Mozart: Fantasia in C minor, K 475
(Culture) War Fever

Stupid Questions, Stupid Answers, Stupid Times

It was absurd for Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee) to ask Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson to give her a definition of "woman." It was even more absurd for the nominee to say that she could not do so because she is not a biologist. 

A few more questions:

  1. If the definition of "woman" is not what we generally assume it to be, what could Biden have meant in saying that he would nominate a woman?
  2. Did the eventual nominee undergo testing or inspection by qualified biologists which determined that she met the criterion?
  3. If not, how do we know whether Biden kept his promise?
  4. Does not the assumption, revealed in Brown's answer, that being a woman is a biological condition show that she is what the gender activists would call "transphobic"?

These are also stupid questions, but logical, based on Brown's response. As Kevin Williamson of National Review is fond of saying, we live in stupid times.

Corrections: Blackburn is a senator, not a representative, as I originally had it. And I changed question 4 to make it clear that "transphobic" is a word used by others, not by me.


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If we didn't live in such stupid times, when such stupid answers are predictable, I would agree that it was a stupid question.

If you watch the exchange on C-Span (starting at the 12:38 point), Ketanji Brown Jackson's answer doesn't seem stupid because Senator Blackburn asked the question in the context of a specific Supreme Court case. The sound bite also leaves out the "Not in this context" part that precedes the biologist comment.

I had heard the immediate context and didn't think it affected the basic problem. Sorry, but hearing the full context doesn't seem to me to make it any better. The request for the definition is not directly connected to the case, which is incidental to the quote from Justice Ginsburg, which also is not dependent on the case. She could have made that statement in any context, a letter to the editor or while sitting on a bar stool.

Clearly Blackburn is asking a gotcha question, and she goes on to grandstand about women's sports. So I feel a bit of sympathy for Jackson not being able to come up with a clever response, but still, the absurdity remains. And she's just being evasive in appealing to ignorance of the case.

Here's the transcript of the whole exchange, for anyone reading this who doesn't want to bother with the clip. I think there are a few transcription errors--"physical distancing's" was probably actually "physical differences." I supplied the quotes for Ginsburg's opinion and formatted it for readability from C-Span's unpunctuated all caps transcript.

Sen. Blackburn: Let me ask you this. The United States versus Virginia, the Supreme Court struck down the admission policy, writing for the majority, Justice Ginsburg stated, "Supposed inherent differences are no longer accepted as ground for race or national origin classifications. Physical distancing's between men and women, however, are enduring. The two sexes are not fungible. A community made up exclusively of one sex is different from a community composed of both." Do you agree with Justice Ginsburg that there are physical differences between men and women that are enduring?

Judge Jackson: um, Senator, respectfully, I am not familiar with that particular quote or case, so it's hard for me to comment as to whether or not --

Sen. Blackburn: I would love to get your opinion on that, and you can submit that. Do you interpret Justice Ginsburg's meaning of men and women as male and female?

Judge Jackson: Again, because I do not know the case, I do not know how I interpret it. I would need to read the whole case.

Sen. Blackburn: Can you provide a definition for the word woman?

Judge Jackson: Can I provide a definition?

Sen. Blackburn: Yes.

Judge Jackson: I cannot.

Sen. Blackburn: You cannot?

Judge Jackson: Not in this context. I am not a biologist.

Sen. Blackburn: The meaning of the word woman is so unclear and controversial that you cannot give me a definition?

Judge Jackson: In my work as a judge, what I do is I address disputes. If there is a dispute about a definition, people make arguments, and I look at the law, and I decide.

Sen. Blackburn: The fact that you cannot give me a straight answer about something as fundamental as what a woman is underscores the dangers of the kind of progressive education that we are hearing about. Just last week, an entire generation of young girls watched as our taxpayer-funded institutions permitted a biological man to compete and beat a biological woman in the NCAA swimming championships. What message do you think this sends to girls who aspire to compete and win in sports at the highest levels?

Judge Jackson: Senator, I'm not sure what message that sends. If you are asking me about the legal issues related to it, those are topics that are being hotly discussed, as you say, and could come to the court.

Sen. Blackburn: I think it tells our girls that their voices don't matter. I think it tells them that they are second-class citizens. And parents want to have a Supreme Court justice who is committed to preserving parental autonomy and protecting our nation's children. So I -- let's move on. I want to go to....

Don: "absurd" would be a better word than "stupid," but I like the term "stupid times." It would make a good name for a web site devoted to current manifestations of stupidity.

Fair enough - absurd - the word you used, is better than stupid (which I used). Somehow, the "intelligent" (or educated) people can't see the simple truth. We have to hear that "men are men and women are women" ex ore infantium.

I used stupid in the post, and its title, so I was amending myself more than you.

In Ideas Have Consequences Weaver called such things "moral idiocy," which includes elements of both stupidity and absurdity -- the ramblings of people whose mentality is that of a toddler. Thing is, we expect such from a three y.o. From adults, not so much. One gets frustrated and longs to cry out with Curly Howard, "Is everybody dumb?"

