September 20, 2020

I watched the Sunday morning shows — 4 of them! — after shunning them for years, and I can boil them down for you.

The most interesting thing was this bizarre malfunction from Nancy Pelosi:

The boil-down is easy: Replacing Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a completely political event, where there are constitutionally defined powers that will be exercised to their utmost. Nothing more is needed, and nothing can be done about it, and each party will do what the other party would do if the roles were reversed. And that's the same thing they did in 2016 after Justice Scalia died.

Good morning! Sunday morning! See ya!

"Trump wasn’t elected because Clinton was cordially detested. What American presidential candidate since George Washington hasn’t been?"

"She was dull on the stump. But if dullness were politically fatal, the entire American political system would have been in the cemetery with President Harrison since 1841. (He gave a two-hour inaugural address in freezing rain, then caught a cold and died a month later.) Clinton’s 'popular vote' victory was and is inconsequential. America, since its founding, has had a devolved system of voting for the president that eschews nationwide first-past-the-post to give more obscure regions (our Scotlands) a greater say than weight of population would allow. She and Trump knew the rules. The cheating would have been different in a different game. Russian electoral interference was doubtless factual but doubtfully culpable. I’ve spent time in Russia. The idea that the Russians could fine-tune America’s enormously complex machinery of election is … I’ve driven Russian cars. And there’s no use blaming Trump’s election on the rise of populism. 'Populism' is an epithetic catch-all in use whenever the ideas popular with the good and the great aren’t popular.... America is what you get when you turn a random horde of people loose in a vast and various space. Some came here on the make, some on the run, some were dragged here involuntarily as slaves, some were chased here by poverty, oppression or bigotry and some were here already and were defeated by disease and demographics until they became foreigners in their own country. The bunch of us have never got along...."

From "Trump v Biden: PJ O’Rourke on why this US election is the craziest yet/Why on earth isn’t Joe Biden set for a landslide? The inimitable political commentator takes a ringside seat at the election circus" by (obviously) P.J. O'Rourke writing in the Times of London.



... had a young audience today:


"If you are between the ages of 18 and 29, I mean hell, even a little bit older. If you’re between the ages of 18 and 35, 40, you have the ability to turn the outcome of this election. Period. Period."

I mean, hell! I'm about to turn 70. My son is about to turn 40. My son is in her I-mean-hell zone. He barely counts anymore. Too old! Oldies step aside. The young ones are taking over, and they know what's what. Period. Period. Period.

And by "her," I mean Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, from "AOC Speech Transcript on RBG Death & What Democrats Should Do Next."
People say, “Oh my gosh, why is everyone in our government so old?” I don’t want to be ageist or anything like that, but we want a government that’s diverse....
So get out and vote for 77-year-old Joe Biden. Old white man Joe. It's your only choice. For diversity!
... I understand why people say, “I don’t vote. What’s the point?” I really empathize with it. I’m not here to dismiss you. I’m not here to poo-poo you. I’m not here to say you’re wrong or that you’re a bad person. What I’m here to say is that this year, this election, voting for Joe Biden is not about whether you agree with him. It’s a vote to let our democracy live another day. That’s what this is about....
You  have no choice.

"[Sandra Day] O’Connor... retired at 75 to spend more time with her husband, John. He was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease..."

"... and O’Connor wanted to make his last years as full of companionship and good times as possible. But there wasn’t any time. John O’Connor deteriorated much faster than his wife had expected. 'John was in such bad shape she couldn’t keep him at home,' [Ruth Bader] Ginsburg told me. It was a lesson, maybe, in how even the noblest motives aren’t always enough reason to throw in the towel. Ginsburg kept fighting and working... When she was old and frequently sick she still kept on keeping on. Her worries about problems with naming a successor were real. But there was also just the way she lived her life...."

From "Ruth Bader Ginsburg Knew What to Do With Her Time/But she also knew something about the unreliability of happy endings" by Gail Collins (NYT).

"Noble" is the right word for what Justice O'Connor did, and seeing what happened, it's hard not to think she made the wrong choice, that — to use Collins's crude expression — she didn't have "enough reason to throw in the towel." But a choice like that is made in its time, without knowledge of the future. You can't look at what happened next when you calculate whether there was "enough reason."

And even when you look at the decision based on the knowledge that the decisionmaker had at the time, you can't know whether there was reason enough without knowing what only Justice O'Connor knew, the depth and the meaning of her love for her husband. To look from a distance and say she misjudged... there's no nobility in that.

Ginsburg "kept fighting" — and "throw in the towel" comes from boxing, where an actual towel was thrown down to signal defeat. But her beloved husband was already gone, and it was her own illness. There was no parallel way that O'Connor could have fought on. She had to choose whether to give her time to her husband. Ginsburg could no longer give time to her husband.

