Sunday, May 31, 2009

Live Zeebop this week

Upcoming live Zeebop . . .

Saturday, June 6th, Red Dog Cafe, 8301-A Grubb Rd., Silver Spring, Md., Three sets of straight-ahead jazz from 7-10 p.m. If the weather's nice, we'll be outdoors; if not, we'll be inside.

Saturday, June 13th, Maggianos, 5330 Wisconsin Ave., NW, Friendship Heights, D.C. Three sets of straight-ahead jazz from 7-10.30 p.m.

Sunday, June 14th, Red Dog Cafe. 6-9 p.m.

To learn more about Zeebop, click here. Please join our new Facebook page.

Zeebop is represented by Grabielismo Productions.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Robes, rogues and racists

See Charles Blow's column this morning on the New York Times Op-Ed page. Blow, for those of you unfamiliar with his work, is the best thing to happen to the Times editorial page in years.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Is the life of the law logic?

No less than Richard Posner believes that "Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. is the most influential figure in the history of American law." Holmes was the first legal scholar to acknowledge that law reflected the outcome of temporal politics, not some "brooding omnipresence in the sky." Legislative choices reflected the power of interests to persuade decision-makers in power of their "correctness," and did not emerge fully formed from a neutral, objective baseline. Although many other legal scholars, judges and advocates would refine his approach to law and litigation, it is no stretch to say that Holmes was the first and most important exponent of "legal realism." Holmes is perhaps best known to contemporary legal academics, philosophers and lawyers for the literary and quotable nature of his judicial opinions on the Supreme Court, on which he served from 1902-1932. But the key to understanding Holmes the jurist and political philosopher -- and he considered himself both -- lies in the collected essays he published in 1881, The Common Law.

The object of this book is to present a general view of the Common Law. To accomplish the task, other tools are needed besides logic. It is something to show that the consistency of a system requires a particular result, but it is not all. The life of the law has not been logic; it has been experience. The felt necessities of the time, the prevalent moral and political theories, intuitions of public policy, avowed or unconscious, even the prejudices which judges share with their fellow-men, have had a good deal more to do than the syllogism in determining the rules by which men should be governed. The law embodies the story of a nation's development through many centuries, and it cannot be dealt with as if it contained only the axioms and corollaries of a book of mathematics. In order to know what it is, we must know what it has been, and it tends to become. We must alternately consult history and existing theories of legislation. But the most difficult labor will be to understand the combination of the two into new products at every stage. The substance of the law at any given time pretty nearly corresponds, so far as it goes, with what is then understood to be convenient; but its form and machinery, and the degree to which it is able to work out desired results, depend very much upon its past.

I shall use the history of our law so far as it is necessary to explain a conception or to interpret a rule; but no further. In doing so there are two errors equally to be avoided both by writer and reader. One is that of supposing, because an idea seems very familiar and natural to us, that it has always been so. Many things which we take for granted have had to be laboriously fought out or thought out in past times. The other mistake is the opposite one of asking too much of history. We start with man full grown. It may be assumed that the earliest barbarian whose practices are to be considered had a good many of the same feelings and passions as ourselves.

Who knew? How impressive, then, that Newt Gingrich, Rush Limbaugh and the rest of the Knuckle-Dragging Know-Nothings on the Right knew so much more about what informs the relationship between law, politics and culture than Holmes.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

First Jewess selected to serve on Supreme Court

Not really. But how different would that headline have been trumpeted Ruth Bader Ginsburg's appointment in 1993 to replace Byron White be from the banners offered up this morning by arguably the nation's three leading and, for the sake of argument, "serious" daily newspapers?

"Obama Chooses Hispanic Judge for Supreme Court Seat"

-- New York Times, 5.27.09
-- Wall Street Journal, 5.27.09
-- Washington Post, 5.27.09

Now compare those headlines to the one in this morning's USA Today, which, with the exception of fantasy sports junkies, is no one's idea of a "serious" newspaper:

