30 November 2004

Word for the Day

abulia, also aboulia · \a-BU-lii-&; a-BYU-\ · noun:
:loss or impairment of the ability to act or to make decisions.

I was suffering from an aboulia, you know. I couldn’t seem to make decisions.
--Anatole Broyard, “Reading and Writing; (Enter Pound and Eliot),” New York Times, May 30, 1982

There’s little escape from her black hole of abulia.
--James Saynor, “Woman in the Midst of a Nervous Breakdown,” New York Times, June 12, 1994

abulic · adjective

Abulia derives from Greek a-, “without” + boule, “will.”

29 November 2004

A New Word

galardinet · ga-`LAR-dih-"net · noun
: a woman who stresses a rigid adherence to the details of forms and methods

Etymology: Apparently a coinage, by Jack Vance, in Lurulu, 2004. Probably a portmanteau word [galliard + martinet].
. . . .
Thanks to axolotl, a French Vance aficionado, for this excellent explanation.

Word for the Day

afflatus · &-'flA-t&s, a- · noun

1. a divine imparting of knowledge or power; inspiration
2. the dominant theme or sense of place derived from the way of life and/or philosophy of the inhabitants of a given locale (used in this sense by writer Jack Vance).

Etymology: Latin, act of blowing or breathing on, from afflare to blow on, from ad- + flare to blow, q.v.

24 November 2004

Word for the Day

cilice (SIL-is) noun

1. An undergarment of haircloth, worm by monks in penance.
2. Haircloth.

"Wearing the cilice, (Louise) Heil said, helps people learn to care less about their own comfort and more about helping other people."
-- David Holley; "Founder of Opus Dei Becomes Newest Saint;" The Los Angeles Times; Oct 7, 2002.

"He (Silas) wears a cilice, a thong that cuts flesh, around his thigh, and he flagellates himself bloody as part of a self-purification cult in accordance to Opus Dei guidelines."
--Joseph P Szimhart; "Fact, Fiction, and Strained Symbolism;" Skeptical Inquirer (Amherst, New York); May 2004.

Stolen from wordsmith.org, whose editor remarks: No more hairy undergarments now -- modern cilices are usually made of wires and studded with spikes. Another word that came from the same region is solecism (an error). It's derived from the name of Soloi, a city in Cilicia.

[Toponym (word derived from a place-name, e.g. Cashmere) from Old English cilic, from Latin cilicium, from Greek kilikion, from kilikios (Cilician). This cloth was originally made of Cilician goats' hair. Cilicia was an ancient region in southeast Asia Minor which later became part of the Roman Empire. It's now part of southern Turkey.]

23 November 2004

Word for the Day

entelechy · (en-TEL-&-ki) · noun
1. Perfect realization as opposed to a potentiality.
2. In some philosophies, a vital force that propels one to self-fulfillment.

"It concerns our final end, our entelechy, the purpose of our existence, where we are going to go."
--Gray Henry; "The First Prophet;" Parabola (New York); Spring 1996.

"As movies directed by ex-Star Trek actors go, it isn't nearly as jejune as, say, Leonard Nimoy's Three Men and a Baby, but neither does it possess the ambivalent entelechy of LeVar Burton's The Tiger Woods Story."
--Michael Atkinson; "Three Woman and an Organ;" The Village Voice (New York); Apr 9, 2002.
[From Late Latin entelechia, from Greek entelecheia, from enteles (complete), from telos (end, completion) + echein (to have).]

22 November 2004

Safire's 28th Amendment

Safire favors an amendment to allow naturalized citizens to be president. Here's my reply to him, via e-mail:


My first thought is, "Dream on!" The amendment
you discuss, and for the very reasons you mention (constitutional sluggishness) should have little or no chance of passage. It's a good idea, (not Schwarzenegger's candidacy, which is a very bad idea, but the principle of the amendment), but it will not, I think, gain enough support to come close to passage. Those who would benefit by it have too narrow an interest to garner such broad support.

Besides, there are far more important issues requiring constitutional reform... like doing something about how corporate money and lobbying control all politics and policy, and putting an end to gerrymandering, which has effectively ended representative democracy in this country. Both of those are in the interests of all the people, and just might gain enough grassroots support someday to force those in power to bend to the public's will.

Then again, perhaps you are right. Recent history, such as the failure of the Equal Rights Amendment, has shown that only relatively inconsequential and noncontroversial matters have achieved successful status as constitutional amendments. Rather than deal with anything of any real importance to a wide constituency, this amendment might serve well as a distraction.

Thank you.

/David Studhalter (a Californian who voted against Governor Davis's recall).

Word for the Day

mordant · 'mor-d&nt · adjective

1 : biting and caustic in thought, manner, or style: incisive (a mordant wit)

2 : acting as a mordant (see noun below)

3 : burning, pungent, caustic

-- mordantly adverb


1 : a chemical that fixes a dye in or on a substance by combining with the dye to form an insoluble compound

2 : a corroding substance used in etching

––transitive verb
: to treat with a mordant

Etymology: Middle English, from Middle French, present participle of mordre to bite, from Latin mordEre; perhaps akin to Sanskrit mrdnAti: 'he presses, rubs'

18 November 2004

Word for the Day

synesthesia var. synæsthesia · (sin-&s-THII-zh&; --zhi-&) · noun

1. A sensation felt in one part of the body when stimulus is applied to another part, e.g. visualization of a color on hearing a sound.

2. A mental disorder or condition characterized by transposition of senses, esp. of sight with sound.

3. (In literature) Using an unrelated sense to describe something, e.g. warm sounds or fragrant words.

[From New Latin, from syn- (together) + -esthesia, from Greek aisthesis (sensation or perception). Ultimately from Indo-European root au- (to perceive) from which other words such as audio, audience, audit, obey, oyez, auditorium, anesthesia, and aesthetic are derived.]

Link: a Scientific American article on the topic.

"As many as one in 2,000 people has the mysterious condition known as synesthesia, a mingling of different senses into one. Some taste shapes. Others feel colours or see sounds."
--Brad Evenson; “Symphony of the Senses;” National Post (Canada); Feb 26, 2002.

"Ms. Mass's novel for young teens about synesthesia, 'A Mango-Shaped Space' (Little, Brown, 2003), tells the story of a 13-year-old girl named Mia who perceives letters, numbers and sounds as colors."
--Michelle Falkenstein; “Jersey Footlights;” The New York Times;
Jul 4, 2004.
. . .
Shamelessly stolen from Wordsmith.

