Monthly ArchiveJuly 2007
“We are in bondage to the law so that we might be free.”
Cicero (106-43 BC)
the law is a ass—a idiot.”
Mr. Bumble Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens
When I first conceived of this post, I was going to basically describe a great article by Kim Lane Scheppele, When the Law Doesn’t Count: The Rule of Law and Election 2000, in which in addition to providing a devastating critique of the actions of the Supremes and how they violated some of the basic tenets of the Rule of Law, describes how many countries with “horrors” in their past (Germany, Russia, various Eastern Europe countries) have included specific “Rule of Law” clauses in their constitutions. I was going to propose that the United States might profit from adding a similar amendment to our constitution. I still think that it is a great article, (Do read it, but be warned that it will infuriate you all over again. I found it via Lawyers, Guns and Money, which I found in turn via MB’s hockey blogging, which shows that though the wheels of blogging grind fast, they grind Non sequiturously) and such an amendment is still is probably a good idea for the US. However, after watching the various “Accountability Follies” that have played out over the last few months between Bushco and Congress, I am less sanguine about the capacity for any combination of mere words on parchment or paper to save us from ourselves, now or in the future - especially if those words are to be interpreted by the likes of the Roberts court. These days I am thinking more along the lines of what to do right now, because I think John Rogers got it exactly right in his L33T Justice post at Kung Fu Monkey :
They have found the “exploit” within the United States Government. As I watched Congressmen and Senators stumble and fumble and thrash, unable to bring to heel men and women who were plainly lying to them under oath, unable to eject from public office toadies of a boot-licking expertise unseen since Versailles, it struck me. The sheer, simple elegance of it. The “exploit”.
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About two weeks ago (I’m writing this on 23 July 2007) I was checking my Flickr account to see if anyone had commented on any of my photos. I hit paydirt. One PLASMA SLuGS (red ribbon for WAR} (yeah, all of it, including the little twiddly brace at the end) had made the following comment about one of my graffiti photographs: “please if u dont mind tell me where n how to get here.” Bingo!
As some of you party loyalists may know, I’ve been photographing local graffiti since last Fall. The visage of our fine and noble 3Tops is, in fact, one of the grafs I’d found, not to mention other WAAGNFNP notables, such as Toothy. Grafs, however, are generally illegal, and the people who paint them don’t leave contact information on them. Thus, while I now have hundreds, thousands even, of photographs of grafs within a mile or so of my apartment, I don’t know who painted them. And, since I have no roots in the area, I’ve got no social network through which I can track them down.
That’s one of the reason I’d started posting my photos to Flickr. I figured that some of the writers (a term of art) would see them and perhaps, one day, one of them would contact me about them. SLuGS is the first.
Of course, I told him where the picture was taken - in Jersey City, about a mile in from the Holland Tunnel near the old Bergen Tunnel. I also offered to take him on a tour of the local grafs. He took me up on my offer and showed up that Sunday afternoon with his wife, a backpack full of spray paint, and a Canon single-lens reflex camera. I revved up Google Earth and showed them where we were, where the grafs were, and off we went, with the intention of going into the Erie Cut.
On the way there SLuGS did a little painting, with both his wife and I snapping pictures:
That’s the SLuG, the identifying mark that he uses instead of the nickname that most writers use. It’s painted on the base of one of the columns supporting I78 as it comes down off the Jersey Heights (or the Jersey Palisades) and feeds into the Holland Tunnel. He’s done thousands of these here and there, mostly I’d guess in the New York City area, but other places as well. He’s been to Amsterdam and he’s made cooperative arrangements to get the PLASMA SLuG up all over.
Here’s an action shot:
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Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier was born in 1743 to Jean-Antoine Lavoisier, a prominent lawyer, and Emilie Punctis, who belonged to a rich and influential family, and who died when Antoine-Laurent was five years old. He was basically raised by his maiden aunt Mlle Constance Punctis, who arranged for his education at the College Mazarin, which was noted for its faculty of science.
Although young Antoine completed a law degree in accordance with family wishes, his true calling was in science. On the basis of his early scientific work, primarily in geology, he was elected at the age of 25—to the Academy of Sciences, France’s most elite scientific society.
In the same year as his election to the Academy, in order to finance his scientific research, he bought into the Ferme Générale, the private corporation that collected taxes for the Crown on a for profit (as you can see, “privatization” is hardly a new idea). A few years later he married the daughter of another “tax farmer.” Her name was Marie-Anne Pierrette Paulze, and she was not quite 14 at the time. Madame Lavoisier learned English, in order to translate the work of British chemists like Joseph Priestley and Henry Cavendish for her husband. She also studied art and engraving and illustrated Lavoisier’s scientific experiments.
