"The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you."--Terry Eagleton

"It is impossible for me to say in my book one word about all that music has meant in my life. How then can I hope to be understood?--Ludwig Wittgenstein

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice."--Bryan Stevenson

Monday, December 11, 2017

Advent 2017: December 11

The secret is the Prokofiev!

God saw the world falling to ruin because of fear and immediately acted to call it back with love.  God invited it by grace, preserved it by love, and embraced it with compassion.

Peter Chrysologus, Fifth Century

"Where are you going?" asks Mary of Juan Diego.  He is stopped in his tracks.  He leaves his "important" plans and becomes her messenger  Build a church where the cries of the poor and the oppressed will be heard.  The bishop hears these gospel-laden words with shock and disbelief.  Signs, tangible signs, to know if this is true:  That is his demand.  But the words that the Indian brings are the answer.  The church must turn its institutional attention from its needs to listen to the solitary voice of one poor man.  It is a voice caught up in cultural traditions, old Indian ways, unpurified beliefs.  Juan Diego's nervous intensity comes not from self-interest but from the faith that his voice and prayer have been heard by God.  The words he speaks are the answer to his prayers.

What Mary has asked of the bishop is not meant to cause a division among the servants of the Lord.  It is not a condemnation of strategies or theologies.  Rather, it is a word of direction to move from the status quo operations of the day and to build up a place where the prayers, the cries, the heartbreak of people can be heard.  The place becomes symbolic of the fact that a mestizo church emerges from these birth sufferings of a conquered people.  The temple is symbolic of the age-old faithful word of God:  to be with the people.

Guadalupe's  significance is birth word and symbol.  She provides the answers to the prayers of her faithful people:  "God is with you!"  Her very appearance, as one of the poor, aligns her with them.  Guadalupe's proclamation can be seen as God's option for the poor.

"Where are you going?" echoes in the life of God's poor to this present day.

Arturo Perez

In an age which offers a variety of escapes from the human condition, Christians are more than ever a sign of contradiction.  They continue to believe that the search for God must begin with the acceptance of the human.  They believe this because it is in the stable of humanity that God has come in search of us.

In the human experience of Jesus, God became available to us as the depths of human life.  Thus, a Christian believes that the experience of ultimate meaning comes not from a leap out of the human condition, but a journey through its dark waters.

John Heagle

Deliver us, O Lord, from our bondage
as streams in dry land.
Those who are sowing in tears
will sing when they reap.

Psalm 126:4-5

Be Careful What You Wish For

I agree with Rebecca Traister:

Or an overreaction. A powerful man who loses his job for an offense that, perhaps, doesn't merit job loss could put a halt to this.

I'm a feminist who believes this stuff needs to be talked about, who thinks this is a crucial and eye opening conversation. At the same time, I am hating it. I hate it. It is horrible to live through this every day. It's horrible to be hearing these stories. We all, on some level, want it to end, and I am probably among those who are most invested in it not ending. Imagine anybody without my ideological and professional and personal investments in this subject matter. It's painful; it's dredging up horrible memories for so many of us. It's confusing us in where our sympathies are, and who they're for, and where they're supposed to be.

It's a really hard conversation to have, and so I do think that lots of people will jump on any excuse to make this conversation stop. There'll be a moment where everybody just sort of is like, "Okay, we're not having this conversation anymore.”

I noted some pushback against the resignation of Al Franken, but that's already last week's news.  Interesting now is the reaction to the SNL "cold open" with Santa and his elf in a mall.  Vox is already trying to confuse that sketch by misplacing dialogue and erasing some comments in it:

"Can you tell me what Al Franken did?" asked one kid to kick off the night. It was an evening of recurring references to the downfall of Sen. Franken — a former SNL star and writer — that mainly acknowledged the elephant in the room was, indeed, there, before quickly changing the subject.

Thompson’s Santa found himself battling a number of piercing questions from observant children. When one child brought up the naughty list, he quipped, "It's not really a list; it's more of a registry."

Actually, that last line came from McKinnon's elf, not Thompson's Santa Claus.  And it was clear to me Santa's discomfort was not over Al Franken's alleged misdeeds (surely the allegations against Matt Lauer or Harvey Weinstein are more salacious and disturbing; even Charlie Rose is not in the same category as the stories about Franken) but the child bringing up such a hot topic (imagine this was the '90's and the kid was asking what Monica Lewinsky did to Bill Clinton, or what he did to her).  Santa kept trying to steer the conversations back to toys and Christmas presents, and away from the political news.  

“Well, you know, Santa tries to stay out of political matters. Our president may have said or done a few naughty things,” explained the diplomatic Santa, thankfully neglecting to mention that time Trump was caught on tape bragging about sexually assaulting women.

“Nineteen accusers. Google it,” chimed in Santa’s helper, in a nod to the 19-plus women who have accused Trump of various degrees of sexual misconduct, including sexual-assault.

Santa was, well, a bit more child-friendly. “Look, Jessica, I think we can all learn a lesson from what’s going on in the news,” he said.

Cue Jessica: “We sure can! I learned that if you admit you did something wrong, you get in trouble. But if you deny it, they let you keep your job!”

Frankly, the best line of the sketch.

And then there was the sketch about the kindly old black man and the young executive, where the latter is fired for inappropriate behavior little worse than what Franken was accused of, while the former is nearly as crude as Donald Trump, but excused because he's old and black.  That one gets very close to what Ms. Traister is talking about.

The problem is precisely that we don't have a "community" within which to discuss these matters and in that vacuum everyone wants to enforce their own ideas of justice and morality.  Rebecca Traister carefully distinguishes between the law (justice) and morality, but that distinction vanishes for most commenters on the topic.  Justice is only done when the women are believed, even if the lies are not as transparent as those attempted by Project Veritas against the Washington Post.

Thought Criminal has been posting a series on the works of Walter Brueggemann about the framework we use to identify as society and our place in it, and the values it upholds.  The "#metoo" conversation, of course, is about values and which ones should be upraised, and which declared indefensible, and it's a goal I agree with.   The problem is:  how do we get there?  And the public imagination seems limited to the "solutions" or reprisals and retribution and punishment, rather than correcting attitudes and changing presumptions.  As Brueggemann explains it:

But the imagination of an insider is always an historical imagination.  It is not just any innovative thinking;  it is inventiveness driven and shaped by particular historical experiences  It is the capacity to return again and again to the concreteness of the past of this historical group,  Israel/the church, and to discern there new meanings.  The notions of “historical” (which means rooted in the meanings of a particular community) and “imagination” (which means open to urging pulses of meaning) are dialectical to each other.  That is,  the ideas of historical and imagination seem to move in opposite directions.  “Historical” points back to precise, concrete, identifiable experiences   “Imagination”  means to move out into new and fresh symbolic overlays from the experience.  Historical keeps the articulation concrete and particular, and the imagination looses it in unexpected directions.  But they are dialectical in that the two must be kept in tension, always correcting each other.  Historical without imagination tends to be arid and not compelling.  Imagination without historicality tends to turn to undisciplined fantasy.  

But where are the reins on this experience?  How many scalps will be enough to claim redress, and when are there "too many" and the backlash sets in?  I've seen this movie, I know how it comes out.  I expected a long-lived anti-war sentiment, having grown up in the '60's.  That sentiment didn't end with 9/11, it ended much earlier, with the "baby killer" allegations, and the apocryphal stories of soldiers being spat on in airports.  POW's and MIA's fired the imagination for decades, and went from  a symbol of a shameful war where we were defeated, to the betrayal of "our boys" by the government that sent them there (the seeds of "support our troops" today are in the spat upon soldiers, seeds watered by the mythos of POW's and MIA's).  I thought racism as good as dead, too, especially with millennial growing up in a largely desegregated world.  Wrong again.  So will the #metoo movement really represent a sea change?  The community of '60's college activists caught the public imagination, but were always a minority among college students, and the entire effort quickly dissolved into yuppies and "Morning in America" to wash the tase of failure out of the national mouth.  No small part of that "failure" was the legitimate criticisms of American society from feminists, civil rights activists, even (a bit later) gay rights activists.  All of those movements won gains, but suffered setbacks, too.  One step forward, two steps back, but forward momentum is hard to stop.  Using it to seize power and punish those you think deserving soon leaves everyone disgusted and longing for a more peaceful, and less just, past.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Advent 2017: And also....