17 November 2004

Reclaiming the Moral High Ground/ Joan Chittister

This is from The National Catholic Reporter. Joan Chittister is the author of numerous books dealing with Christianity, contemplation, and morality.

Yes, but what about the rest of us?
By Joan Chittister, OSB

To tell you the truth, whatever the protocol of acceptance and concession speeches after presidential elections -- and I watched both -- I would not call what we just went through a national election. Or at least not a healthy one. I would call it a warning, a signal of things to come, the klaxon of what is clearly a crossover moment in time, perhaps, but not a real profile of the historic American character and hopes.

We are supposed to understand that by a margin of less than 150,000 votes in one state this "country" decided its policies, programs and world vision for the next four years. Or to look at it another way, in a country of 275 million, 3.5 million popular votes out of 120 million ballots cast is now considered a "mandate." Oh, come now …

The country is clearly too deeply divided to even begin to assume that we are now operating off of some kind of political authorization for neo-conservatism.

Down deep we all know that we did not, in this particular political exercise, see the fundamental ideals of the American public -- respect for differences, separation of church and state, the common good, and justice for all -- in full sway. We did see ideology at its most punishing, smothering and narrow worst.

The fact is that what we saw is what extremism looks like, what cultural evolution looks like, what fear looks like, what religion run amuck looks like. We saw radical right fundamentalist religion pitted against the most shameless definitions of secular liberalism as weak, immoral and irresponsible. It was the battle of two one-eyed monsters writ large. No nuances. No common ground. No common sense. No real evidence.

Instead, just when the township of Prestonpans in Scotland decided to pardon the 81 "witches" -- and their cats -- it had burned at the stake there in the 16th and 17th centuries, we managed to make a few witches of our own.

In 17th century Europe, "witches" were identified by things like liver spots on a woman's hands, or the herbal home remedies they brewed up to relieve arthritis pain or the common cold, or by the fact that they kept cats, considered by many to be palpable forms of the devil. Everyone "knew," on the basis of "spectral evidence," -- i.e., the assurance of witnesses that they felt evil here -- that the only hope for the commonwealth was to destroy them.
On about the same quality of evidence, in this country, in this election we pitted good against evil, the moral against the mercenary, parochial concerns against public responsibility to the point where we have jeopardized both our personal and political perspective, our best values, our deepest principles.

The thing to remember is that we have done this before in American history. Then, we called it Prohibition. It too was based on "family values," concern for marriage, personal morality and an attempt to control the quality of American life. It didn't work then and it's not working now, despite its list of more than 40 scriptural references on its party Web site as a reason for electing a Prohibition candidate.
Maybe that's why the Founding Fathers of this country rejected the establishment of a state church that would both define and monitor our personal choices and chose instead to enshrine for us the political task of establishing "liberty and justice for all."

I'm finding it hard to believe that religious people who are opposed to abortion on demand are really gleeful about the war deaths in Iraq -- 37,000 civilians according to the Brookings Institute or more than 100,000 war-related epidemiological deaths reported by The Lancet, the international journal of science and medical practice.
I doubt that those religious people who believe in tax relief as their strategy for pumping new money into job creation and economic development are really willing to allow our schools and inner cities to deteriorate.

I'm finding it even harder to imagine that those religious citizens who are truly committed to providing universal health care in the United States are, at the same time, committed to the concept of medical experimentation in human cloning.
Not if our religion is really religious.

I'm more concerned that paranoia and ignorance masking as religion are destroying our ability to identify a real religious voice in a time of great cultural change.

It was religion that generated the witch burnings of the 16th century. It is religion that has had a great deal to do with the witch burnings of this election.

Both positions -- personal morality and social responsibility -- in their sincere concern for the quality of public life and public values have a lot to commend them, of course. But neither of these emphases alone can really run the country. Neither of them have the magnetism, the real moral content, to bring a nation together in the manner of an FDR or an Eisenhower or a Johnson or a Reagan. No representative of can really be everybody's president.
The electoral map that defines in stark colors the United States as two different countries is a warning in neon.

From where I stand, it seems imperative that the great conversation on public morality and personal conscience must begin again in this country lest we now begin to view one another in terms of those colors, without respect for those issues, with mistrust. I'm convinced that it's these people in the middle, the ones who are neither dark blue nor deep red, whose morality we must seek out and make plain again.

This election pitted two goods -- personal religion and political liberalism -- against each other at their extremes. In the process, we may have injured both gravely. God deliver us from any more witch hunts.

16 November 2004

Feith to Replace Ridge?

Eschaton is reporting a rumor that Tom Ridge is going to be replaced by Rumsfeld/Wolfowitz protegé Douglas Feith, whom Gen. Tommy Franks called "the stupidest fucking guy on the face of the Earth."

12 November 2004

Emerging Democratic Majority: How Big A Role Did Fraud, Ballot Theft and Suppression of the Vote Play in The Election?

November 12, 2004 Strategy Notes: John Belisarius
How Big A Role Did Fraud, Ballot Theft and Suppression of the Vote Play in The Election?

In the last few day's accusations of massive vote fraud, ballot theft and suppression of the Democratic vote during the 2004 elections have mushroomed to such a level that both the New York Times and the Washington Post have given the charges front page coverage. Unfortunately, almost all the discussion of this issue has become focused on the specific question of whether a sufficient number of votes might have been stolen or suppressed to have changed the outcome of the election. In many cases, the unstated assumption seems to be that if such violations did not rise to the level where they changed the result then they can safely be ignored.