It's not that one woman "knew what to do with her time" — to use the words in the headline — and the other did not. Neither faced the choice that the other faced, and neither should be regarded as more of a fighter or more noble. 

"Having Barrett replace Ginsberg because they are women is like having Clarence Thomas replace Thurgood Marshall because they're black."

Top-rated comment on "Who is Amy Coney Barrett, the judge at the top of Trump’s list to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg?" (WaPo).

From the article:
A devout Catholic who is fervently antiabortion, Barrett appeals to Trump’s conservative base. But Republicans also hope that for moderates such as Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), her gender makes her a more palatable replacement for Ginsburg, a feminist icon who spent her life fighting for gender equality....

Trump first nominated Barrett to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit in 2017. Previously, she’d taught law at the University of Notre Dame for 15 years, so she had no previous judicial record to scrutinize. Democrats balked at her nomination, questioning whether the academic could be an impartial arbiter because of her deep religious convictions. Republicans accused Democrats of applying a religious test in their questioning.
That links to a September 7, 2017 WaPo article "Did Dianne Feinstein accuse a judicial nominee of being too Christian?"
Amy Barrett... has spoken often of her Catholic faith and drawn opposition from liberal groups, which argue that she'd place it above the law. Feinstein, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, echoed those concerns Wednesday at a confirmation hearing, telling Barrett that “the dogma lives loudly within you, and that's of concern …”
I blogged about that at the time, here. Excerpt:

A new Marquette poll shows strong support for holding hearings on the new Supreme Court nominee — and the support is highest among independents.

And there's a strong majority for holding hearings even among Democrats!

A majority in all 3 groups also say it was wrong not to have held hearings on Merrick Garland.

ADDED: "The survey was conducted Sept. 8-15, 2020, interviewing 1,523 adults nationwide, with a margin of error of +/-3.6 percentage points." That is, oddly enough, the poll was taken in the week before Justice Ginsburg died.

September 19, 2020

At the Forest Light Café...


... you can say what you want.



“Fill that seat” chant goes up as Trump’s rally begins in North Carolina.

I'm watching on YouTube.

He says his nominee will be a woman.... then takes a poll. Woman or man? Woman wins. By a lot.

“It will be a woman. A very talented, very brilliant woman."

ADDED: He’s still going strong, more than an hour and a half later.

AND: He's finally done. Nearly 2 hours. His closing music is not the usual "You Can't Always Get What You Want" but "YMCA." He got out of the airplane with "Macho Man" playing. The show featured 2 Village People songs. 

"[W]hen U.S. Appeals Court Judge Amy Coney Barrett of Chicago came up as Trump was picking a successor to Justice Anthony Kennedy, the president said: 'I'm saving her for Ginsburg.'"

"Trump changes his mind all the time. But Republicans tell us Barrett, 48, a favorite of conservative activists, remains at the top of the White House list. Twitter already calls her 'ACB.'"

From "A court fight for the ages" (Axios).

But also be clear about this: Was Barack Obama wrong to nominate Merrick Garland? You must clearly say that he was or I won't "let you" be clear.

ADDED: From Barack Obama's statement on the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg:
Four and a half years ago, when Republicans refused to hold a hearing or an up-or-down vote on Merrick Garland, they invented the principle that the Senate shouldn’t fill an open seat on the Supreme Court before a new president was sworn in.

A basic principle of the law — and of everyday fairness — is that we apply rules with consistency, and not based on what’s convenient or advantageous in the moment.
How does that basic principle apply to you, President Obama? You went ahead and made a nomination. Why shouldn't the new President follow his predecessor's precedent. What can you say to me that isn't "based on what’s convenient or advantageous in the moment"? It's hard to play the hypocrisy card!


ALSO: Speaking of "what's convenient or advantageous in the moment," why did Senator Kamala Harris vote against Neil Gorsuch?! Here's her statement. Can anyone seriously portray that as based on anything lofty?
Judge Gorsuch's deeply conservative views put him well outside the mainstream.... Given the controversial nature of this nominee, it is deeply unfortunate Senate Republicans took unprecedented steps to ram Judge Gorsuch through the Senate instead of the President working with Democrats and Republicans to find a consensus nominee.
That's a frank claim of power by a Senator. Obama frankly exercised the power that he had to make a nomination, and the Senate majority at the time frankly exercised the power that they had. Why should we expect the current Senate majority to do anything other than to cast the votes it has and confirm? All I can think is that they might become convinced that it will help them win Senate elections if the issue is left open for the election. That could happen, especially considering that they can still complete the appointment after the election and before the Senate and the presidency can change hands.