A different but not unrelated bit of absurdity, from Kyle Smith's commentary on the Oscars in National Review:

'...The Power of the Dog, “a dazzling evisceration of one of the country’s foundational myths,” according to the New York Times (i.e., it’s about a closeted homosexual cowboy).'

I think you are in the bubble, Mac. You only quote from the National Review anymore. ;-)

While we are on the Supreme Court, how about Ginni Thomas and whether or not Clarence Thomas should recuse himself in any and all cases that might come their way on the January 6th mess?

Actually it's the quote from the NYT that I meant to be exhibiting--the whole idea that eviscerating a foundational myth is a wonderful thing, and that gay cowboys are such a wonderful transgressive thing. Didn't they already do that in Brokeback Mountain? But it's true I wouldn't have seen it if it hadn't been in NR. I occasionally do want to read something in the NYT but it's very effectively paywalled.

I don't know, I haven't seen the details of that, but it sounds bad on the face of it. I wouldn't think Jan 6-related cases would get to the SC but I guess it's possible.

The Power of the Dog sort of reminded me of Brokeback Mountain in that both movies looked really fantastic (cinematography, etc.) but I did not feel that the content was particularly strong. Both won the Best Director prize, but not much more. Go figure.

Fantastic cinematography is getting to be something to be expected. In technical quality, at least--not that there still isn't a lot of room for creativity.

I image that Justice Thomas, as do all the justices, know the ethical requirement to recuse oneself when there is the possibility of bias or when the judge has personal knowledge of facts of the case. I have no reason to believe that he or any of the justices wouldn't recuse themselves if such a case came before the court.

By the way, speaking of the Supreme Court, we were having a conversation at the dinner table the other day. In discussing a St. Bonaventure discussion group I am involved with, I mentions "Scotus." My son said incredulously, "SCOTUS? You mean the Supreme Court?" I said, laughing, "No, John Duns Scotus." He then said, "Oh. Did he really wear one of those caps?"

:-) Well, did he?

I read somewhere that "activists" are demanding that Thomas be impeached. I thought "surely that's just nutty." Then I searched for "impeach clarence thomas" and I see that The Nation, The New Republic, MSN, and lots more are in fact making a case for that. Brilliant. Totally brilliant.

Hm. Whaddya know. Maybe I was wrong?


A friend of mine is a graduate of Duns Scotus College, which was in Michigan but has been closed for many decades now.

About Thomas. Maybe he wouldn't know when to recuse himself.

I assumed that "Jan 6 cases" meant people charged with crimes relating to it. But that's not the only kind of thing, and some have already occurred. This is from The Bulwark (neoconservative, not especially conservative, NeverTrumpers):

There have already been cases where Justice Thomas’s “impartiality might reasonably be questioned.” The Supreme Court has considered, or considered taking up, cases related to various efforts to overturn the election and the Jan. 6th investigation—and Justice Thomas has been the lone dissent on two of those decisions and only agreed with one other judge on the third:

In December 2020, the Supreme Court declined to take up a longshot case by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to throw out the election results in swing states Joe Biden won. There were no formal dissents from this order, but Justice Samuel Alito wrote a statement in which Thomas joined that they would have allowed the case to move forward, “but would not grant other relief, and I express no view on any other issue.”

In February 2021, the court declined to take a case in which Trump challenged Pennsylvania’s extended ballot-receipt deadlines. Justice Thomas scathingly wrote in the only dissent: “These cases provide us with an ideal opportunity to address just what authority nonlegislative officials have to set election rules, and to do so well before the next election cycle. The refusal to do so is inexplicable.”

Then, in January 2022, Thomas dissented from the court’s decision to greenlight the National Archives to turn over White House documents to the Jan. 6th Committee. Only Justice Thomas indicated in the filing that he would have granted Trump’s request to withhold the records. He did not explain why.


Impeachment would be a nutty response but without knowing anything much about the law I tend to think expectation or demands for recusal could be justified.

But I immediately wonder if there are similar circumstances where justices taking the progressive view could similarly have been accused of partiality.

"But I immediately wonder if there are similar circumstances where justices taking the progressive view could similarly have been accused of partiality."

I am sure that there have been. The Thomases situation is simply current. Knowing little about the law myself I still think there must be a big problem with the Supreme Court, and therefore all courts, if partisanship is more important than ability to define the law. There should be lots and lots of cases where the votes are not conservative vs. progressive.

One thing that has made me happy, is that the Chief Justice appears to do his job and be able to see both sides of an issue. The other eight I'm not very sure about. But again, I don't pay that much attention and get the majority of my news when I casually glance at Yahoo! without even clicking to read more. (I assume it is a news aggregate that simply collects news from other sources.)

More specifically what I'm wondering is whether this is actually something unusual, or if people are just jumping on it because it's Thomas.

"I still think there must be a big problem with the Supreme Court, and therefore all courts, if partisanship is more important than ability to define the law."

Unfortunately there is.

I've tried several different news aggregators and got irritated with all of them for various reasons.

Sounds like it's the usual partisan hue and cry:

"Consequently, Justice Elena Kagan did not recuse herself from the Obamacare case, providing the critical vote to uphold it despite having served as President Obama’s solicitor general when the administration was formulating the legal strategy to defend the Affordable Care Act. ("

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