Rants, mumbling, repressed memories, recipes, and haiku from a professor at the University of St. Thomas Law School.
Thursday, March 31, 2022
Political Mayhem Thursday: The Biden Performance
A year and two months into the Biden presidency, we've seen this administration deal with a lot: the pandemic, inflation, a sudden war in Europe, and a Supreme Court vacancy. In dealing with these crises, there have been no real disasters, and some very bright spots.
Internationally, he seems to be threading the needle between supporting Ukraine and not getting directly involved in the war. Certainly, his tour of Europe featured some of his trademark gaffes (it probably was not great to label Putin a war criminal, and definitely a slip to mention that the US is training Ukrainian troops in Poland), but he also seems to have played a strong role in rallying-- and basically re-forming-- NATO.
He made a great choice for the Supreme Court, and I think that is pretty evident to all by now. KBJ presented herself very well during a trying confirmation hearing, and certainly does not seem to be some kind of radical. I look forward to seeing her on the court. To the administration's credit (and particularly the White House Counsel), she seemed very well prepared for the hearings.
On domestic issues, it is more of a mixed bag. The receding of the pandemic didn't seem to have much to do with administrative action, and we are primed to get caught flat-footed if a new variant surges. On the economy... well, the President, any president, doesn't do much to control short-term economic shifts, and the jolt in energy prices is tied to international events, not domestic policy. (The fiction that if we opened up federal land to drilling, then companies would rush in tomorrow and start pumping is ludicrous-- any benefit would come in years, not months).
The big disappointment with Biden, sadly, is in the area I care most about. He has completely ignored criminal policy to the point of negligence. He hasn't appointed a single member of the sentencing commission, which has been without a quorum for four years. He hasn't appointed a pardon attorney. Despite a backlog of 18,000+ petitions, he has failed to grant-- or even deny-- a single one. And the administration has failed to lead in even the simplest reforms of policing or sentencing. I'm very disappointed in this abrogation of an important responsibility.
While watching the women's Elite 8 games, I noticed a little blurb on the bottom of the screen that Joan Joyce had died. People may not recognize the name, but she was one of the greatest of the pre-Title IX female athletes in the US.
Her principle sport was softball, where she was a dominant pitcher for the Raybestos Brakettes, winning the World Championship over Japan in 1974. Among other exhibitions of fast-pitch prowess, she not only struck out Ted Williams, but blew a bunch of additional pitches by him as well. She had a 753-42 win-loss record and once pitched 229 consecutive scoreless innings. She had a career ERA of .090 and a batting average of .327.
And that wasn't her only sport. In basketball, playing for Connecticut in the pre-NCAA days, she scored 67 points in one game and averaged 30 a game while making All-American.
At age 35, while still playing softball, she took up golf and within two years was playing in the LPGA. She played as a pro for 20 years, up to age 55.
Sadly, none of this paid her much, despite being one of the best athletes of her time, male or female. She worked as a travel agent, among other things.
If you wait long enough, everything ends up being about criminal law. Everything.
Even the Oscars, it turns out. On Sunday night, Chris Rock-- the host, for some reason-- told a joke about Will Smith's wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. Then Will Smith went onto the stage and smacked Rock.
It was definitely weird. It sure looked like it might be staged, and both Rock and Smith have plenty of experience with stage battle. But... then Smith started dropping f-bombs as he yelled at Rock. So maybe not.
-- It definitely was a simple assault or battery as defined in most jurisdictions (though I don't know California law on this), which is usually a misdemeanor. And, of course, it is often not charged at all; people get in a fight and no one cares too much.
-- You can imagine that if an usher making $17 an hour had been the one to go up and smack Chris Rock, he would have been hauled off and probably charged. So there's that.
-- The thing that bugged me the most about the whole thing was a statement by the LA police department that Rock had declined to file a police report, so nothing would happen. It's a variation on the myth that criminal cases happen when victims decide to "file charges." Let's be clear: prosecutors file charges (or seek them from a Grand Jury), not victims. Back in the 1700's before there were public prosecutors, cases did begin with a victim complaint, but that has been in the past for a long time. This myth is used by prosecutors to avoid accountability for hard choices, sadly.
Sunday Reflection: The facturing of the Orthodox Church
Among the casualties of the war in Ukraine has been the Eastern Orthodox Church. Of the 260 million Orthodox Christians in the world, about 100 million are in Russia. Their leader, Patriarch Kirill, is a close ally of Vladimir Putin and an advocate of the war. He sees the conflict as necessary to push back against a decadent West that has (among other things) accepted homosexuality.