That's the wrong way to look at this issue. What the vast majority of Democrats find most disturbing about 2004 is that Bush's victory was based on a pervasive strategy of dishonesty--a dishonesty that included major distortions of Kerry's record by the Bush campaign's own television commercials, outright lies told by the Swift Boat Veterans, grotesque distortions circulated among rural or minority voters (such as the claim that Democrats would take away religious people's bibles or that Martin Luther King was a Republican), flyers listing false reasons why voters should believe themselves disqualified, leaflets and phone calls falsely announcing changes in polling places and phony voter registration groups that collected and then destroyed voter registration forms. Layered on top of this were techniques for suppressing the vote in Democratic areas that included last minute changes in polling places, use of felon lists known to be inaccurate and the provision of inadequate numbers of voting machines and ballots.It is this entire pattern of appallingly anti-democratic behavior that should be at the center of the national discussion today, and not just the specific question of whether these kinds of activities--along with any direct theft or alteration of votes by electronic or punch card voting machines--could have risen to a level sufficient to reverse Bush's victory. Regarding the precise amount of voter fraud and suppression that actually occurred during the election, data are still trickling in. A widely quoted article by Harpers magazine writer Greg Palast pulled together a variety of issues to draw the conclusion that Kerry might actually have won the election. Follow-up articles in Salon and The Nation by Farhad Manjoo and David Corn, however, while entirely sympathetic to Democrats basic suspicions and complaints, reviewed Palast's evidence and reached the opposite conclusion.

The debate is not over. Two web sites that continue to collect and evaluate reports from around the country are the Election Incident Reporting System and the CalTech/MIT Voting Technology Project.But the most important thing for Democrats to remember about this debate is that they should not allow it to be reduced simply to the question of whether or not the election was "stolen". What vast numbers of Democrats as well as many moderates and independent voters already believe and believe very strongly is that Bush's victory was based on a campaign that was deeply, deeply dishonest and profoundly unfair.

Word for the Day

hermeneutical · "h&r-m&-'nü-ti-k&l, -'nyü- · or hermeneutic /-tik/ · adjective

: of or relating to hermeneutics; interpretive
- hermeneutically /-ti-k(&-)li / adverb

hermeneutics · noun plural but singular or plural in construction
: the study of the methodological principles of interpretation (as of, and most usually with respect to, the Bible)
Etymology: Greek hermEneutikos, from hermEneuein to interpret, from hermEneus interpreter

11 November 2004

Michael Ventura: Dancing in the Dark

Dancing in the Dark
By Michael Ventura, Austin Chronicle
Posted on November 11, 2004

Joe Hill was a labor organizer executed on trumped up charges in Utah in 1915. The night before his murder he telegrammed his comrades: "Don't waste your time in mourning. Organize."

I once shook the hand of a man who shook his hand. In the spirit of passing that handshake on, here are some thoughts post-election:

It's after a defeat that you find out what you're made of. Cry if you must, cry it all out, but don't let the bastards sap your vitality.

In 1964, arch-conservative Barry Goldwater was crushed at the polls. Everybody thought conservatism was forever politically dead in America. But conservatives re-grouped, re-thought, and organized patiently from the ground up; when fundamentalist religion became a force in the mid-1970s they were ready to take advantage of it. In 1980, they elected Reagan. Dig: It took them 16 years. American progressives seriously started mass-scale organizing only about a year ago. In just one year we came within reach of victory.

That's remarkable. Now is no time to quit.

Iraq is a mess and it'll get worse. Our military is way over-extended. To keep present troop levels, Bush will renege on his promise and institute a draft--probably next spring, so that he can recover by the mid-term elections. Rural poor are already fighting this war; a draft won't change their vote (though continued failure in Iraq might). But the conservatives of the middle class will be hit hard by a draft; that will change the present equation considerably. Progressives must stay organized and ready to help them. Reach out to save their kids -- and ours.

Former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volker said recently that he sees a 75 percent chance of "financial catastrophe" within five years. That's his polite Establishment way of saying that an economic shit-storm is on the horizon and could hit anytime. Any mix of oil hikes, credit trouble, unemployment, interest hikes, etc., could set it off. Also: the European Union, China, and Southern Asia have been hanging back, hoping we Americans would clean our own house and vote Bush out. We failed. They can't afford to hang back any longer. The United States, thrown into heavy debt by Bush, now depends on these powers to buy our bonds. Their collective hand is on our financial spigot and they'll start turning it slowly toward "off." They'll do it carefully, but they'll do it, because it's the only check they have on Bush America. They needn't cut their investment much to make us hurt. Combine the two -- our internal weaknesses and dependence on foreign financing -- and we're in big trouble. Bitching about that won't be enough, as this election proved. Progressives must offer an analysis and alternatives, and present them in a way that badly educated people can understand.

Since the mid-1960s, progressives lost white working stiffs because we talked down to them. We dissed their work, their desires, their beliefs, their religions. We made them Other, matching their bigotries with a new one all our own. On Election Day 2004 we paid full price for that. No working man or woman is my enemy. Their struggle, their endurance, is to be respected. They may be foolish and desperate enough to follow people who lie to them, but they've got too much self-respect to follow people who look down on them. They're terrified. They're unequipped for the complexities and paradoxes of the 21st century and they know it, and they resent like hell all those who accept leaving them behind as the price of entering the 21st century. Progressives have got to accept what this election made painfully clear: Either we all proceed or none of us do. It's the greatest challenge and the biggest lesson of this election: We've got to learn how to talk to these people. They are our fellow-sharers in America. They may not know or want that, but we must; and we must act and speak accordingly. Whitman must be our guide: "I will not have a single person slighted or left away."

Don't demonize people who disagree with you. That's how Bush and Cheney behave. Behavior is more important than belief. What does belief matter, if your behavior apes your enemy's? Behavior shapes reality. Belief merely justifies reality. Demonization creates demons. Your enemies are as human as you are. If you treat them that way, the outcome may surprise you.

Never underestimate the power of the Irrational. At every critical juncture of history, the irrational has been a potent, often decisive force. At times whole peoples go insane -- Europe in World War I, Germany throughout Hitler's reign, America during the Red Scare. This is one of those times. Realize that you're in the midst of it. Things may get so irrational that nothing will work. In that case, what's our job? To dedicate our lives to preserving and passing on what we love, so that if things ever get sane again there'll be something left. Which may be a way of saying, like Joe Hill: lose beautifully. That beauty may be something the future can build on.

This election was about identity. The concrete issues -- Iraq, the economy -- ultimately didn't matter. Bush didn't lose the debates, after all. He incessantly told his base that their wish to return to the national identity of the 1950s was personified in him. He reassured them that America was a force unto itself, an entity that could create its own reality, and that that reality was anything he said it was. He told them, through coded language that they well understood, that the 21st century would be the same as the 20th, and that being an American was identity enough. He was saying to the terrified and the left-behind: "You don't have to grow, you don't have to change, you don't have to be anything other than what you are -- leave the rest to me. I will fill your emptiness, validate your God, still your terror."

