Tag Archives: Alexander Hamilton

Practice Tip #11: Strengthen your Memory

I am not known for my elephant-like memory, mostly, because I do not have one.  Like most people, my memory is pretty average (if not below average).

To compensate, I write everything down, keep careful a calendar events and meetings I need to attend, calls I should make, and tasks to finish. I take notes at meetings, and I take notes while I research, especially of where I can find things again. I even make notes in the margins of books I own so that I can return to points I liked during a first read.

Sometimes my average memory seems worse when I am put on the spot. I feel flustered, I stutter, and, worse, I forget my facts, points, and ideas. I could fill a whole post with the verbal flubs I’ve made while standing behind a pulpit or on a podium. But I won’t. You’ve got better things to do than read about my faux pas.

That said, I can’t hide the fact that there are times when I need data, information, or names and Google just isn’t an option. No matter how much we would like to avoid it, there are some things that we must memorize, if just because it’s more useful to have facts, ideas and information at our tongue tip than it is to check Google or our smart phone every time we need it (or when a judge, client, or opposing counsel demands it).

Influence doesn’t come from being able to Google an answer; anyone can do that. Influence comes from knowing the answer already, and having it when you need it. That’s right: great orators and influencers–guys like Marcus Cicero, Alexander Hamilton, and Abraham Lincoln–don’t use Google. They just recall it when necessary.

So what’s a guy to do if he has an average memory?

Apparently, all most of us have is an average memory, but we can all improve it. In 2003, Nature magazine reported on an f.M.R.I. test that scanned the brains of the eight people who finished near the top of the World Memory Championships (yeah, it exists). As it turns out, their memories weren’t any better than those of normal  people (read: you and me). Says writer Joshua Foer:

Researchers put the mental athletes and a group of control subjects into f.M.R.I. scanners and asked them to memorize three-digit numbers, black-and-white photographs of people’s faces and magnified images of snowflakes as their brains were being scanned. What they found was surprising: not only did the brains of the mental athletes appear anatomically indistinguishable from those of the control subjects, but on every test of general cognitive ability, the mental athletes’ scores came back well within the normal range.

So what’s the trick to pulling up data when you need it? Using different parts of your brain, parts that are more geared for memory than where we usually store data.

There was, however, one telling difference between the brains of the mental athletes and those of the control subjects. When the researchers looked at the parts of the brain that were engaged when the subjects memorized, they found that the mental athletes were relying more heavily on regions known to be involved in spatial memory.

Spatial memory–that’s the area of the brain that remembers, just like it sounds, space and distance around a person, their environment.

The Roman statesman Cicero once criticized Jul...

Image via Wikipedia

Interestingly enough, this type of memorization is not new. Cicero, the Roman politician that I mentioned above, rose from obscurity to the Roman consulship on the strength of his orations alone, even drafted his book on oratory, the Rhetorica ad Herennium, with techniques that included using spatial memory to recall important facts when necessary. Foer explains:

The point of the memory techniques described in “Rhetorica ad Herennium” is to take the kinds of memories our brains aren’t that good at holding onto and transform them into the kinds of memories our brains were built for. It advises creating memorable images for your palaces: the funnier, lewder and more bizarre, the better. “When we see in everyday life things that are petty, ordinary and banal, we generally fail to remember them. . . . But if we see or hear something exceptionally base, dishonorable, extraordinary, great, unbelievable or laughable, that we are likely to remember for a long time.”

In other words, maybe you won’t remember the banal or mundane, but you’re bound to remember the obnoxious.

What distinguishes a great mnemonist, I learned, is the ability to create lavish images on the fly, to paint in the mind a scene so unlike any other it cannot be forgotten. And to do it quickly. Many competitive mnemonists argue that their skills are less a feat of memory than of creativity. For example, one of the most popular techniques used to memorize playing cards involves associating every card with an image of a celebrity performing some sort of a ludicrous — and therefore memorable — action on a mundane object.

