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[ 17 ] June 27, 2016 |


SEK: It’s not a water bowl, it’s an ice pack.


SEK: It’s not a — I have a migraine.


SEK: Some what?


SEK: I don’t think you —


SEK: You want my grain? You’ll have to put my water bowl on your head first.


SEK: My “water bowl.”


SEK: It is what it is.


SEK: Thanks, now how about some quiet time?



You Can Only Push A Kennedy So Far

[ 131 ] June 27, 2016 |

The two key restrictions in Texas’s abortion statute are struck down 5-3, opinion by Breyer, RBG concurrence.

Much more on this later today. I’m not sure what will be more amusing; reading through all of Alito’s 43-page faux-minimalist dissent or reading the forthcoming tortured arguments from Freddie Brogan Bragman about how being cool with Donald Trump picking several Supreme Court nominees makes you the real supporter of reproductive freedom because Roe v. Wade not being overruled pales in significance with Hillary Clinton’s consistent support for reproductive freedom being expressed in overly equivocal rhetoric that one time.

“I am sick of the shallow judgment that ranks the worth of a man by his poverty or by his wealth at death”: Visions of the Past, Thanks to Gutenberg (VI)

[ 17 ] June 27, 2016 |


From almost the beginning of U.S. history to I guess about World War I, American writers and thinkers were obsessed with what it meant to be an American. What made an American an American? Was it the frontier? Was it the homespun speech? The lack of nobility? Underpinning all of this was a huge inferiority complex toward Europe. So you had late 19th century Americans for instance playing up various Native American ruins as equal to those of Europe to give the U.S. an equal claim in the pantheon of civilized nations. Such things were not unique to the United States of course. Many Latin American nations engaged in similar sorts of projects, often using the same themes, such as ruins. In any case, for the United States, the Founding Fathers served as the ultimate touchstone of Americanness. From at least the 1820s, politicians attempted to justify their positions by connecting them to idealized visions of the those men. In the 2010s, Americans do the same thing. Given that these patrician men were often relatively inscrutable, especially George Washington, it’s hardly surprising then that ideas of grounding Americaness found themselves.

Thus you have Henry Van Dyke’s 1906 treatise The Americanism of Washington. In this short book, Van Dyke basically attributes every positive aspect of what it means to be an American to Washington. Most importantly I think for us is what a fundamentally elite text this is. A popular writer of the Gilded Age and good friend of Woodrow Wilson from their days at Princeton, Van Dyke was angry that ideas of authentic American character were often found in poverty, in homespun, and in hard cider. Van Dyke is proud that Washington was wealthy and noted that as a mark in his favor, thus the quote in the title of the post. And in fact, as these things go, this book tells us almost nothing useful about George Washington, but at least a little bit that is useful about the Gilded Age and what it valued in past Americans.

As with most of these texts, this probably isn’t worth your time unless you are interested in the construction of historical memory around the Revolutionary War generation.

“God deliver me from monarch’s gag laws and all their subjects”: Visions of the Past, Thanks to Gutenberg (V)

[ 4 ] June 27, 2016 |


In 1909, an editor in Quebec released an anonymous, fragmentary diary of a U.S. officer captured in the War of 1812 and held prisoner. It’s titled Journal of an American Prisoner at Fort Malden and Quebec in the War of 1812. As I’ve observed reading other POW diaries, the basic story is that most days are just really boring. Also, people die a lot, although given that it’s 1812, that wasn’t necessarily so different than being at home. Occasionally, the Indians come by and scare our author, making him damn the British for supporting them. Thus the quote in the title of the post. Interesting primary source document, not necessarily that compelling for the average reader.

I am the 7th person to download this document from Gutenberg. Can we get it to double digits?

