July 31, 2009
About a ‘hierarchy of sense’, so to speak, for the right-wingers. Sometimes, you see, they disagree with one another, and on those rare occasions it becomes extremely easy to see which one is more sensible than the other. From my own entirely unscientific observations, it goes like this:
Bill O’Reilly makes Geraldo Rivera look sensible. Rivera revealed the humanity that usually hides behind his moustache when he broke down on camera at the horror and devastation of Katrina, reporting on-site while O’Reilly sat in his studio and talked about how all New Orleans needed was a strong father figure or something equally nonsensical. There have been other occasions, like when O’Reilly painted a picture of a man whose daughter was killed by a drunk-driving illegal immigrant and Geraldo pointed out that if he were the father it wouldn’t make a bit of difference to him whether the man who killed his daughter was a legal resident or not, a point that seemed lost on O’Reilly.
Glenn Beck, who emerged from relative obscurity this year to become one of the biggest wingnuts of them all, in turn once managed (or so I seem to recall, but I fear I can’t recall just what the topic of discussion was) to make Bill O’Reilly look sensible. I wish I could remember how that happened.
I’ve wondered who it would take to make Glenn Beck look sensible. It’s a very tall order: Beck pimped the conspiracy theory that FEMA was setting up concentration camps for the reeducation of consevsatives (a story literally taken from an episode of the X-Files, it turns out), among other things, and famously said to Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, “what I feel like saying is, Sir, please prove to me that you’re not working with our enemies” in a televised interview. I’ve never seen anyone actually make Glenn Beck look sensible by comparison, but if anyone could do it my money’s on Ann Coulter.
Ann Coulter, finally, astonished the world by looking sensible in comparison to the Birthers, saying on tv that she didn’t think there was a story there.
July 27, 2009
William Roper: “So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!”
Sir Thomas More: “Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?”
William Roper: “Yes, I’d cut down every law in England to do that!”
Sir Thomas More: “Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man’s laws, not God’s! And if you cut them down, and you’re just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake!”
-Robert Bolt, A Man for All Seasons
The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies ‘something not desirable’. The words democracy, socialism, freedom, patriotic, realistic, justice have each of them several different meanings which cannot be reconciled with one another. In the case of a word like democracy, not only is there no agreed definition, but the attempt to make one is resisted from all sides. It is almost universally felt that when we call a country democratic we are praising it: consequently the defenders of every kind of regime claim that it is a democracy, and fear that they might have to stop using that word if it were tied down to any one meaning.
Last fall I took a class in North American civilization. I got a C on my exam (and only the exam sets the grade), much to my chagrin: in addition to a few minor flaws the teacher objected to my assertion that the Bush administration “all but turned the United States into a third world dictatorship”. But I stand by that assertion, and in fact I continue to maintain that the evidence I am right becomes more numerous and overwhelming by the month. Consider the most recent revelation: in 2002 Dick Cheney tried to convince George Bush to send US Army soldiers into Buffalo, New York to arrest suspected Al Qaeda members, instead of sending police. He did it for the explicit purpose of claiming for the president the right to suspend the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and use military force against US citizens on US soil. George Bush said no, and the men were arrested by police.
There are plenty of other examples where Bush was not so benign. The long and grotesque saga of Guantanamo Bay has at its root the belief by Bush and his men that he had the right to arrest people without charging them with any crimes or giving them due process, or any kind of legal protections whatsoever. The result is history: prolonged torture of innocent people abducted from their lives off the street all over the world, including of US citizens on US soil. Many of those prisoners died from the torture, which never averted any terrorist actions and has resulted in a mere handful of convictions, mainly for lesser offences.
