Archive

February 23rd, 2016

Cruz and Rubio, Separated at Mirth

    Ted Cruz described Marco Rubio last week as “Donald Trump with a smile,” saying that both are quick to call their critics liars, though Rubio does it amiably.

    Cruz is right about Rubio’s affect, wrong about which candidate it distinguishes him from. He and Rubio are the pair twinned in so many respects beyond the curve of their lips.

    That makes these two U.S. senators — both in their first terms, both Cuban-American, both lawyers, just five months apart in age — a uniquely fascinating study in how much the style of a person’s politics drives perceptions of who he is and in how thoroughly optics eclipse substance.

    Rubio, 44, is routinely branded “mainstream” and occasionally labeled “moderate.” There’s a belief among Republican leaders, along with evidence in polls, that he has an appeal to less conservative voters that Cruz doesn’t.

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Why people believe conspiracy theories about Scalia's death

    Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died just days ago, but already conspiracy theories about his death abound. Radio talk-show host Alex Jones suggested that a pillow found near Scalia's head might indicate that he'd been suffocated. Some retired detectives said the lack of an autopsy was evidence of a cover-up. The website TruNews wondered whether the CIA used heart-attack-inducing drugs to kill the justice. Even Donald Trump joined the fray, calling the death "pretty unusual."

    For those who don't believe that the justice was murdered -- Scalia, at 79, had passed average life expectancy -- it can be disconcerting to watch a large swath of the public fall prey to hysteria and paranoia. After all, we live in a democracy. If a substantial portion of Americans operate in a conspiracy-fueled delirium, how can we make sound decisions, choose thoughtful leaders and support rational policies?

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We never really learned the lesson of 'To Kill a Mockingbird'

    "A court is only as sound as its jury, and a jury is only as sound as the men who make it up," Atticus Finch, the lawyer in "To Kill a Mockingbird," tells the jury in his closing arguments. Finch has just convincingly argued to acquit a black man, Tom Robinson, who was falsely accused of raping a white woman in a small Alabama town. Atticus Finch demonstrates for the jury that Tom could not have committed the crime. But the jury of 12 white men vote to convict Robinson, anyway.

    Harper Lee, the author of "To Kill a Mockingbird," passed away at 89 today, leaving behind a massive legacy. Her book sold more than 40 million copies since it was published in 1960, and Americans rank it among the most influential books they've read. But after more than 50 years and millions of classroom lessons, some of its central lessons still, at least at times, go unheard.

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Trump Shows His Inner Rabbit

    I am sorry to note that Donald Trump no longer seems to be at war with the pope.

    “No, I like him,” Trump said during a town hall on CNN. He added that he had “a lot of respect for the pope. I think he’s got a lot of personality.”

    There are several troubling matters here. One is that there is nothing more dangerous than having Donald Trump express a sudden fondness for you.

    “I like China.”

    “I love Mexican people.”

    “I love the Muslims.”

    Trump, you’ll remember, got ticked off because Francis said that anybody who obsesses about building walls to keep people out “is not Christian.” Trump retorted that anybody who doubted the moral stupendousness of wall-builders was “disgraceful.”

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This year, even leftists could vote for Trump

    I recently had an email exchange with a reader who was sharply critical of a mainstream presidential candidate. I asked her about her political affiliation. "I consider myself an independent, though I lean left," wrote Kari Copland, 69, an artist who lives in Montana. I expected an endorsement of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, but Copland surprised me. "I might vote for Donald Trump if he makes the cut," and if Republicans continue "to attempt to force their choice on the electorate."

    Leaning left but willing to vote for Trump? As it turns out, such people aren't so rare. In New Hampshire, the Sanders and Trump campaigns even came up with talking points to sway them. That illustrates a trend I've observed as an outsider to American politics: In this election, the U.S. political taxonomy is a mess, and the parties no longer easily fit any recognizable international political paradigm.

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The revival of liberal justice

    Nothing separated the odd couple of the Supreme Court -- the late Justice Antonin Scalia and his best buddy, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg -- more than their visions of the Constitution they both loved. Scalia saw the Constitution as a "dead" document, limited to the meaning of the original words at the moment the ink was dry, a moment when white, propertied men ruled. Ginsburg's Constitution, by contrast, is the expansive charter of an evolving society. She celebrates "the extension (through amendment, judicial interpretation, and practice) of constitutional rights and protections to once ignored or excluded people: to humans who were once held in bondage, to men without property, to the original inhabitants of the land that became the United States, and to women."

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The patience behind the discovery

    Like many homo sapiens on planet Earth, I was thrilled by this month's announcement of the first direct detection of gravitational waves. This finding surely ranks with the greatest scientific discoveries of the past 200 years.

    Nobody in the scientific community doubted the existence of gravitational waves. They are absolutely required by Albert Einstein's theory of gravity and have been indirectly inferred from other astrophysical observations. The great achievement here was the construction of the most sensitive scientific instrument ever built - able to measure changes in distance a thousand times smaller than the nucleus of an atom.

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Pope vs. Trump isn't a new phenomenon

    Many years ago, when Oliver North was running for the Senate from Virginia, I received a call from a reporter. She told me that some church groups in the commonwealth were praying for North's election. Then she asked if their behavior violated the separation of church and state. I explained to her that as separationism is a rule of constitutional law, only the state and not the church can violate it.

    My answer got on her nerves.

    That story came to mind with this week's news that Pope Francis, returning from his visit to Mexico, had said some, um, controversial things about presidential candidate Donald Trump. Much of the commentary has focused on the likely effect of the pope's comments on the Republican nomination battle. I've found more interesting the voices questioning whether the pope should have said anything at all.

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Journey through the nine levels of Feminist Hell using this handy map

    We have been hearing a lot lately about special places in hell for women who are insufficiently supportive of other women. I was wondering what else Feminist Hell contains, when, at the midpoint of my life, I found myself lost in a wood so dark that the path ahead was blotted out. I felt a terrible fear, heard immense wailing and there was a big sign overhead about Abandoning Hope Of Having It All, Ye Who Enter Here.

    Fortunately, Feminist Virgil was nice enough to give me a tour. (This was regular Virgil but he had fixed the Dido parts.) He led me down through the Vestibule and into Limbo and over the river of Man-Tears and the forest of armpit hair, sown by our Amazon forebears, explaining to me what each thing was and who the souls were being tormented. I have also drawn a crude map, which follows.

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Bush's last stand

    Some years ago, I added "To Kill a Mockingbird" to the syllabus of my course on Ethics in Literature. I teach in a law school, and the students in the seminar were as hard-bitten and hypercritical as one would expect. Most of the works we read they trashed from one end to the other, often with the easygoing savage hauteur of the young intellectual. But not "Mockingbird." They treated the classic with a respect bordering on awe. Prompting them to criticize it was as successful as prompting an evangelical to criticize the Bible.

    Harper Lee, who died Friday at 89, always professed herself astounded at the role of her masterpiece in the lives of so many millions of readers. The story's images are seared into us. Those who don't read it in middle school read it in high school. The book is as firmly installed in the popular culture as a novel can be. It's inspired satires galore -- including on "The Simpsons" -- and Aaron Sorkin is now adapting it for Broadway.

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