Whole Woman’s Health Politburo Watching

[ 18 ] June 27, 2016 |


We haven’t done a lot of this for the Supreme Court term wrapping up tomorrow, so to honor Lyle Denniston leaving SCOTUSBLOG, here are the possible outcomes in the biggest remaining case in the ascending order of probability as I see it:

  • 4-4 one liner. A one sentence per curiam, like the Court issued last week in U.S. v. Texas, by an evenly divided Court allowing the Fifth Circuit opinion to stand. I think this is very unlikely, for two reasons. First, if this was the outcome the opinion probably would have already been issued. And, perhaps more importantly, I can’t see the liberal faction of the Court allowing the draconian abortion restrictions in Texas and Lousiana to stay in force without commentary.
  • 4-4 with opinions. Kennedy still can’t find any regulations that constitute an “undue burden” under the rather awful plurality opinion he helped write. At least one liberal justice — most likely RBG or Kagan — really lets him have it in a dissent. Kennedy either defends himself or hides under Alito’s robes. A little more likely than a silent deadlock — I don’t have much faith in Kennedy on abortion cases — but I think it’s more likely that he has been pushed too far this time.
  • 5-3 liberal victory. In a reprise of Fisher II from last week, Kennedy can’t stomach the bad faith with which contemporary Republicans have treated Casey, and provides a fifth vote to strike down most or all of the Texas statute. Kennedy’s opinion makes it very clear that the law offends the dignity of women seeking to obtain an abortion in Texas and makes what standard the Court should apply to abortion regulations going forward even less clear. Alito writes a faux-minimalist dissent arguing that the statute is consistent with Casey as Kennedy has previously interpreted it that is as least twice as long as Kennedy’s opinion. Thomas writes a short solo concurrence arguing that Roe needs to be nuked from orbit just to be sure.
  • 5-3 mixed bag. Kennedy finds some but not all of the key parts of the Texas statute unconstitutional. In this scenario, the liberal justices who have been content to let Kennedy speak for the Court if he votes correctly might write one or multiple concurrences/dissents underlying the stakes, plus you’d probably get Alito and Thomas opinions comparable to those above.

I’d say the last two are comparably likely. This doesn’t exhaust every single possibility, of course. Roberts might also write, and I suppose there’s some chance under scenario four that he could join Kennedy, although I doubt it. But I think these are the most likely ways it plays out.

Alfa Alfa Alfa!!!

[ 36 ] June 26, 2016 |
Alfa class submarine.jpg

Public Domain,

In my latest at the National Interest, I look back at the Alfa:

After the first few designs came to fruition, the Soviets decided to undertake a combination of brute force and extremely risky high technology. The brute-force part meant building a submarine that could move faster and dive deeper than any Western counterpart; the high-tech part meant innovative hull design, reactor design and material manipulation. The result was the Type 705 Lyra (known as Alfa in NATO), a submarine that the West regarded as a profound, if short-lived, threat to its undersea dominance.


An unsurprising Be Leaver interpretation of victory

[ 208 ] June 26, 2016 |

Commentarion CrunchyFrog shared a link about responses to the success of the [ahem] populist Leave campaign.

People have been reporting incidents of racism believed to be fuelled by the result of the EU referendum, including alleged racist graffiti on a Polish cultural centre in London and cards reading “no more Polish vermin” posted through letterboxes and outside a primary school in Cambridgeshire.


In Gloucester, Max Fras said he was in a Tesco supermarket on Friday night with his young son when a white man became agitated in the queue for the checkout and began yelling: “This is England now, foreigners have 48 hours to fuck right off. Who is foreign here? Anyone foreign?”


Welsh businesswoman and remain campaigner Shazia Awan was told to pack her bags and go home after she expressed disappointment in the leave result.

And so on.

Couple of thoughts

– I hope the asshole be leavers ordinary, decent people settle down before they physically harm someone else, in the same way I hope someone will give me a million dollars. How they’re behaving when they’re happy is as unexpected as how they behave when they are unhappy.

– This is as good example as any of why wondering how Trump’s nastiest supporters will react if he loses strikes me as a strange and uninteresting way to waste time. And also why any discussion of these people’s motives that doesn’t put bigotry up front is at best, unbelievably naive. (As in, I can’t believe anyone is really that naive.)

But just in case I’m being a smidge too cynical, here’s how it always works: The bigot’s interpretation of any event imaginable is that it’s time to exercise his God-given right to lash out at The Enemy.

