January 28, 2022

At the Friday Night Cafe…

 … you can talk about whatever you want.

"Like Judge [Ketanji Brown] Jackson, Justice [Leondra] Kruger has a dazzling résumé.... The main differences are that she’s younger and..."

"... likely to be more moderate on SCOTUS than Judge Jackson, at least based on her record on the California Supreme Court, where she has sided with Republican appointees more often than her fellow Democratic appointees. Some observers also see Justice Kruger as 'intellectually stronger' or boasting more 'intellectual firepower' than Judge Jackson. [UPDATE (3:06 p.m.): For some important clarification of the preceding sentence, please see my Twitter thread.] The youth and moderation cut both ways. Yes, the Biden Administration favors young nominees. But on the other hand, Justice Kruger is young enough that she’ll be a viable SCOTUS pick for another five to ten years, so she could be 'saved' for a future vacancy (just as Justice Barrett was passed over for Justice Anthony M. Kennedy’s seat so she could be “saved” for Justice Ginsburg’s). The moderation makes Justice Kruger easier to confirm, which is useful in a closely divided Senate. But on the other hand, it has made some on the left somewhat cautious about or even opposed to her."

Writes David Lat at "Handicapping President Biden's Supreme Court Shortlist/Here are my odds on the leading contenders—and some interesting historical analysis" (Original Jurisdiction). Lat gives Jackson a 40% chance of getting the nomination and Kruger a 30% chance.

I prefer moderate Justices, so I hope it's Kruger. And I would add 2 things: 

Michelle Goldberg thinks "mandatory school masking should end when coronavirus rates return to pre-Omicron levels."

I'm reading "Mandatory School Masking Should End After the Omicron Surge" (NYT). 

Otherwise, I fear that, at least in very liberal areas, a combination of extreme risk aversion and inertia means that school masking will persist indefinitely....

This strikes me as a very realistic fear. People in places like where I live (Madison, Wisconsin) will never let go of the safety precautions now that they've taken hold. In fact, it's hard to see why the end of the Omicron surge will give them enough reason to stop being extra-careful.

I suspect that the real reason to justify backing off on the restrictions is that elections are coming up and it seems that the masking of children is going to hurt Democrats, but there isn't a whiff of political analysis in the linked column.

"Soon Mustafa launched into a conversation about self-improvement, mentioning that he regularly listens to talks by Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson, a person he 'looks up to.'"

"'I did not know who that person was,' Hibbah said. She assumed Peterson... preached kindness. When she looked him up after the date, she found Peterson’s views to be 'very political, kind of right-wing.' She told me it’s 'a very particular point of view and line of thought that I do not subscribe to, and I was very surprised.' During their discussion, Mustafa focused on Peterson’s book '12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos' and how he has used it to improve himself. While she valued his sincerity, Hibbah didn’t have much to contribute. 'I’m just more of a private person,' she said. Self-improvement '“is not something I would share with someone on a first date.' Mustafa asked Hibbah whom she most admires. She said she looks up to writer Tara Westover and Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor."

This is the latest episode of WaPo's "Date Lab" — where they match 2 people up for a date, then get separate reports and ratings from the participants — "Date Lab: He made it clear that his end goal was marriage." 

He gave the date a 4 (on a 5-point scale) and she gave it a 2. I thought it was truly hilarious that he brought up his interest in Jordan Peterson. It's one thing to bring up marriage on a first date, but to bring up Jordan Peterson... that's really sticking your neck out.

"Republicans would be wise to lay low, knowing that whomever Biden puts on the court, the conservative majority remains intact."

"But in today’s scorched-earth political environment, I’m not sure that ambitious GOP senators will be able to restrain themselves, especially if the party’s — scratch that, I mean the cult’s — unhinged leader, Trump, eggs them into fighting a battle they cannot win.That, of course, would only outrage and further motivate the Democratic Party’s base.... Momentum matters in politics, and so does enthusiasm. For no good reason, Democrats have sunk into a sour, defeatist mood. The chance to name Breyer’s successor on the Supreme Court is an opportunity to change the narrative...."

Eugene Robinson — in "Breyer’s retirement is an opportunity for Democrats to rally. They shouldn’t squander it" (WaPo) — offers Republicans advice. He doesn't want to help them though, obviously, so is it presumptively bad advice. 

So what's the good advice?

"According to a study published in October in the Journal of Travel Medicine, 379 people died while taking selfies from January 2008 to July 2021."

