has not had easy access to for 14 days.

Point 1 is intended to eliminate the monstrous bills we now get that run to hundreds or even thousands of pages and that include a slew of unrelated things. Politicians too easily hide pet projects and controversial proposals in the welter of such “omnibus” bills. My idea is to have the legislature vote separately on each proposal or small group of related proposals. That would let the public know which legislators support which things.

Point 2 is intended to head off concept creep and gross semantic inflation. The current administration has been referring to anything under the sun as “infrastructure,” e.g. “human infrastructure” and “family infrastructure,” whereas the normal use of the term “infrastructure” includes only physical structures like roads, bridges, airports, dams, power lines, railroads, ports, canals, and the like.

Point 3 is intended to reveal who is actually inserting provisions into a bill. As things stand now, the real promoters are often hidden from the public.

Point 4 is intended to give the public and the press a reasonable amount of time to find out what’s in a bill before it gets voted on.

Point 5 creates a neutral external body to enforce the provisions that members of Congress may be too pusillanimous to adhere to.


© 2022 Steven Schwartzman




Written by Steve Schwartzman

December 29, 2022 at 4:29 AM

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