Don’t get what you want? Attack. Do get what you want? Attack. Not sure you’ll get what you want? Attack. Not sure what you want? Attack. Troubled by vague stirrings of anomie? Exactly.

The bigots who are willing to scream and assault are essential to the ones who still play that funky dog whistle for the sections of the public that will nod along while a politician outlines his three-step plan to make children into pies, provided he does so in a civil manner. (And he isn’t threatening their children.)

The pols and pundits in turn give their volunteer thugs a sense that they’re right, part of something big (and perhaps noble) and that they have something in common with people who in reality wouldn’t have their personal assistant piss on them if they were on fire. What remains (bremains?) to be seen in Britain is what, if anything, will the pols do with their mob? Maybe Boris Johnson will include that in his speech to breassure the nation.

As an aside, since I started writing this, a neo-Nazi traditionalist workers’ rally in Sacramento has ended in bloodshed.


PUMA II: Electric Boogaloo

[ 129 ] June 26, 2016 |


Another reason not to panic:

Donald Trump would like for Bernie Sanders supporters to ditch the Democratic Party and support him. There is very little evidence that they will do that, mind you, but it’s certainly possible that they might just stay home — which would help Trump.

Well, we have some bad news for the Trump campaign. Sanders supporters aren’t just rallying around Clinton; they’re doing it rather quickly. And it’s a big reason Clinton just extended her lead over Trump into the double digits, 51 percent to 39 percent.

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows that Sanders backers, who polls have shown were reluctant to jump over to Clinton and even flirted with supporting Trump, are coming home faster than we might have expected.

Last month, 20 percent of Sanders supporters said they would back Trump over Clinton in the general election. This month, that figure is down to 8 percent.

And the poll was conducted before, we would note, Sanders began saying last week that he would support Clinton over Trump in the general election. (Even as he’s not endorsing Clinton and is still technically a candidate, Sanders said his supporters would and should not vote for a “bigot” like Trump.)

Between this and the utter shambles of the Trump campaign — Democrats shouldn’t be complacent but they can be confident.


[ 113 ] June 26, 2016 |


Jill Stein did a Reddit awhile back. She was asked about vaccines. Her response:

I don’t know if we have an “official” stance, but I can tell you my personal stance at this point. According to the most recent review of vaccination policies across the globe, mandatory vaccination that doesn’t allow for medical exemptions is practically unheard of. In most countries, people trust their regulatory agencies and have very high rates of vaccination through voluntary programs. In the US, however, regulatory agencies are routinely packed with corporate lobbyists and CEOs. So the foxes are guarding the chicken coop as usual in the US. So who wouldn’t be skeptical? I think dropping vaccinations rates that can and must be fixed in order to get at the vaccination issue: the widespread distrust of the medical-indsutrial complex.

Vaccines in general have made a huge contribution to public health. Reducing or eliminating devastating diseases like small pox and polio. In Canada, where I happen to have some numbers, hundreds of annual death from measles and whooping cough were eliminated after vaccines were introduced. Still, vaccines should be treated like any medical procedure–each one needs to be tested and regulated by parties that do not have a financial interest in them. In an age when industry lobbyists and CEOs are routinely appointed to key regulatory positions through the notorious revolving door, its no wonder many Americans don’t trust the FDA to be an unbiased source of sound advice. A Monsanto lobbyists and CEO like Michael Taylor, former high-ranking DEA official, should not decide what food is safe for you to eat. Same goes for vaccines and pharmaceuticals. We need to take the corporate influence out of government so people will trust our health authorities, and the rest of the government for that matter. End the revolving door. Appoint qualified professionals without a financial interest in the product being regulated. Create public funding of elections to stop the buying of elections by corporations and the super-rich.

For homeopathy, just because something is untested doesn’t mean it’s safe. By the same token, being “tested” and “reviewed” by agencies tied to big pharma and the chemical industry is also problematic. There’s a lot of snake-oil in this system. We need research and licensing boards that are protected from conflicts of interest. They should not be limited by arbitrary definitions of what is “natural” or not.

