December 05, 2005
Something else that is "not rocket science"
I am loath to dip into religious talk on this blog, many readers will click away at the first whiff, I fear, but I think I'll risk it on this occasion.
Ancient Jewish law was noted for a great many detailed restrictions and mandates (read Leviticus for good examples). In one of his regular debates with the legal authorities of his day, the Pharisees, Jesus famously reduced whole of this extensive law to a two line summary, love God with all your heart, and love others as you love yourselves. Jesus teaches that the myriad of "thou-shalt-not" and "thou shalt" laws were just specific applications and interpretations of this simple exhortation to love.
I like Jeff Harrell's blog, Shape of Days, and read it regularly. I admit that I have never before found occasion to draw a parallel between Jeff's writing and the preaching of Jesus, but this morning Jeff managed to bring Jesus' simplification to mind. Jeff notes that the more-or-less smooth functioning of society depends on adherence to an extensive list of generally unwritten societal rules; the sort of things one learns in early grade school. Nowadays the teachers call it, "socializing the child." Jeff finds that all of these little rules can be adequately summarized in one.
We teach small children many things. Share your toys. Use your inside voice. Don’t fight. Don’t tell lies. No one wants to hear your armpit noises. There are a million tiny lessons we all learn as children, a million tiny rules we follow. But they can basically all be summed up like this: Don’t be an ass.
I like this summary. "Words to live by." Be nice to see it carved in stone above the entrances to schools and other institutions. Moreover, Jeff notes another phenomenon that parallels an observation made by Jesus.
Again in questioning from the Pharisees, Jesus noted that as bad as sinners were, they at least knew themselves to be sinful, and therefor held out some hope that they might decide to change their ways. Far worse were sinners who believed themselves to be pure (meaning the Pharisees) as they would not repent and effect a change.
Similarly, there are people who fail to observe the "Don't be an ass" dictum. Whether the person is doing so inadvertently or has decided to be an ass for some reason, there is a chance for that person to reverse course. The really dangerous are those who convince themselves that being an ass is a noble thing.
Yes, occasionally you’ll run into somebody who talks too loudly or who makes impolite noises or who behaves in some other fashion to offend those around him. But people like that are subject to an onslaught of sideways glances and dirty looks and, as an absolute last resort, a “Hey, buddy, do you mind?” Usually the offender relents, even apologizing for his misdeeds. Once in a great while you encounter someone wholly oblivious to social graces and ignorant of the fact that he is displaying none; in those cases, you bite your tongue and count the minutes until you can get away from there.
But a problem arises when these violations of the social order become more than the mindless acts of people too self-absorbed to notice their effect on others. Sometimes these minor social crimes are carried out with malice aforethought, by people who act with deliberate aggression.
And sometimes, worst of all, the people who perpetrate these acts do so in the name of almighty freedom.
It takes a whole bunch of thinking to twist one's mind to the conclusion that rudeness can be righteous, but some otherwise smart people seem to have accomplished it. Now ponder why I felt moved to discuss this post on Radical Centrist, my political blog. Something about this subject seems very relevant to political discourse, especially the part about someone thinking that being an ass is a noble action.
American politics has never been "courteous" and is never going to achieve true "civility", but the simple rule, "don't be an ass" seems like an achievable standard; a constitutional amendment to this effect would please me more than an anti-flag-burning amendment.
OK, the religious stuff is over now. You can take your fingers out of your ears.
November 07, 2005
Restrain your schadenfreude!
Here's a thought! I saw a liberal blogger commenting on how painful it was to see the "wingnuts" so gleeful over the rioting in France. Hmm, thinks I, who is "jumping for joy" as this blogger accuses?
I can't say I found much honest "jumping for joy", but I have to admit, there is a certain satisfaction oozing from many posts out there. Certainly of the "I told you so variety." Even more common are the breathless predictions of worsening, leading to raging conflict across the continent. No one has had the nerve to say it yet, but you know that a thousand hands are eager to type the words "a quagmire for Chirac."
There really is a resemblance for the doom and gloom predictions from the right concerning France, and the long-running gloomy outlook on Iraq from the Left. One group fully expects to see civil war in Iraq, another confidently predicts civil war in France. Those who hope for peace in Iraq, and those who pray for peace in France are distressed, as well they should be.