I don't think it was any real secret that President Obama's choice to succeed David Souter was going to be a woman and/or have ancestral roots beyond the English-speaking United States. Fine. Obama has as much right to appoint persons of Chinese, Japanese, Russian, Spanish or any other ancestry or heritage as President Bush II had to appoint wealthy white men of Anglo-Catholic ancestry (Chief Justice John Roberts) and Italian-Catholic ancestry (Samuel Alito).
Judge Sonia Sotomayor is the child of Puerto Rican parents, which makes her a woman of Puerto Rican heritage. As a U.S. territory, Puerto Rico is a different than Mexico, which is a different country than Brazil, which is a different country from Columbia, which is a different country than El Salvador . . .
Just like Ireland is a different country than Italy, which is a different country than Scotland, which is a different country than Germany, which is a different country than Sweden, which is a different country than Great Britain . . .
And yet, the major mainstream newspapers did not see fit to identify the "ethnic" heritage of either Roberts or Alito when they were appointed to the Court in 2005. Here was the Post's headline on Bush's appointment of Roberts:
"Bush Choose Roberts for Court; Appeals Judge for D.C. Has Conservative Credentials"
-- Washington Post, 7.20.05
And Alito:
"Alito Nomination Sets Stage for Ideological Battle"
-- Washington Post, 11.1.2005
The Times offered a similar assessment, noting that Bush, "In Search of Conservative Stamp, Nominates Roberts." After Chief Justice William Rehnquist died and Bush decided to upgrade Roberts's nomination to replace him, the Times said: "President Names Roberts As Choice for Chief Justice."
Quibble with the insertion of "conservative stamp," (Times) or "conservative credentials," (the Post, always a good thing, since no "serious" person in law or politics can be "partisan," only "bi-partisan") if you are so inclined. But there was no mention of either Roberts's or Alito's "ethnic" heritage in any of the Times or Post articles about their appointments even though they, like Sotomayer, have ancestry that reaches beyond U.S. borders. In fact, we all do. Once, sometime ago, I was attending a conference at the American Enterprise Institute, a place so conservative that it considers former federal judge and failed Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork both a "thinker" and a "mainstream" one at that. The speaker was waxing on about the importance of tradition, history, the Framers and so on in any "respectable" constitutional jurisprudence, the traditional right-wing code for a jurisprudence that protects the privileged (i.e., the Bushes, John Roberts and a generally white class of moneyed and professional people who generally frown on any change that might allow others to compete with them) and the pissed (i.e., Sarah Palin, Pat Buchanan and the various wing nuts who confuse their success with the power of the "privileged" to protect their status by making rules excluding minorities and the less powerful from competing with them for working and middle-class jobs; and, of course, the notion that religious minorities, women and historically discriminated against groups have a claim to cultural equality). He then mentioned something very odd about the need for "traditional" Americans (i.e., Palin's "real" Americans) to guard against the "threat" of "multi-culturalism," more right-wing code for non-whites who might have other ideas about what the Constitution says about liberty and equality than merely protecting those in power (i.e., the willingness of the Bushes, Robertses, etc., to concede some bread crumbs to the pissed in exchange for their commitment to serve as protectors for their considerable privilege). Topping it all off, the speaker then mentioned his credentials as a "Mayflower descendent," and how he worried what was happening to "his" country. He received a standing ovation.
Then came question time. I was at that stage of my life when I took these sorts of things seriously, and I thought I'd ask a question of this "scholar," thinking I'd get an honest answer.
"As a descendant of the Mayflower," I began, "you are still the descendant of immigrants, since the Mayflower came from England, and arrived at the shores of a nation that was already inhabited by Americans. What is any different about contemporary immigration and multi-culturalism than the multi-cultural experience brought by the English citizens aboard the Mayflower compact?"
I thought it was a good question; no one else did, including the speaker. The room went silent and I got a lot of steely-eyed looks by the upstanding, all-white, culturally sophisticated men and occasional woman in the audience. I'm not sure what was worse, comparing the indigenous population in America in the 17th century to contemporary American conservatives besieged by these new strange immigrants who were ruining the country, or suggesting that the Mayflower voyagers were immigrants simply because they came to this country from somewhere else. I've always found it amusing that the old "societies" like the Daughters of the American Revolution consider themselves guardians of "traditional" American values, when their ancestors openly rebelled against their colonizers with an incredibly radical document that emphasized "natural" rights and the spirit of "liberty" as their inspiration. I suppose when white people rebel against white people, there's some justification to it. When non-whites, some of whom may not speak English (or American-English, to be more precise), question the politics and values of a largely white Establishment, the motives are less pure, often unpatriotic and sometimes . . . frighteningly diabolical.
Notice, too, how conservative judges like Roberts, Alito, Kennedy, Rehnquist and Scalia all begin with the assumption from much of the mainstream media that they are tied to the "law" and respect its commands, even if that means deciding cases in a way that, if left to their own devices, they might decide differently. Liberals, especially women, African-Americans and now, with Sotomayer's nomination, persons of Spanish-speaking ancestry, are often derided for acknowledging that their "experience" affects their views on the law, especially matters of constitutional law touching upon individual rights. In this distorted but quite common view, John Roberts approaches all matters before him without bias -- he is, in his own words, an umpire -- whereas a Sotomayer, a Ginsburg or Thurgood Marshall are animated not by a reverence for the law, but by the need to stick it to The Man, lest He stick it -- again -- to minorities, women and other "victims" of the politically and economically powerful. Somehow, a wealthy white man does not bring his "life experience" to the bench; only women and minorities do. Unless, of course, your Clarence Thomas, who, according to conservatives, might be the only African-American to really understand and appreciate the Constitution. Forget Thurgood Marshall -- he was just a policy-maker who -- all at once now -- legislated from the bench.

* * * * * * * * * *
I don't know much about Sonia Sotomayer, and the handful people I've talked to or corresponded with today who practice law in the federal courts don't know that much about her either. From what I have learned by going to sources about her life and work, she is not at all to the left as Roberts and Alito are to the right. That is something else remarkable about our post-Bork confirmation environment. The Court, for all its bluster, has not really permitted the Court to move too far right since the mid-1980s. Yes, yes, there are some awful criminal procedure decisions, the clueless and insensitive 2007 Parents Involved voluntary de-segregation case that simply flat-out ignored the tortured history of race in the United States and some unfortunate yet ultimately harmless decisions on the First Amendment (the Bong Hits case from 2007). Roberts, by the way, wrote the Court's opinions in the race and student free speech cases. The reason for this is fairly simple: the Court does follow public opinion. Rare is the case when it doesn't. And the Court knows, Scalia and Thomas not withstanding, that great middle of America does not want to retreat on the democratic march that the Court has sometimes led and sometimes followed since the New Deal. Souter knew this; O'Connor knew this; Kennedy knows this when pressed; and time will tell whether Roberts and Alito know it. I'm still on the fence about Roberts. He certainly is as conservative as the Bush administration might have hoped he was when he was nominated. But he is also a career apple-polisher who might think twice about making a decision that could cost him his reputation among the Washington establishment he has spent his adult life embracing, cultivating and protecting. Roberts is not an original or powerful thinker. He's certainly smart, smart as in National Honor Society smart, not as in, "Wow, I've never thought about it like that before," smart. Like Scalia, he is accomplished debater with an impressive ability to articulate his positions. Unlike Scalia, he possesses a sense of tact and an ego that enjoys public adulation rather than cult-like devotion. Time will tell.
Obama could have appointed a real liberal, a judge or academic with some real power and creativity. Instead, intimidated by a right-wing noise machine that is already making the usual noises about Sotomayer as the worst practitioner of "liberal judicial activism" ever who will bring about the End of the World, Obama went the safe route, noting that a Republican, President Bush I, appointed her to her first federal judgeship before President Clinton appointed her to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. You wouldn't think the Democrats blew the Republicans out of the water in November from the way that the largely anonymous and unaccomplished "judicial conservatives" set the parameters for Obama's appointment. I suppose when Dick Cheney, perhaps the most unpopular man in America, if not the nuttiest, can define our contemporary foreign policy debate and still command an audience with the "tough" journalists of the mainstream media, nothing should surprise me.
But let's remember something. Simply because grocery stores decide there is something called an "ethnic" foods aisle doesn't mean that designation makes any sense. I've never been grocery shopping in Mexico or Poland, so I don't know if they confine such "American" staples as mayonnaise, white bread, ketchup, hot dogs and Captain Crunch to an "ethnic" foods ghetto somewhere near their household cleaning products. But since salsa now outsells ketchup as America's favorite condiment, it might be time for the nation's deep-thinkers and opinion-setters to come to grips with the reality that, at some point, appointing a wealthy, white Christian man to serve on the Supreme Court in 2005 is just as much of an exercise in "identity politics" as appointing the daughter of Puerto Ricans in 2009.

