Monday, April 25, 2016

Apple #731: Prince and His Entourage

Like so many people, I've been rather stunned by the news of Prince's untimely death. I was never a huge fan, but the man had some serious songwriting skills, and he seemed about to embark on a new realm of creativity, and his music and style and persona were a huge part of the cultural landscape in my formative years.  People who are so famous, whose work and image and music and everything else are everywhere, you forget that they can do something so human as to die. It's kind of a shock.

(Photo from this Finnish news page)

Like so many people, I am remembering personal experiences when this man's music was the soundtrack. Dancing to "Purple Rain" with a crush-object who was on the track team. Recording "When Doves Cry" off the radio onto my tape recorder in my bedroom and trying to match his falsetto "Ooh-hoo"s and failing completely. A girl on my softball team listening to "Darling Nikki" on her headphones as we rode the van to an away game and cracking up and passing the headphones around because of how dirty the lyrics were. But my most vivid and complete Prince-related memory does not even involve him, but someone who impersonated him.

The real Prince and his band in 1982, from 1999
(Photo sourced from The Left Call)

My freshman year, our high school had a cover-band dance. You could get your friends together, dress up like some famous band, and then at the dance, pretend to be them and lip sync to a recording. One bunch of guys wore taped-up trash bags and they were Devo. A few stoner dudes were a rather disorganized Van Halen. A gaggle of popular girls was The Go-Gos. It was funny to see this person or that person you knew from your math class or wherever, all dressed up and acting the part, but kind of missing the mark and still obviously them.

But then the lights went out in the gym entirely, except for spotlights playing around the door, as if frantically searching for who might enter next.  A buzz of excitement swept through the crowd as everyone speculated about who it might be.  A hum of music picked up over the loudspeaker, and you could feel it thrumming through your body, and the anticipation built. The doors opened, and the spotlights picked out a crew of people, it was hard to make out who they were, there was lace and the flash of necklaces, there was a guy wearing scrubs -- was that David H from my Latin class? -- and he was holding out his hands to keep the crowd from pressing too close.  Excited murmurs went through the crowd. "It's Prince, that's Prince. I can't believe it, it's Prince."

Among the entourage was this skinny dark-haired guy wearing an improbable get-up of a long black shiny coat, white gloves, his hair in some kind of curly pompadour, and a black satin mask over his eyes. It wasn't really Prince, was it?  It sure as hell looked like him.  His crew were leading him to the stage, and it made no sense at all that he was masked and couldn't see a thing, but everyone was going NUTS.  People were screaming and losing their minds and this guy hadn't even reached the stage yet.  But when he did, wearing tight black pants and a white shirt with a huge collar unbuttoned to his navel, people went INSANE. His posse in that motley collection of lace, necklaces, underwear, and scrubs took up their posts at the keyboards and guitars, and they started to play. "Let's Go Crazy," I think it was, and that was exactly what everybody did.

Part of the real Prince's entourage/performance group always included several women who were either musicians, back-up singers, or dancers, or a combination thereof. Often they wore lacy or super-revealing or skin-tight outfits. Here they are performing in Syracuse in 1985.
(Photo from The Dawn Experience)

The guy at the center of all this was not, in fact, Prince.  It was Fran Fazzina, another guy from my Latin class who was of indeterminate race.  In my blindingly white high school, being anything other than white meant you were on the outside looking in.  He wasn't a stand-out in my Latin class in any way.  He didn't say much, didn't do especially well or poorly on our weekly tests, just showed up, did what he had to do, and left.

But after he was Prince, his world changed.  People high-fived him in the hall, they wanted to talk to him, they wanted to be around him.  I talked to him in Latin class and discovered he had a whiplash sense of humor lurking under there, and I couldn't keep up with his ironic wit.  I developed a crush on him.  I still remember the scent of his cologne.  He got invited to parties. There were rumors about parties at his house. People said his house, which was a two-story colonial, had an elevator going up the middle.

Google Fran's name now and what comes up is a poker player living in Los Angeles.  I have no idea if he's the same guy or not.  Interestingly, there are no photos of him.  Just as real-life Prince was very protective of his privacy, real-life Fran seems to be that way too.

But this guy only PRETENDING to be Prince got that kind of reaction.  Imagine what it must have been like for the actual, real and true Prince.

One of the best tributes I've read is from Paul Westerberg, of Replacements fame, whose career grew up alongside Prince's in Minneapolis. When a guy whose talent you admire says of a fellow musician the first time he saw him perform,

I was next to another musician, a couple other guys that were up-and-comers and that thought they were hot shit, and we were watching Prince. The guy turned to me and said, "I'm fucking embarrassed to be alive." And that's how I felt. He was so good. It was like, "What are we doing? This guy is, like, on a different planet than we are." It was showmanship, it was rock & roll, it was fun, it was great. (from Rolling Stone)
I've spent more time with Bob Dylan, and I've got to say that I was more in awe of Prince. (from Rolling Stone)

you know he was the real thing.

People were in awe of his talent, of his presence, of him.  They wanted to be around him, to get close to him and whatever magic he had.

I know that all celebrities have "people" but that seemed to be especially the case with Prince. Pretty much every news article about him mentions his "entourage."  "His people told TMZ he was battling the flu." "Prince's entourage will be questioned in investigation of his death." "In his final years his entourage was smaller than it had been at the height of his stardom. He had a couple of assistants, a manager and, of course, bodyguards. There wasn't a huge entourage of friends hanging around."

I think what made Fran-as-Prince's performance so successful was the presence of that entourage. When he was surrounded by a group of people (by the way, that's what entourage means, etymologically speaking, "surrounded by"), everyone wondered, who is that guy, that he either needs that many people to protect him, or that so many people just want to be around him?

I was going to do a whole thing about entourages, about other famous people and their entourages (Oprah Winfrey, Frank Sinatra, President Obama, Jesus), but I don't want to wander that far from the main subject, which is Prince himself.  One of the things I've been thinking about is what's it like to be a member of an entourage? Do you still feel like you have a personality of your own, or how much of yourself do you give over to this person whom you've dedicated yourself to surrounding?

It was like being around the biggest boss and icon all at the same time. Everyone who worked for him knew him and respected him; they all believed in him and worshipped him. He was just so capable, he was always right, and he really was. (anonymous assistant of Prince's, quoted in ENews)
[H]e had this smile, it's the smile that your dad or your teacher would give you. It was all you needed to say that you've done a good job. That would be enough. (Michael Kronick, Prince's memorabilia manager, quoted in ENews

But of course the corollary to that is, what's it like to be the focal-point of that entourage?  Are you able to retain your own personality, or how much of your true self becomes subsumed in this version of yourself that you've created and that other people are maintaining for you?  How exhausting is it to try to meet those expectations all day every day, even when you're supposed to be relaxing and out of the limelight?  How are you then able to pull it together and summon the enormous magic that works like mad in front of thousands of people?

The more famous he became, the further and further it would take him away from the person he was before he became famous. I am not sure if anyone really knew the real Prince, we all loved him, but I don't know how much we really knew him. (anonymous friend, quoted in ENews)

I was just watching this video, talking about the rainstorm the night of Superbowl 2007 when Prince performed, and how incredible it was that he was able not just to pull it off but to make it look like the whole thing was planned, part of his show, to be the consummate professional and entertain the hell out of everybody. If you missed the performance in 2007, or even if you did see it at the time, check this out. It's really quite impressive.

