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The New York Times reports that the US Constitution is losing influence, based on a starting point of an unsourced Time report claiming in 1987 that “Of the 170 countries that exist today, more than 160 have written charters modeled directly or indirectly on the U.S. version.”

But in Time, there are no specifics. And it is hard to imagine a framer looking at the Senate (which lets you invent a state by drawing a box on the map where nobody lives and give it two Senators) or the Electoral College (about whose craziness do we really need to say anything?) and saying “Mmm, I want me some of that hot Constitutional jury-rigging.”

Were the Timesmen perhaps just counting all constitutions that have an independent president?

It turns out the actual study the NYT links is more narrow, and interesting, than Time’s blithe remark: it’s about rights. The scholars used the world’s constitutions to generate a “generic” list of rights, then calculated the similarity of actually existing constitutions to the generic list. Here’s the table of those most and least like the generic constitutional rights.

The US is not on either side. Here’s the table showing wherein the US differs from the generic constitution (which spans a page break in the article, so is split here).

“Generic” is not of course “better,” but it’s curious that we diverge so much from our fellows in guaranteeing rights – though hardly surprising in the areas of unionization and property rights.

In the current New Yorker one can see, within four pages, three celebrated gender-benders get taken apart by two critics.

First John Lahr says Cynthia Nixon is, well, not really smart enough to star in Wit:

The good luck of the original production and of the 2001 film version was that they featured tart, alert, commanding actresses – Kathleen Chalfant and Emma Thompson – who could embody the psychological profile of the droll, arrogant, solitary, bluestocking professor. The bad luck of this revival … is that it does not. Cynthia Nixon, who is known to one and all as Miranda Hobbes in “Sex and the City,” plays Vivian without Chalfant’s and Thompson’s rebarbative wallop.

Let’s pause here to say (a) who wants to follow Emma Thompson in a role? and (b) what Lahr doesn’t say is that relative to the other three lead characters in “Sex and the City,” Miranda was the intellectual, which may be the source of the confusion here.

… she can’t see the wink in the words … Although Nixon, who has fought her own battle with cancer, is entirely believable as a patient, as an academic she never really convinces the audience that she knows what she’s talking about. Suzanne Bertish, as … Vivian’s … mentor … exudes a very specific intellectual gravity, which only compounds the sense of Nixon’s being outside her tole. Nixon is best when pain pushes Vivian beyond the words … and she whimpers for solace.

A left-handed compliment if ever there were one. Better when she whimpers! Moving on.

Anthony Lane on Madonna as director of W.E. – and really, there was never going to be a good outcome here, but:

Recent reports from Liverpool claimed that irate moviegoers had come out of “The Artist” complaining that there were no words in it, and asking for their money back. In the same spirit, I hereby demand a refund for “W.E.,” because of its outrageous lack of sex. What on earth is the point of a Madonna product, in any medium, if it contains not a single orgy? … It didn’t have to be this way. What Madonna should have done … is to buy the movie rights to “Full Service” (Grove Press), a new memoir by Scotty Bowers. He made his reputation by sleeping with everyone in Hollywood who wasn’t actually Lassie, and how he tells all. If you If you ever suspected that Spencer Tracy was bisexual and Tyrone Power a coprophiliac, and if you happen to believe everything you read, here is all the testimony you require. Bowers takes particular pride in the services that he performed for, and with, the Duke and Duchess on a visit to America: “Essentially, he was gay and she was a dyke.” Ah, happy days … Bowers’s reveries have fanned the flames, and it is a shame that Madonna should come along and douse them.

I’ve hidden one of Lane’s best lines in the last ellipse, just for fun.

Then Lane wheels about to dismiss Glenn Close, for Albert Nobbs.

