My Interview With RBG

I was very saddened to read yesterday of the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, after a long and hard-fought battle with cancer.  She was one of those rare Supreme Court justices who was not only a towering legal figure, but also a titanic cultural figure as well.

As the second woman to ever serve on the Supreme Court, Justice Ginsburg was a role model and iconic figure for generations of women entering the legal profession and, more broadly, women breaking boundaries in formerly male-dominated professions of all kinds.  Her jurisprudence shows that she was a tireless, and relentless, advocate for women’s rights, but also a brilliant and careful legal analyst and deft writer whose considerable brainpower was well applied to every case that came before the Supreme Court.

And in my view, at least, Justice Ginsburg was an important cultural figure in another way as well.  She was great friends with former Justice Antonin Scalia, even though their views on the law and its purpose could not have been farther apart.  They shared a love of opera, enjoyed socializing, and actually performed on stage in a 1994 Washington National Opera production.  It says something about the character and temperament of both Justice Ginsburg and Justice Scalia that they could put aside their political and legal disagreements and still enjoy each other’s company.  It’s a quality that we could use a bit more of in these bitterly divided, hyperpartisan times.

I had the privilege of actually interviewing for a clerkship position with Judge Ginsburg in 1984, when she was serving as one of the leading, up-and-coming judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and I was beginning my third year of law school.  I had sent resumes and letters to all of the court of appeals judges and was thrilled to get a callback interview with Judge Ginsburg.  (I suspect that her husband, Martin Ginsburg, a Georgetown Law professor who had taught two tax classes I had taken, may have put in a good word for me.)  Alas, when I arrived for the interview Judge Ginsburg told me, with characteristic gentle forthrightness, that she had just offered the position to another candidate, who had accepted, and she said that under the circumstances if I wanted to skip the interview she would understand and be fine with that.

I was disappointed at the news, but figured what the heck — how often am I going to get a chance to talk for a while with one of the world’s leading legal minds? — so I said if it was okay with her I’d like to stay and chat, anyway.  We spent a very enjoyable hour talking about her husband and his great teaching style and a law review article I was working on about the intersession pocket veto, an issue that had arisen before the D.C. Circuit.  Judge Ginsburg asked some incisive questions about the issues and had some interesting observations about them, and then flattered me by asking for a copy of my draft article, which I promptly sent.  I may not have gotten a clerkship out of our brief encounter, but I did get a good story and some insights into an important historical figure from the experience.

When President Clinton appointed Justice Ginsburg to the Supreme Court, I knew she would be an important Justice, and of course she was.  Today I remember not only the leading jurist and influential role model, but also the funny, dynamic person I met more than 35 years ago.  The world is a little poorer today with her passing.

The Random Restaurant Tour (XXXIX)

I can’t even remember the last time I had lunch at a food truck.  It’s been at least the six months of COVIDmania, for certain, and given that winter isn’t prime food truck territory, it was probably a good six months before that.  So when we saw that a food truck was going to be parking at Billings Marine, the boatyard in our neighborhood, going there to have a food truck lunch was an easy call.  I didn’t even care what kind of food the truck was offering–just the chance to get something hot and eat it outside, in a different setting, was irresistible.

So yesterday we hoofed it over to Billings during the lunch hour and took stock of Gott Lunch?, a truck that serves breakfast and lunch and is going to be camped at the boatyard from 9-4 every day.  Gott Lunch? offers a delectable array of hot sandwiches, all of which are served on toasted bread.  Everything on the menu looked good, so choosing a sandwich was tough, but after careful deliberation lasting about three milliseconds I went for a Philly steak melt with some mac ‘n cheese on the side.  The sandwich was great, and what really put it into awesome territory was the bread–a dense, crunchy multigrain that was loaded with flavor.  Put some grilled steak, melted cheese, and grilled onions on that toasted bread, let the melted cheese and grilled steak juice sink into the nooks and crannies of the toasted slices, add a few forkfuls of mac and swigs of cold water, and gobble it all down outdoors, and you’ve got a lunch to savor.   