"I think it's very uncommon in the First World. This is not a sight that one normally sees. I'd have to say that I haven't seen this," Philip Alston, the U.N.'s Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, told Connor Sheets of earlier this week as they toured a community in Butler County where raw sewage flows from homes through exposed PVC pipes and into open trenches and pits.


By many accounts, poverty in the U.S. is worse than in most developed nations, despite rhetoric espoused by President Donald Trump and others who claim that the U.S. is the "best country in the world."

According to the Census Bureau, nearly 41 million people in the U.S. live in poverty. That's second-highest rate of poverty among rich countries, as measured by the percentage of people earning less than half the national median income, according to Quartz.


“Some might ask why a U.N. Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights would visit a country as rich as the United States," Alston said. "But despite great wealth in the U.S., there also exists great poverty and inequality.”
Alston also pointed out that the U.S. "has been very keen" on other countries being investigated by the U.N. for civil and human rights issues.
"Now, it's the turn to look at what's going on in the U.S.," Alston said. "There are pretty extreme levels of poverty in the United States given the wealth of the country. And that does have significant human rights implications.”


“The idea of human rights is that people have basic dignity and that it’s the role of the government — yes, the government! — to ensure that no one falls below the decent level,” he said.  “Civilized society doesn’t say for people to go and make it on your own and if you can’t, bad luck.”

“Politicians who say, ‘there’s nothing I can do about that’ are simply wrong,” Alston told WKMS 91.3 FM, a public radio station in Ohio near one of the other sites under investigation by the U.N.

Advent is about preparation, both spiritual and physical.  One is not separated from the other.  Religion is not a purely private concern.  It is responsibility.  "Religion is responsibility, or it is nothing at all."--Jacques Derrida

Advent 2017: December 10

The Advent mystery is the beginning of the end of all in us that is not yet Christ.

--Thomas Merton

MERTON'S most important experience in his whole Asian trip came at Polonnaruwa. He went to visit the giant Buddhas and took a series of superb photographs of them.

I am able to approach the Buddhas barefoot and undisturbed, my feet in wet grass, wet sand. The silence of the extraordinary faces. The great smi les. Huge and yet subtle. Filled with every possibility, questioning nothing, knowing everything, rejecting nothing, the peace not of emotional refutation. . . that has seen through every question without trying to discredit anyone or anything-without refutation-without establishing some other argument. For the doctrinaire, the mind that needs well-established positions, such peace, such silence, can be frightening. I was knocked over with a rush of relief and thankfulness at the obvious clarity of the figures. . . . Looking at these figures I was suddenly, almost forcibly, jerked clean out of the habitual, half-tied vision of things, and an inner clearness, clarity, as if exploding from the rocks themselves, became evident and obvious. . . . I don't know when in my life I have ever had such a sense of beauty and spiritual validity running together in one aesthetic illumination. Surely, with Mahabalipuram and Polonnaruwa my Asian pilgrimage has come clear and purified itself. I mean, I know and have seen what I was obscurely looking for. I don't know what else remains but I have now seen and have pierced through the surface and have got beyond the shadow and the disguise.

That was on December 4. . . . [On December 10, after addressing the conference in Bangkok,] Merton had lunch and did disappear to his room, commenting to a colleague on the way about how much he was looking forward to having a siesta. In a long letter later written by the delegates at the Conference to Dom Flavian what then occurred was expressed in the following words: "Not long after he retired a shout was heard by others in his cottage, but after a preliminary check they thought'they must have imagined the cry.

"He was found at the end of the meridian (afternoon rest) and when found was lying on the floor. He was on his back with the electric fan lying across his chest. The fan was still switched on, and there was a deep burn and some cuts on his right side and arm. The back of his head was also bleeding slightly."

Perhaps any death brings with it both a sense of surprise and a sense of its inevitability. There are always those, and there were many after Merton's death, who feel that it somehow "had to be like that." Merton had, from time to time, both spoken and written comments that suggested that his death might come early. Some of his friends commented on the extraordinary, almost Zen-like way that death had come to him. Fewer people than one might expect noted that he died on the same day as the great Protestant theologian Karl Barth, and it was a measure of the ecumenism in Louisville, which Merton had been instrumental in promoting, that Catholics and Protestants there united in a joint memorial service for both of them.

Many years before Naomi Burton had made the suggestion, humorously, that Merton was accident-prone. "I couldn't help noticing that it's your visitors who get locked out of the church, and your server who forgets things, and your vestments that get caught in the folding chair. . . . I find your incredible adventures with nature and with publishing extremely endearing." Perhaps Merton was accident-prone; perhaps, like many intellectuals, he tended to get lost in his thinking, and absentmindedly forgot about the dangers of touching electrical equipment with wet hands; perhaps the fan was merely faulty. Perhaps, however, he had finished his life six days before at Polonnaruwa and was called to the God he had loved and served so well.

--Monica Furlong

The sermon I gave [at the conference on monasticism the morning after Merton's death] was a moment of talkinga bout Merton's search for God.  When a monk enters a monastery, what is asked of him is "Are you truly seeking God?"  The question isn't "Have you found God?"  The question is "Is he seeking God?  Is his motivation highly involved in that search of who and what God is in relationship to us?"  It's not philosophical--its' existential.  And Merton, to me, was a great searcher.  He was constantly unhappy, as all great searchers are.  He was constantly ill at ease, he was constantly restless, as all searchers are--because that's part of the search.  And in that sense he was the perfect monk.  Contemplation isn't satisfaction--it's search.

--Rembert Weakland

Charm with your stainlessness these winter nights,
Skies, and be perfect!
Fly vivider in the fiery dark, you quiet meteors,
And disappear.
You moon, be slow to go down,
This is your fill!

The four white roads make off in silence
Towards the four parts of the starry universe.
Time falls like manna at the corners of the wintry earth.
We have become more humble than the rocks,
More wakeful than the patient hills.

Charm with your stainlessness these nights in Advent, holy spheres,
While minds, as meek as beasts,
Stay close at home in the sweet hay;
And intellects are quieter than the flocks that feed by starlight.

Oh pour your darkness and your brightness over all our solemn valleys,
Your skies:  and travel like the gentle Virgin,
Towards the planets' stately setting,

O white moon full as quiet as Bethlehem!

--Thomas Merton

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Advent 2017: December 9

Cats know their place in the world.
(I know, I know; I'm going to hell.)

Ask not, doubt not.  You have, my heart, already chosen the joy of Advent.  As a force against your own uncertainty, bravely tell yourself "It is the Advent of the great God."  Say this with faith and love, and then both the past of your life, which has become holy, and your life's eternal, boundless future will draw together in the now of this world.  For then into the heart comes the one who is Advent, the boundless future who is already in the process of coming, the Lord, who has already come into the time fo the flesh to redeem it.

--Karl Rahner

At the coming of the Most Hight our hearts shall be made clean, and we shall walk worthily in the way of the Lord.  The Lord is coming and will not delay.

--Cistercian Liturgy

Da mercedes, Domine, sustinembus te,
ut prophetae tui fideles inveniantur.
Have mercy on those who wait for you, Lord,
and you shall find your prophets keeping faith.

