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Wednesday March 13, 2002, 01:45

It is quite embarrassing for me to admit that I am a complete moron. I say this with the utmost sincerity as, in general, I think of myself as a fairly intelligent person. Yet this evening, when I was attending a performance of my friend's improvisational comedy act (a form that can be incredibly amusing or painfully not, as most comedy, other than the form that involves hitting other people in the crotch and laughing about it, which is never funny at all, often is), one of the acts that went on earlier in the evening began with a character sketch. It involved a man, standing in front of an audience (us) and beginning "I'm here today to talk to you about this thing we've got called the Fourth Amendment. Who here knows what the fourth amendment is?"

And nobody even coughed. The room was dead silent. And I know that I was not the only person who was sitting there thinking that, while I knew that the first amendment involved my being able to say and think things, and the second had to do with guns, beyond that, I was completely ignorant of the basic foundation of the laws of my country. Fourth Amendment! I mean, we're not even talking about the Tenth (states' rights) or even something as obscure as the Seventeenth (number of senators per state). This is the Fourth one. The one that comes after the one that talks about quartering soldiers. We're talking right up there. Top five. Really important ones, right? Yeah, I know, you're all making fun of me.

Or are you? I mean, I bet that there are plenty of people out there who, like me, had no idea that the Fourth Amendment had to do with search and seizure. Ok, well maybe not a lot of you. Actually, don't even tell me. I don't want to know, because I'm afraid that I was the only person who slept through my American History class in high school.

I carry a copy of the Constitution around with me. Have since high school. Why? That is something that I really couldn't answer. Seems like something that's important to do, and this could be the wakeup call for me. The one that reminds me that there is so much that I don't know, that I should know. For example, I don't think that I could point out where Wyoming is on a map. But you can be darned well that I'm going to look it up right now.

Alright, cool. It's in the middle. I had that much down. It's a state away from Canada. And it's one of those square states that doesn't much make any sense if you think about the fact that there are no rivers or anything there. That the borders of the state are purely constructed to be the borders of the state.

The problem of course is that none of this information is going to stick in my head (speech/religion, bear arms, quarter soldiers, search and seizure) because, honestly, it doesn't seem to make a lick of difference in my everyday life. Which isn't to say that it isn't important, but just that I can not see the importance of keeping this information in my head when I could, just as easily, look it all up on the Internet. Except if I'm watching a comedian and feeling rather feeble-minded.

I would like to think that the reason why I can't be bothered to memorize the map of the United States is because there is a lot of other stuff going on in my head. And yet I realize that there isn't, and thus the only possible explanation I have is that I'm just a dumb, lazy American.

My father will probably be very disappointed in me when he reads this. He likes history, knows a lot about it, and feels that there are just certain things that you should know. That are part of a good education and are just knowledge that you should have in your head. I feel like the Bill of Rights might be one of those things. Which isn't to say that the entire text, verbatim, must be committed to memory, but that the general rules and their corresponding numbering is an important thing to remember. And that's part of the problem too. It's that I too feel as though this is valuable information. Even if the knowledge is not actively used (to use the comedian's example, "So these cops pulled me over and we were chatting and then he comes over to my car and he wants to look in it. But I told him that no, he couldn't, and he wasn't allowed to..."), it is something that should be ready to be called upon.

Maybe I'm looking at this from the wrong perspective. In fact, I'm pretty sure that I am. It's important as just abstract information that forms the foundation of this country, but, more than that, it lays down laws and rules for the way that I am to be treated here, and for my expectations as long as I am a citizen of this country. So it's more important (it being the contents of this constitution) than just as a historical document.

But it's hard to remember these things when you're walking down the street on a quest for a cup of coffee to keep you awake while trying to write up a proposal for a new client. If there are, let's say, no soldiers waiting in my living room when I get home, it's unlikely that I will thank the Third Amendment for this fact. But maybe I should.

So, how does that go again? Oh yeah.

We the People...

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