Kerry's logic couldn't pierce that. His command of the facts threatened everyone intimidated by the very facts that seemed to win him the debates. They didn't want to hear it. Reasoned judgment versus passionate belief? Passion wins over reason every time. Democrats played reason, Republicans played passion. End of story. A progressive strategy? Never surrender reason but remember: we're passionate too. Passionate about genuine liberty and genuine justice for all. Compromise that -- play to a now non-existent middle ground -- and all is lost.

Let's say this loud: THE ISSUE OF GAY MARRIAGE DID NOT DOOM THIS ELECTION. You may measure the unhappiness of heterosexual marriage by the ferocity of the opposition to gay marriage. Listen to the country music that rural red counties listen to: the hits are about the failure of males and females to get together. In trailer park or penthouse, half the marriages end in divorce and many that don't are shameful compromises. Marriage, in America, is in a state of unbridled panic. That panic, not gay rights, helped doom this election -- the panic of people trying to hold on to something that really isn't there anymore. Progressives must stand passionately with all who seek their fair share of the Bill of Rights.

My friend Deborah said today: "Bush manipulated through fear, and the people who voted for him are filled with fear. We're buying into it somehow. He generated it, we voted against it, but now we're creating it. That's something that leaves us vulnerable. We're not any different from the other people." She's right. Bush's re-election has driven many into a despairing fear. Which is just where he wants you to be. That fear you feel inside -- that's Bush himself, inside you. Act out of fear and the fear will increase. Courage doesn't mean not being afraid; courage means doing what's necessary in spite of your fear, even because of it.

Remember: we've only been organizing on a mass scale for about a year and we almost won. If more of the poor, the endangered, and the young had voted, we would have won. We must keep those we organized and reach out to those we failed to organize. The poor and the endangered don't have many computers, they're not on the Net. Politics is still local. Organizing from the ground up means from the ground up, face to face, speaking words that people can understand, showing them how they can have a chance to change things and helping them take that chance. It's only a chance but it's not a delusion. Election Day is not set in stone. Our world is in ferocious flux. In that flux, in the very thing that frightens us most, is our chance.

Just one more thing: Nothing is less appealing or more boring than solemnity. The old-time lefties who gave us Social Security, the civil rights movement, the 35-hour week, and the original (now shredded) social safety net -- they partied, sang, danced, feted, all the damn time. They were famous for it. These are dark days and they're going to get darker, but the dark side of the day has always been my favorite time for dancing.

© 2004 Independent Media Institute.
Thanks to my intrepid correspondent, Barbara in New York, for this.

Recount in Ohio

Reportedly, Green candidate David Cobb announced yesterday that he and Michael Badnarik, the Libertarian candidate, are requesting a recount of the presidential vote in Ohio.

This is going to cost them approximately $110,000.

If anyone is inclined to help them out, here's where to do so.

I have no realistic expectation of any results from this, other than possibly clarifying what shenanigans occurred, but that is a worthy goal in itself in my humble opinion. I have, to put my few bucks where my mouth is, made a small contribution to the Green Party's recount fund on this link myself. If all it does is help people to realize how important to the election process are accountability and transparency, it will have been worthwhile (and worth the cost).

Word for the Day

legate · 'le-g&t · noun

: an emissary, usually of official status
- legateship · -ship · noun

Etymology: Middle English, from Middle French & Latin; Middle French legat, from Latin legatus deputy, emissary, from past participle of legare to depute, send as emissary, bequeath, from leg-, lex, compare law

10 November 2004

Interesting Times

Wingnut traitor Dixiecrat Zell Miller calls Maureen Dowd a "highbrow hussy from New York." MoDo replies: "I am not a highbrow hussy from New York. I am a highbrow hussy from Washington. Senator, pistols or swords?"

Media and the Election

See On Media and the Election from CommonDreams.org.

Alberto Gonzales not much improvement on Ashcroft

Bush's new appointee for AG, Alberto Gonzales, is one of the authors of the rejection of the Geneva Convention by this administration that led to Abu Ghraib. See this. It's depressing to realize that not only did these people squeak back into office, they now feel vindicated in their misdeeds.

Word for the Day

scrimshaw · 'skrim-"shah [origin unknown]


1 : any of various carved or engraved articles, usually in elaborate geometrical or fanciful patterns resembling lace; made orig. by American whalers usually from baleen or whale ivory

2 : scrimshawed work or carving in other materials resembling scrimshaw

3 : the art, practice, or technique of producing scrimshaw


transitive senses : to carve or engrave into scrimshaw
intransitive senses : to produce scrimshaw

08 November 2004

Help stop MSNBC from squelching Olbermann

Our intrepid correspondent, John Malecki, offers this, complete with sample letter:

Keith Olbermann on MSNBC is supposed to report on voting irregularities andpossible fraud surrounding the election. However, the rumor is that MSNBCexecutives are pressuring him to give up on his investigation and cancel thereports, or spin them to favor Bush and the status quo.

It takes about 5 seconds to drop MSNBC a line about this. I've even provideda handy letter below. Just copy and paste, being sure to plunk your name andcity at the end.

Click on 'Letters to MSNBC' and an email window should pop up.

I've heard that MSNBC is trying to stop Keith Olbermann's investigation andreporting on the possible voter fraud story.

This is outrageous, if true. There are 56 million Americans who voted for John Kerry, and I would suspect millions of patriotic Bush voters, who wantto hear the truth.

We deserve to know what's going on with our system and whether or not we cantrust our leaders. You and the rest of the press are the only people who canfind out the truth and convey it to us.

Do not shirk your responsibility on this matter. Let Olbermann report onthis story, and do so without pressure to slant his findings.

[Your name and city here]

Stop this mandate nonsense right now!

How President Cheney ... er... Bush can claim to have a broad mandate for their lunatic Right Wing agenda on the basis of having barely won this election can have only one answer, albeit a two-parter: their usual arrogant disregard for reality and a healthy dose of chutzpah. See Josh Marshall on the subject.

The Democrats have to shape up as a reform party, and portray to the public that the Republicans ARE the government, to counter this nonsense. Americans love to hate government -- let 'em start hating the Republicans.

Population Weighted Electoral Map 04

Here's a population-weighted electoral map for 04. Does the phrase "marginal difference" come to mind?

