Tuesday, August 30, 2005

You say "potato," I say "potahto..."

The tradegy of hurricane Katrina cannot be debated. How awful for everyone. I am not sure there is anything light to say about the facts or the people so devastated by the storm.

But I did smile with appreciation at the variety of pronunciations I heard from various people interviewed. Northerners generally pronounce the name of the devastated Louisiana city as "New Or-LEANS." Or "New OR-lins." Broadcasters used one of those two pronunciations. But I heard natives of the place say on camera, "New Or-lee-ons." I also heard other residents say "New O-Lee-uns." And one old gentleman said, "New Oley-ahn."

Americans take possession of their language, and why not? People generally pronounce words as they heard them said when they learned to talk, in spite of what either a dictionary, teachers, or other people might "teach." So, we have Des Plaines, Illinois, pronounced by those who live there as "Des-Planes." Residents of Des Moines, Iowa, all say the name of their city as "D'-Moin." Pierre, South Dakota, is pronounced by Dakotans as "Peer." "Prescott," Arizona, rhymes with "biscuit." Many Southerners call New York City, "New Yoke." Residents of the Big Apple might say, "N'Yawk." Most Northerners are apt to put an "R" in the word "Washington." "Warsh-ington," they say. Then they are apt to be critical of someone from Texas who says "nuculer" instead of the standard "nuclear." One suspects the criticism stems from factors other than speech patterns, but that is another essay.

I don't have the answer, but I sometimes wonder why Americans cannot learn to pronounce place names as they are said by those who live in those places. We could say "Paree" as those in Paris do. Are we too arrogant to learn the native pronunciation and so insist on Americanizing the word? The winter olympics were once held in Albertville, France. The American broadcasters all prounounced the place as "Albert-vil." They interviewed dozens of Europeans each day who all said "Ahl-bare-veal." We could learn to say that. It was as if the broadcasters did not hear the people they were interviewing.

Place name pronunciations are often the result of centuries of language use and eroding change. But spelling seldom changes. For example, pronounce the name of a beautiful little town near Loch Lomond between Edinburgh and Glasgow, Scotland: "Milngavie" is the name.

A friend told me, when I was planning a trip to Glasgow, to stop and see his sister and her husband in Milngavie, pronounced his way. I looked for the town on the map, but could find nothing that looked phonetically like his pronunciation. I asked him to point it out. He did. "Milngavie." Only he called it "Mull-GUY."

I lived in Sioux City, Iowa, officially, when I spent that year in Edinburgh. My colleagues there laughed at the Milngavie map fiasco, and one fellow wrote a limerick about it. I had been trying to get them to pronunce the name of my home town as "Soo City." They wanted to call it "Sy-Ox," as one of the Bush twins did somewhere on camera during their dad's recent campaign.

The best I was able to do was convert most of them to say "Sue," with a little twist to it. Almost "See-oo." None wanted to add the word "City" as part of the name. And they helped me to say Edinburgh almost as they did. "Eddin-burrra."

I laughed and said, "We don't say "Pitts-burrra." A Scottish friend countered, "S-I-O-U-X, Sue"? I explained that it was the French spelling of an Indian word pronounced in English by an American. He was satisfied. But still he laughed at my inability to see "Mul-GUY" in "Milngavie." So the limerick:

There was a young man from Sioux
Who was asked one day if he knioux
That the pubs in Milngavie
On Sundays are dravie.
He replied, "Yes, indeed, Sir, I dioux."

All right, then, I am changing my mind. With all the amusing interactions and mini-celebrations possible from various accents and pronunciations, why not keep on saying the words as we choose? We can applaud the variety of accents as we do all the other aspects of our varied cultures.

And we can also send good wishes with all the help possible to the people in the path of Katrina, whether they are from New Orleans, New Orlins, New O Lee Ons, The Big Easy, or any other place in the storm's vicious path. Our hearts go out to our fellow 'MareKins.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Poll shows extremes hold majority in both parties

There is a new poll out that claims 82% of Republicans approve of the job President Bush is doing. That means only 18% either disapprove or do not know how to feel.

