Withheld Judgment

Judge Sonia Sotomayor, President Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court, has served for 11 years on the United States Court of the Appeals for the Second Circuit, which is one of the most important of the federal appellate courts. The Second Circuit’s jurisdiction includes New York City, and for that reason many of the most important cases involving securities laws, the operations of the markets, and other corporate and business activities come to the Second Circuit.

I see that some people already are highly critical of Judge Sotomayor, based in part on comments she has made in commencement addresses and other speeches. Stray comments made in the course of speeches seem like a poor basis on which to decide whether someone is suited to the nation’s highest court. I suggest, instead, that people read the opinions that Judge Sotomayor authored in her 11 years on the Second Circuit (and, before then, on the federal district court bench). Those opinions will provide lots of information about Judge Sotomayor’s analytical abilities, writing skills, and perspective on many different legal issues. An old rule of law states that a court speaks through its opinions and journal entries. Anyone assessing whether Judge Sotomayor merits elevation to the Supreme Court should start there, and withhold judgment until they have completed a careful review of her actual judicial work product.

The Best American Band: The Aerosmith Observation

Our family dispute began when I innocently stated that I thought a strong case could be made that Aerosmith is the greatest American rock ‘n’ roll band, ever. Although controversy ensued, and we discussed a number of other candidates for that distinction, I still think my initial observation is eminently defensible.

Wikipedia reports that Aerosmith has been around for almost 40 years, and apparently has sold more records than any other American rock group. These kinds of statistics don’t mean much to me. My acid test is whether the music sounds good in a car, and produces a sound that breaks through the stale offerings that you hear on the radio. Aerosmith passes those tests with flying colors. I defy anyone to listen to the first few power notes of Walk This Way or Same Old Song and Dance and resist the impulse to crank up the volume to eardrum-bruising levels. When I was in high school I proudly owned Aerosmith, and Get Your Wings, and Toys In the Attic. All were wonderful, but Toys In The Attic was special; I played it until it was rutted and scratched — and even through the pops and hisses the music still sounded fantastic. Great bluesy guitar riffs, a strong beat, and terrific, raspy vocals. The music still stands up, more than 30 years later. I thought the Walk This Way remake with Run D.M.C. was great, and while I haven’t liked their later recordings as much as their early work, I think their early stuff is so good that Aerosmith demands consideration on any “best American bands” list.

I’ve got 10 Aerosmith songs on the Ipod — 11 if you count the Run D.M.C. cover of Walk This Way. They are Adam’s Apple, The Train Kept A Rollin’, Back in the Saddle, Dream On, Same Old Song and Dance, Walk This Way, Big Ten Inch Record, Sweet Emotion, Last Child, and Back in the Saddle (Live). If you matched those 10 songs against 10 songs from any other American group, you’d blow most of the competition out of the water and you’d be competitive with anyone.

Edited to add: Time to Vote for your choice for Best American Band!

Road Rage

Today my boring drive to work in the morning became more exciting than I would have wished. It was about 7:15 a.m., and I was heading west on I-670 and nearing downtown. Traffic was moderately heavy on the three-lane highway. I was in the far left lane when I saw sudden movement in my rear-view mirror. In a flash, a car going much faster than the general traffic flow darted out from behind a car in the lane to my right, sped up, and cut right in front of me, missing my front right bumper by inches. As my adrenalin surged and I cursed that driver I noticed another car behind me that was flashing its headlights and driving recklessly in pursuit of the first car. The two cars then chased each other down the road, swerving through the rush-hour traffic. As I approached the stop light on Third Street, I saw one of the two cars come dangerously close to the other, and then the drivers rolled down their windows and proceeded to yell at each other, their raised voices matched by angry gestures. Fortunately, both drivers stayed in their cars and the situation did not escalate; one car turned right, another went straight ahead, and that was that.

This particular instance of road rage ended without any violence, but it still was very disturbing. Angry, reckless drivers on a busy road put everyone at risk. And when I witness one of these kinds of incidents, I always think two things: first, what has caused these two people to snap; and second, what if one of them has a gun?


North Korea is one of those countries that is so cut off from the outside world that it is almost impossible to know what is really going on there. As a result, when North Korea does something unexpected — like its test firing of a nuclear missile yesterday — people are left to guess about what caused North Korea to act. This article, which identifies three possible reasons for the nuclear test, is a good example.