As Theodore Dalrymple says in today's WSJ, "apocalypses have a habit of not happening." France has been around a long time, and has survived much. Likely it will survive this, just as it is likely the Iraqis and the U.S. will find some sort of stable government. We should be careful not to run off into negative fantasy, like some New Orleans politician.
We can hope, I expect, that some n France, or more particularly, in French leadership, will be a bit less quick to point out others faults and troubles, now that theirs are so much in evidence. We can hope, but don't expect much.
October 27, 2005
Peggy Noonan sees the darkness approach
Peggy Noonan, who once wrote speeches for Presidents (Reagan and Bush I) now writes columns for the Wall Street Journal. She's worth reading, not only for here smooth and elegant writing, but mostly for here refreshing clarity of vision and occasionally unexpected viewpoint.
In today's article she raises a disconcerting note, coming from a member of the sunny Reagan team. Noonan senses that there are dark times approaching, and finds that others agree.
I think there is an unspoken subtext in our national political culture right now. In fact I think it's a subtext to our society. I think that a lot of people are carrying around in their heads, unarticulated and even in some cases unnoticed, a sense that the wheels are coming off the trolley and the trolley off the tracks. That in some deep and fundamental way things have broken down and can't be fixed, or won't be fixed any time soon. That our pollsters are preoccupied with "right track" and "wrong track" but missing the number of people who think the answer to "How are things going in America?" is "Off the tracks and hurtling forward, toward an unknown destination."
There are people out there who are quite sure of it, but the "end-of-the-world" crowd is always out there and never right, at least so far. What Peggy is feeling is a pessimism or, more telling, a despondency where you would not expect it. I think I know what she is saying and suspect I agree, with both the observation that people are becoming despondent about the future, and with the belief that they are right.
Perhaps what Noonan is sensing is related to the aging of the Baby Boomer generation. The "elites" within whom Noonan senses this unease are generally Boomers, and we are getting up to the age when the past looks a lot happier than the future. I agree that the modern culture is shallow and decadent, but my grandfather felt much the same way about the youth culture of my era (which, on reflection, actually was shallow and decadent.)
She may also be sensing the end of the era of US domination in the world, which was never really all it was cracked up to be. The first decades after WWII were quite dark in outlook, what with the nuclear sword hanging over us all. decade and a half since the end of the Cold War have not been all that rosy, that we should be too depressed by a change.
Peggy didn't even mention climate change, the big cloud on the horizon for many folks. The bird flu is another. That the US is losing whatever "edge" it enjoyed in the last 50 years is not unexpected and probably good news to some, but the concern over the future is global. I've been following this issue since the '70's when I was a student of geology and climate, when there was not even the faintest whiff of politics around the issue, and have long expected that climatic disaster would be a significant part of the 21st century. There have been great global disasters before, however, great droughts and floods, along with crop failures and pandemics and other horrors, and the world has survived all.
The latter years of the 20th century may turn out to be the aberrant era, when global diseases seemed under control, and the weather was relatively benign, and wars were contained to regional affairs. Perhaps the blue-mood Peggy has perceived is a realization that we have been living in illusion, convinced that the horrors of earlier centuries were past us. In that case it is best for all that we wake up from our happy dream and face the reality of mankind's ongoing troubles. We are better prepared to face them than our ancestors were, and have no cause for despair.
Nevertheless, there is a dark mood afoot these days. As someone who struggles with depression, I have learned to be sensitive to these influences. By perverse good fortune, this may be a helpful thing for me, personally, and perhaps for others. My natural inclination towards contrarianism drives me to adopt a hopeful outlook now that the self-declared "elites" are feeling blue. I wonder if others out there, at odds with the intelligencia and cultural elites, will have the same reaction. If folks within the beltway are getting depressed about the future, I wonder if it isn't really "morning in America" again.
October 18, 2005
"Politically Correct", a now meaningless term?
Wonderful post from Eric Scheie at Classical Values. Ostensibly its about the how the term "Politically Correct" has been tossed about so as to become meaningless. In truth the post is also much about Intelligent Design, which I would normally discuss at my other blog. Things are quiet at the moment at Radical Centrist so I'll pick up Eric's "Politically Correct" theme as an excuse. Eric has found proponents of Intelligent Design calling Evolution a "Politically Correct" idea. He's right in calling this a meaningless use of the concept.
But calling evolution itself politically correct would seem to torture the whole idea of political correctness.