The same report claims that 13% of Democrats approve of the President. So, 87% either disapprove or don’t know.

Those figures are astounding. Can Republicans and Democrats be getting the same information?

I would be interested to see a comprehensive study of members of both parties regarding their access to information. Which party members, in general, are better informed? Which members read the widest variety of newspapers and magazines? Which regularly listen to the widest variety of news broadcasts, speeches, pundits, and consider the most ideas and opinions from their opposition party?

And, conversely, which party’s members are more sure they are right and are, therefore, actually less well informed?

If it could be shown that Republicans listen mostly to Republican information and Democrats to information mostly from Democrats, then that would confirm again the great, nearly even, split in the country. It might also show what a waste of time and money campaigning is, because only those who already believe it listen to information from their party.

If that is the case, it might also explain why so much campaign rhetoric does not concern the issues, but rather consists of lies, exaggerations, and innuendo about the opposition.

But if a study concluded that members of both parties are about equally informed from the same wide variety of sources and listen in nearly equal amounts to the other "side," then the poll figures just released are even more surprising. In that case, those extreme figures would seem to show that Democrats and Republicans are not simply a little different in the ways they think about the same events, information, facts, politics, society, and the world. The figures would then seem to show that Democrats and Republicans are different species.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Thou Shalt Not Heed...

I won't argue the Constitutional questions involved in the controversy about placing the Ten Commandments on court house lawns, in schools, and other public buildings. It doesn't seem that knowledge of the Commandments positively affects all those advocating their presence, though. Let's test that by placing a large copy of the Commandments near the pulpit of the 700 Club. Then let's add a poster of the Golden Rule.

See Dick and Jane Both Read

I think about education at times throughout the year, but especially as each school year begins. One issue that regularly surfaces concerns the failure of kids who do not learn to read at expected levels.

The teaching of reading is an emotional issue. It is argued by educators, parents, politicians, and by workbook and software company representatives wanting to sell their goods for remedial instruction. Even a glance at those materials will show the skewing of pictures, text, and suggested activities toward boys. Textbook companies know that more boys than girls are assigned to remedial reading classes in this country. Few others discussing the problem of lagging success in learning to read point that out, however.

Yet that may be at the core of the problem. What is it about teaching materials, expectations, classroom management, and instruction that has schools in the United States shunting far more boys than girls into primary grade remedial reading programs? Why do boys also make up more than ninety percent of remedial reading pupils in many American middle schools? But not in all English speaking countries. What do we "do" differently that keeps our boys from learning to read?

Female elementary teachers have told me that boys have problems learning to read because "boys are more immature than girls." That seems to be what they believe. And if they do, then it must also be how they treat boys. Yet, if the problem were a gender-specific genetic deficiency, boys in all English speaking countries would have more problems learning to read than girls do. Research studies, however, show that not to be the case.

So, I suspect the cause is far more cultural than it is biological. Society seems to have accepted a cultural cause for the different problem of girls once being less successful, generally, in high school math and science than boys. With cultural awareness and changes in schools in recent decades, that gap has largely closed. But I haven’t heard of much movement to change expectations, methods, opportunities, whatever it takes in regular classrooms, to meet boys’ reading needs. We just put boys in remedial reading classes. Perhaps after giving them Ritalin.

I have wondered, half facetiously, what might be the long-term results of examining the meaning of maturity among grade school pupils. Suppose, for example, we redefined the mature primary youngster (grades K-3). Let’s agree a mature pupil is one who is constantly alert, can hardly remain still or seated for a moment, fidgets, and wants to move quickly from topic to topic, activity to activity, idea to idea, as the mature mind races to learn all it can. Further, the mature youngster is exercising thought processes rapidly and may ask many questions, some that seem unrelated to the task at hand. The mature pupil exhibits a tremendous curiosity and interest in everything that is happening with everyone else in the classroom, wanting to move about and interact with others. The mature youngster has a comment for everything and may interrupt the teacher and other pupils to contribute.