Anyone trained in negotiation will tell you that a significant part of being a successful negotiator is knowing who you are negotiating with and understanding their motivations so that you can develop a proposal that they will find attractive. How can you do that with a country like North Korea, where outside governments don’t even know for sure who is in charge?

The Best American Band

With Richard home for the weekend and Russell home for the summer, we’ve had a few discussions about the best American band of the rock ‘n’ roll era. A few boundaries for the discussion — it has to be a band in which members (except for the singer) play musical instruments. So singing groups like the Temptations, the Supremes, and the Four Seasons, and individual singers or performers are out. And, it has to be a band, not a duo. So, acts like Simon and Garfunkel are out, too. And, it has to be purely American in its membership, so the groups of the British invasion and other performers who came to America from elsewhere, like Neil Young, can’t be considered.

In the next few days I’ll write about some of the bands that I think should be ranked toward the top, and maybe the boys, who disagreed vehemently with my initial observations in that regard, may add a word or two about their selections. We’d be happy to take suggestions from our vast readership, too.

Edited to add: Time to Vote for your choice for Best American Band!

Memorial Day

When I was a kid, signs of military service were everywhere. Most of the Dads in our neighborhoods had served in World War II, or Korea, or in the peacetime military. I remember my junior high school principal, Mr. Glick, had lost part of a finger during World War II, and my fifth grade teacher, Mr. Dalton, had returned from service overseas with an impressive collection of very cool German war souvenirs and would occasionally bring them to class and share them with we impressionable fifth-grade boys. All of this was just an everyday part of the world we lived in. This article on “Army buddies” makes that point about life in America in the 1960s, and also reflects a bit on what was lost when the draft and national service were no longer mandatory.

One of my first jobs was for Congressman Chalmers P. Wylie, a strapping but gentle man who had served in Europe during World War II and who received the Silver Star for heroism. As a young First Lieutenant, he rescued two members of his unit who were grievously injured when they inadvertently wandered into a minefield. How? Without a moment’s hesitation he went in after them, slung one onto one shoulder and one onto the other, and walked out of the minefield. (I’ve linked to his Silver Star citation.) You couldn’t help but be impressed by those acts, but Mr. Wylie was never boastful about his service. One of the most memorable conversations I have ever had occurred late one night, when Mr. Wylie and I were working on answering constituent mail. We got to talking about President Truman’s decision to use the atomic bomb against the Japanese. Mr. Wylie mentioned that, after the war in Europe had ended, he and his unit had been selected to be part of the force to invade Japan and had been training for that task when the first bomb was dropped. There was no doubt in his mind that President Truman had made the right decision — because it was a decision that ensured that he and his friends and thousands of other American soldiers would survive the war. I thought of Mr. Wylie when I read this piece by Peggy Noonan, and I think of that conversation whenever I hear an academic second-guess the decision to use the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

Finally, there was Kish’s Dad, Bill Kishman, who also served in World War II. His story was not an unusual one. He was born on a farm and grew up in a small town, never venturing very far from home. When the war came he enlisted and was shipped overseas to serve in Europe, as a driver. He never talked much about his service, either, but it was obvious that military service had touched him. When the war ended he returned home, went back to his farm, got married and raised a family. He was one of the finest people I ever met, and we have a neat photo of him, lined up in the courtyard of Army headquarters in some European town, preparing to receive a medal. World War II not only changed him, it also changed our country in a number of different ways.

We are now blessed in America with a terrific professional military that is the envy of every country on the planet. I salute Mr. Wylie and Mr. Kishman for their voluntary service and patriotism. I also want to thank all veterans and active members of our armed forces, at home and abroad, for their service and sacrifice. Happy Memorial Day to you all!

Hands Across America

It was born of earnest but fuzzy-headed ’80s political thinking — the same kind of thinking that led small towns in New England to believe that by declaring themselves “nuclear-free zones” they would have a real impact on nuclear proliferation. It was called ” Hands Across America.” The concept was simple: millions of people would link hands at the same moment, in a human chain that would stretch unbroken from sea to shining sea. It was sponsored by a group called USA for Africa. There was a “Hands Across America” song, and a logo, and there were corporate sponsors, and t-shirts, and breathlessly dedicated celebrities who went on talk shows to discuss how the event would change the country.