For more, check out the article by Foer in the New York Times Magazine here, and look into strengthening your memory.

Remembering what you need to recall, when you need it, is worth the effort. It might not make you this generation’s Cicero, but it certainly won’t stop you in your quest to become it. In fact, it might even help.

(h/t to Joshua Foer for his fascinating article)

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Immigration Debate: Federal or state purview?

The Constitution in Peril
Image by Renegade98 via Flickr

Recently, the local Deseret News has seen debate on its opinion page, and carried over in the Facebook-sphere, on the immigration issue, especially as it relates to whether immigration policy is the purview of states or the federal government, and in many respects, it returns to Constitutional interpretation by the political right (though I am not clear that it falls on party lines).  Two opinions in particular have debate it, and because one (“Immigration a matter for the federal government, which hasn’t delivered,” August 8, 2010) is in direct response to the other (“Border security not federal purview,” August 3, 2010), I’ve posted them below.

It’s an interesting discussion, and I believe it reflects, in many ways, a growing disenchantment with the expanding reach of the federal government in to the lives of American citizens.  However, the views expressed of the authors are their own, and I present them only as food for thought and consideration.  I do not blame the growth of the federal government on either party alone; indeed, much of what the Obama Administration has been able to accomplish has only been possible because of what the Bush Administration did during its eight year tenure.

The first opinion below is by Connor Boyack (he is found on Twitter as @cboyack), a blogger, communications coordinator for the Utah County Campaign for Liberty, “a 20-something web designerpolitical economist, and budding philanthropist.”

In the wake of Arizona’s immigration law and “the list” of 1,300 alleged illegal immigrants, people in Utah and around the country are debating the ever-present issue of immigration at a fever pitch. For all the resulting discourse, however, it seems that nearly everybody has assumed that federal immigration law is proper.

This view is mistaken, although understandable. More than a century of precedent has led Americans to believe that the power to regulate and restrict immigration is a federal one. Time, however, does not confer authority; if an individual health care mandate is unconstitutional today, yet still implemented, the passage of 100 years does not make it right.

It is an interesting exercise to ask supporters of federal immigration law where the government derives its authority on this issue. The varying responses given are as numerous as those offered by the U.S. Supreme Court over the years. One would think that if such a power existed, we could at least agree on what text in the Constitution applies.

A common citation of constitutional authority is Congress’ power to “establish a uniform rule of naturalization,” though both a colonial-era definition of the word naturalization, as well as a litany of quotes from framers of the document in question, clarify that naturalization has only to do with the specific process that makes an alien a citizen. The stretching of naturalization to somehow encompass an individual’s travel through and residence within the United States is without constitutional support.?

Some also point to Congress’ power to repel invasions, arguing that the flood of immigrants crossing the border invade our country, use our resources, burden our social welfare programs and bring with them gang violence and drug warfare. However, this supposed invasion is no orchestrated campaign by a distinct group; Juan’s peaceful and individual migration to America cannot reasonably be classified as being part of some coordinated effort to invade America.

James Madison argued in Federalist 43, in the Virginia Ratifying Convention, and in his Report of 1800 that the power to repel invasions only was meant for protection when a state was attacked by another state, or when the country was being subjected to a coordinated military strike. While some gang activity may possibly apply here, it is patently absurd to classify all migration as a legitimate and actual invasion.

Historically, the commerce clause was used to justify federal immigration law, but this dealt mainly with slavery or state-based migration taxes, and few would try to so twist this clause as to apply to the modern migration of individuals across our borders.

The last justification often used is a vague and boundless reference to the country’s sovereignty, where it is argued that the country must “secure its borders” as a matter of “national security” and that the power to do so comes as an inherent right of being a sovereign nation. Not only are the states the sovereign entities in our federal republic, but the federal government cannot legitimately act unless it has been delegated the power to do so by the states under the U.S. Constitution.

