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February 21, 2016

Sunday Morning Book Thread 02-21-2016: The Original Jurist [OregonMuse]

Livraria da Vila in São Paulo, Brazil

Good morning to all of you morons and moronettes and bartenders everywhere and all the ships at sea. And to all you young lovers wherever you are, we hope your problems are few. Welcome to AoSHQ's stately, prestigious, internationally acclaimed and high-class Sunday Morning Book Thread. The Sunday Morning Book Thread is the only AoSHQ thread that is so hoity-toity, pants are required.

I am an addict of books. You can have all the newspapers, periodicals, movies, radio (and TV). The enduring culture of mankind is in books.
--Morris Ernst


So I would like to extend a laurel -- and hearty handshake -- to all the n00bs who have come here to this Smart Military Blog™ (that's an "in" joke) within the last few days. By way of background, ace's Friday and Saturday nights are usually spent out late, hobo hunting, quaffing ValuRite/Pine-Sol cocktails, or both, and so on weekends, he likes to "sleep in". And since nature abhors a vacuum, content never sleeps, and blogs gotta blog, this gave rise to a number of topical threads posted in his absence by ace's cob loggers or others, like me, who've managed to finagle the keys to the blog from ace. So on weekends, you'll see a food thread, a gardening thread, maybe a gun thread, a college football thread (seasonal, of course) and an NFL thread or two (also seasonal) on Sundays. And I've heard that there's even a pet thread now.

And then there's this one, the AoSHQ Sunday Morning Book Thread, which has been a tradition since - oh, I don't know, I think since about 2009. I, OregonMuse, am your host and I've been the proprietor of the book thread since 2012. I usually post it no later than 9am Eastern Time.

With that in mind, there are some rules you need to remember. They're tough, but fair:

1. Pants: Wear 'em. Unlike the more relaxed standards elsewhere on AoSHQ, I run a classy joint, so that means pants. And no fair trying to sneak by with tutus or assless chaps. And whatever you wear must not frighten small children.

2. Books: Read 'em. The life of the SMBT resides chiefly in the comments, and the material I provide is for the facilitation of book discussions. I encourage discussion of all aspects of the written word, books, poetry, plays, and the writing of same. And even though you'll run into a number of actual, published authors, the book thread is not for writers only. Most of the on-topic comments are about books that are being read, recommended, and reviewed. So what you do is to read a book, and write a comment about it. If you like it, praise it. If you don't, complain about it. Or you can just skim the comments looking for good recommendations.

3. Trolls: Don't feed 'em. This is easy, because we hardly ever get any on the book thread. I think this is mostly because they're still hiding under the bed so their Mom won't drag them off to church. And most of our low-watt trolls can't read, anyway, so they generally like to be elsewhere.

The book thread e-mail address is included at the bottom of every book thread in a visually "encrypted" format. This is in order to escape detection by robot e-mail address scoopers used by spammers. I can be contacted via that address.

And so, enough intro. Let's get started.

The Mold Is Broken

The news of Antonin Scalia's death came last Saturday after the SMBT was finished and in the can, so I didn't get the chance to mention it. All I will say about his passing is that the news hit me in the gut like Andrew Breitbart's did, a double whammy, not only the pain of losing a good man and a valiant warrior, but also with the additional sadness that I just don't see how any judge with anything close to his views and intellectual acumen will ever again be confirmed to the Supreme Court, not in my lifetime.

When it came to interpreting the constitution, Scalia was an "originalist", which definition wikipedia lists as "the view that interpretation of a written constitution or law should be based on what reasonable persons living at the time of its adoption would have declared the ordinary meaning of the text to be." There are actually more than one variety or originalism, but I'm not going to split the hairs that finely. The truth is, Scalia was one kind, and not another. But for the purposes of this discussion, I will just say that Scalia was an originalist and call it good. The wiki page on originalism contains a good discussion of its fine points.

Scalia explains how this view applies to legal interpretation in his book A Matter of Interpretation: Federal Courts and the Law, in which he

...proposes that we abandon the notion of an everchanging Constitution and pay attention to the Constitution's original meaning. Although not subscribing to the "strict constructionism" that would prevent applying the Constitution to modern circumstances, Scalia emphatically rejects the idea that judges can properly "smuggle" in new rights or deny old rights by using the Due Process Clause, for instance. In fact, such judicial discretion might lead to the destruction of the Bill of Rights if a majority of the judges ever wished to reach that most undesirable of goals.

