Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson answers questions during her Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill on Monday, Mar. 22, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

TGIF: What Is a Woman?

Ketanji Brown Jackson, Ginni Thomas, Madeleine Albright and more.

Welcome back to the news roundup—and what you might have missed on Common Sense this week. TGIF to all.

Asking Ketanji Brown Jackson to define a woman: Confirmation hearings are underway in Washington, D.C., for Ketanji Brown Jackson. Jackson’s rise to the Supreme Court is all but inevitable, and she will make history as the first black woman on the court. 

There’s nothing of the old Brett Kavanaugh circus—remember when he was accused of rape and then after that accused of gang rape? And that the whole thing hinged on a high school yearbook? That episode feels like it was 100 years ago.

From the coverage of this week’s hearings though, you would imagine the questioning of Brown has been even more deranged. Here’s the Washington Post editorial board: “Republicans boast they have not pulled a Kavanaugh. In fact, they’ve treated Ketanji Brown Jackson worse.”

Jennifer Rubin, also of the Washington Post, argued that the media shouldn’t describe the questioning as “tense” but instead “bullying, interrupting, rude, overbearing. Describe what you SEE not what sounds neutral.”

What have the Republicans done? Well, I can share the two highlights that are worse than airing gang rape allegations, but please keep your kids away from the screen. 

First, Ted Cruz of Texas asked Judge Jackson about critical race theory. Jackson sits on the board of an elite private school, Georgetown Day School, that has very much bought into anti-racism and has a lot of Ibram Kendi books in the library. Cruz held up copies of lots of these books, including Kendi’s “Antiracist Baby” and asked her: “Do you agree with this book that is being taught with kids that babies are racist?” 

Here’s the second viral moment: Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee asked Jackson: “Can you provide a definition for the word woman?” 

Judge Jackson responded solemnly: “No. I can’t . . . I’m not a biologist.”

In Jackson’s defense, at least her answer has something to do with biology and didn’t say to ask a therapist or an energy healer (we’ll take what we can get). And: It is tricky to think of a good definition quickly if you are, as judges tend to be, sober, specific and cautious. Some women don’t have ovaries. Others can’t reproduce, and so on.

But the idea that you need a biology degree to ascertain the obvious differences between males and females has become the new go-to response in the gender wars.

Case in point: When two people got in an argument during a recent Lia Thomas swim meet, the line from the pro-Thomas camp to the anti-Thomas camp was: “Are you a biologist?” Retort: “I’m not a vet but I know what a dog is.” Watch the exchange here, which we included in a previous TGIF as well:​​

The notion that you need to be a biologist to know what a woman is in 2022 reminds me of how you needed a masters in epidemiology to be allowed to voice an opinion about Covid lockdowns. Credentialism and graduate degrees define the bounds of conversation in prestige America. Woe be the poor soul who didn’t go to college—all you can debate with a high school degree is the day’s weather.

So by using this line—I’m not a biologist—Judge Jackson is signaling affiliation with a certain political sect. By asking the question at all, of course, Sen. Blackburn is signaling her affiliation with the other side. In that sense, it’s partisan banter, each side playing her part. 

I have to confess I don’t know why everyone’s so riled up one way or another: Judge Jackson will be approved. If Republicans want to stop more judicial nominations they don’t like, they should try to win the Senate. I suspect the midterms will be good news for Republicans on that front. Until then, when Ted Cruz waves a baby book in a Supreme Court hearing, I think he comes off as sort of a jerk to average Americans watching this week’s circus. 

→ Birthing people is the new Latinx: As Hispanics head over toward the GOP, progressive activists have finally stopped trying to force them to identify as Latinx. But there’s a new language game in town, and it involves calling women anything but women. Here’s the New York City’s chief medical officer this week: “The urgency of this moment is clear. Mortality rates of birthing people are too high, and babies born to Black and Puerto Rican mothers in this city are three times more likely to die in their first year of life than babies born to non-Hispanic White birthing people.” 

So women, especially white women apparently, are chest-feeders, bleeders and vulva-havers. What of men? Men are just men! I’ve yet to see major public health announcements refer to phallus-bearers or sperm-swingers. I will accept being a vulva-haver when and only when I hear men called scrotum-attached-bodies. 

All of this is another reason, by the way, why so many heads are exploding about Jackson’s dodge of the woman question: It’s not happening in a vacuum. 

→ Do your conspiracies over the phone, Ginni! In 2020, conservative activist Ginni Thomas—who happens to be Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s wife—apparently texted then White House chief of staff Mark Meadows asking him to help overturn the election. In evidence Meadows has turned over to the Jan 6 Select Committee and which has of course leaked to the Washington Post, Ginni Thomas texted him: “Help This Great President stand firm, Mark!!! . . . You are the leader, with him, who is standing for America’s constitutional governance at the precipice. The majority knows Biden and the Left is attempting the greatest Heist of our History.” 