Or what about the FISA debacle. FISA, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, was passed in 1978 following the revelations of Watergate, and investigations that revealed that the US government had flagrantly abused its unchecked surveillance powers to spy on people for pretty much any reason. Watergate itself was about Nixon spying on his domestic political opposition during the election campaign of 72. FISA established that the government could not spy on people without a warrant, and set up the FISA court to review if government requests for warrants were justified. This system lasted until Bush took office, and demanded the right to spy on anyone in secret, without warrants or having to give any justification, civil liberties be damned. The program was secret until 2004, when the New York Times learned of it: they kept it secret for another year (that adverserial media, eh?), until after the 2004 Presidential election. Democrats feigned outrage when they learned about it, and this was one of the major issues for the 2006 midterm elections in which the Democrats were swept into power in both Houses of Congress. They campaigned against it, but once they were in power they worked hard to enshrine warrantless surveillance into law, and actually rewrote the law to retroactively decriminalize Bush’s program. Barack Obama was one of those who voted to amend the law, and now he gets to abuse it himself if he wants to.
Obama has also stubbornly gone back on his campaign promises of transparency and dismantling Bush’s police state. Guantanamo Bay is scheduled to be shut down, but the official position of the administration is that they can open other prisons that operate under the same rules as Gitmo and just move the prisoners there instead, and that the Supreme Court rulings giving Habeas Corpus rights to Guantanamo Bay prisoners does not apply to prisoners in any of the US’s other, more secret prison camps.
“Habeas Corpus” is the legal principle upon which the entirety of the rule of law is founded. Habeas Corpus is the principle that says the government can’t just grab you and throw you in a cell for no reason. It comes from the Magna Carta, of which paragraphs 38 and 39 read:
 No bailiff shall in future put anyone to trial upon his own bare word, without reliable witnesses produced for this purpose.
 No free man shall be arrested or imprisoned or disseised or outlawed or exiled or in any way victimized, neither will we attack him or send anyone to attack him, except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land.
The Military Commissions Act of 2006 gave the President the right to suspend Habeas Corpus for “unlawful enemy combatants”, a term which has absolutely no definition and which the President can seemingly apply freely to anyone he wants. In short, he claimed the legal right to throw anyone he wants in a jail cell to die, including Senators and Congressmen, and the Senators and Congressmen voted in favor. If Bush had, or if Obama or a later president, ever tried to actually do this, I have no doubt the Congressmen and Senators would be outraged, much like how Democratic Representative Jane Harman (who said the New York Times should be prosecuted for having leaked the warrantless surveillance story) was outraged to learn that the Bush administration had wiretapped her phone conversations.
To put it very simply: Americans (and the rest of us for that matter) are living in a situation in which US law will not protect you from unjust or criminal government action against you. In order to get at the devil, all the laws have been knocked down, and when the devil turns and attacks us we will have nothing left to defend ourselves with. Innocence is no defence. Our only defence now against the whims of powerful men who can order us thrown in jail to die for no reason, is to not draw their attention in the first place. If that’s not tyranny, I don’t know what is.
July 25, 2009
This diary on Daily Kos, the world’s biggest progressive blog, makes me weep with despair for the reality-based community. I read it aghast and horrified at its credulity, and thought to comment on it. I wrote my comment, but discovered then that you have to have a DK-account, and there’s a 24-hour waiting period before you’re allowed to comment on stories, presumably to avoid trolls and spammers. Fair enough. I’ll just post it here now and we’ll see if I still feel like posting it on the story itself tomorrow. Who knows, maybe by then the Pharyngulites will have torn it to pieces.
Do go take a look at the diary, or else this will not make much sense. My response:
Okay, I’m not a scientist, but I feel someone should say this, so I will. I’m going to try not to be too crude, but can’t make any promises.
Pics or it didn’t happen.
You claim to have experienced proven, effective, supernatural healing, as do some of the commenters. Wow, how about that. If that’s true that could revolutionize the study of medicine and help cure god only knows how many sick people that doctors today can’t help. I do believe I’m going to go talk to this shaman and talk about his work in detail to spread the word to the general public.
