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Nobelest judges can and do make mistakes. That "judges" can and do make mistakes is illustrated by the mistakes of omission and commission made by the noble Nobel "judges," the well-meaning Scandihoovians who have selected winners of Nobel prizes. According to Keay Davidson, writing in the San Francisco Chronicle, "The biggest Nobel 'oops' featured Antonio Moniz, pioneer of the prefrontal lobotomy to treat schizophrenia. He won the prize in 1949, by which time American neurosurgeons were annually lobotomizing thousands of patients, some of whom suffered terrible side effects. The procedure was largely abandoned by the 1960s. Then there was Johannes Fibiger, who supposedly found the cause of cancer and, as a result, won a Nobel in 1926." Davidson writes that those least likely to win among the meritorious are a) women, b) graduate students or lab technicians, and c) those who are "[s]o advanced in [their] thinking that [they] die before the world recognizes [their] genius." My personal list of mistaken omissions includes Robert Frost and Wallace Stevens in re the literature prize, which has been awarded to so many minor, entirely forgettable poets and novelists; and my list of mistaken selections includes Yasser Arafat, who shared the 1994 prize for peace. I won't be surprised if the sometimes sanctimonious judges goof again in their selection of the peace prize recipient this year, a selection to be announced October 12. More.... (10.08.2001)
Homemaker of the year. At the various county fairs in Michigan, they have a competition known as "homemaker of the year." As someone who spent 29 years working as a trusted aide in the judicial branch of state government, I'm mildly fascinated with the process of judging in areas other than the law. For example, I read the other day in an article praising a woman considered one of the best judges of jams&jellies at fairs that she doesn't taste any of the jams&jellies she judges. Instead, she bases her decisions on factors such as texture, appearance, etc. It struck me when I read that, that judging jams&jellies without tasting them is like judging a trial without listening to the evidence. But no one has ever asked me to judge a jam&jelly competition, so what do I know. My favorite preserve is "Sour Cherry Spoon Fruit" from American Spoon Foods, headquartered in Petoskey, MI, just across Little Traverse Bay from Harbor Springs, where I summered for many years. But I've foolishly based my "favorite" appellation on the taste of that product. I'm not sure what criteria the judges use in judging the women who enter the "homemaker of the year" competition, or where they find these women (there are so few of them left). But I can say that Jennifer Walsh, the winner of the competition this year in Jackson County, MI, got "a perfect 100" from all three judges and that they based their decisions not only on her being "a wonderful young woman" but on "three family photos she shot with a camera she got for Mother's Day, some strawberry-rhubarb jam, fudge, peanut brittle, applesauce and a green quilted throw pillow." I wonder if her jam actually tastes good or only looks good. (08.26.2001)
The jam&jelly judging controversy. So you don't believe a judge of a county fair's jam&jelly competition would not even taste the entries? Here's a posting by a woman on an internet bulletin board: "I too have entered canned items in the County Fair and won ribbons. As far as the jellies and jams...they were never opened or tasted [but were] judged on sight only. I did not feel this was fair as they all looked alike in the jars to me...." Answering one such posting, another person wrote: "I want to tell you the other side of the story. Years ago, I worked as a home economist for a gas utility and was invited to judge a county fair's food entries, cakes to be exact. Had to taste everything. Never been so sick or sick of sweets in my life. And it was an open judging. When I commented that one sheet cake wasn't done--there was still liquid batter in the middle, for cryin' out loud and there was a great crater in the center--the baker chewed me up one side and down the other right in front of God and the world. I was polite to her, which only made her the madder. It wasn't my most pleasant experience....I did make sure I had a prior engagement the next year during that fair's run!" Yet another wrote: "Yes most people are shocked and so was I when I found out that they don't open and taste the canned goods. But I know that our fair has about 100 different canned goods catagories, and each one is entered an average of about 50 times. Can you imagine tasting 50 different jars of grape jelly, 50 jars of strawberry jam and so on. I was surprised to learn what all they look for when they look over those jars. The produce has to be the right distance from the lid, jellies must be clear, the colors must be fresh and bright. The jars that win the ribbons were put up with care to detail." A web publication that gives advice to entrants in the Evergreen County Fair in Washington State seems to say that at that particular fair almost everything but taste matters. But at other fairs apparently taste does matter. As in common-law judging, there seem to be different schools of thought as to the proper role of the judge, the information to be considered in reaching decisions, etc. Those who don't think a jam&jelly judge should taste the jams&jellies are "strict constructionists" (the term in law for those who believe in excluding the personal tastes of the individual judge as much as possible from the decision-making process). Those who want the jam&jelly judge to actually taste the jams&jellies want not only to preserve some degree of freedom for the individual judge but to encourage creativity on the parts of entrants. (08.27.2001)
