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Thursday, January 27, 2022


The term “intervention” has come to be used to describe a collective act of familial tough love. A member of the family is behaving in a self-destructive manner, and the sons and daughters, or fathers and mothers, or aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents get together to sit down with the loved one and talk a little tough common sense to him or her.  Interventions are painful and do not always work, but they are usually well-meaning expressions of genuine concern for a troubled family member. When I was a boy, my father became an alcoholic. He was a quiet drunk and simply became sleepy rather than rambunctious when he had had too much to drink. The subject of his drinking was never mentioned because in a Jewish family heavy drinking was a schande, a shame, something not to be spoken of. I do not know whether he would have benefited from an intervention, but none was ever organized.


Two days ago I was the object of an intervention. I had asked my niece to arrange a zoom call with my big sister who is 91 years old and lives in a Southern California retirement community. I have not actually seen Barbara in person in several years and I miss her. At 2 PM my time (11 AM on the West Coast) we had a little get together via zoom. In addition to myself and Barbara there were Linnea, who arranged the zoom call, and her brother Josh who was, I think, somewhere in upstate New York.


I had sent a circular email around to the family members telling them of my bad fall and assuring them that both my right hand and my side were now feeling much better, although my cell phone was not and would have to be replaced. When the call started, Barbara and Linnea started urging me to use a cane or walker in order to avoid another fall – falls at my age are a principal source of life-changing injury and are best avoided if at all possible. I replied casually that I had tried walking sticks and a cane when taking my morning walks and had found that they did not really help me at all, so I had stopped using them.


I was just chatting, making customary family talk, but Barbara and Linnea kept at it about the walker and all of a sudden it dawned on me what was happening. I asked, only half in jest, “Is this an intervention?” They allowed as how it was. (Josh commented that he was not in on it.) The tone was a light and casual, but it was clear that my sister and my niece meant it and had spoken to each other about it before initiating the call.


It was hard for me to hear, and I know exactly why. As I have grown older, it has become a point of pride for me to continue to be active and effective, to be my wife’s principal caregiver, to be the one who can always handle what is coming up, who can protect my wife (who is, after all, a year older than I am, as she has been since I met her 74 years ago.) I am aware, however embarrassing it may be, that I take great pride in having become known around Carolina Meadows as someone who takes a long walk every morning, winter or summer, getting to know the early morning walkers and dog owners whom I see and say hello to on my way. All around me are men and women using canes, using walkers, or in wheelchairs and I try with a certain quiet desperation to hold off the time when I will be reduced to that condition.


Well, I am a great believer in pride, in keeping up a good face, but a serious fall causing broken bones would really be a disaster in my life. Let us face it, I was lucky to suffer no more than a fractured cell phone as a consequence of this last incident. Susie has several walkers in our apartment and so, with considerable reluctance, I appropriated one. It is a four wheel roller and in the last day and a half, I have been using it around the apartment. Later this morning, when it warms up a bit, I will go for a walk using the roller. I cringe at what people will think when they see me go by. “Isn't that Bob? He must have declined a good deal to have to use a roller. Oh well, it comes to all of us.”


I continue to ride my exercycle five mornings a week, increasing by 30 seconds each week the portion of that spent at a higher level of difficulty. I am now up to 7 ½ minutes at the higher level and I will continue as long as I can increasing the difficulty. I do this not because I enjoy it, God knows, but because I have been told that aerobic exercise 150 minutes a week has proven to be successful in delaying the progress of Parkinson’s disease.


Since Barbara reads my blog each day, she will know that her intervention was successful. I have been trying all my life to live up to my sister’s brilliant successes and her approval, which I hope I shall have earned, will go some way to easing the pain of the intervention.


Another Anonymous said...

Prof. Wolff,

Thank you for sharing this personal story with your blog readers. I am sure that many of the alte kakers who read it can identify with your discomfort of having to make concessions to the realities of life and aging. As you wrote in a previous comment, pride goeth before a fall – literally.

