Saturday, July 30, 2022

Supreme Court Posts Still Very Relevant: Spinning the Supreme Court 1 - Narratives About the Court

 I started a blog post that was a quiz about the Constitution.  At the bottom I was going to link to some older posts about the Supreme Court and the Constitution.  But first I checked the links.  The posts are quite good and give deeper context to the current (and past) debates about the Supreme Court.  Even if you've read these before, they are worth reading again. (I actually wrote these and still find them worth reviewing.)  Since they are longish, I'll do them one at a time.  And no, this isn't just an easy way to put up content on the blog.  I think this post, for example, did a pretty good job of foreseeing things that have come to pass and thus are worth reading again.  

This first one was posted on June 6, 2009!  It looks at what all underlies the debates about Senate approval of Supreme Court nominees. 

June 6, 2009

Spinning the Supreme Court 1 - Narratives About the Court

[This is Part 1 of three posts on the narratives surrounding a Supreme Court nomination.  Part 2 will be on narratives about political strategy and Part 3 will be narratives about race.]

We generally understand Winston Churchill's  “History is written by the victors” to mean that those who prevail, get to select which facts to highlight and how to interpret them as they tell the story of how they (now 'the good') defeated 'the evil ones.'

But who is writing the present? Well, everyone is trying. We are all competing to have our narratives accepted as official reality.

In most situations, there are an enormous number of facts and a smaller number of competing narratives (or theories or stories or interpretations) which try to organize and explain the facts. The difficulty is in figuring out which of the facts are significant and which of the narratives best fit the facts. Our inclination is to make the facts fit our own favored narratives (the stories we want to believe) rather than finding or creating narratives that more accurately explain the facts. When politicians do this - try to create the right narrative for political gain - we call it framing or spin.

So, what are the narratives around the appointment of a Supreme Court Justice these days? In our heads are all the stories we've ever heard or thought of. Outside our skulls is the world where things are happening. We talk about 'facts' as though they are 'true' events. But who filters the facts before we get them? Obviously, events we don't witness first hand, are filtered by others - friends, family, news media, bloggers, etc. And even events we witness are filtered by our brains. Physically we can't take in and record every fact we witness. (Can you describe exactly what the last person you spoke to was wearing, down to the buttons?) And those stories in our heads I mentioned above also filter in and filter out what we think is important. (The buttons probably weren't important and not special enough to have attracted your attention.)

So how do we swim through all the facts and all the spin to find the narratives that most closely mimic what's happening outside of our heads? The best way I know, and it is inadequate, is to try to become conscious of the narratives. Usually they are working without us paying any attention, like doormen deciding which facts and ideas can come in and which can't. So, if you try to be conscious of the narratives you and others are using, then you take a giant step forward in figuring out what is happening.

So what narratives are being used concerning the decision to select and then approve of a Supreme Court Justice?

Constitutional Narrative

The US Constitution, Article II, Section 2 says:
He [the President] shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law: but the Congress may by Law vest the Appointment of such inferior Officers, as they think proper, in the President alone, in the Courts of Law, or in the Heads of Departments. [emphasis added]

Supreme Court Justice Narratives

Here's the generic narrative of a Supreme Court nominee we tend to learn in school:
The President will nominate someone who has performed exceptionally well in the field of law AND whose political leanings, while aligned with those of the president, are also not too distant from those of the population. 
Bonnie Goodman at HNN offers an example of the second part of this narrative in regard to Ruth Bader Ginsburg's confirmation hearings:
Sen. William Cohen (R-Maine) stated bluntly that the nominee's ideology was rightly a matter of concern. But Cohen suggested during the hearings that judicial ideology should be used only to determine if the nominee's philosophy is "so extreme that it might call into question the usual confirmation prerequisites of competency and judicial temperament." [emphasis added]
This issue of 'so extreme' in modern times came up with the nomination of Robert Bork. One narrative says that Democrats made judicial ideology an issue by rejecting Bork. A counter narrative says Republicans made it an issue by nominating a candidate whose ideology was so extreme. (Of course, saying that he was extreme is also a narrative, an interpretation of the facts.)