Oh wait, I don’t know who he is because even though he apparently has miraculous powers that you’ve personally experienced, and even though you apparently want to raise awareness of the efficacy of alternative treatments, you didn’t bother identifying him so that we can talk to him ourselves. We only have your word for any of this, and I have no idea who you are or if you’re trustworthy. But what I do know is that frauds and swindlers just loooove to say that doctors and scientists, even though the whole point of their profession is to research things and find out what works, and what doesn’t have inexplicably and unanimously fallen completely blind on this one issue and never even looked into it, and that’s why you’ve never heard about it before even though it’s real, reliable and 100% effective.
Look. If what you’re saying is true then give a call to James Randi (http://www.randi.org/site/) and offer to take his test. If you can demonstrate that this shamanistic treatment is effective you will immediately catapult alternative medicine into mainstream awareness, help change the course of western medicine for all time, and get a cool million dollars into the bargain. Do it. I dare you.
July 24, 2009
You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.
-Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan.
First of all, a notice: I updated the first post about US news media with this link, providing evidence to my assertion that Jon Stewart, a satirist who adamantly denies being a newsman, is the most trusted newsman in America.
Second of all: those early posts were rather low on specifics. That was intentional. There have been far too many specifics over the last eight years for me to revisit. Those posts laid out my general perspective, and my mission going forward. Although I may have a few more introductory posts if I feel the need to talk about a topic I haven’t already laid out, for the most part my posts going forward will be linking to the new instances of malfeasance as they come along, with my own comments attached, of course.
So, continuing on this same theme, take this statement:
CNN/US president Jonathan Klein is rebuffing the mounting criticism of the network over Lou Dobbs’ continued airing of “birther” theories, saying that Lou runs “his own show” that merely hosts “panels” with birther theorists and asserting that CNN respects viewers enough to let them “make up their own minds.”
The spearhead of this mounting criticism came – where else – from Jon Stewart, who recently dedicated a full eight minutes of his 20-minute show to a segment eviscerating the “birthers”, the conspiracy theorists who claim that Barack Obama is not a natural-born US citizen, and therefore ineligible to serve as President, despite overwhelming conclusive evidence to the contrary. Go watch it. I’ll still be here when you’re done.
So… CNN “respects viewers enough to let them make up their own minds.” Funny. Here I thought the purpose of a news show (much less a news network) was to tell people what’s true and what isn’t. But apparently CNN doesn’t think so. But think about that statement: “CNN respects viewers enough to let them make up their own minds.” When you get right down to it, doesn’t that sound an awful lot like an admission that CNN may as well not exist at all? After all, they respect their viewers too much to tell them that something is or isn’t true. How about replacing all programming with a sign that reads “We won’t let the facts interfere with your thinking”? The end result would be about the same, it seems.
July 23, 2009
On the occasion of this Fox News military commentator inviting the Taliban to murder an American soldier who was captured some week ago in order to save them the paperwork, I was reminded to make a comment about who does or does not “support the troops” in the US, a comment which goes back to the election campaign (and for that matter to the presidential campaign of 2004). Much was said about the glory and heroism of John McCain, the Republican presidential candidate, who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam for five years.
In 2004, of course, it was the Democratic candidate John Kerry who was the distinguished Vietnam veteran. But we didn’t hear much about how apalling it was for anyone to criticise the beloved veteran then, did we? In fact what we heard then was that Kerry’s exploits in Vietnam were pure fiction, and that he got his Purple Heart by shooting himself in the foot. Heck, we can go back even further, to the midterm election of 2002 when Democratic Senator Max Cleland, a Vietnam veteran and triple amputee was compared to Osama bin Laden in campaign ads by his Republican challenger (who won).
So bearing in mind these, and countless other less high-profile but similar remarks, the observation that struck me during the presidential campaign of 2008 is that, for all the Republicans talk about how the awful Democrats were not Supporting The Troops by daring to… nominate a candidate to run against John McCain, we can easily imagine what would have happened if John McCain had been a Democrat instead of a Republican.