The redefined immature primary youngster, then, would be one who is dully content to sit quietly, perhaps with hands folded on the desktop, while the teacher talks. The immature child will often wait to be asked to parrot specific answers, perhaps memorized to please the teacher. The immature grade school child is willing to spend extended amounts of time on a single, often repetitive task or activity, seemingly oblivious of the array of events flowing through the room among the more mature pupils.

Would we not stereotypically conclude that primary boys were more "mature" and girls "immature" with those new "definitions"? Then, to continue only semi-facetiously, suppose we believed in those classifications instead of the reverse. What ramifications would the new beliefs have on textbooks, curriculum designs, classroom activities, teacher training, methodologies, plus teacher and society attitudes and expectations toward each sex? What effects might that reversal of beliefs have on the subsequent success of each group? Perhaps considering such a change from a semi-facetious philosophical point of view could direct the discussion to areas of reading instruction needing improvement.

Years ago militant women’s groups led the fight to change science and math class expectations, materials, and methods for girls. Those advocates for change were right. Do we now need advocates to question the current, typical reading expectations and instruction for boys?

Monday, August 22, 2005

It's a commercial world

Lately I have noticed that television commercials not only take up more of each hour than ever, but they also are getting sillier. There are some that had me thinking they were satires of real commercials the first time I saw them. But no. They are some ad agency's idea of real commercials.

For one example, there is a table scene with a family gathered around a meal. A bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken and a liter of Pepsi! And the simpering man of the house says something about how great it is to "have a regular meal together." It is not supposed to be funny, folks!

Then there is an ad for yet one more medication we are all supposed to ask our doctors about, for it may be just what we need. I missed the name and what it is supposed to cure. But the list of possible side effects seemed long enough to be satire, for sure. Turns out it also is serious. At the beginning and again at the end, an announcer glosses over the information that there is only slight chance of sexual side effects. And those effects are not listed. Instead we get a long litany of other possible problems, including stroke, liver failure, high blood pressure, depression, and thoughts of suicide.

It has me curious, perhaps by intent. Enough with the depression, liver failure, and thoughts of suicide! I want to know more about the sexual side effects, whatever the slight chances are for their occurrence. Of course, they may actually be something people would welcome. Like the commercial for that performance enhancing drug that tells you if an erection lasts for more than four hours, you should tell your doctor. I'll bet there are guys who would brag to everyone, not just to their doctors!

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Whether Source or Phantom, Something Illegal Transpired

A friend has spelled out a possible third case scenario in the continuing incarceration story of Judy Miller for refusing a Grand Jury order to reveal her source regarding the revelation of a CIA operative's name.

In the article below, I suggested that Miller is either choosing to remain in jail to protect a journalistic principal of confidentiality, or she is choosing to protect the source, itself. A slight distinction, but still, a distinction.

Using the same induction/deduction procedures of Sherlock Holmes, who could seldom have proved his cases had the criminals not confessed when confronted with his reasoning, I suggested that since we already know that Rove and Libby talked to reporters,then if either of them is the Miller source,they must have told her more than they told others, more that would get them into trouble.

And if neither Rove nor Libby is Miller's source, I reasoned, then there is someone else who is. And that someone, obviously, is willing to stay anonymous and allow Miller to languish in jail rather than release her from her promise of confidentiality. It follows, then, that if that is the case, the person hiding his or her involvement while Miller stays in jail is afraid that the truth will bring charges of illegal revelations or even criminal intent. Whoever is hoping Miller will remain in jail and not reveal her source must know what was revealed was wrong. Or why not come forward? Simple logic. I mean, if you were the source and had done nothing illegal in talking to Miller, would you allow her to spend all this time in jail in order to stay anonymous? Of course you would not.