I am, as you know, some 13 years younger than you, and have prided myself on being independent and still actively practicing law. However, none of us can escape the changes in health that the sands of time impose. Two weeks ago I was diagnosed with Type II diabetes. I had not seen a doctor for over a year, and my blood glucose levels were dangerously high. I now have to inject insulin once a day, and test my blood 4 times a day. I have yet to see the dietician, but I assume when I do that I will have to make serious changes in my diet, changes which I dread. I have been profligately self-indulgent in my eating habits. My wife will assume the role of a strict disciplinarian, but I am not a good pupil. I have to take this seriously, because my clients depend on me, and if I were incapacitated, their legal fortunes would be adversely affected. So, like you and many of this blog’s readers, I am just going to have to suck it up and change my lifestyle. As Bette Davis reportedly said, “Growing old is a bitch.”

Another Anonymous said...

Donald Hall - 1928-2018

To grow old is to lose everything.
Aging, everybody knows it.
Even when we are young,
we glimpse it sometimes, and nod our heads
when a grandfather dies.
Then we row for years on the midsummer
pond, ignorant and content. But a marriage,
that began without harm, scatters
into debris on the shore,
and a friend from school drops
cold on a rocky strand.
If a new love carries us
past middle age, our wife will die
at her strongest and most beautiful.
New women come and go. All go.
The pretty lover who announces
that she is temporary
is temporary. The bold woman,
middle-aged against our old age,
sinks under an anxiety she cannot withstand.
Another friend of decades estranges himself
in words that pollute thirty years.
Let us stifle under mud at the pond's edge
and affirm that it is fitting
and delicious to lose everything.

s. wallerstein said...


Sorry about your diabetes.

s. wallerstein said...

I fell a few months ago on a highly polished office building floor, caught myself with one hand, which got bruised, but nothing else.

A friend suggested that I use a cane, which I refused to do, but then he advised me to change my footwear from regular street shoes and tennis-style trainers to ankle high hiking boots with special high-grip soles. I took his advice and first of all, hiking boots are no longer made of heavy leather, but of special lightweight synthetics and they are as comfortable and as lightweight as trainers. Being ankle high gives you more support against possible falls too. You can order them from many places online in varying styles and price ranges.

Another Anonymous said...

s. wallerstein,

Thank you. But, in all honesty, it could be worse. Fortunately, I have not suffered any retinal damage.

A word of advice to other readers. Diabetes is a silent killer. Its symptoms can be very subtle. See a doctor regularly and have your blood tested.

s. wallerstein said...

Yes, have your blood tested.

My sister, who is two years younger than I am, discovered in a routine blood test that she has a strange form of blood cancer and is currently in treatment. There were no symptoms at all.

Michael said...

My sympathies to all of you.

Indeed, preventative medicine should be taken advantage of whenever possible. That is absolutely sound advice; I say this as someone who's only a half-hearted exerciser, and a chronic yo-yo dieter - I'm sure I'll feel a little ashamed and annoyed at my next physical, as usual. But it's totally worthwhile - occasionally the doctors catch something straightforwardly treatable that you would've been very sorry to miss!

And self-consciousness for whatever reason can be such a weight; it sucks. For what it's worth, I find it maddeningly hard to reach that wonderful state of indifference to "what people will think," and require regular reminders that they aren't noticing much at all; everyone's mostly wrapped up in their own stuff.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Marc, I am so sorry to hear about this. I do hope that the doctors will be able to control it and manage it without too much disruption to your life. What a bummer!

Another Anonymous (aka Marc Susselman) said...

Thank you, Prof. Wolff.

President Biden has indicated his commitment to nominating an African-American woman to the Supreme Court to replace Justice Breyer. Wouldn’t it be great if, as expiation for the way she was treated by the Senate Judiciary Committee when he was chairperson, he nominated Anita Hill? What are the chances? How could the Senate Republicans possibly attack her as unqualified given its treatment of her? How do you think she and Justice Thomas would get along?

Another Anonymous said...


Anita Hill is 65 years old, which is a factor against her. But Lewis Powell was 64 when Pres. Nixon nominated him to the Supreme Court.

LFC said...

The chances that Biden will nominate Anita Hill are, I think, zero.

The name I've heard most is Ketanji Brown Jackson, currently a judge on the US Ct of Appeals for the DC Circuit. But I'm sure Biden has a list w various names on it and he's working through it -- or to be more precise, someone on his staff is.

Another Anonymous said...


I agree, not likely. But wouldn't it be amusing if he did?

aaall said...