They're saying now that Prince was taking painkillers for years, as a way to help him deal with stage fright and crowds. Some people are saying this destroys their vision of him, or how could have been on drugs, he was a Jehovah's Witness.  I say, no one is immune to addiction.  And I say, however talented he may have been, the man was still human.  I say, God bless him for wanting to keep bringing it full-bore to people, even though it cost him more than most of us ever will ever know.

(Signed album owned by Corrie Stone-Fielder, sourced from Las Cruces Sun-News)

P.S. to David Bowie fans, "Heroes" was on his encore set-list at performances he gave this month.

If you want to read about other entourages & such
ENews, Inside Prince's Private World: The Man Behind the Legend from Those Who Knew Him
The Bert Show, What It's Like Working With Prince: A Former Member Of Prince's Entourage Calls In
Nozo, What is it like to be part of a famous person's entourage? [blue on black, really hard to read]
The Richest, Ridiculous Jobs of Celebrity Entourage Members
Mental Floss, 7 Entourages That Changed the World 
Online Etymology Dictionary, entourage
Celebuzz, Top 10 Worst Celebrity Entourages of the Decade
Wonderwall, Celebrity Cliques: The Stars' Real-Life Entourages
Daily Mirror, This massive entourage is what it takes to bring Barack Obama to Britain

Monday, March 21, 2016

Apple #730: White Rose Resistance

You may have seen the news recently that the hacker group calling itself Anonymous said they were going to hack Donald Trump. They released some basic personal information -- his cell phone number, Social Security number, and some other easy-to-find stuff -- and invited anyone who wanted to take a crack at hacking him or his businesses to do so.

In one part of their message, they said, "Many of you have said to yourself that if you were alive in Nazi Germany, then you would have done something, you would have resisted, like the White Rose Society resisted. Now is the time to prove that. The White Rose Society has risen again in the United States."

I never heard of the White Rose Society, so I was curious to know what it was.  I Googled it and, wow, quite the story.

The original White Rose group did not have a logo or an insignia; they were not that sophisticated. They called themselves "White Rose" for reasons that remain obscure.
(Photo from HD Wallpapers Fit)

  • It's been referred to as the White Rose Society, or the White Rose Resistance, or more accurately, simply as "White Rose." It was a small group of German medical students in their early 20s who got together in 1942 and 1943 and printed 6 pamphlets speaking against Hitler and Nazism and urging others to resist what had become a totalitarian regime.
  • This might not sound like such a big deal, but it was. Let me break down the details.
Hans Scholl (left) was 24, his sister Sophie was 21, and Christoph Probst, a mutual friend of both, was 22. Photo was taken in 1942 when the White Rose began.
(photo from the US Holocaust Museum Archives, sourced from the Jewish Virtual Library)
  • First, this happened in 1942. By this time, the Nazi regime was operating at full strength within Germany, as was the Gestapo (secret police).  They had clamped down on any kind of speech that was against the government in any way, shutting down newspapers, and rounding up and killing or sending off to concentration camps anyone who spoke out against the government.
  • People couldn't speak freely among friends or neighbors because if you spoke against the government in any way, the person you thought was your neighbor and trustworthy would rat you out to the Gestapo, and there you were getting beaten or jailed or sent away, etc.
  • Telephone calls could be listened in on at any time, mail could be opened and inspected, and your person could be searched at any time for any reason.
  • The Gestapo was keeping track of even the sale of stamps.  If anyone bought a whole bunch of stamps, that person got investigated by the Gestapo and depending on what they learned about how the stamps were used, that person got beat up or thrown in jail or sent off to a concentration camp or killed.  The same was true about purchases of a lot of paper.  And Envelopes. And printing presses, of course.
  • It was in the midst of this thoroughly repressive situation that this group of students started meeting and talking together.  There were only about 4 or 5 of them, all medical students at the University of Munich, and at first they talked about music, or literature, and philosophy -- especially philosophy.  Soon they ventured into discussing politics with each other, which would have been a rare treat to be able to do such a thing and feel safe.
  • In the early years of the war, the students were like many of their fellow Germans, supportive of their government, willing to participate and do what they could for the cause of their country. Some of these young medical students had even been members the Hitler Youth. The leaders of this small group were:
    • Hans Scholl, 24
    • Alex Schmorell, 25
    • Jürgen Wittenstein, 23
    • Sophie Scholl - Hans' sister, 21

Alex Schmorell, one of the leaders and founding members of the White Rose, was 25.
(Photo from the Holocaust Research Project)

Jürgen Wittenstein had been about to leave Germany in 1939 but instead drove two stranded Jewish teenagers to Berlin in the hope that, from there, they could leave the country safely.
(Photo from Spartacus Educational)

  • After having lived through four years of the government's increasingly repressive and brutal tactics, these medical students were justifiably disturbed. Schmorell and Wittenstein attended the very popular lectures of their university's philosophy teacher, Kurt Huber, and they took his teachings very much to heart.  So they decided to do something to resist.
  • In June of 1942, Hans and Alex wrote a leaflet, which they planned to be the first of many, and which they called "Leaflet [or leaves] of the White Rose."  
  • They went to their philosophy teacher, Kurt Huber, for advice in writing the pamphlet. At first he thought it would do no good except to risk their necks, but in the end he decided to help.  He advised them on the wording of the leaflets and talked with them at length about what they wanted to accomplish, challenging them and making sure they were aware of the risks they were taking.

Kurt Huber had had diphtheria when he was young and emergency surgery had cut his throat and left him with difficulty in speaking, a limp, and a tremor in his hands that only subsided when he played the piano. His students said they did not notice his impairments at all when he lectured, his speeches were so learned and absorbing.
(Photo from the Holocaust Research Project)

Another photo of Huber, this from 1941.  He was 48 when this photo was taken.
(Photo from Spartacus Educational)
  • Some websites suggest Huber was consulted very early on in the group's formation, while others say he did not get involved until later. Either way, it seems clear that though he was involved, the group was not his idea but that of his students'.
  • The first leaflet was a few paragraphs long, invoking the ideas of philosophers such as Goethe and Schiller and Aristotle, and encouraging readers of the pamphlet to resist.
  • Excerpts from this first pamphlet will give a sense of the atmosphere of the time:
If the German people are already so corrupted and spiritually crushed that they do not raise a hand, . . . if they abandon the will to take decisive action and turn the wheel of history and thus subject it to their own rational decision; if they are so devoid of all individuality, have already gone so far along the road toward turning into a spiritless and cowardly mass - then, yes, they deserve their downfall.

[. . . ] every individual, conscious of his responsibility as a member of Christian and Western civilization, must defend himself against the scourges of mankind, against fascism and any similar system of totalitarianism. Offer passive resistance - resistance - wherever you may be, forestall the spread of this atheistic war machine before it is too late. . . .

