Mug Shots

You may not have noticed that there is a conflict of major proportions going on in this country. Very nearly anything can be turned into a weapon. If you are young, you will be surprised.

If you are not young, you might remember what happened during World War II, where every product you can imagine was tied in some way to “the war effort,” and was something you should buy because it expressed your support for “our boys overseas.” If you can find a Life magazine from the 1940’s, I recommend that you leaf through it slowly, looking only at the ads.

We are not at that level of conflict with each other yet [1] but taking a shot at your neighbor’s views [2] by means of lawn signs is pretty old hat. How there are bumper stickers, and banners, and tee shorts. And now, coffee mugs. You can take the next shot at your neighbor, if you like, with just the right mug.

I have, as Tom Lehrer says, in introducing his song The Vatican Rag, “a modest example here.” This one is called the “disappearing civil liberties” mug. It is marvelous! [3] You can tell a lot just by looking at this picture.


However, I recommend that you travel over to and look at their whole collection. They aren’t mostly political, but they are mostly snarky and I enjoyed browsing the collection.

So let’s pay a little attention to this particular mug. It says, “disappearing civil liberties” but that doesn’t refer to all ten amendments in the Bill of Rights. Just to some. And just to parts of some. It’s pretty sophisticated, really. I’ve seen final exams that weren’t as sophisticated as this. Here is a sample question that you could derive from the mug: Which clause of the 5th Amendment does NOT disappear? What political philosophy does that suggest? How? * [4]

Now I call that a good question.

I have no idea how the makers of this mug manage the thermodynamics, but the fact is that when you pour hot liquid into the mug, some of the letters fade away and other do not. In fact, I suspect—further tests will confirm or deny—that some clauses disappear almost instantly, while others that will disappear in time, do so more slowly. That’s how it seems to me. Further research will be undertaken.

But here are some examples of the differentially vulnerable “rights.” The Second Amendment, which is currently being construed as an unconditional right to bear arms, doesn’t disappear at all. It is as glossy and black when you finish your hot coffee as it was when you poured the coffee in.*

No visible change affects the 10th Amendment either. Given our political history, I find it hard to think of the 10th Amendment as a part of “our civil liberties.” but that’s how it was thought of in December of 1791 when the ten were ratified. It holds that powers not explicitly granted to the national government are retained by the states.*

Liberals have loved “the fifth amendment” for years. But casual references to “the fifth” nearly always mean the freedom from self-incrimination. Actually, not all of the Fifth Amendment disappears. The last clause, which reads “nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation,”* doesn’t fade at all. In fact, given that ALL of the rest of the amendment does fade, this little remnant looks bolder than ever.

Conversely, nearly all the Seventh Amendment survives intact. Nearly all. The right to a jury trial fades entirely away, but the rest of the amendment stays black on white.*

You get the idea. This mug is good for holding the hot coffee you pour into it. Under the right circumstances, it is good for holding forth on political philosophy. Under the wrong circumstances, it is just a mug shot.

Just go the the site and get one of these. They are truly witty and any knowledgeable liberal will find it funny as well. And if, by any chance, you teach a course in constitutional law [5] it would make a truly memorable final exam.

[1] An older person who hears the word “red” as a fearsome thing, things the reference is the communism. A younger person knows it is a reference to Kansas.
[2] If he is your neighbor in the geographical, as opposed to the spiritual sense, he probably doesn’t have opposite views. More and more we are living in single-ideology ghettoes.
[3] Sincere thanks to my stepdaughter, Kathy Humphries, who gave me this mug as a Christmas present. It livened every party I went to all day.
[4] To save us all a lot of time, I hereby adopt the asterisk (*) as shorthand for: NOTE TO CON LAW STUDENTS—WHAT JURIDICAL INTERPRETATION DOES THIS SUGGEST?
[5] David Johns, I hope you are reading this. The political science division at Portland State University would benefit from your using this mug as a final exam.


About hessd

Here is all you need to know to follow this blog. I am an old man and I love to think about why we say the things we do. I've taught at the elementary, secondary, collegiate, and doctoral levels. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. I have taught political science for a long time and have practiced politics in and around the Oregon Legislature. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. You'll be seeing a lot about my favorite topics here. There will be religious reflections (I'm a Christian) and political reflections (I'm a Democrat) and a good deal of whimsy. I'm a dilettante.
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