Rants, mumbling, repressed memories, recipes, and haiku from a professor at the University of St. Thomas Law School.
Tuesday, August 31, 2021
Snake Oil and Talk Radio
I find it hard to listen to either MSNBC or Fox News-- they both seem to feign impartiality (or at least Fox used to) while choosing to promote stories that will predictably whip up the emotions of people on the left or right, respectively. These are usually stories (Critical Race Theory! That thing Trump said! That one lady from Black Lives Matter! The other thing that Trump said!) that really just don't matter. They are only issues because one of those news outlets decided to ask a bevy of "experts" about it, who are uniformly outraged.
Still, though, I sometimes get fascinated with right-wing media-- the more extreme the better. Alex Jones, for example, was just outlandish, but entertaining in the way wacked-out televangelists like Gene Scott were back in the 80's. And when I go there, I always notice that the ads are often for wack-a-doodle medical cures and supplements. It's endless, and formulaic, and consistent.
I guess someone else finally notice. Paul Krugman has a piece in the NY Times that rests on the same observation. Here is part of what he says:
We’re seeing a surge in sales of — and poisoning by —ivermectin, which is usually used to deworm livestock but has recently been touted on social media andFox Newsas a Covid cure.
OK, I didn’t see that coming. But I should have. As the historianRick Perlsteinhas pointed out, there’s a long association between peddlers of quack medicine and right-wing extremists. They cater to more or less the same audience.
That is, Americans willing to believe that Barack Obama was born in Kenya and thatItalian satelliteswere used to switch votes to Joe Biden are also the kind of people willing to believe that medical elites are lying to them and that they can solve their health problems by ignoring professional advice and buying patent medicines instead.
The New York Times has a piece up revealing something that those of us in criminal law are well aware of (whether we admit it publicly or not): police sometimes lie, and because they are viewed as authority figures, they are believed.
It led me to thinking about the cost of the trust we give to authority figures in Christianity. Over and over, from the time I was a kid, I've heard priests, ministers, theologians, teachers, and professors state something with authority and then thought "That's the opposite of what Jesus taught." We see it now with Christian resistance to public health measures-- "freedom" of the individual is valued over sacrifice to the common good, turning Christ's message on its head.
One thing I loved about Baylor is that there was a strong strain of the traditional Baptist belief that each Christian has the duty to read the Bible, study Jesus, and come to their own conclusions-- a priesthood of the believer. This is sometimes described as "soul liberty" or "soul competence," and it leads to a diminishment of the authority of leaders and the uplifting of the views of individual members. The most vigorous, well-argued, and civil debates over theology I have ever been a part of has been among Baptists-- not the ministers, but the people in the pews.
I am and always will be a Baptist in that way. Blindly following this minister or that theologian is like always believing the cop; it grants infallibility where it does not belong. Christ taught in parables, and we all hear stories differently-- there is no one good ear.
That puts a lot on each of us-- we must not only seek our own salvation, but explain God to ourselves. But is anything less worthy of the project? If there is a God, and it is not us, no other person can perfectly, or even sufficiently, describe the divine to any one of us.
It's not that we are alone. It's that we are with God-- and that is a powerful thing.
Yeah, I know-- I am kind of hung up on summer just as it is ending. But this week I want to haiku about the colors of summer. Green? Sure. But that color is a multitude, and not the only one. There is the blue of the lakes and the sky, the golden sun and sand, and the white moon shining in a black night.
Here, I will go first:
I sink my fingers
Into rich dark earth, thick with
Brown tendrils. Life, that.
Now it is your turn! Just use the 5/7/5 syllable pattern, and have some fun!
For whatever reason, by spam file at work is filled up every day with fund-raising appeals to conservatives from an array of Republicans: Newt Gingrich, Tim Scott, Donald Trump, Jr., etc. Every once in a while, I roll through them to see what is going on with the GOP.
And... it makes me sad. The fund-raising appeals have certain things in common, which must work:
-- They often claim that Donald Trump is "waiting" for the recipient's response and will personally be disappointed if money isn't given.
-- They frequently claim some ridiculous "match" of your donation by an anonymous donor; yesterday they said it was a "13x" match. Really?
-- About as often as they use trigger phrases like "Critical Race Theory," they insult the reader by calling them a "RINO" or a "loser" for not giving money already.
One of the appeals in the batch I saw yesterday (from "House Conservatives") had this subject line:
"Are you a major loser? FWD: SAD! Every time we asked, you DECLINED. Will you join Trump's social media site?"
