Late in the day yesterday, as I was biking home after going to the Minnesota-Rutgers game (because that is how you get home from a game in Minnesota) I came across the sign above in front of a church not too far from my home. I was intrigued by the part of the sign that said "Pastor _______" I thought that was an intriguing twist, and I thought it might be related to the yellow note on the sign next to the sailing cross.
And it was, in a way. The church is slated for demolition. It's a beautiful space, too:
What happened to this church, built in 1950?
Online, other than a few stories noting that it would be demolished for a housing or "mixed-use" development. What surprised me was I didn't find: any kind of obituary for the church, explaining a cause of death.
And that may be the saddest thing of all-- no one was left, or willing, to even explain what went wrong or how this elegant church, where people gathered for decades, ended up abandoned and-- soon-- demolished. Those are the saddest deaths, aren't they?
I've been reading the comics my whole life, though it makes me sad that they have made them smaller these days for some reason.
When I was a little kid, I came across an old Peanuts strip with three panels. In the first one, Charlie Brown is talking to Snoopy, saying "You dog." In the second one, with the same art, Charlie Brown says "You cur." and then in the last panel, he tells Snoopy "Oh, you dog." I've been thinking about that for half a century now, and I'm still not sure what it was about. I mean... was that funny? Or was there some deeper meaning? Or, was it just an off day for Charles Schultz?
Anyways, let's haiku about our well-drawn friends this week. Here, I will go first:
Snoopy was like me
Loved to dance and imagine
Did not seem owned.
Now it is your turn! Just use the 5/7/5 syllable pattern, and have some fun!
The Washington Post just ran a list of the 11 Scariest Places You Can Visit, which is a very questionable list. It includes the Fairmont Hotel in Banff, pictured above, which seems to be on the list because it might remind you of the hotel in a truly scary movie, "The Shining."
None of the most haunted places I've been were on the list. My own most haunted places would include the homes I lived in both in Grosse Pointe and Waco, the Landmark Inn in Marquette, Michigan, the Penobscot Building in Detroit, and IPLawGuy's Mazda CX-9, all of which are truly haunted by some ghosts who mean business-- probably of people who died in those respective places.
However, have you ever noticed how almost any government building seems haunted? You can start with state capitols from pretty much any state (except North Dakota, where the Capitol is a mid-sized office building in Bismarck with a DMV on the first floor) and immediately get a creeped-out vibe.
However, I would argue that the most haunted building I have ever been to is the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington DC, which is sometimes still referred to as the Old Executive Office Building or the "Creep Museum." It is next to the White House and holds offices for many entities within the Executive Office of the President, such as the Domestic Policy Council. It was built on the site of the White House stables from 1871 and 1888 and... well, let's stop right there. I mean, it took 17 years to build this thing, and in the middle of a pretty dark period of US history just after the Civil War and at the start of the Jim Crow era.
I've been there several times, including to the Vice President's Ceremonial Office, which is kind of the piece de resistance in terms of grandeur and haunted-ness. The has wide marble stairways, which seem perfect for ghosts to glide up and down. It has housed lonely vice-presidents, erratic secretaries of the Army and Navy, countless despondent bureaucrats, and thousands of beaten-down interns. How could it not be haunted? And it looks like this:
As we come up on the midterms, prognosticators are becoming more bullish on Republican wins at the national and state levels. Here in Minnesota, the Governor's and Attorney General races are very close, despite the success of the incumbents at, you know, doing their job.
There seem to be three key factors favoring Republicans, and they are all nonsense:
1) The unpopularity of Joe Biden
Let's start with Joe Biden. If you have been reading this blog, you know I'm not a fan-- he was about my last choice in the primary, and he has failed to meet even my very low expectations on the things I care most about. His clemency policy isn't really a policy at all, just vague signaling that leaves unaffected the 17,000+ people whose petitions sit without any action. BUT... Biden isn't on the ballot.
And inflation? It's laughable to think that inflation is driven by politics, at least in the short term (which is what we are facing). COVID-related supply disruptions, labor shortages, corporate profit-taking, the war in Ukraine and other things beyond our control are creating inflation. In fact, the one action the elected members of the federal government could take that would probably lower inflation would be to increase immigration, to lower labor costs-- but increasing immigration is something Republicans accuse Democrats of doing. And if Republicans had any plan to actually do something about inflation-- if they really thought politicians controlled it-- they would have a plan to do something. But they don't, because realistically they can't. Notably, you know where inflation is really bad? The UK, where conservatives control the government.
Oh, and crime? As I have noted before, it is going down-- way down of late here in Minneapolis. But the press doesn't report that, and people don't know it. At any rate, crime increased in 2020 and 2021 in blue and red cities and states alike, driven by forces bigger than politics.