→ Alcohol deaths spike during the pandemic, killing more than Covid: More adults aged 18-65 died of alcohol-related causes in 2020 than of Covid. A new study out from the National Institutes of Health shows the devastating reality of what lockdowns did to Americans, contrasting 2019 with 2020. 

The number of deaths with an underlying cause of alcohol-associated liver diseases increased 22.4% and the number of deaths with an underlying cause of alcohol-related mental and behavioral disorders increased 35.1%. Opioid overdose deaths involving alcohol as a contributing cause increased 40.8%. Deaths in which alcohol contributed to overdoses specifically on synthetic opioids other than methadone (eg, fentanyl) increased 59.2%. 

People really did flee cities last year: The U.S. Census Bureau’s newest data shows that between 2020 and 2021, America’s big blue cities really did see an exodus. 91,000 left Los Angeles, 55,000 left San Francisco, and 328,000 left New York. Some winners? Atlanta, Dallas, and Phoenix. 

Trump’s endorsement power is waning: Several Republican candidates across the country who have been endorsed by the former president are seeing lackluster poll numbers. The races we’re watching: Idaho Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin, Georgia Sen. David Perdue, and Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama (who Trump this week just un-endorsed, a little reminder of the sort of catty high drama we grew accustomed to during the Trump years). Meanwhile, J.D. Vance, the Trumpiest candidate in the Ohio race–though several candidates are vying for that distinction—is lagging at third

→ Easy tips to fight inflation at home: For a while it wasn’t kosher to admit that inflation was anything other than transitory. To admit inflation was real was to suggest the massive government handouts during Covid were excessive. This week, now that “transitory” became an impossible position to sustain, the move is to tell us that inflation is fine, maybe even good, and we just have to adapt, potentially by killing our dogs. Yes, ma’am, a handy inflation tip is to let your dog die. 

That was the advice offered by Bloomberg, the country’s premier financial news site, in an article titled: Inflation Stings Most If You Earn Less Than $300K. Here’s How to Deal. 

“If you’re one of the many Americans who became a new pet owner during the pandemic, you might want to rethink those costly pet medical needs. It may sound harsh, but researchers actually don’t recommend pet chemotherapy.” 

We’re told that the wrenching choices American families will have to make thanks to inflation destroying savings accounts are good. “Scientists tell us our brain plasticity will improve by trying novel things.” 

When you fight inflation, you’re just fighting change! But you don’t need that old dog. Novelty is a fresh dog. Or no dog! Lean in. Bloomberg provided a quick breakdown to help:

➡️ Take the bus 

➡️ Don’t buy in bulk 

➡️ Try lentils instead of meat 

➡️ Nobody said this would be fun

→ How could the Taliban have done this? After Biden pulled America from Afghanistan and his administration assured us that the international community would make sure the Taliban “uphold their commitments” of behaving decently (the Taliban “vowed to respect women,” the AP reported), well, the Taliban have returned to being exactly who they have always been. Girls were promised they would be able to return to school this week, and now, instead, this week, girls older than sixth grade are banned indefinitely. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is very disappointed. Prepare for mainstream media takes about how, actually, girls are banned from school in Afghanistan because of something something something America something Israel. 

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→ Manhattan DA vs. Trump (or not): The new Manhattan District Attorney, the progressive prosecutor Alvin Bragg, has indefinitely suspended the case against the former president. A prosecutor in his office quit in rage this week over it and sent the New York Times his resignation letter: “I believe that Donald Trump is guilty of numerous felony violations of the Penal Law in connection with the preparation and use of his annual Statements of Financial Condition.” It’s very hard to believe that Bragg dropped the case out of some secret sympathy for Trump. We suspect the problem is that the evidence was simply insufficient. 

→ There’s no crime wave if there’s no data to back up a crime wave: The FBI announced that they would not be able to release their typically comprehensive crime data for any quarter in 2021 because not enough local police departments have sent in their numbers. “Data trends by region and aggregate population group will not be available,” the FBI announced. Submitting is voluntary. One possible cause is that Covid-related staff shortages made data collection harder. Or: a great way to deal with a crime wave in your town is to stop releasing data about the crime wave in your town. 

→ Even the toddlers suffered in lockdown: Every week more evidence shows just how far behind American children have fallen in the last couple of years. In Maryland, scores fell 7% on the test the state gives children to determine kindergarten readiness. State Board of Education Vice President Jean Halle said: “We’re coming back weaker, not stronger. You need to be shocked by these numbers.”

Progressives love to look at Sweden, Norway, and Denmark as lodestars of good progressive governance. For good reason. But when it’s politically inconvenient, they ignore what those countries actually do. In Sweden, for example, teachers unions fought to keep schools open. Meanwhile in America this week, here’s another long-form tirade against the calm and rational Brown University economist Emily Oster, who dared to argue for softer lockdowns. The authors say Oster’s arguments are right-wing and, of course, tied to white supremacy and capitalism.