Cheerleading competitions and the "rule of law." As more countries (e.g., China) try to modify their economic systems in order to participate as effectively as possible in the world economy, which is dominated by "western" nations and free-enterprise values, we are hearing more about "establishing the 'rule of law,'" which has long been associated with the spread of capitalism. Those of us who think about it (and don't just take it for granted) take the "rule of law" to include the concept of an independent and accountable judiciary that decides cases according to the basic principles of fairness inherent in the idea of due process. Interestingly, the miracle of the WWW has made it possible for each of us to have free and instant access to information from news sources all around the country and all around the world. Stories that used to be local stories, buried in a city newspaper's local news section, now pop up on our computer screens regularly. And that phenomenon is making it somewhat easier for those of us who take seriously Jefferson's caution that we must be eternally vigilant in order to maintain our liberty. Item: According to the Houston Chronicle, 08.22.2001, 60 girls tried out for the approximately 30 places on the cheerleading squad at Brazoswood High School in Texas, assuming that the "judges" who selected the cheerleaders would make some sort of effort to be "fair" in conducting the tryouts and in making their selections. It turns out, however, that two of the four judges have "admitted rigging the tryout scores at the direction of the cheerleaders' faculty sponsor," who has resigned. Apparently the faculty sponsor told the judges which girls she favored and two of the four have admitted that tainted their scoring. The article states that the sponsor also "falsified some of the tryout scores herself after some of the judges balked at her suggestions regarding certain candidates." Cheerleading is a big deal in Texas and, as eternally vigilant parents will, some parents found out and, disturbed by this gross violation of the "rule of law," threatened legal action. What to do to remedy the wrong? Law school professors and students and judges practiced in "the great common law tradition" might come up with other, more precise remedies. One that comes to mind is to pick new judges and conduct new tryouts. But I like the remedy the school's superintendent picked: he decided that every girl who tried out could be on the squad. (08.22.2001)
Lady Mathilda, dog judges, dog lovers, dog art, dog poetry. Neutered though she is, Mathilda is not just a people lover. She's also a dog lover. But not a dog fancier. There is a difference, as one reviewer has pointed out in singing praises of Best in Show, last year's hit movie that targets pretentious dog shows. The 125th annual version of the most prestigious dog show, the Westminster Dog Show, "America's First AKC Champions Only Dog Show," was held on February 12 and 13 in Madison Square Garden in NYC (covered each day on USA Network). Although Mathilda does watch TV (she loves Dawson of Dawson's Creek), she had no interest in watching the Westminster on USA.
I'm a dog lover, too, not a dog fancier. But I think if I had cable TV I might enjoy the show. In fact, if I weren't busy on other writing projects, I might try writing a law review article on the subject of the traits and techniques shared by good dog judges and good common law judges. I've known a few of the latter. Years ago one of the good ones I knew judged a few of the human equivalents of dog shows, the so-called beauty pageants, now sometimes referred to as "scholarship pageants." He found that the skills he employed as a common law judge came in quite handy in judging the young women. And I've discovered that the dog world even has its equivalent of Cardozo's The Nature of the Judicial Process. It's Tom Horner's Take Them Round Please -- The Art of Dog Judging. What Tom, a Brit, says of judging, Cardozo didn't say with more eloquence: "When judging you must not be swayed by any consideration, except by the relative merit of the dog in front of you. You have but one duty: to judge the dogs. Forget the handlers, and forget what [shows] the dogs have won previously. Place the dogs as you think they should stand, never mind if the winner belongs to your best friend or your worst enemy. Disregard the fact that you won under one of the exhibitors last week, and that another is judging at the next show. Be completely selfish - please yourself and simply judge the dogs and safeguard your reputation. That is the only way to gain respect from your peers" But there are differences in recommended techniques. Horner says, "Use a 'hands on' approach to properly evaluate a dog's structure." I believe he is speaking literally. Common-law judges, whether judging contested cases or beauty pageants, may use a figurative but not a literal "hands on" approach.