If John McCain had been a Democrat running for president, the Republicans would have said that he was never a prisoner of war and he was never tortured. They would say that he is a communist who had willingly gone over to the enemy and spent five years living in luxury while he fed the North Vietnamese information about American troops, and no doubt caused at least one tenth of the American casualties of the war (hell, probably tipped the scales and lost the war entirely) by himself as a result. They would be saying that his injuries allegedly from torture were feigned and self-inflicted. They would say that he is a traitor who deserves to die, and that the fact that he is a sitting Senator demonstrates the objective fact that the Democrats have sided with the Enemy to destroy America, and must be removed by violent means. They would openly and repeatedly and with great relish suggest that some honorable citizen should seize him and put him through the torture he claims to have suffered at the hands of the North Vietnamese. He would be, in short, the most hated man in right-wing America.
July 21, 2009
I did not then know what Brother William was seeking, and to tell the truth, I still do not know today, and I presume he himself did not know, moved as he was solely by the desire for truth, and by the suspicion – which I could see he always harbored – that the truth was not what was appearing to him at any given moment.
– Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose
Umberto Eco, as I’ve already said, is one of my favorite authors, and as I’ve already said I began to read him, by pure coincidence (OR WAS IT) when I began to study at my university. This was the marker of my entry into the realm of genuine intellectuals. In fact, in one of the early classes I took (basically an introduction to the humanities) the lecturer showed clips from The Name of the Rose on YouTube in class. The story, he said, both demonstrated how ancient texts could be lost forever, and contemplated the transition from the system in which knowledge was preserved (or monopolized) by monasteries to the system in which knowledge was shared among the general population. Something like that, anyway. It’s been a couple of years now since I took that class.
Umberto Eco is (or has been but has probably since moved on to bigger things) a professor at the University of Bologna, Italy… which, I see right now on Wikipedia, is the oldest degree-granting university in the world. So that tells you something. Eco is an expert in semiotics, the study of (if I’m to try to describe it) how signs convey meaning, and this is one of the themes of The Name of the Rose. Rose was his first novel, and in my opinion the second heaviest. The heaviest of all was Foucault’s Pendulum, his second novel, and after that he actually became significantly lighter.
Reading Eco is a severely intimidating process: raw intellectual mastery of his field permeates every page of his every novel. I imagine that if you were to play a game of Chess with him you would soon get the impression he was not actually playing against you, but rather that you yourself are a pawn in a game of Chess he was playing with some higher power beyond your conception (and probably he’d be winning). Heck, even blogging about him is intimidating. Imagine then how I feel when I begin to write a chapter of my novel that is basically entirely dedicated to him, a homage of The Name of the Rose in what is otherwise a fantasy novel by a mere caterpillar of a writer. First of all I worry that I’ll be accused of plagiarism. Secondly I worry that I’ll be accused of having missed the point and of being a superficial and ignorant reader. Having idols is a dangerous business.
A third, and far less pressing concern, is that Rose is far too weighty and comprehensive to be adequately homaged in a single chapter. And my chapters are very large. I’m already considering splitting this segment into two chapters, but that also may not be enough. There are so many themes and stylistic traits of Rose that I feel I should include, if only with lip service so that I can point to it and say “Yes, I got that, I didn’t completely overlook a significant part of the novel”, in addition to the themes and stylistic traits of my own novel which are, of course, also present in every chapter. If I were to try to list them here the list would inevitably be incomplete.
You may have noticed I’m being extremely humble, even self-deprecating. This is true. I have my mood swings. Sometimes, especially when confronted with the work of those who have been deep influences upon me, I feel very small and inconsequential indeed. Other times I feel confident to the point of narcissism and megalomania, and in my good times I think that my novel is fabulous and will only continue to improve as I go along, and that when it is finally finished no-one can help but be enthralled by it. I have learned so much since I began, and will learn so much more before I’m through… and when I’m done everything I’ve learned will be present in every part of it, from start to finish. I do not have the subtlety, the technical sophistication one accumulates after years and decades of work, but I have a spirit of fire that will never be extinguished while I live.
