God’s Reward

Yes, they are.  God’s reward, that is.  Grandchildren are god’s reward for not having killed your own kids.  I posted a piece called “It Doesn’t Get Better Than This,” on August 5, 2007, which was something of a paean to the joys of grandparenting.  Upon rereading it recently, I’m prepared to double down on everything I said or tried to say then.  I’ve also alluded to traveling with grandchildren in a series of posts in 2012 under the rubric of “Europe with the Grandkids,” wherein I referenced our familial policy of undertaking a major travel outing with each of our grandchildren on or about their 12th birthday.  It’s lost in the fog of a successful history how this practice came into being. Personally, I think I should take most of the credit for it, as it is my wont to credit myself with all successful things having to do with family.  On a deeper level, I know this to be not entirely true, but I do it here to remain within form.

In a posting entitled “Why 12?,” written during the above referenced European trip, I gave an abbreviated explanation on why age 12 was ideal for multi-generational travel, at least as we practiced it.  I said then and repeat here: “At this age (12) they know everything and they know nothing.  They are impatient with our frailties, but attentive to our needs.  They are desirous of everything they see, but conscious of their own desire to please us.”  Yep, I’m still convinced it was exactly the right age, teetering as they are between childhood and adolescence.  We proved it six times over.  Now some of you already know that Darling Wife S. and I have eight grandchildren, so there is more to the story on why we took only six trips.

These excursions took place over a period of time (approximately ten years), during which, for S. and I, time did not stand still.  The world continued to turn and we continued to grow older, both physically and in disposition.  When we traveled with grand-twins Max and Mercer to Alaska (our last of these trips), I could no longer even aspire to following them down a zip line as I had done with Logan in Costa Rica.  When we traveled with grandson Tilt to New York, I could no longer tolerate missing my afternoon nap as I had done with granddaughter Annabel in the Galapagos Islands, where every minute was packed with a new and exciting activity. I suspect that Georgia and Hudson on our trip through Europe, and even Sophia in Panama got the worst of it.  S. and I had not yet arrived at the understanding that we could not do it all, i.e., everything they wanted to do and still maintain our… well, sanity.

There was always some discussion about destinations.  My public position was that the kids got to choose, but I will admit here that this was never fully true.  As certain politicos today might say, that was an alternative fact.  In general, each trip was planned around a ten-day period during which they could be pried away from their parents and the kaleidoscope of activities that engulf kids today.  The sweet spot for our travels seemed to be sometime between spring break and early summer, but not always.  We gravitated to warm weather locations that we didn’t wear ourselves out getting to.  I also leaned toward places I either hadn’t been (Galapagos, Panama) or places to which I wanted to return (London, Paris).  Of course, the kids had input, but if I did it right, I correctly employed the power of suggestion to the point where each kid thought it was their idea, or they at least had major input.  Well, maybe Panama was an exception. There was never fooling Sophia. So here’s the complete list:

2008 Logan McGill – Travel throughout Costa Rica

2010 Annabel McGill – Quito, Ecuador then cruising the Galapagos Islands

2011 Georgia McGill and Hudson Fernandes – London, Paris, and the Chunnel Train

2013 Sophia Fernandes – Panama City, the Canal, and the Panamanian Highlands

2014 Tilt Fernandes – Washington DC, New York City, and the Acela Express Train

2016 Max and Mercer Fernandes – Vancouver, Canada then cruising the inside passage of Alaska.  Alaskan train to Anchorage. On the cruise we were joined by the boys’ father, Caleb.

You can see that we doubled up with Hudson and Georgia who are the same age, and Max and Mercer who are not only the same age, but are fraternal twins. Actually, it wasn’t an easy decision in either case.  The unstated, but deeply felt, intent of these trips was to give us the opportunity to not only get to know each child on a more personal level, but also to create the enduring bond which often occurs through shared travel.  We wondered how this would play out traveling in pairs.  But it was the right decision in both cases.  Georgia and Hudson got along famously, even conspiring to confront me on my aggressive scheduling of uninteresting (to them) activities.  Max and Mercer together dominated (in a very nice way) all other kids on the cruise ship by organizing them into posses of constantly active, happy kids doing all those things that kids do.