Outside of Russia, of course, the Russian war is much less popular, including among Orthodox Christians. And it is especially messy in Ukraine itself, which is split between the Russian Orthodox and a Ukrainian Orthodox sect.
I'm baffled, of course, how this war could be justified by Christians of any stripe. But sadly our people have been justifying this kind of thing for a very long time.
The news is so urgent and tragic and uplifting and weird these days-- it's demanding a lot of my attention. The war in Ukraine, the confirmation hearings, March Madness, the lingering pandemic, etc. etc. etc. Let's haiku about all that (or at least some of it) this week! Here, I will go first:
Cruz, Booker, Hawley
All running for president
One is likeable.
Now it is your turn! Just use the 5/7/5 syllable pattern, and have some fun!
I had the chance yesterday to listen to the confirmation hearings for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, who has been nominated by President Biden for the Supreme Court. I thought she was really impressive, even when dealing with some stupidity emanating from both sides. Oh, yeah, Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley were grandstanding and their points about who she defended are repugnant-- any real Constitutionalist wants those accused of crimes to be represented well. And the argument about child porn cases leads to a discussion that needs to be had-- but not that way! The sentences are out-of-whack; as I have pointed out before, the guidelines for possession of child porn are often higher than those for actually abusing a child sexually, and that's backwards.
The Democrats disappointed me, too. Asking her leading softball questions and asking her to agree robbed her of the chance to show her real intelligence.
While listening, I found that I have been called to testify in front of a US House committee in a few weeks about clemency. I would be wise to take some pointers from Judge Jackson in calm demeanor!
Yeah, I care about the tournament. And this year has been pretty interesting.
Both Baylor teams are out. The men were a #1 seed and lost in the second round to North Carolina, an 8 seed. The women were a #2 seed, and lost in round two to South Dakota, a 10 seed-- a real upset, and the first time in over a decade that the women did not make it to the sweet sixteen.
Michigan, an 11 seed, is in to the sweet sixteen somehow, and there is the improbable matchup of an 11 seed v. a 10 seed as Iowa State faces Miami this coming weekend.
It doesn't really matter. But it is a good distraction from all the war and yucky politics, etc. etc. etc. ....
The painting above was done in 1560 by the Spanish artist Luis de Morales, who was also known as "El Divino." It shows Jesus at rest.
There is a cross behind him (somewhat subtly) and a hammer and nails at his feet. When I saw the painting yesterday at the Minnesota Institute of Art I took the hammer and nails to be the tools of a carpenter, of his trade. It struck me as a depiction of Jesus resting after a day of real work, with his fate alluded to in the background.
The official description beside the painting, though, said this:
With legs crossed and chin cupped in hand, Luis de Morales’s Jesus is both regal and melancholic. He sits among the instruments of his torture and death: the column to which he was tied during the Flagellation and the cross that he carried and to which he was nailed. But rather than recreating the narrative of his sufferings, the painting shows Christ removed from those events, meditating on the objects that had inflicted his pain. As such he serves as a model and mirror image for the pious beholder of the painting.
I'll be honest: I like my take better. Perhaps I am not a "pious beholder of the painting," but I'm ok with that. What is deeply compelling to me about Jesus is not just the divine but the human within him, the sense that the things we feel-- hunger, joy, the good tiredness after a day of work-- were things that he felt in a very physical and spiritual way. Here was a savior who knew what it meant to build a house.
God is in this world and understands the happiness and hardships we feel. The Jesus in the painting, the one I see, offers more reassurance of that than any theologian's missive.
It's kinda sorta maybe looking like Spring might someday arrive. In Minnesota, that means that the snowbanks start to recede. They might not be completely gone until May, but... the process has started.
Let's haiku about that this week-- the hints of Spring and hope. Here, I will go first:
It is just the sun
But it stays with us later
And warms up my heart.
Now it is your turn! Just use the 5/7/5 syllable pattern, and have some fun!
Political Mayhem Thursday: Brittney Griner, hostage
One of the world's best basketball players, Brittney Griner, remains a hostage in Russia. She was detained there while traveling between the US and Russia-- an understandable trip given that she plays in both places. The real money, too, is over there; while Griner makes a little more than $200,000 a year in the WNBA, she makes over a million dollars a year playing for Yekaterinburg UMMC in Russia.
Supposedly, she had a vape pen that contained a detectable amount of hashish oil. Not such a big deal; that would normally only be a ticket offense in the US, even when traveling through an international airport. But these are strange times.
