Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

Rights and Protections -or- Easy on the Analogies, There, Chief

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has taken some pretty serious body shots from his critics, during his two and a half decades in that job.

In January 2013, several media outlets reported on his remarks from the bench. Not so much their content, though, as the fact that he had actually made remarks at all. It had been a month shy of seven years since he had spoken at all during Supreme Court oral arguments. “A study of transcripts by Timothy Johnson of the University of Minnesota,” reported CNN, “found in the past four decades, no justice besides Thomas had failed to speak at least once during an entire 12-month term.”

Speaking (!) as a shy person, I may not wish to assess someone’s intelligence or engagement based solely on the frequency of his or her utterances. That way might lead to hypocrisy. There are people who have impressed me greatly (or, in some cases, frankly unnerved me) during my life who have spoken very infrequently, or concisely, and who have done a lot more listening than blabbing.

And, doing a little digging, I discovered an interesting and relevant tidbit: Justice Thomas spoke the Gullah language, not English, during his childhood near Savannah, Georgia. When he attended the College of the Holy Cross, Thomas realized that his speech still sounded unpolished, despite having been drilled in English grammar at school, and chose to major in English literature “to conquer the language”.

Recognizing that childhood experiences often have a lifelong effect on a person, I can see my way to excusing a certain residual reticence on his part. Historically, I myself have been much more comfortable sending an eMail to a person or company than picking up the phone and making a cold call. I can do public speaking; but I have to kinda rev myself up for it.

The usual verbosity of this blog, in fact, might lead a reader to think that verbosity pervades my whole life. The reader would be very wrong.

I’m sure I’m not the first person to recognize writing as an easier environment in which to organize one’s thoughts. And if I were a Supreme Court justice, with my dissents and decisions and such being in the public record, potentially to be pored over by legal and non-legal minds for many ensuing decades … well, I’d want to do a few drafts before doing the Supreme Court equivalent of hitting “send”. And I think I’m careful with this blog!…

So I’m inclined to read one of Justice Thomas’ bits of writing, from one of this week’s decisions, with some chin-scratching of my own.

Today, the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that states’ bans on same-sex marriage violated the Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution. Justice Thomas was one of the three dissenting judges.

In his dissent, Thomas wrote:

Perhaps recognizing that these cases do not actually involve liberty as it has been understood, the majority goes to great lengths to assert that its decision will advance the “dignity” of same-sex couples. … The flaw in that reasoning, of course, is that the Constitution contains no “dignity” Clause, and even if it did, the government would be incapable of bestowing dignity.

Human dignity has long been understood in this country to be innate. When the Framers proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal” and “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,” they referred to a vision of mankind in which all humans are created in the image of God and therefore of inherent worth. That vision is the foundation upon which this Nation was built.

The corollary of that principle is that human dignity cannot be taken away by the government. Slaves did not lose their dignity (any more than they lost their humanity) because the government allowed them to be enslaved. Those held in internment camps did not lose their dignity because the government confined them. And those denied governmental benefits certainly do not lose their dignity because the government denies them those benefits. The government cannot bestow dignity, and it cannot take it away.

Objection, Your Honor: … human dignity cannot be taken away by a government? Those held in internment camps do not lose their dignity because a government confines them?

Counsel wishes to enter into evidence: perhaps the McCarthy hearings in the 1950s? … Or perhaps the Christians and the lions engaging in an afternoon tilt on a beautiful Rome day in the Colosseum? … Or perhaps Birmingham, Alabama public safety commissioner “Bull” Connor’s 1963 use of fire hoses and police attack dogs against civil rights protestors, including their children, to enforce racial segregation? … Or, with my profuse apologies for the invocation of Godwin’s Law, but … Auschwitz?

Also: objection, Your Honor: … slaves did not lose their dignity because the government allowed them to be enslaved?

Counsel wishes to enter into evidence: the idea that if someone is owned by someone else, regardless of whether a government has stepped in and said “hold it” … the person who is owned has by definition lost at least some of their dignity, regardless of whether their owner “treats them well”.