It’s impossible to recount here everything we did on these trips, but there are certain things that are indelibly imprinted in my memory.  The sight of Logan zipping down the zip line in Costa Rica while hanging upside down and backwards.  She also informed us one evening that she thought it would be interesting to join the salsa dancing class (which clearly was not intended for 12-year-olds), and so she did.

I still remember with some degree of horror trying to keep up with Annabel swimming with sea lions, using my modified dog paddle.  And later that same trip, Annabel stunned and delighted us, along with the cruise staff and a lounge full of passengers, by giving an extraordinary rendition of Abba’s Thank You for the Music during karaoke night.

I can still see Hudson and Georgia with arms akimbo, waiting in the world’s longest and slowest moving line to get in the Musee d’Orsay, and the family consultation at which we all agreed to bypass one of the world’s best art museums in favor of an early morning pizza.  And I aIso recall with pride the comment of the owner of a French/Vietnamese restaurant who said as we paid  the bill, “Monsieur, these are the most polite American children I’ve ever seen.”  A bit left-handed but a well deserved complement nevertheless.

And dear Sophia, who showed sophistication and patience beyond her years as a river guide tried with to get me the perfect position to photograph the iconic Harpy Eagle, while she wondered aloud, “What are we doing here?” This same worldliness also showed with a million questions as we transited the Panama Canal, and then there was her adventurous zip line experience as well.

Tilt loved it all and impressed me with his knowledge of the airplanes on the aircraft carrier in New York.  Tilt also became fast friends with everyone he met, including  our bicycle guide in Central Park and the docent at Mt. Vernon who wanted to adopt him.

Many of my memories involve what I call the food challenge, which, with our kids, wasn’t really much of a challenge.  Well, maybe Georgia, who ate steak frites in Paris for seven consecutive meals.  Tilt was the most adventurous foodie of the group.  I think our first meal was at a gastro pub in Alexandria, Va. where I noticed fresh oysters on the menu.  I asked Tilt if he liked them and he responded that he did. I thought he ate them with a relish, so I continued to order them at every chance for the next eight days, until he finally confessed that he really didn’t like oysters very much.  He more than made up for that at our Korean dinner in a very chi-chi Korean place in mid-town Manhattan.  I can only say, he ate it all and then some.

We set a new standard with Max and Mercer when S. and I realized that the limitations of our physical capacity might not stand up to the potential rigors of entertaining the twins.  Their energy level and ours had clearly gone in different directions.  With only little effort, I persuaded their father, Caleb, to join us and perhaps take on the heavy lifting of some of the more adventurous excursions in the wilds of Alaska.  Which he did and to good effect.  I’ve already mentioned their leadership of the kids posse on board the ship, but I also should mention that the M boys charmed and beguiled every adult they came in contact with…from the crew member that was supposed to organize kids activities, to the maitre d’ at every restaurant on board.

I guess one might say, we’ve experienced an embarrassment of riches in exposing ourselves to our grandchildren through shared travel.  Seldom do we now spend time with any of them that some travel memory is not exposed.  I wonder how long it will be before we have great grandchildren.  Let’s see…Logan is 21 and Annabel 18…  Nah.  Far better for us to spend our senior moments cherishing what we’ve already done.  It doesn’t get better than that.

 

 

The Battle of Grenada

Just to be clear, it is Gra-nAY-da, not Gra-nAH-da.  When you’re there next, I don’t want the locals thinking you’re a rube.  And I, of course, will not admit to having made this egregious mistake during my stay here.