The irony is that no matter who wins, crime and inflation will probably improve, because that is the way cycles work. But don't tell the politicians that.
The Washington Post has a fascinating report out on the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, which describes itself this way on its own website:
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is the world's largest organization of nutrition and dietetics practitioners founded in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1917, by a visionary group of women dedicated to helping the government conserve food and improve the public's health and nutrition during World War I. Today, the Academy represents more than 112,000 credentialed practitioners — registered dietitian nutritionists, nutrition and dietetics technicians, registered, and other food and nutrition professionals holding undergraduate and advanced degrees in nutrition and dietetics, and students — and is committed to improving health and advancing the profession of nutrition and dietetics through research, education and advocacy.
Members of the Academy play a key role in shaping the public's food choices, thereby improving its nutritional status, and in treating persons with illnesses or injuries. Members offer preventive and medical nutrition therapy services in a variety of settings.
Sounds good, right? But the full picture is a lot more complicated. It turns out that a lot of the Academy is funded by companies that make junk food-- they got over $4 million from companies including Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Nestle, Hershey, Kellogg's and ConAgra. They took money from entities literally names the "Sugar Association" and the "Corn Refiners Association."
The Academy, of course, claims that these financial supporters have no influence over their work.
But one wonders... why do they give so much money?
I watched all of the Star Wars movies, though I was never a hard-core fan. Some of the acting was just terrible, and all the light-saber fighting got pretty tiresome after a while.
The most interesting part of it, though, was the theology. A few of the theological points, about balance and fear.
On fear, Yoda tells Anakin Skywalker "Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering." It's true. And out politics have become much too rooted in fear. I see it in my own field, as those running for office are stoking the fear of crime for political gain even as crime is going down (at least here in Minneapolis). And that fear, as intended, does lead to hate-- and too often, racial hatred. And yes, that leads to suffering. Nothing good comes of it, and it does nothing to actually solve the problem of crime. Jesus said "Fear not," and that is pretty good advice.
The idea of "balance" is at the center of the Star Wars theology; bad things happen when there is an imbalance in "the force." I think about that a lot, though it is not a central part of Christian theology. It is a part of many religions and philosophies, though--think of the ying-yang. It does appear in a passage of the Bible that speaks to me, though: Micah 6:8 tells us to seek justice, show mercy, and walk humbly with our God. Justice and mercy are in tension within my world; the key is to humbly seek balance between them.
For what it is worth, Jar-Jar Binks plays no role in my thinking, ever.
One thing that cracks me up is when someone reacts to something I write by commenting "I don't remember you criticizing Obama about this!" when if they had done a four-second Google search they would have found me doing exactly that in the New York Times and Washington Post. Most of my writing on politics, actually, has been critical of my fellow Democrats. That is, I think, because I expect something good from them, and I'm so disappointed when they don't deliver.
I never really expected much from Joe Biden, who never was much for criminal justice reform (despite being our only president, I think, who had worked as a public defender). Still, he has managed to not even meet my low expectations. As I explained a few weeks ago, his clemency grants have been mostly symbolic.
Yesterday, I addressed his troubling U-turn on the death penalty in an essay published at The Hill, which you can read here (it wasn't my only piece out yesterday; I also had an op-ed in the Minneapolis Star Tribune on the County Attorney's race, which you can read here).
I'm hoping that Biden will get more focused on these things (or at least his staff will) after the midterms, but I fear he will not.
Yesterday I gave a lunchtime talk at my school about crime in Minneapolis. It was a wonderfully broad subject so I had a lot of fun, and there were a ton of questions afterwards.
It's always worth it to break out of the same old lectures and try something new. I loved to see new faces in the audience, too-- some of whom will be in my 1L Criminal Law class in the Spring.
I started out with something that people don't think about often: That the criminal justice project is innately in tension with freedom. In other words, criminal laws restrict what people are otherwise able to do. I think such laws are necessary, but in a freedom-loving society we must be careful only to criminalize things and restrict the freedom of individuals when that actually solves a problem.
I love Fall. And I love the food of fall-- cider, pumpkin pie, caramel in everything. And nothing says "Autumn" to me quite like apple crisp. So here's a recipe! I got this one from the Chunky Chef, a site I recommend for the kind of food you really want to eat rather than just look at. Also, don't try to substitute Honey-Nut Cheerios or something for the oats. Trust me on that.
6golden delicious apples, peeled and chopped(other varieties can be used, can also be sliced)
1 3/4tspground cinnamon,divided
1 1/2tsplemon juice
1cuplight brown sugar
3/4cupold fashioned oats
1/2cupcold unsalted butter, diced into small cubes
pinch of kosher salt
Preheat oven to 350 F degrees. Butter an 8×8 baking dish, or spray with non-stick cooking spray. Set aside.
a mixing bowl, add chopped apples, granulated sugar, 3/4 tsp of the
cinnamon and lemon juice. Stir to combine, then transfer to prepared
a separate mixing bowl, add topping ingredients (brown sugar, oats,
flour, 1 tsp cinnamon, salt, and diced cold butter). Use a pastry
cutter to cut the butter into the oat mixture, using a slight downward
twisting motion, until mixture resembled pea-sized crumbs.