I dunno, maybe I need to brush up on my definition of “dignity” … but I don’t think so.

Finally, and this is the crux of the decision … so, objection, Your Honor: … those denied governmental benefits certainly do not lose their dignity because the government denies them those benefits?

Counsel wishes to place this into evidence:

Until today, there were same-sex couples that wished to be married, went to their local government office to try to secure a marriage license, so that they could be registered as legally committed to each other (and thereby enjoy the same rights and protections that “straight” couples have always enjoyed – including those related to social security, tax law, health care, hospital visitations, child custody, and plain ol’ public acceptance and recognition of a committed personal relationship) – and were refused by some local-government employee who took it upon themselves to pass judgment upon them for personal or religious reasons, or our-state-law-still-bans-this-sort-of-thing reasons, or no very damn good reason at all.

And they probably felt like, in fact were treated like, second-class citizens.

That’s not an example of a government contributing to their loss of dignity?

Counsel wishes to suggest, Your Honor, that you have not exhibited the empathy for your fellow human beings (those who wish to enjoy the same benefits of marriage – not more, but the same benefits – and have the same opportunity to screw marriage up) that any human being ought to be capable of showing another human being.

Counsel also wishes to suggest – may it please the Court – that if the Justice is going to utilize analogies, that in the future he ought to find some that most of the good and decent people that I know wouldn’t sadly shake their heads at.


Analogies, it is true, decide nothing, but they can make one feel more at home.” Sigmund Freud, The Essentials of Psycho-Analysis

June 26, 2015 Posted by | civil rights, current events, Famous Persons, government, news | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Makes You Want to Throw Your Hands (Or Something) Up

File this under “Just when you thought you’d heard it all”.

There have been moments lately when I’ve genuinely wondered about people’s ability to access common sense. Not all people, and not all one political party or the other. But check out these three examples of people, from public officials to public employees to public figures, who frankly ought to know better than to do or say what they’ve done or said.

I speak of two news items and an interview that really got my attention this week. One got my attention in the context of “civility in public discourse”, an issue that was raised loudly, shortly after Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) was shot, in January. One got my attention in the context of that same Giffords shooting, having to do with “have we learned nothing?”. And one got my attention in the context of public safety issues.

First one: Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly conducted an interview with US Congressman Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) on the subject of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, and whether he should recuse himself when hearing cases in which he might have a conflict of interest thanks to his wife’s lobbying efforts. Let us set aside the topic. Let us set aside whether Ms. Kelly is with Fox News or NBC News or the “Elm Street Elementary School News”. Let us set aside Rep. Weiner’s political party. Let us set aside whether Megyn Kelly is a journalist or a commentator. Those are all topics for another time. Instead, watch this clip, especially beginning about three minutes in, and see if you don’t think you’re watching a TV personality basically telling off a sitting United States Congressman.

Come to think of it, whether she’s Megyn Kelly or Gene Kelly, and whether he’s Anthony Weiner or an Oscar Meyer Weiner … makes no difference. Speaking as a former journalism major, I think Rep. Weiner is right about what is proper interview form; and I think Ms. Kelly is making a complete fool of herself by rolling her eyes and displaying utter contempt for her interview subject. I’ve heard BBC interviewers pretty effectively skewer their interview subjects if they think they’ve got their facts wrong, and they were forceful, and sometimes interrupted their interview subjects to clarify this or that point; but ultimately they did it respectfully and without resorting to belittling them. Megyn didn’t.


Second one: How in the name of Heaven can a group of legislators watch the shooting of a United States congresswoman from their very own state, and then two months later go and pass a bill that essentially establishes blanket legalization of the carrying of guns at any public event in that state? Apparently, the Arizona state legislature knows how to do this. But if the crafting and passing of this legislation doesn’t call into question the very humanity of Arizona’s elected representatives, at least it demonstrates their utter lack of awareness of irony. Do they have any faint clue how this looks?