You want genuine politically correct science? Try Stalinist genetics!
At the risk of sounding like a flaming liberal, there's something about a claim which places H.L. Mencken into the politically correct camp which doesn't pass my smell test -- any more than it would to label William Jennings Bryan (or Savonarola, for that matter) "politically incorrect" .
And if Mencken is to be PC, what about Galileo? Is the Inquisition, then, "politically incorrect"?
I'm not friend of Political Correctness as a concept, and I won't mourn the passing of the term either. I suspect, however, that the phrase will fade out long before the habit or inclination to enforce speech and idea regulation, which seems as strong as ever.
BTW: I also like Eric's points on ID. The more I read about ID as a "movement" the less I am moved by it. As John Derbyshire said in The Corner a bit ago, Intelligent Design "should not be confused with the notion that some sort of intelligent design is operating in the universe." I find the positions of capitalized Intelligent Design objectionable on religious grounds as much as scientific grounds, and I especially dislike the way the idea is being evangelized. In any case, that's for the other blog.
August 04, 2005
I'm ready to sign up for this campaign
Thomas Friedman makes what ought to be a reasonable proposal, can the United States not achieve telecom service and internet access equal to what other countries in Europe, Asia and even the third world enjoy today?
I've been thinking of running for high office on a one-issue platform: I promise, if elected, that within four years America will have cellphone service as good as Ghana's. If re-elected, I promise that in eight years America will have cellphone service as good as Japan's, provided Japan agrees not to forge ahead on wireless technology. My campaign bumper sticker: "Can You Hear Me Now?"
I remember a time, 'bout 15 years ago or so, when over 50% of the internet domain names, and internet traffic, was confined to this small set of California counties. I'm glad to see the 'Net, and the WWW that runs on it, become truly global, but I would have preferred that the area remain in the lead in terms of technology in use. Visitors coming to tech conferences are shocked to find that they have better bandwidth, better reception, and more access points at home. It's bad enough that far from considering general public WiFi, Palo Alto is still working on getting reliable fiber-based data infrastructure for the community.
I'm tempted to say something along the lines of "we can put a man on the moon, (or, to use a more up-to-date example, "watch a battle in Iraq unfold in real-time") , but why can't we get decent wireless phone reception in the heart of Silicon Valley?" I won't ask the question because I already know the answer. In this area, another "generally accepted fact" is the mind-boggling tech ignorance of the Washington crowd.
A ran into an old friend last week who has been working in London for a year now. He enjoys the city but commented that he was distressed by the overall air of incompetence he found among the British. "They have a great history", he said, "but they have lost their edge." I'm disturbed to think that he might be right, based on what's in the news this last month. I'm even more disturbed to here similar sentiments from some of my Indian neighbors and co-workers. Of course, they're talking about America.
June 17, 2005
Fight nonsense with sense
James Lileks' occasional rants or "screeds" as he likes to call them, are so popular that he has created a new blog entirely devoted to "screeding". Today Lileks looks at a quote he pulls from Hugh Hewitt, who has located an offensive leftist at USC. Not that anyone is at all surprised. What is really shocking is that the someone from the LA entertainment industry, who are usually a bit more sensitive to how things will play in Peoria, would ever think that such a statement could do anything but embarrass himself and the institution that pays his salary.
The professor in question, Martin Kaplan, "director of the Norman Lear Center at the Annenberg School of Communication at USC" loses Lileks, me, and a good number of his potential readers right away by referring to Christians as "Christers." Suddenly I understand just a bit how African-Americans feel about the "N" word. That has to go right to the top of my How to Know When to Stop Listening list. Liberal writers have developed a strange fetish for offensive nicknames. Perhaps it all flows out of a few closed-in communities like Democratic Underground and DailyKos. I'm sure you've seen it. Whenever a writer drops one of those vile little quips, click away quickly. I especially address this advice to Democrats or centrists who might not find the terms particularly offensive. You need to find the technique offensive. Deny these people the attention they seek and force them to clean up their act, or find yourself discredited along with them.
Back to Kaplan. The USC Prof. goes further demonstrate that he is ignorable by immediately dropping the "f-word" (...you know, "fascist") and decrying the rise of "theocratic oligopoly." That's a third strike for Kaplan, use of big words to describe an empty concept. Let's just drop him from our memories. The quote I wanted to bring to your attention is not what Kaplan had to say, which we know to be valueless. Rather, take note please, of Lileks' suggestion for a response.
