Category Archives: Uncategorized

When The Only Word That Means Anything Is The “Hat”

It seems unfair to stop reading after the first sentence, or clause, anticipating that what will follow will be a string of words that means nothing. And it gives pause. What is it that this is meaningful to others, but it reads as insanely nonsensical jargon that means absolutely nothing to me? Is it wrong? Am I not getting it? Are they nuts? Am I?

This isn’t a new phenomenon.

Many years ago, the great British neurologist Oliver Sacks, a man with a flair for subtle observations and the clear prose to describe them, wrote a book about strange cases of mental confusion he had encountered. Its title seizes your attention instantly: The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat.

The title was no joke, nor was the man in question blind. His eyes registered the colors and the contours of his wife, but his mind had lost the capacity to interpret the messages correctly. The poor woman had to endure having her husband grasp her head with both hands as if to lift her and place her atop his head.

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PENsplaining Away The First Amendment

Free speech on campus is doing fine. Wait, better than fine. Great. You didn’t know that? Well, that’s why the august writers’ organization, PEN America, is here to explain it to you.

The conventional wisdom surrounding American college life these days views campuses as hotbeds of intolerance for free speech, with students themselves leading the charge.

But a new report by PEN America, to be released on Monday, questions that story line while warning of a different danger: a growing perception among young people that cries of “free speech” are too often used as a cudgel against them.

The report, titled “And Campus for All: Diversity, Inclusion and Freedom of Speech at U.S. Universities,” covers a broad range of hot-button topics, including trigger warnings, microaggressions, safe spaces and controversial campus speakers. While it cites “troubling incidents of speech curtailed,” it finds no “pervasive” crisis.

The organization, which purports to exist to “fight for freedom of expression,” tell us to chill out about all the wild and crazy things the kids are doing on campus. It’s all good. Continue reading

The Price of Logic (In The Age of Emotion)

If you’re in that lower half of the socioeconomic spectrum, you ought to be outraged by the slur to your intelligence reflected by Caroline Kitchener’s post in The Atlantic.

While law schools are steadily becoming more racially and ethnically diverse, they remain overwhelmingly upper-middle class. Only 5 percent of students at elite law schools come from families that fall in the bottom half of the socioeconomic spectrum—a number that has hardly changed since the 1960s. The Logic Games section contributes to this lack of socioeconomic diversity.

Calling it the logic “games” suggests that’s just another ploy of the elites to keep the maginalized down. After all, it’s a game. It games law school admissions. And as the post URL says, the game is “rigged,” a word that’s bandied about a lot lately. So what is this “Logic Game”?

As soon as I told my friends and family about my plans to take the LSAT, the standardized law-school admissions test, people started warning me about one particular set of questions. Analytical Reasoning, or “Logic Games,” is a section that tests your ability to order and group information. The questions are written to seem accessible and unintimidating—they ask you to analyze combinations of ice-cream flavors or animals in a zoo—but, every year, they stop tens of thousands of applicants from attending top law schools.

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Grace And The Bloodless Coup

The third and final debate between the presidential candidates went off as expected, with each side certain that their candidate was obviously the winner, rationalizing the flaws and ridiculing the opponent’s, but for one huge distinction. As the New York Times’ headline screams:

Trump Won’t Say if He Will Accept Election Results

Instead, he will keep America in suspense. As for the suspense part, few will lose sleep wondering how this will turn out. I don’t think suspense means what he thinks it does.

There is no constitutional duty to concede. There is no law that dictates that the loser of an election give a speech, a press release, anything, congratulating the winner and, something, something, ‘Murica. Whether or not Trump “accepts” the election results isn’t, in itself, of any importance whatsoever. The results are no different if he accepts them or not. Results are results, and if he chooses to be the whiny bitch of the election, this is America and he’s totally allowed.