As you can see this is already getting tricky. How do we know what's extreme? We do have opinion polls, but the law isn't about voting and popularity. The Constitution is supposed to protect the basic rights of all humans even if the majority doesn't support them. Judges are supposed to decide based on the law, even if the decision isn't popular. They get lifetime appointments so they can resist pressures to vote a certain way.

It would seem pretty simple to interpret "he shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate . . . Judges of the supreme Court," but we're already finding problems. "Advice and consent" seems pretty straightforward. The President did talk to lots of Senators before nominating Ms. Sotomayor and soon they will be able to consent or not. But what is an appropriate basis for that consent?

That gets us back to the statement above about legal competence and political leanings. While we could debate all this, I won't spend much time on legal competence. That seems the easiest, though, if someone didn't go to Yale or Harvard, can they fit the prevailing narratives of "legally competent"? What about someone who hasn't been a judge already? Etc.

If judges are supposed to make decisions based on the law, why even mention political leanings? Well, because the President and the Senate are all politicians and because the Supreme Court is the third branch of the government. The judges aren't elected, but they are appointed and approved by elected officials. So we have to consider politics.

And also, 'political leanings' is another way to allude to the kinds of narratives people have in their heads. These political leanings are predispositions to consider some things more important than others - the right to own a gun as more important than the possibility of misusing the gun, or upholding international law about torture as more important than potential security risks.

Above I offered a generic narrative of a supreme court nominee. Let's expand that now from just the nominee's characteristics to how the nominee should behave if approved.

There are two well articulated narratives about how a Supreme Court Justice should behave.  Wikipedia, in a post on Judicial Activism offers: [The Wikipedia entry since 2009 appears to have changed quite a bit.  This is from the 2009 version and you can see the newer stuff at the link if you wish.]

Judicial activism is a philosophy advocating that judges should reach beyond the United States Constitution to achieve results that are consistent with contemporary conditions and values. Most often, it is associated with (modern) liberalism that believes in broad interpretation of the Constitution which can then be applied to specific issues.

Judicial restraint is the counterpart to judicial activism and is advocated by thsoe [sic] who believe that democracy will thrive if judges defer to the democratic process and stay out of policy debates. So, judicial activism is not necessarily an ideological concept. Some trace the history of judicial activism back to the loose constructionist approach of Alexander Hamilton, who believed that broad wording of the Constitution was meant to enable, not inhibit, various government actions.[1]
But this Wikipedia article is marked with warnings such as:
  • Its neutrality is disputed. Tagged since December 2008.
  • Its neutrality or factuality may be compromised by weasel words. Tagged since November 2007.
  • It is in need of attention from an expert on the subject. WikiProject Law or the Law Portal may be able to help recruit one. Tagged since May 2009.
  • It may contain inappropriate or misinterpreted citations which do not verify the text. Tagged since December 2008.
So we even have to consider that Wikipedia entries are also influenced by the narratives of their writers.

Adam Cohen, in a recent NY Times editorial, uses Britain's Supreme Court of Justice's decision that a Pringle is indeed a potato chip (and thus Proctor & Gamble owes $160 million in taxes) to give his own interpretation of activist judges:
Conservatives like to insist that their judges are strict constructionists, giving the Constitution and statutes their precise meaning and no more, while judges like Ms. Sotomayor are activists. But there is no magic right way to interpret terms like “free speech” or “due process” — or potato chip. Nor is either ideological camp wholly strict or wholly activist. Liberal judges tend to be expansive about things like equal protection, while conservatives read more into ones like “the right to bear arms.”
(Note that Cohen calls conservatives "strict constructionists" a term that seems more radical than Wikipedia's term "Judicial Restraint.")

(If someone were really a strict constructionist, could one argue that since the Constitution says "he" for President, that women can't be President?)