"Democrats and Joe Biden have made clear they intend to challenge this election. They intend to fight the legitimacy of the election."

"As you you know Hillary Clinton has told Joe Biden 'under no circumstances should you concede, you should challenge this election.' and we cannot have election day come and go with a 4-4 court. A 4-4 court that is equally divided cannot decide anything. And I think we risk a constitutional crisis if we do not have a 9-justice Supreme Court, particularly when there is such a risk of... a contested election.... I think we have a responsibility — a responsibility to do our job. The president should nominate a principled constitutionalist with a proven record and the Senate — it's going to take a lot of work to get it done before Election Day — but I think we should do our job and protect the country from the constitutional crisis that could result otherwise."

Said Ted Cruz, appearing on Sean Hannity's show last night:

Also in that video: Trump's reaction to hearing that RBG had died (discussed in this earlier post).

"What if a modern-day Black American woke up one morning to find herself on a Civil War–era slave plantation?"

"That’s what happens to Eden (played by Janelle Monáe), though the movie opens on her life in captivity and takes a while to reveal its contemporary twist. Antebellum evokes Octavia Butler’s chilling 1979 masterpiece, Kindred, in which an African American woman is mysteriously transported back in time and experiences the deep suffering of her enslaved ancestors. But that novel didn't relish the brutality that its protagonist experienced, and it offered profound insights into power, memory, and the psychology of enslavement. Antebellum isn’t worthy of the comparison. It loads up on visceral scares and disturbing imagery in service of a shallow film that feels like a gory theme-park ride showcasing the horrors of slavery.... Strangely, the whole estate seems to function only as a place for sadistic punishment. The first 40 or so minutes of Antebellum are a ceaseless torrent of violence and abuse.... The terrifying realities of slavery are reduced to horror-movie tropes. This cycle of violence and rape exists only to gin up the viewers’ fury and prepare them for the climactic sequence of revenge.... The middle part of the film snaps the audience back to the present, crucially revealing that 'Eden' is a popular lecturer and writer named Veronica, who has a gorgeously appointed home and a loving family... Here’s where I spoil the big reveal, in case you haven’t already figured it out: The plantation is fake, a present-day re-creation designed by rich racists so that they can act out vile power fantasies. Veronica, the viewer is meant to understand, is the sort of independent and liberated Black person who might draw ire from racists. That’s why she’s been targeted and pulled into their absurd experiment at restoring the hierarchies of the past."

From "Antebellum Is a Shallow Schlock-Fest About Slavery/To make a point about the evils of white supremacy, the film subjects its Black characters to unceasing brutality" by David Sims (The Atlantic).

Let's look at Ginsburg's language: "I will not be replaced until a new president is installed."

That is the form of her dying wish, as told to us by her granddaughter Clara Spera, who is a fellow at the American Civil Liberties Union. It is hearsay, and we don't know for certain that Ruth Bader Ginsburg said those words at all — though of course we assume that the basic idea expressed is something that she did indeed wish. But did she use the verbs "replaced" and "installed"? Is that Spera's paraphrase?

The words sound wrong to me, especially "installed." We normally speak of electing a President. If you look up the words "install" and "president" in the New York Times archive, the relevant hits are about colleges and professional organizations "installing" a president. There, a president is chosen by an elite group, not by the people.

I read through a long page of old NYT headlines and finally arrive at one that looks like it may be a political leader: "Silurians Install President" (April 16, 1963). Who are Silurians?! Is Siluria some country that has escaped my attention all these years?

Click to enlarge and clarify. Key line: "The Silurians is an association of men who have been on New York City newspapers for 25 years or more." Another professional organization, the sort of thing that installs its president.

You see my point. It is a strange and revealing word choice. And if there's one thing you can say about Donald Trump, it's that he was not installed. The 2016 election was a populist expression that gobsmacked the elite. If Hillary had won, it might make some sense to declare that she was "installed."

Ah! And now you see a motivation for Ginsburg's use of "installed." If Biden wins — which is what Ginsburg hoped for (and "a new president" implies) — it really is more of an installation. The Democratic Party elite have been working to install him. It's not his own doing. It was a reaction against the populist expression that had Bernie Sanders winning in the primaries.

When I hear "installed," I think of appliances — dishwashers, refrigerators — that need to be positioned and hooked up by licensed professionals. That resonates with the Biden story... except that no one would install an appliance so superannuated and marginally functional.

And I don't like the use of the word "replaced" either. Ginsburg filled a seat, seat #6, established February 24, 1807. She was the 13th person to sit there. "I will not be replaced until..." suggests a sense that there ought to be a new version of her, someone who will carry on as she would have. But she took over that seat from Byron White. Was there any sense that she was supposed to be like him? She certainly wasn't. The seat belongs to all of us. Just as we control who is elected President, we have a collective interest in that seat, which now needs to be filled.