The island country of Grenada – self-monikered “the spice isle,” nutmeg specifically – seemed a cut above the other Caribbean islands we’ve visited so far, but is still a long, long ways from a place I would put on my top ten list. Part of my problem is that while driving around with our taxi/tour driver, I kept thinking of the virtually inexplicable action of the Reagan administration, when he ordered the 82nd Airborne and others into full scale attack mode.  In Grenada.  In October 1983, we attacked this small Caribbean island, population 91,000 with the full force and fury of the United States Armed Forces and approximately 8,000 of our finest because…well, there’s the problem. The because was really hard to figure out then, and it’s virtually impossible today.

I’m not going to spend your valuable time recounting all of the facts and circumstances leading up to our “invasion.”  Suffice it to say that after parsing through it all, I conclude that it was another instance of terrible decision making rooted in our irrational fear of the dreaded “commies”… particularly those commies that were fellow travelers of that most-notorious-of-all-western-hemisphere-commies, Fidel Castro.

Just a few facts to set the context. In the months before our invasion, a far right wing hard nose, whose name is not important, led a coup to depose and then execute the somewhat left wing leader of the country. His name was Maurice Bishop. I only mention it because the airport still bears his name. In any case, for some reason, the local nabobs thought this would threaten the stability of the area, and besought our man Reagan to intercede. Granted, Fidel had inserted a few of his own military types to watch after his interest on site. If you can figure this out you’re a far better master of intrigue than I. But certainly it was not enough to create a threat. Let’s see. We’re afraid of the commies, a few of Fidel’s best show up, a left leaning, semi-dictator is overthrown by a right winger, instability ensues, a ruckus is raised, and we attack. That’s about it as far as I can figure.

Oh, I forgot the medical students. Yep, someone in the propaganda office of the White House figured we needed a good story for the peeps on main street, and decided that the safety of our citizens who had repaired to the somewhat shady medical school in Grenada to get their Caduceus was just the thing. There were 600 or so of them who evidently had whiffed the medical school tests in the US of A and figured studying in the warm climes in the shade of the palm trees was a better deal. Now, who knows if the right wing nut case who had taken over the Grenadian government was actually a threat to those 600 striving for the right to be compensated for life by the health insurance companies, but, seen from this perspective some thirty years later, it seems a little flimsy. What do you think?

Actually this story is a bit of a precursor to our later invasion of another small country in our neck of the woods. I gave you my view on our invasion of Panama in my post of June 7, 2013, “Panama: The Middlings.”  No, I don’t expect you to reread that piece. I’ll just remind you that we had an equally hard time coming up with solid justification for that action as well.

In the case of Panama, at least, we were able to throw Noriega in the slammer, and then create the conditions for Panama to become a major money laundering center for the region.  It only cost a few bucks, and, oh, I almost forgot.  Operation Just Cause (the invasion of Panama) resulted in 25 US soldiers losing their lives and several hundred wounded. Accounting of Panamanians who lost their lives is a little shaky, but the range is from 500 to 1000. One punter, even more cynical than I, opined that the real reason for Operation Just Cause was that it was a test bed for much of the US high tech arsenal that hadn’t yet been used in combat conditions.  A silver lining, the whole thing was over and done with in a couple of weeks.

In Grenada, it took longer… 25 October to 15 December, 1983… about seven weeks.  But we only suffered 19 killed in action and just over 100 wounded. We also managed, in addition to the few Cubans we routed, to kill 45 Grenadian soldiers as well as 24 civilians, including 18 in a mental hospital that we bombed “by mistake.”  This action was labeled Operation Urgent Fury. There is no mention of why it was urgent or why we were furious.  Just as the cynic cited above in the case of Panama, I have my own theory why we needed to invade Grenada.  In the aftermath of the invasion, the US military establishment saw fit to award medals for valor to 5000 of the 8000 we sent to fight the good fight. We were just short on cases for which we could award medals and needed to create one, I guess. Okay, I know that’s a little far-fetched, but both cases go to show that we should never underestimate the capacity of the military to make themselves invaluable to our politicians.  BTW, George H. W. Bush was at the helm for this particular military adventure.

