Jun 26, 2009

Thought for the Day...On Substantive Due Process

I have not yet adequately expressed the more than anxiety that I feel at the ever increasing scope given to the Fourteenth Amendment in cutting down what I believe to be the constitutional rights of the States. As the decisions now stand, I see hardly any limit but the sky to the invalidating of those rights if they happen to strike a majority of this Court as for any reason undesirable. I cannot believe that the Amendment was intended to give us carte blanche to embody our economic or moral beliefs in its prohibitions. Yet I can think of no narrower reason that seems to me to justify the present and the earlier decisions to which I have referred. Of course the words due process of law, if taken in their literal meaning, have no application to this case; and while it is too late to deny that they have been given a much more extended and artificial signification, still we ought to remember the great caution shown by the Constitution in limiting the power of the States, and should be slow to construe the clause in the Fourteenth Amendment as committing to the Court, with no guide but the Court's own discretion, the validity of whatever laws the States may pass.

- Baldwin v. Missouri, 281 U.S. 586, 595 (1930) (Holmes, J. dissenting)

Jun 21, 2009

Take a butcher's at this!

I recently discovered one of the coolest linguistic phenomena ever. Slang, of course, is always interesting and sometimes annoying. Whether things are guay ('cool' in Spain) or tu t'en fiches ('you don't give a crap' in French), all languages have interesting idiomatic ways of expressing ideas. Some are vulgar, some are witty. The British Cockney accent is incredible. It is known as 'rhyming slang.'

What?

Those speaking Cockney will take a word that rhymes with the intended word, and that which rhymes is often a phrase (ex. instead of dollar, they say Oxford scholar). A Cockney, however, will drop the last word, leaving the first, unrhyming word to replace the original one (using our example, "Do you have a dollar" becomes "Do you have an Oxford?").

Some other examples:

  • believe becomes Adam and Eve ("Would you Adam and Eve it?")
  • stairs becomes apples and pears, leaving apples ("Would you go up the apples and grab my suit?")
  • eyes becomes mince pies, leaving minces ("You have beautiful minces, ma'am.")
  • look becomes butcher's hook, leaving butcher's ("Let's have a butcher's at this.")
All in all, it's a remarkable system. here are more examples.

Jun 13, 2009

Why Gallup's "Who Leads the Republican Party" Poll Is Idiotic

Gallup (or those who link to Gallup) have made a big thing over the new poll saying that, while 58% of people say that Barack Obama is the head of the Democratic party, no large plurality can say that about anyone on the Republican side.

The interpretations of the poll are stupid on their face. Why? Well, let's see.

Take two seconds and think about the world in 2005. George W. Bush had just won reelection, and Republicans increased their majorities in both the House and Senate. Who, tell me, was the leader of the Democratic party at the time? Howard Dean? John Kerry? Nancy Pelosi? Harry Reid?

The fact is, when a party is out of power in both the presidency and congress, it has no publicly identifiable leader. The putative head is the chairman of the party, but, honestly, that means nothing. Very few people could name Howard Dean in 2006. He was the 'leader' of the party, though, supposedly.

It was different in a year like, say, 1996. Newt Gingrich was the head of the Republicans because he was the single member of the GOP taking on President Clinton, the head of the Democrats. That changed in 2001, when Republicans took control of both political branches for the first time since 1955. Suddenly, the Democrats were looking for a new leader.

My basic point is that when a party is out of power, especially when it is completely out of power--neither controlling the presidency nor either house of congress--it has no leader that the public can see. It may have 'spokesmen', but no single figurehead.

What is more surprising to me, though the spin doesn't twirl this way, is that only 58% of people say that President Obama is the leader of his party. That either means a large percentage of Americans are clueless to the way our party system works or that Democrats (and the President) have failed pretty badly in convincing the polity that he is not only one of them, but their standard-bearer.

Jun 4, 2009

Britain's Drama


In the United Kingdom, Prime Minister Gordon Brown is having a tough time
. After Iraq, the recession (which he is largely blamed for, being Chancellor of the Exchequer--a rough equivalent of Treasury Secretary--for Tony Blair's turn in office), and, now, the MP Expense Scandal.