As I said, Mathilda had no interest in watching Westminster. Nor, despite the fact she is an accomplished dog painter herself, has Mathilda any desire to visit the Secord Gallery or the Doyle Gallery next time we're in NYC together. The Secord Gallery is an art gallery in NYC that is devoted to dog paintings, that is, paintings of dogs. The gallery has been featuring an exhibition of European dog paintings in connection with the Westminster and collaborated with the Doyle Gallery on an exhibition and auction of 19th Century paintings of dogs. Sweet gal that she is, Mathilda's tongue nonetheless has bite. She said wryly that presumably a lot of pug lovers visit such galleries. And about pugs, she said, "Pugs are from Westchester and like being carried around by society women, whereas Australian shepherds -- 'Aussies,' as we like to be called -- are 'country,' even when we live in Edina or Grosse Pointe Farms. We like to earn our keep, whether by herding sheep, keeping geese off golf courses, professionally chasing flying discs, keeping airports free of large birds or, in my case, creating dog art." Will earning her keep include selling her paintings at the Secord someday? "I don't need to go to museums or galleries and I don't need them for my paintings. You'll find my paintings in a bar or a pub before you'll find them in a museum." [The painting to the right is one of Mathilda's self-portraits, from what she refers to as her "Impressionistic Period."]
Dog poetry? Same deal. She doesn't like the prissy kind of poetry written for people about dogs with 'poos (although Mathilda is clean as they come), but the real kind of poetry, written by both people and dogs for people and dogs using the language dogs and their ordinary human companions understand, the hard-scrabble language of the street, the pantry and the garage. Poems like "Me & The Dog & The Bone Of Love" by Everette Maddox. And short little dog haikus, like this one: "How do I love thee?/ The ways are numberless as/ My hairs on the rug." And poems like Lawrence Ferlinghetti's "Dog," which begins simply, "The dog trots freely in the street and sees reality...." One of Mathilda's favorites is this dog haiku, author unknown, which Mathilda says reminds her of Walt Whitman's great poem of all-inclusive, democratic equality, "I celebrate myself...." The poem? "Today I sniffed/ Many dog butts - I celebrate/ By kissing your face." With that, Mathilda gave me a wet Valentine smooch smack on my lips, then tipped her empty bowl over, signaling she needed a fill of bourbon and water. "Dog does not live by Kibbles'n'Bits alone," she quipped. "Or by art alone," she added, smoking on a stogie and tipping her green eyeshade rakishly to the side.
Announcement. We've finally gotten around to launching our new webzine/blawg: BurtLaw's The Daily Judge:
It is not an online newspaper and is not affiliated with or intended to be mistaken for any existing or previously-existing newspaper or journal. Rather, it is a so-called "blawg," a law-related personal "web log" or "blog," one with a subjective, idiosyncratic, and eccentric sociological and social-psychological slant that focuses not on the latest judicial decisions of supposed great importance but on a) the institution of judge in the United States and in other countries throughout the world, b) the judicial office and role, c) judicial personalities, d) the great common law tradition of judging as practiced here and throughout the world, e) judges as judges, f) judges as ordinary people with the usual mix of virtues and flaws, etc. We link to newspapers and other sources in order to alert the reader to ideas, articles, stories, speeches, law books, literary works and other things about "judges" that have interested us and that may interest the reader.
We don't promote our blawgs, but readers of this blog and of our affiliated political opinion blog, BurtonHanson.Com, may be interested in it. We don't think there is another blawg quite like it.