"Deaths have occurred after people tried to snap photos near dangerous animals, in front of waterfalls and while wielding dangerous weapons.... The average age of the people who died was 24, with the largest group under the age of 19. The most deaths, 100, occurred in India, while 39 people died in the United States and 33 died in Russia. Falls from high places were the primary cause of death, claiming 216 people. Another 123 deaths were transportation-related, the study found. Others died by drowning or injury from weapons, electricity or animals." 

 From "A 21-year-old hiker fell hundreds of feet to his death while taking a selfie: 'A very tragic accident'" (WaPo). Distance fallen: 700 feet.

The article quotes someone who did a study of selfies: "What worries me the most is that it is a preventable cause of death, If you’re just standing, simply taking it with a celebrity or something, that’s not harmful."

Oh, it depends on the celebrity. 

By the way, if you do stand on the edge of a cliff and slip and die, you'll at least give your loved ones sound footing to utter the cliché — as was done in the case reported at the link — you died doing what you loved. 

You will have died looking at your own face in your camera-phone — presumably, what you loved. Do you see the expression on your own face as you realize what has happened and where you are going? Do you hold onto the camera? Do you try to take another picture? It takes 6 seconds to fall 700 feet.

Cat brain.

Speaking of cats, I see Biden got a cat... brought a cat into the mix of mammals prowling about the White House.... maybe not getting quite so bored as a cat in your apartment....
“Willow made quite an impression on Dr. Biden in 2020 when she jumped up on the stage and interrupted her remarks during a campaign stop,” wrote [Jill Biden's Michael] spokesman LaRosa in a news release. “Seeing their immediate bond, the owner of the farm knew that Willow belonged with Dr. Biden.”

How small does your brain need to be to buy that tale of cat love?

"everyone: you can’t dance to bob dylan... me:"

"' I think it’s just about finished,' he says. 'It looks pretty good, doesn’t it?' He shows me dancers doing ballet poses on green backgrounds...'"

"... a series that follows his recent 'Calvin Klein Girls' and 'Coca-Cola Girls.' The latter is a collection of blonde women in white dresses, dancing freely across cherry-red canvases and currently on view at Timothy Taylor gallery in London. Katz didn’t go to the opening. 'I’d rather stay home and paint,' he says. The thing about Alex Katz is that he never fitted in. His parents immigrated from Russia to a New York neighbourhood with just one other Jewish family; he says he was known as 'that crazy Katz kid.' When he found his style, about a decade after art school, it was also out of joint: 'I didn’t fit in with the old Realists, I didn’t fit in with the Abstract Expressionists, I didn’t fit in with Pop Art,' he says.... And while Andy Warhol and Jasper Johns introduced politics into their art, Katz painted the lake and trees around his summer home in Maine. So now, looking back, is he glad he never fitted in? 'Yeah... I think it worked out great!... I painted nice pictures in the ’50s, and people didn’t like them. So I thought, I’m going to stick a big face of my wife in your living room and it’s going to kill everything, and you’re going to have to throw out some furniture.... When I met Ada, she said something very unforgettable. She said, "You know something? You are very bright." I don’t think anyone got that about me. They knew I was bright, but not very bright.... I said, Oh. This girl’s got my number.'"

I'm reading "Artist Alex Katz: ‘I’m 91, for Chrissakes, and I’m cranking out paintings’/Over Bellinis in New York, the outsider of American art talks about screaming patrons, making masterpieces and not fitting in," a Financial Times article from November 2018 (and I checked, he's still alive). 

The reason I'm reading this is that in a post this morning, I wrote about a man who's suing Madison for allegedly discriminating against him in its effort to hire a "police monitor," and I linked to an article that has a photograph of him that looks, to my eye, like an Alex Katz painting

Blow it up 10 feet high — look! — and attach it to a museum wall. 

But quite aside from that initial reason for my looking for Alex Katz, that 2018 article is just completely wonderful.

"Well, you know, he's a bland, older white guy."

Says Adam Liptak about Justice Stephen Breyer. Liptak was asked, on the NYT "Daily" podcast — at 8:48 — why it is that Breyer is the Supreme Court Justice people have the least opinion about (according to a poll).

Breyer, we're told, took into account — in deciding when to leave the Court — a desire not to have his "legacy" undone by the person who replaces him, and that raised the question what is his legacy? Maybe the podcast listeners don't know. In an effort to enlighten them, Liptak began with the notion that Breyer is "a bland, older white guy."

Now, let's be clear. Liptak didn't say that because a person is male, old, and white he's bland. He piled "bland" onto the list of things that supposedly cause people not to have an idea of what Justice Breyer is about. But the suggestion is there: to be white is to be bland. Of course, Liptak isn't saying that white people are bland, only that people, seeing a white person, may get no further than to perceive him as bland.