--Monastic Liturgy

N.B.  It is an old custom to set up the Nativity scene during Advent, but leave the creche empty until Christmas Eve night, to signify the waiting for the birth, the reason for the Advent season.

Friday, December 08, 2017

A Day Late and a Dollar Short

Can we even talk about what constitutes "sexual assault"?

But better than never:

New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand spoke first: “When you have to start having to talk about the differences between sexual assault and sexual harassment and unwanted groping, you are having the wrong conversation. We need to draw a line in the sand and say none of this is OK, none of this is acceptable.”

Gillibrand is right that none of it is OK but she is not right when she says we are having the wrong conversation if we attempt to make distinctions among bad actors. For now, Democrats think zero tolerance and swift punishment gives them the high ground. But they already have that. They should know by now there is no shaming Republicans who are so far below sea level it’s a miracle they can be heard from down there.
And there are questions about the charge that got the ball rolling. Why did Trump adviser Roger Stone know well ahead of time that Playboy model and radio host Leeann Tweeden would be going public with her charges that Franken kissed her against her will in rehearsals for an X-rated USO tour skit (they are all X-rated) and that she had a 2006 photo of Franken groping, or pretending to grope, her chest over a flak jacket as she slept? Stone sent a heads up to conservative website The Daily Caller about it hours before a story in The Washington Post.

There is also value in finding out if any of Franken’s accusers told someone in real time about the conduct, as victims usually do, and if they happened in the work setting or were a professional power play. The answers may not absolve Franken but there is an ethics committee in place where the questions could have been asked.

Making distinctions can only strengthen the movement. Establish standards and apply a finer gauge. Turn up the pressure on Congress to clean up its dirty little secrets. Abolish the internal Office of Compliance where everyone is on the take. Strengthen the ethics committee by bringing outsiders on board. Hear every accusation in a setting where there can be justice for both sides. No more NDAs. No more payouts.

But our hearts are pure, right Sen. Gillibrand?  Yup:

Progressives like Kate Harding, who wrote a Washington Post piece last month arguing that Franken’s resignation would do more harm to women than good, believed they were playing the long game when they encouraged Democrats to allow the senator to keep his seat. Kicking him out might make the party look good now, but the potential damage done by the ouster of a good liberal could last for years. I’d counter with an even longer game: Think about the Democrats with long, bright futures ahead of them, the rising stars, the next Obamas, the legislators who might pass universal Medicare or eliminate Medicaid abortion bans or become president someday.

Does this happen before, or after, we purge Bill Clinton from historic memory, and thus "baptize" the Democratic dead in order to move into this future so bright we'll have to wear shades?  Anybody remember "Landslide Lyndon"?  Voter fraud is a ripe issue in any democracy at any time, and no more so than today, with the President still crying about voter fraud costing him the popular vote, and continuing attempts to reduce the number of people who can vote without increasing the rolls of convicted felons.  And yet does anyone want to expunge LBJ's accomplishments because of LBJ's legacy before he became President?  Why not?  Once this ball is rolling, why stop it?

And yet still there seems to be some buyer's remorse on the morning after:

 “This is a requirement to be able to look at [women] with a straight face and say we’re the party that cares about them,” Guy Cecil, who heads the liberal Priorities USA and previously served as executive director of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, told Politico. “As long as Republicans don’t do that, there’s a very sharp contrast to be drawn.”

This is sagacious and intellectually honest commentary. It’s also transparently political. Sacrificing Al Franken—a safe thing for them to do considering that a Democratic governor will name his successor—was but a small price to pay for a brand image that serves as a stark contrast to Donald Trump and Roy Moore.

And yet the problem with that "sagacious and intellectually honest commentary" is that the Gov. of Minnesota is widely expected to appoint a caretaker to the Senate, with a special election to be held in November, 2018.  Al Franken only won the seat by 300 votes, Trump only lost the state by 4000 votes, and Virginia notithstanding, the Democrats have handed the GOP Al Franken as a talking point and political ad good through this time next year.  So maybe that small price will get bigger before the Year of Jubilee and all those "rising stars" take the stage; whoever they are.

But will it work?

The best-laid plans often go awry, and virtue signaling has a mixed track record of success. As liberal columnist Bill Scher recently lamented, “I’ve been alive long enough to know that Democrats having the moral high ground has never been like the linchpin to Democrats winning elections.”

Sadly, elections do not choose the noblest and best the country has to offer, or Donald Trump would not be President and Roy Moore would not stand a better than even chance of victory next week.  And LBJ probably never would have been elected in '64.  And then, of course, you have this problem:

When you take accusations seriously, you incentivize accusers to come forward. When you demonstrate that accusations are pointless and unlikely to result in change, you disincentivize them. Therefore, the party that does the most to address allegations will, ironically, be punished with more scandals.

The former approach doesn't make the accusations true; the latter doesn't prove they are false.  Oh, if only we had a process for sorting fact from fiction!  In the meantime, we will purge our office holders until only the pure in heart are left; or those who follow the Pence rule, whichever comes first.

Dec. 8: Immaculate Conception

Ne timeas, Maria.
Do not be afraid, Mary.

Monastic Liturgy

The Theotokos has been revealed on earth in truth,
Proclaimed of old by the words of the prophets,
Foretold by the wise patriarchs
    and the company of the righteous.
She will exchange glad tidings with the honor of women:
Sarah, Rebekah, and glorious Hannah,
And Miriam, the sister of Moses.
All the ends of the earth shall rejoice with them,
Together with all of creation.
For God shall come to be born in the flesh,
Granting the world great mercy.

Orthodox Liturgy

"That man say we can't have as much rights as a man 'cause Christ wasn't a woman.  Where did your Christ come from?  From God and a woman.  Man had nothing to do with it."

Sojourner Truth

Virtus Altissimi obumbrabit tibi.
The power of the Most High will overshadow you.

Monastic Liturgy

Hail, O most worthy in all the world!
Thou purest Maiden that ever on earth
Through the long ages lived among men!
Rightly all mortals in blithe mood
Name thee blessed and hail thee Bride
Of the King of glory. The thanes of Christ,
In heaven the highest, carol and sing
Proclaiming thee Lady of the heavenly legions,
Of earthly orders, and the hosts of hell.

 Thou only of women didst purpose of old
To bring thy maidhood unto thy Maker,
Presenting it there unspotted of sin.
Of all mankind there came no other,
No bride with linked jewels, like unto thee
With pure heart sending thy glorious gift
To its heavenly home. The Lord of triumph
Sent forth His herald from the hosts on high
To bring thee knowledge of abundant grace:
That in pure birth thou shouldst bear God's Son
In mercy to men; and thou thyself, Mary,
Remain for ever Immaculate Maid.

Author Unknown

Thursday, December 07, 2017

The Day Didn't End Soon Enough

I'm afraid to look outside.  Water will be running uphill.  Dogs and cats, living together!

I know Al Franken wasn't held to the legal standard for his alleged conduct, but there's a reason the legal standard for assault (the civil tort, not the criminal statute) is "a reasonably prudent person."

Assault, as a tort, is an offensive contact.  But what does that mean?  A contact that offends the person contacted?  No, that's too subjective.  Under that standard, simply bumping someone on the sidewalk or in a store could be a civil assault.  The legal standard, then, requires that the contact be offensive to "a reasonably prudent person."  Of course, under that standard, even grabbing someone's ass during a photograph might not be assault; because the jury would have to decide whether a reasonably prudent person would consider it offensive, or simply inappropriate.

The former is actionable, the latter isn't.  And the reason for the standard is pretty much this:

“I have to say that I’m so sad and appalled at his lack of response and him owning up to what he did,” Stephanie Kemplin, an army veteran who accused Franken of groping her while he was in Kuwait entertaining the troops in 2003, said on MSNBC.