Do not forget that every people deserves the regime it is willing to endure. [. . . ]

Please make as many copies of this leaflet as you can and distribute them.
This is what the leaflet looked like, page 1 of 2. Just a piece of paper with a bunch of words typed on it. Nothing fancy. But those words are highly charged and dangerous. Across the top it reads, "Leaflet of the White Rose I."
(Photo sourced from Flashbak)

  • Hans and Alex made only about 100 copies of the leaflet, typing each one on a typewriter. They left them in telephone boxes, mailed them to students and professors across Germany, and carried them by train to other towns in the country and left them there.
  • I'm not sure who said this, but it was apparently one of the members of the White Rose:
"Some of us traveled in civilian clothing, hoping for the best, some with forged travel orders, I myself used false identification papers (my cousin's with whom I shared a certain resemblance). We left the briefcases which contained the leaflets in a different compartment, for luggage was routinely searched. Mostly, however, leaflets were taken by female students who were not subject to such scrutiny."

  • 35 of the first set of pamphlets wound up in the hands of the Gestapo.  But the rest reached their intended recipients, some as far away as Austria.  And though the Gestapo knew about the leaflets, they could not figure out who was producing them.
  • Hans' sister Sophie enrolled in the University of Munich, also as a medical student, shortly after the first pamphlet was distributed.  She found out about the White Rose group and wanted to join.  At first her brother wouldn't allow her to because of the danger, but she persisted. Another friend of theirs, Christoph Probst, also joined at this time.
  • They wrote and distributed three more leaflets.  Sophie and other young women helped distribute them, since the Gestapo tended not to search women as often as they did men.
  • Here are more excerpts. 
  • Leaflet Two: 

By this time the group had got hold of a duplicating machine -- this one, to be exact.  It had to be cranked by hand, which they did at night when people were sleeping.
(Photo from the Holocaust Research Project)

If at the start, this cancerous growth in the nation was not particularly noticeable, it was only because there were still enough forces at work that operated for the good, so that it was kept under control. As it grew larger, however, and finally in an ultimate spurt of growth attained ruling power, the tumor broke open, as it were, and infected the whole body.

[. . . ] Now the end is at hand. Now it is our task to find one another again, to spread information from person to person, to keep a steady purpose, and to allow ourselves no rest until the last man in persuaded of the urgent need of his struggle against this system.

[. . . ] only by way of example do we want to cite the fact that since the conquest of Poland three hundred thousand Jews have been murdered in this country in the most bestial way. Here we see the most frightful crime against human dignity, a crime that is unparalleled in the whole of history. For Jews, too, are human beings.

  • Leaflet Three:

The top of it says it's a Leaflet of the White Rose, III, followed by "Salus publica suprema lex" -- the public good is the supreme law.
(Photo from the Holocaust Research Project)

our present "state" is the dictatorship of evil. "Oh, we've known that for a long time," I hear you object, "and it isn't necessary to bring that to our attention again." But, I ask you, if you know that, why do you not bestir yourselves, why do you allow these men who are in power to rob you step by step, openly and in secret, of one domain of your rights after another?
[. . . ] And now every convinced opponent of National Socialism must ask himself how he can fight against the present "state" in the most effective way:

Sabotage in armament plants and war industries, sabotage at all gatherings, rallies, public ceremonies, and organizations of the National Socialist Party. Sabotage in all the areas of science and scholarship which further the continuation of the war - whether in universities, technical schools, laboratories, research institutions, or technical bureaus. Sabotage in all publications, all newspapers, that are in the pay of the "government" and that defend its ideology and aid in disseminating the brown lie.

  •  Leaflet Four:
Every word that comes from Hitler's mouth is a lie. When he says peace, he means war, and when he blasphemously uses the name of the Almighty, he means the power of evil, the fallen angel, Satan. His mouth is the foul-smelling maw of Hell, and his might is at bottom accursed.
[. . . ] We wish expressly to point out that the White Rose is not in the pay of any foreign power. Though we know that National Socialist power must be broken by military means, we are trying to achieve a renewal from within of the severely wounded German spirit.
[. . . ] To set you at rest, we add that the addresses of the readers of the White Rose are not recorded in writing. They were picked at random from directories.
We will not be silent. We are your bad conscience. The White Rose will not leave you in peace!

  • After they wrote and distributed these 4 pamphlets, the students reached the end of the school term. The university decided to send its medical/military students to the Russian front to give them experience with treating patients in field hospitals.
  • While at the Russian front, the medical students witnessed the fighting conditions, saw the Warsaw Ghetto, saw a group of naked Jews being shot in an open pit, saw Ukrainian soldiers being "hired" to shoot whoever was pointed at for the price of a pack of cigarettes, and you know, just the basic horror show that is war, and this war in particular.
  •  Also, another medical student, Willi Graf, met the Scholls and became their friend and, once back at school, joined the White Rose.

Willi Graf, another member of the White Rose, was 25.
(Photo from the Holocaust Research Project)

  • When they got back to school in Munich in the fall, they distributed more pamphlets, now with the goal to find more students at more universities to join their cause. Graf was particularly involved in trying to recruit more members from beyond Munich.
  • In addition to writing and distributing more leaflets, Hans, Alex, and Will also painted graffiti on buildings throughout Munich, which shouted things like 
    • Freedom! 
    • Down with Hitler!
    • Hitler is a Mass Murderer!
    • and they painted Swastikas with great big cross-outs
  • Again, these things might seem tame to us now, but again, it was extremely dangerous.  To paint these things on the walls, one had to do this in public, with the possibility that anyone looking could see and report the matter. The buildings they chose were along a very busy street in the middle of Munich, where the graffiti would be sure to be seen -- and where they might very easily have been seen putting it there.  

The Sixth Leaflet. The title is translated, "A German leaflet." It was much fancier, and they had managed to make somewhere between 1500 and 1800 copies of it.
(Sourced from Canadians in Afghanistan)

  • The sixth leaflet was the last one written. Hans and Sophie took copies of it to the university in a big suitcase, and they left stacks of them in the hallways for students to find when they came out of class. They still had some left, so Sophie went up to the top floor and, looking down the stairwell atrium, flung them into the air.
  • The custodian, Jakob Schmid, saw this and called the police. Hans and Sophie were arrested by the Gestapo, and so were the other members of the group.
  • The members of the White Rose were tried -- if you can call it a trial.  A special court, of the kind called "the People's Court" -- I am not kidding -- was convened to hear this case.  It was run by Berlin judge Roland Freiser, who was not so much a judge as a screaming prosecutor.

"Judge" Roland Freiser, center, at the People's Court in Germany
(Photo from the Holocaust Research Project)

  • Freiser shouted abuse at the accused, and said he was baffled how young people from such good families could turn out so bad, how could their minds have gotten so warped, etc.  Their defense attorney was useless, saying only "Let justice be done."
  • Sophie stood up and said, "Somebody, after all, had to make a start. What we wrote and said is also believed by many others. They just don't dare to express themselves as we did."

The Gestapo's photos of Sophie Scholl, taken February 18, 1943, upon her arrest.
(Photo sourced from Flashbak)

  • After 4 hours, the leaders of the group were convicted and sentenced to death.  Sophie was led to the guillotine first.  (Ladies first? WTH?)
  • "A witness described Sophie as unflinching as she walked to her death. The executioner also remarked that he had never seen someone meet the end of life as courageously as she did."
  • Christoph Probst, closest friend of Hans and Sophie, with a wife and three children, and who had helped edit and distribute the leaflets, was next.  He shouted, "We will see each other in a few minutes!" before he was executed.
  • Hans' last words before he was executed were "Long live freedom!"
  • Later trials ended with more convictions and executions.  Alex Schmorell was turned in by an ex-girlfriend, convicted, and executed.  Willi Graf and the Kurt Huber philosophy teacher were also convicted and executed.  
  • One student who had tried to collect money to support Huber's widow was also arrested and convicted. 
  • Of the primary members of the White Rose, only one survived: Jürgen Wittenstein.