We’ve all been good about accepting the reality of the coronavirus and modifying our behavior to responsibly account for the risks posed by a global pandemic, and our family has been no exception.  And that was one of the things that made our visit to Gott Lunch? so special.  Having lunch at a food truck was a highlight, because even though the food was terrific, what we really got to taste was a tiny bite of normalcy.

Rutting Season

The other day we were talking to one of the locals.  Russell mentioned that on his recent hikes he’s seen more deer activity, and has had to be careful driving in the wooded areas of Deer Isle to avoid collisions with deer charging out of the underbrush.  The local nodded sagely and said, simply:  “rutting season.”

(Whenever somebody says anything involving a “season,” my mind automatically cycles to a classic Looney Tunes where Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny are ripping hunting posters off a telephone poll, arguing “Rabbit Season!” and “Duck Season!” with increasing vehemence, only to finally expose an “Elmer Season” poster.  But, I digress.)

In this part of Maine, “rutting season” is serious business, and as much a time of year as winter, spring, or summer.  It’s the period where hormones are surging in the whitetail deer population and the cervidae are feeling the overpowering urge to mate.  During the height of “the rut,” Mainers will see antlered male deer “sparring” in fields and clearing, fighting for the right to court a choice female deer.  And when the rutting season arrives in full force, you’ve really got to watch it in the woods or on the roads, to keep an eye out for crazed, wild-eyed deer crashing out of the trees, in the grip of raw biological forces that are totally beyond their control.  Licensed hunters–especially bow hunters, apparently–think rutting season is the best season of the year.

Interestingly, nobody is quite sure when the rutting season truly begins, and some of the more scientific sorts divide the period into “pre-rut,” “rut,” and “post-rut” subperiods, characterized by different deer activity like males leaving scrapes on trees and then “seeking,” “chasing,” and “tending.”  Apparently the onset of the rut is affected by the shorter days, and colder temperatures . . . and it has gotten a lot cooler up here lately.  I’ve noticed increased deer activity even in our neighborhood, with a lot more signs of deer messing with the plants–and changes in eating patterns evidently are another sign of the onset of rutting season.  If we’re not in the “pre-rut” phase, we’re getting close.

So, brace yourself!  “Rutting season” may be near upon us.  And now that we’re going to be dealing with it, I’ll never describe myself as “being in a rut” again.

Reviving Perry Mason

Kish and I have spent the last few evenings watching the first season of the new HBO series Perry Mason.  The show is a reboot of the classic ’50s TV show that gave viewers the idea that dramatic courtroom confessions were an inevitable part of any criminal trial.

Putting a new spin on Perry Mason is a challenge, because the Perry Mason created by Raymond Burr in those black-and-white broadcast days was an iconic TV character–and the theme music of the show was one of the best theme songs of any TV show, ever.  Clad in sober suits with creases so sharp they could cut your hand and sporting a shave so close it made his craggy face look almost blue, Burr’s Perry Mason was always totally in control, in the office or the courtroom, ready to reduce any adverse witness into a quivering, sniveling mass as Perry, assisted by the faithful Della Street and investigator Paul Drake, delivered another acquittal for his client against seemingly impossible odds.  (And poor Hamilton Burger, the District Attorney who couldn’t win even an open-and-shut case, would add another devastating L in the loss column — yet somehow keep his job and be back, ready to lose again, next week.)

The new HBO show puts Perry in a different place and headed in different direction.  When we first meet Perry, during the depths of the Great Depression in 1931, he’s not in control of anything, and he’s not a lawyer:  he’s a private eye working for an old-line L.A. lawyer.  His life is a wreck, he’s separated from his wife and his son, he drinks too much, he’s still wrestling with the demons caused by his horrifying experience in the trenches in World War I, and his personal ethics are lax, at best.  Even more shocking for those of us familiar with the Raymond Burr character, he’s regularly unshaven.  But with the help of the lawyer’s savvy associate, Della Street, Perry ends up where he must inevitably be:  in the courtroom, representing a woman wrongly accused of killing her own child.  Paul Drake plays a pivotal role in helping to see that justice is done, and along the way we get our first look at Hamilton Burger — who actually helps Perry pass the bar and advises him on trial tactics.

