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128 posts from March 2006

March 31, 2006

And They Cook Too

Atct1

Ginger Mayerson and Kathy Flake have compiled recipes from around the blogosphere to raise money for Doctors Without Borders. The new cookbook, entitled "And They Cook Too", is now available.

Recipes include Julia's stracciatella in brodo, Pam Spaulding's tarragon chicken salad, Elayne Riggs' guacamole deviled eggs, NTodd's Beef Strogonoff, and many others. (See full table of contents.) Two of my recipes are included as well, my great grandmother's brown bread and my favorite chocolate birthday cake. All this for only $15.00 and all to benefit an excellent cause. Did I mention that Tilde did the graphic design?

Sopranos sixth season predictions

Antonin Scalia says that his critics have seen too many episodes of The Sopranos. No doubt he's right. After three episodes of  The Sopranos I'm going to make a few predictions for the sixth and final season.

Tony Soprano will survive Season 6 and he will probably stay out of jail. He will live to see his empire unravel. 

The decline of the mafia is a long-running theme in The Sopranos. At some level, all the characters understand that the glory days mob are over. At this point, Tony looks like the last don. The old traditions are crumbling and there's no clear line of succession. His son AJ is weak and  ineffectual and his nephew Christopher is distracted and embittered. So far, Tony has held the family together through cunning and charisma. However, now that Tony has been shot and severely incapacitated, he will be hard pressed to hold on to power.

I expect captains Vito and Paulie to challenge Tony's leadership very soon. They've already been set up as the disloyal schemers who didn't want to kick in their share the Colombian heist to Carmela when Tony was in the hospital.

In the last episode, Vito had Phil Leotardo over for dinner. Phil is the acting boss of New York now that Johnny Sac is in jail. Last season, Tony Soprano thwarted Jimmy's desire to torture Tony's cousin to death. Tony's cousin killed Phil's brother in a clear violation of protocol. Technically Phil was entitled to deal with his brother's killer as he saw fit. However, Tony killed his cousin before Phil could get to him. Phil didn't get closure. So, he's still nursing a vicious grudge against Tony.

Ann Althouse expects Vito to get whacked soon because he's too fat and boring to be a main character. I'm not so sure. Vito is getting a new lease on life in the sixth season. Previously, he was just a fat perv. Now, he's slimmed down and talking himself up as the young healthy man who's ready to lead the Jersey mob. He's clearly sizing up the vengeful Phil as an ally. Vito may get whacked eventually, either by Tony's people or by New York, but not before he makes a major move against Tony.

I predict that Silvio will be the next major character to get killed. Episodes 2 and 3 remind us that Sil is old school and loyal to Tony. As acting boss, Sil safeguards Tony's interests and insists that the other captains chip in for Carmela.

Sil's key decision as acting boss is to come down on Paulie and Vito when they try to hold out on Carmela. The conflict between Sil the two recalcitrant captains establishes Sil as a traditionalist holding the line against the unscrupulous upstarts. Paulie and Vito don't follow the Mafia's moral code. If they did, they would feel an obligation to take care of Carmela and the kids the way Tony took care of Big Pussy's widow Angie.

In an important conversation just before Tony wakes up, Vito and Paulie agree that paying Carm is waste of money if Tony is on the way out. As far as they are concerned, they don't owe Carm a thing once Tony's dead. They only pay up when they realize that Tony is going to wake up after all.

When Vito and Paulie hand over the cash to Carmela at the hospital they put on a dutiful show, but Carm catches the expressions on their faces before the elevator door slides shut. She realizes that these guys aren't loyal to her or her husband.  Now Carm realizes the awful truth: Tony can't command the loyalty of his entourage. She now knows that the code is dead. Tony always told Carm that "the family" would look after her if anything happened to him.  Now she's starting to realize that Tony's captains don't care about their traditional responsibilities. If he falters, they will cut her loose.

Sil appears to be sidelined in Episode 3 when he is hospitalized for a stress-induced asthma attack. This is an important development because it shows that Tony's staunchest ally is nearly as weak as Tony.

Nor can Tony expect much help from his nephew Christopher who who's busy making a mobster horror move. In this season, Chris takes advantage of Tony's infirmity to go back on his promise to his uncle to give up the movie business and dedicate his life to the mob. Chris tells the stuporous Tony that he's entitled to do the movie project because he sacrificed his girlfriend Adrianna. (Chris turned over Adrianna in season five when he found out that she was snitching to the FBI.)