My friend has a third possibility. "What if," he writes,"there was no Miller source? What if she made up her story, based on what others had already written and Beltway gossip plus her own 'knowledge' of possibilities? What if her 'source' doesn't exist? Wouldn't Judy Miller rather stay in jail until the Grand Jury adjourns in October than confess that she made up her news story and source?"

Anything is possible, perhaps especially within Beltway journalism and politics. Still, I'm betting that Miller has integrity. I am going with the notion that someone yet unknown is hiding uncomfortably while hoping Miller continues to protect him or her from charges of illegalities that would be revealed if he/she were identified. I'll say it again: if nothing illegal transpired, why not come forward?

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Is the real story being covered?

It is interesting to consider other possibilities than the one so often stated by the proud media about their fellow reporter Judy Miller staying in jail "as a matter of principal." She chooses to remain there, it is said regularly and often by media people, because she is championing a journalist’s right to keep sources confidential. She, therefore, will not reveal who told her that Valerie Plame was an undercover CIA operative.

Perhaps that scenario is true. Maybe the reporter is a person of principal who is willing to endure all this to protect her profession’s rights of confidentiality. I even hope so.

But what if she is not so much protecting her professional right to keep sources confidential as she is protecting her source? I know; the distinction is slight. But there is a distinction. In one case she is choosing to remain in jail rather than compromise a journalistic principal.

In the other case, she is in jail rather than choosing to answer a Grand Jury and get someone in real trouble for committing a possible crime in outing a CIA operative. If that were the situation, one might argue that Miller is, in effect, an accessory to whatever crime may have been committed.

Whatever the case, there is a confidential source somewhere willing to let Judy Miller sit in jail for weeks, allowing her to say she is protecting a journalistic principal. Whoever that source is, there must be much to hide. I mean, we already know that Rove and Libby were involved in talking to reporters about the case.

So if her source is Rove, then he must have told her more than he told others, and perhaps the how, and why of his disclosure. Or is it Libby, who, perhaps, helped Miller more than the others he talked to with the scenario to seek revenge against Plame and her former ambassador husband? Did they tell Miller other things that would certainly brand their conversations as "criminal" if she were to reveal all?

Or is there another source we do not know about, someone who is willing to let Miller take the fall until the Grand Jury adjourns in October rather than release her from her confidentiality promise now? Is there someone who counts the days of Miller’s incarceration, hoping that their agreement, whatever it was, will not fail? Someone who prays that Miller will continue to protect him or her from the trouble he or she would be in if his or her name and the information he or she shared with Miller were made public? Whatever the truth is, that unnamed source must be feeling the pressure and the guilt from remaining "confidential" and letting Judy Miller stay in jail.

Does any of this get at the curious reason John Bolton recently paid a visit to Miller in jail? What was his purpose? Was he a messenger, or a kindly visitor checking on the well being of a friend?

Doesn’t every day that Miller’s source does not come forward strengthen the suspicion that there must be a lot more at stake than the principal of journalist confidentiality?

Monday, August 15, 2005

Take Me Out of the Ball Game!

Whenever schools open and interest in baseball picks up in the fall, I remember my junior high school gym class playing daze.

We played baseball on the asphalt schoolyard whenever it wasn’t raining. Or rather we played on half of it. The girls’ gym class played on the other half. There was a painted white line that separated the fields, and if a ball rolled across into the girls’ area, the player chasing it stopped at the line and requested that a girl return it. Left fielders got to do that. The rest of us just watched the girl throw the ball back to our game. I was good at watching when I was in seventh grade.

We had large gym classes. I always played center field, and so did at least three others. There were two or three in both right and left field, a couple of short stops, and at least two covering each base. Sometimes there were two catchers, one behind the other.