I think in stories, and I will continue to write them down, and I will learn as I go along, and I will continue to study the work of the masters, and learn from them, and hone my skills until I rank among them.
July 18, 2009
Walter Cronkite died yesterday. Cronkite was America’s foremost newsman for much of the 20th century, “the most trusted man in America.”
Since I’m now trying my hand at this “blogging” thing, I think it’s just as well to give my own understanding of the form. And one of the fundamental things to understand about blogs, especially political blogs, is this: American news media is a complete, utter, apalling, loathsome, despicable failure. News blogs arose, in my (completely unresearched) opinion, because the traditional media completely failed to deliver meaningful news.
This has been true for a long time, mind you. The newsmen of today who complain about the critical eye the large blogs cast on them fail to understand this: the bloggers were always there, and they always felt that traditional journalism was a disgrace, but the coming of the internet age permitted those views to finally be heard and spread to a large audience, and the tremendous multiplication of all the media’s flaws under Bush drove that large audience to the blogs, in order to find out what was going on.
There is a definite libertarian streak running through the big blogs. They don’t take people on their word, they’ve been burned too many times for that. Not just the statements of their opponents either, they also know better than to trust politicians who are, allegedly, on their side. Not that “their side” is easily defined. Barack Obama’s statements are scrutinized and fact-checked, and, when appropriate, argued against, by the big liberal bloggers. They check what others say, and explain what is right and what is wrong, and why, in detail. The traditional media news outlets never – never – do this.
This, incidentally, is also (again in my opinion) why American newspapers are dying out. In response to reduced circulation, in turn they demonstrate that they completely fail to understand what’s wrong, and cut down on substance instead of focusing on it.
Glenn Greenwald, one of the titans of the blogosphere, writes about constitutional law and civil liberties, his specialty as a lawyer, but also talks a lot about the failures of the media. On the occasion of Cronkite’s death he has written a post contrasting Cronkite’s style with that of the media elites who today claim Cronkite as one of their own.
The American media elites, to put it bluntly, do not believe it is their job to inform Americans. If anything the opposite is true, and they see it as their job to help the government (especially Republican governments) control the flow of information. As Jonathan Schwartz put it on his blog, “the government and corporate media self-consciously see themselves as a governing elite that runs things hand in hand.”
That blog post is an astonishing piece of curtain-tearing. I came across it from this post on Making Light, a literary-political-knitting-assortedness-blog, one of the seminal posts on the subject.
You may have noticed by now that I am rather blunt in my assessments. This is another thing about blogs: no language filter and no editors to weed out the cursewords. This, incidentally, is another failure of the traditional news media: a bizarre belief that cursewords, and only cursewords, qualify as “obscene”. Thanks to this, Bill Kristol is free to go on CNN, and can regularly have his pieces published in the New York Times and the Washington Post, saying (in a civil, non-obscene way) that it’s ok to torture Muslims to death, and that the deaths of a million civilians is a small price to pay to make entirely sure Saddam posed no threat in the first place, but anyone who says that Bill Kristol is a fucking psychopath will be denied entry. For my part, I continue to maintain that intense, visceral, curse-word-hurling disgust is the only appropriate and sane response to the atrocities of the Bush administration and their supporters, and that anyone who can discuss them in a calm and detached tone of voice is truly deranged. To refer again to Hunter Thompson’s obituary of Richard Nixon:
Some people will say that words like scum and rotten are wrong for Objective Journalism — which is true, but they miss the point. It was the built-in blind spots of the Objective rules and dogma that allowed Nixon to slither into the White House in the first place. He looked so good on paper that you could almost vote for him sight unseen. He seemed so all-American, so much like Horatio Alger, that he was able to slip through the cracks of Objective Journalism. You had to get Subjective to see Nixon clearly, and the shock of recognition was often painful.