“He just keeps passing the buck and making it out to be something that we — we took his behavior the wrong way or we misconstrued something or that we just — we just flat-out lied about what happened to us,” she continued.

Kemplin made the comments when asked if Franken’s resignation is justice for allegedly groping several women. Kemplin said that his resignation does not feel like justice to her and that she would like to see him acknowledge his behavior.

“Justice to me would be him owning up to what he did and to stop trying to pass the buck onto other individuals who possibly — they did commit the same things, maybe even more heinous than what he’s done,” she said, perhaps referencing to Franken’s comment in his resignation speech that President Donald Trump and Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore have not seen the same repercussions for their alleged sexual misconduct.
Justice in the courts is not justice as defined by any one individual.  What Ms. Kemplin wants is justice, by her standards.  What I say she wants, based on her statements, is a pound of flesh; or rather, an extra helping, since she has forced Sen. Franken to resign from the Senate without, as Tom Brokaw noted, any input from the voters of Minnesota.   But as long as it's about what offends an individual, a particular individual, a person named Stephanie Kemplin, then why not another punishment atop this one?  Why not a demand Sen. Franken please Ms. Kemplin by acknowledging his behavior in words that suit her?  And then go on to please every woman who made an accusation against him in the same personal, individual manner, and then perhaps say something that satisfies personally every Senator who called for his resignation?

This is where this nonsense goes, and to say it is as implacable as the sunrise (it is) is not to say it is just and right or even sound governance.  There is a reason there is a process, and it should be held to, even if that process is only the Senate Ethics Committee.

But process doesn't always end the way we want it to, so we should discard it when convenient, right?

Yet many of those same Democratic senators who called for Franken’s resignation joined in what appeared to be a sympathetic and supportive goodbye after his announcement. Franken’s speech and the ensuing response was much more partisan than the initial calls for investigation or his resignation. Franken made the sudden deluge of serious sexual harassment allegations against him sound like a pointed hunt, with innocent civilian casualties — and the room appeared to believe him.

In the opening lines of his announcement, Franken said America is “finally beginning to listen to women about the ways in which men’s actions affect them.”

His final message: Just don’t believe all of them.
Because in this Manichean phase, there are only two options:  believe all women who make accusations, or disbelieve all of them.  The middle ground of assessment is simply betrayal by other means. The only innocent people are the women making accusations; everyone else is just someone who hasn't come forward yet (women) and those who haven't been accused yet (men).

Or something.

Anyway, it ain't justice, because "justice" always means the good guys win.  Now we just have to figure out who the "good guys" are.  But we don't need a process for that; we just know.

Nothing So Became Him As His Leaving

Sen. Al Franken resigns:

A couple of months ago, I felt that we had entered an important moment in the history of this country. We were finally beginning to listen to women about the ways in which men’s actions affect them. That moment was long overdue. I was excited for that conversation, and hopeful that it would result in real change that made life better for women all across the country and in every part of our society.

Then, the conversation turned to me. Over the last few weeks, a number of women have come forward to talk about how they felt my actions had affected them. I was shocked. I was upset. But in responding to their claims, I also wanted to be respectful of that broader conversation, because all women deserve to be heard, and their experiences taken seriously.

I think that was the right thing to do. I also think it gave some people the false impression that I was admitting to doing things that, in fact, I haven’t done. Some of the allegations against me are simply not true. Others, I remember very differently.

I said at the outset that the Ethics Committee was the right venue for these allegations to be heard, and investigated, and evaluated on their merits. That I was prepared to cooperate fully. And that I was confident in the outcome.

You know, an important part of the conversation we’ve been having the last few months has been about how men abuse their power and privilege to hurt women.

I am proud that, during my time in the Senate, I have used my power to be a champion for women – and that I have earned a reputation as someone who respects the women I work alongside every day. I know there’s been a very different picture of me painted over the last few weeks. But I know who I really am.

Serving in the United States Senate has been the great honor of my life. I know in my heart that nothing I have done as a Senator – nothing – has brought dishonor on this institution. And I am confident that the Ethics Committee would agree.

Nevertheless, today I am announcing that, in the coming weeks, I will be resigning as a member of the United States Senate.

I, of all people, am aware that there is some irony in the fact that I am leaving while a man who has bragged on tape about his history of sexual assault sits in the Oval Office, and a man who has repeatedly preyed on young girls campaigns for the Senate with the full support of his party.

But this decision is not about me. It’s about the people of Minnesota. And it’s become clear that I can’t both pursue the Ethics Committee process and, at the same time, remain an effective Senator for them.

Let me be clear. I may be resigning my seat, but I am not giving up my voice. I will continue to stand up for the things I believe in as a citizen, and as an activist.

But Minnesotans deserve a Senator who can focus with all her energy on addressing the challenges they face every day.

There is a big part of me that will always regret having to walk away from this job with so much work left to be done. But I have faith that the work will continue, because I have faith in the people who have helped me do it.

I have faith in the dedicated, funny, selfless young men and women on my staff. They have so much more to contribute to our country. And I hope that, as disappointed as they may feel today, everyone who has ever worked for me knows how much I admire and respect them.

I have faith in my colleagues, especially my senior Senator, Amy Klobuchar. I would not have been able to do this job without her guidance and wisdom. And I have faith – or, at least, hope – that members of this Senate will find the political courage necessary to keep asking the tough questions, hold this administration accountable, and stand up for the truth.

I have faith in the activists who organized to help me win my first campaign and who have kept on organizing to help fight for the people who needed us: kids facing bullying, seniors worried about the price of prescription drugs, Native Americans who have been overlooked for far too long, working people who have been taking it on the chin for a generation – everyone in the middle class and everyone aspiring to join it.

I have faith in the proud legacy of progressive advocacy that I have had the privilege to be a part of. I think I’ve probably repeated these words ten thousand times over the years, Paul Wellstone’s famous quote: “The future belongs to those who are passionate and work hard.” It is still true. It will always be true.

And, most of all, I have faith in Minnesota. A big part of this job is going around the state and listening to what people need from Washington. But, more often than not, when I’m home, I’m blown away by how much Minnesota has to offer the entire country and the entire world. The people I have had the honor of representing are brilliant, and creative, and hard-working. And whoever holds this seat next will inherit the challenge I’ve enjoyed for the last eight and a half years: being as good as the people you serve.

This has been a tough few weeks for me. But I am a very, very lucky man. I have a beautiful, healthy family that I love, and that loves me very much. I am going to be just fine.

I’d just like to end with one last thing.

I did not grow up wanting to be a politician. I came to this relatively late in life. I had to learn a lot on the fly. It wasn’t easy. And it wasn’t always fun.

I’m not just talking about today. This is a hard thing to do with your life. There are a lot of long hours and late nights and hard lessons, and there is no guarantee that all your work and sacrifice will ever pay off. I won my first election by 312 votes – it could have easily gone the other way. And even when you win, progress is far from inevitable. Paul Wellstone spent his whole life working for mental health parity, and it didn’t pass into law until six years after he died.

This year, a lot of people who didn’t grow up imagining they’d ever get involved in politics have done just that. They’ve gone to their first protest march, or made their first call to a member of Congress, or maybe even taken the leap and put their name on a ballot for the first time.

It can be such a rush, to look around at a room full of people ready to fight alongside you, to feel that energy, to imagine that better things are possible. But you, too, will experience setbacks and defeats and disappointments. There will be days when you will wonder whether it’s worth it.

What I want you to know is that, even today, even on the worst day of my political life, I feel like it’s all been worth it. “Politics,” Paul Wellstone told us, “is about the improvement of people’s lives.” I know that the work I’ve been able to do has improved people’s lives. I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.