I batted "oh for three"… years. No instructor ever told me how I might have held the bat differently, positioned myself differently, or swung at the ball differently. I’m pretty sure a smile twitched at the gym teacher’s face when it was my turn to bat, at least when I was a four foot eleven inch seventh grader. He stood behind the catcher and was the umpire. Once when I came to bat, he called to the outfield, "Move in everyone. Easy out."

During my first season, I never did touch the ball. I just stood with the other center fielders, chatting about cars that went by, day dreaming about life without gym class, or watching the girls’ game.

Whenever our huge side put their huge side out, I joined the small mob walking in to bat. We lined up at the fence and waited. Sometimes I didn’t get a turn at bat for two or three weeks. After our side’s three outs, I walked back to the wall in far center field and watched some more.

One day I was on the "shirt’s" team and was leaning against the center field wall. I don’t know how long I stood there watching the girl’s. When reality crept back, I became slowly aware with the mounting panic that only a seventh grader can fully appreciate, that all the other center fielders had no shirts on. Neither did the right or left fielders. My "shirts" team members were lined up at the fence taking turns at bat. I had missed the third out and the change of sides.

As casually as I could, I removed my T-shirt and stuck it into the waistband of my black gym shorts the way everyone else on my immediately adopted "skins" team had done. I was soon shivering from the chilly weather, or maybe trembling with fear that someone might notice. But no one did. Time ran out, and we were ordered into the cold showers before anyone knew I hadn’t gone in to bat.

Oh, I did get on base once in a while. Never as a seventh grader, but once as an eighth grader when I was hit by a pitched ball. By ninth grade I was more astute. I had observed that junior high pitchers were not much better than I was a batter. I stood at the plate maybe six times during that season and never swung at the ball. To swing was to strike, and I knew it. I also knew by then that there was a better than fifty-fifty chance of walking if I did not swing. I got a base-on-balls three or four times that year. Once I was actually batted across the plate to score a run.

But even that didn’t warm me enough to need the shower.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Say It Again, Sam

A friend wore a T-shirt to a meeting I recently attended that read: "Department of Redundancy Department." It reminded me that redundancy is another characteristic of "Mare Kin," the language we speak instead of English. Though all speakers are apt to be redundant, some are masters of the form. Perhaps no group surpasses television weather persons, however.

"Currently now the present temperature at this hour stands at 93 degrees." And, "There were scattered showers all around up near the Flagstaff area." I also heard one say, "There is a storm watch for the immediate vicinity area."

We regularly hear reporters refer to temperatures forecast for "7:00 A.M. in the morning."

Other broadcasters are also redundant at times. One said on television, "It would be different if the couple co-habits together." Different from if they co-habit apart, I suppose.

Another reporter told viewers "There is a big ol’, huge, semi-trailer truck jack-knifed on I-17 North of Phoenix." Who has seen a semi-trailer truck that was neither big nor huge? Even one that wasn’t "ol’(d)."

One of my favorites was an interview a few years ago with an expert showing a new type of laser gun. He told the reporter and T.V. audience, "If the beam falls on the suspect, he usually gives up or surrenders, for he knows he could be shot or hurt." Given the choice of giving up or surrendering, which would you do to avoid being shot or hurt?

A government official reported that "They [his opponents] are using "phony, dishonest, and false figures." He added in the next sentence that the figures were, "not real and not accurate." I need to think about that.

Today I heard an officer telling a newsman about an accident victim who had "severe damage to the head area."

We could all say about a man, "He is bald." But we are more apt to say, "He is a bald headed guy." I have yet to hear, "He has no hair on his head area."

Redundancy isn’t a new phenomenon with language. Perhaps we just need to perfect the form to make 'Mare Kin redundancy more nearly literary.

Shakespeare, for example, was a master of poetic redundancy. Consider just one example -- this list of statements from Macbeth spoken to his lady after he had killed his king: "Methought I heard a voice cry, ‘sleep no more! Macbeth doth murder sleep’" And then Macbeth lists seven descriptions of the murdered sleep. – "the innocent sleep, sleep that knits up the raveled sleeve of care, the death of each day’s life, sore labor’s bath, balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course, chief nourisher in life’s feast" – Lady Macbeth interrupts his poetic overacting with, "What do you mean?" After seven redundant descriptions!

