July 19, 2004

Random Links of the Day

Here's an especially random selection of interesting links:

  • In The New York Times, Brent Staples discusses the latest chapter in the Essie Mae Washington-Williams saga: Strom Thurmond's illegitimate African-American daughter has applied to join the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
  • In The New Republic, Jonathan Chait has written a sobering (and mostly convincing) account of why the Bush administration is the most undemocratic in recent U.S. history.
  • Will we someday have a pharmacological remedy for infidelity? Walter Kirn asks this question in The New York Times Magazine.
  • Was Merlin really a sixth-century leader of the Picts? (Or, in other words, was King Arthur a little more accurate that you might think?) The Independent reviews a new book called Merlin: Shaman, Prophet, Magician.
  • The Guardian has published a charming obituary of the radical journalist Paul Foot. (via Crooked Timber)
  • The Telegraph, meanwhile, has published an obituary of the lexicographer Robert Burchfield (editor of the most recent edition of Fowler's Modern English Usage). (via the Blog of Death)
  • The Telegraph reviews a new book on the British victims of Stalin.
  • The New Yorker interviews the author of a recent article on "nerd camp."
  • The Chronicle of Higher Education discusses the psychology of deja vu. (Registration may be required)
  • According to The Guardian, scholars have now learned the identity of Geoffrey Chaucer's careless scribe.

As always, I may add to this list later on.

Posted by Ed at July 19, 2004 09:02 PM


Jonathan Chait doesn't do enough comparisons to support the claim that Bush is the most undemocratic president in recent history. The alternative candidate I'm thinking of is FDR. Besides the mentioned attempted court-packing scheme (which is likely more egregious than any of Bush's misdoings), the best evidence for FDR's attempts to undermine the democratic process is the huge amount of executive orders he issued. He issued 3,732 executive orders. Although I do not have data for GWB, the closest as of 1999 was Eisenhower, with 405. I think this is more telling than how many solo press conferences a president gave. Then again, maybe FDR is not a "recent" president.

However, my main criticism of the article, and of much of the current political zeitgeist, is the focus on how democratic a country is, as opposed to how much it protects individual rights. We are certainly an intellectual world apart from Madison's take on democracy in his Federalist Paper number 10. I couldn't care less if Iraq becomes a democracy. Zimbabwe, Algeria and Iran also fashion themselves as democracies. What Iraq needs is a limited government, limited by a strong constitution upholding individual rights (what those should be is a whole other ball of wax).

I think it would be more appropriate to judge FDR on how he steamrolled the sanctity of the contract (minimum-wage laws), tried to install fascist industry-wide governing boards (NIRA), tried to fix production and prices (AAA), and stole citizen's property (the executive order commanding the seizure gold on 5 April 1933).

It would also be more appropriate to attack Bush for the Patriot Act and the Family Marriage Amendment for their attempts to bypass (or change) the Constitution.

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Posted by: lolita at January 19, 2005 08:54 PM
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