Alternatively, you can use two forks or even your hands to cut butter
into the mixture.
Spread topping over apples in baking dish, and gently pat to even it out. Bake 40-50 minutes, until golden brown and bubbly.
This was a week where I shifted gears a little. At work, I carved out time to write-- which means I closed my door, got deep into the words, and lost myself a little in the subject. I walk around and mutter and then type some more.
And then there was some time in the woods. Minnesota is good that way.
It's common for people to talk about that kind of escape as getting closer to God. Of course, God is there wherever you go, and whatever you are doing. You don't control God, after all. Perhaps it could be that when we escape we have more ability to perceive God, but that doesn't speak well to what we are doing the rest of the time, does it?
But I do know that life is meant to have cycles, long ones and short ones, and that rhythm between engagement and escape is something writ into our blood.
I wasn't there, but Lizzo came back to Minneapolis for what was reported to be a fantastic show this week. I really like her music and her positivity. And I love the way she works with this band (which kind of reminds me of Fleetwood Mac and the USC Marching band perfoming Tusk, which you can see here, complete with Stevie Nicks doing baton tricks).
Yesterday, a jury in Connecticut ordered "Infowars" host Alex Jones to pay $965 million to the families of children killed in the Sandy Hook school shooting.
Jones had repeatedly, to a big audience, told a big huge lie: that the shooting was faked and was all a ploy by gun law advocates. He described the grieving parents as actors, and he mocked them repeatedly for years.
And people believed it, because it aligned with their political beliefs, and someone in the media was saying it over and over.
This wasn't someone being wrong about a policy or a slip of the tongue. It was a factual lie-- a set of lies, really-- that he repeated over and over. And those lies caused some of his listeners to try to find the parents and harass them.
It wasn't a criminal act. But some of the very worst things people do are not criminal acts. That's one problem with having your own personal values determined simply by what is legal.
There is something happening in our society and our politics right now that is making Big Huge Lies a regular part of discourse, and that may a really terrible sign for our democracy.
It's taken me a while to warm up to the University of Minnesota. It's not that I have a problem with state schools-- I went to one, after all--but it's just hard to hedge on my lifelong allegiance to the University of Michigan. Yeah, I never attended Michigan. It's just always been my favorite team.
But, Michigan doesn't have a mascot, which is ridiculous. Think of the fun you could have with a vicious wolverine! But, no, they take things too seriously for any such tomfoolery.
But Goldy Gopher has drawn me in. I trust Goldy. Plus, he's a happy gopher, not a moody violence-prone mammal like Bucky Badger.
A strange thing happened this week. President Biden granted some pardons for those convicted of marijuana possession (usually a misdemeanor or less) and some media people called me to help explain. One of them was PBS NewsHour, a show I like, and who I have talked to before. Here is the clip:
The weird thing about this one was how many people saw it! I heard from friends from childhood, people from college, many of my students at Baylor and people from here in Minnesota that they had seen it-- which gave me a chance to catch up with many of them.
So many people enter (and sometimes leave) our lives, and in their own way I think that each one changes us some little bit or more. For some of those who reached out-- like Hulitt Gloer-- the truth is that they changed my life in a big and positive way.
In Luke 17, Jesus heals 10 people of leprosy, and only one comes back to thank him. Too often in my life, I have been one of those other nine; I have failed to recognize and honor those who have been so good to me. I hope to do better at that. This was a good chance to start that process.
It's October, which is not only my favorite month, but also the spookiest. The perfect music for this time of year is French pop, which often sounds like vampire music. For example, check out this classic from Vincent Delerm:
In her excellent book "Prisoners of Politics," Rachel Barkow describes the troubling dynamic between the press, the public, and crime. In short, media sensationalism about crime convinces people that crime is always high, even when that is not true. It's how the media works: crime occurring is news. Crime not occurring is not news. So they will report on the datum of a single incident without describing the data that shows how common or rare that occurrence might be.
The folks at Pew Research have measured this and describe the odd dynamic this way:
Americans tend to believe crime is up, even when the data shows it is down. In 20 of 24 Gallup surveys conducted since 1993, at least 60% of U.S. adults have said there is more crime nationally than there was the year before, despite the generally downward trend in national violent and property crime rates during most of that period.
One problem with this media-driven delusion is that people live in fear needlessly, prodded on by politicians who critique incumbents of whatever party as ineffective because people think crime is "out of control."
