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James and Shawn
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There is a good article by Adam Kirsch at the New York Times juxtaposing the new flava Mark Twain Classic "Huckleberry Finn" with the timid recitation of the Constitution in the House.

If the reading was meant to be a win for originalism, however, it stumbled out of the gate, over the text of Article I, Section 2. This deals with the apportionment of House seats among the states, which is said to be based on “the whole number of free persons” and “three-fifths of all other persons.” Rather than draw attention to this infamous euphemism for slaves, the Congressional readers decided to omit those portions, on the grounds that they had been superseded by the 14th Amendment.

It just so happened this conspicuous omission came days after a small publisher, NewSouth Books, announced a new edition of Mark Twain’s “Huckleberry Finn” that will replace its uses of the word “nigger” with “slave.” Here, again, was a historic text clashing with contemporary sensibilities, and forced to submit.

Taken together, the two cases show the comedy of euphemism: trying to distract us from something ugly only makes the ugliness harder to miss. To the book’s new editor, the Twain scholar Alan Gribben, “slave” is less offensive than “nigger”; to the Constitution’s drafters, “all other persons” was less offensive than “slave.” By refusing to utter even that legalism, the House showed that euphemism can end only in embarrassed silence.

Perhaps Gribben should replace "slave" with "all other persons."

Read "The First Drafts of American History" at NYT.

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Gladys and Jamie Scott have won their freedom. As Bob Herbert relates in the New York Times, the scope of their incarceration was a miscarriage of justice.

As insane as it may seem, Gladys and her sister, Jamie, are each serving consecutive life sentences in a state prison in Mississippi for their alleged role in a robbery in 1993 in which no one was hurt and $11 supposedly was taken.

Herbert also notes

The only reason the Scott sisters have gotten any relief at all is because of an extraordinary network of supporters who campaigned relentlessly over several years on their behalf. Ben Jealous, the president of the N.A.A.C.P., emerged as one of the leaders of the network. The concerted effort finally paid off.

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour suspended their sentences, but a condition of their release is that Gladys donate a kidney to Jamie, as if Gladys wasn't willing to do this all along.

The prison terms were suspended — not commuted — on the condition that Gladys donate a kidney to Jamie, who is seriously ill with diabetes and high blood pressure and receives dialysis at least three times a week. Gladys had long expressed a desire to donate a kidney to her sister, but to make that a condition of her release was unnecessary, mean-spirited, inhumane and potentially coercive. It was a low thing to do.

But by making organ donation a condition of freedom Gov. Barbour also violates the medical ethics basis of 50-year-old organ donation laws. At ABC News Susan James writes

Ethicists say suspending a prison sentence on the condition that one sister give the other a kidney is a "quid pro quo" and threatens the ethical underpinnings of living donation laws.

Keep in mind — no kidney, no release.

"As soon as the governor began throwing around commutation — getting out of her prison sentence — he began to undercut the ethical framework," said Dr. Art Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania. "He has now put the sisters' donation in jeopardy because the parole is absolutely a payment, which is against the law. It would be considered pressure or coercion."

And this is at the heart of why Gov. Barbour's conditional suspension is particularly nefarious. Gladys Scott, as a prisoner, is a ward of the state of Mississippi. In essence, the state of Mississippi is saying, "We have incarcerated you; however, we will release you in exchange for a part of your body."

Felicia Cohn, bioethical director for Kaiser Permanente in Orange County, California, is cited in the James article:

"I wouldn't describe it as a gift. Essentially one sister is being paid for her kidney. It's not monetary payment, but it's her freedom, which is worth even more. Our freedom is considered invaluable."

Prisoners — wards of the state — should not have to give up body parts to gain their freedom.

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In The Huffington Post Dennis Jett turns on the lights.

…the achievements in the final days of the legislative session were truly impressive.

There are two feats that have been generally unrecognized by Washington’s chattering class however. Both deserve acknowledgment because they will affect the country’s future more than anything else this session of Congress accomplished.

The legislators affected the course of history by ensuring two future events will occur — the reelection of President Obama and the decline of the United States as a serious world power.

Jett links the decline to the tax cuts just renewed in the lame duck session.

Are the cuts justified by the weight of the tax burden? Studies done by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development demonstrate otherwise. The 34 countries in the OECD comprise the developed democracies of what used to be called the First World and a few successful developing countries from those in the Third World.

These studies show taxes as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product in the U.S. are at their lowest level since at least 1965 and are the lowest in the OECD except for Mexico and Chile. At the same time, income inequality and poverty are higher in the U.S. than any other country in the OECD except Mexico and Turkey. As for the accusations that socialism is sweeping the land, only in Korea does the redistribution of income by government have a smaller effect.

The griping about taxes will continue nonetheless. The ability of Americans to have a rational discussion on the subject was long ago put to death by Ronald Reagan’s sound bites. Government became evil and greed became a virtue.

As we know, U.S. educational achievement is in free fall.

No country can be great if its citizens are unwilling to pay for it. No country will remain great if it neglects the health and education of those citizens who lack lobbyists.

Read the whole article in The Huffington Post

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What did happen to that Disneyland Dream?

Mr. Rich covers a lot of ground in this essay; looking back at the fifties through the lens of amateur filmmaker Robbins Barstow.

Many of America’s more sweeping changes since 1956 are for the better. You can’t spot a nonwhite face among the family’s neighbors back home or at Disneyland. Indeed, according to Neal Gabler’s epic biography of Disney, civil rights activists were still pressuring the park to hire black employees as late as 1963, the same year that Martin Luther King Jr.’s march on Washington and Betty Friedan’s “Feminine Mystique” started upending the Wonder Bread homogeneity that suffuses the America of “Disneyland Dream.”

But, for all those inequities, economic equality seemed within reach in 1956, at least for the vast middle class. (Michael Harrington’s exposé of American poverty, “The Other America,” would not rock this complacency until 1962.) The sense that the American promise of social and economic mobility was attainable to anyone who sought it permeates “Disneyland Dream” from start to finish.

Is the dream still alive?

The Barstows of 1956 could not have fathomed the outrageous gap between this country’s upper class and the rest of us.

Read this article at The New York Times.

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From The New York Times-Roger Cohen

…What we are witnessing on either side of the Channel is the double whammy of a debt-ridden public sector making cuts wherever it can and a bonus-addicted private sector making cuts wherever it’s profitable — with the resultant disaster foisted on a general public now so cowed and coddled and fearful and risk-averse in the age of terror and technology that an inch or two of snow sends everyone into a blind panic…

more at The New York Times

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The Mojave River in Helendale, California, December 23, 2010; the day after a major rain storm. Much of the time, the Mojave River is bone dry. This is dramatically different.

Video from the bridge where Vista Road crosses the river.

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