Matthew Rhys is a decidedly more rumpled, and more human, Perry Mason who is easy to root for, and Chris Chalk burns with inner intensity as Paul Drake, who has to make his own difficult moral choices and deal with everyday racism as an African-American police officer who gets treated like a second-class citizen.  But the beating heart of the show is Juliet Rylance, who is terrific as the formidable Della Street, the brainy, hard-working character who puts Perry on the right path and doesn’t mind breaching a few ethical boundaries in doing so, either.  And don’t miss John Lithgow, who is wonderful as E.B. Jonathan, the likeable but puffed-up old-school lawyer whose office brings Perry and Della together.

Normally I am not a fan of courtroom shows; as a lawyer, they are typically so unrealistic that I can’t get past the outlandish plots and absurd courtroom antics.  But this show keeps that to a minimum, and the fact that the series is set in the early ’30s, when the practice of law was definitely different than it is now, helps in that regard.  We liked the new Perry Mason quite a bit and were glad to hear that it was renewed for a second season.  When Perry, Della and Paul return for their next big case — and may, perhaps, be matched up against poor Hamilton Burger — we’ll be watching.

On The Trail

This part of Maine is blessed with some fine hiking trails, and thanks to the Island Heritage Trust, Deer Isle has more than its share. A good hiking trail is a great place to rediscover the simple pleasure of a walk in the woods, and reengage with that inner child who has been buried under decades of life and countless layers of adult obligations. You can’t help but feel a bit like a kid again when you balance on some two-by-fours laid over the boggy areas or are tempted to skip a stone on the still waters of a pond.

It’s been a busy summer for us, and the occasional hikes have been an effective and much appreciated stress relief mechanism. As the summer draws to a close, we always regret that we didn’t take a few more, and vow that next summer we won’t make the same mistake.

Salt Intolerance

Do human taste buds and flavor tolerances change as human beings age?  Or are they just putting more salt — much, much more salt — into some foods these days?

I’m guessing it’s a little bit of both.  

I’ve definitely changed my application of salt to food as the years have gone by.  I used to reflexively salt things like cheeseburgers, steaks, eggs, and corn on the cob, but have long since stopped doing that.  These days, I rarely put salt on anything.  I’m a big fan of black pepper, and I like to apply seasonings like paprika and cayenne to give food an extra flavor kick.  But salt has moved to the back of the seasoning cabinet.

But I think it’s also true that many restaurants simply are a lot more liberal with their salting.  I’ve had to edit my list of restaurant foods because some orders are simply too salty to be enjoyed.  I’ve long since stopped getting carryout Chinese, because most places have so much sodium in their General Tso’s chicken that you kind of wonder whether the General was some kind of pathetic salt addict.  And McDonald’s fries are also at the verboten end of the salt spectrum.  Lately some pizzas also seem to be edging toward the forbidden zone.

Sometimes it’s just too tempting to try that piece of pizza, but I always end up deeply regretting it.  I find myself drinking glass after glass of water to make up for the salt intake, and I wake up at night feeling like every ounce of moisture has been sucked out of my body and you could use a straight razor to shave salt crystals off my tongue.  And then I vow that another food item must go onto the roster of banned items.  

This summer the GV Jogger generously got me a great t-shirt that says “Stay Salty.”  It refers to my personality, not my taste buds.

Sports And Politics

Yesterday my ESPN app sent me an “alert” that Baker Mayfield, the Cleveland Browns’ starting quarterback, had tweeted that he had decided to reverse course and stand for the National Anthem at the start of today’s game. (Or maybe it was the other way around; I really haven’t been paying close attention to Baker Mayfield’s apparently evolving stance on the National Anthem.)