"Twisted Standards" cover

Here's an early peek at Zeebop's new (and first) recording, "Twisted Standards." Everything is much sharper on the original art -- it just gets a little blurred in this format.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Tom Tomorrow here

Click here to see the new Tom Tomorrow cartoon.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The politically correct John Roberts

Now, again, it can be told: Chief Justice John Roberts, who is about to finish his fourth Term on the Supreme Court, is more than just an "impartial" umpire determined to reset the law's strike zone so that everyone, from employment discrimination plaintiffs to criminal defendants to opponents of unqualified executive branch power to student miscreants, knows they'll be appearing before a bench committed to the rule of law and not the individual political preferences of the justices. Here's what then-Judge Roberts from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals said about a justice's role:

“Judges are like umpires. Umpires don’t make the rules. They apply them. The role of an umpire and a judge is critical. They make sure everybody plays by the rules. But it is a limited role. Nobody ever went to a ballgame to see the umpire.”

In the latest New Yorker, Jeffrey Toobin offers a very different portrait of the Court's 17th Chief Justice than the self-portrait Roberts offered of himself when went through his confirmation hearings four summers ago. As it turns out, the Chief Justice has not pursued the modest, humble jurisprudence rooted in tradition, precedent and respect for individual rights he promised the nation. Instead, he has used his power and position to extend the political philosophy of the conservative values that dominated the administrations of Ronald Reagan and the second George Bush. Since coming to the Court, Chief Justice Roberts has never ruled in favor of a criminal defendant, an employee bringing a discrimination or unfair practices claim, an environmental plaintiff or the executive branch's request for unrequitted power. There is much more, and Toobin's piece is thorough and well-written. I generally like Toobin's stuff, and I'm even using his recent book on the Court, The Nine: The Secret World of the Supreme Court, in my summer course on constitutional law and politics as a means to introduce unfamiliar to the justices and the political context in which the Court operates. But what I find frustrating -- no longer surprising or stunning -- is why it takes otherwise very bright people, especially people who follow the Court and the politics that surround it, so long to figure out that judges are appointed, by and large, because of what they believe and not because of their LSAT scores, law school GPA or encyclopedic knowledge of the strike zone, legal or otherwise.

Two years ago, I wrote a piece here called, "You mean John Roberts is really conservative?" What I thought about Roberts, the Supreme Court appointment process and the subsequent gaming around the interplay of values, ideology and politics still stands.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Live Zeebop this week

Live Zeebop this week . . .

Friday, May 22nd, Clare and Dons, 121 N. Washington St., Falls Church, Va. Three sets of straight-ahead jazz (with the Pablo Grabiel Jazz Trio) from 7-10 p.m.

Saturday, May 23rd, Red Dog Cafe, 8301-A, Grubb Rd., Silver Spring, Md., Three sets of straight-ahead jazz from 7-10 p.m.

The release date for our CD, "Twisted Standards," is tentatively set for June 16th. In addition to CD Baby, iTunes, Digstation and Rhapsody, you can purchase our CD at the Barnes & Noble in downtown Bethesda, located at the corner of Woodmont and Bethesda Avenues. We might have more retail outlets coming, so stay tuned.

As always, thanks for your support.

To learn more about Zeebop, click here. Zeebop is represented by Grabielismo Productions.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Tom Tomorrow here

Click here to see the new Tom Tomorrow cartoon.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Red State Update

Jackie and Dunlap weigh in on the Obama administration's idea to increase taxes on cigarettes and alcohol and whether the government should release torture photos.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Game 7: The Aftermath


Well, last night's Game 7 between the Caps and Penguins ended up having all the suspense and excitement of an episode of the Superman television series from the 1950s. After Sidney Crosby score the Pens' second goal, and then Craig (who?) Adams scored eight seconds later, I thought the Caps had as much of a chance to come back and win as Superman did getting killed by a villain who forgot to bring his kryptonite to battle the man of steel. The Caps turned in the worst performance I have ever seen by a team in a Game 7.

Truthfully, the Pens outplayed the Caps over the entire series. Not even the officiating, which was unusually picky and one-sided for an NHL playoff series, can count among the Caps' excuses. Pittsburgh played harder, smarter and more consistently. Forget the eight million shots they put on Simeon Varlamov and, during his Game 7 cameo, Jose Theodore. The Pens defended their goalie very well, gave the Caps nothing down low, where few of their forwards fared to venture and controlled the neutral zone. And, no, Sidney Crosby did not "outplay" Alex Ovechkin. They were both great. Crosby has a complete team around him; Ovechkin does not, and that will be an issue that the Caps will face in the off-season.