Yesterday, the Communities Secretary (a member of his Cabinet) resigned, one day after the Home Secretary resigned. Last week, the Justice Minister resigned, too. These are big events; imagine if the Secretaries of State, HUD, and the Attorney General all left in a matter of days because of scandal. One would think that the President had no ability to govern any longer. In our system, we'd just have to wait it out until the next election. However, in the UK's parliamentary system, the Prime Minister is more like the Majority Leader of the House, meaning that at any time, if enough people in his party vote for it, he could be unceremoniously dumped.

Apparently, a letter is circulating amongst the backbenchers seeking to do just that to Gordon Brown. In the next few days, we may see him resign. He may survive, only to limp into the next elections battered and incapable of winning (imagine George Bush at the end of his last term). Either way, the effective governance of Gordon Brown is over.

Jun 2, 2009

Have You Ever Wondered How to Read Sumerian?

Yeah, well...neither have I. But, Ancient Scripts.com is an amazing website, explaining the alphabets and phonetic systems of multiple, unique, and varied living and dead languages, including Cherokee, Aztec, Ethiopic, and Gothic. It's great for procrastinating--er--learning.

Jun 1, 2009

I Kind of Agree with Dahlia Lithwick (for once)

Dahlia Lithwick, in her own vaguely insulting, stab-in-the-back sort of way, tells liberals that they should stop calling Clarence Thomas stupid, since he's not. She also says that therefore, since he's not stupid, Sotomayor isn't either. I'm not sure that follows (though I'm also not doubting Sotomayor's intelligence). The statement is simply illogical, though from a woman who usually disheartens me both in her mean, ad hominem commentary about conservatives and her constant Obama-slobbering, it's a breath of fresh air.

Does Sotomayor Believe in Objectivity?

The wagons are beginning to circle around Sonia Sotomayor, and it looks like the weapons, too, have been chosen. Those will be the case Ricci v. DeStefano, currently before the Supreme Court, and Judge Sotomayor's statement about how she hoped a Latino female would be able to come to a wiser judgment than a white male.

Pundits have been all over about it, from left, from right, from speechwriters, and from Court-watchers. What hasn't so much been discussed is the very interesting, and very important issue that her statement raises for our entire political system, and that is: can, and should, judges render objectively impartial verdicts? To say it another way: is it even possible for judges to put their personal beliefs aside when making decisions?

Effectively, Judge Sotomayor says 'no' to those questions. But she then commits the cardinal sin: she says that partiality is a good thing.

Now, many on the left are running in circles and trying to act as though it has all been 'taken out of context'. However, if anything, the most discussed sentence doesn't do the entire message of the speech justice. Her words are a direct response to Sandra Day O'Connor's statement that she believed a wise old woman and a wise old man would reach the same, impartial decision. That, if anything, is a statement that there is an absolute objective standard to be reached and that one with enough wisdom and experience will be able to reach it. The statement certainly doesn't make a subjective claim to the value of that decision (whether it is good or bad), but makes clear that a (one, a single, only one) decision will be reached. Judge Sotomayor's comment says (paraphrasing and editorializing) "No, I'm sorry, but that is not possible and not desirable. There are certain voices that are not heard in your standard of 'objectivity.' A Latina should be able to speak to that, challenging your definition, which will be better for the law." She is saying that subjectivity is a natural part of a judge's role and that it should be celebrated.

That is a major difference form the past. For years, even Democratic appointees have harped on about the limited role of judges in our system and the importance of the rule of law. Chief Justice Roberts is famous (to those who actually pay any attention to confirmation hearings) for his analogy of the Court to an umpire in baseball. The notion of judicial restraint and its fundamental precept of objectivity has always received airtime. Never has a potential justice said that subjectivity ('empathy' is the President's favorite word for it) is desirable. Usually, it is brought up as something that exists and will certainly inform the decisions of judges because we are human. Rarely has it been celebrated.

As the hearings move on, we'll see if this is brought up. It's a bit too philosophical for senators to debate the nature of objectivity, so I'll guess there will just be a lot of grandstanding instead. It would be a good question, though, to raise.

Do you, Judge Sotomayor, believe that there is an objective, impartial decision that exists for each case? Do you believe that it is possible for judges to find that? Do you think it is worthwhile for them to try?

I wonder...

William F. Buckley, Still Working on the Conservative Movement from the Grave

There's an excellent article about William F. Buckley in The Wall Street Journal today.