Mostly, my reaction was that things sure have changed in the wide world of sports.since I was a kid. Of course, there wasn’t Twitter or social media of any kind in those days, but it’s hard to imagine any professional sports figure of my youth sending out any kind of politically oriented messages on the day before a Big Game. Their focus would be exclusively on getting their Game Face on for the contest — or, at least, they sure would want you to think that mental preparation was their sole preoccupation.

Of course, politics did mix with sports from time to time in those days. The John Carlos and Tommy Smith Black Power salutes during their medal award ceremony in the 1968 Olympics were a big deal, and if I recall correctly Redskins coach George Allen publicly endorsed President Nixon and let him call a play during a game. But for the most part sports was separate, and a chance to get away from politics and enter a world where your sports allegiances were far more important than your political inclinations and people from across the political spectrum could unite in celebration of the Browns’ 1964 NFL championship victory or commiserate about the ineptitude of the Cleveland Indians during the ’70s.  Sports was a kind of safe space for cocktail party conversation or backyard cookout chatter.

Those days are long gone.  Today’s athletes seem to be as immersed in politics as anybody else, and are very open about their views.  I’m perfectly okay with that, and recognize that these days a figure like LeBron James or Baker Mayfield has to be thinking about his position on issues like standing or kneeling for the National Anthem, because other people are going to be paying attention to it,  And athletes are as entitled as the next person to express their political views and use platforms like Twitter to do so.  Of course, political speech adds a new dimension to the sports star-fan dynamic.  Athletes who venture into the political world have to recognize that, just as they have the right to express their political views, fans do, too — maybe by booing, maybe by criticizing what they perceive as inconsistency or hypocrisy in the athletes’ positions, or maybe by just deciding that the world of sports is no longer as fun and innocent and apolitical as it used to be and not buying tickets to games or watching broadcasts or buying jerseys with their favorite player’s name,   

The days when sports and politics were separate worlds probably will never come back.  Politics has invaded everything, and sports is not immune.  That’s the reality, but I do kind of miss the days when you could watch a ball game for a few hours without politics intruding into the triumphs and heartbreaks of the sports fantasy world.   

Virtual Everything

Last night we had a special treat:  listening to the opening program of the 110th season of the Austin Symphony Orchestra.  It was a wonderful performance that kicked off with Handel’s The Music for the Royal Fireworks–featuring our favorite Principal Oboist playing my favorite genre of classical music, baroque–followed by Benjamin Britten’s Les illuminations, and closing with Aaron Copland’s beautiful Appalachian Spring.

It was an excellent program — but like pretty much everything else these days, it was of course strictly a virtual experience. The performances were videotaped and recorded, and we watched and listened to them on a laptop.  It was clear that the orchestra had taken great care to avoid any potential pandemic transmission problems, including having the conductor and all string players wear masks, and separating the horn and wind players from each other by plastic dividers.  And Mela Dailey, the soprano who sang brilliantly as the centerpiece of the Britten work, wore a contraption that looked a lot like a beekeeper’s headpiece.  Amazingly, the device did not seem to interfere with her dynamic voice, so a tip of the cap to whoever has spent the last few months designing COVID-safe devices for classical music singers.

Of course, a virtual performance is lacking one thing that is an important part of the live music experience:  the audience.  There’s a definite energy generated by a concert crowd, whether it is the subdued, pre-performance murmurs, the immediate hush when the conductor enters, the thunderous applause and shouts when each piece concludes, or the standing ovation at the end of the program.  I’m sure the performers miss that energy.  The ASO tried to emulate a live performance by having an intermission, but that’s difficult to recreate virtually, too, because during intermission the crowd is the performer–filing out, getting a drink, and talking excitedly about the first part of the performance.  Last night the ASO tried to fill the intermission void with recorded performances by the principal harpist and the principal tubist.

So we’ve now had our first virtual concert.  It wasn’t the same as attending a live performance, obviously, but it was nevertheless hugely enjoyable to listen to some beautiful music and support one of America’s many deserving cultural and arts organizations, all of which have been hit very hard by the pandemic and need the support.  A virtual performance may not be quite as terrific as the real thing, but virtual music is better than none at all.