For a decade now, every time I would get tired, or discouraged, or frustrated, I would think about the people I was doing this for, and it would get me back up on my feet. I know the same will be true for everyone who decides to pursue a politics that is about improving people’s lives. And I hope you know that I will be right there fighting alongside you, every step of the way.

With that, M. President, I yield the floor.

Thank God we got rid of him, right?!  No more allegations of ass grabbing about Senators! Who cares if he can address the Senate like that, it's unexamined allegations from the past and anonymous sources that really matter!  And who cares if the seat goes to a Republican!  Our hearts are pure!

Now, if the Senators who called for Franken's resignation could just show half the grace and intelligence and character he did.  And yes, I mean all the Senators who called for his resignation; every last one of them.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

This is a joke, right?

Don't get me started on the definition of "credible:"

The Democratic women of the Senate had been talking among themselves about the Franken allegations for weeks, one Democratic aide said. None, however, went further than to call for a Senate Ethics Committee probe of the Minnesota senator, whom many had considered a close friend.

That stance became increasingly untenable as the accusations against Franken piled up. In calls and texts, the female senators eventually came to an unstated agreement, according to another aide familiar with their discussions: The next credible story of misconduct in a credible news outlet would prompt them to call for Franken's resignation.
I'm guessing it's frustration because they can't do anything about the stupidity of the Administration:

Donald Trump Jr. on Wednesday cited attorney-client privilege to avoid telling lawmakers about a conversation he had with his father, President Donald Trump, after news broke this summer that the younger Trump — and top campaign brass — had met with Russia-connected individuals in Trump Tower during the 2016 campaign.

Though neither Trump Jr. nor the president is an attorney, Trump Jr. told the House Intelligence Committee that there was a lawyer in the room during the discussion, according to the committee’s top Democrat, Rep. Adam Schiff of California. Schiff said he didn’t think it was a legitimate invocation of attorney-client privilege.

“I don’t believe you can shield communications between individuals merely by having an attorney present,” he said, after the committee’s lengthy interview with Trump Jr. “That’s not the purpose of attorney-client privilege.”

Attorney-client privilege is a privilege held by attorneys.  It does not apply simply because an attorney is in the room, and it never applies to non-lawyers

Donald Trump, Jr. is not a lawyer.

This is Bugs Bunny level of reality, where he defies the law of gravity because he never studied law.  That's funny; this is an SNL sketch in real life.  Oh, I'm sorry; Al Franken used to be on "SNL."  Maybe we should take that off the air, too; just to be sure.

While I'm beating this dead horse....

The news makes it perfectly clear I'm pissing into the wind on this, because we have to get rid of Al Franken to prove we have "zero tolerance" for sexual harassment (not the legal workplace kind, but the social boorish kind) so we can continue to complain about Roy Moore because politics.

But we can't complain about Roy Moore because of this:

“Thank God for Mississippi” is the old joke: No matter how bad things were in Alabama, there always was a state right next door where things were often worse. Alabama is the third “hungriest” state in the nation, with 18 percent of its population food insecure, behind Louisiana and, yes, Mississippi. It’s the sixth-poorest state, with some 18.5 percent living in poverty, and the third-highest state when it comes both to murders and the number of citizens behind bars per 100,000 members of population. According to the Centers for Disease Control, opioids are prescribed in Alabama more than in any other state, and a Center for Health Statistics report notes that Alabama’s rate of overdose deaths from opioids has doubled since 2011.

But no, instead of campaigning about how to get the federal government to help his state pull itself from the clutches of such poverty, hunger and addiction, [which, you know, used to be the province of Democrats--yr. humble host] Roy Moore acts like a crackpot false prophet, preaching Islamophobia, homophobia and the dominance of “God’s law” over the Constitution; denying the allegations of the many women who say he assaulted or harassed or stalked them when they were teenagers (on Tuesday, a Moore spokesperson described the accusers as “criminals”) and all the time hammering away at his Democratic opponent Doug Jones on abortion.

Moore wants all abortion to be illegal and supports the reversal of Roe v. Wade. Jones has declared he is against “anything that is going to infringe on a woman’s right and her freedom to choose,” but also has said that he supports “current law” that restricts abortion after 20 weeks unless pregnancy threatens the health of the mother.

Moore’s wife has attacked Jones for supporting “full-term” abortion, which is wildly and deliberately misleading. What’s more, the website reports, “An examination of statistics compiled by the Alabama Department of Public Health shows that late-term procedures are almost nonexistent in the state. Three out of 6,642 abortions performed in Alabama in 2016 occurred after 20 weeks, according to the agency.”

One position might actually help Alabama (and Mississippi, and Louisiana); it might even be the historic position of Democrats since FDR.  The other only makes Democrats in the Senate feel pure and zero-tolerant.  We can't do anything for Alabama, but at least in D.C. we can be pure of heart.

Well, I suppose that's something.

Needless to say, I want this to mean something (because how many Democrats in the Senate pinned Jeff Sessions' ears back so far we got a decent investigation out of it?):

But I am not optimistic.

Giant of the Senate

I'm not going to defend this:

“We posed for the shot. He immediately put his hand on my waist, grabbing a handful of flesh. I froze. Then he squeezed. At least twice,” Dupuy said.

Dupuy said Franken’s “familiarity was inappropriate and unwanted.”

“It was also quick; he knew exactly what he was doing,” she said. “He wanted to cop a feel and he demonstrated he didn’t need my permission.”

Dupuy is one of numerous women who have accused Franken of sexual misconduct, both before and after he was elected to the Senate in 2008.

But I am going to question this:

Dupuy said she “assumed Franken would step down” later the same day that Tweeden accused him of misconduct, and said Tweeden’s story “rang true” to her.

“I’ve been hoping Franken would just step down and I wouldn’t have to say anything.” she said. “I’ve been hoping I’d not ever have the moniker of ‘Franken accuser.'”

Huh?  You only need to accuse Franken because he holds public office?  If he didn't, it wouldn't matter?  And getting rid of him improves the Senate how, exactly?  Are we better off if the entire Congress is forced to follow the Pence rule?  Because that's the only alternative to a guy who gets "handsy" and must be expelled because of it.

If we can't allow people like Franken to be in the Senate, who do we leave there?  Or do we just walk away from this in a few months, satisfied that all the witches have been hunted out?  Because the problem is becoming less and less what Al Franken did, and more and more what is supposed to be done about it.

Yeah, that doesn't make me feel any better about it.  "Zero tolerance" is a policy that levels everyone and raises up no one.  It's also a conveniently knee-jerk reaction that doesn't serve justice, only vengeance.  And it seems to me the question of whether Sen. Franken continues to represent the people of Minnesota is up to the people of Minnesota, especially absent a Senate ethics investigation finding that he isn't fit to serve in the Senate.

Well, at least we know the few Democrats left in the Senate will be pure, right?

Snatching Defeat from the Jaws of Victory

Bringing a knife to a gunfight:

And no man left behind: 

Al Franken has flatly denied the latest accusation against him (that he tried to kiss a woman after a radio interview in 2006, claiming it was his right as an entertainer), apologized for other events he did not say were necessarily true, and called for an ethics examination of the allegations against him by the Senate Ethics Committee.  He is also the reason Jeff Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation, which led to the Mueller investigation, and who doubts there would be no credible investigation without Mueller?

But no, he has to go.  This unseemliness is unseemly!  He's not accused of the actions of Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, Harvey Weinstein, or Danny Masterson, nor even John Conyers.  He's accused of improper kissing (all of which he denies) and some butt groping, maybe.

Hanging's too good for him!