And to my eye, amazingly, this is the worst one: As much as the Wisconsin state capital is probably starting to really smell like Unwashed Protester, and as much as some Wisconsin state legislators would probably like to have a moment’s peace and quiet in the building where they work… Well, you can debate whether protesters should or should not be allowed to protest in perpetuity inside the state capitol; and you can debate whether Gov. Scott Walker is pulling out absolutely all the stops he can think of, to try and get his policies in place; and you can debate whether public employee unions are destroying this country or saving it for the middle class and poor of America. But you cannot debate this: it is beyond inappropriate – it is just plain dangerous, a display of complete disregard for public safety, to prohibit firefighters responding to a call from getting to the location of that call.

And that, staggeringly, appears to be what happened in Madison on Thursday.

Firefighters received an emergency call saying that someone inside the Wisconsin state capitol building (it turned out to be a police officer) was trapped in an elevator. The firefighters didn’t know whether there was maybe a medical emergency associated with this; their job was to rescue a citizen stuck in an elevator. And when they tried to enter the building, security personnel refused to let them in. Refused!

I sincerely hope this was not politically tinged. But whether or not anyone can prove that these security officers were following politically motivated instructions, or were just being more “letter of the law” than “spirit of the law” guys… will someone please explain to me, if these security personnel have not been fired yet, why they have not been fired yet?

What … in the hell … is going on lately?

March 4, 2011 Posted by | celebrity, government, journalism, media, news | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Smug Year-End Review

Well, everyone else is publishing one of these 2010 retrospectives, so I don’t see why I shouldn’t muddy the waters as well.  I shall call this: “Superlatives of 2010!!!!”  With just that many exclamation points.

Feel-Good Story of the Year (Which Every Media Outlet in America Instantly Recognized as a Hanging Curveball): The “Chi! Chi! Chi! Le! Le! Le! Los mineros de Chile!” chant at the rescue of the 33 trapped Chilean miners in October. My only question is, did anyone follow up with a conversation about mine safety regulations? Hello? … Hello? …

Global News Story of the Year, Nominee #1: collapsing economies. US, almost, a while ago; Greece and Ireland this year; and this cannot be over, can it? Note to self: do not forget about the numerous national economies which have NEVER been in good shape, the ones in which they don’t even have a decent water supply, or the ones in which the local government leaders think it’s in their best interests to step on their own people’s figurative necks.

Global News Story of the Year, Nominee #2: the weather. Jeff Masters, founding meteorologist of Weather Underground, said, “In my 30 plus years of being a meteorologist I can’t ever recall a year like this one as far as extreme weather events go, not only for the US but the world at large.” For local confirmation, please chat with my friends in Delaware, who had no idea what to do with 28 inches of snow arriving in one shot; or chat with my mother about the five and a half feet of water that visited her basement this spring, and she lives nowhere near an actual river or body of water.

Organization That Produced the Loudest, If Not the Greatest Number of, Faintly Dangerous Attention-Getters: the Tea Party. Honorable mention: the NBA.

The “You Do Realize What You’re Saying, Don’t You?” Award, Nominee #1 (of a frighteningly large number): Sharron Angle, Nevada senatorial candidate, for this badly veiled threat: “I hope that’s not where we’re going, but you know, if this Congress keeps going the way it is, people are really looking toward those Second Amendment remedies. They’re saying: My goodness, what can we do to turn this country around?” WE turned around pretty quick at that one.

Most Dispiriting Discovery, Nominee #1: This was the year in which President Obama discovered that, in spite of his wish to instill Change, Washington politics are so spectacularly entrenched that compromise (ya gotta give a little to get a little) can indeed feel like getting screwed over (ya gotta give a little to still get nothing out of your opponents…!).

Most Dispiriting Discovery, Nominee #2: Christine O’Donnell.

Best News, Nominee #1: The official pullout of US combat troops from Iraq. Now if only we can figure out what to do in Afghanistan. Hint: same thing. There’s a reason they call Afghanistan the “graveyard of empires”. Just ask the Soviet Union.

Best News, Nominee #2: the trade of Randy Moss from the New England Patriots to the Tennessee Titans. If you’re a Patriots fan, anyway.

Most Conveniently Ignored Building: the Islamic mosque near the site of the World Trade Center in New York City. –The one that’s been there since the 1970s.

