March 2005
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Month March 2005

The Right’s Assault on the Courts and the Progressive Response

It’s tough to read a newspaper or journal of opinion these days without coming across an attack on the judiciary. "Activist" or "elite" judges are being demonized as thwarting the will of the people in high profile cases, most recently the sad proceedings surrounding Terri Schiavo and in the high-profile case of Roper v. Simmons (in which the Supreme Court declared juvenile capital punishment unconstitutional). And sadly, progressives are weak on this issue, despite the critical importance of defending the principle of judicial independence, regardless of how we feel about the Rehnquist Court and its record.

Read the rest at Progressive Commons

Books #18 & #19 and miscellaneous readings

I had a whirlwind trip to Philadelphia this week, and given non-direct flights from Seattle I managed to read a couple more books; both science fiction.  I suspect I’m taking a bit of a break on non-fiction, since I’d also taken Michael Freeden’s Liberal Languages:  Ideological Imaginations and Twentieth-Century Progressive Thought, which I cracked but only read the introduction. 

As a digression, the airports were awful this week.  Who knew that so many people traveled for Easter?  Or is it a combination of spring break and Easter?  Regardless, the airports were jammed with groups of schoolkids and families, and the security lines were brutal.  But that gave me plenty of time standing or sitting around to read. 

Book #18 was Chris Moriarity’s debut novel, Spin State.  Spin State is a combination of hard science fiction (i.e., at least pseudo-accurate physics) and a political thriller, with a dash of cyber-punk thrown in for good measure.  The mixture was hypnotic, and I read it pretty much in a straight shot (6 hours of plane flights and a fully charged iPod helped out…).  The sequel is coming out mid-2005, apparently, and given the quality of his first novel I eagerly await Moriarty’s second. 

Book #19 was Ken MacLeod’s Newton’s Wake, hastily bought at O’Hare after finishing Spin State and concluding that I was much too tired and spaced out to spend a four-and-a-half hour flight trying to focus on Liberal Languages.  Not a bad novel, another in a series of books I’ve read lately that focus on the after-effects of technological singularity.  MacLeod is a friend of Charles Stross, the author of Singularity Sky, so I thought I’d get a taste of his work.  I like Stross better, given my limited sample, but I don’t regret reading Newton’s Wake by any means. 

But what I’m really hoping on the science fiction front is to see a next novel from Greg Egan.  I still haven’t gotten over the amazement of my first reading of Diaspora.  I recommend the latter very highly, but it’s not an easy read if you’re not fascinated by artificial intelligence, software, and some reasonably heavy physics. 

On miscellaneous readings, the cover article on Justice Scalia in the current New Yorker is excellent; not much surprising about his jurisprudence but overall a very solid biographical piece and description of his legal philosophy.  And the Lukacs piece in New York Review of Books this week, reprinting his foreword to Siege of Budapest is also superb.

Book #17: Singularity Sky, by Charles Stross

Rainy weekend, and I happened to stumble into the University Bookstore yesterday, and picked up Singularity Sky.

I thoroughly enjoyed it, though stylistically it was very different than the almost whimsical Atrocity Archives. In the latter, one always had the sense that the author was writing tongue-in-cheek, not quite taking himself or the story that seriously. Not quite Douglas Adams whimsical, but close to the tone of Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series, of which I’m a huge fan. Singularity Sky is quite different — a space opera combined with a political take on runaway technological evolution. I would have enjoyed more detail on the social consequences of technological singularity, and perhaps less detailed description of space battle tactics, but this is a minor point (and likely an idiosynratic preference).

And now, it’s back to more serious reading. Soros’ Open Society is boring me a fair bit, mostly because I’m finding his method of building up his economic critique from first principles long-winded and philosophically simplistic. And naturally, since I agree with his goals of fostering open societies (which requires a careful balance between regulation, social justice, and healthy capitalism), what I’m hoping is that the middle bits, where I get to read specifics on his economic thinking, will be worth the slog. And, of course, occasional dips in the Penrose pool, but I’m doing that sparingly since I lack the background to read it quickly.

Book #16: Original Intent and the Framer’s Constitution, by Leonard Levy

I’m not going to blog much about Levy’s Original Intent here, but suffice it to say that his analysis  of the viability of "original intent" interpretation is devastating.  Of course, this doesn’t come as a huge shock since "intent" has largely been abandoned by originalists through the 1990’s in favor of "original public meaning."  (cf. Randy Barnett, Restoring the Lost Constitution).

My purpose in picking up the book was to delve into the historical justification, origins, and development of judicial review, about which I’m hoping to post soon on Progressive Commons.   But Levy covers a number of other topics, ably demonstrating the difficulty in discerning a consistent "intent" among the Founding generation for many constitutional topics (e.g., free speech, national judicial review, war powers, etc).  It seems to me that we rarely recall the extent to which the Founding generation was experimenting, trying out new forms of government, and the extent to which these experiments also represent the compromises which were practically achievable with competing interest groups.   This seems to me to be the strongest argument for treating original meaning, and the Founding generation’s record of thought and action, not as a series of immutable commandments, but as one of our sources (albeit one of our most important sources) for inspiration as we, too, attempt to adapt constitutional democracy to a quickly changing world.