Let's try again for a narrative about a good nominee:

The nominee would be a person who would assume office with the goal of interpreting cases according to the law. Where the law is not completely clear, there will be some interpretation that is influenced by the new justice's life experiences. Candidates should not be coming to the court with the goal to change the direction of the court and the law. However, some cases raise issues not clearly addressed by the law or the Constitution. New technology raises questions that were often not addressed by the Constitution. Judges then must interpret how the words of the Constitution should be applied to, say, surveillance of email. Essentially new law must be created.

My 'neutral' (some might dispute its neutrality) narrative above tends to say that when possible (if the laws and Constitution are clear about the situation in the case before the court), judges should practice judicial restraint. But when the case isn't clear cut, they will need to be a bit activist. They will be required to use their own narratives, to interpret the law or Constitution. Of course if all the justices have the same narratives, they will come to similar conclusions.

And with eight males and one female, to the extent that males and females experience the world differently, we can see that female (slightly over half the US population is female) narratives are somewhat lacking on the Supreme Court.

I'm not an attorney. I don't claim any special expertise in this process of choosing a Supreme Court Justice. But I did want to step back a bit from the rhetoric and focus on the narratives that are being used in the hope that others might begin more easily to recognize them for what they are: interpretations of reality, but NOT reality.

In Part 2 I'll look at narratives about political strategies for approving or rejecting Supreme Court nominees, which will include how actors use narratives to support and oppose candidates. In Part 3 I'll look at narratives around race and Supreme Court nominees.

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Bird to Gird and Winner Creek Sunday

We took advantage of the sunshine Sunday.  I got out of the car with my bike at Bird Point and biked to the Forest Service Office in Girdwood, where J was waiting to pick me up.  A woman was getting ready to ride back as well and we agreed to go together.  But as soon as we started - the first mile or so is uphill at a more than gentle incline - I was going really slowly and it was clear that she could do this much faster with her rented electric bike.  So I told her to just take off and she pushed the button and zoomed up the hill.  

This ride goes along the route of the old road above Turnagain Arm.  It was narrow, steep, and curvy.  There were lots of crashes.  Now it's down to bike path  width, not that curvy, and with great views.  Here's a cliche Alaska photo of blooming fireweed with mountains, water, blue sky and clouds.  Lots of views like this on the path.  

Another view of Turnagain Arm without the foreground fireweed.  The tide seemed to be going out.  

Here we're down back to the new road level - but well separated.  This valley goes into Girdwood.  

And just for fun, I tweaked this with curves Mac Photos, just to remind everyone that if a picture looks too good (or weird) to be true, it probably isn't.  

Then a pick up at the Forest Service Office and a short drive up to the Prince Hotel and the Winner Creek trail behind the ski tram.  

When I first attempted this trail, it was several inches deep in mud.  But even with rubber boots it quickly became impossible to go further.  That was in the early 80's  Alaska Airlines had sold Alyeska to Seibu/Prince Hotels, and if the Prince Hotel had been imagined then, it was only on paper.  This is a beautiful natural spot that over the years has gotten lots of attention.  Perhaps too much.  I'm ok with the various boardwalk sections that have been put in.  But the ski-loop that has been put in nearby has cut an ugly dirt road through the previously lush landscape.  

This is near the beginning of the trail.  No hint of the muddy past.

And there are a few long sections of boardwalk through the woods.  

And here again I played with curves.

I've always admired the calculations it takes to do curves (actual curves, not digital ones) in boardwalks, so here's a focused look at a curve.  

One of several creeks that intersect the trail.  Lots of Devil's Club.  

The trail itself is just a beautiful place to walk in the woods.  And compared to the trails along the Seward highway, which go steeply up, this trail is relatively level.  Some ups and downs, but nothing drastic.  The key destinations on this trail have been the small gorge with water squeezed into a roaring torrent and the hand tram.  

Here's the bridge over the torrent.  