Redundancies that occur almost spontaneously in our spoken language may be more crowded with irritating examples than are the plays of Shakespeare. You decide. Listen to your own speech and that of others, for you, too, may belong to the department of redundancy department.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Design of Bush's Intelligence

One way human intellect is displayed is through language. That seems obvious, I know. Two good examples of language showcasing intellect appeared in the morning paper.

Condoleeza Rice is quoted about the death of Peter Jennings: "Peter Jennings represented all that was best in journalism and public service. A man of integrity, his reporting was a guide to all of us who aspire to better the world around us. I learned from him and was inspired by him." One can question what she means by "all that was best," or how his reporting guided her in her aspirations. But the response does display a high intellect at work when asked to comment on Jennings’ death.

Compare that to the remarks made by President George W. Bush. His words might serve as an entry in the next edition of the Little Golden Book Encyclopedia for Kindergarten. He is quoted as saying, "Peter Jennings had a long and distinguished career as a news journalist. He covered many important events, events that helped define the world as we know it today."

I shake my head wondering if there is a "non-news" category of journalist. I also speculate about what the Bush definition is of the world as he knows it today. But that aside, the President’s comments are certainly another glimpse into the design of the man’s intelligence.

Reading his shallow level of communication, I am taunted to define the Bush legacy for an edition of the same kindergarten encyclopedia to be printed after his term ends: "George W. Bush was a President of the United States of America. He held the office during a time of many important events, events that helped define the world as we know it today."

Saturday, August 06, 2005

August 6, 1945: Sixty years and millions of "what-ifs" ago

We have heard many people argue President Truman's decision to drop the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, ending World War II. Nearly all of those viewing the decision from hindsight are unable to see that far back to the world that was, for they were either not alive or were too young to remember. Hindsight, contrary to popular statements, is not necessarily twenty-twenty, whatever history one reads.

We know the figures of the thousands who died on Iwo Jima, Okinawa, and other Pacific islands taken from the Japanese. We have heard projections of the millions who may have died in an invasion of the Japanese homeland, being planned even as the A-bombs dropped.

We have read speculation that Japan was nearly defeated, anyway, and would soon have surrendered if the bombs had not been dropped. Remembering how the Japanese fought nearly to the last man on the islands, and the kamikaze pilots, and the fanatical defense of their cause, country, and emperor, as well as the continuing propaganda from Tokyo, one may doubt that scenario, though, once again, no one knows.

Civilian men, women, children, and Japanese soldiers on Okinawa leapt from cliffs to their deaths on the rocks below rather than surrender. There were Japanese soldiers in the jungles of the Philippines, for another example, hiding out and refusing to surrender for decades after the war! It is hard to imagine the Japanese were "about ready to surrender, anyway," before the atomic bombs dropped.

One of the biggest arguments against having dropped the bomb centers on the radiation and fallout that caused so much poisoning and suffering and death following the blasts. Again, consider the world that was. Those who dropped the bomb, even those who developed the ghastly machine, did not know the extent of that effect. How could they have known? It had never exploded over people before. So we can argue and speculate sixty years later, and we can grieve anew for the dead. But we need to remember that Truman did not know the total effect of those explosions. No one did.

As long as this is the season for speculation, here is yet another idea to consider. It is one that I have not heard debated before, although it probably has been discussed somewhere over the years. How do we know that the atomic bombs over Japan not only ended the war and saved millions of lives by making an invasion unnecessary, but also saved millions more, perhaps even all human life on the planet, in the years that have followed?

Here is the "argument." By dropping the bombs, we ended a terrible war, though inflicting horrible casualties and damage. All of that showed the world what atomic bombs can do. If we had not done that, had only demonstrated the force of the bomb's power over some uninhabited atoll, for example, would the political leaders in the post war world have fully realized the destructive nature of the bomb?