I don’t know if these two aforementioned actions are now studied at the Army War College, or wherever we teach military strategy, but it does clearly underscore the need for our political and military leaders to fully appreciate the value of and the responsibility for the extraordinary asset we have in our military forces and to use them wisely. I’m not at all sure we did in Grenada.

Barbados Redux

We were first in Barbados about thirty years ago on an emergency trip from London in search of some March fun in the sun.  Darling Wife S. and I had booked rather late, but there were many flights on British Airways to the former island colony.  In fact, Barbados did not get its independence and enter commonwealth status until 1966, so the remnants of the Caribbean raj were still much in evidence.  If one stayed at the iconic Sandy Lane, (still going strong), one might have thought to be on the coast of Devon with, of course, some tropical accoutrements.

Today, things have changed. Time does that, doesn’t it?  I no longer hear the lilt of of the natives speaking with a faint English accent.  Believe it or not, it’s now the American that I hear coming through.  All along the beach at least, near the Cobbler’s Cove hotel where we stayed, are now very large, maintenance-deferred, somewhat tawdry beach mansions built, I assume, by the English in better days.  Greek Revival, faux Mediterranean, and a little of everything else.  Oh, don’t get me wrong, you can still get kippered herring for breakfast, but the bacon has become Americanized.

I detected a little melancholia in attitude of the locals that I spoke to.  Our guide and driver, Adrian, lamented that tourism was the only revenue producing industry still standing – besides rum, that is – and even rum making is in jeopardy due to the islands inability to consistently produce enough sugar cane syrup.  Later Adrian admitted that the island was self-sufficient only in a surfeit of tourists.  Not enough oil, not enough food, no (or little) high tech, no off-shore finance.  Just a constant stream of cruise ships and airplanes bringing pasty-skinned gringos in search of early spring sun with their dollars and pound sterling in pocket.

I’m sure that most of you are up to speed on your Barbadian history, but let me refresh you on just a couple of points.  Barbados was initially inhabited by the Amer-Indian around 500 CE, probably from Venezuela, and a later wave of Arawaks in the 8th century, and finally the Caribs (a mean group if there ever was one) in the mid-13th century.  Sooner than you you would think, the Portuguese were poking around the islands looking for gold, as was their wont, and stumbled on the eastern most of the Caribbean islands.  They named it Barbados, or the “Bearded One.”  No, the Caribs had not forgotten to shave, the beard idea came from the local fig tree that sported long tendrils much like a beard.  Go figure.  Not long thereafter the Brits showed up and stayed the course for some 300 years.  Finally in 1966, the island gained its independence and assumed Commonwealth status which it still enjoys, or doesn’t, depending on who you talk to.  However, the Brits have not stopped coming here for the very good reason that the weather really sucks around March in England, and most self-respecting Brits are looking for someplace with certain sunshine to repair too.  Just as my family did in 1986, our first visit to the island.

Oops.  One important part of Bajan history that I omitted.  Slavery.  Yep, they had that here too.  It was here from the beginning – initially established by the Portuguese and Spanish.  It continued on as the need for cheap labor on the sugar cane plantations overwhelmed common sense and humanity…at least until 1807, when a first step was taken by the British to abolish the slave trade, but not slavery.  Clever fellows those Brits.  There were a few hiccups along the way.  In 1816 a mass slave rebellion was undertaken by a chap named Bussa and about 20,000 of his fellows.  This uprising ended like most of its ilk with lots of black slaves being killed and a few hundred white plantation owners made richer.  In 1834 when England abolished slavery for themselves and all of its colonies, the then governor in Barbados slipped in a four year “apprenticeship” clause wherein the former slaves still weren’t paid, but provided a form of housing and a continuing “job” in the sugar cane fields.  Again, clever fellows those Brits.

