Archive for October 2013
The Bosc pears looked really good the other day—very firm and flawless—so I bought and poached a pair. Based on that effort, today:
4 Bosc pears, quarter and cored
1 qt water
1/2 c white cane sugar
1/4 c maple syrup
1 vanilla bean, split
1 shot cognac
juice of 1 Meyer lemon
I simmered that briskly with the pot covered for 45 minutes, removed pears with slotted spoon, and reduced the poaching liquid a little too far, as it turned out: I took it to candy stage. Here’s the clue: if you get large glassy bubbles, you’ve gone too far. Stop back at the finer bubbles. It may take a batch or two to find exactly the right point, but it’s all edible.
I’m watching what looks to be an excellent movie (I’m only about 10 minutes in, but it had a knock-out opening scene, and intriguing plot. It’s a Written and Directed by. Oh, title: Dot the I.
As I stopped to move pears from freezer (brief quick cool) to fridge (for rest of afternoon), I started this post and I got to thinking: How much more contented could I be? Are there disparate levels of contentment? I suppose there are, but I don’t see that having much more than what I have would bring about any great increase in contentment. I remember a Guindon cartoon that showed two slovenly dressed characters, each holding a beer, sitting in broken-down lawn furniture beside a trailer with a broken door, an enormous carp cooking on an improvised grill, with one saying, “It just don’t’ get any better than this,” and I realize he had the same feeling as I: a profound conentment that, thank God, is not an uncommon experience.
This is high-handed and heavy-handed to boot. I suppose we have Citizens United and the Roberts Supreme Court to thank for this.
Extremely interesting column by Linda Greenhouse in the NY Times:
A name familiar from a 2008 Supreme Court death penalty case was back in the news the other day. A federal district judge in New Orleans granted a new trial to Patrick Kennedy, convicted in 2003 of brutally raping an 8-year-old girl. He has been serving a life sentence in a Louisiana prison, spared the death penalty by a Supreme Court ruling that capital punishment for the rape of a child, unaccompanied by murder, violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment.
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy’s majority opinion placed the emphasis on “unusual.” Only five states in addition to Louisiana made the rape of a child a capital offense, he noted, adding that when Congress last revisited the federal death penalty, in the mid-1990s, it failed to add child rape to the list of federal capital crimes. Capital punishment for the rape of a child was contrary to society’s “evolving standards of decency,” the majority concluded.
It was a high-profile case that divided the justices 5 to 4. But the ink was barely dry on the decision, Kennedy v. Louisiana, when it emerged that the court’s factual premise for taking the defendant off death row was, to put it charitably, incomplete. Standards weren’t evolving in only one direction, it turned out. Less than two years earlier, Congress had in fact added child rape to the list of capital offenses in the military justice system.
How could the justices not have known this? Simple: no one told them — not Louisiana, which vigorously defended its law; not the other states that supported Louisiana’s argument; and not the federal government, which didn’t even file a brief in the case. The court and all the parties to the case were embarrassed. Would the knowledge have made a difference to any of the five justices in the majority, changing the outcome? Probably not, but who knows? Louisiana asked the court to reconsider its decision, but the justices turned the state down, acknowledging the late-discovered fact in a new footnote while dismissing it as irrelevant. The defendant subsequently filed a new federal court appeal, renewing an earlier challenge to the makeup of the original grand jury that indicted him in 2001. Two weeks ago, federal District Judge Helen Ginger Berrigan gave the state 180 days to either re-indict Mr. Kennedy or release him.
I can’t help thinking about the Louisiana case, with its missing fact, in conjunction with the current contretemps over a single sentence in Judge Richard A. Posner’s latest book, “Reflections on Judging.” In what Judge Posner now says he considered little more than an “entirely innocuous” throwaway line, he wrote that “I plead guilty to having written the majority opinion” for his appeals court rejecting a constitutional challenge to Indiana’s voter-identification law. Since the text of the opinion itself identified Judge Posner as the author when the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit issued it in 2007, a confession to authorship six years later would appear rather more unnecessary than newsworthy.
Of course, what made it newsworthy and even controversial was the context in which the line appeared, amid the political debate over the new barriers to voting that are sweeping the country, propelled by Republican governors and state legislatures.
Judge Posner’s opinion was the first to uphold the new generation of voter-ID laws, and it was promptly affirmed by the Supreme Court. If Richard Posner, a leading public intellectual with conservative credentials (tarnished as they may be by his persistent criticism of Roberts court decisions) as well as one of the country’s most influential federal judges, now regrets his decision, doesn’t that delegitimize the Republicans’ entire vote-suppression project?
That may or may not be reading too much into Judge Posner’s “confession” and subsequent elaborations. His basic point (and a hardly surprising one, given abundant evidence of its validity) was that Supreme Court justices and other federal judges have too often plunged headlong into election-law cases like Citizens United (of which he is critical) without fully grasping the consequences of their decisions. This is what he pleads guilty to.
One could argue, as some have, that there was plenty of evidence from which Judge Posner might well have inferred back then what he seems to have concluded since: that voter-ID laws are part of a cynical political strategy that comes cloaked in the mantle of good government. My point here isn’t to debate the merits of either voter-ID or capital punishment for child rape, but rather to ponder the intriguing questions common to both cases: what are the sources of judicial knowledge? How do judges — especially appellate judges, who don’t hear witnesses or take testimony but must rely on the record compiled in the courts below — learn what they need to know? And, of course, how do they — or any of us — choose what to make of the knowledge they have?