Isn't it possible that Russia or China, for example, would have decided to use the bomb against us, or against us and the South Koreans, or against the Afghans, or against Formosa? And remember that General MacArthur wanted to use nuclear weapons against the Chinese in Korea. Had cooler heads not learned earlier about the devastation in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the potential for worldwide nuclear holocaust, might MacArthur have been given permission? Once more, the answer is, "We'll never know."

The U.S. military was exploding atomic bombs in the desert and marching troops in under the cloud to test their ability and the effects of radiation on soldiers for years after Hiroshima. It somehow seems logical, knowing the military "need" to learn how all its weapons perform in warfare,that if the world had not become educated by the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, those weapons would have been used by some country at some time against other cities and people somewhere.

So, without the knowledge gained from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I ask again, might there have been a world-wide nuclear war by now? The answer, one more time, is that we will never know. Just as we do not know how other tactics might have worked to end the fighting with Japan in 1945.

Right after the Chernoble atomic power plant in the USSR spewed radioactive steam around the globe decades after Hiroshima, the Soviet leadership began to soften their stance and move toward additional missile treaties. Those years following Chernoble also saw the fall of the Iron Curtain and the USSR. Perhaps there was more cause-effect from the near melt-down at Chernoble than we now know.

At the least, the power plant disaster showed the Russian leaders and the world once again that we are all down wind. Gorbachev had to think about that. Our leaders certainly did.

Then perhaps the horrible devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the ugly and painful deaths of so many people in those cities, was a "cause" that "affected" the world's leaders in ways that have prevented even worse atomic wars since then. As I keep saying, we'll never know.

But those arguing that the bombs should not have been dropped back in a world they never knew, and one no longer in existence, do not know that, either.

~ ~

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Impartial Judges?

"Impartial: not partial."

"Partial: favoring one person or side over another or others"

from: "The American Heritage Dictionary," Houghton Mifflin, 2002.


We read and hear these days about the need for Supreme Court nominee, John Roberts, to show Congress and the country that he is impartial at interpreting the law. No litmus test needed; just prove impartiality.

Judges are always partial. Look no further than the five to four appointment of an unelected President in 2000 to see how partiality split right along political loyalties. Perhaps no recent case is more obvious an example. But all decisions of all judges in all cases demonstrate the "favoring of one side or person over another or others."

Judges are products of their childhood training, their schooling, their beliefs and thought processes, as are we all. What they have been taught to believe, how they were taught it, and how they have been trained to reason about their beliefs concerning the law will determine how they decide for or against one person or side in any case. Think about it. If judges were impartial in interpreting the law, would we need nine on the Supreme Court? Wouldn’t one "impartial" judge be enough? We need nine in order to have a majority view possible, with as small a majority as five partial to one side and four to the other.

It is not surprising, then, that the party in power hopes for a judge that will be partial to their beliefs and even their agenda. Of course the President was given the name of a man to nominate who is believed to be partial to the Republicans. And of course the Democrats will challenge his partiality.

John Roberts will be confirmed, according to all the best guesses. It will not mean that he will have shown himself to be impartial. His written opinions, memos, statements, and beliefs that might give a clearer picture of his judicial biases will be shielded from the hearings by those who believe him to be partial to their own thinking. He will be challenged by those who believe him to be partial to "the other side or sides," as well. As I said, Judge Roberts will be confirmed anyway.

And a conservative Republican, Roman Catholic will sit on the Court for the rest of his life, or until he retires, ruling on all manner of issues according to his early learning, his education, his beliefs, and his thinking processes concerning the law. None of those factors are exactly like any other judge's. Therefore, neither he nor any of the other judges will ever hand down a decision based on impartiality. Their decisions will be a product of the way they see the issues,their learning, their beliefs, and their ways of thinking.

Partialities, all the way.

No wonder the two sides will argue the appointment.