Lavoisier has been called the “father of modern chemistry” for good reason. He established the principle of conservation of mass in chemistry and physics, and performed a series of experiments which, combined with the work of Priestly and Cavendish, overthrew the theory of phlogiston as an explanation of combustion, and thereafter the swept away the classical theory of the elements (earth, air, fire, and water). Lavoisier’s replacement table of the elements ran to some 33 “irreducible substances” most of which were what we today recognize as elements, such as mercury, sulfur, and oxygen, which he renamed from “dephlogistonized air.” He also performed such flashy experiments as demonstrating that diamond is made from carbon by burning one in an atmosphere of pure oxygen.
During the Reign of Terror in 1794, Antoine Lavoisier was arrested, along with 27 others, by the French Revolutionary Tribune for abusing the office of Ferme Générale by adulterating tobacco with water. They were guillotined the same day. When asked for his defense, Lavoisier is famously said to have remarked, “I am a scientist,” to which the tribunal replied, “The Revolution has no need of scientists.” Then “snick” went the head of Lavoisier.
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Affirmative religious support for gay marriage is apparently extraordinarily novel even for educated citizens. This I learned when I engaged a 50-something lawyer from the San Francisco Bay Area over the issue on my flight outbound from Oakland to Boston to participate in a panel entitled: Gay Marriage: Moving from Tolerance to Affirmation. When I told him that I and other panelists, as part of the progressive faith movement, were presenting a Christian pro-gay marriage moral and religious case, his reply was “I didn’t know there could be such a thing.”
This got me to thinking both about the very real and unnecessary divide between religious and secular awareness and of the silence or tacit agreement of even mainstream religions as to the abuse of the civil rights of gay people.
Some political and legal headway has been made. The state of Massachusetts, for instance, has extended the right of gay marriage, yet theological and moral conviction in favor of gay marriage has been largely absent. This was to change in a small but mighty way as, for two hours, in February 2007 in front of a modest audience, six panelists attempted to join consciousness and conviction across ideological and belief traditions and confront Christian-in-name intolerance on its own terms.
Rev. Anne Fowler, from the Religious Coalition for the Freedom to Marry, talked about her work within and outside the church as a straight person to support the inclusion of gay people in the institution of marriage. Pam Werntz, a gay Episcopal mininster, related how her own marriage brought her into community with others in a way that she could not have imagined had she not been extended the right to marry. Justin Lee, the founder and executive director of gaychristian.net, an online gay evangelical Christian community, waxed practical about the need for religiously inclined gay citizens to have an ability to connect rather than be alienated from faith.
The other three panelists, Gina Farag, myself (Zeus Yiamouyiannis), and Otis Gaddis, III had coordinated a foundational and progressive moral and religious argument based upon certain observations and premises.
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Our house on Ironwood Drive, in Donelson Tennessee, in the 1950s, was a typical example of post-War construction, cinder block walls, asbestos exterior shingles, and shoddy construction. My parents discovered years after purchase that the overflow pipe from the attic water heater didn’t actually exist; there was a short pipe in the attic and another short pipe beneath the house and nothing in-between. “Shoddy” doesn’t actually cover something like that, since it was pure fraud to fool the building inspector. There was something similar with the septic tank, which, after we’d left, turned out to be covered only with plywood that finally rotted through, much to the distress of subsequent inhabitants.
It was an “all-electric” house, electric stove and electric “radiant” heaters that were nothing but wire wound around ceramic cores. The heating and cooling expansion made little clicking noises whenever they turned on or off. The electricity was cheap, though, courtesy of the TVA, a fact that made Goldwater’s loss of Tennessee in 1964 inevitable. He’d gone of record as wanting to privatize TVA, even saying he’d “sell it for a dollar” if he could. The voters of Tennessee thought that the fight against socialism could maybe be first started in another state, for example, Arizona, where there were plenty of Federal water projects to privatize first. The Senator from Arizona never quite grasped that logic.
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I have been asked to write something about Marxism today. This, I cannot do; while I consider myself a Marxist-Leninist (of vaguely Trotskyist persuasion), I am far from an expert on Marxist thought. As importantly, tiny as the community of self-identified Marxists in the US may be, the ideological variation is immense.
So this won’t be a What is to be done? post laying out some grand strategy for achieving revolution - I couldn’t really compete with Lenin anyway.
Instead I will do what I can: describe why I consider myself a Marxist, and what that means for my understanding of society as it is now, and for my convictions regarding what action that should be taken, and (as importantly) can be taken in the current situation - in the spirit of unity of theory and practice.
Material Relations of Production and Power
The very basis of Marxism is the identification of power relations in society as economic relations. Power lies with those that own the means of production; in a feudal society, this was arable land; in industrial capitalism, well, industrial capital. Today - that’s up for debate. In any event, the important fact for me is that political power lies with those that control the means of production. This leads me to reject the thesis that liberal capitalist democracy can ever be truly democratic.
Disenchantment with the influence of big business and money in the political process is of course widespread; however, it is an illusion to believe that this problem can be solved in a capitalist society. Only by attaining ownership of the means of production themselves can the people truly govern their own affairs.