Spider Season

The spiders of Stonington— industrious creatures that they are—have been busy these days. Every morning the grass spiders have left dozens of their distinctive funnel webs at various locations on the ground and between the flowers of our flower beds. And other spiders, not to be outdone, have left more traditional radial webs on the eaves and railings, as well as the occasional plant.

The spider activity seems to increase as the temperatures cool, and their handiwork is even more noticeable on dewy mornings. Part of my daily activity involves knocking webs off the flowers, which otherwise would look totally mummified and covered in dried leaves and other debris in a few days. And walking just about anywhere poses a risk of stumbling into stray spiderwebbed filaments.

In fact, if you wanted to adopt a scary natural Halloween look, you’d just let the spiders spin their webs undisturbed. By the time Halloween rolled around you’d have a creepy, cobwebbed house and grounds suitable for a slasher flick.

Sea Fever

I don’t get tired of looking at boats, and of all the boats I like the graceful sailboats the best.  Watching them glide by is a treat, and it reminded me of a nice bit of poetry about the lure of the sea and the “tall ship” boats: 

Sea Fever by John Masefield

I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.
 
I must down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.
 
I must down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.

Office Envy

My last full day in the office was March 13, 2020.  As I close in now on my six-month anniversary of an office-free work existence, untethered to a specific physical location, I have to admit it:  I kind of miss my office.

I’ve been perfectly content working remotely and using all of the technology that permits us to do so.  And without having to do my “walking commute” in the morning and evening, and with “lunch hours” that often consist of a hastily prepared sandwich that I eat while continuing to work, I feel like I’ve made very productive use of my “working remotely” time.

But, after working at the firm for 35 years, I’d gotten to the point of having a pretty darned nice office.  I miss my L-shaped desk set-up, which allowed me to easily pivot from working on the computer to a large, reasonably tidy desk surface, at the just the right height, where I could spread out papers and keep documents for different matters in different stacks that were close at hand.  I miss my office windows and the overhead lights that made my office a bright place to toil.  I miss my office chair, with its ergonomic design and rubbery webbing that would let you kind of sink into it, that gave me the ability to swivel around and lean back, always with total lumbar support.  And I really miss the susurrus of the office background noise coming in through the doorway, and the drifting voices of my colleagues as they pass by in the hall and chat at the nearby elevator bank.

So, don’t get me wrong — working remotely has been just fine.  Really!  But I suspect that, when I get back to the office for a regular day’s work, and get to experience that office environment again, I’ll sink back into that familiar chair, give it a quick whirl around, lean back, and think “aaah.

Through Morning Mist

Sometimes the morning fog makes the world of Stonington look . . . different. This morning, the mist shrouding the sun as I returned from my walk gave this scene of the harbor from the foot of the Greenhead peninsula a kind of flat, monochromatic feel that looked like something you might see in a National Geographic article on Southeast Asia.

On the Glacial Erratic Trail

The glaciers descended on Deer Isle, as they did across most of the northern United States.  With their immense force and grinding power, they reshaped the landscape, scooping out harbors and inlets and coves and beveling the shoreline.  When the glaciers finally receded, after staying for millennia, they left behind the craggy Maine coastline we now know and love, as well as colossal, non-native rocks that the glaciers had brought with their initial inexorable advance.

Yesterday, on a foggy Labor Day morning, Russell and Betty and I explored some of the glaciers’ handiwork through a hike on the glacial erratic trail at the Old Settlement Quarry Island Heritage Trust site.  It’s a beautiful trail that winds through the woods and lets you see some of the glacial debris up close — like the enormous metamorphic rock pictured above that the glaciers brought with them on their visit and then left in place, deposited on top of the native Maine granite — as well as an alpine meadow, with its “snow in summer” plant life, pictured to the right. 

The Island Heritage Trust has done a fabulous job with all of the trails and hiking sites on Deer Isle, and the glacial erratic trail, and the rest of the Old Settlement Quarry site, is one of the best trails they have developed.  Thanks to the Island Heritage Trust, the people of Stonington will never have to worry about having a good place for a stimulating pre-breakfast hike on a Labor Day morning.