The “Where Are They Now?” Award: victims of the earthquake in Haiti, all the way back in January. Right about where they were, I think.

Easiest Easy Decision Made Difficult: the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Yet another example of institutionalized discrimination finally dealt with, in some respect. And check it out! A political campaign promise is actually fulfilled. And who knew we’d actually be thanking Joe Lieberman for his work on something?

Biggest Event Planner Disappointment: Opt-Out Day. Mass protests of new (and fairly “oo! get your hands outta there!” personal) TSA airline-travel security measures were planned for the biggest travel day of the year, the day before Thanksgiving. Reports seemed to indicate that a lower-than-expected number of people loudly refused to submit to either the patdowns (easy there, sailor) or the full-body scans which didn’t constitute porn but didn’t exactly remind people of Victorian portraits either.

Most Dangerous Decision: The Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision made in Citizens United v. Federal Election commission: essentially, government cannot restrict spending by corporations for political campaigns – because it is the corporations’ First Amendment right to support candidates as they see fit. Which is to say, officially, money is speech.  What about people who don’t have much money?  …Yeah, I thought so.

Least Perceptive Public Relations Statement: “I want my life back,” said BP CEO Tony Hayward, lamenting the amount of time and effort it was costing him to deal with the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico caused by an explosion at one of BP’s offshore drilling rigs. Well, he got his yacht races back pretty quickly. The wildlife being killed by that oil spill could not be reached for comment, but it probably wanted its life back too.

Most Unfortunate Irony in a Public Statement: “We…insistently beg forgiveness from God and from the persons involved.” This, from Pope Benedict XVI, while issuing an apology for years of sexual abuse of children by priests … an apology which marked the end of the Roman Catholic Church’s Year of the Priest.

Simultaneously Best and Worst Way to Leave Your Employer: Airline flight attendant Steven Slater grabbing two bottles of beer and sliding down the emergency chute after being abused by a passenger.  If you have to burn a bridge, make sure it’s a bouncy fun one.

Scariest Excuse for a State Governor: Arizona governor Jan Brewer. Virginia, Minnesota and even Massachusetts offered occasional faint competition this year, but honestly, if you heard this lady give a speech, she was both ominous and incompetent simultaneously. Extra points awarded for seeming to be just plain heartless and mean.

The “Still Out There” Double-Meaning Award: North Korean “dear leader” Kim Jong Il.

The “Can’t Decide Whether I’m Behind Him or Not, And Feel Like I Should Know” Award: Julian Assange of Wikileaks.

The “Hope Springs Eternal” Award: Virginia Thomas, wife of US Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. “I just wanted to reach across the airwaves and the years and ask you to consider something,” she said in a voice mail left for Anita Hill, asking Hill to apologize for accusing Justice Thomas of sexual harassment nineteen years ago. (In the process, Mrs. Thomas probably said more than her husband reportedly has said from the bench in his entire Supreme Court career.)

False Equivalency Award: George W. Bush. “I had a sickening feeling every time I thought about it. I still do,” he (or someone) wrote in his new memoir, Decision Point, saying he still feels badly that no weapons of mass destruction were ever found in Iraq. Not as sickening a feeling as that endured by any father or mother of a US soldier who has been killed in Iraq since 2003. But undoubtedly sickening.

Musical Instrument of the Year: World Cup vuvuzelas.

Second Most Recent Example of a Coddled Professional Athlete Drawing a Pass for Behavior That Would Spell Permanent Ostracizing for the Rest of Us: Tiger Woods.

Most Recent Example of a Coddled Professional Athlete Drawing a Pass for Behavior That Would Spell Permanent Ostracizing for the Rest of Us: Michael Vick.

Best AND Worst Marketing Ploy: LeBron James spending an hour on ESPN before declaring, humbly, that he was “taking [his] talents to South Beach” and the Miami Heat.

Best Sporting Event Audience Participation Moment: fans of the Cleveland Cavaliers, greeting LeBron James upon the occasion of the Miami Heat’s first 2009-10 regular-season visit to James’ former home court.