Charlie Watts, the drummer for the Rolling Stones, died yesterday at 80. He was an odd duck in the group-- an introvert in a group of extroverts, who was there from the beginning. I'm fascinated by the clip above, that isolates the tracks from my favorite Rolling Stones song-- it starts with Watts's work, and ends with the remarkable singing of Merry Clayton.
Two: What happened last week was inevitable, and anyone saying differently is still lying to you."
The piece details what the lies were: about the readiness of Afghan forces, and our success there. It's the same thing that we were lied about regarding Vietnam, actually. Any organization that controls information about its own success struggles to remain truthful. That is a problem that needs to be addressed systemically.
IPLawGuy had a great comment on Thursday-- it was better reasoned than my post, actually. I have included it below along with a video of his favorite song.
IPLawGuy: "To Biden's credit, he has been bold on many fronts. The initiatives
contained in the fine print of the rescue package that was passed and
signed into law, and those in the soon to be passed infrastructure
bill, are sweeping changes in the way the Federal Government does
business. Not sure whether they are all good ideas, but there's plenty
of "bold" there. And if he can get this budget passed, the changes to be
instituted will shift government spending in many ways.
we have seen over and over again, Presidential Administrations can't
seem to do more than a few things at the same time. Afghanistan was not
a priority for the Biden people. I don't think it should have been.
George Kennan was right about focusing on our strategic interests, and
other than the fact that its a hotbed for mayhem and that we had a lot
of troops there., Afghanistan is low on our list of geo-global concerns.
But we DO have troops there. So, yes, they should have done a better
job of preparing for the inevitable Taliban takeover. That was going to
happen no matter what we did.
I suspect that we could have come
up with a dozen plans, but in the end, we would have ended up where we
are now. American Troops defending the last piece of ground until we
got everyone out that we could.
The bottom line is that the U.S.
Military, nor any military, is not designed to "keep the peace." After
the initial invasion in the wake of 9/11, there was never a "military
objective" in Afghanistan. AS you said, we were attempting to stop
murder, mayhem and terrorism in a region where no one has ever been able
to do such a thing. The British failed in the 1800's (The book
“Flashman,” is a fictionalized account of THAT disaster) and the
Russians failed in the 80's (The book and movie "Charlie Wilson's War"
cover that). Perhaps, if we had truly committed ourselves to ripping out
terrorism by the root, as Colin Powell suggested in 2001, implemented a
draft and sent a quarter of a million soldiers to Afghanistan,
sustained 10's of thousands of casualties, and not gotten distracted by
Iraq, we could have wiped out most of the 14-30 year old Taliban
fighters in that country. But thousands would have escaped into Cambodia
and Laos. Ooops, I meant Pakistan and other Islamic neighbors. And the
resentment would have been even more of a spur to vengeance than what we
did do. Sure, the events of the past week or so are tragic. But totally
pre-ordained. We were in hole. We stopped digging.
idiotic “peace plan” forged in Doha in 2020 made this haphazard
evacuation inevitable. The Taliban knew they just had to be patient for
a few months and as soon as we started closing air bases, they could
act. This was pre-ordained."
From the time we are kids, we learn that the end of summer is bittersweet. The unstructured days are about to become regimented; focus will have to return. But, for these few weeks, we have a bit of freedom left.
Let's haiku about all that goes with that this week. Here, I will go first:
"Back to School Sale" signs
Always depressed my brother
As dusk came sooner.
Now it is your turn! Use the 5/7/5 syllable formula, and have some fun....
Of course, it never was going to go well. Afghanistan has proved resistant to foreign powers for centuries, and those were foreign powers who at least were proximate to them (the Soviet Union, after all, shared the country's entire northern border). For some reason, we thought we could do it from the opposite side of the world. A succession of presidents managed to not quite lose the war while also not winning it, all while propping up a corrupt government and not really garnering freedom for women (as I discussed on Tuesday). Someone had to end it. Trump started the end, and Biden continued his trajectory.
I'm disappointed in President Biden and his intelligence network. It appears that there were reports this summer predicting exactly this outcome-- but they were dismissed. The current chief advisors, such as Jake Sullivan, are retreads from the Obama administration (and, of course, that network was largely strained by the Trump administration's purges and obsessions).
My worry from the start-- especially in my primary area of knowledge, criminal law-- was that Biden's ambition was to be Obama Lite: that he would bring back Obama people, continue the same themes, and ignore the Obama failures, just without the genuine passion that Obama had for some things, and the brute intelligence he brought to others. On top of that, Obama Lite is problematic because Obama's downfall was often timidity (as we saw with clemency).
There is little boldness in Biden, right now. The fear is that we may be in a time that requires it.