Fast forward to 2017.   A lot has changed, perhaps some of it is even for the better. They still drive on the wrong side of the road and navigate roundabouts instead of intersections. There is still kippered herring on the breakfast menu, they are still a member of the Queen’s commonwealth, and the people here are still friendly to the tourists, but one has to think that there’s more that could have been done. While education is compulsory and free for children until age sixteen, they only have one two-year community college and one four-year Anglican college.  They are members of the University of the West Indies which serves eighteen English speaking countries in the Caribbean.  The problem, of course, is that few can afford even the nominal costs associated with higher education.  It is, more or less, Commonwealth oriented with an enrollment of 36,000 on four campuses…but none in Barbados.  Their balance of trade is a disaster.  They export roughly $600 million and import about three times that.  The commercial landscape is dominated by British and American brands.  Barclay’s Bank, Kentucky Fried Chicken, et al.  The one Barbadian brand that has been a winner is the convenience-store-cum-fast-food franchise, Chefette.  Okay, I know the name could use some work.  They are known locally as the McDonald’s killer.  Get this.  They were recognized by Travel+Leisure magazine as one of the top fast food chains.

I dunno where this all goes.  Every Barbadian I talked to loved their country, and wanted to spend their lives here.  They all have relatives in New York City or Houston or London. But home is where their heart is.  There is an Association of Caribbean States composed of twenty-five countries of the Caribbean Basin, but it hasn’t been seen to make much of a positive difference in the economic development of the region.  I wonder if anything can.

So back to Cobbler’s Cove.  This hotel is tipped to be one of the top two or three on the island, but I suspect the final standing depends on what you’re looking for.  As I said, it has its quirks, but they go into the mix…which comes out charming if you’re somewhere north of Medicare age and obviously don’t have kids; or are from the north of England and will do anything or stay anywhere there is sun and other Brits, kippered herring, and The Daily Telegraph.  I was amused by the Rules of the Road for using the restaurant.  It said that children were allowed “so long as they could sit up properly in their chairs and did not run around.”  I swear.  Those are the exact words.

We did not meet nor socialize with any of the other patrons, which is true to form for us in most cases.  Although I was tempted last night.  There was an American blowhard in a navy blazer complete with pocket hanky and no socks (that’s three strikes from the outset) holding forth at the bar.  S. and I were minding our own business playing a pre-prandial game of electronic scrabble, but I could not help but overhear this guy’s BS.  When he got around to Martha’s Vineyard for the second time and his boarding school experience, I could take it no more.  I made a move to the bar, but S. gave me a deadly finger wag for which I learned the meaning long ago.  I tried to explain to her that all I wanted to do was provide some learned and well-cultivated counter-BS.  It was to no avail.

As I mentioned at the outset, it’s been thirty years since our last visit here, and  I suspect it will be at least another thirty.

 

The Ties of Trump

I’ve had this post in mind for years.  Well, maybe not years, but certainly for months or days.  I was finally motivated to act (or write) by being scooped by none other than that liberal rag, The New York Times.  A presumably professional journalist named Richard Thompson Ford published on Feb. 10, 2017, an article entitled “The Ties That Blind.”  I know you’ll agree with me that this is a really weak title…and beyond that, his piece was shot through with mistakes.  He starts out by saying that Trump cannot tie a necktie properly.  Hah!  Now I’m certainly not a Trumpy, but I know a well-tied four-in-hand when I see one. And then, said journalist goes on to criticize the length of Trump’s tie, falling as it does well below the belt line.  What a crock!  As you will soon see, that is exactly where Trump’s tie should terminate…at his crotch.