Here in Minneapolis, things are getting better regarding violent crime. The two firmest measures of violent crime are homicides (it's hard to avoid a dead body) and shots fired report in places (like Minneapolis) that have an acoustic "shot-spotter" system. Looking at that, the news is really good: Comparing the last month here with the same time period in 2021, homicides are down over 33% and shots fired are down over 31%, according to the city's crime dashboard. For the year to date compared to the same period last year, homicides are down 18% and shots fired are down about 15%. That's great news. It's also a really dramatic decrease.
But no one is reporting it. I reached out to some people to pitch the idea, but... nothing came of it.
A while ago I was thinking of using my vocational knowledge to write a children's book about the mischievous FNU LNU, who sneaks into a kid's house and commits various felonies, told through a series of indictments. It hasn't gone anywhere. Neither have these ideas I threw out there:
1) Green Eggs and Crack
this illustrated future classic, a hapless citizen is the recipient of
endless offers of free crack by a shady character known only as "Son of
Sam I Am." This will bring new meaning to classic phrases like "would
you, could you, on a boat?"
2) Frog and Toad are Felons "Good morning, Frog." "Good morning, Toad." "Would you like to hold up a convenience store?" Toad looked up. "I suppose," he said.
3) The Berenstain Bears and the Messy Execution!
the ageless bears are hired to conduct lethal injections in Texas. As
one might expect, mayhem ensues until wise old Mr. Abbott arrives to put
everything back in order.
4) The Runaway Bunny and the U.S. Marshal
Bunny is a parole violator! Luckily, an important community helper is
there to gun down Baby Bunny when he appears to be reaching for a
metallic object once he is cornered after a high-speed chase.
5) Charlotte's Web of Conspiracy
the pig is living an unremarkable life on the farm until he meets
Charlotte, a spider whose unusual ideas lead to several overt acts and
the eventual indictment of all the barnyard friends.
6) James and the Giant Bong
James' friend Lil' Wayne has a special and amazing surprise for James!
Of course, some of the best stuff has already been done:
IPLawGuy tipped me off to the most awesome story of the week, and perhaps the millennium: The Onion submitted an amicus brief to the Supreme Court, in a case involving the nature of parody where someone was prosecuted for making fun of the police on Facebook. You can, and should, read it here.
At issue is something important: the doctrine of qualified immunity that protects police officers from legal consequences when they violate rights. The police of Parma, Ohio, arrested Anthony Novak for creating a parody police department facebook page. Novak was tried for "disrupting public service" but was acquitted by a jury. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals held that the doctrine of qualified immunity protected the police from the civil suit that Novak had filed against them, and now Novak is urging (with the support of the Onion) that the Supreme Court take the case.
The Onion's brief begins this way, describing the "interests of amicus curiae":
The Onion is the world’s leading news publication,
offering highly acclaimed, universally revered coverage of breaking national, international, and local news
events. Rising from its humble beginnings as a print
newspaper in 1756, The Onion now enjoys a daily readership of 4.3 trillion and has grown into the single most
powerful and influential organization in human history.
In addition to maintaining a towering standard of
excellence to which the rest of the industry aspires,
The Onion supports more than 350,000 full- and part-time journalism jobs in its numerous news bureaus
and manual labor camps stationed around the world,
and members of its editorial board have served with
distinction in an advisory capacity for such nations as
China, Syria, Somalia, and the former Soviet Union.
On top of its journalistic pursuits, The Onion also owns
and operates the majority of the world’s transoceanic
shipping lanes, stands on the nation’s leading edge on
matters of deforestation and strip mining, and proudly
conducts tests on millions of animals daily.
And really gets going in this passage:
Parodists can take
apart an authoritarian’s cult of personality, point out
the rhetorical tricks that politicians use to mislead
their constituents, and even undercut a government
institution’s real-world attempts at propaganda.
Farah, 736 F.3d at 536 (noting that the point of parody
is to “censure the vices, follies, abuses, or shortcomings
of an individual or society”) (cleaned up).
Time and again, that’s what has occurred with The
Onion’s news stories. In 2012, for example, The Onion
proclaimed that Kim Jong-un was the sexiest man
alive. China’s state-run news agency republished
The Onion’s story as true alongside a slideshow of the
dictator himself in all his glory. The Fars Iranian
News Agency uncritically picked up and ran with The
Onion’s headline “Gallup Poll: Rural Whites Prefer
Ahmadinejad To Obama.” Domestically, the number of
elected leaders who are still incapable of parsing The
Onion’s coverage as satire is daunting, but one particular example stands out: Republican Congressman
John Fleming, who believed that he needed to warn his
constituents of a dangerous escalation of the pro-choice movement after reading The Onion’s headline
“Planned Parenthood Opens $8 Billion Abortionplex.”