And now he is at a turning point. His inattention and reliance on the Obama Lite approach failed him badly. Is it in him to pivot?
Forbes Magazine has called Thomas Jefferson "Perhaps our most financially challenged founding father." It wasn't the worst of his sins, of course. We should remember that his vocation was running a slave plantation, and that he had sex with slaves who could not deny consent (so let's call what it is, "rape").
But even with the advantage of relying on unpaid labor, Jefferson was a financial disaster. He lived a luxurious life he couldn't afford, and at the end of his life his finances went from bad to worse. He bought luxury goods like cases of wine even when he was deep in debt, compounding his problems. While some of his difficulties were the product of trying to help others (taking on his father-in-law's debts, for example), others were the result of poor decision making.
We share an alma mater, William and Mary. In fact, I was in society (the FHC) that he founded at the college. But he was a pretty rotten alum. In 1823, he staved off personal insolvency by borrowing $24,000 from the College's endowment-- which was a fifth of the total endowment.
Worse, he never paid it back! Only in 1879 did his heirs pay back part of it, and then they only put it about half what was borrowed, $11,550.
There are things to admire about Jefferson, and I do. But he did things that he knew were wrong, consistently. One of his "rules for life" was not to spend money before you have it, but he did just that. He also knew that slavery was wrong-- if you doubt it, check out the "deleted passage" of the Declaration of Independence-- and yet his job was basically slaveholder, right to the end of his life.
I love history. And one reason I love it is for its complications.
I've been reading a lot of commentary about the collapse of the government in Afghanistan and the take-over by the Taliban. It's terrible, by any account, and results from a lot of failures.
Sadly, even some of the things we count as successes are really failures. For example, one goal of our work there was to expand opportunities for women, and success was often claimed on that count, based on the opening of a school or a new program here or there. Overall, though, the outcomes were dismal. In 2020-- after nearly two decades of the US spending nearly a trillion dollars in Afghanistan-- that country ranked second to last in the Women Peace and Security Index put out by the Georgetown University Institute for Women Peace and Security, which measures "three basic dimensions of women’s well-being—inclusion (economic, social, political); justice (formal laws and informal discrimination); and security (at the family, community, and societal levels)—which are captured and quantified through 11 indicators."
Only Yemen was worse (follow the link above to get the full list, which got cut off in the section I pasted in above). Our other project, Iraq, was in the bottom 10, as well.
This project failed a long time ago, when we offered Afghans corrupt leaders and tumult. We have to make something of the fact that even the Army seemed to accept the Taliban victory so easily.
Running our own country is hard. Running another one on the other side of the world with a wholly different history and culture... well, by now, after several tries, we should know how that goes.
Illusionists don't know magic; they just know what we pay attention to. Our eyes are drawn to what is bright or flashy or moving. We watch the hand waving the wand, not the one palming the bird.
I love shadows. It is where the really interesting things happen. In our society, there are the flashy, loud moving things that we all look at instinctively. But there are shadows, too. Sometimes they are darkened because social illusionists don't want us to see what is there. For example, the outrage over paying attention to racism (as seen in the reaction some people have to the simple statement that "black lives matter")-- it is a noisy distraction telling us to look somewhere else.
Jesus always went right there, of course. He went to talk to that Samaritan woman by the well, stopped an execution, upbraided the Pharisees. In each, he was confronting what was in the shadows, things that might be disruptive once the light hit them.
There is this beautiful moment of dusk: the shadows get longer and longer, and then-- once the sun hits the horizon and the light is diffuse-- there is a moment of this soft, gentle light on everything, and the shadows are gone. It's magic. Or something better.
This summer has seen every kind of storm: firestorms in the west, rain and flooding in the midwest, and sharknados in the Mid-Atlantic (which wreaked havoc on IPLawGuy's estate, Tapwood Manor, as shown in the photo above). My parents are without power right now in Michigan, the latest of several devastating storms there.
So let's haiku about that this week. Here, I will go first:
As the power ebbs again
Where are you, science?
And now it is your turn! Just use the 5/7/5 syllable pattern, and have some fun!
As most of you, I am an advocate for more vigorous use of clemency by American presidents. I've been able to speak with the last three White House's about it, and have have several meetings with Biden administration officials about what they should do.
Sadly, there hasn't been much to get excited about. But in today's White House press briefing, we finally got a bread crumb through this exchange with WH spokeswoman (and William and Mary grad) Jen Psaki:
Q Thank you, Jen. I appreciate it. There are still roughly 2,000
inmates who were released to home confinement through the CARES Act.
