May 2009

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I’ve been reading a good book about the building of the Erie Canal, Wedding of the Waters, by Peter Bernstein. It’s an interesting book about our nation’s first big public works project. Here are a few good quotes from the book.

1. The Erie Canal did not just boost commerce, it also connected the East Coast of the country with the Western lands on the other side of the Appalachian Mountains. This had long been a goal of the Founding Fathers. Jefferson and Washington tried to use the Potomac River for this purpose by improving on the existing river through the work of the Potowmack Canal Company. I loved one of the quotes from a letter to Washington in which Jefferson tries to lure Washington out of retirement to head the company. In speaking of the company’s mission, Jefferson wrote, “A most powerful objection always arises to propositions of this kind. It is, that public undertakings are carelessly managed, and much money spent to little purpose…” Still true today! Washington did take the job but the company did not achieve its goals and Washington left in 1789 because he got another job.

2. From Gouverneur Morris, the New Yorker who wrote the preamble to the Constitution and who worked to build the Erie Canal: “In the degenerate state to which democracy never fails to reduce a nation, it is almost impossible for a good man to govern, even could he get into power, or for a bad man to govern well.”

3. Morris again, in 1812. He foresaw the Civil War that was still nearly 50 years away: “Time…seems about to disclose the awful secret that commerce and domestic slavery are mortal foes; and, bound together, must destroy the other.” When Pennsylvania went for Madison instead of De Witt Clinton in the Presidential race of 1812, Morris said Pennsylvania “may be led to cover with her broad shield the slave-holding states: which so protected, may for a dozen or fifteen years exercise the privilege of strangling commerce, whipping Negroes, and bawling about the inborn inalienable rights of man.”

4. In 1829, then-Governor of New York Martin van Buren complained about railroads in a letter to President Andrew Jackson. He was concerned that the railroads would take jobs from the canal, from the “captains, cooks, drivers, hostlers, repairmen and lock tenders…not to mention farmers supplying hay for horses.” (Boats were pulled along the length of the canal by mules and horses at an average speed of four miles per hour.) He also complains that “‘railroad’ carriages are pulled along at the enormous speed of fifteen miles per hour by ‘engines’ which…[endanger] life and limb of passengers, roar and snort their way through the countryside, setting fire to crops, scaring livestock, and frightening our women and children.”

In 2001, then-appeals court judge Sonia Sotomayor gave a speech called, “A Latina Judge’s Voice.” This speech was the source of a controversial statement that has caused a firestorm. Deservedly so, in my opinion. I’ve put that statement in italics. I’ve also put in bold a portion of her lecture that I hope she keeps in mind if she is confirmed as one of the Supremes. The full speech is here (from the New York Times):

Whether born from experience or inherent physiological or cultural differences, a possibility I abhor less or discount less than my colleague Judge Cedarbaum, our gender and national origins may and will make a difference in our judging. Justice O’Connor has often been cited as saying that a wise old man and wise old woman will reach the same conclusion in deciding cases….I am also not so sure that I agree with the statement. First, as Professor Martha Minnow has noted, there can never be a universal definition of wise. Second, I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.

Let us not forget that wise men like Oliver Wendell Holmes and Justice Cardozo voted on cases which upheld both sex and race discrimination in our society. Until 1972, no Supreme Court case ever upheld the claim of a woman in a gender discrimination case. I, like Professor Carter, believe that we should not be so myopic as to believe that others of different experiences or backgrounds are incapable of understanding the values and needs of people from a different group. Many are so capable. As Judge Cedarbaum pointed out to me, nine white men on the Supreme Court in the past have done so on many occasions and on many issues including Brown.

However, to understand takes time and effort, something that not all people are willing to give. For others, their experiences limit their ability to understand the experiences of others. Other simply do not care. Hence, one must accept the proposition that a difference there will be by the presence of women and people of color on the bench. Personal experiences affect the facts that judges choose to see. My hope is that I will take the good from my experiences and extrapolate them further into areas with which I am unfamiliar. I simply do not know exactly what that difference will be in my judging. But I accept there will be some based on my gender and my Latina heritage.

It annoys me to no end that many on the left think they have some special Spidey Sense when it comes to spotting injustice. It also annoys me to no end that many on the left fail to see that white males have to work their asses off too in order to succeed. Few people who accomplish something in life get everything handed to them on a silver platter.

Here’s an annoying quote from Sotomayor’s speech:

For people of color and women lawyers, what does and should being an ethnic minority mean in your lawyering? For men lawyers, what areas in your experiences and attitudes do you need to work on to make you capable of reaching those great moments of enlightenment which other men in different circumstances have been able to reach.

I guess enlightenment here means coming to the liberal point of view? And of course, “men lawyers” need to work to attain enlightenment. Women and minorities are apparently born enlightened. This is pretty insulting, but typical of a leftist lovefest. (The speech was given at Berkeley.)

All that being said, based on my reading of this speech, Judge Sotomayor sounds like she could be a good Supreme but not because she is a Latina or had a tough childhood. I think she could be a good judge because she is thoughtful, introspective, smart, and experienced as a judge. The jury is out on “wise.”

As part of my constant mission to advance science, I have been testing various cereals. I ate a lot of cereal when I was growing up. A LOT. For breakfast, lunch and dinner. I was known around the neighborhood for eating cereal. Just ask Nicole and Pauli, who lived across the alley. My favorites as a kid were Sugar Corn Pops, Sugar Smacks, Cocoa Krispies, Lucky Charms and Moon Rocks (long discontinued). I also liked Grape-Nuts, Shredded Wheat (big biscuits) and Rice Krispies — all with many spoonfuls of sugar. As I got older the amount of sugar involved in this cereal consumption became, well, sickening. But I’ve been getting back into the cereal game. The ranked results of my testing follow:

1. Equal parts Kix, Sugar Corn Pops and Captain Crunch. Great combination. The Kix lightens the sugary punch of the other two. Captain Crunch is the secret ingredient.

2. Captain Crunch. My new favorite cereal. Not with the peanut butter (I like peanut butter but…disgusting) and not with the crunchberries.

3. Sugar Corn Pops. Not as sugary as they sound, which is good at this point in my life.

4. Honeycomb. Was never big into Honeycomb, probably because it is also somewhat less sugary. Oddly enough, I was introduced to it on a trip to Yale during college. So whenever I eat Honeycomb, I think of Yale. The brain is freaky.

5. Kix. Somewhere between sugared and non-sugared cereal.

6. Equal parts Kix and Sugar Corn Pops. Doesn’t really work.

I haven’t had the courage to try Fruit Loops, Sugar Smacks, Cocoa Krispies or some of the other cereals that seem more sugary. I don’t know if I can face the milk at the bottom of the bowl.