Gary Hart: a little humility, s'il vous plait

Gary Hart's fine op-ed piece it today's NY Times.

Neither Washington, Adams, Madison nor Jefferson saw America as the world's avenging angel. Any notion of going abroad seeking demons to destroy concerned them above all else. Mr. Bush's venture into crusaderism frightened not only Muslims, it also frightened a very large number of Americans with a sense of their own history.

The religions of Abraham all teach a sense of personal and collective humility. It was a note briefly struck very early by Mr. Bush and largely abandoned thereafter. It would be well for those in the second Bush term to ponder that attribute. Whether Bush supporters care or not, people around the world now see America as arrogant, self-righteous and superior. These are not qualities of any traditional faith I am aware of.

Word for the Day

ubermensch (ueber-; über-) · uu-b&r-mensh; -ü- · noun [Phil.]
:a superior human being; one of superior abilities, capacities, and moral conduct; one who is willing to strive and take risks for the sake of enhancement of humanity; someone who can establish his own values as the world in which others live their lives; not bound to instinct or genetic predetermination; capable of influencing the lives of others. Contrasts with to the "last man," whose sole desire is his own comfort and is incapable of creating a quality of life beyond himself and his genetically predetermined nature.
Coined by Friedrich Nietzsche; occasionally superman; or overman, in English.

05 November 2004

Democrats, feeling hopeless?

Please see Krugman's piece, "No Surrender," in the New York Times today.

Bush strikes a divisive note right off

Bush hit a pretty decent note in his acceptance speech or whatever you call it, but that remark yesterday; "Let me put it to you this way: I earned capital in the campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it," bodes very ill for any change at all in the amazingly arrogant and divisive attitude of this administration. The right doesn’t hear it as those who supported Kerry do... what we hear is "I intend to make sure the tax code has preferential treatment for rich individuals and corporations built into it forever, and I intend to destroy Social Security as a safety net."

I predict lots of fighting and little accomplishment of any kind in Congress, and attempt by the Republicans (probably unsuccessful) to change the cloture rule in the Senate. Instead of reaching out to the almost 50% of the electorate that didn't vote for him (which means proposing policies that take their views into account), this President proposes to try to ram through the most Right Wing agenda in 100 years. I hope there is gridlock, because these ideas are pure disaster for the American people.

There's a very interesting article in the New Republic. It's about how the Bush administration's intentions towards the Supreme Court will really work. It has nothing at all to do with Roe v. Wade. Supreme Courts don't work in a vacuum; these justices, except maybe Scalia and Thomas, do know and care that the majority of Americans favor the right to at least early-term abortion. But the majority of people neither know nor care about the more sinister Right Wing agenda for the constitution, which involves undoing the regulatory power of the Federal Government under the Interstate Commerce clause. When these people get together without the "liberal media" (ha!) present, they actually admit that they want to turn the clock back to before that dangerous liberal Roosevelt (Teddy Roosevelt, that is), took office.

Word for the Day

eschatology · "es-k&-'tä-l&-ji · noun
Inflected Form(s): plural -gies
1 : a branch of theology concerned with the final events in the history of the world or of mankind;
2 : a belief concerning death, the end of the world, or the ultimate destiny of mankind; --sometimes specifically : any of various Christian doctrines concerning the Second Coming, the resurrection of the dead, or the Last Judgment

Etymology: Greek eschatos last, farthest

Supreme Mistake by Jerry Rosen/TNR

This article from the New Republic appeared before the

Supreme Mistake by Jeffrey Rosen

Activists say this election will determine the future of the Supreme Court. And it will. But not in the way they think.

Whether or not the Supreme Court decides the presidential election, the election will decide the future of the Supreme Court. And the first vacancy, which could come sooner rather than later, as Chief Justice William Rehnquist's surgery last week reminds us, is likely to provoke a partisan explosion that will make the battle over Robert Bork look like child's play. As Election Day approaches, liberal and conservative interest groups are trying to rally their bases with the same alarmist slogans they have been using for the past 30 years. If George W. Bush wins, "a 'perfect storm' of likely Supreme Court vacancies and potential cases heading toward the High Court could well lead to the overturning of Roe v. Wade," warns naral Pro-Choice America. If John Kerry wins, "Catholics should be aware that a Kerry-appointed U.S. Supreme Court could threaten the core values of their faith," counters George Marlin, author of The American Catholic Voter.

In fact, what is at stake in the election is not the future of Roe v. Wade, school prayer, or any of the culture-war issues that have inflamed the country since the 1970s. The left may be hesitant to acknowledge it, but the Rehnquist Court has largely sided with liberals rather than conservatives in these cultural battles. It has done so because liberals have won in the court of public opinion. And the chance of either Bush or Kerry getting through the Senate justices who want to revisit those well-settled precedents is low.

Instead, the election will determine the future of the Supreme Court in unexpected areas that remain, for the moment, less visible than abortion, but no less important. If Bush wins, his aides seem determined to select justices who would resurrect what they call "the Constitution in Exile," reimposing meaningful limits on federal power that could strike at the core of the regulatory state for the first time since the New Deal. These justices could change the shape of laws governing the environment, workplace health and safety, anti-discrimination, and civil rights, making it difficult for the federal government to address problems for which the public demands a national response. And, if Kerry wins, the justices he appoints are more likely to turn to international law to define the meaning of U.S. constitutional guarantees, such as due process, cruel and unusual punishment, and equal protection. If taken too far, the new internationalism could ignite an entirely new culture war for the twenty-first century. In other words, there are dangers for the Court regardless of who wins the election, just not the ones that both sides are predicting.

In every election since 1980, Roe v. Wade has dominated questions about the Supreme Court. But, on the Court today, there are six justices who support the core of Roe (Justice Anthony Kennedy dissented from the Court's 5-4 decision in 2000 to strike down bans on late-term abortions but still supports the right to earlier-term abortions). And, in order for Roe to be overturned, two of these justices would have to retire and be replaced by committed opponents. Even in the unlikely event that two such justices could be confirmed, the public overwhelmingly supports protections for early-term abortions. And conventional wisdom among political scientists, beginning with Robert Dahl in the 1950s and continuing until today, is that the Court does indeed follow the election returns and rarely challenges deeply felt currents in public opinion. This is why the Court, under the leadership of the swing justices, Sandra Day O'Connor and Kennedy, has extended the most popular liberal activist decisions of the Warren era while also endorsing conservative judicial activism as public support for the welfare state wanes.

