The Next Justice

Last night at dinner — celebrating Kate’s birthday with our friends John and Debbie — Bush’s impending Supreme Court nomination came up.

“How many emails have you gotten from the Democrats about Sandra Day O’Connor?” John asked.

Well, not hundreds. But a steady stream from MoveOn and other liberal groups. The messages complement the “progressive” protests that greeted the news that O’Connor was retiring and that Bush is finally getting his dreaded chance to pick a real right-winger for the court. MoveOn PAC, the explicitly partisan arm of the liberal interest group born here in Berkeley of software money, is calling on its supporters to hold house parties this weekend to talk up a campaign to convince Bush to do the right thing and pick a middle-of-the-road justice.

I don’t want to be dismissive of a noble effort. But I will be, anyway.

First: Just what are these action groups and protesters thinking? That they’re dealing with a bunch of people who can be reasoned with, whose consciences are open to appeals based on democracy’s finer points? If so, they’re even further out of touch than they look when they go in front of the cameras shrieking about Bush’s imminent destruction of the republic.

The people they’re dealing with are like, you know, the Emperor and Darth Vader from “Star Wars.” Your puny democratic principles. Just wait till the Death Star gets done with them. This crew thought next to nothing about committing us to a struggle in Iraq that they know casually intimate will last, gee, for another decade or more. So: appeals to reason and conscience? Not in this life, though one can hope they have a reckoning during their next turn on the wheel.

Second: The protests and house party ideas — the notion that this is a pragmatic approach, a way to jawbone the president and his ideologues toward the political center — are just kind of loony. Fact is, Bush will be exercising an executive prerogative, just the way almost every other president has done. There’s absolutely nothing in history or The Good Book of Common Decency that requires him to do what his political foes consider the right thing; or to care what they think, for that matter, unless they have the votes to make a difference.

It’s kind of disingenuous to pretend otherwise. Just how would it look to the Democrats/liberals if they had one of their own in the White House right now and the religious right was mounting a crusade to keep a Roe-friendly “out-of-the-mainstream” nominee off the court? They’d be heading to the barricades to defend the president’s prerogative, I imagine.

Someone named Ben Brandzel, under whose name today’s MoveOn PAC e-missive was sent out, points to O’Connor’s nomination and unanimous (99-0) confirmation in 1981 as “a great example of how this process is supposed to work.” Moderately. Reasonably. Everyone goes home happy. And you get a justice who respects abortion rights.

Except that’s not how it really happened in O’Connor’s case. She was one of four consecutive nominees who won confirmation with zero “nay” votes on the Senate floor: John Paul Stevens, O’Connor, and Anthony Kennedy all got unanimous approval, and so did Antonin Scalia, the arch-conservative.

The streak was broken with David Souter. He was confirmed 90-9, with the no votes coming from MoveOn-type senators (Kennedy, Kerry, Alan Cranston, Bill Bradley and others) who expressed concern Souter would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade. Instead, he’s turned out to be, along with O’Connor and Kennedy (seen as a Catholic conservative going in) what most would consider a MoveOn-friendly moderate. Citing O’Connor’s 99-0 vote as evidence of how the process of friendly moderation is supposed to work is simply misinterpreting the record.

What would seem more reasonable for the panic-mongers to do at this point … is to wait and see who gets nominated. Then, the shrieking can have a specific target and might actually prevent another Clarence Thomas from getting on the court.

24th* Annual Spit: Triumph & Controversy


The 24th (At Least) Annual Holly Street 4th of July Watermelon-Seed Spitting Contest yielded both history and a controversy that may, in time, draw the attention of the National Watermelon Promotion Board.

The historic aspect of today’s strenuously contested battle was simple: Nico Martinucci, whom this correspondent remembers from the time before he existed in his current incarnation, became the youngest HS4JWSSC professional division winner in the competition’s voluminous and tidily kept annals. I’m not actually sure how old Nico is now — but I’m guessing 15 (his birthday’s in January). His winning hawk was 35 feet, 1 inch and change. He and his dad, Piero (HS4JWSSC pro division champ, 1998) are the first father-son winners in contest history. Neighborhood representatives are canvassing local genetics labs for interest in studying the hereditary dimension of seed-spitting prowess.

The controversy that lingers over the multigenerational Martinucci family triumph revolves around another kind of DNA mystery: Some participants in today’s festival of expectoration say they believe the continued genetic manipulation of Citrullus lanatus to produce seedless melons is making robust, massive, spittable seeds a thing of the past.

“I predict the distances will only get lower,” said frequent Holly Street visitor Greg, who finished second to young Martinucci. “It’s the seedless watermelons — the seeds you do see are just getting smaller and smaller. The seeds used to be like peach pits.” Ensuing ruminations centered on the possibility of launching a Holly Street heirloom watermelon-breeding project to produce a more satisfyingly seedy melon. Possible objections included climate and the unwanted police attention that the use of grow-lights and other artificial gardening techniques might attract.

(Pictured above: Nico Martinucci (in cap), this year’s Holly Street watermelon-seed spitting champion, with past winners from lower Holly Street (from left: Steve Kimbrough, Piero Martinucci, John Creger.)