I can see the argument that this perception is good. Let's begin, when we see a person, with a presumption of blandness. Nothing special about this person. A blank. We'll see if he does anything to distinguish himself. Until then: bland. And don't let that be white privilege. Give everyone this privilege. Until you know something about this individual, leave an open space. If they never put anything in that space — that space in your head — let them remain an enigma, nothing but potential. You do not know them, and maybe you never will.

That conversation at Meadhouse at 5:22 a.m.

I'm downstairs about to make my second cup of coffee, and this text is the first sign that Meade is awake:

Here's the article he was texting me about: "After failed search for police monitor, Madison oversight board opts for recruiting help" (Wisconsin State Journal). 

The search for someone to fill this newly created position was deemed to have failed "after the person recruited and selected by the board, with help from the city’s Human Resources Department, took himself out of the running amid revelations that he’d discriminated against a woman he’d been having an affair with and violated state licensing requirements at a company he ran more than 15 years ago." 

We're told the position will pay $125,000. I can't picture it ever being properly filled, yet apparently now we're going to pay people to try to fill it, because God knows, they can't back down.

ADDED: More about Eric A. Hill's lawsuit here

"Joseph Frank Keaton spent his youth in his parents’ knockabout vaudeville act; by the time he was eight, it basically consisted of his father, Joe, picking him up and throwing him..."

"... against the set wall. Joe would announce, 'It just breaks a father’s heart to be rough,' and he’d hurl Buster—already called this because of his stoicism—across the stage. 'Once, during a matinee performance... he innocently slammed the boy into scenery that had a brick wall directly behind it.' That 'innocently' is doing a lot of work, but all this brutality certainly conveyed a basic tenet of comedy: treating raw physical acts, like a kick in the pants, in a cerebral way is funny. 'I wait five seconds—count up to ten slow—grab the seat of my pants, holler bloody murder, and the audience is rolling in the aisles,' Keaton later recalled. 'It was The Slow Thinker. Audiences love The Slow Thinker.' A quick mind impersonating the Slow Thinker: that was key to his comic invention. The slowness was a sign of a cautious, calculating inner life. Detachment in the face of disorder remained his touchstone.... It was only when Joe started drinking too hard and got sloppy onstage that, in 1917, the fastidious Buster left him and went out on his own. It was the abuse of the art form that seemed to offend him."

From "What Made Buster Keaton’s Comedy So Modern?/Whereas Chaplin’s vision was essentially theatrical, Keaton’s was specific to the screen—he moved like the moving pictures" by Adam Gopnik (The New Yorker).

January 27, 2022

At the Healing-in-Progress Café...


... you can talk about whatever you want. 


Yes! I was able to get out and do my sunrise run this morning. Photos taken at 7:23 and 7:25. Unfortunately, there was 100% cloud cover, but the temperature was a nicely warmed up to 20°. The next 2 days are going to be too cold again — 2 below tomorrow at sunrise and 1 below on Saturday — but then it looks like there will be a stretch of sunrise-runnable days — at least until next Thursday or Friday. By then, we'll be launched into February, and February won't be as cold as January... probably. Plus, it's short. I can already feel the spring approaching. Certainly, the darkest 20% of the year is over. We're entering the most balanced days, in terms of light and darkness, and I like that.

I'm old enough to remember....


"If you’re in a wheelchair I get your point — ramps all round! But it is ludicrous for those voluntarily on two wheels rather than..."

"... forced to be on four to act all aggrieved. It’s pedestrians and drivers who need protection from them.... When I was growing up, bikes were for kids to play on and working-class people to get to work on. Their image was so mild that — along with cricket grounds and warm beer — John Major evoked George Orwell’s image of ‘old maids bicycling to Holy Communion through the morning mist’ in a rather laughable and desperate attempt to persuade us that his Tories were a wholesome bunch, rather than sneaking around having extra-marital dalliances with each other. Or bikes were amusing things ridden by clowns.... [A]ggressive young men on two wheels would have been written off as ton-up boys in the past; but because they know how to pronounce quinoa, this new lot are planet-savers, a shining example to the rest of us gas-guzzlers...."

From "The ceaseless self-pity of cyclists" by Julie Burchill (Spectator).

It was in a 1993 speech to the Conservative Group for Europe that the prime minister, John Major said, "Fifty years on from now, Britain will still be the country of long shadows on county [cricket] grounds, warm beer, invincible green suburbs, dog lovers, and—as George Orwell said—old maids bicycling to Holy Communion through the morning mist." 

The George Orwell essay is "England, Your England" (1941):