In fact I suspect that if a groundswell of moderate-to-liberal Christians fought back the “fundamentalists” and used spiritual language to make common cause with the secularists, there would be little talk of theocracy or religious fascism, even if the motivations were equally devout.
He's right, I believe, about the shameful lack of response from moderate-liberal Christians. It is out there, most notably these days from Jim Wallis and Sojourners, and a few others, but we've been too shy. Spokespeople from my Episcopal Church are generally so liberal that they are too easily dismissed. Many seem to have forgotten how to "use spiritual language" in a conversation outside of church (or even in it, I'm afraid), and we are not taken seriously by most of the more conservative Christian groups. Even an Episcopalian, however, can reach a more or less secular or vaguely "spiritual" audience, which is most of the country if the polls are to be believed.
The point is not only to defend our political processes from religious bullying, but also to defend Christianity from the highly distorted and politicized image that a few Christians are presenting, and that the secular world has enthusiastically embraced. Moderate and liberal Christians ought take care when we make common-cause with the secularists. Folks like Kaplan are not friendly to us or our way of thinking. They are as bigoted and narrow minded as the "fundamentalists" (a misused word) who they to attack. They both like to present God as an angry tyrant; it suits both their programs.The answer to bad-Christianity cannot be bad-secularism. I'd rather see the "other Christians" assert the traditional (as in "apostolic") vision of God and the Church, and honestly express their widely varied and generally quite reasonable political views. The news isn't that Christians are liberal, but that the set of all American Christians closely resembles the set of all Americans. We waste much too much of our attention on the voices coming in from either extreme. We'll learn nothing from them, and get nowhere we would want to go.
June 13, 2005
HTKWTSL* - A quick, (I hope) post about Howard
* "How to Know When To Stop Listening" an irregular series from The Radical Centrist
I'm going to break all sorts of blogging rules and do this without links. There are just so many available that it would be pointless and I haven't the energy at the moment to go through the motions. The DNC chair continues to get press coverage by saying the things that the others are too "timid" to say. Those other folks, it seems, are just shy about making jackasses of themselves in public. People, many people, are either upset, insulted or shocked over Howard's statements and a few Democrats, the really courageous ones, have "distanced" themselves from him.
It would be so easy to get really worked up over Howard, not the least for the damage he is doing to my family's good name. The political bigotry he so glibly tosses only seems different from the less reputable racial and religious bigotry of an earlier age. We find it less shocking because it's common today. Those earlier bigotries didn't shock the people of those times for the same reason. Not all such 'seeds of hatred' develop into holocausts, and this one won't either, but this is how holocausts and lynch mobs and the like get their start; with little jokes and over-the-top opinions that don't get corrected.
The best response to Howard at this point is to ignore him (hard to do, I realize, but we have to do our best!) He has long since passed the 'time to stop listening', and plummeted into ugly irrelevance. He has, at least for this listener, convincingly demonstrated that he has nothing to say, according to one of my most useful tests. When a speaker is telling you about something that you, by chance, know something about, you can directly judge the quality of his (or her, of course) thinking.
Howard is saying things that I know, though direct personal experience, are false. Even worse, what he says is maliciously false. As I have written before, as a centrist I move through both political camps, counting both Republicans and Democrats among my close friends. Not just registered R or D votes, but people in leadership roles too. Everyone of them a d*mn fine person (which is why I count them among my friends.) For the most part, I will agree on some of their political opinions and disagree on others (which is what makes me a centrist), but we remain friends. When Howard talks about "all Republicans" he's talking about people I know and love. The same, of course, holds when some jackass on the right similarly disparages all Democrats. These people are talking about people that I know well, and clearly they don't. Once you've found that the speaker is completely wrong about something important, it's best to change the channel.
Loudmouth bigots who disparage whole groups are unfortunately common. One will tell you what "the Christians" are really trying to accomplish. Some who claim to be Christians are eager to me about the satanic conspiracy among scientists. Of course, whispers about "the Jews" are an old favorite. Once you get the hang of it, its easy to tune these folks right out at the first bit of blatant nonsense. What makes Howard different is that he is in leadership. His opinions cannot be so easily ignored.