Class War 1: Strengthening the Working Class at home.
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[being a continuation of a meditation begun earlier]
Parable #2: Benjamin Rush and Yellow Fever
Philadelphia’s yellow fever epidemic of 1793 was the largest in the history of the United States, claiming the lives of nearly 4000 people, nearly 10% of the entire population of the city. In late summer, as the number of deaths began to climb, 20,000 citizens fled to the countryside, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and other members of the federal government (at that time headquartered in Philadelphia).
Into this stark landscape stepped a hero: Benjamin Rush, physician, public figure, signer of the Declaration of Independence. He mobilized medical efforts, orchestrated the construction of makeshift tent hospitals, and personally oversaw the treatment of hundreds, if not thousands of the stricken. He gave the city hope, when others offered nothing but stoicism, or despair.
His treatments were as heroic as the man himself. He favored bleeding, to the point of anemia, for a host of ailments, including Yellow Fever. To counter the “buildup of yellow bile,” he prescribed, calomel (mercurous chloride), as a purgative, and jalap, a powerful laxative. These sometimes caused his patients’ hair and teeth to fall out.
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Most Some of you will be glad to hear that the WAAGNFNP blog will continue. While my first choice would have been to pull the plug on all of you lazy, worthless, good-for-nothing ingrates, it was clearly the desire of my Cabinet Officers and the High Council to continue on in some way. And I do try to listen to my Officers and High Council even though some of them need serious Re-Trunking from time to time.
The new plan is to scrap the idea of trying to continue on as a community blog since there’s clearly not enough interest for that. We’ll simply be your basic group blog with the philosophy that we are just a few friends talking amongst each other, and everyone is welcome to join the conversation.
There will also still be an Open Door policy for submitting posts for anyone who would like to contribute. I just will no longer be killing myself trying to keep a door open through which almost no one has an interest in walking.
The Ministry of Offense and Defense’s Tribunus Laticlavius, christian h., my valued blog co-administrator, will be gone for much of the summer. The Ministry of Justice’s GFAT (General Factotum and Tipstaff), JP Stormcrow, will be taking over for christian h. Also, stepping up to lend a hand are Loyal Party Patriots (and our two newest Cabinet Officers) James Killus and Kiera PSI. Thanks to James’ and Kiera’s help, starting in August I’ll be able to take a much-needed vacation from blog administration/organizing. Huzzah!
Wait - I know what you’re thinking: “Kiera and James? What, the WAAGNFNP blog is going to an all-Buffy, all the time format?” Well, maybe yes, maybe no. We’ll just have to wait and see.
Posting may be lighter for the remainder of the summer, (or maybe not), with a lot of our regular contributors being away. For that same reason, we may also drop our formal weekend Open Threads for the remainder of the summer unless the blog chatter picks up. Folks are welcome to use the last post of the week for any Open Thread needs they might have over the weekend. In any event, we will try our best to keep the Posting Schedule updated for you (link in the upper right hand column under “Pages”).
Yours In Service,
Minister of Justice
BushCo 13 Jul 2007 09:24 am
It has been a little more than a week since the Scooter Libby commutation (Act I of a two-part act. Act II, The Pardon, coming in January 2009 - trust me on this one.) The ardor that the case generated in the breasts of liberals, neo-cons and other right-wing nutters, and the Beltway establishment appears to be dying down somewhat, but it is not quenched. Although it was nice to have Judge Reggie Walton weigh in with some further disapproval while ruling on a technical aspect of how to interpret the terms of the commutation.
…. the Court notes that the term of incarceration imposed in this case was determined after a careful consideration of each of the requite statutory factors, and was consistent with the bottom end of the applicable sentencing range as properly calculated under the United States Sentencing Guidelines. [emphasis added]
(And for those of you who are playing along at home, Walton is a “reliably conservative” judge who was appointed to his current position by George W. Bush.) But it is worth taking a brief look at what fired up this mini-GNF in the breasts of so many. And of course the wise adage: “You can’t say that it is the best [or worst - JP] time you ever had until it is all over” applies. (Which adage was recalled by me while watching The Prestige last night - a good flick, watch it if you get a chance.)
Very good question. No worries, I am not going to try and explain the end product of what I do. But how is it done? What does a mathematician do all day, or what do mathematicians do all day when they come together?
Well, first of all, all day is a strictly relative term. A famous mathematician once explained that he couldn’t do mathematics for more than six hours a day, and most of the time, this is true for most of us, at least while working alone. The rest of the time we while away reading, or running, or making music, or watching TV, or blogging - while somehow part of the brain keeps working, which can lead to a certain absentmindedness. Only when I am hot on a trail (sadly, a rare occurrence) will I completely concentrate on work for long periods of time - or when the work is strictly routine, like preparing classes, grading papers (an event all too common in my life), refereeing articles for academic journals or any of the other administrative and community duties that make up a large part of any academic’s day for at least nine months of the year.
Well, but what about the times I do work?
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