We have to remove him, of course, so we can be pure in our denunciations of Roy Moore.  Utter bollocks.  Roy Moore is not in the Senate and once he is, if he is, it's an open question whether the Senate would investigate him and decide to throw him out or even not seat him.  (And by the way maybe we could focus on Roy Moore's reprehensible politics, huh?  Maybe? Huh?)  Al Franken has called for an investigation of the allegations against him, but forget that, we need to get rid of Al Franken!  He has been one of the most effective freshman in the Senate, but no matter, he must go!  Purity uber alles!

I swear, Democrats are still their own worst enemies.

Putting the Christmas back in "Christmas": St. Nicholas Day 2017

SAINT Nicholas. Day of death: (according to the martyrology) December 6, about 360. Grave: originally at Myra; since 1087 at Bari in Italy. Life (highly legendary): Nicholas was born at Patara in Asia Minor to parents who, having long been childless, had petitioned God with many prayers. Already as a youth Nicholas became noted for his zeal in helping the unfortunate and oppressed. In his native city there lived a poor nobleman who had three marriage-able daughters; he could not obtain a suitor for them because he could offer no dowry. The contemptible idea struck him to sacrifice the innocence of his daughters to gain the needed money. When Nicholas became aware of this, he went by night and threw a bag containing as much gold as was needed for a dowry through the window. This he repeated the second and third nights. During a sea voyage he calmed the storm by his prayer; he is therefore venerated as patron of sailors. On, a certain occasion he was imprisoned for the faith. In a wonderful way he later became bishop of Myra; his presence is noted at the Council of Nicaea. He died a quiet death in his episcopal city, uttering the words: "Into your hands I commend my spirit."

Nicholas is highly venerated in the East as a miracle worker, as "preacher of the word of God, spokesman of the Father."
--Pius Parsch

THE celebration of the feast of the nativity of Christ in the Orthodox church is patterned after the celebration of the feast of the Lord's resurrection. A fast of forty days precedes the feast, with special preparatory days announc-ing the approaching birth of the Savior. Thus, on St. An-drew's Day (November 30) and St. Nicholas Day (December 6) songs are sung to announce the coming birthday of the Lord.

Adorn yourself, O cavern.
Make yourself ready, O manger.
O shepherds and magi,
bring your gifts and bear witness.
For the Virgin is coming
bearing Christ in her womb.
--Thomas Hopko

O you who love festivals,
Come gather and sing the praises
of the fair beauty of bishops,
The glory of the fathers,
The fountain of wonders and great protector
of the faithful.

Let us all say: Rejoice, O guardian of the people of Myra,
Their head and honored counsellor,
The pillar of the church which cannot be shaken.

Rejoice, O light full of brightness
That makes the ends of the world shine with wonders.

Rejoice, O divine delight of the afflicted,
The fervent advocate of those who suffer from injustice.

And now, O all-blessed Nicholas,
Never cease praying to Christ our God
For those who honor the festival of your memory
With faith and with love.
--Orthodox Liturgy

WHAT keeps you from giving now? Isn't the poor person there? Aren't your own warehouses full? Isn't the reward promised? The command is clear: the hungry person is dying now, the naked person is freezing now, the person in debt is beaten now-and you want to wait until tomorrow? "I'm not doing any harm," you say. "I justwantto keep what I own, that's all." You own! You are like someone who sits down in a theater and keeps everyone else away, saying that what is there for everyone's use is your own. . . . If everyone took only what they needed and gave the rest to those in need, there would be no such thing as rich and poor. After all, didn't you come into life naked, and won't you return naked to the earth?

The bread in your cupboard belongs to the hungry person; the coat hanging unused in your closet belongs to the person who needs it; the shoes rotting in your closet belong to the person with no shoes; the money which you put in the bank belongs to the poor. You do wrong to everyone you could help, but fail to help.
--Basil, 4th century

THE large rooms of which you are so proud are in fact your shame. They are big enough to hold crowds-and also big enough to shut out the voice of the poor. . . . There is your sister or brother, naked, crying! And you stand confused over the choice of an attractive floor covering.
--Ambrose, 4th century

A voyce from heven to erth shal com:
"Venite ad iudicium."

This voyce both sharp and also shryll
Shal be herd from heven to hell;
All mydle erthe it shall fu Ifyll:
"Venite ad iudicium."

"Venite" is a blyssed song
For them that for joye dooth longe
And shall forsake paynes strong:
"Venite ad iudicium."

Glad in hert may they be
Whan Chryst sayeth, "Venite;
Ye blyssed chyldren, come to me,
Into vitam eternam.

"Whan I hongred, ye gave me meat;
Ye clothed me agaynst the heat;
In trouble ye dyde me not forget;
Venite ad iudicium.

"Ye socoured me at your doore
And for my sake gave to the poore;
Therfore wyll I you socoure;
Venite ad iudicium."

Sory in hert may they be
That hereth this hevy worde: "Ite;
Ye cursed chyldren, go fro me,
Into ignem eternum.

"Whan for nede that I dyde crye,
Comfortlesse ye lete me dye;
Therfore now I you deny;
Venite ad iudicium.

"For by me ye set no store,
Ye shall abye ryght dere therfore
In hell with devyls for evermore;
Venite ad iudicium."
--English carol, 16th century

Merry Krampus!

The timing is a bit off, because I didn't realize Dec. 5 was Krampusnacht, and forgot today was St. Nicholas Day (life at Chez Adventus has been a bit scattered of late).  I cross-stitched the pattern above (yes, I cross-stitch; did it for years before The Golden Child was born, abandoned it to raise a daughter and be a father, took it up again a year or two ago) for my daughter.  I expect it to have pride of place in her new home.  And frankly, it's friendlier looking than these:

A Krampus from Slovenia:

And one from England, who somehow manages to look very English:

 National Geographic has a nice bit of background on this:
Krampus, whose name is derived from the German word krampen, meaning claw, is said to be the son of Hel in Norse mythology. The legendary beast also shares characteristics with other scary, demonic creatures in Greek mythology, including satyrs and fauns.

The legend is part of a centuries-old Christmas tradition in Germany, where Christmas celebrations begin in early December.

Krampus was created as a counterpart to kindly St. Nicholas, who rewarded children with sweets. Krampus, in contrast, would swat "wicked" children and take them away to his lair.

According to folklore, Krampus purportedly shows up in towns the night before December 6, known as Krampusnacht, or Krampus Night. December 6 also happens to be Nikolaustag, or St. Nicholas Day, when German children look outside their door to see if the shoe or boot they'd left out the night before contains either presents (a reward for good behavior) or a rod (bad behavior).

There is concern that Krampus is becoming too commercial.  No, really.  I suppose that cross-stitch pattern is proof of that.  Lord knows I spent enough of the special fabric the pattern maker markets to make mine look like the picture.

I suppose it was worth it.  But you can't escape that in this day and age, can you?  Krampus celebrations were revived as an anti-commercial Christmas effort, and yet....

I'm still ready to yield the word to the world, and find a new one to distinguish the church observance from the year-end celebration.  So long as I don't have to eat any Krampus chocolates....

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

The end of the world as we know it

...and I feel fine!

I'm trying to track this down for the sake of accuracy, but SCOTUS blog hasn't published anything on the ruling yet (and may not say much, indicative of how unimportant the Supreme Court ruling is in this case at this point).  So let's start with what I can verify:

The case will now proceed in a Texas state court, which could decide to stop the benefits offered by the fourth most populous U.S. city. Such a ruling again could be appealed to the nation’s top court.

Houston City Attorney Ron Lewis said that in the meantime the city’s policy to provide the benefits will remain in effect.
I start there because if you read something like this:

Houston had challenged a ruling by the Texas Supreme Court in June that overturned a lower court’s decision to grant spousal benefits to gay city employees. The state’s all-Republican high court had issued its ruling amid pressure from conservative officials who argued that Texas may be able to limit the scope of the landmark Obergefell v. Hodges decision, which held that same-sex couples should be granted the fundamental right to marry. The Texas court argued that while Obergefell gives same-sex couples the right to marry, it does not necessarily grant them benefits. Monday’s decision was handed down quietly, with no comment or explanation. The move quickly triggered condemnation by activists. “Today’s abnegation by the nation’s highest court opens the door for an onslaught of challenges to the rights of LGBTQ people at every step,” Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of the civil-rights group GLAAD, said in a statement.