The Bush White House is well aware of this, which is part of the reason overturning Roe is no longer at the top of the GOP agenda. Bush administration officials who have participated in conversations about judicial nominations during the past four years say that overruling Roe v. Wade no longer comes up as a priority in discussions about candidates. This de-emphasis of Roe also reflects the widespread understanding that Senate Democrats would filibuster any openly anti-Roe candidates, making it politically impossible, under the current ground rules, for Bush to get them confirmed.

Of course, if Bush is reelected and the Senate remains Republican, it is conceivable that GOP lawmakers might try to change the Senate rules so that filibusters could be ended by a simple majority of 51 votes, rather than the 60 votes currently required. For the past year, Senate Republicans, frustrated with Democratic filibusters of controversial Bush nominees, have discussed this so-called "nuclear option." The rules could be changed either through a formal vote of the Rules Committee, which would also require 67 votes in the full Senate, or by a parliamentary maneuver involving a ruling from the vice president, sitting as head of the Senate, which would only require a simple majority. But, while some conservatives might support this tactic to push through a hard-right Supreme Court nominee, moderate Republicans like John McCain have opposed it on the grounds that it would make the Senate more like the House. And Democrats could retaliate by going nuclear themselves, demanding roll-call votes for every minute procedural issue and bringing the Senate to a halt. Since neither party has a strong political incentive to see Roe overturned (agitation for doing so comes from interest groups on the extreme right, not from the Bush White House, which understands that overturning Roe would lead women to defect from the GOP en masse), it's hard to imagine that the desire to confirm anti-Roe judges would lead a majority of Senate Republicans to cut their own throats.

Instead of revisiting Roe v. Wade, a second Bush administration is more likely to focus on judges who will restore the Constitution in Exile. The phrase comes from a 1995 article by Douglas Ginsburg, a federal appeals court judge in Washington, D.C., whom Ronald Reagan unsuccessfully nominated to the Supreme Court after the Senate rejected Bork. Condemning American judges for being too deferential to the regulatory state, he announced, "For sixty years the nondelegation doctrine has existed only as part of the Constitution in Exile," along with other "ancient exiles" repudiated after the New Deal.

The legal doctrines to which Ginsburg referred were largely abandoned in the 1930s to allow the federal government broad discretion to regulate health, safety, the environment, and the workplace. The most important of the post-New Deal doctrines was an expansive interpretation of Congress's power to regulate interstate commerce, which the Court extended to include any activities that might affect commerce indirectly. In 1995, however, the Supreme Court began taking tentative steps toward resurrecting some of the constitutional limitations on the regulatory state that had been dormant since the '30s. In controversial 5-4 rulings, the Court limited Congress's power to ban guns in schools, for example, and to punish violence against women, holding that the laws did not involve commercial activities and therefore couldn't be justified by Congress's authority to regulate interstate commerce.

These decisions have been appropriately criticized as activist and contemptuous of Congress by liberal supporters of the regulatory state. A provocative new book by Thomas Keck accurately calls this The Most Activist Supreme Court in History because it has struck down 33 federal laws since 1995, the highest annual average ever. Nevertheless, the Rehnquist Court's so-called federalism revolution has not yet delivered what the conservatives hoped. Every time the conservative justices have appeared on the brink of striking down a federal statute with real political support, such as the Environmental Protection Act, O'Connor or Kennedy have written hedging opinions reassuring moderates that the Court intends to challenge congressional power only at the margins. But, if O'Connor or another liberal justice were to retire, and if Bush nominated a true believer in the Constitution in Exile, the federalism revolution would go into overdrive. And Democrats might not be able to block the appointment because, unlike abortion, federalism is not, at the moment, an issue the public understands or cares much about.

If Bush is reelected, the president's advisers are determined to choose justices who will be strict constructionists in the mold of Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia. White House officials told me that even a respected judicial conservative like J. Harvie Wilkinson III, who has urged moderation in federalism cases, has been criticized by some presidential advisers as a "squish" for his refusal to carry the Constitution in Exile to its logical conclusion. Instead, these advisers might recommend someone more like Judge J. Michael Luttig, who tangled with Wilkinson in a recent case involving the constitutionality of environmental protections for red wolves. (Wilkinson said Congress could protect the wolves to promote tourism because tourism affects commerce; Luttig found the connection between tourism and commerce too remote.)

Although both Wilkinson and Luttig are intellectually serious and thoughtful candidates, both would be resisted by Senate Democrats because their records are well-known. Therefore, Bush might try a stealth candidate who has a shorter paper trail. Indeed, the White House already has a list of stealth candidates along these lines, many of whom are federal appellate judges appointed during Bush's first term. These candidates include people like Steven Colloton of Iowa, Jeffrey Sutton of Ohio, and Edith Brown Clement of Louisiana, whom the Senate unanimously confirmed in 2001.

How would a stealth candidate like Clement perform on the Supreme Court? Everything about her record suggests she would enthusiastically support the federalism revolution. This year, for example, a group of Texas developers challenged the constitutionality of the Endangered Species Act after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in an effort to protect a rare species of underground bugs, denied them a permit to develop a shopping mall. The Texas appellate court rejected the challenge, but Clement joined a blistering dissent by Judge Edith Jones (another possible Bush Supreme Court nominee) criticizing the panel for crafting "a constitutionally limitless theory of federal protection."

Taken to its logical limits, the Constitution in Exile would call into question not only environmental protections but workplace regulations like the Occupational Safety and Health Act. Furthermore, in the hands of a determined Bush majority on the Supreme Court, Congress's power to ban discrimination might be challenged as well. In a series of cases, the Supreme Court has limited Congress's power to authorize private individuals to sue states for discrimination or other violations of federal law. So far, the effect of these decisions has been muted by the fact that Congress still has the power to refuse to fund state programs unless the states promise in advance not to discriminate.

