Justice Thomas Plays A Mute On Supreme Court

Perhaps Supreme Court Justice Thomas has finally understood he has little to contribute in a meaningful way, and therefore stays quiet during oral arguments.

A week from Tuesday, when the Supreme Court returns from its midwinter break and hears arguments in two criminal cases, it will have been five years since Justice Clarence Thomas has spoken during a court argument.

If he is true to form, Justice Thomas will spend the arguments as he always does: leaning back in his chair, staring at the ceiling, rubbing his eyes, whispering to Justice Stephen G. Breyer, consulting papers and looking a little irritated and a little bored. He will ask no questions.

In the past 40 years, no other justice has gone an entire term, much less five, without speaking at least once during arguments, according to Timothy R. Johnson, a professor of political science at the University of Minnesota. Justice Thomas’s epic silence on the bench is just one part of his enigmatic and contradictory persona. He is guarded in public but gregarious in private. He avoids elite universities but speaks frequently to students at regional and religious schools. In those settings, he rarely dwells on legal topics but is happy to discuss a favorite movie, like “Saving Private Ryan.”

Meanwhile curious minds on the court ask questions and thinking outside of the box.

His attitude toward oral arguments contrasts sharply with that of his colleagues, who seem to find questioning the lawyers who appear before them a valuable way to sharpen the issues in the case, probe weaknesses, consider consequences, correct misunderstandings and start a conversation among the justices that will continue in their private conferences.

Wisconsin State Journal Part Of Reason For Lack Of Primary Election Coverage

It was one of those ‘do not throw stones’ moments on the front page, above the fold, in the Sunday Wisconsin State Journal. 

In large font the newspaper mentioned the Rose Bowl, winter weather, and the Green Bay Packers all under the headline of “The Stealth Campaign”.  The paper than added, “Perhaps lost in the drama of recent weeks is Tuesday’s primary.”


It was as if the State Journal had no role to play other than being a child’s toy boat on the sea of current events. 

With a statewide primary contest for Wisconsin Supreme Court, a highly charged race for Dane County Executive, and a titanic struggle for control of the mayor’s office in Madison there have been plenty of reasons for in-depth reporting of personalities and issues.    Every day there were stories and ideas that could have been covered to inform, and also engage the voters.

However, day after day the State Journal thought more papers would sell if they put  coverage of the Wisconsin Badger football team all over the front page, followed by the Packers.  Time and again due to overblown sports coverage  throughout the paper news concerning the primary, candidates, and the issues was neglected.

The hype that surrounded the Packer playoffs was nothing compared to what was about to be printed once the Super Bowl line-up was confirmed.  In the end even full-page color pictures of  Packer players in the paper appeared!    So one can see why I cringed at the audacity when the State Journal printed, “Perhaps lost in the drama of recent weeks is Tuesday’s primary.” 

No, the news was not lost, it just was not covered by the State Journal in the way it should have been. 

While the paper did have some coverage of the races, and outlined candidate’s views there was not the complete coverage that one should expect given the nature of the races being waged, or the big name players who are in the arena.    Also to be fair about who should carry the blame for lackluster election coverage would be the three Madison television stations that opted for sports coverage as ‘news’ for too many broadcasts.

Newspaper reporters should have been assigned to ferret out more detailed insight into how candidates in the county would deal with transportation issues, or how the court candidates would deal with conflict of interests if elected.  More examination of the views the court candidates have about ‘merit selection’ of justices, (which the editorial board of the State Journal endorses) or how much job creation can really be achieved through the county executive’s office, or how candidates might curtail the growing problem with gangs…all might have filled many column inches. 

Let us be honest, there was NO shortage of stories to think about, report on, and publish.

Instead State Journal readers were offered too many fluff stories such as how people watched the games, or how people who were not sports fans would spend their time.   While we read about the diet of the Badger players, I did not see such an article about the beef intake of Packer quarterback Aaron Rogers.  Should sports fans feel cheated?

While sports play a role in society, they should not dominate the front page of any paper as they did this past month in Madison.  When both candidates and citizens comment that it is hard to break through the noise of a mere football game in order to talk about things that matter than perhaps the State Journal should have been listening and responding.

The role of a newspaper is educational: to inform the reader of the events of the past (in this case) 24 hours.  It is to be the first written account of history.  It should shed light on issues in long-form writing that is not possible on radio or television.  When newspapers fill their role properly  issues are illuminated and the result is a more healthy dialogue among the voters.  

Sadly however, when it cames to the races and issues for this spring election the State Journal has failed to live up to the standards we should all expect from a major paper.  We can only hope that their sales were good to compensate for the lack of meaningful election coverage.

So I will not then be surprised if after a small voter turnout on Tuesday a headline appears in the Journal stating  “Low Voter Turnout For Spring Primary.”


I wonder why.

Coffee Will Comfort The Soul On Sunday

After a busy and bitterly cold week I am looking forward to Sunday.  

James and I were shocked and dismayed by the news over how friends and neighbors who are state and public employees are to be treated by Governor Walker.  So to take a step back from the crazy world James and I have cleared the calendar off and will relax, read, and drink coffee Sunday.

Well, I will drink coffee.  James finds the beverage unpalatable.  It is one of the few things we do not agree on.  He will make tea and claim to be as pleased as I am……but we coffee drinkers know he is missing something.

I love the smell of fresh ground coffee, whereas James remarks that it smells “burnt’.  I love to fill the new coffee pot I bought during an after-Christmas sale, and as it brews pull one of my favorite mugs off a kitchen shelf.  

The latest new favorite coffee mug

Coffee is just more enjoyable if the mug is ‘cozy’.  We have a variety of mugs to fit every season and every mood.   One of my weaknesses is that I see new and colorful mugs in stores and walk home with them.  And like a kid have to use that new one when the next pot of coffee is made.

One of the simple pleasures of life is the smell of coffee as it is brewing, followed by the sound of  it being poured, while the steam rises into the air, only to be followed by the first sip.


What got me thinking about coffee so much, and the Sunday I am going to enjoy, is because of an article that I read about coffee.  

One of the most important coffee markets in the world, Japan imports more than 930 million pounds of it each year — more than France, less than Italy. It’s not a fad. There are coffee shops in Japan that date to at least the 1940s and traditions that reach back even further; it’s a culture that prizes brewed coffee over espresso (although that’s changing) and clarity over body. Coffee is as Japanese as baseball and beer.

Until just a few years ago, much of the coffee gear that made it to the United States from Japan was brought here in suitcases. It wasn’t contraband, just obscure, a trickle of kettles and cones picked up by coffee obsessives or their well-traveled friends who didn’t mind lugging the extra bulk.

One adopter — and importer — of Japanese gear was James Freeman of Blue Bottle Coffee in Oakland, San Francisco and now Brooklyn. Freeman and his wife, the pastry chef Caitlin Williams Freeman, recounted a visit to Chatei Hatou, a Tokyo coffee shop where brewing coffee isn’t exactly a ceremony but is ceremonious. They said beans were weighed, ground, emptied into a filter and preinfused with a little bit of water that let the coffee bloom and release carbon dioxide. Cups and saucers were warmed, a slice of chiffon cake was set in the fridge to firm up. Only then was the coffee brewed, slowly.