As far as I'm concerned, another term to describe Scalia's view is "common sense". It's the way we interpret pretty much any other text. Like if Mrs. Muse writes me a note telling me to pick up a dozen eggs and a quart of milk on the way home from work, I can't walk in the door with two pounds of hobo jerky and a gallon jug of ValuRite and claim I did what she asked. Her note wasn't a "living document". It had a specific, fixed meaning, and was written with the assumption that it could be understood by the recipient. So why should the United States Constitution be any different?

As I said, "originalism" is simply the method everybody uses every day to communicate. But here's the funny part: even when liberal jurists are denying originalism, they're actually relying on originalism in order for their words to be understood by everyone else. Ironic, no? So if someone like Justice Stephen Breyer writes a book that proposes an alternate method of constitional interpretation, whatever he thinks it should be doesn't matter, because what it inevitably boils down to is "originalism for me, but not for thee."

It's only when we get into the realm of constitutional law that the original meaning suddenly gets thrown overboard like it's some sort of unattainable or inconvenient ideal. My challenge to the "living document" crowd is, try this with the IRS. If the tax guys ever call you in because there's some questions about yout 1040, tell the agents that your tax return is a "living document", that it doesn't have a fixed meaning, and that it needs to be interpreted according to the exigencies of the present moment. Go on, try it. See how far you get. If you're lucky, they may laugh heartily as they call for the bailiff with the handcuffs.

The "living constitution" view can best be described by another term, "making stuff up."

pooh trek.jpg

Of course Scalia was a superb writer, trenchant, witty, and always interesting, especially in his dissenting opinions. Some of these have been collected and published as a book, called, appropriate enough, Scalia Dissents: Writings of the Supreme Court's Wittiest, Most Outspoken Justice. These were compiled by Kevin Ring, former counsel to the U.S. Senate's Constitution Subcommittee, who also provided helpful background on the opinions and a primer on Justice Scalia's judicial philosophy.

A couple of the one star reviews complain that you have to be a lawyer to understand what Scalia is saying, but another reveiwer says

Ring has taken selected issues and presented them at three levels: The first level, the issue itself i.e. Abortion or Free Speech etc. and is his own words describes the issue. At the second level he has taken the specific case that relates to the issues and explains, in plain easy to understand language, the essence of the particular case. Finally he lets Scalia speak for himself with the actual text of Scalia's opinions written for the specific decision. You do not have to be a Constitutional Scholar to gain an understanding of the issues, the Supreme Court cases or Scalia's decisions.

On a related note, are you all familiar with the author E. D. Hirsch? He is best known for his series of "cultural literacy" books, starting with Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know, where he argues that Americans are losing their ability to communicate with each other because universal knowledge of certain core items has disappeared, and this needs to be recovered (hence his follow-up books, Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, What Your First Grader Needs to Know, What Your Second Grader Needs To Know, etc.). Even though he cultural literacy thing hit the big-time around 1988, I was actually familiar with this author prior to that, because one of the required texts for a biblical interpretation class I took in 1985 was his earlier book, Validity In Interpretation. This is more of an academically-oriented book that argues that a text can only mean what its author intended it to mean, and that there is a difference between the "meaning" of a text and its "significance" for an individual or community -- which may go beyond the author's original intent. Once those two things are understood, you can avoid the postmodernist hookah fumes, and, by extension, all the "living document" crapola.

However, I do think it's kind of weird that somebody has to write a book just to defend common sense.

The Tomorrows of Yesterday

So I was watching Blade Runner the other night and you remember how it opens, with that panoramic view of future dystopian Los Angeles (and really, is there any other kind?) spotted with what appear to be oil wells, out of which burst random exploding gouts of flame, and then, out from the center left of the screen comes... a flying car! A FLYING CAR! Holy crap, it's 2016, why aren't we all jetting around in flying cars? Ones with glass domes, like the cities are supposed to have? Come on, people, it's 2016 already, what are we waiting for?

So with that in mind, I ask you, where's all the cool stuff?

I was surprised to discover there's a number of books that deal with these topics. For those of us who read every issue of "Popular Mechanics" back in the day, especially articles like "What Will The World Be Like In... 1975?" (because 1975 seemed so far away. Really, it did).

