vendredi, juillet 03, 2009

The Family Business

My cousin's younger girl is going into the "family business", emailed cousin Daniel. Well, he didn't use quote marks to talk about Emily's decision to get a PhD in American history.

Daniel's a historian -- they can retire, but they can't stop mining history. His wife, Barbara, is a historian who now writes historical mysteries.

My mother's cousin, Gabe, now 88, is a historian of the Spanish Civil War -- this next book, he says, will be his last. My dad, of course taught history (American) at a city college in Brooklyn for more than 4 decades.

My cousin, one of them, teaches archaeology out in California.

Notice a certain theme here? It has to do with trying to explain something minor like the rise and fall of civilization.

However, it makes me a little edgy to think that study is our family business. After all, many in our family preferred to be out in the trenches of social justice movements, stirring the pot. Lots of them were smart as all get out. Many professors are activists, by calling their students to become critical thinkers. I wish we had lots more of them.

Maybe I wish that I had fewer of the traits of the historian. My aversion to ideology manifests itself sometimes as cynicism. My sense that we are remaking past generations in our image seems oftimes simplistic. And every decade or so I earn another degree, perhaps trying to make up for that once dreamed of doctorate.

While I'm proud of my family in the "business" I think it's good to have a few noncomformists -- professional ones like journalists.

The apple falls...but often just a few feet from that family tree.

mardi, juin 30, 2009

A few other reflections

Here's a link from Slate on the campaign case the Court will hear re-argued in September. Slate also has a lot of material on the New Haven ruling.

Justice Souter is now retired Justice Souter. And I heard a tribute to him yesterday on NPR that rang true. Of course, I can't recall who actually was being interviewed. But HE said that Souter was a conservative, in the best sense of the word. Souter was a very hard working justice who respected precedents.

Precedents? What an old-fashioned notion. What we have now is Court dominated by activists with their own agenda -- which five of the Justices would call originalist. Baloney. And if Obama does get to make a few appointments, we'll probably see another agenda-driven Court.

I'm not sure we can avoid Justices with biases. I just wish the Justices were a little direct and open about them.

lundi, juin 29, 2009

White guys for white guys

Pondering two SCOTUS decisions today... one will make it much harder to prove disparate impact and may adversely affect certain racial groups and the other is just as scary.

The crucial question in the first case: will the standard of "disparate impact" end up eventually being thrown out by the court? I have a feeling that Justice Scalia wouldn't mind if it was.

My own, less intellectual question -- Is it any wonder a group of white guys ruled in favor of another group of white guys in the New Haven affirmative action case?

I have to ask myself. Would I feel this skeptical if the court was majority women and minority and the vote had gone the other way?

Yeah, probably-- but I'd cut them more slack because I believe in disparate impact. In New Haven, the firefighters simply don't reflect the city's diversity (50 percent of its population is minority).

I have to have more faith. Although I'm having a tough time believing that the Court is much more than a bunch of political hacks. It's a lot more complex -- isn't it?

What few appear to want to address is the idea that a standardized exam might not be the best way of benchmarking leadership. We're seeing some movement on this, but not fast enough. The whole idea that intelligence can be evaluated through a test, or that intelligences can be evaluated only through tests, is too often disputed in theory but honored in substance. As the mother of an ADHD child, I have witnessed her left to drift in a public school system where the conventionally intelligent flourish and "average" is perfectly acceptable for the rest.

The Justices live in a world in which principles probably don't usually incarnate themselves as real people you see at the local coffeeshop or Walmart. If they did, we might have less predictable split rulings.

The other decision was to rehear, in September, the arguments on corporations and finance reform. Apparently the choice to ask for these arguments again signals that the Court may toss all or most of the campaign finance laws. Why? Because restrictions on corporations that have videos advising you to vote for or against certain candidate may violate the free speech...of the corporation.

I can see a shred of logic in the first decision, especially given that the unsigned appellate court ruling was only one paragraph (and yes, Judge Sotomayor, who is on that court, will get lots of questions on that). Maybe New Haven could have found a better remedy. Maybe judges should show a little creativity.

But to claim that limits on corporate propaganda violates a corporation's free speech rights? Talk about disparate impact.

They darn well better do better than that.

dimanche, juin 28, 2009

R- rated post two

I'm still digesting that email from last night. Actually, it would be more accurate to say that I'm trying to use words to exorcise it.

First of all, there's a eewww factor. I've never met this guy. Last year we shared a few emails and ultimately decided not to meet, because he was worried I'd expose him in my blog or say something that would point back to him -- I think he fancies himself a bit of a media personality.
But to suggest I have sex with him and some random female suggests a disconnect between his world and mine that is so profound as to be amazing.

This isn't about alternate lifestyles. I know swingers. I've interviewed people who have mulitple partners and, believe it or not, seem like rather humble, normal folks. I found the time I've spent talking with them intriguing -- but not enough to have any desire to jump.

If he was serious, he didn't start out too well...given that perhaps the only reason I'd have threesoome would be to write about it. OK, that makes me a different kind of a promiscuous woman, I know. But even the thought of a Salon column, naming names, doesn't tempt me.

And talk about a double-edged sentence...very appealing...but a writer. At that point I'm biting my lips and thinking ...that's some way to lure an unknown female into your bed, eh -- by insulting her.

The only thing I can figure out is that he's rich, has yes men and women around him, and thinks that the ordinary rules don't apply -- though I've got affluent friends, and they would never presume to invite a stranger into a menage a trois. We've had lots of evidence this past week, that the wealthy, many of the wealthy, are not like us.

His appalling behavior is enough to give me sympathy for the French and their Revolution -- almost.