Jürgen (George) Wittenstein in 1943, taken when he expected to be arrested and executed.
(Photo by Wittenstein, sourced from the Santa Barbara Independent)

  • Wittenstein was arrested and questioned by the Gestapo. The only reason they let him go was because his army commander who knew him from his compulsory military service intervened on his behalf.
  • Wittenstein had been the one to alert Hans and Sophie's parents to their arrest, and managed to get them into the prison so they could see their children one last time.  Had it not been for Wittenstein, Hans and Sophie's parents would have learned of their children's deaths only after the fact.
  • Wittenstein later emigrated to the United States, where he attended Harvard and became a practicing and research surgeon, performing complex heart operations, and helping to establish new cardiac facilities at other hospitals.

Jürgen Wittenstein, in 2010 at age 91, at a reunion held with the two teenagers he helped in 1939. They had left Germany and settled in New York.
(Photo from the Santa Barbara Independent)

US News & World Report, Anonymous Launches Offensive Against Trump, March 17, 2016
Time Magazine, Secret Service Investigating Claims That Anonymous Hacked Donald Trump, March 18, 2016
Global Nonviolent Action Database, White Rose Resistance to Hitler's Regime, 1942-1943
Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team, The White Rose
Jewish Virtual Library, Holocaust Resistance: The White Rose - A Lesson in Dissent
Spartacus Educational, Jürgen Wittenstein and Kurt Huber
The United States Holocaust Museum, Holocaust Encyclopedia, White Rose
History Is a Weapon, The Six Pamphlets of the White Rose Society
Flashbak, Sophie Scholl and the White Rose Rebellion, February 22, 2016, Feb 18, This Day in History: Nazis arrest White Rose resistance leaders
The History Learning Site, The White Rose Movement
Santa Barbara Independent, George (Jürgen) Wittenstein: 1919-2015: A Member of WWII’s White Rose, July 9, 2015

Monday, March 14, 2016

Apple #729: Political Terminology

Your Apple Lady has been flummoxed.  I've been hard-pressed to find something to talk about that isn't the Presidential primaries.  I have some pretty strong opinions about one of the candidates who is running, but I haven't wanted to turn this blog into my personal soapbox. Much as I want to rail against this particular candidate who I think is an anathema who threatens our entire political system to its very core, I think we've heard enough rants for the time being.  I also think a little information could be a useful thing.

[EDIT:]  Well, I had some more high-falutin' statements here saying that I would try to be even-handed in my choice of terms and how I handled their definitions.  But my biases show through, hard as I tried not to do that.  I didn't want to be accused of being just another member of the liberal left-wing media (see "dog whistle" below), but I guess that's just how it's going to be.

And now, in alphabetical order, I give you the buzzwords of Primaries 2016.


Very clear depiction of what happens in an ad hominem response
(Diagram from Hebrew for Christians)

Actually, this term itself has gone largely unspoken this campaign season.  But we have seen a plethora of examples of it, and more often, a multitude of statements that go beyond ad hominem.  The Latin phrase literally means "concerning the man."  Once considered a hallmark of a weak debater and the sign of a poorly constructed argument, an ad hominem is a tactic in debate which shifts the focus from the matter at hand and instead attacks the character of the person who has presented the argument.
An ad hominem falls just shy of name-calling.  Instead of saying, "I'm not going to bother addressing your point because you're a liar," an ad hominem suggests that the other person is a liar: "You want to know how I would fix our trade agreements? Well, why should I bother answering that, when you said you were going to vote one way on trade but then you later voted another."

The person has given no answer to the question, which was about trade agreements, but instead turned the topic to be about the trustworthiness of the person who asked the question.

This tactic can be effective in derailing a question, but it is actually a weak defense.  Putting this technique in schoolyard terms, it boils down to, "Oh yeah? Your mother!"

The kinds of things we've heard in debates over recent months blow right past ad hominem and go straight to the schoolyard insult.


How actual debates probably should be conducted. As opposed to what's been happening more often in presidential primary debates.
(Image by André de Loba at the New York Times)

There are lots of different kinds of debates.

First, is the classical debate, in which two people or two teams of people take opposing positions on one subject, such as "the right to bear arms is more important than individuals' safety," or "ice cream is a better dessert than cookies." Each side presents their position in a series of timed Q&A and speeches.

In the first round, the affirmative position  (e.g., "yes, the right to bear arms is more important than individuals' safety") delivers a prepared speech outlining the reasons for that position.  Then the negative position (e.g., "no, the right to bear arms is more important than individuals' safety") gets to ask questions of the positive position in an attempt to expose flaws of reasoning in the opponent.

Then they switch and negative is allowed to give its speech, after which affirmative asks questions of negative. Then they each get the opportunity to rebut (argue specifically against) the other side's position.

The judge or judges decide the winner based on the strength of the arguments presented, the method of delivery, and in some cases, the ethical position taken by one side over the other.

Clearly, very different than Presidential debates.

There is also the debate which takes place in the Senate and the House. When members of Congress are considering whether or not to pass a bill, one of the things they do to determine how to vote is to debate the bill's merits or drawbacks. They debate according to all sorts of rules, including:
  • No Senator is allowed to interrupt another Senator without consent.
  • No Senator may speak more than twice upon any one question in the same legislative day without permission from the Senate.
  • All debate has to be germane and confined to the specific question at hand. (Stick to the point; no diversionary tactics.)
  • No Senator may suggest, directly or indirectly, that another Senator engaged in conduct unbecoming of a Senator. (No insults or name-calling allowed.)
  • When a Senator is called to order, he or she must sit down and not talk again until recognized by the Chair. (If you're out of line, you'll be told to sit down & shut up.)
  • No Senator will call attention to any occupant in the galleries (You can't point out anyone in the audience.)
Again, very different than the Presidential debates.
Presidential "debates" -- I'm not sure they should even be called debates, but rather question and answer sessions -- don't adhere to a fixed set of rules.  The rules are established by the moderator or the organization hosting the event, and they may change from one event to the next. The amount of time each person is allowed to speak may vary, and whether someone else is called upon to respond to an assassination on his or her character may vary, and how well the moderator is able to control the proceedings may also vary.  
But all sorts of low-blow tactics and discourtesies are allowed and, judging by audience reactions, even encouraged.  Interrupting, ad hominems and name-calling, expressions of disgust, and so on, which would never be allowed in actual debates are now common practice. Emphasis on "common."  Way to respect the highest office in the land.


(Sourced from Prometheus Unbound)

"A leader who gains popularity by appealing to prejudice and basic instincts. Considered manipulative and dangerous" (from the Australian Glossary of Political Terms)

"a person, especially an orator or political leader, who gains power and popularity by arousing the emotions, passions, and prejudices of the people" or as a verb, "to obscure or distort with emotionalism, prejudice, etc." (from

"the key thing about demagogues, historically, is that they have been people who, by way of their very popularity, threaten the populace. They undermine the stability of a 'by the people' form of government particularly by turning 'the people' against each other. They represent a danger not just to electoral outcomes or political parties, but to democracy itself." (from The Atlantic)

Bad news, in other words.