In the debate over voter-ID requirements, no one disputes that there is almost no evidence — emphasis on evidence — of in-person voter fraud in this country. People just aren’t showing up at the polls claiming to be someone else. Rather, the dispute is over what conclusion to draw from the absence of evidence. A phony solution in search of a nonexistent problem? That’s how it looks to me, but I recognize that there’s another end to the telescope. During the Supreme Court argument in the Indiana case, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. maintained that the very lack of evidence demonstrated the seriousness of the problem. “It’s a type of fraud that, because it’s fraud, it’s hard to detect,” he said.
When the court went on to affirm Judge Posner’s decision, it was Justice John Paul Stevens who surprised many people by writing the majority opinion. As a lawyer, Justice Stevens had made an early reputation in his hometown of Chicago — ground zero for election fraud — by investigating political corruption. Could that personal history have had anything to do with how he struck the balance in the Indiana case? (Justice Stevens told The Wall Street Journal that he still thinks his opinion was correct based on the information available to the court at the time, but that “as a matter of history,” Justice David H. Souter’s dissenting opinion “was dead right.”)
My Yale Law School colleague Dan Kahan, through his Cultural Cognition Project, uses the lens of psychology to study how people’s group identification and social networks influence their receptivity to scientific information, for example, evidence of climate change. It’s hardly far-fetched to assume that the same dynamic applies to judges across the spectrum of evidentiary questions, even those judges who try to put partisanship aside and think they have succeeded.
Isn’t there such a thing as a good old-fashioned fact that a judge can hang his or her hat on — or is that an outmoded premise in this postmodern world? . . .
That’s a surprise—at least to me. Abby Olena reports at The Scientist:
It has long been believed that cells with diameters much bigger than 10 microns—the typical size of most eukaryotic cells—are rare because it is difficult for larger cells to acquire nutrients or expel waste. The oocytes of most animals are much bigger, and they likewise have larger nuclei, which often contain high concentrations of the protein actin. Cell biologists Marina Feric and Clifford Brangwynne of Princeton University in New Jersey have shown that cells are likely small because of gravitational forces and that the extra actin in oocyte nuclei stabilizes the responses of larger cells to gravity. Their work, published in the October issue of Nature Cell Biology, was surprising because cell biologists “really have never, in my experience, worried about gravity—or thought about it,” Brangwynne told The Atlantic.
Brangwynne and Feric injected tiny plastic beads into the germinal vesicles—nuclei—of 1 millimeter oocytes from African clawed frogs (Xenopus laevis). Beads of different radii moved differently within the nuclei—larger particles got stuck more often than smaller ones—which suggested that they were traveling through a network of actin. When the researchers treated the eggs with drugs that disrupt actin or injected them with a factor that decreased actin concentration in the nuclei, plastic beads of all sizes moved similarly. When they disrupted actin and injected metallic beads, these beads and endogenous organelles eventually settled to the bottom of the nucleus. Brangwynne and Feric applied forces to the germinal vesicles and showed that actin polymerized in response. “Gravity becomes really important at a smaller scale than you might have guessed,” Brangwynne said in a press release.
The paper illustrates a previously unknown function for actin in the nucleus, molecular biologist Dyche Mullins of the University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine, said in the press release. “The results suggest a large cell becomes fragile and needs a scaffold inside to support and separate the large number of particles it contains.”
It really is starting to see as though Obama simply doesn’t know what is going on in his administration. The Affordable Care Act is his legacy achievement, but apparently he could not be arsed to check up on its implementation and was taken totally surprise by the fact that HealthCare.gov simply did not work—although the contractors gave ample warning and presumably the CMS knew quite well what was going on. And now Obama says that he had no idea that the NSA were spying on foreign leaders—though I think that is probably simply a face-saving lie. However, it doesn’t save much face: it is a statement that he simply is in the dark about what the government is doing.
The NY Times editorial board has some strong words:
The White House response on Monday to the expanding disclosures of American spying on foreign leaders, their governments and millions of their citizens was a pathetic mix of unsatisfying assurances about reviews under way, platitudes about the need for security in an insecure age, and the odd defense that the president didn’t know that American spies had tapped the German chancellor’s cellphone for 10 years.
Is it really better for us to think that things have gone so far with the post-9/11 idea that any spying that can be done should be done and that nobody thought to inform President Obama about tapping the phone of one of the most important American allies?
The White House spokesman, Jay Carney, kept repeating that Mr. Obama ordered a review of surveillance policy a few months ago, but he would not confirm whether that includes the tapping of the cellphone of Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, or the collection of data on tens of millions of calls in France, Spain and elsewhere. It’s unlikely that Mr. Obama would have ordered any review if Edward Snowden’s leaks had not revealed the vacuum-cleaner approach to electronic spying. Mr. Carney left no expectation that the internal reviews will produce any significant public accounting — only that the White House might have “a little more detail” when they are completed. . .
FWIW, the Germans think that US spying on its allies is due to a paranoid mindset.
Well worth reading/viewing (both transcript and video at the link). The blurb:
The spat over U.S. spying on Germany grew over the weekend following reports the National Security Agency has monitored the phone calls of Chancellor Angela Merkel since as early as 2002, before she even came to office. The NSA also spied on Merkel’s predecessor, Gerhard Schroeder, after he refused to support the Iraq War. NSA staffers working out of the U.S. embassy in Berlin reportedly sent their findings directly to the White House. The German tabloid Bild also reports President Obama was made aware of Merkel’s phone tap in 2010, contradicting his apparent claim to her last week that he would have stopped the spying had he known. In another new disclosure, the Spanish newspaper El Mundo reports today the NSA tracked some 60 million calls in Spain over the course of a month last year. A delegation of German and French lawmakers are now in Washington to press for answers on the allegations of U.S. spying in their home countries. We discuss the latest revelations with Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who first reported Edward Snowden’s leaks.
Interesting column at The Switch by Lydia DePillis.