We’ve reported that the Biden administration deemed that the Trump
administration was correct in interpreting that that authority would
basically end at the end of the pandemic. Would the President prefer
issuing clemency to those inmates, seeing a legislative fix that keep
them on home confinement? Or is he okay seeing them returned back to
prison — most of them?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I saw your reporting.
We all did, of course. We are working hard every day to reform our
justice system in order to strengthen families, boost our economy, give
people a chance at a better future.
As part of this, the
President is deeply committed to reducing incarceration, helping people
successfully reenter society. And he has said too many people are
incarcerated — too many are Black and brown. And he is therefore
exploring multiple avenues to provide relief for — to certain nonviolent
drug offenders, including through the use of his clemency power.
I don’t have anything to preview for you today, but he is, again, looking at a range of avenues.
Of course, I know better than to make too much of this. But it does tell me that at least there are some discussions going on at the highest levels, and that's something....
With the announcement that the University of Texas and Oklahoma University are leaving the Big 12 for the SEC, speculation has run rampant that other moves are imminent. One rumor has schools like Iowa State, Kansas, West Virginia or USC joining the Big 10. People well-versed in these things doubt it, given that those scholls don't have a lot to offer the Big 10 (except USC, but it is way outside the Midwest footprint of the conference).
Here's a school that really could add something to the Big 10: the University of Chicago. I know it sounds crazy, but hear me out:
-- The Big 10 truly values academics, and Chicago arguably is a more distinguished school that any of the great universities already in the Big 10.
-- Chicago was a founding member of the Big 10 in 1895 (along with Wisconsin, Michigan, Purdue, Northwestern, and Illinois), and stayed in the league until the 1940's. It remains a part of the Big 10 academic consortium.
-- Chicago would have to jump from Division III to Division I, of course-- but St. Thomas just did that in under two years with only a fraction of the resources of Chicago.
-- And those resources... Chicago has the wealth and power to pull off such a move. And to come back after 80 years? Ka-pow!
-- Finally, Chicago kind of needs it. It loses great students to places like Michigan and Northwestern because Chicago has a reputation of just not being much fun.
On Sunday, I had a piece in the Waco paper about how crime rates are complicated-- and the easy narrative of "Democrats Defunded the police, and now murders are out of control in Dem cities!" is just wrong. For example, the murder rate went up way more-- 89% between 2019 and 2020 in bright-red Waco, a much larger increase than Los Angeles or Chicago.
IPLawGuy has a lot of problems, apparently. Let's take them one by one. First:
Why am I in charge Of cleaning up the cat poop? Did I volunteer?
That one kind of confuses me-- I mean, don't cats poop in a litter box? Our cat, Chuck, always did, and then we occasionally dumped "Mt. Poop" into the trash. Or maybe that is what IPLawGuy is doing. Anyways, he also had this:
Water all over Still coming? Where's the cut off? By the fuse box! Why?
Yeah, that seems like some bad design...
Desiree's problem is less than a disaster, but still- yuck, indeed!
Front loading washer. Great when it comes to water, but oh the mold. Yuck.
And finally, Jill Scoggins is inspiring me to get new tires:
Thump-thump-thump-thump-thump THUMP-THUMP-THUMP-THUMP-THUMP-THUMP. My Wednesday? TWO flat tires.
If nothing else, the Tokyo Olympics has led many of us to see these top-flight athletes as human rather than as somehow super-human. Simone Biles came into (and out of) the games hailed as the "Greatest Gymnast of All Time," but was unable to compete in most events because of what she (and other gymnasts) call "the twisties." Apparently, this is the sense of not knowing where your body is as you fly through the air-- of being disassociated with it, in a way. It sounds terrifying, and real.
Last week, I had the odd feeling of being disassociated from time. I was walking along and suddenly was unable to track when in the year it was-- had Easter happened? When was school? It was a bizarre and unsettling moment.
I know where it came from.
As I have said here before, I have always thought of the week or two at Osler Island in the summer as start of the year, of my anchor in time. And for 49 consecutive years, it was just that. Then, for the last two, I have been unable to go because of the pandemic, and now I feel unmoored in time.
I do realize that of the tragedies of the pandemic, this is not a major one-- not anything like that suffered by those who lost a parent or suffered with the sickness themselves, or lost a job or a home.
But it is one of the little unseen hurts this disease has inflicted on us, one of millions-- mental and spiritual harms that largely are unseen. The quantum of sadness, in tiny drops the size of tears, is hard to measure, after all.
On Tuesday this week, I wore a suit for the first time in a while (as shown in the picture, top left). It was worth it-- we got to roll out the new state-wide Conviction Review Unit here, which is housed in AG Keith Ellison's office. As a board member, I've been working on this for a while. You can read more about the project here.