When Tony emerges from the coma at the end of Episode 3, a lot of staring and drooling ensues. We are to conclude that the doctors' dire predictions have come true and that Tony is severely brain damaged. No doubt he will recover considerably, but it's going to be a long road back. (We can only hope that Tony's recovery will mean an end to the pretentious "Kev Infinity" dream sequence.)

The writers have been fascinated by the intersection dementia and criminality since the first season. They've already explored this theme twice before: Tony's mother and Uncle Junior. Mafia dramas are about nested propositional attitudes: "He knows that I know that I she knows..." Dementia adds a new dimension. Sometimes it's advantageous to let people think that you don't know what's going on, even if you do. On the other hand, if you are losing your faculties, you've got to hide your weakness from people who might want to take advantage.

A lot of people expect Tony's loser son  AJ to die soon. Tony and Carmela always worried that AJ would find his way into the mob. The kid is clearly too soft and stupid to survive for long in the underworld. However, he just flunked out of college and recently set himself the task of executing Uncle Junior for shooting his dad. Tony's associates talked AJ out of it this time. The writers are clearly hinting that Tony's spoiled son is on his way out. I'm sure AJ's character is ultimately doomed, but I'm not sure whether he's in imminent danger.

In a key sequence in Episode 3, Carmela exploded at AJ and told him that he was nothing more than a cross for his family to bear. I suspect that the writers won't kill off AJ any time soon because he's a well-developed character who's poised to get into interesting trouble.

Tony's brother-in-law Bobby is another wildcard. Bobby is one of Tony's captains, but he's also a loyal henchman of Uncle Junior, the former titular head of the Soprano family. Now that Junior is in jail for shooting Tony, Bobby is fighting Tony's other captains for his share of Junior's old turf. Bobby is angry at Paulie and Vito for cheating him out collections in Junior's neighborhood. (I think that the big Colombian heist also took place in a disputed zone. Bobby doesn't know that yet, but it's safe to assume that he'll find out soon.) I'm going to take a flier and suggest that Bobby will side with Tony in the upcoming power struggle with Vito and his allies. By the end of the show, Bobby could easily end up running the Soprano family.  

Okay. Those are my predictions. I'm dying to know what uber-Sopranophile Scott Lemieux thinks as we approach Episode 4.

US to test bunkerbuster "Divine Strake"

The US announced plans to test a huge non-nuclear "bunkerbuster" bomb in Nevada in early June. They call the bomb "Divine Strake". And instead of giving their weapon a name that everyone will assume is a typo, why don't they just call it "Flaming Sword of Christ" and get it over with?

So, what's a strake?

New Orleans public housing debate

Debate rages over the fate of New Orleans' 7000 public housing units. The  U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) oversees the units but says it won't do anything before consulting with Mayor Ray Nagin and Governor Kathleen Blanco. Facing South has more.

Continue reading "New Orleans public housing debate" »

March 30, 2006

Scalia suggested that his critics go take it up the ass

Scalia There's been a lot of agonizing about whether Antonin Scalia made an obscene gesture to a Boston reporter, or merely a contemptuous one.

Scalia seems to be directing the spin: Split hairs over the meaning of the gesture, and hope people forget the obscene suggestion that accompanied it.

Herald reporter Laurel J. Sweet had asked the justice after mass how he responds to critics who might question his impartiality as a judge given his public worship. Smith said for today's paper: “The judge paused for a second, then looked directly into my lens and said, ‘To my critics, I say, Vaffanculo,' punctuating the comment by flicking his right hand out from under his chin."

The Italian phrase, according to the Herald, means “(expletive) you.” [E&P]

A more literal translation of vaffanculo is "go take it up the ass." I'm sure Scalia thought that was very witty for a split second, considering how much criticism he gets over his opinion in Lawrence v. Texas.

Frankly, I don't care whether Scalia is making obscene suggestions to reporters. It's more or less what we've come to expect from him. Besides which, civil discourse is probably overrated.

I don't know whether it's especially rude to say that your critics can go Cheney themselves immediately after Red Mass. You'd have to ask someone who takes that stuff seriously.

Hat tip to NTodd.

Kaloogian blames the troops

The shorter Rep. Ben Kaloogian (R-Ca): It's the army's fault that I tried to pass off a photo of suburban Istanbul as a Baghdad street scene.

Recommended reading

The Guardian NewsBlog on Wrigley's research institute dedicated to establishing the health benefits of chewing gum.

A White Bear on empiricism.

Kevin Hayden: Scalia's lie exposed!

Scott Lemieux on Dan Savage on Iraq.

Martin Wisse on negerzoen.