There’s no reason to refute any of this point by point. You all know how stupid this is. But hey, she only agrees with Donald Trump 41% of the time, so you all should vote for Stein this fall since the Sanders campaign could not dictate every point in the Democratic Party platform.

“How much of strength, of skill, of possible loyalty, does modern industry tap from the average Hunky?” Visions of the Past, Thanks to Gutenberg (IV)

[ 42 ] June 26, 2016 |


The genre of “rich person going undercover to show us what the real life of the working class is like” is pretty old now, going from at least the mid-nineteenth century to Barbara Ehrenreich. Sometimes these exercises can be useful, often they are condescending. I decided to read Charles Rumford Walker’s 1922 book Steel: The Diary of a Furnace Worker for the same reason I read many things–it appeared in front of my face at the right time.

It’s hard to feel comfortable reading such a text when this appears in the first paragraph:

I acquired the current Anglo-Hunky language and knew speedily the grind and the camaraderie of American steel-making.

Ah, nothing like some pejoratives to really sum up the camaraderie of the steel mills. Certainly Thomas Bell’s family just loved being called Hunkies by Anglo folks.

I love the class privilege involved in this sort of paragraph, as our narrator decides what to do after being an officer in World War I:

I was twenty-five, a college graduate, a first-lieutenant in the army. In the civilian world into which I was about to jump, most of my connections were with the university I had recently left, few or none in the business world. Why not enlist, then, in one of the basic industries, coal, oil, or steel? I liked steel— it was the basic American industry, and technically and economically it interested me. Why not enlist in steel? Get a laborer’s job? Learn the business? And, besides, the chemical forces of change, I meditated, were at work at the bottom of society—

The next day I sent in the resignation of my commission in the regular army of the United States.

I’ll bet those Hunkies were making the same choice. Should I go work in middle management of U.S. Steel or slum up with the boys? This guy was really with the people!

This guy clearly was one of the boys:

I was first conscious of the blaring mouths of furnaces. There were five of them, and men with shovels in line, marching within a yard, hurling a white gravel down red throats. Two of the men were stripped, and their backs were shiny in the red flare. I tried to feel perfectly at home, but discovered a deep consciousness of being overdressed. My straw hat I could have hurled into a ladle of steel.

Lucky they didn’t hurl him into a ladle of steel.

My heart leaped a bit at “the night-shift.” I thought over the hours-schedule the employment manager had rehearsed: “Five to seven, fourteen hours, on the night-week.”

My father worked the night shift for many years. I don’t think his heart “leaped a bit” over the matter.

As a whole, the thing reads reasonably decently. Walker is a fair writer. He describes the process of steel making pretty well and enlivens it with a decent amount of swearing from the Hunkies and Wops. Oh, wait, did I mention that Walker loves stereotypes? The Russians booze it up. The Italian makes an OK boss even though Walker admits his resentment to taking orders from the Wop. Surprised he didn’t figure him to be an anarchist, infiltrating the steel mills, or perhaps a member of the Black Hand. But, to give Walker credit, after struggling to understand what anyone is saying, he admits his realization:

This is amusing enough on the first day; you can go off and laugh in a superior way to yourself about the queer words the foreigners use. But after seven days of it, fourteen hours each, it gets under the skin, it burns along the nerves, as the furnace heat burns along the arms when you make back-wall. It suddenly occurred to me one day, after someone had bawled me out picturesquely for not knowing where something was that I had never heard of, that this was what every immigrant Hunky endured; it was a matter of language largely, of understanding, of knowing the names of things, the uses of things, the language of the boss. Here was this Serbian second-helper bossing his third-helper largely in an unknown tongue, and the latter getting the full emotional experience of the immigrant. I thought of Bill, the pit boss, telling a Hunky to do a clean-up job for him; and when the Hunky said, “What?” he turned to me and said: “Lord! but these Hunkies are dumb.”

Of course, he immediately backtracks:

I suddenly had a vision of how the New York subway looked: its crush, its noise, its overdressed Jews, its speed, its subway smell. I looked around inside the clattering trolley-car. Nobody was talking. The car was filled for the most part with Slavs, a few Italians, and some negroes from the nail mill. Everyone, except two old men of unknown age, was under thirty-five. They held their buckets on their laps, or put them on the floor between their legs. Six or eight were asleep. The rest sat quiet, with legs and neck loose,

“Its overdressed Jews.” Gawd….