The concession speech is an American tradition. It’s an act of graciousness that serves to put the animosity of the campaign behind us and move forward for the sake of the nation.  The calm after the storm may not last long, but for a few moments, we rise above the partisan bickering that has served our nation so well, and so poorly, to remember why we do this at all. Continue reading

Sotomayor’s Baseball Bat

When President Obama nominated then-Second Circuit judge, Sonia Sotomayor, to the Supreme Court of the United States, some of us were more than a little dubious about the selection. She wasn’t exactly an empathetic Latina on the bench in Foley Square. We were wrong about her, to a large extent, and while she isn’t exactly the godsend to the constitutional rights of criminal defendants we had hoped, she’s the best we have at One First.

But she’s no Nino Scalia.

While celebrating civility in public discourse on Monday night, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor joked she had thought about hitting her deceased colleague Antonin Scalia with a baseball bat due to their differences in opinion.

The 62-year-old Obama appointee told a group of University of Minnesota she wasn’t always quick to tolerate her coworker’s conservative views. Continue reading

Fear of Flying

Sonnet Stanfill is a curator in textiles and fashion at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. It’s an important position, but it’s not the director of the museum, which gives rise to her gripe:

In 2015, the world’s top 12 art museums as based on attendance — what I call the “directors’ dozen” — were all led by men. When Frances Morris became the director of the Tate Modern in April, she became the first woman to join the club. This gender gap extends from Europe to North America, where only five of the 33 directors of the most prominent museums (those with operating budgets of more than $20 million) are women, including Kaywin Feldman of the Minneapolis Institute of Art and Nathalie Bondil of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. It’s the leaders of those big-budget institutions who set the tone for all.

Simple statistics have become proof of gender discrimination, which makes perfect sense if one assumes, ceteris paribus, male and female (excluding, as Stanfill does, the existence of other underrepresented genders) to be equal. There can be no other explanation, because any other explanation is inherently sexist. Sexist discussion is not allowed.

The top three art museums have never been run by a woman. The Louvre, the British Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art are treasure-filled, international destinations.

This isn’t possible, under permissible discussion, except as a product of discrimination. And it’s not for lack of qualified candidates. Continue reading

Don’t Schmerber Me, Bro

The Supreme Court held in 1966 that the taking of your blood wasn’t a violation of the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in Schmerber v. California. So what’s a fingerprint between friends?

FORBES found a court filing, dated May 9 2016, in which the Department of Justice sought to search a Lancaster, California, property. But there was a more remarkable aspect of the search, as pointed out in the memorandum: “authorization to depress the fingerprints and thumbprints of every person who is located at the SUBJECT PREMISES during the execution of the search and who is reasonably believed by law enforcement to be the user of a fingerprint sensor-enabled device that is located at the SUBJECT PREMISES and falls within the scope of the warrant.”

Well, there is a “reasonably” thrown in, so what’s the problem? That mere presence in what the warrant delightfully calls the “SUBJECT PREMISES” means they get to pinch your print, because…reasons. The government notes that it must reasonably believe the person to “be the user of a fingerprint sensor-enabled device,” which means only that the finger that goes with the phone gets nabbed. What it does not explain is why they should get to go into the phone in the first place. Continue reading

IACP Says “Sorry For Racism,” Everybody Hugs

It first popped on my screen when Harvard lawprof Ronald Sullivan called it “an important first step.” I reflexively shook my head. Dinosaurs have an expression, “talk is cheap.” For slacktivists, however, talk is all there is.

Terrence M. Cunningham, the chief of police in Wellesley, Mass., delivered his remarks at the convention in San Diego of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, whose membership includes 23,000 police officials in the United States. The statement was issued on behalf of the IACP, and comes as police executives continue to grapple with tense relationships between officers and minority groups in the wake of high-profile civilian deaths in New York, South Carolina, Minnesota and elsewhere, the sometimes violent citizen protests which have ensued as well as the ambush killings of officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge.

So Cunningham confessed that cops targeted black kids because they assume they’re all criminals, dangerous and not particularly worth the potential of a cop getting a paper cut? Get a grip.