Given the current political realities, putting anyone in their mid-fifties up on any federal court would be seriously irresponsible. Jackson was recently confirmed by the Senate and got a few Republican votes, and is 51, so I would assume she's the most likely nominee. Given that Thomas is in his 70s (as is Gorsuch) and sometimes lightning does strike...

Happy to hear the Prof. is using a walker. A relative in her mid-nineties was in denial and took a serious fall a couple of weeks ago. Extremely life changing. I still prune and pick but I've spent well over a thousand dollars on proper ladders and tools over the past couple years to do it with reasonable safety. S.w.'s comment is especially apt; proper attire and equipment can make a world of difference.

Prof. Wolff, since you already use an exercise bike, you might consider a tri or quad bike for outside excursions. There are pedal only and electric/pedal options.

LFC said...

If you use a recumbent bike, you have to be extra careful when crossing certain intersections, as they're low to the ground, obvs., and thus sometimes harder for (distracted) drivers to notice.

LFC said...

P.s. Alito is the other one in his 70s, I believe (not Gorsuch). Though I'm not taking time to check.

aaall said...

Oops, meant the one wrote the other, thanks.

I assumed Prof. Wolff's community was designed around traffic being very calmed, with some no auto options.

LFC said...

Btw, a propos Justice Breyer, one of the opinions for which he should probably be best remembered is his dissent in Parents Involved v. Seattle Sch. District No. 1 (2007), where -- countering Roberts's line that "the way to stop discriminating on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race" -- he argued that the evil that Brown v. Bd. targeted was not simply discrimination but subordination rooted in a legalized caste system and the legacy of slavery.

Another Anonymous said...

Justice Breyer will be particularly missed for his fondness for unusual hypotheticals offered during oral arguments to make a legal point. Here are some examples:

Grape Hairbrush

In a 2000 trademark case over protection from knock offs, Breyer acknowledged that his hypothetical involved “a weird situation.”

“Imagine you made a hair brush in the shape of a grape” Breyer said. He explained that “It’s called the grape hairbrush, and that’s it.”

The attorney tried to counter that without bristles, it wouldn’t be considered a brush.

“It does,” Breyer responded. “I mean, you know, that’s not the point.”

Tomato Children

Breyer offered one of his most unforgettable hypotheticals roughly a decade into his tenure involving “tomato children” that end up harming Boston. The 2005 case, Gonzales v. Raich, involved California’s medical marijuana law and the federal government’s role in policing drug use.

“You know, he grows heroin, cocaine, tomatoes that are going to have genomes in them that could, at some point, lead to tomato children that will eventually affect Boston,” Breyer said.

“I can multiply the examples and so can you,” Breyer said. Sadly, he didn’t share any other extreme hypos.
Grandma Loves Robocalls

It was a case about robocalls in 2011 that gave us some insight into Breyer’s family life. The court was considering whether Congress can provide for “statutory damages” even if there doesn’t appear to be a harm to the consumer.

“And anyone who gets such a phone call gets $500 in damages automatically if they sue in court if they receive such a call. The harm was getting the call,” Breyer explained.

“So, my grandmother, who is always complaining no one ever calls her, loved the telephone call. She loved it. Best thing happened to her in a month. Okay? Now, can she sue?”

aaall said...

Besides banning books on history and the Holocaust, the usual suspects are feeling free to let their racist freak flags fly over the coming SC nominee.

Fritz Poebel said...

Assuming it’s constitutional, Biden ought to nominate Kamala Harris for the Court. She can do more good there with lifetime tenure than she will ever be able to do as a failed presidential candidate 3-7 years from now. Except for the possibility of Biden dying in office, the vice presidency doesn’t matter much anyway.

Another Anonymous said...

Yes, as sitting President can nominate his Vice President for a seat on the Supreme Court. See:

It has never happened before. The closest example would be President Taft, who was nominated to, and served on, the S. Ct. after his term as President was over.

Right now, Judge Jackson on the D.S. Court of Appeals appears to be the frontrunner.

LFC said...

According to analysis I've heard, Biden wants to nominate someone who's a sitting judge. That alone lets Harris out.

Question seems to be whether he will go with Jackson or Childs (or someone else entirely). Childs has among other things a different educational background than Jackson and would diversify the Court further not only in terms of race and gender but also on the criterion of diversity of educational pedigree, which might well be desirable.

But we'll have to wait and see, obviously.

LFC said...

P.s. Having previous judicial experience has become almost a de facto qualification for nomination to SCOTUS. Not saying that's a good thing, just noting that it seems to have happened.

Jackson has more of the "typical" stuff on her resume than Childs does (e.g., Ivy League degrees, former Sup Ct clerkship, for Breyer as it happens). That's why picking Childs might be a refreshing break from the usual resume. That said, I don't know a whole lot about either of them. Childs is backed by S Carolina politicians, notably James Clyburn, to whom Biden owes a lot politically.

Another Anonymous said...


eou are correct, Presidents generally prefer to nominate sitting judges to the S. Ct. But there have been exceptions. Earl Warren had never served as a judge at any level when he was nominated by P. Eisenhower. He had been the governor of California. But that was in the distant past, and like so many things, we are not likely to see its likes again. Another deficiency on the S. Ct. is that few of the Justices ever really practiced law, especially criminal law. This has been a long-standing criticism of the composition of the Court.

Andrew Lionel Blais said...

"...reduced to that condition...."? The schande of a body disabled by age? That seems trapped by the normativity of the enabled body. Unless, that is, you're talking at the level of Reuben Feinschmeck's blintzes.... At that level, it is interesting to have seen over time how a disabled body comes to have a different social meaning.

LFC said...


I think we agree: I did not say that Presidents always have nominated sitting judges to the Court -- I said that in recent years they have tended to do so (well, what I actually wrote is even more specific than that: I said that Biden wants to nominate a sitting judge).

Also, I'll note that, although I'm not a practicing lawyer, I did go to law school, I am a member (albeit an "inactive member") of the bar in one jurisdiction, and -- though not an expert on nor a scholar of the Sup Ct -- I do have a longstanding interest in it. So, if I can say this respectfully, I don't really need you to tell me that I am correct about a basic point of this sort. (I don't presume to know much about aspects of practicing law that you know a lot about, but when it comes to the Sup Ct, or at least certain matters concerning it, I suspect I know as much as you do.)

P.s. I have something substantive to add about Breyer but I'll have to postpone that to a bit later.

LFC said...

P.s. ok I re-read my comments, and I did say that it's "become almost a de facto qualification" -- but I did not say that it has always been that way. You cited Earl Warren -- another example is Lewis Powell, who was never a judge before Nixon nominated him to the Sup Ct. (I think perhaps Hugo Black is also in the same category, but I cd be wrong about that. Ditto Rehnquist -- again, I'd have to double check. Ditto William O. Douglas. Etcetera.)

LFC said...

Someone drew my attention to Linda Greenhouse's recent NYT piece on Breyer.

I was especially struck by these paragraphs:

"Although the labels often affixed to Justice Breyer are 'pragmatist' and 'seeker of compromise,' it has always seemed to me that these, while not inaccurate, miss the mark. They discount the passion beneath the man’s cool and urbane persona, passion that I think stems from his early encounter with a court [i.e., the Warren Court, when he was a clerk to Justice Goldberg] that understood the Constitution as an engine of progress."

"That passion was obvious in his astonishing 21-minute oral dissent from the bench in 2007 from a school integration decision [Parents Involved v. Seattle School Dist. No. 1] that, early in Chief Justice Roberts’s tenure, marked a significant turn away from the court’s commitment to ending segregation. The law professor Lani Guinier, in a famous article in The Harvard Law Review the next year, celebrated that dissent as 'demosprudence,' a way of speaking law directly to the people in the expectation that they will then speak back to the lawmakers."


Although Greenhouse calls the Guinier article "famous," I'd never heard of it. I downloaded the pdf -- it's 135 pp.

Another An onymous said...


I must say, I have never known anyone taking umbrage at being told that someone else agrees with him.

aaall said...

Warren was an attorney and served as a DA and the state AG before he became governor. He came from the Hiram Johnson wing of the party (Johnson was still our senator when I was born).

I believe Abe Fortas and Arthur Goldberg were also not judges.

LFC, I was thinking more along these lines:

A friends parents had one like these and really liked it. These and recumbents usually sport tall thin fiberglass poles topped with pennants for visibility.

Then there's these:

LFC said...

Thks for links.

Well, just chalk it up partly to my being in a less than great mood at the moment.