First, let me give you my bona fides with respect to neck wear and sartorial matters.  As a young buck, I was the chief, in fact, the only, tie buyer for the dry goods store in my college town.  I remember vividly my first foray into the Dallas Apparel Mart with the explicit mission of of buying the season’s supply of ties, shirt and socks.  I can only be glad that I didn’t have to eat what I bought and then couldn’t sell.  After college, my first job was with a large downtown department store as an assistant-manager-in-training in the Menswear division…which, of course, included responsibility for the tie department.  Let me tell you, I’ve been really deep in ties for a long, long time.  If you add to this the fact that I’ve always been “tie challenged,” you will understand why I have empathy for Trump’s Tie Dilemma.  My own tie challenge arises from the fact that I am perhaps the world’s tallest sitting man.  The length of my torso and my legs are disproportionate in the extreme.  At 6’1″, I have the sitting profile of an NBA player, but, unfortunately, my legs are those of one barely rising to 5’6″.  I learned early in manhood to deal with this bodily distortion, except, that is, with respect to how to tie the perfect necktie.

A few basics on men’s neckties are in order.  Your average men’s tie is 57 inches in length, with a “long” stretching to 60 inches. The problem, of course, is that virtually no men’s store ever has any long ties.  I’m not going to get into tie fabrics because, well, it’s just too complicated.  For example, can you tell me exactly what a “silk rep” tie is?  No, I thought so.  I can’t either.  Same for color.  Let’s talk about knots.  That’s where the NYT guy went astray.  Did you know that according to some Swedish pundit in Stockholm there are 177,147 ways to tie a man’s necktie?  I don’t know how he figured this out, but like so many other things involving big numbers, there’s no way to prove them wrong.  A pair of Cambridge mathematicians determined there were 85 ways to tie a tie.  I think even they are stretching it a bit, but, who knows, they may be including string ties and bolos for all I know.  I dug through some old books on men’s ettiquette and found one that said there were only 18 traditional tie knots.  Not bad, but, and you need to listen to me on this… there are really only 4 knots (3 if you exclude the bow tie) that your normal man needs to know to be in the first rank of tie tiers.  There is the aforementioned four-in-hand, half Windsor and whole Windsor.  Most guys get the four-in-hand confused with the half Windsor, so you really only have to worry about 2.  The half and full Windsors.  I’m a half Windsor man myself, due in large part to the fact that a whole Windsor takes up so much tie fabric that the resulting end point only hits about my breast bone.  Not good! (as Trump would tweet).

Let me digress for a moment to the dreaded bow tie. I say dreaded, because there are only 3 or 4 people in any decent-sized metropolitan area that know how to tie a classic bow.  Everyone else uses the clip-on.  A case in point…years ago I was hosting a black tie business event at a toney London hotel.  I thought I had packed carefully to include the newest version of a dress bow tie – it looked like the real thing, but actually buttoned on in back.  Alas, I found minutes before the start of the event that I had, in reality, packed a “real” black bow tie, which defied being tied by me or anyone else that I could call on in that moment.  My options were limited…go without a tie, use a normal tie with half Windsor knot, or run for cover.  I opened the door to my hotel room and saw a room service waiter, wearing a black clip-on bow tie, delivering food to the room next to mine.  A few quick, pleading words and 20 quid later, I had my tie.

So back to the Trump Tie Dilemma.  I know why he wears his ties so long, and no, it’s not because he wants the end to point towards his, um, you know what.  It’s simple. Trump is a big man, and looks to be getting bigger as the days of his presidency wear on and the calories add up.  His waist line is expanding at an expanding rate.  His sartorial choices are becoming more limited.  I learned long ago as I raced past the 36-inch waistline of my middle age, to always remember to use the concept of verticallity.  Nothing horizontal ever.  Surely you’ve seen a guy that’s on the wrong side of too many cheeseburgers, wearing a garish polo shirt with broad horizontal stripes… What does he look like?  You got it.  He looks like the Pillsbury Doughboy gone to seed. No way.  But Trump does it right.  He wears a long, and I mean extra long, tie to emphasize his verticallity. He makes himself look taller and slimmer with a $500.00 custom made tie.  You got to admit, it beats liposuction.

To quote my favorite political analyst, P.J. O’Rourke, “Trump is 6’3″ and wears a Windsor (it’s really a four-in hand) knot.  How does he get the tip of his tie to go where no tie has ever gone before, hanging midway between his nuts and his knees?”   O’Rourke answers that he does it on purpose.  He works at it.  And it works for him.