Over the years, thousands of police officers have laid down their lives for their fellow citizens while hundreds of thousands more have been injured while protecting their communities. The nation owes all of those officers, as well as those who are still on patrol today, an enormous debt of gratitude. Continue reading

The Commuter’s Dilemma

It was slow in starting, but picked up steam, and some applause, when President Obama used his constitutional authority to commute sentences.  Not pardon, of course, as the president has been the most niggardly in using the pardon power of any president since Garfield, who was shot three months into office. But he’s got his commutation machine cranked up.

President Obama granted clemency to a record 214 inmates on Wednesday, far surpassing his previous single-day record, as part of an ongoing effort to release federal inmates serving prison terms deemed to be unduly harsh.

What’s not to like? And the president has kept it going, up to 775 commutations. Wait, make that 774.

Arnold Ray Jones did what more than 29,000 federal inmates have done: He asked Obama for a presidential commutation.

And then, after it arrived on Aug. 3, he refused to accept it. Continue reading

Blow Is Only A Figure Of Speech

A twit came across my timeline from a lovely woman who had a blue check next to her name and more than 100,000 followers, so she must be an important voice according the the twitter gods:

If you vote Trump you are the scum of the earth, a colluder in racism and ‘deplorable’ is too good for you. This means everyone.

I struggled to figure out what purpose was served by such a twit. Preaching to the choir? Rallying the troops? Virtue signalling? The only thing that was abundantly clear about the twit was that it would not cause any Trump supporters to change their positions. So why bother?

Then Charles Blow did the same thing, except on the pages of the New York Times: Continue reading

Locker Room Talking

See a crack in the wall? Work it. Exploit it. Make it your own, and the New York Times is doing everything it can to turn the obvious crack created by Trump, and his insignificant sidekick, Billy Bush, to its own advantage. First, there was the effort to use Trump’s alleged “locker room talk” as proof that masculinity was toxic. Because the only good man is a woman.

Peggy Orenstein now teaches us how to raise boys to become her kind of man.

ONE afternoon, while reporting for a book on girls’ sexual experience, I sat in on a health class at a progressive Bay Area high school. Toward the end of the session, a blond boy wearing a school athletic jersey raised his hand. “You know that baseball metaphor for sex?” he asked. “Well, in baseball there’s a winner and a loser. So who is supposed to be the ‘loser’ in sex?”

A perfect opportunity for an adult to explain the limits of the rhetorical device of analogy, except that Orenstein instead uses it to conclusively prove in the New York Times that she doesn’t get it either. Or is she testing Times readers to see if they’re stupid enough not to notice? Continue reading

Lay Lady Lay

When it was announced that Bob Dylan won the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature, it was, to say the least, a surprising choice. Not nearly as surprising as Barack Obama winning the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize, given that Dylan actually did something, but surprising nonetheless. After all, this was Dylan. He was a musician, a singer of last resort, a songwriter.

Controversial? Sure. Why not? There is often some controversy when someone unexpected, or outside the box, wins something big like this. Dylan was a poet of a generation (actually, a few), but he wasn’t strictly a writer or a poet. Those who were kinda felt miffed. After all, it’s not like they could win Grammys, so why should Dylan get to win their prize?

Rolling Stone, sticking to its sole area of competency, applauded the selection:

This is easily the most controversial award since they gave it to the guy who wrote Lord of the Flies, which was controversial only because it came next after the immensely popular 1982 prize for Gabriel García Márquez. Nobody can read the minds of the Nobel committee – it’s not that kind of award. You can’t argue that Dylan jumped the line in front of more deserving candidates, because there’s no internal logic to the process. Like most literary Nobels, except much more so, it comes out of the blue, giving Dylan fans a whole new glorious enigma to battle over. So settle in. This argument will take us years. If you’re looking to get silly, you better go back to from where you came.

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