… the problem with such indecision, as voiced by Close, is it makes Albert sound like a simpleton, regardless of the agonies that may be imposed upon society by the need for sexual choice. That is why “Albert Nobbs” awakes so bracingly whenever Janet McTeer marches into view. She plays Hubert Page … [b]y a merry coincidence, Hubert, too, turns out to be a woman underneath … she is no perhapser, but a thoroughgoing yes-woman, like Molly Bloom … Imagine a different film on a similar theme, with Hubert moved to center stage and Garcia replaced by Pedro Almodóvar, for whom cross-dressers in a Catholic country would be meat and drink. Poor Albert could then retreat into the shadows, where he so evidently belongs …

Gendered readings of these critiques, if any, are left as an exercise for the comments.

Franklin Roosevelt’s worst decision was Executive Order 9066, “Authorizing the Secretary of War to Prescribe Military Areas”, which is to say, interning Americans of Japanese descent.

The decision for internment had nothing to do with intelligence (particularly, as often alleged, from MAGIC cables) and everything to do with the conviction that “a Jap is a Jap,” as General John DeWitt said. I’ve never been very happy with historical explanations that start and end with “it’s racism,” but really … it’s racism. You can tell of course because there’s no similar simultaneous effort against Americans of German descent. You can tell because of Japoteurs and “Slap the Dirty Little Jap” and lots of other examples.

For my family, the war was the European war. My grandfather, a German-born American, had no trouble the way Japanese Americans did; he flew a bomber for the US in the war. We had the luxury of remembering the war the way white people often do – without considering how much better we’ve had it because of our whiteness.

It’s profoundly difficult to integrate the psychology of the Pacific War and the European War for the US, either when considering them from the standpoint of history or of memory.

As a followup to this letter, Jason Kottke and others did some research on Jourdan Anderson’s further life. It looks like it was a good one:

At the time, Anderson and his wife Mandy were in their 70s and had been married for 52 years. Mandy had borne 11 children, six of whom were still living (Anderson’s letter, written in 1865, references five children, two of whom were “brought to shame by the violence and wickedness of their young masters”…not sure if they had died or not). The three children living with them in 1900 were all in their 20s, born several years after the letter was written.

Obviously, it could have been a life of family turmoil, but I prefer (in the absence of evidence to the contrary) to envision one of domestic happiness and calm. I also have this tiny little fantasy that every Christmas, Mr. Anderson sent a Christmas card to his former enslaver. “Still free.”

Charles Pierce (who is awesome) included this in his touching remembrance of Don Cornelius. Ad agencies really should use historical figures as pitchmen more often.

Drones for human rights, in Syria!

This sounds a lot like surveillance, and it would be. It would violate Syrian airspace, and perhaps a number of Syrian and international laws. It isn’t the kind of thing nongovernmental organizations usually do. But it is very different from what governments and armies do. Yes, we (like them) have an agenda, but ours is transparent: human rights. We have a duty, recognized internationally, to monitor governments that massacre their own people in large numbers. Human rights organizations have always done this. Why not get drones to assist the good work?

Surface to air missile:

A surface-to-air missile (SAM) or ground-to-air missile (GTAM) is a missile designed to be launched from the ground to destroy aircraft or other missiles. It is one type of anti-aircraft system; in modern armed forces missiles have replaced most other forms of dedicated anti-aircraft weaponry, with the anti-aircraft cannon pushed into niche roles.

The Syrian military appears to have more than 4000 of such missiles, and I suspect that they would have a few available in restive areas.

On the other hand, I did, in fact, read the entire op-ed, which is more than can be said for this morning’s crop.

Author Title Word or Phrase That Caused Me To Stop Reading and Hurl the Paper Against the Wall Number of Words I Actually Read
Friedman The Politics of Dignity “From: A traveler to Cairo and Moscow” 18
Dowd Who’s Tough Enough? “Obambi” 53
Nugent (not Ted, unfortunately) I Had Asperger Syndrome. Briefly “Briefly” 4
Hyman The House That George Romney Built Okay, I read the whole thing 647

(The category, by the way, is an Internet meme, repurposed for anything so appalling stupid it causes eye-bleeding.)

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