Al Watch

Al Trautwig’s back! The Outdoor Life Network launched its Tour de France coverage Saturday, and they’ve got the same gallery of syntax- and image-torturing rogues breathlessly covering every breathless mile. The ring leader: the mellifluous-voiced Trautwig, who has wasted no time unloading fresh gems from his 2005 Tour simile/metaphor/cliche trove. To wit:

During Saturday’s prologue: “It’s the tip of the needle in the haystack.”

During Sunday’s stage on Thor Hushovd, Norway’s favorite cycling son: “His body’s as wide as the country he represents. …” Of course Norway is a very long, very skinny country.

July 2, 1863

An account of one incident on Gettysburg’s second day from Shelby Foote, who died earlier this week (Slate published this analysis of his complex place in Civil War lore and historiography on Friday):

“[Union General Winfield Scott Hancock] ordered Gibbon and Hays to double-time southward along the ridge and use what was left of their commands to plug the gap the rebels were about to strike.

“He hurried in that direction, ahead of his troops, and arrived in time to witness the final rout of Humphreys, whose men were in full flight by now, with Wilcox close on their heels and driving hard for the scantily defended ridge beyond. As he himself climbed back up the slope on horseback, under heavy fire from the attackers, Hancock wondered how he was going to stop or even delay them long enough for a substantial line of defense to be formed on the high ground. Gibbon and Hays ‘had been ordered up and were coming on the run,’ he later explained, ‘but I saw that in some way five minutes must be gained or we were lost.’ Just then the lead regiment of Gibbon’s first brigade came over the crest in a column of fours, and Hancock saw a chance to gain those five minutes, though at a cruel price.

” ‘What regiment is this?’ he asked the officer at the head of the column moving toward him down the slope.

” ‘First Minnesota,’ Colonel William Colvill replied.

“Hancock nodded. ‘Colonel, do you see those colors?’ As he spoke he pointed at the Alabama flag in the front rank of the charging rebels. Colvill said he did. ‘Then take them,’ Hancock told him.

“Quickly, though scarcely a man among them could have failed to see what was being asked of him, the Minnesotans deployed on the slope … 262 men present for duty … and charging headlong down it, bayonets fixed, struck the center of the long gray line. … The Confederates recoiled briefly, then came on again, yelling fiercely as they concentrated their fire on this one undersized blue regiment. The result was devastating. Colvill and all but three of his officers were killed or wounded, together with 215 of his men. A captain brought the 47 survivors back up the ridge, less than one fifth as many as had charged down it. They had not taken the Alabama flag, but had held onto their own. And they had given Hancock his five minutes, plus five more for good measure.”

July 1, 2005

Iraq, 835th Day:

“… It is indeed better to fight here. If Iraq has become a training ground for terrorism, so be it. It is then fortunate that the best military in the world just happens to be here ready to locate, close with, and destroy them before they spread. Here in Iraq we are a target for terrorism. Good! They know where to find us, and we invite them to do so. We are wining this fight. One shot at a time. One block at a time, one pair of shoes on a child’s feet at a time, one vote at a time, one free election at a time. To a soldier this is simply duty, nothing more. To the Iraqis, this is a gift, paid with the blood of youth, paid for in missed anniversaries, paid for in bitter combat, paid for in the hopes and dreams of Americans being forever extinguished on streets called, Haifa, and 60th, in towns called Dora, and Karadda. In a country called Iraq, in a place once called the cradle of civilization. We are the light by which the new democracy of Iraq will traverse through the darkness. We are Americans!”

From a U.S. soldier’s blog: Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum

July 1, 1863

Gettysburg, First Day:

“… Wadsworth’s division was falling back…, the rebs pushing rapidly on and cheering. They were also attacking the Eleventh Corps at the same time. The Cashtown Road being our most important point, each one had aimed to take care of it. Robinson had ordered Stewart (Battery B, 4th US) to take post on each side of the railroad. Doubleday had ordered Stevens (Battery E, 5th Maine Artillery) from where I had placed him at the left to the road itself. Cooper (Battery B, 1st Pennsylvania) had his four guns immediately in front of the main building… Thus there eighteen pieces on a frontage of not over two hundred yards. But there was no time to make changes, for the rebs were coming steadily on down the ridge in front only five hundred yards off and all the guns were blazing away at them as lively as possible. In a little time I went to the right and front of (Lieutenant) Wilbur’s section, one piece of which was on the Cashtown Road. I found Lieutenant Davison had thrown his half of Battery ‘B’ around so as to get an oblique, almost enfilading fire on the rebel lines. His round shot, together with the canister poured in from all other guns, was cutting great gaps in the front line of the enemy. But still they came on, the gaps being closed by regiments from the second line, and this again filled up a third column which was coming over the hill. Never have I seen such a charge. Not a man seemed to falter. Lee may well be proud of his infantry; I wish ours was equal up to it.”

–From “A Diary of Battle, The Personal Journals of Colonel Charles S. Wainwright, 1861-1865

Det Var En Gång En Cykel


Swedish, I think, for "there once was a bicycle." Someone was sending this around on a bike club email list. It’s a sedate little Flash slideshow of the quiet life of a Swedish bicycle abandoned on a picturesque canal bridge. If I could read Swedish, I could tell you more: The movie is being served from the site of Dagens Nyheter, Sweden’s largest-circulation daily, which last week ran a story on the bike and the people who made the movie. Oh, the movie: It’s here.