Popular Mechanics: The Wonderful Future that Never Was: Flying Cars, Mail Delivery by Parachute, and Other Predictions from the Past:

Between 1903 and 1969, scientists and other experts made hundreds of predictions in Popular Mechanics about what the future would hold. Here are the very best of them, complete with the original, visually stunning retro art plus chapter introductions by astrophysics professor, science-fiction author, and former NASA advisor Gregory Benford.

Aluminum clothing, glass cities with multiple underground levels, personal vehicles with vertical take-off, now that's what I'm talking about!

There's also Where's My Jetpack?: A Guide to the Amazing Science Fiction Future that Never Arrived by Daniel Wilson, very much in the same vein.

And then Your Flying Car Awaits: Robot Butlers, Lunar Vacations, and Other Dead-Wrong Predictions of the Twentieth Century by Paul Milo is a hilarious compendium of stuff that didn't happen:

Paul Milo's fascinating book examines predictions and prognostications made during the early to mid twentieth century, analyzes the thinking behind the people who made them, and summarizes where the thinking went wrong or where things got off track. Sometimes the predictors were just overly enthusiastic, like the many who thought we'd have moon colonies and be making Mars expeditions by now. Other times cooler heads prevailed, as with the fortunate realization that using nuclear bombs to dig canals and build highways through the Amazon rainforest wasn't such a good idea. And sometimes things didn't work out the way the predictors thought because of unforeseen developments, like the collapse of the Soviet Union.

This book is not so much about cool stuff, but rather about predicted trends and events. And yes, the fearless prognostications of Paul Ehrlich, one of the original ''Wizards of Smart", are covered.

And, on a final note, does anyone remember the date that is displayed at the beginning of Blade Runner? Heh. It's November, 2019. Yeah, that's right. In just 3 short years, Los Angeles will look like a dismal, high-tech sewer and flying cars will be zipping by overhead. I can hardly wait.

Who Dat

I've never really paid much attention to the various incarnations of the Dr. Who series, but moron commenter CBD showed me The Scientific Secrets of Doctor Who. So for you Dr. Who fans:

With commentary that explores the possibilities of time travel, life on other planets, artificial intelligence, parallel universes and more, Simon Guerrier and Dr. Marek Kukula show how Doctor Who uses science to inform its unique style of storytelling—and just how close it has often come to predicting future scientific discoveries.

This book is your chance to be the Doctor's companion and explore what's out there. It will make you laugh, and think, and see the world around you differently.

Note that this book features every incarnation of the Doctor. As a non-fan, I've always been amused that the fact that there have been various actors who have played the Doctor role gets interwoven into the Whoniverse (Ha! I thought up that word just now but it sounded too good not to already exist, so I Googled it -- and, just as I thought, it turns out to be already invented and already in widespread use). So I'm going to shut up now, because I'm a completely n00b on this subject.


A famous author has passed:

Author Nelle Harper Lee, who won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1961 for her book, "To Kill a Mockingbird," passed away in her sleep Friday morning at the age of 89, her family has confirmed.

Hank Conner, Lee's nephew and a spokesman for the family, said in a statement Friday morning..."Ms. Lee passed away in her sleep early this morning. Her passing was unexpected. She remained in good basic health until her passing."

Lee's TKAM follow-up novel, To Set A Watchman, was released a few months ago.

You know what other author has passed? Umberto Eco:

The Italian writer and philosopher Umberto Eco, best known for his novel The Name of the Rose, has died aged 84.

His family says he passed away late on Friday at his home. No further details were given.

The Name of the Rose was made into a film in 1986 starring Scottish actor Sean Connery.

I enjoyed reading The Name of the Rose back in the day. Didn't much like the movie adaptation, though.


Don't forget the AoSHQ reading group on Goodreads. It's meant to support horde writers and to talk about the great books that come up on the book thread. It's called AoSHQ Moron Horde and the link to it is here: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/175335-aoshq-moron-horde.


So that's all for this week. As always, book thread tips, suggestions, bribes, rumors, threats, and insults may be sent to OregonMuse, Proprietor, AoSHQ Book Thread, at the book thread e-mail address: aoshqbookthread, followed by the 'at' sign, and then 'G' mail, and then dot cee oh emm.

What have you all been reading this week? Hopefully something good, because, as you all know, life is too short to be reading lousy books.

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