One of the cities through which the chain would run was Washington, D.C. The plan called for the chain to run from the Capitol directly down Pennsylvania Avenue, past the White House to Georgetown. One of the locations along that route was the Columbia Hospital for Women. And so it was that, on the afternoon of May 25, 1986, I stood at the window of Kish’s hospital room, looking out the window to see people sheepishly wander out into the street to join hands.

Our May 25, 1986 had started at about 1 a.m., as Kish’s contractions began. We drove from our apartment in Alexandria down deserted streets and highways to the hospital, and at about 8 a.m. — after some fits and starts and scares — Richard was born. Watching Kish hold him, his head covered by a little stocking cap, was a beautiful sight. I remember being relieved, and happy, and proud, and a bit overwhelmed at the thought of being a father. By 3 p.m., the time “Hands Across America” came together, I had been to the nursery window to gaze at Richard about a hundred times and some of the initial shock of parenthood was wearing off. I remember thinking it was great that this event would make the date of our son’s birth extra special. And while “Hands Across America” did not change the world, for Kish and me May 25, 1986 certainly changed our world.

Happy Birthday, Richard!

Richard at Devil's Tower

Richard at Devil's Tower

Best Sunday Of The Year

For my money, the Sunday before Memorial Day is the best Sunday of the year — better than Super Sunday, better than Father’s Day, and better than the last day of the U.S. Open. Why? Because the next day is a day off!
This afternoon I plan to be out on my brick patio, drinking a frosty adult beverage, listening to music and preparing to grill out.

The Sunday before Labor Day is good, too, but not quite as good as the Sunday before Memorial Day. By Labor Day, kids have returned to school, the end of summer looms large, and winter seems just around the corner. On the Sunday before Memorial Day, on the other hand, summer is just ready to begin, the weather has turned warm, promise is in the air, and dreams of improvement on the golf course have not yet been dashed against the rocks of reality. So, enjoy this afternoon — it is unquestionably the best Sunday afternoon of the year.

State of Bankruptcy

Here’s an interesting editorial on the possibility that California might go into bankruptcy in an attempt to get its fiscal house in order — an option that some other governmental entities have exercised. It is sad state of affairs when elected leaders bring governmental bodies to this point, but the bankruptcy laws are there for good reasons. Better to use the bankruptcy laws to fix the problems that are driving California under than to use budget gimmicks and borrowing that will only make the problems worse in the long term.

Dogz in the ‘Hood

They say some people are cat people, and some people are dog people. Our neighborhood is a dog neighborhood.

Virtually every house has a dog, and some — like the folks across the street — have two, or three, or even four dogs. Each of these dogs has its own distinctive personality. Our house, of course, features the intellectually challenged Penny the Wonder Dog, who has the strongest ongoing chewing impulse in the history of the dog world. Next door is the constantly yapping Sassy, who bears a very stern countenance and prances around with a pig-like curlicue tail like she owns New Albany. Nearby, the angry Biscuit charges every passerby, ready to snap at their heels and doing periodic spin moves as she races pell-mell from side to side behind her invisible shock fence. In the other direction is the savvy Ms. Beagle, who likes to silently rush up on pedestrians before startling them by baying at the top of her lungs, and poor, sad Tiger, who paws the ground in frustration when the invisible fence prevents him from frolicking with every dog that goes by.

Sadder still are the dogs that never seem to get out of the house. When Penny and I stroll past on our walks, we can hear those dogs barking wildly inside their houses. These pathetic dogs obviously spend their days looking out the window, just hoping to see a little activity. It always reminds me of the Far Side cartoon where a sad-faced dog holding a violin looks out the window to see other dogs tormenting a cat. It seems unfair to keep a dog penned up inside all day.

The Road To France

This article reports that one of our elected Representatives has introduced legislation requiring that every American company with more than 100 employees (later to apply to companies with more than 50 employees) to provide first one week, and later two weeks, of paid vacation to every employee who has worked at the company for a year. The purported theory is that more vacation will stimulate the economy by causing fewer sick days, better productivity, and happier employees.