And here's looking from the bridge as the water roars by below.  

The hand tram is a quarter mile beyond this gorge.  It has a metal cage and ropes and pulleys to take you across a much bigger gorge.  But someone working the ropes to get people across fell to his death a couple of years ago and the tram is no longer open to use.  We didn't go the extra way to see exactly what's still there.  

A good day of enjoying Alaska on a beautiful sunny, then cloudy day.     Here's a better view of the water rushing through the gorge.   Or maybe not.  (It's not working in the preview.)  I'll try to fix it later.  Nope, not working.  Tried Blogger's upload video directly from my computer and that doesn't seem to have worked.  Maybe I can figure it out. Or just upload it to YouTube.  It's just a few seconds.  

Sunday, July 24, 2022

Saturday, July 23, 2022

Back Home - Random Bits

Flying north to Anchorage from Seattle on a summer night is always cool.  It has been a while since we've done it.  It was dark and definitely night when the plane finally took off at 10pm.  But soon there was a distant twilight visible on the northern horizon.  
Here's what it looked like just before landing at 12:15 am.  

TSA & Masks

When we left Anchorage last week, NONE of the TSA people at the Anchorage Airport was wearing a mask.  When we left Seattle last night, EVERY TSA worker was wearing a mask.  Not sure what that means.  Is the difference the location?  Is the difference the timing?  Don't know.


We had late lunch yesterday with a friend who lives on a houseboat in Seattle.  It was like being allowed into some secret community hidden from the world.  I understand that other Seattle houseboat enclaves are more visible to the outside world, but this one is small and tucked away out of view from most.  To actually get down to the boats, you need a key to open the gate.  

A relatively few people in the world live on houseboats.  When I googled to find out how many, there were only two links that discussed number of houseboats at all in the first few pages.  Most seem to be more commercial posts that I'm guessing pay Google to get them to the top.  They're more on topics like "Everything You Need to Know About Living On A Houseboat" or how to rent a houseboat.  A 2014 Smithsonian piece says 10,000 Londoners live on the water.  But remember that's people, not boats, and London's population is over 8.5 million. A 2021 Seattle Met link says there are only 215 legal houseboats in Seattle.  Statista has a graph of number of houseboats sold in the US from 2004 to 2013.  There was a almost steady decline from 550 to 70.  

It was a beautiful sunny afternoon and we sat on the deck as we chatted and dined.  

Blogging Post Ideas I'm Thinking About

  • What does 'privilege' mean?  How is it different from a right?  Are there factors that deserve 'privilege' or does it then become something other than a privilege?  When if privilege legitimate, when not?  How does the nature of the person/organization that grants privilege make a difference?  Lots to explore here.  I think because people have started using 'privilege' in new ways, so the original meaning is being distorted.  Does/should intelligence give one privilege?  Money?  Force?   If so, when and how?

  • When does talking about ending democracy move from free speech rights to treason?  Does advocacy of taking way other people's rights a legitimate form of free speech?  If yes, are there any limits?  If no, why not?

  • The Christian brand.  To my knowledge, there's no trademark or copyright protection for terms relating to Christianity*.  This has led to people with widely differing beliefs and behaviors claiming to be Christian.  I would argue that the Christian brand has been appropriated by various people and groups, whose words and actions are contrary to what 'true Christians' believe.  Think about the people in the United States who claim to be Christian - church leaders and followers, politicians, judges, business owners - who claim to be "Christian" yet behave in ways that are very different from commonly believed Christian values such as 

Some of the main themes that Jesus taught, which Christians later embraced, include:

  • Love God.
  • Love your neighbor as yourself.
  • Forgive others who have wronged you.
  • Love your enemies.
  • Ask God for forgiveness of your sins.
  • Jesus is the Messiah and was given the authority to forgive others.
  • Repentance of sins is essential.
  • Don’t be hypocritical.
  • Don’t judge others.
  • The Kingdom of God is near. It’s not the rich and powerful—but the weak and poor—who will inherit this kingdom.  (From

