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The Lavender Baboon

“O comrade lustrous with silver face in the night.”

—Walt Whitman

I first heard about “brain freeze” from an amiable fellow who was vending Italian ices.  He pointed out that, if the ices were not consumed carefully, the freeze would penetrate the palate into the brain.  In fact, I did experience brain freeze that way.  But since that unpleasant episode, I have discovered another form of brain freeze, one caused by the act of reading rather than by the consumption of Italian ices.  One such painful case was provoked by an op-ed piece in Newsday (December 1, 2004), in which the former chief judge of the New York Court of Appeals, Sol Wachtler, weighed in to correct some remarks by President George W. Bush.  The President had declared that he would not nominate anyone to the Supreme Court who would have condoned the Dred Scott decision of 1857.  He said that Chief Justice Roger B. Taney’s decision was “a personal opinion.  That’s not what the Constitution says. . . . And so I would pick people that would be strict constructionists.”

The former Judge Wachtler was right to make the point that, far from being a personal opinion, Taney’s decision was against his own instinctive convictions and was rather an affirmation of the meaning of...

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