Book #15: The Atrocity Archives, by Charles Stross

I picked up Stross’ novelette The Atrocity Archives on the advice of Scott Laird, since I needed a something to dilute the brain-melting effect of plowing through chapters 18 "Minkowskian Geometry" and 19 "The classical fields of Maxwell and Einstein" of Penrose’s magnum opus.  I’m at the point with Penrose where I’m reading the text and only skimming the math…he lost me in detail a few chapters ago, sadly.   

Stross self-describes the book as a gloss on "Len Deighton, by way of Neal Stephenson."  Throw both of these into a universe where H.P. Lovecraftian "old ones" actually turns out to be the inhabitants of parallel universes with periodic access to ours via some serious spacetime weirdness, and you’ve got the effect.  Seriously, this was a fun read.  How often do you get spy novels which mix Victorian horror with modern technology with shadowy intelligence agencies?  This was my first introduction to Stross, but I think I’ll be picking up Singularity Sky for my next relaxation reading.

Seattle Wine Storage website and new lounge

Last week, Seattle Wine Storage (where I have my cellar) rolled out its new website, and opened the lounge and tasting room.  Chuck Miller, the proprietor of SWS, has done a fantastic job of creating not just a storage facility, but also a real wine community here in Seattle.  The newDsc00277_2 ground floor renovations include a wall covered in wine crate ends which creates a stunning effect (in person, find the wine which is upside down!).

Last Tuesday, after work, a number of us inaugurated the new lounge, which includes a table for BYOB wine tastings, dart board, and other fine amenities.  The billiards table is coming soon, apparently.  We began, appropriately enough, Dsc00276_1with champagne from Pol Roger; in this case the non-vintage Extra Cuvee de Reservee, which was tasty but otherwise not noteworthy.  This was followed by a 2002 Boxler Riesling Reserve, which I completely failed to identify as Boxler — it seemed bitter on the nose and somewhat waxy, so I guessed things like Deiss and Mann (to my shame, being a Boxler fan).  I followed this with the 1998 Trimbach Cuvee Frederic Emile, which was tight and unforgiving (but accessible in my cellar…).  Naturally, the second half of the bottle opened up nicely the next day and was terrific. 

I’m not going to discuss each wine here, but at the bottom I’ll list the wines not noted, since others at the tasting may want a record of things we tried.  A Pegau Cuvee Laurence 1990 was stenchy and triggered the inevitable controversy over "corkiness," but there was nothing wrong with this wine and after awhile in the glass it bloomed a bit and was nice.  The 1988 Gruaud Larose was in fine shape — still a bit primary, but deep and mellow with just a hint of green pepper.  Given how little we tend to drink Bordeaux in our group, I forget how much I like good Bordeaux.  All of mine is still way too young, so there’s something to look forward to…Dsc00280_1

The wine of the night for me was a magnum of the Bartolo Mascarello 1982 Barolo, brought by Chuck in tribute to the fact that Mascarello died earlier this week.  The wine started out with a typical "iron and blood" nose, soon blossoming with cherries, chocolate, and herbs.  The wine continued to be very nice well into our card game a couple of hours later, ending up with a bit of the "celery seed" thing that happens with Barolos that oxidize in the glass. 

We then tried a 1989 Clos du Papes Chateauneuf that I’d been saving. The wine still has some fairly serious tannins, and needed plenty of time after opening.  Deep and dark, the wine is very traditionally made with beefy, herbal, salty notes on top of the core "red fruit" grenache aroma.  I don’t know if I have any more left, but it will continue to age well for several more years, possibly seeming in 5 years muh like the richer 1983’s do now.  This was followed by a 1997 Beaucastel that nobody identified as such.  It was weird — most people thought Pegau from an overabundance of that juicy strawberry/cherry fruit and complete lack of leather/tar.  I suspect the wine, from a lesser vintage, is in an awkward phase and needs a few years. 

Other wines we tried were the 1996 La Chapelle (fairly nasty, possibly the bottle), the 2003 Hureau Lisagathe Saumur-Champigny (overripe to the point where it seemed oaky…), the Guigal 1995 Chateauneuf (a good spicy CdP), Morot Toussaints 1993 Beaune, Mt. Eden Chardonnay 1995, Droin 1999 Chablis Les Clos (good but strangely mossy or musky on the nose for my tastes), and Fritz Haag 1983 GKA Brauneberger Juffer. 

We drank a bottle of 1990 Suiduraut Sauternes while playing some cards.  The Sauternes was great; good acidity was balanced by a nice caramel sweetness.  The evening was a great success.