I find it odd that this is not a bigger deal. Griner was a huge star at Baylor and then playing for Phoenix in the WNBA, and played a big role in the USA winning two Olympic gold medals. It could be, of course, that those trying to get her free are trying to avoid publicity on the case-- sometimes that is the right call.
Or maybe people just don't care so much. I hope that is not the case.
The NCAA basketball tournaments are some of my favorite annual sports traditions. Do I fill out a bracket? Yes! Do I know what I am doing? Certainly not!
Oddly, the year my bracket did best was the one time I made judgement calls strictly on which team was the better academic institution (I think it must have been a year that Duke, Stanford, and UCLA did well). In subsequent years, that turned out to be a complete bust, so I have turned to actually analyzing the teams, relying on my gut, and guessing.
This year's #1 seeds are an interesting bunch: Gonzaga, Kansas, Arizona, and Baylor. Intriguingly, two of the top seeds are small-to-middling private schools not named "Duke," which is a rarity. The Gonzaga story is particularly compelling. Coach Mark Few has made a little Catholic school out West a leader.
I'm curious about this portrait, which hangs at the Minnesota Institute of Arts. Did this lady commission the portrait? Was she happy with how it turned out? Does it matter to her that she seems a little... crabby?
We all have a self-image that is, at best, partly right. I've known people who are least confident about the things they are best at, and other who are convinced they are great at something where... they're not. And, at times, I have fit into both groups.
I've always struggled with the idea that we are made in the image of God. That can't mean literally-- that we look like God. Of course, though, Christ did look like us. But I don't think it refers to anything that shallow-- just physical appearance. It must be something deeper, connected to an identity we can never quite place. Do you know that feeling, that there is a part of you that you don't know? Perhaps it is that-- the unknowable within us.
This week was Spring Break-- and time for my annual ski trip with IPLawGuy. This year we went to Sun Valley, Idaho, a beautiful and remote place. The facilities are so nice and the crowds so small that our theory is that the whole thing must be some kind of money-laundering operation. Big mountain, fast lifts, no lines-- go figure!
It's also a kind of quirky place. Ernest Hemingway lived there (and died there, by suicide). It was developed as a resort by the Union Pacific Railroad, which was already going through the area (to the south of Sun Valley). The world's first chairlifts were installed there in 1936, and supposedly it is the birthplace of the Hokey Pokey. Really.
At any rate, we had a blast-- and it was a good break from the grind of the Spring semester, which can be a little overwhelming. I find myself smiling when I am skiing well, sometimes even singing a bit, and that's all good.
It turns out that former GOP member of Congress and Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows voted in North Carolina based on his residence being the mobile home pictured above-- which apparently he never lived in (and why would he, when he already owned a $1.6 million home in South Carolina?).
A world without Covid will still be shaped by Covid....
Sometimes the people who really struggle aren't recognized as struggling.
And that's going to be one legacy of Covid, I think-- that we are going to have a society full of people who have gone through trauma, but who keep it hidden.
Here are some other long-term effects I suspect we will see:
-- Church attendance will plummet. There is no real audit yet, but I can see the effect that Covid had on many churches. Some people will respond "My church is doing great!" That's good, but I don't think it is typical. This reduction in religious adherence will have some negative affects on the larger society (and, I'm sure, some positive ones).
-- Our lives will continue to be more insular. Our instinct to form social groups feels stunted right now, and I don't know if it will fully return.
-- Zoom is here forever. Get used to it. Sigh. But at least it is better than the dysfunctional devil child that is Microsoft Meetings.
-- A lot of kids basically lost a year of school. It hit the poorest kids the worst, too. We will see the effects of this for a long, long time.
I love maps, and I have always loved maps. As a kid on long car trips I often spent hours in the back of our VW van poring over AAA maps that explained how the world around me fit together. I still keep an atlas close at hand at home to assess locations when they come up in conversation or while writing. It fascinates me that Detroit, for example, is north of both Canada and a bit of Virginia.
Ukraine is in a fascinating in-between place, directly north of Turkey and astride Europe and Asia. It has a neighbor, Transnistria, that isn't really a country, but isn't part of one, either. And it has great national colors.
Of course, it is threatened now with non-existence. The tragedy builds each day, and I find myself checking on the news in a way I haven't done since the early months of the Trump administration.
I think there are three possible outcomes based on the current situation:
1) Russia conquers all of Ukraine and subjugates it by installing a friendly government or even by annexing it. If it chooses the former, that friendly government will face instant and overwhelming protest, meaning that if it is to last Russia would have to keep troops there in large number, with consistent losses.