Federal immigration laws have no constitutional authority, and unless an amendment to the Constitution is ratified by the states to delegate that power, the states should retake and affirm their power to manage immigration within their borders. Given that “illegal immigrants” have violated federal immigration laws, which exist without proper authority, the proper action for those who support and uphold the Constitution is to advocate amnesty for those whose only crime is noncompliance with these illegitimate laws.

The response to Connor Boyack’s opinion piece was published in the same publication, the Deseret News, on Sunday, August 8, 2010.  It was co-written by Ben Lusty, an attorney in private practice in Salt Lake City, Utah, and Daniel Burton (he is found on Twitter as @publiusdb), an attorney in Utah and the Chair of the Utah Young Republicans.

We recently read the “My View” by Connor Boyack (“Border security not federal purview,” Aug. 2) with great interest, and feel it necessary to respond to Mr. Boyack’s extreme views. Were we to follow his logic, we would find our country crossed and conflicted with 50 separate immigration policies, creating uncertainty and jeopardizing freedom of movement. The federal government, despite its many faults and heretofore failure to act in this arena, is best situated to secure our borders and establish uniform immigration laws. We, too, are frustrated with the federal government’s immigration policy failures, and do not object to a state’s right to enforce existing federal immigration law. However, upending the constitutional infrastructure of the nation is no solution.

Mr. Boyack’s major flaw is his narrow-minded reading of the Constitution, especially Article I, Section 8, which includes a full grant of authority to Congress to establish rules of naturalization. Mr. Boyack argues, without citing evidence, that the framers understood this grant of federal authority absurdly narrowly and meant it only to empower Congress to grant citizenship to aliens, not as power to establish comprehensive immigration law.

Hundreds of years of Supreme Court precedent refute Mr. Boyack, but he blithely dismisses the constitutional authority of the judiciary with the aphorism that a hundred years of wrong precedent is still wrong. But Mr. Boyack’s way of thinking is illogical. How can Congress logically exercise its undisputed plenary power over naturalization if it lacks the authority to admit or exclude aliens from the country in the first place? What if Congress wants to grant citizenship to an individual that the state of California refuses to admit to the nation? We doubt the Founders were so shortsighted as to create such a painfully foreseeable crisis.

Further, Mr. Boyack’s analysis ignores other important constitutional language. For example, he largely ignores the commerce clause. Congress has authority to regulate interstate and international commerce, and there is no doubt that immigration affects national commerce. Moreover, Mr. Boyack completely ignores Article II of the Constitution. Article II grants the executive branch broad power to implement foreign and defense policy. Immigration affects both, but under Mr. Boyack’s vision, the states would seize this authority from the federal government.

More tellingly, Mr. Boyack has not accounted for Article IV, which provides that a properly ratified treaty is the supreme law of the land. States cannot have paramount authority to exercise control over immigration if the federal government can likewise enact a treaty with a foreign nation affecting immigration policy.

Mr. Boyack, wearing a guise of “originalism,” simply interprets away the plain meaning and clear intent of constitutional language, attempting to substitute the words of a few founders as definitive of the collective work of the founding generation. What Mr. Boyack posits is a radical interpretation — that states (all 50 of them) have the power to set their own immigration policy.

Despite our disagreement with Mr. Boyack’s interpretation of the Constitution, we agree with the majority of the population that the federal government has not effectively addressed immigration. Most people are not sensitive to the fine distinctions between federal and state power in our Constitution, but they do care about results, which the federal government has not delivered. We suspect that many advocates for enhancing the power of states at the expense of the federal government are more concerned with the failure of federal policy generally than with Constitutional jurisprudence.

The federal government is institutionally better situated than the states to deal with immigration. The question that Mr. Boyack fails to answer is whether we want 50 immigration policies. Therefore, based on reasons of pragmatism, law, and politics — the same reasons that the Founders came together at Philadelphia to “form a more perfect union,” we refute Mr. Boyack’s myopic view of state authority. Immigration policy is, by and in large, the purview of the federal government. What we do to bring about the changes in the federal government to resolve our immigration policy problems is another discussion altogether.