There has been a scurrilous photo circulating on the internet showing the wind blowing Trump’s tie to the point where one can clearly see the patch of scotch tape holding the two ends of his tie together.  Some have poked fun at him for using such an artifice.  Not me, I’m only glad that he’s not using a  more than tacky tie tack.

So for those of us of a certain age and shape, long ties are in.  Trump included.

 

How to Confirm a Supreme Court Nominee

I can safely predict that you will be more than sick and tired of originalism / textualism / strict constructionism / original intent / original meaning and judicial activism by the time that Trump’s first Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, has been dispatched – or not – as the newest member of the Court for Life.  Don’t worry, I’m not going to try to persuade you one way or the other with respect to Mr. Gorsuch.  And it may come as some surprise to those of you who have rightly identified me as a left leaning, progressive Democrat of the rascal, yeller dog variety, that I believe the prez should be given quite a wide latitude with respect to his nominees to the Court…no matter how painful the result may be.  Yes, I got it that there has to be a certain amount of to-ing and fro-ing as a part of the political theatre that has come to be the norm for this confirmation process.  And in light of the Repubs refusal to even give Obama’s last nominee a hearing, I can understand the need for more than a little grousing from the Dems.

I don’t want you to just trust me on this, so let’s go to the source.  Article II, Section 2, of the Constitution says simply that “He (the prez) shall nominate, and by, and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint…judges of the Supreme Court.”  That’s it.  No qualifications required.  No age, no gender, no ivy league education mandated.  Not even a law degree.  Presumably the nominee would be a citizen, but as to the “advice and consent of the Senate,” I guess the prez could nominate pretty much anyone or anything, including a three-legged dog and expect to get him confirmed.  And that’s how it has turned out over the years…well, excepting Robert Bork.  BTW there is nada for guidance on what constitutes “Advice and Consent.”  But we do know this…the process by which Advice and Consent is arrived has become a torturous process that consumes an infinite amount of air time and column inches, as well as unmeasurable quantities of hot air expelled by the givers of said Advice and Consent.  Let’s see.  When William Brennan was nominated in 1956 by Ike, it took the Judiciary Committee three hours (barely enough time for opening statements today) to determine that he was qualified.  It took seven hours for the Judiciary Committee to vet and approve William Rehnquist in 1972, even though he had more than a little problem with the truth on some matters, but John Roberts and Elena Kagan required over twenty hours of mostly disrespectful grilling.  Hmmm?  Go figure.  Were Roberts and Kagan more dubious characters than, say, Clarence Thomas?  I doubt it.

Obviously, politics unfortunately looms large on the stage of political theatre…which is what these hearings are all about.  And now we will have to suffer god knows how many hours in an effort to discern where Gorusuch lies on the ideological spectrum between the recently departed and sanctified Antonin Scalia (darling of the originalism crowd) and Ruth Bader Ginsberg (queen of judicial activism).  We should not be surprised when a president selects one with his own ideological leanings as a nominee.  Thus, when Trump nominated Gorsuch, we can be sure that it validated Trump’s judicial philosophy of original intent, or was it original meaning…or maybe it’s his penchant for textualism within the context of originalism…  Yeah, you bet.  I’m pretty sure Trump doesn’t know the difference between strict constructionism and a Swedish meatball.  And furthermore, he doesn’t care.  The Federalist Society – Reince Priebus, Steve Bannon and a partridge in a pear tree – whispered, “Gorsuch” in his ear, and, presto-chango, Gorsuch it was.