The water heater went out yesterday, which has made things pretty interesting at my house. I took an ice-cold shower last night, and wondered why if it is 75 outside and 72 in the house, why the water in pipes is somehow 33 degrees.
But living in a dwelling comes with some kind of mess now and then, which only adds to the adventure of life. So let's haiku about that this week!
Here, I will go first:
So I took off the cap thing
Soon... steam everywhere!
Now it is your turn! Just use the 5/7/5 syllable pattern, and have some fun!
Political Mayhem Thursday: Resign already, Gov. Cuomo
The allegations of sexual harassment against New York Governor Andrew Cuomo seem well-founded and really disturbing. I mean, really-- forcing kisses on a State Trooper assigned to your detail???
Now it is coming out that the ham-handed cover-up was pretty unsavory, too, focused on smearing the women who accused him of misconduct. Nearly every Democrat in power, including President Biden, have called on Cuomo to resign.
That makes me proud to be a Democrat. Unlike Republicans in power who too often rally behind colleagues no matter how awful and grotesque (especially in regard to Donald Trump), there seems to at least sometimes be principles at work in how many Dems approach these issues.
Middle school is pretty tough for most of us. I had a special challenge, because through some quirk in the zoning, I ended up at a far-off middle school (Brownell) when most of my friends from elementary school went to a closer one (Parcells). I had five or six miles to travel to school every day, and when I got there I did not know more than a few people.
And, of course, I got into the same kind of trouble I did at other points of my education. Though I was a Christian (and still am!), I objected to the 10 Commandments posted in the hallway of the school. I tangled with my social studies teacher over his dubious takes on history. And I ran an underground newspaper which was ... well, you can imagine what an underground paper written, edited, and managed by a 7th grader would be like. At first I used carbon paper to make a few copies, and then after a few months I somehow managed to find a way to run it off on a mimeograph machine somewhere, allowing for a much larger print run. I would leave it in various corners of the school for people to find.
The underground paper eventually got a fair amount of notoriety and there was a lot of speculation as to the author. My secret seemed safe, though.
Until Mr. Taylor, one of my favorite teachers, pulled me aside during passing time. Once we were in his room, I knew that he had figured me out.
"I know about your paper," he said, as my heart stopped, sure I was about to be expelled (school administrations tend to be pretty thin-skinned about these things).
There was a moment as I awaited my fate.
"And you need to know something: You only capitalize what comes after a colon or a semi-colon if that would be a complete sentence on its own."
And then he clapped me on the shoulder, sent me on my way, and apparently never told anyone about my secret project.
If you want remarkable, up-to-date stats on the Coronavirus pandemic, get a subscription to the New York Times-- it is worth it.
Right now, though, that read is a little scary. There are more cases now than there were at any time up through October of last year, eight months into the pandemic.
The sad part is that we seemed to be on our way to winning. Things were going back to normal. And now we are headed the other way. Yesterday my school announced that vaccinations will be mandatory in the fall, and the University of Minnesota decided to require masks for class in the fall. Sigh. I really thought we were past this.
My favorite television show ever is probably The Sopranos (though if Spinal Tap had been given a variety show, that probably would have won out).
What I loved about the Sopranos was its willingness to let dialogue weave in and out over time, and the presence of silences. Sometimes there were moments that I still think about, and try to figure out.
The scene I remember most clearly came near the start of the sixth season of the show. Tony Soprano is in the hospital after nearly dying from a gunshot fired by his Uncle. While hospitalized he befriends two other patients. One is a rapper named Da Lux, who has been shot seven times. The other is a retired Bell Labs scientist named John Schwinn. The rapper was played by Lord Jamar of the group Brand Nubian. The retired scientist is played by legendary actor Hal Holbrook.
The three of them gather to watch a boxing match. Schwinn, who is nearing death, tells Tony that the boxers are actually the same thing. "Nothing is separate; everything is connected." Tony seems baffled, but the rapper seems to get it. "Everything is everything," he responds, nodding. (Perhaps not coincidentally, Brand Nubian's third album was titled "Everything is Everything).
There was something in that conversation that struck a chord with me. I have always sensed that if we are all products of the same God, we are all part of a whole. And those boxers-- without one another, they are not boxers. And those two things are connected; without one another, we are not of God. Creation is of more than just us.
To put it another way... we may just be leaves of grass in a green and verdant field. We are just leaves, yes, but we are what makes up that green and verdant field.
It is a thought that both humbles us and reveals our importance-- we are only part of a grand whole, but we are vital and essential and unique parts of a grand whole.