What’s remarkable is how utterly apolitical this book remains. Walker tells of the heat and stress and long hours. But to what end? It’s almost as if the description is just entertainment for the middle classes reading it. There is very little sense of political purpose until the end, when Walker briefly admits that the long shifts are terrible and undermine workers’ lives. But there’s certainly little empathy with the long-term struggles of the working classes in any political aim, except for one brief mention of Walker, who could talk to bosses since he came from their class and was kind of slumming through this, telling one that his claim that his workers labored an 8-hour day was not true..There’s also very little discussion of workers dying on the job, just a mention or two of stories from the past, which is an obvious omission in an industry suffering frequent deaths. This could have led to something of real interest, but is too much about Walker wanting to “learn the trade.”

In short, too much tourism, not enough analysis. It is a kind of interesting book, but suffers the problem of the wealthy in 1919, when Walker labored in the mills, not really understanding the working class, even when they do actually interact with them.

After Charles Rumford Walker left the steel mills, he had a very hard career ahead of him working for Yale. It’s unclear if he let any Hunkies or overdressed Jews into the august institution.

I am one of all of seven people to download this text. A best seller!


[ 21 ] June 26, 2016 |
Slash in 2010.

By Scott Penner –, CC BY-SA 2.0,

As the world disintegrated on Thursday night*, I was at Ford Field in Detroit watching the first show of the new Guns N’ Roses tour. This was the third time I’ve seen GNR; the first in Seattle in October 1992, and the second in April 1993 in Portland. I don’t mind stadium shows, although I haven’t seen one in a while. Thursday’s show was the first of the “Not in this Lifetime” tour, which brings Slash and Duff McKagan back into the fold.  Feel free to debate whether Axl, Slash, and Duff are sufficient to constitute “Guns N’ Roses,” but if your answer is “no,” then the band hasn’t existed since 1991.

Alice in Chains opened, which we missed because really, there are limits. GNR hit the stage at 9:43, two minutes ahead of schedule.  Several friends had asked me “what if Axl throws a tantrum and they only play for fifteen minutes and then cancel the tour?” to which I responded “Well, that would be awesome.” There were hiccups; in particular, the sound effects associated with the pyrotechnics were off, and unnecessarily distracting.  And halfway through It’s So Easy, the first song of the set, Rose looked visibly winded.  A lot of folks seemed to notice this; I thought to myself “first song of the first concert; gonna be a long tour, Axl,” but he recovered quickly.

Axl somehow convinced Duff and Slash to do three tracks of Chinese Democracy. I’m not nearly as familiar with CD as with the rest of the catalogue, although I don’t think it’s a bad album. And I’m happy that it hasn’t been expunged from the history of the band. The inclusion of the songs (along with a few covers) suggests that Rose, in particular, still wants to do something interesting and challenge the audience, rather than becoming a greatest hits act. There were no extra musicians on stage, no background singers, no orchestra; the stripped down set worked particularly well for November Rain, which plays better in such conditions than with the full regalia.

With respect to Axl… it may shock some readers that a fifty-four year old man can add a few pounds over his thirty-one year old self, but let me assure you that this is a thing that can happen in the real world (Slash also seems just a bit stouter than he was in the 1990s, although Duff looked like he had somehow lost weight). Although Rose’s drug use has been overstated, he endured some significant health problems in the 1980s and 1990s. On balance, Rose is almost certainly more healthy now than just about any time in his GNR tenure.  And while he may be a bit slower and less slinky than he was in the early days of the band, it’s only a marginal difference; he remains a remarkably energetic front man, and his voice is still quite strong.

With respect to intra-band relations, Axl and Slash worked very well together.  I’ve heard that relations between Duff and Axl are still quite bad, but it didn’t show up on stage in any meaningful way.  Overall, the entire band performed very professionally, and worked well as a unit.  If GNR is your thing, then you should give the tour some consideration.