It drives me crazy that he, and those who so enthusiastically lap up this poison, are discrediting good issues and positions. Climate change may well be the great issue and challenge of our age, and historians of the future will struggle understand why it was not taken seriously. Will they understand how the issue suffered from association with foolish people? Between the nuttiness of "greens" who little understand the science behind the issue and show it by making blatant overstatements, and the partisan bigotry and hate speech of those whose only concern is to embarrass their opponents, a vital and serious issue is sidelined and good science discredited. Ugh.
A quick question. Would our universities, so zealous in their efforts to combat "hate speech", have anything but cheers for Howard were he to repeat his statements on campus?
I thought not.
June 01, 2005
The power of a vow
Years before I had read Heinlein's "Starship Troopers". When Juan Rico, the main character, takes the oath of enlistment he describes how the oath awed him, struck home with him. I had read that and thought it was mostly just part of the story.
Until I swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution.
I swore that oath 3 more times.
And between the first time I said those words and the second I made damn sure I understood what I was swearing to support and defend. That quest, to understand the Constitution, was a big part of what started me down the road to my current set of political beliefs. More importantly, as I traveled that road of understanding, I came to realize something. I realized that those freedoms and liberties and rights I was swearing to uphold were to be protected whether I liked the individual consequences, or not.
Eric's enlistment afforded him a chance to accept the duties of service, and as he points out, of citizenship, in a formal and awe inspiring ceremony that shaped and strengthened both his understanding and commitment to the ideals from which the country was founded, and is still organized. Folks who become citizens as adults experience a similar moment. Not all who take such oaths are so deeply effected, but a great many are. Living in California I am privileged to know and work with many naturalized citizens, and have found that having made a "mature commitment" to the country, they understand and appreciate it better than many or most native-born Americans.
I wonder if we would benefit from some sort of citizenship ceremony to mark a young American's attainment of legal majority, similar to the "Confirmation" ceremony in some churches. Actually, let me rephrase the question. I have no doubt that we would benefit by it, the better question is whether we would tolerate it. This country is unique in that it is not founded on tribal or regional identity, but rather on a set of ideas and agreements defined in a document. A native-born American accepts these agreements implicitly when he or she accepts adult citizenship, though most don't give it much thought. Why not make explicit what is today implicit? As Eric says, a simple act can have a strong influence on a person.
Austin Bay shows how it's done
I mentioned earlier that the debate over mistreatment of prisoners would be "a real test for the blog culture." (apologies to all who saw it for the earlier mangling of that post.) Austin Bay (Tip to Instapundit) has provided a timely demonstration of how tough issues of this sort should be discussed. I like this post not only for the point it makes, which is a good one, nor just for its well reasoned and clearly expressed thinking, but also because it hits on a couple of recurring themes I like to blog about.
The first is the "How to know when to stop listening" meme. There is a lot of opinion published these days, and a reader needs to know how to quickly sift the quality thinking from the time-wasting blather. One thing you should look for is a lack of reasonable perspective. People who cannot recognize the difference between George Bush and Hitler, between Christian participation in American politics and the theocracies of the Middle East, or between the detention center at Guantanamo and the Russian Gulag, are also unable to add useful ideas to the world conversation.
As Austin points out, Amnesty International has demonstrated that it lacks (or has lost) its organizational good sense. Over-the-top analogies can be a useful way to make a point, so long as the writer is clear that the analogy is purposely overstated (I confess to this habit. I like to clarify a point with a startling comparison, but I try to make it clear that the comparison is exaggerated.) Too often, unfortunately, the writer lacks an understanding of the things he or she is comparing or lacks the ability to discern scale. In any case, turn the page, click to another site, or change the channel, don't fill your mind with someone else's confused thinking.
People who advance the Bush = Hitler or Republicans = Nazi ideas demonstrate that they're relying on the Cliff-Notes version of world history. It's a shame really, because a proper understanding of what happened in Germany in those years, and who and what Hilter was, could be useful in today's world. Even more sadly, failure to understand Nazism properly makes it more likely that we will re-experience it. I'm not sure what is worse, not remembering history or remembering it wrong.
I mentioned Two recurring themes in Austins post. The other concerns the common concept of "guilt by association". It's a poor label, really, because the idea I am working is larger than that including any time we, the talking, listening, thinking public, fail to appropriately compartmentalize a bit of information about a person, group or idea. Off, that's a clumsy mouthful! Perhaps a few examples will help. Both T. Jefferson and G. Washington owned slaves. Does this moral failing discredit all their works? Can a moral person continue to admire them. I treasure the Declaration of Independence and The Lawn at the University of Virginia and despise the enslavement of any people. Does that make me a hypocrite?