If there were a trademark for Christianity that was held by people whose behavior followed these beliefs, could sue people who claim to be Christians but who don't behave as Christians.   
*There is legal advice available for how and when Churches can get Trademark protection.  But would suing a Ted Cruz or a Mitch McConnell itself be a Christian thing to do?  Probably more so than telling your followers to vote for them.
  • What is a reasonable amount of money for a redistricting board to spend?  Redistricting is mandated by the US Constitution (Sec 1, Art 2)  and by state constitutions (see, for example, Alaska Constitution Article 6).  But how much should it cost?  Does anyone care?  Who's keeping track?  What are the incentives to save or to spend?  

Thursday, July 21, 2022

The Trump School For Text Scammers

When the former president announced he would be coming to Alaska to campaign against Lisa Murkowski, I signed up for a ticket.  I didn't do that without thinking about whether I really wanted to share any personal information with the T organization.  But if I was going to get my ticket, they'd need a phone or email.  I decided it would be interesting to see what the T org did with that info.  And I'm a blogger.

From the first text it was clear it was a scam.  There were no tickets, you had to just wait in line for hours.  (Though the Anchorage Daily News mentioned someone who said he paid $250 to avoid the lines.  I never got that offer.  Maybe if I'd have gone to one of the links I would have seen that offer.)   But there has been a regular barrage of texts.  From two different sources - one a phone number - (855) 584 8315 - and the other just 88022.  I did visit the venue on the morning of July 9 just to see who was all there.  You can see my pictures here.

I've gotten 34 texts in the last 21 days from 88022 and 35 from the phone number.  

I decided it would be interesting to see what I could learn about how to scam people.  What are the kinds of pitches theyt make.  I did a short google search for that topic, but mostly what showed up were the names and descriptions of the scams themselves - for example.  They didn't talk about how the scammers try to lure people.  

But that's what I'm going to do here.  But first a couple of screen shots.  

I went through the texts and divided them into the different ways they made their appeal.  Some texts, of course, combined several different methods.  I've  titled each method and offered some examples from the text.  


Text imples Trump is talking directly to you

  • Watching for your name on donor list
  • Don’t keep him waiting
  • President Trump noticed you still haven’t donated.  Is this a mistake?
  • LAST donor list soon. Will your name be on it?
  • PT:  I asked, will you answer?
  • Hey it’s me   Pres Trump:  I heading to my rally soon & really need to know if I have YOUR SUPPORT


If you donate now it

 has greater impact

  • 1000% impact
  • 10X impact
  • 3000X impact

I really don't know what this means.  Public radio drives sometimes tell listeners their donations will be matched so they have greater impact.  That probably happened when they first started doing that, but I doubt that's the case any more.  

Here, there's no hint at what IMPACT means.  


  • Time is running out to claim
  • 15 minutes to activate
  • What are you waiting for?
  • Hurry, activate.  
  • Last chance
  • Why wait?  I’ve asked you before & now I’m asking ONE LAST TIME
  • Offer for 1 hour FINAL CHANCE
  • Your only chance before it expires

I've had a lot of last chances over the last couple of weeks.  Urgency is a classic sales technique and they used it a lot.


  • I want you to join the AMERICAN DEFENSE TASK FORCE.  This is SERIOUS.

Maybe this should be combined with BE PART OF TRUMP CLUB/TEAM/LOYALTY below


  • Will you DEFEND our nation from the Left?
  • The Left Fears it


  • PT has activated your OFFICIAL TRUMP CARD.
  • I want you to become ULTRA MAGA MEMBER.
  • You’ve always stood with me - will you still?


  • GIVE
  • We’re finalizing the donor list. Give

This is the basic theme of all the texts.  It never says what the money is for.  I guess that's to avoid fraud charges when helps pay for Trump's lifestyle.  But then I've never gone to any of the links.  It's possible there's more information about what they plan to do with the money they raise.  But I doubt it.  