*Yes; I was, in fact, frantically checking my phone for Brexit updates during a Guns N’ Roses show.

“Much of the renown acquired for Kentucky by her surgeons was in the treatment of calculous diseases”: Visions of the Past, Thanks to Gutenberg (III)

[ 11 ] June 26, 2016 |


What’s the point of looking into old historical texts if not to explore texts about surgery? Thus, Gutenberg presents us with David Yandell’s 1890 treatise, Pioneer Surgery in Kentucky: A Sketch. * You know this is going to be illuminating. How drunk was everyone involved? Were Kentucky doctors still bleeding patients in 1890? Are they still in 2016?

The last question goes unanswered, sadly.

This is the start of the text:

1806. The earliest original surgical work of any magnitude done in Kentucky, by one of her own sons, was an amputation at the hip-joint. It proved to be the first operation of the kind in the United States. The undertaking was made necessary because of extensive fracture of the thigh with great laceration of the soft parts. The subject was a mulatto boy, seventeen years of age, a slave of the monks of St. Joseph’s College. The time was August, 1806; the place, Bardstown; the surgeon, Dr. Walter Brashear; the assistants, Dr. Burr Harrison and Dr. John Goodtell; the result, a complete success. The operator divided his work into two stages. The first consisted in amputating the thigh through its middle third in the usual way, and in tying all bleeding vessels. The second consisted of a long incision on the outside of the limb, exposing the remainder of the bone, which, being freed from its muscular attachments, was then disarticulated at its socket.

It goes from there. Unfortunately, some of Kentucky’s finest didn’t stay in the Bluegrass. They traveled abroad and came under the influence of the Celestials, and no doubt their opium:

While among the Celestials he amputated a woman’s breast, probably the first exploit of the kind by one from the antipodes. Unfortunately for science, he there learned the method used by the Chinese for clarifying ginseng, and thinking, on his return home, that he saw in this an easy way to wealth, he abandoned the profession in which he had exhibited such originality, judgment, and skill, and engaged in merchandising. Twelve years of commerce and its hazards left him a bankrupt in fortune, but brought him back to the calling in which he was so well fitted to shine. He moved, in 1813, from Bardstown to Lexington, where he at once secured a large practice, especially in diseases of the bones and joints. He was thought to excel in the treatment of fractures of the skull, for the better management of which a trephine was made in Philadelphia, under his direction, which, in his judgment, was superior to any then in use.

Of course, anyone can secure a functional career in Lexington, even under the influence of opium, as Farley can attest.

Most of the book is a combination of somewhat disturbing tales of pioneer surgery and odes to the glory of sweet, sweet Kentucky. Such as:

It would be neither fitting nor becoming on this occasion, and in this presence, to speak in detail of the technic observed by McDowell in his work. That has long since passed into history. I may, however, be permitted the remark that the procedure, in many of its features, is necessarily that of to-day. The incision was longer than that now usually made, and the ends of the pedicle ligature were left hanging from the lower angle of the wound. But the pedicle itself was dropped back into the abdomen. The patient was turned on her side to allow the blood and other fluids to drain away. The wound was closed with interrupted sutures. This marvel This marvel of work was done without the help of anesthetics or trained assistants, or the many improved instruments of to-day, which have done so much to simplify and make the operation easy. McDowell had never heard of antisepsis, nor dreamed of germicides or germs; but water, distilled from nature’s unpolluted cisterns by the sun, and dropped from heaven’s condensers in the clean blue sky, with air winnowed through the leaves of the primeval forest which deepened into a wilderness about him on every hand, gave him and his patients aseptic facility and environment which the most favored living laparotomist well might envy. These served him well, and six out of seven of his first cases recovered. He removed the first tumor in twenty-five minutes, a time not since much shortened by the average operator.

I don’t doubt it, but thankfully we have turned this pure Kentucky water away from something as useless as surgery and toward something of far greater value: bourbon.


In all truth, this is kind of an interesting book if you are into reading about historical amputations. And who isn’t?

* I am proud to say that I am evidently one of four people who have downloaded this book.

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