Justice Ginsburg exercised her own will by holding on to the seat despite grave illness, and there was some ability to choose who would take her place, but the force of nature kept her from completing that task. The Constitution gives the appointment power to the President, and a Supreme Court Justice cannot grab that power from him.

The Constitution has its complicated method for determining who will be President. I won't elaborate on it here, but it does have something to do with what we, the people, want. The last time we cranked through the mysterious process, Trump popped out. It was very weird! But he is the President, and a Supreme Court Justice has vacated a seat.

We can make political arguments that Trump should wait and let us make filling that seat an issue in the election. I'd love to see Trump and Biden debate and give us the question: What kind of Justice we want?

Biden was chair of the Judiciary Committee for so long. Let's grill him about what he did to Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas. Let's ask him to show us his list of potential nominees as President Trump has. I think that would be great. But I also think that if the tables were turned and a Democratic President had a Democratic Senate, we'd get the nomination and confirmation quickly and without fussing about inferred principles that have nothing to do with the text of the Constitution.

ADDED: Wikipedia: "The Silurian is a geologic period and system spanning 24.6 million years from the end of the Ordovician Period, at 443.8 million years ago (Mya), to the beginning of the Devonian Period, 419.2 Mya. The Silurian is the shortest period of the Paleozoic Era.... A significant evolutionary milestone during the Silurian was the diversification of jawed fish and bony fish."

But also: "The Silurians are a race of reptilian humanoids in the long-running British science fiction television series Doctor Who.... The first Silurians introduced are depicted as prehistoric and scientifically advanced sentient humanoids who predate the dawn of man; in their backstory, the Silurians went into self-induced hibernation to survive what they predicted to be a large atmospheric upheaval caused by the Earth capturing the Moon."

ALSO: From the OED entry, "install":
1817 S. T. Coleridge Biogr. Lit. I. iii. 60 It is said that St. Nepomuc was installed the guardian of bridges because he had fallen over one, and sunk out of sight....

"Wow. I didn’t know that. I just — you’re telling me now for the first time. She led an amazing life. What else can you say? She was an amazing woman."

"Whether you agree or not, she was an amazing woman who led an amazing life. I’m actually sad to hear that. I am sad to hear that."

Said Donald Trump, quoted in "Donald Trump to put forth nominee to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in coming days: Sources/Mitch McConnell says he does plan to vote on Trump's nominee" (ABC News).

We learned of Ginsburg's death as we were watching Trump's Minnesota rally last night. Trump continued his speech, apparently without learning the news until he spoke with reporters afterwards. There must be a way to relay information to the President while he is doing a speech.

I thought he might learn the news during the rally and speak extemporaneously from the stage. Perhaps he did learn and merely pretended to be hearing the news for the first time as he spoke to reporters, but I'll assume it was genuine surprise when he said, "Wow. I didn’t know that. I just — you’re telling me now for the first time."

Those who think he's a narcissistic weirdo who blurts out inappropriate remarks should take note of the utter appropriateness of what he said with no time to think: "She led an amazing life. What else can you say? She was an amazing woman. Whether you agree or not, she was an amazing woman who led an amazing life. I’m actually sad to hear that. I am sad to hear that."

There was just a slight awkwardness to "Whether you agree or not," which in literal context could be taken to mean, whether you agree that she was an amazing woman. Clearly he meant, whether you agreed with her legal interpretations or not.

ADDED: Here's the video. So evocative, with "Tiny Dancer" just beginning and louder than that voices:

I discussed the "slight awkwardness" to "Whether you agree or not," but it's very clear in the video that he said "Whether you agreed or not," which is much less susceptible to the interpretation that the possible disagreement is over whether she was an amazing woman. He meant whether you agreed with her legal interpretations or not, which I had already thought was clear.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg was 5'1", so "Tiny Dancer" feels like a special tribute to her.

AND: The video is so cinematic. You couldn't have staged it, lit it, acted it, and scored it better. Trump's whole-body reaction, the pauses, the double hand gesture — uncannily right. The music is cued perfectly. The backlighting outlining the shoulder. He turns to lumber toward the plane and we see his wide back as the line plays "Ballerina, you must have seen her, dancing in the sand." It makes you cry!

September 18, 2020

At the Friday Night Café...


... we're saying goodbye to the great Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, but you should go to one of the 2 previous posts to talk about her and how we will get by without her, so please restrict this post to other topics, all of which are permitted and encouraged.


Photos taken at 6:46 and 7:02. A Type #4 sunrise ripened into an Inky (Type #8). (Here's the post explaining 10 types of sunrises.)