This particular dog whistle is available from Pet Mountain for $3.20.  But this is not the kind of dog whistle we're talking about here.

Slang. An actual dog whistle, when blown into, emits a sound so high-pitched that people can't hear it, but dogs can. The idea behind the slang is that some trick of language or short-hand buzzword has a particular, often highly-charged, meaning for a sub-group within the larger population, and the intent is that the subgroup will react to the highly-charged unstated meaning.
For example, instead of saying, "You need to be really afraid of black people so we'd better put them in jail," politicians will say instead "We've got to clean up our inner cities."  People who are also afraid of black people will not think, oh, that politician means more street-sweepers and trash pick-up and filling in of potholes, but will understand that putting more black people in jail is what is meant.

Or instead of saying, "I'm scared to death of the legalization of gay marriage, and we have to reverse that at all costs," politicians will say, "We must defend religious freedom."  People who are opposed to gay rights will interpret "religious freedom" to mean not actual freedom for all people regardless of what religion they practice, but rather laws that will uphold the cultural adherence against homosexuality held by Christian conservatives.

Or instead of saying, "I feel really threatened by all these brown-skinned people who are showing up here," politicians will say, "We've got to stop all this illegal immigration." People will read between the lines and assume that the illegal immigrants in question are not coming from Canada or Europe but from Mexico, and that they're all criminals and bad people and terrorists and rapists, and so it's perfectly acceptable and even preferable that we treat them as though they have no rights whatsoever.

Or instead of saying, "The newspaper is publishing some really terrible things about me, and I want you to discount all that, so I'm just going to call the reporters a bunch of liars," politicians and would-be-media bedazzlers will say, "That's just more claptrap from the mainstream media."  People in the know have heard "mainstream media" slammed so many times as being left-wing, biased, and therefore untrustworthy, when they hear "mainstream media" they automatically equate that to "liars."

Certain candidates who proclaim proudly that they are not politicians don't even bother with the dog whistle but rather come right out with the prejudicial, egregious, and inflammatory statement.


A course on Latin American History has posted this photo of the crowd supporting Juan Perón in Argentina as an example of populism in action. Elected in response to an oppressive economic situation, Perón did improve his country's economic and political situation for a while. But the Depression happened, Argentina owed boatloads of war debt, and then Perón started firing and having arrested all sorts of people who disagreed with him -- professors, union leaders, and political figures. Things didn't end well.
(Photo sourced from Hist140 Wiki)

Probably the best definition of this term comes from -- where else? -- the Encyclopedia Britannica.  I have sampled what seem to be the most cogent bits from its definition.

"The term populism can designate either democratic or authoritarian movements. It is a political program or movement that champions the common person, usually by favourable contrast with an elite. Populism usually combines elements of the left and the right, opposing large business and financial interests but also frequently being hostile to established socialist and labour parties.

"Populism is typically critical of political representation and anything that mediates the relation between the people and their leader or government. In its most democratic form, populism seeks to defend the interest and maximize the power of ordinary citizens, through reform rather than revolution.

"In its contemporary understanding, however, populism is most often associated with an authoritarian form of politics. Populist politics, following this definition, revolves around a charismatic leader who appeals to and claims to embody the will of the people in order to consolidate his own power."

The definition goes on to refer to Populist politicians who rose to power in Latin America -- Juan Perón and Hugo Chávez, for example -- and who used that power not to be a champion for their people as promised, but rather to line their own pockets, solidify their power, and strangle the voice and the will of the people who elected them.


That donkey could also be an elephant, if you know what I mean.
(Cartoon sourced from St. John's School AP Government Study Guide Website)

This term gets used almost exclusively in reference to the Democratic Party, though the Republican Party also has these.  But before we talk about superdelegates, let's talk about delegates in general.
In Presidential primary elections, states hold either a caucus or a primary.  In a caucus, people physically gather at a meeting-place (a gym, for example), and they physically group together to show their support for a particular candidate.  People can try to persuade each other to leave one group and join another. When time is called, whoever has the most bodies grouped together wins. If you don't have a proportionally high enough number in your group, your candidate is out of the race.

In a primary, people go to the polls to vote.  In a closed primary, you must be a member of the Party to choose with candidate you want to go forward.  In an open primary, you don't have to be a member of the Party to vote.  More states are using primaries rather than caucuses because the vote-counting process is more accurate and verifiable.

In either a caucus or a primary, though people have voted for a candidate, what happens more immediately is that delegates get assigned.  Delegates are party officials who go to the party convention where the party's final candidate for the Presidency is announced.  These delegates are acting on behalf of the regular joes who voted in the primaries.  So how the delegates get assigned is a bit crucial.

Democrats assign delegates proportionally.  Let's say the state of Alafornowa gets 20 delegates to go to the Democratic convention, and there are 3 candidates for the Democratic nominee.
  • Candidate 1 got 50% of the vote
  • Candidate 2 got 30% of the vote
  • Candidate 3 got 20% of the vote 
Delegates would be assigned proportionally: 
  • Candidate 1 gets 50% of the delegates or 10 people
  • Candidate 2 gets 30% of the delegates or 6 people
  • Candidate 3 gets 20% of the delegates  or 4 people

The Republican Party allows states to choose how they will assign their delegates.  Some states are winner-take-all, meaning whichever candidate wins the majority of the popular vote gets all the delegates from that state.  Other states assign delegates proportionally.

Now to this picture we add superdelegates.  Superdelegates were created in 1982 when the Democratic National Committee decided that a new group of experienced Party members would go to the 1984 convention "uncommitted" -- that is, not having announced their decision to vote for any particular Party candidate.  These Superdelegates would represent about 14% of the Party vote at the convention.  The thinking was that these more experienced Democrats would be more moderate and would keep the more passionate, swing-like members from putting forth a candidate that might have a harder time winning the general election.  In 1984, what this meant was that the party nominated Walter Mondale as opposed to Jesse Jackson or Gary Hart.

The superdelegates go to the convention in addition to the delegates that have already been assigned proportionally based on the votes that were cast in the primaries or caucuses.  The number of superdelegates today is equal to 20% of the number of delegates that will attend the convention.

While the Republican Party does not have superdelegates (or at least, they don't use that term), it does send delegates to the convention in addition to those that were assigned based on primaries and caucuses.
  • A few are "complete free agents" as the NYT puts it, and are chosen RNC officials or leaders -- very like the DNC's superdelegates.  But some will announce their preference before the convention. 
  • Some delegates are selected by the RNC, unconnected with the popular vote.  They are officially not assigned to a particular candidate, but they have been chosen to be a delegate probably because the Party expects them to vote for one candidate in particular.  
  • Some caucuses also choose delegates in addition to and separate from the presidential candidates.  These people are also allowed to vote however they like, but in practice they are chosen by the caucus-goers for a known preference for one candidate.  
  • Some primary states, including Illinois, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, conduct "loophole primaries" in which voters choose the Presidential candidate and also a group of delegates who are known to support one of those candidates.  Same as the caucus-voted-delegates, the loophole primary delegates are chosen by popular vote and are often similar to the way the popular vote goes.  These delegates are also not required to vote a certain way, but they tend to vote according to what they've telegraphed before the primary.
I'm not too clear on how many Republican extra delegates there are.  In 2012, the RNC had 2,286 total delegates.  Of those, 680 were officially unassigned -- about 30% of the total --  and the rest were assigned based on popular votes for candidates. I don't know if the numbers will be exactly the same in 2016, but it's likely they will be. 