Of course, there is a big gap between a bill and a law, and I hope that Congress decides it has better things to do than saddling American businesses with still more benefit obligations in a time of economic recession. It’s interesting that the article notes that America is “dead last” among 21 industrial companies when it comes to providing paid vacation, and falls well behind France, which mandates that employers provide 30 paid days of vacation each year. When will Congress understand that the competition is not about which country can force businesses to provide the most benefits, but rather which country can best encourage businesses to grow and provide jobs? I don’t think we want to be France, with its static economy and institutionalized unemployment and lifetime jobs and periodic labor strikes. In any case, American companies typically aren’t competing with French companies, but companies from China, and Korea, and India, and Brazil. How much paid vacation do you suppose those countries require local businesses to provide?

Soul Playlist: The First 20

I like soul and R&B music very much. It was music that was played on all of the popular radio stations when I was growing up — when radio stations, generally, tended to play a much broader spectrum of music. You might hear a Beatles’ song followed by one by the Temptations followed by In-a-Gadda-da-Vida. These days, radio stations seem to pick one specific kind of music and stick to it, which I think is a lot more boring.

I tend to associate soul and R&B music with summer. I’m not sure why, but muggy nights in the ’60s and early ’70s always seemed to feature lightning bugs and Aretha Franklin, flashlight tag and the Supremes, ice cream and the Four Tops. In high school when you were on a date you always wanted to hear Me and Mrs. Jones, or Gladys Knight and the Pips, or anything by the Spinners. When I listen to those songs now, I am always struck by how romantic they are, full of love and heartbreak, longing and hope, desire and wistful dreams. You can’t help but contrast the generally positive message of those songs with the harsh, hateful misogyny of so much rap music. And the sound! Stunning vocals, lush harmonies, and melodies and a beat that just got you moving and singing along . . . .

Here are the first 20 songs on the soul/R&B playlist on my Ipod:

Me And Mrs. Jones — Billy Paul
Oh Girl — The Chi-Lites
Neither One Of Us (Wants To Be The First To Say Goodbye) — Gladys Knight & The Pips
I Wish It Would Rain — The Temptations
Respect — Aretha Franklin
Back Stabbers — The O’Jays
Let’s Get It On — Marvin Gaye
Let’s Stay Together — Al Green
Bring It On Home To Me — Sam Cooke
You’re Still A Young Man — Tower Of Power
Ain’t No Woman (Like The One I’ve Got) — Four Tops
I Hear A Symphony — Diana Ross & The Supremes
Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin) — Sly & The Family Stone
Colors — Amos Lee
Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone (Single Version) — The Temptations
I’ll Be Around — The Spinners
Respect Yourself — The Staple Singers
Think — Aretha Franklin
This Will Be (An Everlasting Love) — Natalie Cole
What’d I Say – Parts I & II — Ray Charles

Penny Cheswick

Our dog Penny has a deeply furrowed brow and a perpetually perplexed expression that goes well with her amiable but dim-witted personality. Her face has always looked very familiar to me, and this morning I was trying to place who she looked like when I suddenly realized — she looks just like Charlie Cheswick (pictured below) from One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.

Charlie Cheswick

Charlie Cheswick

Nothing New Under The (Chicago) Sun

This article discusses how the campaign organization of U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. has directly paid his wife more than $200,000 in the last 8 years, including almost $100,000 in the last two years, when she also has been purportedly serving on Chicago City Council. His organization also has contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to her campaign organization. What has she done to deserve such compensation? Well, she’s apparently a consultant!

I freely admit that I am a cynic about such activities, but I still am frequently amazed by the brazenness of this kind of behavior. The harsh reality is that our political classes are awash in cash — they have to raise staggering sums of money to get elected, and then when they get to Washington they have access to staggering sums of taxpayer dollars to spend. This process is necessarily corrupting, and becomes all the more so when congressional redistricting results in gerrymandered, ever more safely drawn seats that are obviously Democratic or obviously Republican. When you have incumbents who can go decades without being seriously challenged, who can easily raise hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions from lobbyists whose legislative agenda falls within the incumbent’s committee assignments, and colleagues who are perfectly content to engage in mutual back-scratching and logrolling, you end up with this kind of system.

Anyone who thinks that there is going to be broad, meaningful change in the American body politic under these circumstances is dreaming foolish dreams, soon to be dashed.