The best team won. No doubt. Good luck to the Pens in the next round.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Game 7: Caps vs. Pens

The last time I watched a seven game series in any sport that had me this much on edge was the 1991 World Series, when the Atlanta Braves lost to the Minnesota Twins, 2-1, in 10 innings, bringing to an end the most improbable Series match-up ever, as both teams had finished with the worst records in their leagues the year before, something that had never happened before. From that Series, remember that:

-- five of the seven games were decided by one run

-- no team had ever gone from worst to World Series champion

-- the home team won all seven games

-- four of the games were decided on the game's final at-bat

-- three games went into extra innings

-- Jack Morris pitched a 10 inning complete game to earn the victory in Game 7.

That Series didn't come out as would have liked. But, boy, it was and remains the best one I've ever seen . . . even better than the 1995 World Series, which the Braves won in six games.

Winning pitcher: Tom Glavine. Winning RBI: Dave Justice. See, my memory isn't completely shot.

* * * * * * * * * *

No one who likes, much less loves, hockey can possibly find anything wrong with the Eastern Conference semi-final match-up between the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins. As recently as two years ago, the Caps were the laughing stock of the NHL, having blown-up their team the year before the 2004-05 lock-out to start all over again. The Caps won the lottery pick, allowing them to take Alex Ovechkin, around whom they decided to build their future. After just four complete NHL seasons,Ovechkin is easily the most exciting player in the league to watch. Not just that, he has delivered on all the hype surrounding him, having won all the league's most prestigious awards (MVP, Most Goals, Most Points) -- and more. Even better, Ovechkin has brought a level of enthusiasm and personality into a game that desperately needed both to overcome the ill-will generated by the sport's decision to shut down for a year. Only fans who can't count Ovechkin on their team seem to dislike him, and that dislike fades as soon as Ovechkin plays against the league's other best player, Sidney Crosby.

Crosby is a phenomenal hockey player. He sees the ice as well as Wayne Gretsky and Bobby Orr did, and those two saw the ice better than anyone else ever. No one in the league comes to close to him in play-making ability or sheer hockey smarts. Crosby reminds me of Gretsky in that he always about three steps ahead, at minimum, of everyone around him. Whereas Ovechkin just overpowers his opponents with an unparalleled combination of skill, force and determination, I can see Crosby working alongside George Clooney and Brad Pitt in the next "Ocean's" movie, so deft and skilled and cool is he with the puck. Once he tones down the whining and behind-the-play stick slapping (and I am not alone on this, as the NHL players ranked him as the league's "whiniest" player by a margin of 41%, 56% to Chris Pronger's 15%), he'll get the fan support he deserves outside of Pittsburgh. And, yes, acknowledge that there are other good players in the league, something he has a hard time doing as well. Ovechkin's got him here, never denying another player's greatness. He thrives on it, as it ramps up his desire to play even better.

But it's not just Ovechkin and Crosby. Eugeni Malkin is also an other-worldly talent, and the Pens also have some very good players in Jordan Staal, Kris Letang, Brooks Orpik and, at times, Sergei Gonchar. And on occasionk, they get flashes of brilliance from Marc-Andre Fleury, who is still far too inconsistent to pin as a future great goalie (Fleury, in fact, has been their weak spot so far, giving up far too many goals on too few shots). They're smart, disciplined, defensively more sound than the Caps and have the advantage of having the NHL's "face" on their side, which has seemingly immunized them against calls that have gone against the Caps with far too much regularity in this series.

The Caps counter with Mike Green, Niklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin (when he tries), a great checking line in Dave Steckel, Matt Bradley and Brooks Laich, and the still dangerous and brilliant Sergei Federov, whose defection to the United States in 1990 to play for the Detroit Red Wings made Ovechkin, Malkin, Gonchar and every other former Soviet and Soviet-bloc player's careers possible. And then there is Simeon Varlamov, who has emerged as the NHL's new star in this series. If Jose Theodore was all the Caps had to put out there, they never would have gotten past the New York Rangers, much less had a chance against the Pens, a far superior team.

Well, here's to tonight's game. See you there.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Tom Tomorrow here

Click here to see the new Tom Tomorrow cartoon.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Red State Update

Jackie and Dunlap call out President Obama on his "hatred" of prayer and discuss the implications of Miss California's "nudie" pictures.

Friday, May 08, 2009

So, you've graduated from college. Now what?

So here we are, preparing for the annual rites of spring commencement, with our nation's universities preparing to roll their last undergraduates off the assembly line and into the working world. The smart ones will put off any meaningful career choices for as long as they can, waiting until they run out of degrees and/or out of money before they are pulled, kicking and screaming, into the "real world." Perhaps they'll make some money this summer, working as bartenders, waiters, camp counselors, strippers, amusement park attendants, toll booth operators, Hooters girls, Chippendales, bat boys, heat gun specialists or minor league baseball mascots . . . jobs they don't have to defend as their "life's work" if they run into someone they know from days gone by and take comfort in knowing they can leave to return to school. Comforting, sort of . . . unless you're on the receiving end of the barber who isn't really a barber, but a poet; or the Spanish tutor who doesn't speak the language but has been to Madrid and Bilbao; or the heart specialist who isn't really one at all; instead, he drives the fence-enclosed cart that picks up golf balls at the driving range, the cart that 99% of people hitting off the mats are trying to kabong with a well-struck iron or a beautifully drawing drive.

The less fortunate ones will start their first grown-up job. After four or five or six or seven or however many years it took them to graduate from college, they'll finally have to get a haircut, a pair of shoes that covers the entire foot, put on a shirt that covers most of their torso and does not say, "Delta Tau Delta/Alpha Chi Omega Spring Bar Crawl Informal 2009" or sport a t-shirt with clever one-liners like, "P * * * y Magnet" or "Warning: Touch Me and You'll Burn I'm So Hot," or "I Make Chicks Choke," put away the sweat pants with "I Love Pink" or "Delta Gamma Forever" on the butt, take off their welded-on baseball caps or at least turn them around and practice their conversational skills so that the words "like," and "dude," or the phrases, "like, no fucking way," or "get the fuck out!" or "OMG, check out, like, my new tramp stamp!" or "bitch you are such a slut!" do not make an every-other-word appearances in their sentences, especially the ones they will use in their job interviews.

The first few years after college are a difficult time in a young person's life, much more so than the commencement speakers drawn from politics, business, entertainment or technology, university presidents, career center counselors or even professors are willing to admit. For a teen-age underachiever like myself, college was a great time, my personal Get Out of Jail Free Card from high school, an opportunity to start over, free from the suffocating cliques and social pressures to become the person you wanted. You spend four years -- that's all I was permitted at my father's expense -- taking steps towards adulthood, learning how to navigate your way through personal problems (getting blown off by Sheryl Crow) or financial crises (($7.24 in the bank with a week left in the semester) on your own, learning about the rest of the world works (you mean they actually have grocery stores in other countries? Who knew?) and learn the art of calm, deliberative and engaged conversation on complex and often controversial topics ("YOU'RE GODDAMN RIGHT WE SHOULD HAVE DROPPED THE ATOMIC BOMB ON HIROSHIMA SO FUCK YOU, ASSHOLE, WIMP, SHITHEAD!!!") and how to sleep on other people's floors to avoid paying rent or buying groceries that will help you transition into the adult world.

And then what? Just like that, you're back at the bottom, fretting over whether you're going to get a job doing someone else's bidding for barely enough money to pay your rent, go out once in a while, buy beer that actually tastes like beer and have enough money to buy clothes for work, usually from places you would never have considered entering in broad daylight when you were spending other people's money. Who wants to tell their friends, extended family or former professors that their first job, for the most part, really sucks? You spend most of your day looking for things to do because there just isn't that much going on; what you actually do doesn't really require skills beyond 10th grade literacy (and that's even if you attended a public school in the South, like me); you would quit and wait tables or mow lawns or just bag it and drive around the country attending major league baseball games in every city if you could.

But you can't. Nope. You went to college, you majored in political science and you're in debt up to and probably past your eyeballs. And, to complicate matters, you live in Washington, D.C., where bragging about how long and hard you work doing something that is no doubt very important is the highest form of conversational currency. Try this little test sometime:

"So," says an assembly line Washington professional to you, adjusting his Timex watch under the cuff of his ill-fitting button-down shirt with one hand while looking over your shoulder to see if he knows someone genuinely important, "who are you working for since you graduated?"

You: "I work as a male prostitute for Hollywood female starlets shooting scenes for their movies in Washington. These women are away from home for long periods of time and they have needs, if you know what I mean (don't forget to wink while you say this). It's all very cool. I get a call from a personal assistant saying that Julianne Moore, Sandra Bullock, Kate Hudson or Hillary Swank is coming to town for a week and would like someone to show them around town. And that's what I do. No $300 massages, just brass-tacks, scream-out-loud, crazy-ass sex with some of the hottest women in show business. And let me tell you about Lindsay Lohan . . . that girl can party."

Him: "Great talking to you. I think I see someone who owes me an email. Nice seeing you again."

"Again?" You've never seen that person. Ever. You'll also never see that person again. Until he needs something, provided you have something to offer.

Now try this answer:

You: "I'm working as a Legislative Assistant for Rep. Bob Forehead, who represents the 3rd district of Fredonia."

Him: "Hey, that's a great job! I was with Representative Forehead a couple of days ago -- he and I are very good friends -- to talk about some legislation that I am helping him write. You ought to get to know Patty Pearls and Wally Wingtips . . . they've worked for him for a long time and know everyone in this town. Stay with it. You're in a good place. Here's my card. We'll talk again soon."

Really . . . try it. You'll learn soon that I'm not making this up.

* * * * * * * * * *

Work, work, work. That's all Washingtonians like to talk about. New Yorkers like to talk about money. Los Angelenos like to talk about deals . . . deals coming, deals going, deals missing and deals pending. Southerners like to talk about football. Washingtonians talk about work like weight-lifters talk about how much they can bench press. "You worked how many hours last week? 483? That's nothing. We didn't get out until 28 o'clock on Friday night." So you start to wonder: "What's wrong with me that I'm not working that much or that I don't really care if I do."

The answer: Guess what? No one is really working that much. The people who regale me with their stories of workplace heroics are the same ones who forward me unfunny emails throughout the day, email me links about things I may or may not care about, call to vent about some injustice visited upon their child in youth sports, by their 2nd grade music teacher or ask me where my children are going to summer camp three years from now, email me to tell about the email they sent to someone about another person's email who had emailed another person about an email sent out by someone I don't know about an email that has nothing to do with me or anyone related to me or email me to tell about something they just won on Ebay after six very intense hours of bidding.

My dad ran a small retail business for 25 years and then ventured into other things that required him to go to an office building with an elevator, marking the first time that he had to venture beyond street level to go to work. My mother was a nurse. My neighbors growing up owned small grocery stores, insurance offices, two-person accounting firms, managed retail stores or worked for Delta, Coca-Cola or some other company I had actually heard of. I didn't know anyone who taught college, practiced law for a big firm, worked in politics or was a "consultant" of any kind. But my parents and their friends all worked hard, and spent very little time during the day wasting as much time as their "professionally educated" children do, whether shopping on-line, exchanging "drop-dead" emails with their son's hockey or soccer or baseball coach for hours on end or reading blogs like this one.

Here's what I can tell you:

Do not make work your life. Do not become one of these people who ends up profiled in the Washingtonian or the Washington Post as one of Washington's "rising stars." Do not plan your career so that everything you do depends on a patron. At some point, your boss will lose an election, get nailed doing something really stupid or you'll realize that loyalty begins at the bottom and there is little room for you to advance. You'll quit or get fired, and you'll be right back where you started -- looking to ride someone else's coattails and make someone else's dreams come true, not your own.

Washington, D.C. is a great place for people who really loved high school -- the Post is the school paper; the Washingtonian the yearbook; Congress is the SGA by any other name; the White House is for anyone who got elected to something in high school and never got over it; the bureaucracies are the nerds' revenge . . . maybe they weren't cool enough to get elected to the homecoming court in high school or invited to join a fraternity in college, but they are smart enough to extract their revenge on the cool kids; and the Supreme Court? That is for National Honor Society members, the kind of kids who aced every class in high school, but couldn't make through a sleepover or summer camp without coming home early. I have lived in Washington almost eighteen years. People still ask me why I don't get involved in politics or try to latch on to someone's candidacy so that I can "use my skills." Leaving aside for the moment that I don't have any skills that could possibly benefit anyone in politics, the question for me is not why I am not involved, but why would anybody want to do this?

* * * * * * * * * *

Around 25% of all college graduates receive their undergraduate degrees in business. Less than 4% major in English and 2% earn a degree in history and even less than that graduate with a philosophy degree. Here's one for you: more degrees are awarded to undergraduates every year in Parks, Recreation, Leisure and Fitness Studies than in foreign languages, comparative politics and Middle East studies combined. So much for September 11th changing everything.

For the liberal arts major, nothing is more awkward than having to explain to friends and relatives bearing congratulations and gifts at their commencement what he or she plans "to do" with their degrees not that they've graduated. You majored in political science? Seriously? Did your parents know? Are you planning on going to law school? Running for office? Worse, you majored in philosophy, so what can you do with that, right? Go to law school? Teach English in China? Fold t-shirts in a "vintage" clothing store? Work as an au pair? Really, what can you do with a degree like that?

All you can do with a college degree is frame it. Beyond that, how you choose to make your way in the world is up to you. Few people, even those with degrees in business, are prepared to do much more than menial work for someone else when they leave college. Although we tell our prospective students (and their families) that we are preparing them for careers in their chosen fields of study, that is nothing more than a sales pitch. All we can do is provide a baseline education in the hope that our students will become a little less certain, a little more skeptical and a little more aware that there is much to learn and that life's most enduring questions do not have clear cut answers. The world is too complicated, there is too much left to chance and there is simply so much that is going to cross a young person's path that cannot be known or predicted that the true legacy of a college education is the gift of an open mind.

* * * * * * * * * *

And just when did 22, 24 or even 25 become the cut-off point for young adults to make their choices in life? About this time two years ago, I had the pleasure of coffee and conversation with a recent graduate of my university, a 23 year-old woman who is brilliant, beautiful and will achieve whatever she wants. And here she was . . . worried that she didn't have a "plan" for the next few years, or even the few years after she finished law school. Part of me understood exactly where she was coming from, having had the same anxieties after I finished college and had gotten off to a less-than-terrific start in graduate school (except I wasn't as smart and certainly not as attractive as my former student). But the other part of me -- the semi-grown up part -- couldn't believe what I was hearing. How could someone like this feel pressure about anything? Here is someone who is as good as it gets, and yet feeling like she wasn't moving ahead fast enough.

(By the way, my student was accepted at several excellent law schools and ended up taking an offer from one that included a full academic scholarship.)

This was not the first conversation I have had like this with former students (and now friends) in their twenties. For all I make fun of some AU students, I have had the privilege over almost 20 years to teach some incredible young men and women, people far more talented, hard-working and mature than I was in college. Confession: I wasn't nearly as together as my students are when I was 21, 22 or 24. The difference was, and this may not apply to everyone going through the post-college blues now, is that I was never pushed to achieve, achieve, achieve and achieve. Kids now have a hard time just being kids. I had good time being 12 when I was 12, being 15 when I was 15, and 17 when I was 17. Now the pressure to make not just good grades, but perfect ones, to build a resume so that colleges will give you a serious look, to devote ridiculous amounts of time and money to their children's sports interests to "round out" that perfect child (and secure a professional contract or, at minimum, college scholarship) is not just wildly disproportionate to its long-term significance. It is dangerous. Our amazement at the intellectual capacity of our children and our propensity to treat them as trained seals obscures the reality that we are dealing with young people, whether 9, 13, 19 or 22, who are emotionally and socially not prepared for the world we want them to enter.

Take your time. Make sure your first adult choices are good ones. They are not permanent. Think of them as guideposts for the next round. Don't be afraid to make mistakes. Above all, relax and remember that it is your life you are living.

* * * * * * * * * *

How do you know where you will end up in 10 or 20 years? Well, you don't. But hopefully the place you find yourself, whether in the White House or an African village, in Bethesda or in Timbuktu, will be the place you want to be. In our best moments, we all want to make a difference in lives of other people. But you cannot make a difference unless you are passionate about how you choose to live your life. Not just the work you do, but the books you read, the music you play and listen to, the athletic challenges to establish yourself, the friends you make and value, the organic baby arugula you buy . . . the whole thing. In the end, be happy that you made the right choice for yourself, not just the right choice for others. Take a chance on your dreams, and you may find the view from the other side more beautiful than you could have ever imagined.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

David Souter

Some thoughts on Supreme Court justice David Souter's forthcoming retirement at the 2008 Term's end . . .

Like many people who follow the Supreme Court, I had almost no idea who David Souter was when George H.W. Bush nominated him to replace William Brennan, who retired after the 1990 Term. I say almost no idea only because I recognized the name from an obscure free exercise/free speech decision of the Court called Wooley v. Maynard (1977). In that case, the justices, by a 6-3 majority, ruled that New Hampshire could not compel Jehovah's Witnesses George and Maxine Maynard to display the state's motto, "Live Free or Die," on their license plate. David Souter was, at the time, the New Hampshire attorney general. He signed the brief but did not argue the case. And the only reason I knew David Souter was on the brief was because I had finished up a research project in which I compiled all the names of all the lawyers who had argued religion cases before the Supreme Court since World War II. For that reason, and that reason alone, David Souter was not completely unfamiliar to me.

But did I have any idea who David Souter really was, what he might really think and how he might decide cases? Not at all. I do remember President Bush's chief of staff, John Sununu, cockily reassuring the constitutional reactionaries pressuring him to appoint one of their own that Souter would be a "home run." Souter came to Sununu through New Hampshire's senior senator, Warren Rudman, who had known the man now serving on the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals for a long, long time. In fact, Rudman had hired Souter to work in the state attorney general's office. Detached observers who knew Warren Rudman's approach to politics should have known that he would never have sent up some assembly-line right-winger just to make the mouth breathers at the Free Congress Foundation happy. As long as we're revisiting history, I did not then believe then and do not believe now that President Bush was all that disappointed in how Souter turned out. Souter's approach to abortion rights, affirmative action, voting rights and church-state separation reflected the pre-Ronald Reagan, pre-I-want-the-1988-Republican nomination George Bush's values much more closely than his subsequent appointee, Clarence Thomas did.

And everyone knows what happened from there . . .

David Souter turned state's evidence on the "movement conservatives" in and out of the Reagan administration who had made great strides in making the Court an extension of the executive branch. President Reagan's three appointments, Sandra Day O'Connor, Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy had, so far, worked out just fine, although O'Connor and Kennedy would later demonstrate enough of an independent streak to break with the reactionaries to preserve the Court's foundational decisions on civil rights and liberties and, by the end of O'Connor's 25 year tenure, the second Bush's administration's monarchial approach to presidential power. Scalia was a rubber stamp for the conservative ideologues who staffed the Department of Justice, delivering his opinions with a linguistic flair and intellectual bombast that concealed a startlingly unoriginal legal mind. O'Connor and Kennedy eschewed Scalia's grandiose histrionics in favor of conservative conventionalism, reaching results usually pleasing to the Reagan administration, albeit without Scalia's lectures to his fellow justices on their intellectual inferiority or attention-seeking performances during oral arguments that seemed to suggest a championship junior high debater eager to show everyone his first place ribbon that I could easily imagine him wearing on his robe, if tradition allowed it.

Oh, oh . . . but what about Scalia's "occasional willingness" to break with the Court's conservatives to uphold the constitutional right to burn an American flag or permit Americans citizens detained in military brigs the right to counsel? Doesn't that make him a justice determined to "follow the law," regardless of where it takes him?

No. No, it doesn't. No major league baseball team has ever gone an entire season without winning or losing a game. Not the 1962 New York Mets, the 1944 St. Louis Browns or any version of the Washington Nationals since 2006. And compared to the number of people actually affected by Texas v. Johnson (1989) . . . does anyone recall an epidemic of flag burning after that decision? . . . Scalia's votes and 18th century reasoning on almost everything else do not exactly make that a worthwhile trade-off.

And then there was William Rehnquist's elevation to the Chief Justice's chair, made possible by the retirement of Warren Burger in 1986. Quick, quick . . . can you name the Chief Justice confirmed by the fewest recorded votes in Supreme Court history? Hint: his name appears in this paragraph's first sentence.

So hear comes David Souter, replacing liberal icon William Brennan, with John Sununu promising that his would be the fifth vote -- finally! -- to undo the Court's decisions on abortion, affirmative action, habeas corpus, the rights of criminal defendants, school prayer, voting rights law and on and on. Never mind that the Court's most egregious decisions, to conservatives, were all the the product of the Court under Chief Justice Burger, a Court that never counted more than two justices appointed by Democratic presidents from 1969-1986. Want more? The Court has never had more than two justices appointed by Democratic presidents since 1969 serving on the Court at any one time. Barack Obama, courtesy of David Souter, will be the first Democratic president to have a third Democratic-appointed justice serve on the Court since . . . here we go . . . Lyndon B. Johnson.

That's 41 years, or almost two generations.

David Souter became a bogey man for constitutional reactionaries because they had gotten used to getting almost anything they wanted from the Conservative Five. Conservatives on the Scalia-Rehnquist (and later, Clarence Thomas) axis confused their archaic, contrived and dishonest jurisprudence with the "true meaning" of the Constitution, claiming that (read carefully, as this is no misprint) the original understanding of the original understanding of the Constitution is that the original understanding of the Constitution is the original understanding.


And they fully expected Souter, ever so grateful for an appointment to the Court, to take his marching orders and fall right in line.

Except that he didn't. Instead, David Souter demonstrated an independent mind, a respect for the Court's precedents, a much broader understanding of American politics and history than anyone seemed to give him credit for and a brilliant mind. The Washington political-media complex viewed Souter as some sort of benign Norman Bates, living with his mother up in a small town New Hampshire farm house, clueless to the world around him. Journalists were quick to describe not in 19th century terms, but in 1950 terms -- David Souter was a "bachleor," a word associated with Hugh Hefner's televised swingin' singles parties from the black and white era of television. Souter certainly didn't fit that description then and he doesn't now. It wouldn't be accurate to say that Souter was some sort of throwback to an earlier time when learned men traded high-minded ideas over candlelight and Madeira, since that time has never really existed except in the minds of historians wedded to the fairy-tale version of American history. On the current Court, Souter has outclassed them all, with the exception of 89 year-old John Paul Stevens. Get past those two and there is no genuine intellectual on the Court. Yes, there are some smart and exceptionally accomplished men and women (Ruth Bader Ginsburg especially). But genuine thinkers who idea of a good time is to read law, history, literature and politics until it's time to read more law, history, literature and politics? No. This has been a Court of appellate careerists whose relationship to and understanding of the world outside the formal boundaries of elite law schools, establishment law firms and the highest levels of government and politics has been, at best, marginal.