You'd be right to think the Beast with "666" stamped on his forehead had risen from the sea.   Here is a slightly clearer explanation of what's going on:

The two conservatives [the plaintiffs, i.e.] argued that city employees did not have a "fundamental right" to receive government-subsidized spousal benefits and that it was "perfectly constitutional" to extend benefits to some married couples and deny them to others.

The Texas Supreme Court agreed that the Obergefell vs. Hodges decision did not address that specific issue.

"Pidgeon and the mayor, like many other litigants throughout the country, must now assist the courts in fully exploring Obergefell's reach and ramifications, and are entitled to the opportunity to do so," Justice Jeffrey Boyd wrote in the Texas Supreme Court's decision, which sends the case back to the original trial court in Houston. "We reverse the court of appeals' judgment, vacate the trial court's temporary injunction order."
Now, we elect judges in Texas (what, you want Greg Abbott or Rick Perry appointing them?), so there was some politicking involved in the case before it went up to the Supremes:

The Texas Supreme Court initially declined to hear the case, which challenged Houston’s benefits policy for married same-sex couples. In an 8-1 decision, justices let stand a lower court decision upholding benefits.

But the state's high court reversed course last month under pressure from top Texas Republicans. Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed an amicus brief in October asking the all-Republican court to reconsider. They also asked the court to clarify that the U.S. Supreme Court case legalizing same-sex marriage, Obergefell v. Hodges, does not “bind state courts to resolve all other claims in favor of the right to same-sex marriage.” 

That's actually where the outrage should fall, because of the status of the case when the Texas Supreme Court reviewed it a second time:

The justices on the state high court declined to hear an appeal on the case in late 2016, but caved in after Gov. Greg Abbott, Lieutenant Gov. Dan Patrick and state Attorney Gen. Ken Paxton all filed amicus briefs with the court asking the justices to review it.

When the Texas Supreme Court actually reviewed the case last June, they threw out a lower court ruling that had sided with Houston, ordering the lower court to hold a new trial. They concluded that Obergefell may have granted the right for same-sex marriage, but the federal decision “did not hold that states must provide the same publicly funded benefits to all married persons.” Lawyers representing Houston appealed that decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. 
The Texas Supremes punted, in other words:  they told the trial court to try again, without the assumption Obergefell had settled the issue.  In other words, as the Court said, they want the parties to give them the legal fig leaf they need to get Abbott and Patrick and Paxton off their backs and to avoid primary challenges next year.   It's an act of judicial cowardice that they hope will allow them to reach the same conclusion again without being responsible for it.  Now you can see why the City of Houston appealed, having won the first time around.  And the Supremes used the excuse of remand for a new trial to decline to interfere in the case, which isn't really a surprise as this is a question of state law first, not of federal law.  Which, technically, is what's going on in Masterpiece Cakeshops, Inc. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, although the question of the 1st Amendment has (ridiculously, IMHO) been raised (basically, if the baker is an "artist," does he design and make cakes hoping to sell them, or does he work strictly on commission, i.e., by the job?  If so, how can he refuse to bake cakes because of sexual orientation, if he can't refuse to do it for Jews?  OTOH, Scotusblog tells me Justice Breyer noted a ruling for the baker would “undermine every civil rights law since year 2.”  Hope springs eternal.).  But the Court doesn't consider this issue "ripe" yet, as there are no conflicting state court rulings under Obergefell, so it isn't really a surprise they declined the appeal.

But has Texas now decided that same-sex couples can be discriminated against, even if they are married?  Well, the cities of Dallas and Houston don't think so.  Indeed, the Texas Supreme Court isn't even sure itself.   And it pretty clearly wishes this issue would just go away.

Life's a bench.

Poor Jerusalem

Nothing gold can stay

Oh, yeah:  this is why even Mike Pence would be an improvement.

President Donald Trump told Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday that he intends to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, a Palestinian spokesman said, amid a growing outcry across the Middle East against any unilateral U.S. decision on the ancient city.

Next year in Jerusalem?  Nope; next year in hell.

Whoo boy.  (Although it might explain Alan Dershowitz' "objectivity").

Then again, this is our Secretary of State:

Maybe Pence would clean house, too.

History in Heroic Couplets

No, he didn't say it, but it's the thought that counts, right?

Stop me if you've heard this one before:

Boethius, the most learned man of his time, met his death in the hangman's noose.  He came from one of the most noble senatorial families of Rome and was a patrician, a consul, and a minister at the court of the Ostrogoth King Theodoric in Ravenna.  Nevertheless, he fell victim to this same barbarian ruler; neither Theodoric himself nor his realm was to survive for long following the demise of his minister.  Contemporary commentators believed that this tyrant had descended to the bowels of Mount Etna, into Hell itself, when he would occasionally return as a wild horse-man and a harbinger of doom.  In truth, Theodoric simply passed away in 526.  The precise reasons for the fall of his first minister have been lost in the mists of time.  No proof of guilt for a crime was ever brought forth.  It appears that this famous Roman was toppled purely by the mistrust of his king.  This turned out to be a serious misjudgment, which the Goth ruler must instantly have regretted, albeit not soon enough to save himself.

It's the opening paragraph of The Middle Ages by Johannes Fried (Belknap Press of Harvard University Press 2017).   Published originally two years ago, this is the paperback edition, so any resemblance to the pr esent is purely coincidental.

Or is it?

Admittedly, the closest we come to a Boethius for the Trump Administration would have to be Hillary Clinton, if only because Trump has again today accused her of crimes for which he can provide no evidence; but he clearly doesn't understand why he needs to.  But her fall would not precipitate his, except as further evidence of the corruption of government, and the corruption isn't nearly that complete or Mueller would not have a job.  Still, the description of Theodoric as a "wild horse-man and harbinger of doom" struck a chord, if only because Trump emerges from the night when the rest of us sleep, and especially on weekends when the news was supposed to only stir in its slumber for the Sunday morning snore-fests, to blast us all with more missives from Twitter.  Not the bowels of Mount Etna, but seemingly from Hell itself.

And this (from the same source) frankly sounds like a better explanation of "Trump supporters" than all those internet articles about psychology and brain structure:

Research conducted in the twentieth century into preliterate nations has given us a new insight into what these barbarians brought with them.  One key factor to emerge was that they displayed additive rather than a subordinate way of thinking, approached things in an aggregative rather than analytical manner, essentially took cognizance of surroundings on the spur of the moment, and were incapable of abstraction.  In other words, this way of thinking did not organize its environment systematically or according to categories, but instead preferred to cling tenaciously to familiar, traditional modes of thought and action....  Initially, as modern studies in developmental psychology have shown when comparing different civilizations, their traditional knowledge and their intellectual make-up must have been unsuited for the moment to progress toward a highly evolved form of culture and to the refined modes of living that prevailed in the Roman world.

"Evolved" and "refined," of course, resting on dreadful daily violence to those who were perceived in any way to threaten the Pax Romana; or who had something Rome wanted (goods, labor, etc.) and that Rome would take.  The collapse of Rome was not just because they became indolent.  The Roman model was unsustainable, long lasting as it was.

It's a bit condescending to apply that analysis to anyone, especially fellow Americans.  But no more so than the articles about psychology and brain structure, and ultimately Fried's point is that there are different ways of thinking, and the way re-introduced to the West via Boethius (his purpose in starting there) is the one that struggled with the non-Roman weltanschaaung; and, I think, like most ideas, has proven bullet proof.  Ideas never die, not really; just ask the flat-earthers.