Best Early-Season Sports Result: best record in the NBA as of December 25 belonging to, not the Miami Heat, but the San Antonio Spurs. Somewhere in Texas, Tim Duncan is chuckling quietly.

Team You Kinda Had To Root For, Even If Very Few of the Players Are From That City: The 2010 Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints.

Sporting Event in Which the Players Were Believeable When They Said They Were Thrilled to Be There: the NHL Winter Classic, Boston Bruins against the Philadelphia Flyers, at Fenway Park. (Anyone remember that?)

Most Briefly Yet Forcefully, and Least-Deservingly, Vilified, Semi-Pro Athlete: John Shuster, inconsistently successful captain of the struggling US Olympic curling team at the Vancouver Games in February. Happily, most people once again think he’s somehow related to a guy named Simon, if they think of him at all.

The Actress Wisdom Award (Zero-Irony-or-Sarcasm Division): “Your face tells a story – and it shouldn’t be a story about your drive to the doctor’s office.” –Julia Roberts, saying no to Botox.

And Still My Favorite Public Person, When Push Comes to Shove: Michelle Obama. Asked what accomplishment she was most proud of after her first year at the White House: “My kids are sane.”

Least Meaningful Controversy: Conan O’Brien vs. Jay Leno.

Latest invention that I don’t have the grit to try and figure out: Kindle. I like turning pages with my own darn fingers anyway, thanks.

My own personal arts-related discovery of the year: the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain. Look these people up on YouTube and have a giggle.

Famous Persons No Longer With Us (some of whom I’m embarrassed to say I’d forgotten about till now):

Manute Bol, absurdly tall basketball player. Robert Byrd, US senator from West Virginia; Ted Stevens, US senator from Alaska. Richard Holbrooke, US diplomat. Lena Horne, jazz singer. Dame Joan Sutherland, opera singer. Irvin Kershner, director of (among other things) The Empire Strikes Back (nerd alert). Leslie Nielson and Peter Graves, two thirds of the cockpit crew of the movie “Airplane!”. Mitch Miller, a bandleader whose Christmas album was the first record I ever wore out (age about 7). Elizabeth Post, he reported politely and with perfect etiquette. J.D. Salinger, author (this news was just sad, and all). Daniel Schorr, truly intrepid journalist. Jean Simmons, an actress I should have paid more attention to before. John Wooden, former UCLA basketball coach, at age 100. Nodar Kumaritashvili, the Georgian Olympic luge competitor who died violently at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Mosi Tatupu, New England Patriot running back. Don Kent, legendary Boston meteorologist. John Henning, veteran Boston political reporter. George Steinbrenner and Bob Sheppard, of the New York Yankees. Pat Burns, former hockey coach of both the Boston Bruins AND the Montreal Canadiens. Jill Clayburgh and Tony Curtis, actors. Elizabeth Edwards. Bob Feller, Hall-of-Fame baseball pitcher. Billy Taylor, jazz pianist.


Hardest, Strangest Words To Type: any sentence beginning with “George N. Parks” and ending with “passed away”. While the untimely passing of a college band director may not qualify as a national or international news event … well, perhaps it might, actually, within certain contexts. Click upon this link or paste it into your web browser and read an article that describes why we may have lost a larger contributor to American music than we even may have thought: http://artsedresearch.typepad.com/blog/2010/09/george-n-parks-1953-2010-a-life-in-context.html

And then read this article – it’s perhaps a bit less strictly scholarly, definitely more personal; but another very apt description, from UMass drum major Aaron Staluppi … the same view, from a different angle: http://halftimemag.com/articles/11-2010/11-2010-behind-the-baton/starred-thoughts-about-george-n-parks.html


My current Facebook status says, “Happier New Year.” May 2011 be so. We live in hope.


P.S. And check it out. Not a single Fox News reference. I am the very model of restraint. Clap for me.

January 1, 2011 Posted by | band, baseball, blogging, celebrity, entertainment, Facebook, Famous Persons, football, GNP, government, heroes, journalism, literature, marching band, media, movies, music, news, politics, science, science fiction, social media, sports, technology, television | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments