It’s Time For Sonia Sotomayor


After 15 long years, a Democrat in the oval office finally has the opportunity to make a Supreme Court nomination.  Clinton had two successful nominations, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer who were seated on the Court in 1993 and 1994 respectively.  Presently, 7 of the 9 Justices were nominated by Republicans.

President Obama made an excellent choice in Sonia Sotomayor on a number of levels, but I’d mainly like to look at the issue of diversity – and if you think diversity does not matter, let me try to convince you that it does.

Consider the current composition of the Supreme Court:  8 of the 9 are male.  With only 1 female on the Court, Justice Ginsberg, who is battling cancer and may have to step down in the immediate future, women are not adequately represented, given that they make up 50.9% of the population in the U.S. according to the latest Census data.  Sotomayor is the first Hispanic ever to be nominated.  And it is about time.  Projections indicate that by 2010, Hispanics will make up 15.5% of the U.S. population.

The racial and gender composition of the court is important and changes the court dynamic.  The New York Times addresses the impact minority judges have had on the Supreme Court from Justice Thurgood Marshall, the first black member to Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman.   Diversity brings ideological difference, which is critical for healthy deliberation.  There is more than one way to interpret the constitution.   If there were only one way, we wouldn’t need the courts at all.  We could just run the facts of a case through a computer program for an instant decision.  No deliberation.  No debate.   Supreme Court justices are  charged with the task of interpreting the constitution, a word that implies difference.  And a functioning, dynamic democracy demands difference – otherwise we have no real democracy at all.  Want total conformity, maybe you’d be happy in Fidel’s Cuba or Kim Jong-il’s North Korea.

I’ve heard the argument that we have to stay true to the constitution and to the wishes of our founding fathers; that the justices role is not to interpret, but to follow the constitution literally as written.  This is the view of  strict constitutionalism, which is at one end of the spectrum of judicial philosophy; judicial activism is at the other end, also known as legislating from the bench.  According to Chris Weigant, this philosophy is misunderstood and is actually precisely what the framers of the constitution intended the Judicial branch to do as part of the system of checks and balances.

Sonia Sotomayor has the intellectual chops as a Princeton and Yale Law graduate to serve on the Court.  Though if she had been a non-Ivy league graduate, she would even have more credibility in my eyes.  I’d like a little more educational diversity on the court.  Maybe in the next round.

Sotomayor also has had bipartisan support.  Don’t forget that she was nominated by Bush 41 for the U.S. District Court and confirmed and later nominated by Clinton for the Second Circuit Court of Appeals and confirmed.  Having been confirmed twice by the Senate, her Supreme Court confirmation hearing should go smoothly, but probably won’t.

Sotomayor.  Learn to pronounce her name.  She is going to be on the Supreme Court for a very long time and America will be the better for it.

Why So Little H1N1 in AR, WV and VT?

The Natural State

While looking at some of the H1N1 flu data on the CDC website, I was struck by the fact that West Virginia had been completely spared, and that out of the 6,754 cases reported nationwide, Arkansas and Vermont had only 6 confirmed cases combined.

So what do the three states have in common that might account for this clean bill of health?  Not much on the surface.  I was thinking that both Vermont and Arkansas were given their names by Frenchmen.   But what about West Virginia?  No, no French connection there.   Vermont is named after a mountain.  Arkansas has the Ozark and the Ouachita mountain ranges; West Virgina the Appalachians.   Could it be the rarefied mountain air?  Or that the states are landlocked?

I have a theory, not entirely my own, that is a product of a little research and common sense.   First, what do the states with the most cases – Illinois, New York, Texas and California have in common?  They are densely populated. Mexico City fits this description too.  The virus can spread quickly when people are confined in close quarters on buses, subways, at school and work and in busy supermarkets and shopping centers.   Arkansas, West Virgina and Vermont are three of the least densely populated states in the country and there are simply fewer opportunities for exposure.  Makes sense?   Before you say duh, consider this:  these three states have something else in common – they have an aging population.  The median age of an Arkansas resident is 37, 40 for West Virgina and Vermont.   What does this have to do with anything?  The median age of the H1N1 victim is 15.   The theory here is that younger people do not yet have a fully functional immune system and will not have had the developmental benefit of exposure to many types of virus threats as have adults and the elderly.  California, Texas and Illinois, with the lion share of H1N1 victims, are three of the youngest states.  The median age of a Texas resident is 33.  Simply put, in these heavily and densely populated states, there are more high risk youth who will have much greater exposure rates to the virus than their counterparts in smaller, more sparsely populated states.

And there is another intangible that just came to mind.  The ArkBenJerry-UnitedSquare (Small)ansas mascot is the Razorback.   Arkansas hogs are treated with the utmost respect.  Go hogs! And in Vermont, they feed their pigs Ben and Jerry’s ice-cream.  It’s true.  Vermont pigs are a little bit spoiled and apparently don’t like mint chocolate.  They don’t!

US-Cuban Relations Could Thaw Over Wine

President Obama has shown an interest in high level talks with Cuba on migration between the two countries, as pressure mounts from Latin America to  “reintegrate Cuba into the Organization of American States,”  reports Ginger Thompson in a recent New York Times article – U.S. Signals Willingness to Reopen Talks With Cuba.   The Secretary General of the O.A.S., Chilean Jose Miguel Insulza, favors dialogue with Cuba.  Flavio Dario Espinal, a former diplomat from the Dominican Republic says that the “key thing is going to be finding a way to break the ice.”  Hey, I have an idea, why not use wine as an ice-breaker!  But what wine?

To break the Ice – a 2006 Konzelman Vidal Niagara Penisula Ice Wine.  Ranked 100 on the Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines of 2008.  At 94 points, this viognier varietal would be the perfect aperitif to start off any high level talks, particularly one with a dictator.

Obama and Fidel – first meeting – The 2007 Two Hands McLaren Vale Angels Share.  This wine made the the Winespectator list at #83. A handshake and glass of Two Hands along with a pre-dinner slice of Obama’s favorite deep dish Chicago style pizza.   In a gesture of goodwill, Obama could offer Fidel a wipe for his beard – what a great photo op!

Main course – The talks would be most productive with food.  I’d go with  Fillet Mignon and the 2005 Pride Cabernet Sauvignon.  The name is appropo.   Cubans have very little by way of material comfort, but they are a people full of pride in the best sense of the word with a leader full of pride in the worst sense.

Desert – The top wine of 2008, the 2005 Casa Lapostolle Clos Apalta from Chile, should be served by the Chilean Secretary of the O.A.S. himself, along with a rich and chocolaty dessert and an after dinner Cuban cigar.


Democracy and Coincidences

Cornel West_Utah_2008

Coincidences happen to me every now and then, but If I don’t write them down, they are soon forgotten, like dreams…fleeting and fascinating.  I’m convinced coincidences happen to us all, when we bother to tune in.  At least I want to believe this is true, and that I am normal, and not possessed, pun intended, with supernatural abilities.

Here’s one I experienced on the bus last week.   To give you some background, I had been reading The Magic Mountain , Thomas Mann’s masterpiece (and I have had some strange encounters while reading it on the bus and subway) but I lost the book, midway through – as has happened to me on several occaasions with other classics – Dostoevsky’s The Idiot comes to mind.   I had to find another book to read for my commute.   Looking through the bookshelves, I ran across a book I began reading some months ago, but had misplaced – Democracy Matters, by Cornel West, a must read if democracy matters to you.  So I placed it in my book bag and headed off to the bus stop.

Got on the bus at the corner of West and Poplar, unzipped my bag, and at the moment I took out the book, the programmed public address system announced: “Next, stop, Cornell Street”.  Indeed!

Did Swine Flu Originate in Mexico?

Not according to a small sample of Mexicans. CNN reporter Ted Rowlands asked random Mexicans where they thought the Swine Flu originated. No one interviewed believed the strain developed originally in Mexico. Some had heard a Canadian tourist was the likely source. Others believed that the U.S. is unfairly blaming Mexico. Check out this CNN video:

Tourists to Blame

Which brings me to some interesting questions. Can we identify the original source of the human infection? Pigs and birds, yes, but from where? Canadian, Mexican or American pigs? Are these migratory birds without borders? And was the sickness spread by an infected Canadian through an American tourist in Mexico? Does it matter? Neither the World Health Organization (WHO) nor the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have information on their websites with definitive answers as to the geographic origin of the virus, or models outlining the original transmission sequence.

UPDATE: As of 5/13, the CDC has confirmed 3352 casesof H1N1 and 3 deaths in 45 states, including DC.  Illinois leads all states with 592 cases.  Arkansas, Mississippi, West Virginia, Wyoming, Alaska and North Dakota have so far been spared.  Mexico has confirmed 2059 cases and 56 deaths.  The WHO reports that 5728 cases worldwide of Influenza A (H1N1) have been confirmed in 33 countries.

Here you can find a brochure entitled Swine Flu and You.

Amazing Race host – what’s that accent?

I started watching the Amazing Race for the first time this season after my oldest daughter sent in an audition tape. I noticed that the host had a slight accent that I could not quite place.  So if you’re an Amazing Race fan and have wondered yourself the origin of the accent, take this poll. You can google the answer after you’ve voted.

Swine Flu Vaccination, No Thanks!

The Swine Flu, known now simply as Influenza A (H1N1) to protect pigs from mass slaughter appears to be less virulent than previously suspected. The numbers of infected Mexicans thought to be in the thousands originally has been revised downward after initial testing confirmed only 397 cases and 16 deaths though that count has risen of late to 942 cases with 29 deaths as more people have been tested.  As of May 6th, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), the U.S. has reported 642 cases and 2 deaths. Worldwide, there have been 1893 confirmed cases in 23 countries – and no deaths outside Mexico and the United States. Most of the cases outside of Mexico have been mild and treated effectively with anti-viral medications. Though the WHO has issued a level 5 pandemic alert warning of an imminent pandemic, the number of cases has not increased exponentially. Notwithstanding the evidence and encouraging statistics, the public is still deeply concerned if not nearly panicked.

I ride the bus and subway into work in Boston and see a handful of people wearing masks, despite the fact that there have been no confirmed cases in Boston and only 8 in the state of Massachusetts according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Update: there have been a few cases in Boston and now 45 confirmed statewide as of May 6. Notwithstanding, it seems to me that a mask would just make breathing a little more difficult. Yesterday, I saw and heard people sneezing on the MBTA and riders getting up and moving away from the “afflicted” but I know that this is the beginning of allergy season, not the flu season as tree pollen counts have been high lately.

And there has been talk of a vaccine, but this sounds like a bad idea. In an article posted on Prison Planet, Steve Watson of recounts that in 1976 President Gerald Ford along with then defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, initiated a mass vaccination campaign in which 40 million people were innoculated. However, the campaign came to an abrupt halt after 500 people developed Guillain-Barre syndrome and 30 people died. Congressman Ron Paul who is also an MD, and one of only two congressmen to vote against the vaccination program had this to say about the most recent scare: “Here we are once again, swine flu coming up and everybody is panicking…it’s practically like we’ve been attacked by nuclear weapons.”

Hear Ron Paul speak on the recent swine flu pandemic: