Thursday, October 28, 2021

 

PMT: Bonkers Virginia

 

 
Virginia is electing a governor, and things have gotten weird.  In a time where we are still facing a pandemic, dealing with racial justice, worrying about the economy, seeing the effects of climate change, and trying to figure out what America will be in the future, the people of Virginia (at least many of them) are really worked up about literature.
 
Specifically, they are in arms about the work of Toni Morrison, who won both a Pulitzer and a Nobel Prize for her novels. 
 
It seems that 8 years ago some conservative parents tried to have Morrison's Pulitzer-winning book "Beloved" banned from public schools in Virginia. The Republicans in the legislature passed the bill, but then-Governor Terry McAuliffe-- who is running now for his old job-- vetoed the bill. One proponent said that the sex scenes gave her son "nightmares." 
 
But, really, this isn't a story about sex. It's about race. It's about white kids reading a book by a black author. 
 
I actually was in Virginia when I read Beloved. I was a student at William and Mary, and Prof. Joanne Braxton had assigned Morrison's Song of Solomon. I liked it so much that I read Beloved, too. I probably had dreams about sex (I was a 19-year-old boy), but they weren't about the book, and they weren't nightmares. The books opened up my world to a tradition I did not know, to a part of the human experience I did not know. That's what literature, at its best, does.
 
Our nation struggles with race, but it is crazy the way we find proxies for it instead of discussing it straight-up and honestly. It could be that some people-- the ones who pretend their son is having sex nightmares-- just don't want to have that discussion. 


Wednesday, October 27, 2021

 

The Big Game (Part 1)

 

College football is a guilty pleasure for me, and I've been a Michigan fan my entire life (despite never having gone there after being admitted twice). Saturday, Michigan plays Michigan State, and this year the game between these in-state rivals really means something. Both teams are undefeated going into the game, which is a rarity. 
 
It would be great to see one or the other of them knock off Ohio State down the road. State plays OSU on November 20, and Michigan plays them the following week. It's part of being a Michigan fan that you just want Ohio State to lose (and, if possible, disband or lose accreditation as a real university). 
 
It's been a wacky year in college football, full of fun upsets and surprise success stories like Cincinnati.  I'll be watching-- but don't tell anyone.

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

 

Facebook Foibles

 

 
Facebook is facing scrutiny like it has never experienced before. A whistleblower, Frances Haugen, has gone public with allegations (and backed those allegations with documents) that make it clear that Facebook repeatedly chose profits over the public good.
 
Which, of course, is what corporations do-- they are constructed to maximize profits, not make society better, and they very often make society worse as they increase profits. Hedge funds destroy journalism, agribusinesses destroy family farms, GM destroyed a sustainable electric trolley network to sell buses... it is a feature, not an aberration, that corporations choose profit over anything else so long as they are within the bounds of legality (and even that barrier does not always hold). 
 
 With Facebook there seem to be two core problems. One is that its subsidiary Instagram, in particular, plays a big role in undermining self-esteem and wellness in children and adolescents. A second is that Facebook accelerates falsehoods (ie, about vaccines) and political extremism.  
 
The first problem is very real, and needs to be addressed. We restrict freedom all the time in the interests of protecting children, after all-- and we should. The data both shows that this is a real problem, and that social media is at the center of it.
 
The second problem is more difficult. Yes, straight-up wrong opinions and falsehoods asserted as facts are rampant on social media. BUT... among adults, the problem is not the medium so much as the recipients. If people don't discern fact from fiction-- and a lot of people aren't-- there is a deeper problem than the medium on which those falsehoods are sometimes broadcast. 


Monday, October 25, 2021

 

Poems of a lovely walk

 


Oh! You all did great work last week. This image from my dad is one that will stay in my mind:
 
The walk to get the
morning baguette in Provence
very rewarding.
 
And IPLawGuy talked about the dog....
 
Raining? Walk the dog
Snow? Heat? Still must walk the dog
And pick up his poop.
 
And the Dog responded!
 
Yeah, IPLawGuy
You think it fun to be dog?
I want my own house.
 
Desiree has a very minor marital issue:
 
Husband has the map
and no sense of direction.
5 mile walk, now 8.
 
While Christine sees the good:

Walking the driveway
kaleidoscope of color
Crunching underfoot.

Not so much Jill Scoggins:
 
Or the Medievalist:
 
Walking in Texas,
Sun is hot and merciless,
No rest for wicked.
 
But Michimom had some brightness!:
 
Forty-five minutes
Before sunrise stars fade, sky
Is wild with color. 

Sunday, October 24, 2021

 

Sunday Reflection: Distraction

 

There is a great public television program here in Minneapolis called Almanac. It runs for an hour every Friday, and it has for the last three-and-a-half decades on stations across Minnesota. I'm surprised at how many people I know who watch it every week. It's basically the most Minnesotan bit of media around.
 
When legal issues bubble up, I get to join the show now and then (probably five or six times so far). I love doing it, of course-- it is a great show.
 
I did the show on Friday to talk about the sentencing in an important local case (you can see the segment here).  As I as talking, a fly came by and decided it wanted to buzz around my face. Fortunately, the fly never actually landed on my head, so I avoided a Mike Pence moment, but it was plenty distracting (though I think I worked through it pretty well). I was really tempted to swat at the sucker, though!
 
Too often, we let the distractions become more important than what we are doing-- or supposed to be doing. I know that happens to me ALL the time. Lately, I've been distracted by little things that bug me, but aren't really worth even a moment-- those everyday bits of unpleasantness that come from traffic or a rude person. 
 
And I realize, too, that too often my personal theology is sidetracked by distractions. I have a few, simple core beliefs, and the other stuff just does not matter so much-- but I find myself going down rabbit holes. For example, my view on the Bible and its authority is simple: I follow the teachings of Jesus. That means that what informs my faith is what Jesus taught. The rest of it is important context, with some poetry, storytelling, fable and history thrown in.  But sometimes I get tugged into the rabbit-hole of the Epistles, for example, and lose track of what is really important. 
 
But maybe I'm getting better-- after all, I didn't swat the fly.

Saturday, October 23, 2021

 

Police and Contempt

 

On Thursday, I had a piece in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune about the strained relations between citizens and police here. You can read it here, and I hope that you will!

Friday, October 22, 2021

 

Haiku Friday: A Lovely Walk

 


The air is cooler outside, and it is perfect walking weather. It's such a wonderful thing, and nearly universal for us humans to take a walk, just to enjoy the outdoors. You might be walking away from something, or toward something, but it is almost always worthwhile. Let's haiku about that this week!

Here, I will go first:

That crunch underfoot
Not our Minnesota ice
A valley of salt.

Now it is your turn! Just use the 5/7/5 syllable pattern and have some fun.


Thursday, October 21, 2021

 

Political Mayhem Thursday: Joe Manchin Edition

 

In a US Senate that is divided 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats (including the two independents from New England who caucus with them), West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin is a vote that Democrats need-- and often don't get. Most recently, he has used his clout to remove climate-change protections from the ginormous "Build Back Better" bill that includes a wide swath of proposals.

There are two things about Manchin's positions that seem true:

1) He genuinely believes in these stances, and has long held views that cut against environmental protection and abortion rights and many social benefit programs.

2) Most of the people in his state, which Trump won in 2020 by almost 40 points (!) agree with him.

Given those two facts, he is not changing any time soon.

So why does he stay a Democrat? In part, I suspect it is exactly because of the power he has in this moment. Since the days of Sen. Robert Byrd, West Virginia had been a disproportionate recipient of federal programs because of the power of its senators.

I suspect, and hope, that IPLawGuy has some thoughts on all of this...


Wednesday, October 20, 2021

 

The Death of Colin Powell

 

Gen. Colin Powell died this week at age 84. I didn't know him, but his son Michael was in my. class and president of my fraternity at William and Mary, so I glimpsed him a few times. He was a compelling and historic figure.

The obituaries (such as this one in the Times) note the trajectory of his life: Born in Harlem to Jamaican immigrants and raised in the South Bronx, he went to the City College of New York as a ROTC kid. He served two tours of Vietnam, and during that second tour he saved three men from a wrecked and burning helicopter. He returned from the war, got an MBA from George Washington, and served as a White House Fellow in the Nixon Administration as a part of his continuing military career. By the early 1980's he became the military assistant to Caspar Weinberger, who was the Secretary of Defense. By the end of the Reagan Administration, he had ascended to a role as National Security Advisor. 

His last military assignment, from 1989-1993 (through the Bush and Clinton administrations) was as Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the most powerful position in the US military. In that role he oversaw the Persian Gulf War in 1991, which removed Iraq from Kuwait. 

Later, under George W. Bush, he served as the first Black Secretary of State, and it was in that role that he made his ill-advised speech at the UN, where he falsely claimed that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. 

His political life was hindered by devotion to a Republican Party that by the 2010s had left behind some of the principles he most deeply believed in. One of those principles was civility in discourse. 

Here, in turn, was former President Donald Trump's reflection upon hearing of the death of Gen. Powell:




Tuesday, October 19, 2021

 

The case for universities

 

On Sunday I have a piece in the Waco Tribune-Herald (timed to Baylor's Homecoming) about the continuing importance of universities in a minefield of false claims passing as news. You can read the whole thing here (and I hope that you will!).

Monday, October 18, 2021

 

Food n' Poetry

 Oh, yeah, good job everyone! I don't know who "Lil' Corrupt Cakes" is, but I liked this poem:

Pumpkin spice latte
It belongs to October
August? That's not right.

My Dad's was kind of anti-food (but pro-gourd):

I stare at the gourds
each of them a piece of art
not to be eaten.

Meanwhile, IPLawGuy is producing food:

Thanks to climate change
My tomatoes are thriving
Lettuce looks good too.

Christine is making food:

White chili is on...
Butternut squash has been cubed
Steamy bowl awaits.

And the Medievalist? He is just straight-up drinking:

I hate pumpkin spice.
Give me smoked salmon tacos,
And cold gin tonic.


Sunday, October 17, 2021

 

Sunday Reflection: The Scary Season

 

The Picasso wire sculpture pictured above is kinda scary, isn't it? There is the skeleton aspect of it, of course, and the shadow on the wall behind (at least as it is currently displayed at MOMA in New York).  The subject, too, seems to be screaming, or at least surprised.
 
Or maybe not. It's just as as much a joyful reflection on the human form constructed in an awkward way that emphasizes the liminal nature of our bodies, on that boundary between our consciousness and the physical world. It is more real than real, and there should be nothing scary about that.
 
But that's the deal, isn't it? Things that are scary to us are not the ones that are outlandish; they are the things that hit closest to the real things in our life. A movie where the bad guy slowly slides open a sliding door is scary because it is so close to the things we worry about: did I lock the sliding door? No one is really scared of Darth Vader, not in that same way, because he is nothing close to what is scary in our real lives.
 
I think something like that explains the power of Jesus, at least as he is actually depicted in the Gospels. Most of what he does is understandable, close to things we experience in our own lives. He makes breakfast for his friends. He encounters people where they are: at a well, in the Temple, at the bank of a river. He walks, and eats. His parables are not about blinding flashes of light in the sky, but about going to work or going to a wedding. And in that is part of the power of those stories. 
 
How else would we learn?

Saturday, October 16, 2021

 

One thing I am sure of...

 I'll bet the lady in this song now regrets changing her name from Kitty to Karen.
 

 


Friday, October 15, 2021

 

Haiku Friday: The foods of fall

 

Fall is the best time for food-- it is harvest season, after all. It starts with sweet corn, moves on to apples and pumpkins, and closes out with all the great food of Thanksgiving. Let's haiku about that this week!
 
Here, I will go first:
 
My pumpkin pie fest
Decimates the whole kitchen 
But... then I have pie!
 
Now it is your turn! Just use the 5/7/5 syllable pattern and have some fun!

Thursday, October 14, 2021

 

Political Mayhem Thursday, Supreme Court Edition

 
 

Yesterday in the Supreme Court, the Justices heard arguments in the case of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, one of the two brothers who set off bombs at the Boston Marathon in 2013. Three people died and hundreds were injured by the horrible act. His death sentence had been overturned by the First Circuit court of appeals based on the trial judge's failures in questioning jurors and admitting evidence. One issue was the exclusion of evidence that could have helped show that Tsarnaev was acting under the influence and control of his older brother, Tamerlan.
 
It's troubling that the case was in front of the Supreme Court at all. Joe Biden ran for office as an opponent of the death penalty, and has imposed a moratorium on executions during his term. It's morally inconsistent to stop executions while he is president while continuing to pursue the death penalty in an existing case, knowing a subsequent president may well lift the moratorium. After all, the government did not have to appeal the 1st Circuit's decision. Instead they forged ahead. 

The conservative judges (a 6-3 majority) seem poised to overturn the circuit court and reinstate the death penalty. Which will add another person to a death row that this administration does not plan to use for its intended purpose.

Naturally, this weird outcome is directed by politics; the marathon bombing was an awful tragedy, and there is little sympathy for Tsarnaev.  It would take real boldness to treat the issue with integrity and commute the sentences of all those on death row-- but boldness (outside of spending) does not seem to be the modus operandi of Joe Biden.
 
 

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

 

Interviews


 I haven't interviewed for a job in eleven years, and I'm not planning to do so anytime soon. Still, I am immersed in the process these days. First, because I am on the hiring committee at my school, so I'm spending a lot of time on the other end of that desk. At the same time, I am preparing my students for their own job interviews.

This much is true-- it IS a lot easier to be the interviewer than the interviewee!  

But there are some more important truths, too, of course.

One is that too often people forget to explain the two most important things-- questions you should answer even if they are not asked:

1) How your skill set fits this job, and
2) Why you want this job in this place.

The skill set question is especially important in entry-level jobs, the kind many of my students are seeking after law school. There, they can't say they have done the job before (except as an internship or externship). That means that it is even more important to talk about skills derived from other parts of life. If the job requires people skills, then those years as a restaurant worker really do matter. If your potential job requires quick turnaround, then you need to talk about prior experiences where you had to meet deadlines-- and did. Rarely are you interviewing for the job you already have, so it is crucial to talk about what you can do. 

I am shocked at how often people don't seem to know about the entity they are interviewing with. Do some research! Then you can explain with detail why you want that particular job. It shows you have real interest, and it shows a skill: coming in to a meeting prepared.

Finally, there is this... sometimes getting the right job takes time. Be like Patient Bear, who might as well be waiting patiently for his job offer. I've been turned down so many times for so many jobs over the years-- and patience (and preparation) always paid off.  It can be hard to hear "no" over and over. But your "yes" will come.

 


Tuesday, October 12, 2021

 

Er... is that clemency?

 


I really recommend this Washington Post piece about a puzzling case involving a maybe-clemency from Donald Trump (and not just because I got to opine in it).  It's a fascinating tale-- about a guy, James Rosemond who lobbied hard at the end of the Trump administration for commutation of a long prison sentence. Trump or his associates told Rosemond's supporters-- which included football legend Jim Brown-- that he was granting the petition, but he never signed anything. 

So, is it a grant of clemency? The courts will decide. 

But this much is clear: those last few days of the Trump presidency were absolute chaos.


Monday, October 11, 2021

 

Car Poems


 
 
I know that Desiree must have liked this car (and sorry I missed you at Homecoming!):
 
Little tan Dodge Colt.
Driving with the window down.
My dog Gus shotgun.

Christine paints a good picture:
 
Light Iris ragtop
Carefree, cruising to the beach
On a sunny day.

While this entry describes a true workhorse:

Bessie has the miles --
Two hundred fifty thousand
She is family.

Sunday, October 10, 2021

 

Sunday Reflection: The House Party

 

I was walking back to my car in a small southern town last night when I saw something I haven't seen in a long time: an honest-to-goodness house party. There was a band playing on the porch and a crowd of people jammed into the lawn, and they were having a great time. 
 
We are made to seek community, to sometimes do things with other people. For millennia, humans have been doing things in groups, gathering to feast, to worship, to make decisions, and to celebrate.  
 
And then, we stopped. We had a good reason to do so-- to save the lives of the most vulnerable among us. 
 
Now, I think, we are struggling to get back to community, in a lot of ways. I know that I am. I am not back to going to church in person, and it looks like the same is true for a lot of people. When I ask people how their churches are doing as they return to worshiping in person, no one has been saying "great!" It could be that people are making the rational choice to not come back until the pandemic is actually over, but I suspect that some people are perhaps just done with church. Time will tell....
 
 

Saturday, October 09, 2021

 

America's Mona Lisa

 


If you go to the National Portrait Gallery in DC (and I really recommend that you do), you will find the photo above in the Hall of Presidents, near some iconic images of other presidents.  

Is it just me, or is this particular portrait intentionally ominous? And if so, was that the intent of the photographer or the subject?


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