Stuff & Such

  Jerome Shea       July 7, 2009      Weekend Wonk

Yes, a grab bag in which will squirm Sonia Sotomayor, some medieval theologians, PBS folks, and anything else that strikes my fancy.

My local public television station is having yet another pledge drive. I hate those things with a hatred that should be reserved for serial killers. And I don’t really know why. Clearly, the “pledge breaks,” groaning on interminably, would tax the patience of a saint (gee, what could be more exciting than watching a phone bank while some fidgety guy assaults us with banalities). But what mystifies me is the animosity I reserve for the special shows they feature. I know they are supposed to be special treats to loosen our purse strings, but I don’t want three tenors or four contraltos or even six castrati. I don’t want Yanni at the Acropolis and I don’t want Andre Rieu anywhere. Irish though I am, I don’t want Celtic clog dancers clogging my screen. I want my Nova and my Frontline and my Masterpiece Theatre, dammit! I am getting the sweats right now just typing about it.

So here’s an idea. Why don’t they run a scrolling banner at the bottom of the screen for a week or so that says something like “Hey, if we don’t get $80,000 in contributions before Friday, you will force us to have a PLEDGE DRIVE next week.” I bet folks would pony up lickety-split!

Shea’s Ratio: the darker the window tint, the ruder the driver.

The White House has nominated Judge Sonia Sotomayor to fill the Supreme Court vacancy created by the retirement of David Souter (that slimy turncoat). Conservatives are screaming, and screaming all the louder because there is little they can do to stop her confirmation. Rush Limbaugh says she’s a “reverse racist,” and right wing pundits have piled on with dire warnings that this activist judge is going to trash the Constitution, ignore the original intent of the framers, show no judicial restraint, and decide cases with her feminine, ethnic heart rather than her pretty little head. Oh, and they accuse Obama of playing identity politics. How quickly they forget Clarence Thomas (who was, by the way, eminently less qualified).

It’s the best show in town and I could not be more delighted that the GOP has its knickers in a twist. Here is a woman from the Bronx projects who graduated summa cum laude from Princeton, was editor of the Yale Law Journal, and has more experience on the federal bench than any nominee in the last hundred years. Even conservative jurists who have worked with her have nothing but good to say. She points out quite rightly that one’s life experiences have a lot to do with one’s judgments. This is heresy for the original intent/judicial restraint crowd. Of course it is also hypocrisy. Does anyone seriously believe that Chief Justice John Roberts—who testified that he saw a justice’s dispassionate role as similar to that of an umpire—is not influenced by his white male, upper middle class experiences? Don’t you wonder why he consistently finds in favor of the powers that be? Give me, as they say, a break.

Then there is Frank Ricci, who sued the city of New Haven because he passed the test for promotion in the NHFD only to see the city nullify the results because no minority fire fighters had qualified. This does seem patently unfair, and I really want to hear Sotomayor defend her ruling, which upheld a lower court finding against Ricci. But as one columnist has observed, the appellate court was not asked to decide what was fair, only what was legal and, sadly, the two do not always coincide. Sotomayor’s decision might be characterized—with delicious irony—as an example of judicial restraint. Oddly, I have not seen any mention of Lilly Ledbetter, who sued Goodyear Tire when she found out that for many years she had been paid less than men who held positions identical to hers. Tough luck, said the Supreme Court—you waited too long. I will assume that this was also a case of judicial restraint, bless their hearts. But such was the outrage that arose over that legal but unfair ruling that Congress passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009.

In a little book entitled The Natural History of Nonsense, the always entertaining Bergen Evans disinters the controversy over whether Adam (and Eve) had a belly button or not. In our sad secular era we would probably say, “Who the hell cares?” and switch on American Idol. But for medieval theologians, who tried to give artists guidance in this matter, this was very serious business. Think about it. If Adam and Eve did not have navels, then they were, as human beings, imperfect—and God does not traffic in imperfection. On the other hand, not being born of woman they had no need of navels, and God would not create things with no purpose. (Hey, don’t ask me.)

Next week: if they did have belly buttons, were they innies or outies?

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