The glacial erratic trial ends at the old quarry itself, which also offers a lot of interesting viewing.  For decades, the granite-cutting business was a key part of the economy in this area, and the old quarry site gives you a glimpse of how the work was done — and just how tough that work was.  In the photo at left you can see the holes the granite workers drilled to place explosive charges to try to take advantage of fissures and split the rock into the desired shapes and sizes, and some of the precision work that was done, like the huge “box cut” pictured below that blasted out a massive square of granite.  It must have been an incredibly noisy and dangerous place to work.

The Old Settlement Quarry site sits atop a dome of granite that usually offers a commanding view of some of the islands and inlets of Deer Isle.  Thanks to a thick blanket of fog, we didn’t get the expected view, but we did see lots of rock — both the erratic rock dropped off by the glaciers, and the immense piles of granite “grout” left behind from the quarry operations.  If you like rock, the glacial erratic trail at the Old Settlement Quarry site is the hike for you.

Setting The Rules

Recently, after I wrote about getting a cast iron skillet as a gift, I was invited to join the “Cast Iron Cooking” group on Facebook. When I clicked on the link, I was asked three questions: why did I want to join, did I represent that I had read the group’s rules, and did I agree to abide by the rules? I explained that I was interested in learning about using a skillet, read the rules, answered yes to the latter two questions, and was pleased to be allowed to become a member.

I was intrigued by the group’s rules.  What was rule number 1?  “No politics, PERIOD. No drama, PERIOD.”  And to make that point crystal clear:  “ABSOLUTELY no political, “healthy vs unhealthy” posts, medical advice, requests for sympathy or attention, or “cute little games” with the rules. NO POLITICS.”  Rule number 4 is “Rudeness is not tolerated,” and adds:  “If you don’t like it, move on and read something else. Comments about how *you* dislike someone else’s cooked food will be removed. Profanity will get you banned. Arguing with admins is not advised. Puke emojis and GIFs will get deleted.”  Rule number 9 is “No viral videos and funny meme pictures,” and Rule number 10 reads “Accts posting Spam, scam, porn = immediate ban!”  Other rules include things like no selling of items and agreeing that administrators may delete posts.

These rules work pretty well.  The Cast Iron Cooking group is a very pleasant, positive group where you see a lot of pictures of delicious-looking food in cast iron cookery and are motivated to try things like cooking fried chicken in your skillet.  I’d say the administrators who came up with the rules did a very good job.

The group’s rules made me think about the rules that you might impose if you were setting up a group that members of the public might be allowed to join or a website where random people might make comments.  Some people might welcome political chatter and harsh denunciations of this candidate or that, or the posters who voice support for them.  Some might want to see the latest cruel memes.  As for me, I would definitely adopt the Cast Iron Cooking Rules 1, 4, 9, and 10, quoted above.  You can get a bellyful of politics, discourteous comments, and general misbehavior on just about any website that allows comments, or for that matter on the general Facebook page.  It’s nice to have a little oasis where civility reigns.

A Bottle’s Story

My latest recreational activity up here has been a project to try to expose the large rocks in the down yard and level out the ground in the process. it’s a classic pointless project. Is it necessary? Absolutely not! But it’s fun, and gets me exercise out in the fresh air, and I like to see physical results of my daily labors.

The project involves lots of digging with small tools as you work between the big rocks to lever out small rocks and level out the soil. And, sometimes, as happened yesterday afternoon, you find stuff — like the classic Nehi bottle and blue glass canning jar lid pictured above, both of which were wedged into a tiny crevice between two large rocks and covered in decades of dirt. They’ll join our collection of other bottles that have been retrieved, intact, from the down yard.

Alas, most of what I’ve dug up is shattered glass. I’ve excavated so many shards of glass that I’m convinced people must have used our down yard area for target practice or random, drunken bottle breaking. That’s why it’s cool to retrieve some intact old pieces that escaped the onslaught.