The blogs provide an infrastructure for activists, actual grassroot, to meet, exchange ideas, and organize. They grew up in the Bush years thanks to the monstrous actions of that administration and the utter failure of the news media to take their crimes seriously, and when they began to wield genuine influence, the news media fought back. But it’s a losing battle. The big networks and newspapers are dying, not because of the evil blogs attacking them, but because they failed to perform the service a news media is supposed to perform: informing and educating the populace. That’s why the actual most trusted source of news in America – whose viewers are more informed than the viewers of any other show or network – isn’t even a news show, but a news show parody, the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and its spinoff The Colbert Report, both of which also exercise a good deal of media criticism. Stephen Colbert’s infamous remark to the assembled White House Press Corps must be repeated:
Over the last five years you people were so good, over tax cuts, WMD intelligence, the effect of global warming. We Americans didn’t want to know, and you had the courtesy not to try to find out. Those were good times, as far as we knew.
But, listen, let’s review the rules. Here’s how it works. The President makes decisions. He’s the decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Just put ‘em through a spell check and go home. Get to know your family again. Make love to your wife. Write that novel you got kicking around in your head. You know, the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration? You know, fiction!
The Washington Post was not amused. The people present barely spoke of the event over the next weeks, insisting when asked that he just wasn’t funny. The video became an overnight sensation on YouTube, putting the lie to their claims.
July 23rd update: Time Magazine poll shows Jon Stewart most trusted newsman in America.
July 17, 2009
Or, What I’ve Been Doing The Last Three Years.
At Christmas 2005 I read first Foucault’s Pendulum and then The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco. Since then it’s become my little tradition to read Eco for christmas. Sadly I’ve already read his five novels, and it doesn’t look like he’ll be writing more anytime soon, so now I’ve been forced to reread them. This christmas we came full circle, and I read The Name of the Rose again. Wonderful book.
My first reading of the book coincided with two other events:
Shortly afterwards I entered my university, initially studying the history of ideas but quickly switching to English-language literature. And I had gotten the seed of an idea that would grow to a huge novel that still demands to be written.
Fall 2006 I was reading Enlightenment literature: Jonathan Swift, Alexander Pope, The Spectator, Doctor Johnson and the rest. Fascinating stuff, but I still didn’t know what I was doing. Always I think myself smart, and never I see myself learning, but afterwards I see that I have learned. I moved on to American literature afterwards, and read a bunch of the classics: Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Tennessee Williams, The Great Gatsby, Catcher in the Rye, along with things like Ralph Waldo Emerson and Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry God. You know, the usual.
And so on and so on. I won’t bore you by listing every text I’ve read in the last three years. But it’s all reading books, and talking about them, and sure, it’s useful to see what other people have done, but it has limited utility. It probably won’t give you ideas for what to do yourself. I was reading them for entertainment value, when perhaps I should have been treating each text as a purely technical exercise, cutting away everything on the surface until we are left with pure techniques, to be studied, judged, and, if they are found capable, reproduced.
Anyway, I’ve continued like this for the past years, and alongside my university career I’m attempting to further my authorial career with my novel: it is currently some 130 000 words long, 230 pages. I must confess I am probably a bad author at least in regard to this one point: I lack the discipline to write on my book every day, come hell or high water. I know this is what I must do. But at least I can’t be accused of lacking focus: I’ve been working on this novel non-stop since early 2006, three and a half years ago, and even now I’m not slowing down. It’s just that I get most of my writing done during vacations. Well, this is a vacation, and now I’ve just finished one chapter, and begun to move on to the next: the chapter inspired by Umberto Eco’s The Name of The Rose. After three and a half years we’ve come full circle.
My novel is a fantasy story that (and here my realism conflicts with my lofty ambitions) tries to be different from all the other fantasy stories. I know better than to declare categorically that I succeed, but I always try. It’s a story without a great evil or a great hero, or even a particularly charismatic antihero. It’s a story about fairly ordinary people, and the fairly ordinary problems they encounter on their self-determined (no Great Quest To Save The World has been dropped into their laps) mission to do some good for the society in which they live.