  • Never happened before
  • First chance
  • Never before release video OF president trump

  • As THE TOP donor, I’ve texted you 3000% more  Do you want to stay on top?
Since I never made a donation, I couldn't be the top donor.  If it were true he would have raised nothing.  

  • Gold Collectors Coin
  • New Video out now
  • Trump Gold cards
  • Trump Rally T-shirt
  • Hand Signed MAGA hat
  • I’ll activate your TRUMP FOUNDING MEMBERSHIP
These are the actual tangibles I've been offered for donations.  I had to google SLIM CAN COOLIE to figure that one out.

OK, this is the data.  What does it say about the people who actually give money?  How much does the donation plate at Sunday church services condition people to donate?  

So now that I've posted this, I can see if the STOP2END really works.  

Monday, July 18, 2022

AK Redistricting Board: Attorney Fees Decision Deferred Until After Court's Full Redistricting Opinion Comes Out - UPDATED

Alaska's Redistricting process for 2020 would appear to be pretty much over.  All that's left to close things out (or rekindle the process) is the Supreme Court's full opinion  explaining their reasoning for saying pairing Eagle River with the southern Hillside and pairing JBER with Chugiak were political gerrymandering.  That opinion could either conclude that the interim plan that is being used for 2022 elections will be the permanent plan for the rest of the decade or the Board can have the map back to do some last Senate pairing decisions.  

There really is very little the Board can do in the way of additional changes that would comply with the Court's orders up til now.  There isn't anything to really play with after the two Eagle River/Chugiak districts are paired.  They could change how JBER (after being severed from Chugiak) is paired which would cause  one or two more Senate districts to be redone.  But why do that?  It won't benefit the Board majority's interest in helping Republicans and it means residents and candidates in those districts have to make yet another adjustment for no real benefit.  

No word on when that decision will come out.  The longer it takes, the likelier it is that 2022 will be the permanent plan.  Why? 

The Board and staff have to reconvene if they get this back.  They already lost most of the staff.  I just called the remaining staffer's (Peter Torkelson) phone and it's no longer a working number.   [UPDATE  7/20/22:  Peter Torkelson let me know he is still working for the Board.  His email is still good.]

Potential candidates are already looking ahead to 2024.  But, of course, any changes would be limited to two, or at most, three Senate seats.  House seats won't be affected.  

But, on the Supreme Court docket, going back to June, is a request from the Girdwood plaintiffs for attorney fees from the Redistricting Board.  The Board, of course, objects.  The last event/item on the docket is from June 23, 2022.

"On consideration of the motion of Ken Waugh, Louis Theiss, and JennfierWingard for attorney’s fees filed on 6/6/2022, and the opposition filed by the Alaska Redistricting Board on 6/20/2022,

IT IS ORDERED: This motion is STAYED until the opinion in this matter isissued.

Entered at the direction of an individual justice."

I'd note that only the orders from the court are available on the public docket.  

At a traditional news medium, this is the kind of thing they report on a slow news day.  On a personal blog, it's what you put up when you are trying to catch up and don't have time for a more complicated post.  


Sunday, July 17, 2022

Warnings From Half Of A Yellow Sun

The phrase, "Everything is impossible until it is done" often attributed to Nelson Mandela among others, tells us not to give up hope that we can accomplish something.  It's a positive inspiration for people fighting to elect sensible politicians or to change oppressive laws.  Surely the Supreme Court decision declaring the right to gay marriage is an example of the truth of that quote.  Tattoo it on your brain.  

But I want to look at the possibility of negative events in this post, which might be more aptly said, "Everything is impossible until it isn't."  NOT taking action because we DON'T think something bad can really happen is a problem.  

Below is a short passage from Half Of A Yellow Sun a novel by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.  