Furthering the Confederacy

Alan Dershowitz confirms that association with Trump makes you stupid.  Follow the bouncing ball:
No. If he bribed somebody, if he told a witness to lie, if he destroyed evidence, if he committed an act not authorized by the Constitution, which constituted obstruction of justice, he could be charged with obstruction of justice. What you can’t do is take an act that’s constitutionally authorized and then psychoanalyze the president and try to figure out what his motives were.

It doesn’t matter what his motives are. Let me give you an example. President Bush, the first, pardoned Caspar Weinberger, who was as clear as could be, and the special prosecutor said that publicly, that his intention was to put an end to the investigation of Iran–Contra, which may have pointed directly to President Bush. The special prosecutor said that, but it never occurred to anybody that he had been guilty of obstruction of justice, because the means he used, a pardon, is a constitutionally authorized means.
Well, actually, because no one challenged the use of the presidential pardon, abuse of the pardon has never been defined at law.  Absence of a judicial ruling doesn't mean the act is constitutional, just that it hasn't been ruled unconstitutional.

The point I’m making is that the means are what’s important. It would be a violation of the separation of powers and the Constitution to charge a president with obstruction of justice for simply doing no more than exercising his constitutional authority regardless of what his motive is.

This pretty much turns criminal law, which depends upon establishing a mens rea (not the same thing as motive, and Dershowitz knows it) in order to establish a crime, on its head.  Mens rea is the difference between murder and manslaughter, for example.  Neither turn on motive, but both turn on intent.  Negligence (manslaughter) is not as serious a cause of behavior as pre-meditation (murder).  But you can overcome pre-meditation if you can at least clear the M'Naghten threshold, a/k/a the "insanity defense."  So mens rea is key to criminal prosecution.  But here's where Dershowitz goes from disingenuous to sloppy:

President Obama changed years and years of American policy, as he was a lame duck, by telling his ambassador to the U.N. that she had to abstain rather than veto. What if I can prove to you, and I think I can, that President Obama was not motivated by what was good for America or what was good for world peace? He was motivated by anger, frustration, and pique at Benjamin Netanyahu.

This was his attempt to get even with Netanyahu, and he was badly motivated. Let’s assume we find a memo that says that. We’re not going to go after the president for that. Politically we will. We’ll attack him, as I did, but we’re not going to go after him for a crime, for him using personal pique to hurt America. That’s political.

But what’s the underlying crime in the Obama scenario?

Well it would just by, you’d have to ... obviously, it’s not like obstruction of justice, but you could argue that, for example, if a president took a bribe from the Arabs to do that, he’d be guilty of a crime. Here, he’s doing it for crasser reasons. Taking a bribe, he’s doing it for personal gain and benefit. Even if there were a crime, nobody would ever imagine doing that. We don’t psychoanalyze the motives of presidents, or of justices, or senators
There is no crime in the Obama scenario, and Dershowitz knows it.  Apples and oranges, and he should know better.  But beyond that, it's the argument about bribery.  Bribery is a crime.  You don't need to establish that the person bribed is "doing it for personal gain and benefit."  You just need to establish they took the money under the conditions outlawed by the bribery statute.  That was precisely the problem the DOJ had in the Menendez bribery trial:  they couldn't establish any of it constituted a bribe.  Menendez got personal gain and benefit, but that alone didn't make it a bribe.  His motive in taking the money was irrelevant, as no illegal quid pro quo could be established beyond a reasonable doubt.  So if the President took a gift from the Arabs, he might merely be in violation of the Emoluments Clause, rather than the bribery statutes (the distinction would be the act, the quid pro quo for the "gift").  In either case, his motive would be irrelevant; it is the act that matters.  Dershowitz makes this point until he doesn't, depending on how it suits him.

And at no time does the President act without the possibility of oversight and review of his actions.  In Dershowitz's "Obama scenario," the President has the authority to conduct foreign policy.  If he goes too far, Congress can exert oversight authority or even pass laws (overriding any veto) to restrain the President's actions.  Similarly, Congress (through its statute making power) can authorize the DOJ to appoint special counsel to review Presidential actions like firing FBI directors.  A criminal investigation is not the same thing as a criminal trial, and still there's the underlying argument by Dershowitz that, when the President does it, it's legal.

That's a nice argument if you can get it to work.  Bob Menendez would like to have used it for forego a jury trial; but that's not the way the system works.  No one gets an unalloyed opportunity to do as they see fit in government, including the President.  Indeed, the only way to say that what the President did was not legal, is in a court of law.  But according to Dershowitz, you can't ever get there unless bribery is involved, and then only because Dershowitz thinks bribery obviates mens rea (again, Bob Menendez wishes he could have sold the court on that argument).  Dershowitz insisted to Chotiner that he is more objective than any other pundit, so he's right more often.  I don't need to defend pundits in order to point out Dershowitz may be a giant among them, but he's still an embarrassment among lawyers.  Exhibit A:

That raises the question of why did Flynn lie? I think Flynn lied because he didn’t know it wasn’t material. There’s a very interesting article … about how the Obama administration may have used the Logan Act as a way of starting these investigations. Any rational person has to know that the Logan Act is a dead letter. If in fact they used the Logan Act to get search warrants or to do anything, that’s going to have a real problem, because the Logan Act cannot be a basis for anything. It’s a dead letter. It’s as if it’s not on the books.

Meaning what?

Meaning when you have a statute that hasn’t been enforced in 215 years, there’s a concept in the law called desuetude. That wipes the statute off the books. You cannot resurrect a dead statute. [Editor’s Note: Federal courts have never declined enforcement of a law because of this concept.]
Meaning, actually, nothing at all.  This is a law journal argument, the kind practicing lawyers sneer at.  It's the product of a non-practicing lawyer reviewing the law for concepts that will win him/her tenure, and nothing more.  Courts relying on law review articles for legal decisions are as rare as hen's teeth, and lawyers who cite such articles as precedent before a trial judge need to check their malpractice insurance to be sure it's up to date.  Basically, if the courts have never enforced this concept, it's the dead letter, not the old statute.

No one can be charged with the violating the Logan Act, you’re saying?

Absolutely not. If anybody could have been charged, the primary guy to have been charged would have been Ronald Reagan. Ronald Reagan as president-elect negotiated with the Iranians to keep American hostages unfreed for weeks so that he could get the credit when he was president for their release. If there was ever a violation of the Logan Act, that was it. If there was ever another violation of the Logan Act, it’s when former President Carter advised Yasser Arafat not to accept the peace offer that Bill Clinton had made to him. If there was ever a violation of the Logan Act, Jesse Jackson would be in jail, Dennis Rodman would be in jail.

And, again, just because prosecution wasn't brought against Reagan or Carter or Jesse Jackson or Dennis Rodman, doesn't mean it can't be brought now.  I'm not even sure a court would allow that complaint as a defense against a Logan Act prosecution.  There is the recognized doctrine of prosecutorial discretion, after all.

One other thing:  Dershowitz makes much of the distinction between impeachment and prosecution under criminal law.  It's a worthy distinction, but probably a misleading one.  There is no judicial review of impeachment.  The Supreme Court can't overturn the verdict of the Senate when a Federal judge is impeached and removed from office (which has happened), nor when the President is removed from office (which hasn't happened).  This is a crucial difference, because the standard for impeachment is whatever the Congress decides it is.  "High crimes and misdemeanors" is a very loose phrase, and short of the Congress normalizing impeachment and running through several Presidents in sequence, I don't foresee the Supreme Court stepping in to enforce that Constitutional phrase in a way that pleases the Court but not the Congress.

Separation of powers, donchaknow?