Yes, originalism will get a lot of play in the upcoming hearings, if only because Scalia was its godfather, and, of course, we need someone in the image of Scalia to replace Scalia…maybe without the opera.  Oddly, the term and the judicial philosophy of originalism did not come into currency until the mid-1980’s.  These were the Reagan years, and lots of strange ideas were floating around.  Now we have a new poster boy for a judicial concept that almost no one understands and absolutely no one can explain.  But if you parse it down to the basics:  the Court should be guided only by how it (the Constitution) was originally written.  Huh?  Whazzat?  I don’t know if you’ve recently read anything written circa 1789, but it might just sound a little strange.  And then there’s the context of the times.  When TJ and a few other old white dudes were writing in Article 1, Section 8, Clause 3, that, “the United States Congress shall have the power to regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states and with the Indian Tribes…,” do you think he really believed that commerce with the Indian Tribes would be a big issue for us going forward? For christ’s sake, they didn’t even have casinos then. Or how about the “great compromise” language, wherein our founding worthies agreed to count slaves (other persons) as 3/5 of a person for purposes of apportionment.  Did we get the “original intent” right?  Is there any question as to the “original meaning” and “strict construction” of “other persons”?  Oh, you say, things have changed.  Yep.  You bet.  We now have toaster ovens and no longer have slaves.

I’ve never heard the big lie put to the “original intent” discussion any better than a call-in guest to one of the NPR shows recently.  Cut me a little slack here, as I don’t have her exact words, but, in essence, she said, Why should she give a flip about the original intent of anything written by a bunch of old, white guys who constitutionally permitted slavery and denied the right of women to vote?  You gotta admit that she’s got a point there.  I’d loved to have been a fly on the wall when Madison and Hamilton, for example, discussed the “original intent” of the 8th Amendment, which says in part, “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishment be inflicted….”  I don’t know what was considered to be excessive then, but I’d bet a lot that what Madison thought was excessive then and what a young black man busted for selling some crank thinks excessive today would be considerably different.  I can just hear the echo:  Hamilton, “James, don’t you think that putting one in stocks and flogging them may be a bit ‘cruel and unusual?'”  Madison, “No way, we do it all the time down in Virginia and no one’s ever complained.”  Hamilton, “What about hanging?”  Madison, “Been doing it for years, it’s a good way to get rid of the bad apples.”  Obviously, something has changed.  The 8th amendment now is clearly understood to preclude flogging, and hanging is also out…but giving someone a toxic cocktail of chemicals to kill them while “witnesses” watch is now okay.  BTW, the last “judicial” flogging was mandated and took place in in Delaware in 1952.  So much for “original meaning.”  Just how did flogging, relying on the constitution in 1790, move from being accepted practice by the body politic, to now being determined to be “cruel and unusual,” when the 8th amendment stands intact with no changes?

But the best example of all is the Plessy v. Ferguson case of 1896 which validated the concept of “separate but equal” as it applied to the attendant rights of the negro race. But in 1954, the ruling of the Supreme Court in Brown v. Topeka Board of Education found that Plessy was no longer valid.  Separate schools for blacks was contrary to the Constitution and would no longer be tolerated.  It was unconstitutional.  In the interregnum between 1896 and 1954, the Constitution did not change.  It was, in 1954, exactly what it was in 1896, yet Brown completely changed the rules of the road, with respect to race in America, that had been more or less constant since 1787…or maybe better said, since the end of slavery in 1865.  The Court had now determined that the “original intent” of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution precluded the use of the Plessey doctrine of Separate but Equal.  Hmm.  The “original intent” changed.  But how could it?  Original is original, isn’t it?  No, of course not.  What changed was the views of society regarding racial relations in America, and the Court’s view reflected that change.  In the view of the Court, what ever the “original intent” of the framer’s of the 14th Amendment didn’t matter.  What mattered was what was right today.  And thank god they reflected that in their ruling.

So perhaps the best we can do with Mr. Gorsuch, is to focus less on his judicial philosophy and more on him as a human being.  What kind of person is he?  Is he well educated?  Does he have the requisite experience?  Is the sum of his life, lived to date, reflective of the kind of person we should trust to render legal judgements on the construct of our government and on fellow human beings?  If we can figure out the answer to those questions, the vote ought to be pretty easy.