Robin Varghese on Cultural Determinism and Democracy.

Goodlatte's war on style

Rep. Bob Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican may sponsor legislation to ban style as we know it.

You see, Goodlatte wants to outlaw what he calls "fashion piracy":

Designers like Diane Von Furstenberg, Narciso Rodriguez and Zac Posen have been journeying there to lobby for copyright protections like those governing books, music and other creative arts. Mr. Posen was in Washington on Tuesday with Steven Kolb, the executive director of the council, who said a bill could be introduced in Congress as early as today by Representative Bob Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican.

Mr. Rodriguez designed the white slip wedding gown worn by Caroline Bessette Kennedy in 1996, a style that inspired innumerable brides to don copies, and Ms. Von Furstenberg's signature wrap dresses have been copied so many times that she may no longer wish to be associated with them. They are asking lawmakers to support a proposed fashion design anti-piracy act.

If passed, it could change the retail landscape in ways merchants and designers are only beginning to absorb. Major department stores with private labels, which often include close copies of designer looks, are divided on the proposed law because they also do business with the offended designers.

[NYT]

Note that we're not talking about the fake Louis Vuitton bags that you find on Canal Street in Manhattan. Those are already illegal.

Goodlatte is trying to prevent designers from The Gap from spotting argyle socks on the runway and coming out with argyles of their own. So-called fashion piracy is just fashion: Designers set the trends, and mass marketers adapt them.

March 29, 2006

Abramoff senetenced for Sun Cruz fraud

Jack Abramoff was sentenced to nearly 6 years in prison for his involvement in the Sun Cruz
fraud case. The disgraced Republican lobbyist won't start his jail term until after he finishes cooperating with the authorities in the political corruption case. [AP]

Hat tip to reader John.

Closure, pop psychology, and the death penalty

I am deeply suspicious of the concept of closure. The general public and policy-makers take it as an article of faith that there is something called closure that the criminal justice system can help provide. Even Dalia Lithwick takes it more or less for granted that closure is real. She just questions whether executions are the best way to help survivors achieve it.

Intuitively, we all know more or less what closure is supposed to be. At first grief is overwhelming and all-consuming, but eventually it fades enough for the bereaved person to get on with life.  Closure has something to do with that transition.

Upon closer examination, the concept of closure turns out to be much more elusive that we might have supposed.

Closure might refer the emotional shift from acute grief to emotional healing. Alternatively, might to describe some psychological or practical prerequisites that must be in place in order for a person to transcend acute grief (e.g., time, insight, restitution...).

Sometimes we speak of closure as a property of circumstance rather than  a psychological state. Executions are sometimes said to provide closure because the the murderer's death expunges the criminal. Once an offender has been put to death, survivors know that the process has reached a final and definitive end. The perp is gone. There will be no more appeals, no possiblity of clemency, and no more nagging awareness that the killer still alive. Some people call that definitive resolution "closure" and say that survivors have a right to see these loose ends tied up.

Conceptual confusions aside, the problem with closure is that it medicalizes retributivism. Closure has almost no scientific currency, but it has a psychological/psychiatric ring to it. Allegedly, closure is the healthy resolution for grief. On this view, people who won't rest until they see a killer executed are lacking something that they need for mental health. By appealing to their need for closure, we cast them as sick people who need something in order to get better.

If closure is a psychological process, you can't argue about what ought to enable people to come to terms with their loss. Medicalization masks the moral dimensions of the desire for retribution. According the medical model, it's just a fact that some people need to see an execution in order to get better. By reifying closure, we exempt survivors from moral judgement. Wanting to see someone executed reflects one's character in a way that needing one would not. For all its faults, retributivism demands proportionality. It is only considered fair to demand what you are owed. Retributivists think that proportionate demands are morally worthy but that excessive demands for vengance are morally suspect in and of themselves.

Medicalization sidesteps questions of justice. According to old fashioned retributivism, victims are entitled to see their loved ones avenged. This concept of entitlement is rooted in justice, not benificence. Retributivists say that victims have a right to see offenders punished fairly, not to whatever punishment makes them feel the best. Once we start talking about providing closure for survivors, we ellide the questions of justice. Closure is supposed to be something that survivors need for their mental health. Closure is about what makes someone feel better, not about what is just. By assigning such overwhelming importance to the nebulous idea of closure, we are outsourcing retributivism. We are saying that survivors need to exact retribution in order to heal, perhaps because they regard a particular punishment as the only acceptable outcome. Appeals to closure are an excuse to ignore the question of whether we think what they want is just.