→ The canceller becomes the cancellee: As the joke goes, those who vote for the face-eating leopard party never imagine the leopard will eat their own face. And yet, people in good standing who support the leopard keep getting eaten by the leopard.

The sordid details: One author, who identifies as nonbinary, was getting yelled at by trans activists for writing a novel with the popular fictional trope of “a world with no men.” People thought this premise was transphobic. Another author, a prominent lesbian writer, came to the author’s defense. Now, they’re both canceled. The defending author was in the running for a big gay literary prize, but her book was dropped. Here’s what the prize committee said in a statement: “In a series of now-deleted tweets, Lauren Hough exhibited what we believed to be a troubling hostility toward transgender critics and trans-allies and used her substantial platform—due in part to her excellent book—to harmfully engage with readers and critics.” 

We’re getting closer and closer to cancelation singularity when this movement realizes lo, we are all sinners … and that’s okay. I hope the Catholic Church is ready for some very devout new members (they’ll be asking a lot about when the self-flagellation starts). 

→ Microplastics discovered in human blood: Tiny pieces of plastic that can wedge into our organs have already been found in human placentas. Now they’ve been found in our blood, according to new research out of the Netherlands. Speaking to the Guardian about the new study, one of the authors, Professor Dick Vethaak said: “Our study is the first indication that we have polymer particles in our blood—​it’s a breakthrough result. . . . It is certainly reasonable to be concerned. The particles are there and are transported throughout the body.” These tiny plastic particles are in our air and water. They are associated with several common cancers and heart disease. No amount of privilege or self-care, or choosing glass water bottles allows you to fully escape a world jammed with this stuff. We so desperately need a real, muscular environmental movement to return. 

→ Madeleine Albright: The former secretary of state, who was appointed by President Clinton and helped guide the United States in the early years of the Post-Cold War era, died. The media has, inevitably, made much of the fact that she was the first woman to run the State Department. That is impressive. More important: The brilliant, 4’10” diplomat did a great deal to build support for NATO expansion, which is why Russia didn’t occupy Lithuania and Poland, among other post-communist states, decades ago. She was brilliant. She learned later in life that her family, who came from Czechoslovakia, was Jewish, which may explain Albright’s signature mix of realpolitik and 1990s idealism. 

→ A great read: A sober and frightening essay by Niall Ferguson. Among the most clear-eyed analysis of the war in Ukraine so far.

→ Another great read: Claire Lehmann in this unfortunately extremely paywalled piece, “It’s not transphobia but fairness at stake.” She writes: “If biology did not matter, then we would not ban athletes for doping, or for taking testosterone exogenously to improve their performance. If biology didn’t matter then we would not distinguish heavyweight boxers from featherweights.”

Just for fun:

→ MSNBC argues fitness is fascism: “Physical fitness training, especially in combat sports, appeals to the far right for many reasons: fighters are trained to accept significant physical pain, to be ‘warriors,’ and to embrace messaging around solidarity, heroism, and brotherhood.” Apparently, the journalists at MSNBC are unaware of the Soviet Union’s obsession with physical fitness, about which a great deal has been said.

→ And a letter of recommendation: Nikole Hannah-Jones—the most influential staffer of The New York Times, a tenured professor, a bestselling author, a wild success by every measure—spends a good chunk of her days brawling on Twitter. No matter who you are, no matter how tiny your following is, if you level the slightest critique of 1619, there’s a decent chance its author will notice. 10/10 recommend pouring a glass of wine and following this account. This week’s take: tipping is a legacy of slavery. It is not. But we are here for the drama. 

This week on Common Sense:

The takeover of the American legal system. On Monday, we ran one of the most important essays we’ve published since we launched. Aaron Sibarium’s long report on the ideological transformation of the law is worth your time and we were gratified by the response this piece got. One note of many: “At least for me, it is the most important piece of journalism that I have come across in 20 years. As a lawyer, and a criminal defense lawyer for over 25 years, what Sibarium documents is unthinkable.  It’s one thing for the Humanities to commit suicide but for the law?  So the Humanities circle the bowl and it’s an incalculable cultural loss; the case of the law ushers in tyranny.”

Definitely read it.   

What Tucker Carlson and sixties leftists have in common. Friend of Common Sense and regular contributor Antonio García Martínez returned from Ukraine to criticize some on the right who, like the hippies of yore, seem to believe that everything is America’s fault.

Our friend Rod Dreher—author of the book “Live Not By Lies,” which we love and constantly recommend—was critical of Antonio’s take, echoing several of our commenters, so we’re sharing it here.

And on Honestly, Bari spoke with three inadvertent war correspondents in Ukraine about why they remain—and what the war has revealed to them about themselves.