Sunday, June 19, 2011

Sunday Reading

The Curious Conflicts of Clarence Thomas — The New York Times looks at the friendship between Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and Harlan Crow, a Dallas real estate magnate and backer of conservative causes.

The two men met in the mid-1990s, a few years after Justice Thomas joined the court. Since then, Mr. Crow has done many favors for the justice and his wife, Virginia, helping finance a Savannah library project dedicated to Justice Thomas, presenting him with a Bible that belonged to Frederick Douglass and reportedly providing $500,000 for Ms. Thomas to start a Tea Party-related group. They have also spent time together at gatherings of prominent Republicans and businesspeople at Mr. Crow’s Adirondacks estate and his camp in East Texas.

In several instances, news reports of Mr. Crow’s largess provoked controversy and questions, adding fuel to a rising debate about Supreme Court ethics. But Mr. Crow’s financing of the museum, his largest such act of generosity, previously unreported, raises the sharpest questions yet — both about Justice Thomas’s extrajudicial activities and about the extent to which the justices should remain exempt from the code of conduct for federal judges.

Although the Supreme Court is not bound by the code, justices have said they adhere to it. Legal ethicists differed on whether Justice Thomas’s dealings with Mr. Crow pose a problem under the code. But they agreed that one facet of the relationship was both unusual and important in weighing any ethical implications: Justice Thomas’s role in Mr. Crow’s donation for the museum.

The code says judges “should not personally participate” in raising money for charitable endeavors, out of concern that donors might feel pressured to give or entitled to favorable treatment from the judge. In addition, judges are not even supposed to know who donates to projects honoring them.

While the nonprofit Pin Point museum is not intended to honor Justice Thomas, people involved in the project said his role in the community’s history would inevitably be part of it, and he participated in a documentary film that is to accompany the exhibits.

Deborah L. Rhode, a Stanford University law professor who has called for stricter ethics rules for Supreme Court justices, said Justice Thomas “should not be directly involved in fund-raising activities, no matter how worthy they are or whether he’s being centrally honored by the museum.”

On the other hand, the restriction on fund-raising is primarily meant to deter judges from using their position to pressure donors, as opposed to relying on “a rich friend” like Mr. Crow, said Ronald D. Rotunda, who teaches legal ethics at Chapman University in California.

“I don’t think I could say it’s unethical,” he said. “It’s just a very peculiar situation.”

I am sure that Mr. Thomas’s legions of friends on the right will defend him, saying that he is above reproach and that just because he and Mr. Crow are friends and that Mr. Crow backed Mr. Thomas’s wife’s tea party group does not call his objectivity into question. I wonder if they would say the same thing if Ruth Bader Ginsburg was friends with George Soros.

More below the fold.

A Father By Any Other Name — Alysia Abbott remembers what it was growing up as the daughter of a single gay man.

I first called him Da-da. Sometimes my poor little Da-da. By the time I was 4 or 5 he became Daddy and this is what he remained, until I was 13 and then he was plain old Dad.

But when we were out together at night and especially if we were out in the Castro, meeting at the Café Flor, or standing outside the Sausage Factory, he didn’t want to be called any of these things. He wanted me to call him Steve. Unless you want to call me Sugar Daddy, he’d add laughing. And then that afternoon in the store on 18th Street, the one that sold brightly patterned European silk shirts, I called out, “Dad!” and his eyes shot me darts. Steve, he insisted under his breath.

But I would never do this. Steve is what everyone called him, from that friend at the café to the writers who invaded our living room every week to the man who sold him his afternoon paper and coffee. Only I, and I alone, could call him Dad. The singularity of our relationship, for me, was rooted in this appellation. That unique position I held in his life, my ability to call him Dad and Daddy, was my oxygen. To suddenly call him Steve was to transform our relationship into something common and vulgar. I couldn’t be a party to such a perverse charade.

“Sorry, Dad.”

I couldn’t understand. Was our father-daughter relationship so expendable? Was his role as a father perhaps not as sacred to him as it was to me? I couldn’t imagine myself without Dad. Yet he wanted to be, in the Castro on that sunny afternoon, anyone but my dad. “Dad isn’t sexy,” he told me, glancing at a cute young guy who was just leaving the shop. I couldn’t understand until years later how that central part of his identity realized through the act of fathering me in fact threatened his other identity, that of single gay man. I didn’t see how I hurt his romantic life, how I may have been the source of his recurring loneliness. Wasn’t I enough for him?

Much as I loved him, I could never indulge his request to call him Steve. With me he was Dad. If he wanted to be sexy and desirable, he could do it on his own time. So I left him the neighborhood, as though we were two countries dividing up the world map after calling a truce. The Castro would become his teenage basement bedroom, his man-cave. But walking hand-in-hand with me into Golden Gate Park, shopping at Cala or taking me to movies at the Lumiere or out to sushi in Japantown, he would still be Dad and sometimes, if he was being especially sweet, Daddy.

Women Driving — Frida Ghitis reports that women are turning to technology to demand their rights in the Muslim world.

In Saudi Arabia, 32-year-old Manal al-Sharif just spent nine days in prison for doing something that is only illegal when women do it, and is only illegal in one country in the entire world: driving a car. Sharif, an Internet consultant, says she couldn’t find a taxi one night as she tried to get home to her young son. Men on the road heaped abuse on her as she desperately sought a way home. She reached the end of her rope.

She later drove a car and posted a video of herself doing it, fully clad in head-to-toe black abaya, on YouTube.

Violating the religious fatwa against driving landed her in jail but it also enraged Saudi women who had complained about a rule that not only insults them, but also creates enormous practical problems.

Game on: a Facebook group called Women2Drive designated June 17 as the day to take to the wheel and challenge the rule. The road ahead will not be easy. Another Facebook group promptly emerged, with members promising to beat women who drive.

The Saudi king long ago promised to do away with the ban. Now, with the Arab world in turmoil, demands for the right to drive seem minuscule compared with calls to overthrow regimes. In fact, women in Saudi Arabia have much more to complain about.

The kingdom’s gender apartheid rules, falsely ascribed to Islamic law, are really an instrument of control and subjugation. What could be more offensive than the Saudi male guardianship system, which requires women to obtain permission from a male guardian, a husband, brother, father or son, in order to travel or study or make any major decision. Human Rights Watch says it turns adult women into “perpetual minors.” Women in the West could hardly conceive of living under such rules.

There’s worse, of course. Much worse. Women in the Middle East and North Africa routinely suffer the brutalities of female genital mutilation, honor killings, and other horrors. The fight to bring an end to these practices is not new, but it could gain new momentum if other organizing efforts for change succeed.

The need for a major attitude adjustment is not limited to the Middle East. Earlier this year, someone heard a police officer in Toronto declare that if women don’t want to be raped, they “should avoid dressing like sluts.” The comment triggered the creation of SlutWalk, another worldwide internet phenomenon. In April, the group, encouraging women to dress any way they wished, held the first march in Toronto. Since then, Facebook pages for SlutWalks around the world have popped up, and dozens of walks have already happened around the globe, from Sao Paulo to Australia. There are more marches planned in New Delhi, Auckland, Dublin and elsewhere.

Doonesbury — not the end of the world.