Some fine writings on spirituality and prayer were written by someone who later confessed (and accepted punishment) for sexual abuse of a minor. Are the ideas in those writings now tainted? The Nazi's enjoyed (or pretended to enjoy) the music of Wagner. Must I reject it on that basis? Some very bad people have claimed to be Christians. Must I hold Christianity responsible for their evil?
You have probably discerned, careful reader that you are, that I endorse an "appropriate compartmentalization" in these cases. Bad people have long been attracted to good causes, if only as an effective cover. Only in the comic books do the bad-guys choose costumes that advertise their evil. In this world bad people are more likely to appear wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross. Elsewhere the blue helmets of the UN are a popular disguise. Aesop called it "sheep's clothing", but few would nowadays credit the words of a dead, European male like him. Good things are attractive to everyone, good and bad alike. That an idea is frequently mis-appropriated is a sort of back-handed endorsement.
Of course, even the term "bad guys" is unfair. Again, the comic book world wherein villains are purely evil is not our world. Even those who seem exceptional, like Hitler, on close inspection are rather ordinary people (a much more frightening prospect, really. The world is full of Hitlers, who lack only his access to the instruments of power.) The other edge to that sword are the typical flaws in the "good guys." Some are more obvious that others, and more serious, but all humans have their dark-side. Jesus saved a woman from a stoning with this knowledge.
As Austin reminds us, any human enterprise, no matter how worthy the cause, will also find itself "compromised" in someway at sometime. Properly employed, compartmentalization is analogous to the Christian virtue of forgiveness, and like it, very freeing. The weakness and flaws of a great man, or the moral compromises and stumblings of a great cause, ought to be openly inspected and recognized, and then assigned an appropriate compartment in the total picture of the man or the movement. Those who would hide or turn their eyes from our failings, give the sins undeserved power, just as those who allow the sin to color all aspects of the sinner.
Naturally we should extend this same benefit of the doubt to Amnesty International. The organization has done much good and will do much good in the future. I would like to consider this latest mis-step an unfortunate error and not see this powerful voice lost in a fog of bluster.
We are fighting the GWOT before we fully understand it, learning as we go. Our mistakes can be our best teachers, if we have the courage to accept the lesson. Failure to compartmentalize provokes a defensive failure to recognize. These are serious lessons that we cannot well afford to pass over. Do your part by ignoring those who either cannot or will not discuss these things in their proper perspective. Look to Austin Bay for a good example of blogging at it's best.
May 26, 2005
Everybody wants to be "Mainstream"
I wasn't going to quote this NY Times editorial, but they close with a line I just couldn't pass up.
There is absolutely nothing unfair about allowing a minority that actually represents more American people to veto lifetime appointments of judges who are far outside the mainstream of American thinking.
I don't now where to start... this is a very highly-refined class of confusion. In fact, I'm just going to bypass the fairness stuff and focus on the ritual recitation of the "mainstream" phrase. For both Republican and Democrats, anyone they oppose is "out of the American mainstream." It's one of those overly focus-grouped phrases that get tossed into a sentence in the hope that readers will respond in some subliminal way. I burst out laughing imagining the editors of the New York Times trying to fathom the American mainstream. No doubt they would be careful to observe it from a safe distance. The New York I once knew was quite sure it was nowhere near the mainstream and quite proud of it. Has Manhattan become Middle-America since I left?
I'll be honest here and admit that I myself am "far outside the mainstream of America." As best I can tell, the Mainstream of American Thinking these days is concerned with nothing beyond a television show featuring overly-emotive singers (I'll come clean, I've never watched it.) It has never been my goal to be average or ordinary. I don't even like the label "moderate"; I'm attracted to centrism partly because it is such a lonely spot these days (probably why I'm so juiced to see headlines about "renegade moderates".) I try hard to be exceptional and ask the same from my children; is it too much to ask of federal judges?
(Seriously now, I have no doubt that the judges nominated by the president are far more "exceptional" as individuals than I'll ever be. Rather I'm amused that the Times is convinced that judges ought to be "mainstream", or that they (the Times) could even recognize mainstream American thinking. )