But some partisans of the Constitution in Exile on the lower courts are already questioning that power. In an important case this year, a panel of the federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., upheld a suit against the suburban Metro public transportation system by an employee who claims he was fired because he suffered from bipolar disorder. Congress had the power, the judges held, to condition the receipt of federal transportation funds on Metro's willingness to waive its immunity from lawsuits. In an unsettling dissent, however, Judge David Sentelle, a supporter of the Constitution in Exile, disagreed that Congress had the power to "expose the states to liability" for discrimination suits, because he thought there was only a remote connection between the purpose of the federal grant (supporting transportation) and the conditions of its receipt (preventing discrimination). This radical logic, if embraced and extended by a Bush-appointed Supreme Court, would represent a declaration of war on Congress, preventing the legislature from prohibiting race and sex discrimination in programs that receive federal funds and calling into question Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendments.

As long as Congress remains Republican, it's conceivable a Bush Supreme Court could get away with attempting to impose restrictions on congressional power that have been unthinkable since the '30s. But, eventually, the Constitution in Exile might be invoked to strike down federal laws that the current Congress cares intensely about--such as federal criminal laws whose connection to interstate commerce is sometimes hard to discern. At some point, if the Court turns sharply right on federalism issues, it's not hard to imagine a conflict between Congress and the Court more dramatic than anything we've seen since the Warren era. In short, the greatest danger from a Bush Court is not the overruling of Roe v. Wade but the overruling of the post-New Deal regulatory state.

What about a Kerry Court? Throughout his campaign and Senate career, Kerry has not indicated much interest in using the courts as an engine of social change. And, even if he wanted to do so, he is likely to face a Republican Senate that would make it hard to appoint liberal activists in the style of William Brennan. It seems a fair bet, therefore, that Kerry would appoint judges like the Clinton appointees, Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who believe the Court should reflect changes in social attitudes rather than unilaterally impose them in the face of popular resistance. In addition to political pressure to appoint the first Latino justice, which Bush would face as well, Kerry might look to Clinton appointees like David Tatel and Merrick Garland on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Washington, D.C. Circuit, both scrupulous, intelligent, and fair-minded moderates.
Over the long term, it's true that Kerry justices would be more likely than Bush justices to recognize a constitutional right to gay marriage, for example. But, on the current Court, both the liberal and moderate conservative justices understand the dangers of a public backlash and are therefore unlikely to impose gay marriage on the nation anytime soon. And, while Kerry justices would take a more expansive view of Roe than Bush justices--continuing to strike down bans on partial-birth abortions, rather than reversing course and upholding the congressional ban--these are issues at the margins of our sexual politics that only constitute a tiny fraction of the total abortions performed.

But there is one area where Kerry justices could diverge dramatically from Bush justices: the relevance of international law. On the Rehnquist Court, Breyer and Ginsburg have enthusiastically endorsed looking to international laws and judicial opinions to determine the meaning of the U.S. Constitution. Last month, during arguments about the constitutionality of allowing 16-year-olds to be executed, both Breyer and Ginsburg emphasized that the 110 countries that allow capital punishment have renounced the execution of juvenile offenders. This prompted Scalia to interject with annoyance, "So what did John Adams think of the French?"
The willingness of liberal justices to consult international norms in constitutional cases has become a rallying cry for social conservatives: Bork's most recent book is called Coercing Virtue: The Worldwide Rule of Judges. But, although Bork's book is a slapdash polemic, other, more thoughtful conservative scholars, such as Jack Goldsmith of Harvard Law School, have argued persuasively that too much attention to international law could thwart U.S. constitutional traditions and reignite a domestic culture war. There are, after all, dramatic legal and cultural differences between European and American views about free expression, privacy, and due process. This means that, if judges become too willing to look to Europe, they may impose values on U.S. legislatures that the American public will be moved to resist. Moreover, there is nothing inherently progressive about European views on these contested issues: If U.S. courts looked to Europe in abortion cases, for example, they would allow more restrictions than Americans now tolerate.
Breyer and Ginsburg have been appropriately cautious in invoking international norms, citing them only as additional evidence of a consensus in cases where a clear majority of states have also rejected a controversial practice, such as sodomy laws or the juvenile death penalty. But it's possible that younger justices of a more internationalist bent might be more aggressive about invoking a purported international consensus to strike down practices that a majority of the American public continues to support--such as the death penalty for adults. For example, Dean Harold Koh of Yale Law School, mentioned as a possible Kerry Supreme Court nominee, has supported the idea that U.S. courts should expansively apply international legal precedents without the authorization of the president and Congress. And some justices have begun to invoke international law in areas where there is intense social disagreement, such as affirmative action. If anything could reignite the culture wars, it would be a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to thwart deeply felt currents in American public opinion in the name of the international community. Given Kerry's emphasis on international opinion in his campaign, there's no reason to expect him to be attuned to this danger.
Concerns about the Supreme Court never determine presidential elections, but particular elections can indeed redefine the Court. After his landslide reelection in 1936, Franklin Delano Roosevelt made five nominations in the next four years; Nixon, elected in a squeaker in 1968, made three in similarly short order. The Republicans have a more aggressive agenda for reshaping the Court than the Democrats, and Bush has made his constitutional vision clear. It has little to do with overturning Roe v. Wade, but it has everything to do with resurrecting limits on federal power that might tie Congress's hands in domestic affairs as well as in the war on terrorism. Although Bush has aggressively expanded the size of the national security state since September 11, he has committed himself to a judicial vision that could render some of his own programs--including federal criminal laws he supports--unconstitutional. Kerry would feel less immediate pressure to use the courts as engines of social change because liberals won the old culture war; but, if the justices he appoints are too expansive in their concern about international opinion, they might inadvertently ignite a new culture war. In short, neither Bush nor Kerry justices are likely to be consistent defenders of judicial restraint. But at least voters in this election have a clear choice: conservative judicial activism or liberal judicial activism. Take your pick.

Jeffrey Rosen is the legal affairs editor at TNR.

04 November 2004

Friedman postmortem

Tom Friedman's postmortem in the Times is as good as any on the subject of the divide in Amercia today.

Word for the Day

macedoine · (mas-i-DWAN) · noun
1. A mixture of diced fruits or vegetables, often
served as salad, appetizer, or dessert.

2. A medley or mixture.

[From French macédoine, from Macédoine (Macedonia), apparently an allusion to the diversity of people in the region.]
. . .
Again, shamelessly stolen from

Two Americas

As I said in my postmortem yesterday, I AM sick of all this, for now, but I intend to become active in MoveOn and Democracy for America before the midterm elections. We can't give up.