In 19 years on the Supreme Court, David Souter demonstrated that he belonged in the big leagues. Far from the free-spirited liberal that constitutional reactionaries have made him out to be, Souter was perhaps the most conservative, careful member of the Court. The decisions for which he was most criticized, usually dealing with Bill of Rights, the Fourteenth Amendment and the Commerce Clause, did little more than uphold Burger Court (or New Deal) precedent against the angry torch-bearing charge of Scalia and Thomas, who were and remain determined, in the 21st century version of the Lost Cause, to wield the Constitution as a pitchfork against modernity. Who knows how Souter would have decided the landmark decisions he chose to uphold rather than overturn? No one can possibly know how a man who was 14 years old when Brown v. Board of Education was handed down would have decided that case. Or, really, any other case for that matter. The human mind is too complex to assume that a particular character trait, education, assumed political identity and social background could possibly explain how someone whose judicial career began after a case was decided would have decided it when it was before him or her under totally different circumstances. Those questions make fun bar arguments, but have about as much intellectual value as a "how good would Derek Jeter have been in 1955?"-type debate. The answer is that nobody knows.

No, David Souter will not leave an opinion that fundamentally changed the direction of American constitutional law. He's in good company there, as very few justices do. Rather, he will be remembered as a thoughtful, modest and cerebral man who, in his own words, had "the world's best job in the world's worst city." There are many reasons why David Souter is my favorite Supreme Court justice. But that last sentiment describes perfectly the way I feel about my own career here. For that reason alone, David Souter will always remain a man to admire, respect and emulate.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Tom Tomorrow here

Click here to see the new Tom Tomorrow cartoon.

Monday, May 04, 2009

No hats for hat tricks?

As every hockey fan knows, from novice to fanatic, throwing hats on the ice when a hometown player scores the third goal of his hat trick is a custom that dates back as far as I can remember.

But, according to Sidney Crosby, Washington fans shouldn't have thrown their hats on the ice after Alex Ovechkin's third goal, his first NHL playoff hat trick. Ovechkin's goal put the Caps up for the first time in the game, and they held on 4-3.

"People kept throwing hats," Sidney Crosby said tonight. "I was just asking if he could make an announcement to ask them to stop. I mean, the first wave came and then I think they were all pretty much picked up, and then more started coming. So for us, we just wanted to make sure we kept kind of moving and kept the game going, wanted to try to get back in it. So wasn't complaining about anything."

Huh? I hope Crosby remembers to tell the officials on the Penguins' home ice to make an announcement to their fans not to throw their hats after he or any other Penguin scores three goals in a game.

I wrote the other day that Crosby's whining is the only drawback to his so-far spectacular NHL career. Read more here.

Red State Update

Jackie and Dunlap review Obama's first 100 damn days, prepare for the swine flu and post some photos of their recent trip to Talladega, Alabama, for a bikers' weekend.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

From Russia, with glove

Phew . . .

The Washington Capitals' newest Russian phenom, Simeon Varlamov, made what had to be the best save of the 2009 Stanley Cup playoffs -- and quite possibly the entire NHL season -- earlier today against none other than Pittsburgh Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby. The save definitely lifted a Caps team that was on their heels for most of the first two periods against the Penguins, stabilized their defense, which had been picked apart all game by Crosby and company. I had a perfect view of the save, sitting as I do in the second row of the upper-bowl. Naturally, I had to laugh after the game when I ran into some friends who sit in their expensive lower bowl seats wanting to know if I got a good view of the save.

"Yes, yes I did," I replied. "Did you enjoy seeing the save on the Jumbotron?"

I also saw all three of the Caps goals. Better yet, I saw all three plays develop completely unobstructed. Fantastic.

This is going to be one hell of a series. No one in their right mind can say that one team has a decided advantage over the other. For all the attention shone on the manufactured but hardly genuine Crosby vs. Ovechkin rivalry, this series will be won as most are -- by great goaltending and shutdown defensive play. I am not among Caps fans who harbor a special animus for Crosby, although it appears that hating Crosby is pretty much a league-wide sport. Ovechkin appeals far more to the average hockey fan than Crosby does, whereas Crosby is embraced by Canadians (and Pens fans) as the North American standard bearer of their sport. There is some irony here. Crosby plays a much more "European" game than Ovechkin does. He is a finesse player with a minimal physical presence who can nonetheless kill you with laser-guided passes and slick goals that come from not knowing whether to cut the passing lane or play him. Crosby has more than lived up to his expectations. My only negative with Crosby is the whining and complaining and slight sense of entitlement that goes with being the NHL's Chosen One. At 21, he'll grow out of it sooner rather than later.

Ovechkin, on the other hand, is all id to Crosby's superego. He plays every shift as if it were his last one, and hits anything that moves, and cannot, for anything, be taken off his skates. In the first period, Ovechkin crushed Pens agitator Matt Cooke along the boards, who plays a Sean Avery-type game minus the cheap shit and obnoxious personality. Cooke went looking for Ovechkin, found him, attempted an open-ice hit, couldn't knock him over, and ended up taking a really stupid penalty. The end result was a 5-3 power play, which allowed the Caps to tie the game up after . . . naturally, an opening goal from Crosby. Ovechkin is an absolute joy to watch, and will do more to bring casual sports fans to hockey than Crosby will just through the sheer force of his ebuillent personality and outrageous skills. Think Magic Johnson on skates.

Showing my age perhaps, the Crosby-Ovechkin match-up reminds me of the plot of "From Russia, With Love," the second James Bond movie. Crosby is 007, the handsome agent dispatched by Gary Bettman to make the NHL a family-friendly game. He's suave, has the equivalent of oil slicks, lasers and machine guns in his stick and puts the best North American face on a league that has become increasingly international (beyond the U.S. and Canada) in the last ten years. Ovechkin, on the other hand, is the Russian agent sent to kill him. Bond got the best of Red Grant in the movie's most violent sequence, the train fight towards the end. Remember how Bond was tipped off to Grant's true identity? Grant ordered the wrong wine with dinner, something no honorable MI6 agent would ever do. I pulled for Bond in the original movie. In the sequel, "From Russia, With Glove," I'm hoping that the Russians get their revenge.