If all 30% actually voted any mysterious way they wanted, the RNC could have more superdelegates in play than the Democrats. But it's likely that, since most of the unassigned delegates indicate how they will vote before the convention, there won't be as many delegates whose votes will be unknown beforehand.

For both the Democratic and Republican Parties, these superdelegates or candidate-unasssigned delegates may play a crucial role in the conventions of both parties.  The Republican National Convention is July 18-21 in Cleveland, and the Democratic National Convention is July 25-28 in Philadelphia.  I think it's going to be crazy times until then, and probably after then too.

MIT, Lincoln/Douglas Debate Format
Todd Hering, Minnesota Debate Teachers Association, Learning Classic Debate
United States Senate, Committee on Rules & Administration, Rules of the Senate, Debate
Democracy (Australia), Glossary of Political Terms
Urban Dictionary, dog whistle
The Root, 8 Sneaky Racial Code Words and Why Politicians Love Them, March 15, 2014
Encyclopedia Britannica, Populism
CNN, All Politics, Chicago 1996, Democratic Rules
Council on Foreign Relations, The U.S. Nominating Process
Vote Smart, Government 101: United States Presidential Primary
Howstuffworks, What are superdelegates?

Nate Silver, The G.O.P.'s Fuzzy Delegate Math, The New York Times, February 25, 2012

Monday, February 22, 2016

Apple #728: Elephants

Today I saw a little video on facebook of an elephant picking up a couple pieces of trash and putting them into a trash can.  I can't find the video now, no idea where it was filmed or any context for the elephant doing this. But it got me thinking about elephants.

You may remember an entry I did a while back on Elephant Feet. I just re-read that entry, and there's a lot of interesting stuff in there that I had forgotten.  Tracts! Varying numbers of toenails!

Anyway, I really like elephants. Fascinating, and rather marvelous that they've put up with us as long as they have. They're probably the most recognizable animal of all, and we think we know all the basic things there are to know about them.  So I want to put together some facts about elephants that maybe you don't already know.

A herd of elephants in the forest. Look how closely together they're all standing. Nobody but nobody is getting past them. African forest elephants are now considered to be a completely separate species than African savanna elephants.
(Photo from Endangered Earth)

  • Just as we are right- or left-handed, elephants are right- or left-tusked. The tusk that the elephant uses more often will be smaller than the other due to wear.

Looks like that largest elephant is probably left-tusked.
(Photo from WildAid

  • Adult elephants eat 300 to 400 pounds of vegetation per day. They eat grass and leaves, as I'm sure you know, but they also eat the roots, and the bark, as well as bamboo and cultivated crops like bananas and sugarcane, especially if their grasslands have been taken over by farmers.
  • An adult elephant drinks 30 to 50 gallons of water per day.
  • This is why elephants spend so much of their time on the move, looking for water and vegetation to eat.  

Holy bananas, that's an enormous animal. This is Satao, a bull elephant who has coated himself in red dust. Sadly, Satao was killed for his ivory in 2014. Unfortunately, you can't really talk about elephants without talking about the killing-for-ivory.
(Photo from Colorado State University, sourced from the University of Oxford)

  • Elephants cool themselves off in several ways:
    • their huge ears radiate heat
    • they spray themselves with water using their trunks
    • they coat themselves with dust or mud to protect themselves against sunburn (the dust also helps protect against parasites and insects)

Look at that happy bathing elephant.
(Photo from Pinterest, looks like it was posted by Pat Galipeau in Nepal)

  • Elephants don't sleep very much. They can lie down to sleep, but not for very long since their internal organs will get crushed by their own body weight, or the weight of their bodies pressing against the ground can get really uncomfortable on, say, the hipbone or the side of the face. So they only sleep lying down for maybe 30 minutes to 1 hour at a time. They lie down on one side, sleep for 30 minutes, get up, then lie down on the other side for another 30. They'll do this for about 4 hours and then they're on the move again, looking for more food.
  • They can sleep standing up -- most fully grown elephants only sleep standing up -- but again, not for very long stretches. Sometimes they're being vigilant, or perhaps it's only that they're used to sleeping for short periods of time.

Doesn't look very comfortable, does it?
(Photo from Charlie's Crib)

  • Elephants are extremely important to their landscape. Not only do they alter it enormously by tearing down tree branches and uprooting trees, but they also disperse the trees' seeds. It is estimated that at least 1/3 of the species of trees in central Africa's forests depend on the elephant to disperse their seeds for them. 
  • Elephants do not like bugs. If an acacia tree is infested with ants, elephants won't eat its branches. This is because they do not want to get ants crawling up their trunk. (Augh! Can you imagine? That would be awful.)
  • They also don't like bees and will avoid beehives. So farmers are now protecting their crops against elephants by establishing beehives along the borders of their farmland. This doubly helps their crops because they get pollinators as well as protection.
  • The mother elephant carries her elephant baby for 22 months. That's the longest gestation time of any mammal. A calf weighs 200 to 250 pounds at birth and stands 3 feet tall. That means the mother elephant is carrying around a 100-pound baby for over a year.
  • A baby elephant's trunk has no muscle tone.  That means the baby can't use the trunk at all for several months, until it develops those muscles. From birth, it suckles from its mother by mouth.

Elephants use their trunks like straws when they drink: they suck water partway up their trunks and hold it, then bring their trunks to their mouths and squirt the water in. 
(Photo from Wonderopolis)

  • But the elephant's trunk is pretty much indispensable. Its eyesight is quite poor, but its trunk with its 150,000 muscle parts is profoundly capable.  The trunk can grab and pull things with great strength, or it can caress another elephant's face with great gentleness, the trunk can smell food a great distance away, and of course the trunk is the tube through which the elephant trumpets, calls, tweets, and makes those sonic rumbles that are too low for humans to hear, but which the elephants can detect from up to 5 miles away.
  • The way that elephants detect those rumbles, by the way, is with their feet. The sound travels into their feet, up their legs, and ultimately to the middle ear. They use echolocation, determining how long it takes for the signals to arrive at each of their front feet as an indicator of the distance of the origin of the sound.
  • An elephant's sense of smell is extremely sensitive -- they are the best smellers in the animal kingdom. They can smell water from up to 12 miles away.
  • But it turns out that if an elephant is using its trunk like a hand to hold onto something, that truncates some of its smelling capabilities, and it also keeps the elephant from being able to feel around for the food with the end of its trunk. This is why experiments designed by humans to test elephants' ability to pick up sticks to get to food often were not successful.

I guess this means that the whole time elephants are painting (to please us, mind), they can't smell too well.
(Photo from Listverse)

  • Other tests that gave elephants the opportunity to roll objects into position and stand on them like stepstools to reach the food have been much more successful. Recent research of this sort has proven that elephants at least match chimps in terms of use of tools and problem-solving abilities.
Video below shows Kandula, an 8-year-old Asian elephant at the Smithsonian zoo, rolling a cube into place to reach food dangling from above. No one showed him how to do this; he smelled the food, found the cube, and put 2 & 2 together.