Notice how Edwards's class-based concept of TWO AMERICAS can be interpreted another way? The electoral map this year looks almost identical to 2000 ... Red America is the South, intruding into Indiana and Ohio, maybe even Iowa... the Great Plains and Mountain West. Blue America is where most of America's historical strength and greatness originates: the Upper Midwest, Eastern Seaboard, New England, Tidewater as far South as Maryland and D.C., and the West Coast (which will in future probably come to include Nevada and possibly even Arizona and New Mexico).

It's like the Pre-Civil War geographic divide. You have to wonder how long Blue America will be willing to be governed by a region with decisively different political philosophy, notwithstanding the fact that most commerce, and the majority of the people, in this country are seated in Blue America.

We have to consolidate our philosophy, organize, and press for reform that takes disproportionate electoral power away from the small Western states especially. This won't be feasible in the short term, because the powerful in the Republican party aren't stupid, and they know how to hold onto power... but somehow, someday, we have to ensure that power does not continue to reside with vested interests which have become so adept at culture wars that they have the so-called "heartland" voters as overswayed as the Nazis had pre-war Germans.

03 November 2004

All over now, get used to it

It's all over now, and the collective sigh of disappointment of almost half the electorate is more poignant than usual, after what many of us believed was a truly crucial election.

I won't even try to express all the negative consequences of what I believe is America's WRONG WRONG WRONG choice, but there, right before WRONG WRONG WRONG, is the point... it is, clearly, America's choice. Bush won the popular vote quite decisively. The youth vote sat out the election, as usual. Those who disenfranchise themselves have no right to complain; this is the choice of the American people.

Many of us, myself included, feel that this Brave New Republic of which we are now citizens somehow isn't the Republic into which we were born. There was a switch onto very much the wrong track back there somewhere (more than one no doubt, but I'm talking about emotional response here, not critical policy analysis). Still, this is our country, and we (most of us) don't have any realistic choices but to make the best of our citizenship in it, and, most importantly, to work, however frustrating it is, however slowly, however much retrogression we face, to make this nation better to live in, and a better force in the world.

I intend to revert to groundhog mode for a while... I'm TIRED of politics. I hope those few readers of my little blog who may click into it going forward will find some of what I choose to post here interesting.

But I do not intend to give up on a citizen's duty, which I believe is increased in troubled times, to work for changes in policies he believes are harmful, and to try to ensure good governance, by whatever resources he can muster. Moveon.org, Howard Dean's Democracy for America, and other political action groups will have to be our guides to civic action, as we slowly build coalitions needed to take America back from the Vast Right Wing Conspiracay which has so thoroughly succeeded in seizing control of its governance. I refuse to believe that such action is futile, or that we won't eventually succeed in redirecting the country towards a more humane -- and sane -- policy overall.

On a side note, I'm leaving up the post about leaked exit polls from election day, as a signal warning against getting caught up in such unreliable information. It does no good to allow yourself to be buoyed by information that just isn't true, so when they say the information isn't reliable, it's best to just ignore it, for real.

02 November 2004

Update: Later Leaked Exit Polls tilt to Kerry

Late but still pre-poll closing leaked exit polls (and here and here) are very positive for Kerry. These figures are unreliable, but it's worth noting that the conventional wisdom based on past elections is that early exit poll figures tend to favor Republicans, who tend to vote early.

In just a few hours, none of this will mean anything, but here it is anyway.

Word for the Day

zabernism · (ZAB-&r-niz-`m) · noun
:the misuse of military power; aggression; bullying. (In disuse, bordering on obsolete).

[After Zabern, German name for Saverne, a village in Alsace, France. In 1912, in
this village, a German military officer killed a lame cobbler who smiled athim.]

"Both countries have been slaves to Kruppism and Zabernism--because they were sovereign and free! So it will always be. So long as patriotic cant can keep the common man jealous of international controls over his belligerent possibilities, so long will he be the helpless slave of the foreign threat, and 'Peace' remain a mere name for the resting phase between wars."

--H.G. Wells; In The Fourth Year: Anticipations of a World Peace; 1918.

. . . . . .
shamelessly stolen from wordsmith.org

01 November 2004

Meta-analysis predicts Kerry win

Please see this Princeton Meta-analysis: predicting a Kerry win with a relatively high degree of confidence. (I picked up this link from Andrew Sullivan's web log, see Links). Note the caveats, however: for these analytical predictions to be true, the assumptions about undecided voters breaking to the challenger and voter turnout both favoring Kerry have to be accurate. Still, this is the most encouraging statistical information I've seen yet.

Down to the Wire

Here we are, down to the wire in what all the predictors still indicate is an election too close to call, even though some events in the last few crucial days seem, somewhat incongruosly, to have aided Bush. Not least among these is the notorious Bin Laden tape. Logically, this should help Kerry or at least have little or no effect: it should remind voters that Bush's anti-terrorism "war" has been a miserable failure at capturing and destroying Al Quaida and its leaders, having been sidetracked by the catastrophic war in Iraq. But the psychology of war fever is not rational, and the net effect of this reminder that Bin Laden is still out there probably is to gain Bush a small slice of still undecided or wavering voters. I can only hope any such benefit to Bush is too small to determine the outcome in any critical races.

Analysts, including Republican pollsters, have concluded that some of the unrecorded, i.e. unpolled, vote, especially among minorities, will likely increase Kerry's overall vote in the 12 or so battleground states, possibly by more than one or two percent. Whether this, and the unprecedentedly vigorous get out the vote effort being mounted by the Democratic Party, will be enough to tip the balance in enough states to equal 270 electoral votes is just not predictable, no matter what anyone says at this point.

A colleague reports one piece of predictor analysis: The Packers won over the weekend, so that means, according to an arcane tradition about the winner, (please don't ask me why, I have no idea), that Kerry will win the election. As a total non-sportsfan, this is a straw I can scarcely grasp at, but I'll take any good news at this point, as we wait on pins and needles for the result of the most critical election in a generation.

Word for the Day

defalcation · "dE-"fâl-'kEI-sh&n, di-; "de-f&l- · noun
1 archaic : deduction, curtailment
2 : the act or an instance of embezzling
3 : a failure to meet a promise or an expectation

Etymology: Medieval Latin defalcatus, past participle of defalcare, from Latin de- + falc-, falx 'sickle;' + noun ending -tion