Apart from that, it’s distinguishing characteristic is that it’s long. Very long. I’ve been writing it for three and a half years now, and I’ve just finished chapter ten. Each chapter is large, most of them are more or less complete adventures in their own right. And I currently envision writing about 24 chapters in total. So I’m less than halfway there.
After this I’m going to stick to shorter novels. Much shorter. In fact I already have the next novel I’m going to write quite well planned out, and it’s going to be awesome. And that one, unlike this first one, will actually use stuff I’ve learned from my studies.
I think I’m just going to close it there. I’ll go into more depth later: this is a broad, introductory post, going over a huge space of time in a relatively short post. Incidentally, my favorite authors, other than Eco, are Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore. Still others are Hunter S. Thompson, whom I’ve already talked about, and Terry Pratchett.
July 16, 2009
This is harder than it looks. I had some clear thoughts when I sat down to write that previous post, but by the time I was finished I had had to chase them to hell and back, and in the end I’m not sure that post makes a lot of sense. I’ll try harder.
July 16, 2009
National myths are harmful and long-lived things, and they come in all shapes and sizes. One of them is that being a justice of the supreme court is a nonpartisan office.
This is frightful nonsense. It’s not true in practice (except for a few cases where a justice is accepted only to show that he wasn’t going to vote the way the majority who approved him wanted him to after all: these cases are deeply regretted and seen as lessons to avoid next time) and it’s not true in theory either.
Justices are nominated by the President. The President is a member of a political party which has a basic set of values and opinions their members are expected to adhere to. In addition the President invariably has strong opinions about legal matters himself (chances are good he’s educated in law himself), and invariably he thinks that a good justice is one who, among other generic positive traits, agrees with his opinion about the major contentious issues of law. This is unavoidable, and it is also not a bad thing. I shudder in terror at the idea of the alternative, a President who does not know enough about law to have an opinion, or who somehow schizophrenically thinks that a judge who disagrees with him on the major issues would still be a good justice of the supreme court; part of having an opinion is actually believing your opinion to be right, and it would be bizarre to pretend otherwise.
After the President nominates a justice, he or she must be approved by the Senate. Again, every single Senator is a member of a political party, and every Senator should have strong opinions about and competence in dealing with laws. This, after all, is their job.
So after being nominated, tested, and in all likelihood appointed in a completely 100% partisan process, designed to get people who agree with the ideological pet issues of the current majority, how deluded do you have to be to pretend that Supreme Court Justices are not partisan officials? Yet this is the myth. The reality is that of course they are partisan officials, and it would be more honest, practical, and effective to just admit it and have a real discussion about it, yet all political actors and commenters pretend in public that this is an apalling state of affairs which must be shunned, and that a delusional fantasy of pure objective application of the law is how things really work. Pretending that the strong opinions judges have is not part of their competence or qualifications results in justices stubbornly refusing to answer questions about their legal philosophy, except in the blandest, most uninformative “I’m for goodness” tripe.
Even if some individual Senators (or even a President) feel that they can rise above partisan bickering, in addition, the other side will not be so kind. Observe Sonia Sotomayor. I know absolutely nothing about her, and frankly I wouldn’t be at all surprised if she turns out not to be very liberal at all. She was picked to demonstrate that diversity need not come at the price of competence, not because she is known to be a firebrand liberal. But of course, that is what she is accused of being anyway, by a minority party that has demonstrated every day for the last eight and a half years that they have no intention and no capability of arguing in good faith about anything. Believing that the other side is determined to bring in extremists to stuff the court, the one side knows that the only way to stop it is to stuff the court themselves with their own ideological comrades every chance they get. If the Democrats try to stick to “neutral” judges, eventually the court will be half-random, and half-batshit-insane-right-winger.
Actually that’s an optimistic estimate. The more likely outcome is that if the Democrats try to stick to “neutral” in anything, their disillusioned supporters will stay home in elections, and eventually the court will be entirely of the latter category.