2) A peace deal is brokered that divides up Ukraine in some way-- say, by having it split into pro-Russian nation or Russian territory in the East, and Ukraine in the West. This, too, might be unstable-- and would reward Russian aggression.
3) Ukraine manages to make the war so costly that Russia retreats, claiming some kind of symbolic victory. This would be the best result for the world order-- but also seems to be the least likely.
As I expected the poems about war were extraordinary. Thank you all.
This from Desiree:
My mom lived through war. She sat in the bomb shelter with her doll, Frieda.
Dad in Viet Nam. For R&R he wanted to see wife and kids.
No M*A*S*H at our house. Friends said it was weird, but folks said, “war’s not funny”
From my dad:
Children and soldiers usually think war is a shitty idea
But they will always have a sense of duty to pick up arms when asked
I have watched the pain in soldier's faces when the TV declares WAR
They all put their hands on their hearts but don't join those celebrating
From Jill Scoggins (and, by the way, I often tell the story of George Washington mustering the militias to fight against the Whiskey Rebellion, and then leading them as President):
There would be many fewer wars if those who start them had to fight them.
And from Christine (with postscript):
Scars of war run deep A burden carried alone Things can't be unseen
have a number of friends (past and present) who have served during
wartime. WW2 (Europe, POW and in the Pacific, Vietnam and the various
Gulf Wars.their reaction is similar - they do not speak of the
atrocities they witnessed. Knowing this truth makes me weep inside for
those who serve and those who are caught in the crossfires of war. While
we can support them, we can never truly understand. Watching a
sanitized newsreel and being there are two different experiences.
On Monday and Tuesday, I gave three presentations at a fantastic conference on reconciliation at Baylor. I got to connect with many old friends and make some new ones, and enjoy the amazing discussions that Bob Darden and Dr. Mia Moody-Ramirez facilitated. Then I got back to Minnesota, taught for 3.5 hours on Thursday (which is a long time to lecture), and then got up early Friday to give a paper about the Trump clemencies at a conference at William and Mary via Zoom. Right after that, I testified in the MN House on a bill to reform clemency here, then had a meeting with the County Attorney's office about measures to address rising violence in Minneapolis. Then there was a student meeting, a call with an advocacy group's leader about a second-chance sentencing proposal, and then a long call with a pro bono client in prison. Then I kind of collapsed in a heap.
Next week is Spring Break... just in time.
Bob Darden once told me that I had to practice saying no to things, and he might have a point. But which of those things would I have said no to? And-- and this is important-- how lucky am I to have these be the things that fill up my days? I'm blessed beyond anything I might deserve.
War is a hard thing to see-- but we need to realize what is going on. We only see a little of the full tragedy, of course.
Some of us have been touched directly by war, some of us not. Yet it is something we all must grapple with as we consider which wars might be justified and deserve our support, and which (or all) deserve our condemnation.
Let's haiku about this strangest of human constants this week. Here, I will go first:
Explosives can do
Only one thing: separate
What was together.
Now it is your turn. Use the 5/7/5 syllable pattern and lay it down.
I've read that Putin expected the war in Ukraine to last only three days at most. Now, a week in, it is clear that will not be true. Russian forces are failing to accomplish their objectives across the country as civilians and soldiers work together to make the invasion harder for the invaders. The street above shows one tactic that has been effective: making barriers in the street for an invaders who choose to go that way.
It seems to be working. But what comes next?
In short, Russia will either win or lose. If they win the war, though, what will come next? It seems that the Ukrainians are really motivated to oppose the Russians, and Ukraine will be a very difficult place to occupy-- if it comes to that.
And we aren't hearing this much, but it might not come to that. Ukraine may keep Russia out of most of their own territory. The Russian troops do not seem particularly motivated, and appear to be giving up in some areas pretty consistently. Many reports reflect a cruel twist: many of the young Russian soldiers had no idea they were being staged for a war when they reported for duty at exercises in Belarus and other areas on the border with Ukraine.
Now we watch from afar, and hope and pray that we have seen the worst of it.
Last night I was out with friends after my talk at Baylor, and was surprised at just how many people were out and about and pretty drunk for a Tuesday. Then I realized-- it was Fat Tuesday, and apparently we are back to celebrating Mardi Gras.
And I suppose it is about time, right? We have been cooped up for two years now, pretty much. No, the pandemic isn't over. But restrictions are lifting, and it is going to be hard to go the other way if the virus strikes back in some new permutation. But with a growing war threatening, perhaps the virus doesn't seem quite so important.
Of course, nature will have the last word on that!