  • We have also come to understand that elephants experience and express a wide range of emotions and associated actions -- grief, consolation, stress, depression, joy. 
  • Elephants have been seen inspecting the bones of a dead elephant, snuffling them with their trunks, kicking sand or even laying palm branches over them. They do not do the same thing for the bones of other animals.
  • However, after one man who studied and lived with a herd of African elephants died, the herd arrived at his house and demonstrated signs of mourning him.
  • Females live in highly social herds that cooperate with each other to solve problems, including one instance when a young elephant bounded into the wrong herd and was effectively kidnapped by the new herd.  Her original herd banded together to confront the kidnapping herd, and they released her.

Video below shows a baby elephant collapsing in a road and several elephants from its herd coming to help. It looks like the baby elephant is having trouble standing, or something's not right with its balance, and eventually the elephants figure out he needs help on one side, and they support him on that side until he's able to stand and walk off the road. This is one of the things I love about elephants: they're so enormous and powerful, but they can be so gentle with each other.

A baby elephant among its herd looks like a pretty good place to be.
(Award-winning photo by Blaine Harrington)

  • About 1 in 3 elephants recognize themselves in a mirror. This may not sound like much, but only about 1 in 5 chimps recognize themselves in a mirror. This suggests that elephants' self-awareness is better than most other mammals'.
  • Adult males tend to live most of the time on their own, but they are not as completely solitary as people have thought. They often encounter other males on their search for food and water, and they may band together in groups of 12 or 15.

Video below shows Shirley and Jenny, two circus elephants being reunited after 20+ years at an elephant sanctuary in Tennessee. Whoever thought there should be bars between them did not know much about elephants. The way they embrace each other with their trunks at the end, you can't tell me that's not love.

  • And for the big finish: elephants don't actually like peanuts.
Ferris Jabr, The Science Is In: Elephants Are Even Smarter Than We Realized, Scientific American, February 26, 2014
Smithsonian, 14 Fun Facts About Elephants
World Wildlife Foundation, Elephant
Defenders of Wildlife, Basic Facts about Elephants
National Geographic Society, African Elephant
African Wildlife Foundation, Elephant
San Diego Zoo Animals, Elephant (they have a live elephant cam. As I type this at 11:15 at night, they elephants are walking by.)
Fact Slides, 28 Facts About Elephants
Modern Ghana, Do You Know Elephants Stand To Sleep?

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Apple #727: Supreme Court Justice Nominations

The death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has prompted all sorts of speculating and bloviating about how the next Justice should or should not be chosen.  In particular, the hot-button question is whether President Obama as an outgoing President should abstain from nominating another Justice and let the next President make the nomination, or if he should proceed with appropriate speed and put forth his nomination as soon as possible.

This is a hornet's nest of political grandstanding and finger-pointing and barbs of all persuasions.  I, your intrepid Apple Lady, am going to don my helmet of information-gathering, enter the hornet's nest, and sort out the fact from the bloviating.  Because this is what your Apple Lady does in the name of knowledge.

The United States Supreme Court. Of the three branches of the US government, this one is my favorite. They wear robes, and they say, Hey, I don't care what you've been doing, from now on, you have to be decent to each other. Most of the time, that's what they say.
(Photo from Wikipedia)

  • The most important thing to know about the rules governing the nomination of Supreme Court Justices is there aren't any.
    • The only official document that discusses the nomination of judges to the Supreme Court is the US Constitution, and it does so in a dependent clause within a very long sentence about all sorts of nominations the President shall make to all sorts of posts.  The part pertaining to the Supreme Court is very small, so to get at it you have to elide a bunch of other stuff.  And you wind up with this:
    • The President "shall have power, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, to . . . nominate . . . judges of the Supreme Court. . . ." 
    • That's it. The Senate has to advise the President on his or her choice, and the Senate has to agree to that choice. No instruction about how that advice is to be given, or how the agreement is to be made, or anything like that. So a majority of Senate votes determines confirmation.
    • Tradition and party politics has added complication to the process, but none of those extras is required or mandated by the Constitution or any other legal document.

Article II, not shown here in its entirety, but this is where the minimal rule appears about how Supreme Court judges are chosen.
(Image from Simplebooklet)

  • There is no rule that says nominations must be made within a certain amount of time after a vacancy on the Court opens.
    • One thing that I thought would be a consideration is that you might not want to have a seat on the Court to be vacant for very long.  But there is no rule that says the vacancy can't last for a certain amount of time.  The vacancy could theoretically be indefinite.
    • In case you're interested, statute dictates that the Supreme Court convenes the first Monday in October and continues sessions until late June or early July (the term is actually supposed to continue until the day before the first Monday in October, but the judges typically get through their caseload by July). So this opening has occurred in mid-session. 
  • There is no rule that says the Court cannot convene with an empty seat.
    • If a seat is not filled, does that put the Supreme Court on hold?  Can they hear cases and make decisions with less than their usual 9 judges?
    • The short answer: yup.
    • Rules established by the US Code say there must be a quorum, which is 2/3 of the total participants, which is therefore 6.  So they could still decide cases with 1 seat empty.
    • In 1971, there were 2 seats empty after John Marshall Harlan resigned and Hugo L. Black died. Before that, there were 2 vacancies in 1957.  One of those 2 seats was vacant for several months, after the resignation of Justice Sherman Minton.

Inside the US Supreme Court. Imposing, isn't it?
(Photo from the Library of Congress. I'd just like to point out that Getty is selling this exact same photo with their name on it and charging people to use it.)
    • In fact, the number of judges seated on the Supreme Court has fluctuated over the years.  
      • The Judiciary Act of 1789 established that there would be 6 judges (5 associates and 1 chief).  Subsequent acts of Congress that changed the total number of judges are as follows:
      • 1807: 7
      • 1837: 9
      • 1863: 10
      • 1866: 7 (and prevented then-President Andrew Johnson from making any appointments) 
      • 1869: 9
    • If Congress decided on a number other than 9, quorum would therefore also be a different number.
    • So there's nothing that says President Obama (or any President) must nominate a new Justice within a certain time-frame.

  • There is no rule that says an outgoing President cannot nominate a Justice in the last months of his or her term, but must leave that privilege to his or her successor.
    • This is the hot-button issue at the moment.  A lot of politicians who are not fans of President Obama and who think his nominee would be someone whose political positions they also dislike have been maintaining that, because our current President is in the waning months of his 8-year-elected term, he should not be allowed to nominate someone. Or should be discouraged from doing so.  Or should not have his nominee considered. Etc.
    • I haven't read all the articles that take this position, but I suspect they are doing so on the basis of what is known as the "Thurmond Rule."
    • In 1968, Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) made the statement that a judicial nominee should not be confirmed in the months prior to an election.  He said this in the context of, and as one rationale for, blocking the confirmation of LBJ's nominee Abe Fortas to be promoted from an associate Justice to Chief Justice. 
      • In fact, the majority of the arguments made against the confirmation of Fortas had to do with objections on the basis of his religion/ethnicity (he was Jewish), concerns about his ethical position, and concerns that he made decisions that were too consistently liberal, and that he was politicizing the Court. 

Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.). A guy who said some stuff. Including the longest filibuster on record, against the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1957.
(Photo sourced from Real Clear Politics)

    • Regardless of the primacy(or lack thereof) of the Thurmond Rule at the time, it has been invoked since then as though it were some regulation that must be adhered to.  But it isn't actually a rule, nothing has ever been codified or signed into law. It's just something that one Senator said should be a practice.
    • Since this statement has never been codified or signed into law, no particulars have been set as guidelines. Within how many months before the end of the sitting President's term does this "rule" come into play?  Is it only when the President becomes a lame-duck? If so, that does not apply here, since an office-holder only becomes a lame duck when his or her replacement has been elected.
    • Furthermore, politicians invoke the "rule" when it benefits them and they argue against it when it doesn't.
      •  Patrick Leahy (D-Vt): In July 2008, the Senate Republican caucus held a hearing solely dedicated to arguing that the Thurmond Rule does not exist.  At that hearing, the senior Senator from Kentucky stated:  “I think it’s clear that there is no Thurmond Rule.  And I think the facts demonstrate that.”  Similarly, the Senator from Iowa, my friend who is now serving as Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, stated at that hearing that the Thurmond Rule was in his view “plain bunk.”  He said: “The reality is that the Senate has never stopped confirming judicial nominees during the last few months of a president’s term.”  That was certainly the case when Democrats were in the majority in the last two years of the George W. Bush administration.  I served as Chairman of the Judiciary Committee then, and I can tell you that Senate Democrats confirmed 22 of President Bush’s judicial nominees in the second half of 2008. 
      • Interestingly, on another occasion, Leahy himself apparently argued exactly the opposite, that there is a Thurmond Rule, and it should be upheld. Because in 2004 Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) responded: "There is no 'Thurmond Rule,' " Hatch said about Leahy's contention that the committee since Thurmond led it has shut down confirmations after the first party convention in an election year. "Strom Thurmond unilaterally on his own . . . when he was chairman could say whatever he wanted to, but that didn't bind the whole committee, and it doesn't bind me," Hatch said. "He (Leahy) raises the 'Thurmond rule' to remind us that Sen. Thurmond, who was inconsistent in applying his own ideas, should bind the whole committee, but it doesn't," he said. "To make a long story short, we're going to keep on pushing ahead on judges and hopefully get a number of them through before the end of the year," Hatch said.
    • I have every confidence that a scrutiny of the remarks made by several Senators from either party will reveal arguments in favor of or against the Thurmond Rule, depending on whether that position happens to benefit that Senator's party at the time.
    • In other words, politicians use it as an excuse, or an expedient. It is not a law or even a rule that must be followed.
    • Anyone who argues that the Thurmond Rule has been followed in the past, and therefore should be followed now, is ignoring history.  Election-year nominations in the 20th century are as follows:
      • Mahlon Pitney, nominated by William Taft on March 13, 1912, and confirmed March 18, 1912
      • Louis Brandeis, nominated by Woodrow Wilson on January 28, 1916, and confirmed June 1, 1916
      • John Clarke, nominated by Woodrow Wilson on July 14, 1916, and confirmed July 24, 1916
      • Benajmin Cardozo, nominated by Herbert Hoover on February 15, 1932, and confirmed February 24, 1932
      • Frank Murphy, nominated by FDR on January 4, 1940, and confirmed January 16, 1940
      • Anthony Kennedy, nominated by Ronald Reagan on November 30, 1987, confirmed February 3, 1988
  • There is no rule that says the nomination cannot be made while the Senate is in recess.
    • In fact, if the President wanted to, he could wait until the Senate is not in session and nominate whoever he wants.
    • In fact, the only other rule about the Supreme Court nomination process that the Constitution does state is that a nomination CAN be made while the Senate is in recess. Also from Article II:
    • "The President shall have power to fill up all vacancies that may happen during the recess of the Senate, by granting commissions which shall expire at the end of their next session."
    • Recesses used to last a lot longer, in the 1700s and 1800s, when it took Senators much longer to get to D.C., and then they'd want to go home to be with their families.  So it was a bigger deal if a vacancy opened up in a key post while they were home plowing their fields or writing their memoirs or whatever they were doing.  So the Constitution allowed for the President at least to get someone in position while the Senate was away.  Then when the Senate came back in session, that temporary appointment would expire. 
    • Usually the President would ask, once the Senate was back in session, if they'd approve the nomination of that temporary appointee to a full term for real.  When this happened in the Supreme Court, in every case but 1, the Senate agreed to the lifetime appointment. 
    • Recesses are now much shorter.  The Senate gets weekends off, and they get a week or two off here & there.  They have this week off, actually, and they get a couple weeks off at the end of March, and another week off at the beginning of May.  You know, around the major holidays.
    • It would be legally allowed for President Obama to appoint a a new Justice while the Senate is having a recess.  But the appointment would only last for the week or two of the Senate's absence.  Historically, that appointment would probably have been confirmed.  But given today's political climate, the Senate would probably be so mad he did that, they'd reject the nominee even if it was Oliver Wendell Holmes himself--and with vitriol.
  • There is no rule that says the Justice has to have been born in the United States.
    • There can be no "birther" objections here.

Austrian-born Justice Felix Frankfurter told the Senators on his nomination committee that “a nominee’s record should be thoroughly scrutinized by the committee,” but the nominee should take no part in that scrutiny.
(Photo via Separate Is Not Equal)

  • There is no rule that says the Justice has to have a certain level of qualification or education.
    •  A Supreme Court Justice doesn't even have to have a law degree. But every judge who has sat on the Court has had a law degree. That is the only thing all the Supreme Court Justices have in common.

  • There is no rule that says the Justice must be a particular age.
    • The youngest Justice was Joseph Story who was 32 when he was appointed.  The oldest Justice was Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., who was 90 when he retired. 

  • I think you get the point, how few rules govern the nomination of Supreme Court Justices. But one other point caught my eye: There is no rule that says a nominee must answer a Senate committee's questions. 
    • Justices are not supposed to be politicians. They are supposed to make decisions based on the rule of law, not based on anything to do with party platforms or vote-garnering or anything like that.  In fact, the American Bar Association's Code of Conduct stipulates that they're not supposed to make political statements: judges“shall not make . . . statements that commit or appear to commit the candidate with respect to cases, controversies or issues that are likely to come before the court.”
    • This applies to any judge being considered for any office. Many state codes of conduct have adopted this same language.
    • Because judges are allowed and even encouraged to avoid making political statements, Supreme Court nominees are not even required to appear at the Senate Judiciary committee hearings to determine their confirmation. They could skip the whole clown show if they wanted to.
The upshot: President Obama can nominate whoever he chooses, if he wants to.  But he doesn't have to nominate anybody if he doesn't want to. It's up to him, as the elected President of the United States to decide whether or not to nominate someone. And if people don't like that decision, well, I guess they'll have to reject his nominee, or re-write the Constitution. 

E pluribus unum, baby.
(Image sourced from Wikimedia)

Cornell University Law School, Legal Information Institute, U.S. Constitution, Article II
The Leadership Conference, Federal Judicial Nomination Process 
Congressional Research Service, Supreme Court Appointment Process: Debate and Confirmation Vote, October 19, 2015
Supreme Court of the United States, The Court and Its Procedures
Supreme Court of the United States, Rules of the Supreme Court of the United States
SCOTUS Blog, Supreme Court vacancies in election years, February 13, 2016
Tom Curry, A guide to the Supreme Court nomination, NBCNews, November 5, 2005
How Court Posts Are Filled, The Desert News, October 23, 1971
Lee Davidson, Griffith to miss Demos' deadline, The Desert News, July 21, 2004
Politico Magazine, Republicans, Beware the Abe Fortas Precedent, February 15, 2016