The book portrays the lives of (mostly) upper class, educated Nigerians.  Part I is titled "The Early 60s."  I'm now in Part II:  "The Late Sixties."  I'll briefly point out why I think it is relevant to us today for those who may not see in the passage what I see.

The narrator, in this chapter, speaks from the perspective of Ugwu, an Igbo, who is the houseboy of Odenigbo who teaches at the university in Nsukka. He is also Igbo though he often speaks to Ugwu in English.  Odenigbo is often referred to by Ugwu as Master. Odenigbo hosts weekly afternoon lunches for a small group of faculty - where they have lively discussions about the politics of their newly independent country.  

The gathering in the passage is a little different.  There had been a recent coup and now there are reports on the radio that the Muslim, Hausa-speaking Northerners are starting to attack the Christian Igbo soldiers who they accuse of tribal favoritism and corruption in the newly independent nation of Nigeria.

"Ever since the second coup some weeks ago, when the Igbo soldiers were killed, he had struggled to understand what was happening, read the newspapers more carefully, listened more closely to Master and his guests.  The conversations no longer ended in reassuring  laughter, and the living room often seemed clouded with uncertainties, with unfinished knowledge, as if they knew something would happen and yet did not know what.  None of them would ever had imagined that this would happen, that the announcer on ENBC Radio Enugu would be saying now, as Ugwu straightened the tablecloth, "We have confirmed reports that up to five hundred Igbo people have been killed in Maiduguri."

"Rubbish!" Master shouted.  "Did you hear that?  Did you hear that?"

"Yes, sah,"  Ugwu said.  He hoped the loud noise would not wake Baby up from her siesta.  

"Impossible!" Master said.

"Sah, your soup," Uguw said.

"Five-hundred people killed.  Absolute rubbish!  It can't be true." [emphasis added]

I'd note that in the next chapters the slaughter will get even worse.  

My sense is that most US citizens are still sitting too comfortably in their lives to believe how close we are to the impossible.  Or maybe a little too uncomfortably to believe things could really get even worse.  They are telling people like me not to be alarmists.  Things always work out.  

Well, until they don't.  

In May 2020, Trump said Trump said keeping US deaths to 100,000 would be a ‘very good job.’  Over a million people in the US died of COVID.  Where's the outrage?  Well, the million who died aren't here to complain.  And while their families were affected,  most of us didn't have physical contact with all those dead bodies.  The deaths were spread out geographically.  But let's consider how many people died.  The ten largest cities in the US have populations above 1 million.  

But the next ten, if all those deaths took place in their cities, would have been wiped out!

11San JoseCalifornia1,003,120
12Fort WorthTexas958,692
14CharlotteNorth Carolina925,290
17San FranciscoCalifornia884,108
20WashingtonDistrict of Columbia718,355


It would have a lot more impact if the deaths had been geographically concentrated in any of these cities.  The whole population would be gone!  Ghost town.  

We still don't comprehend the enormity of the disaster.  And because we refuse to even wear masks, we continue to offer our bodies as breeding ground for the virus.  Even if we have no symptoms, we give the virus a host where rest and mutate into newer and potentially even more deadly variations.

But perhaps the biggest catastrophe waiting to happen is the loss of our democracy.  Women have already had a basic human right ripped away from them.  Now far right legislators are trying to limit their right to interstate travel.  If the Supreme Court next fall cedes all voting decisions to state legislatures, Republican legislatures will gerrymander their states so that only Republicans can win.  They'll change voting laws and procedures so that potential Democratic voters will have a video game worth of obstacles blocking their attempts to vote.  

Armed (unregulated) militias could duplicate the slaughters that Odenigbo can't believe are being reported on the radio.  If you don't believe that you didn't see any footage of January 6.  You don't understand the hate and anger behind the anti-abortion laws.  You fail to consider the 320 million guns owned by US citizens.  You're not paying attention to regular mass shootings - there have already been 48 in the US in July 2022 and today is only July 17!

Some US citizens understood the gravity of things when they watched the January 6 insurrection.  Others while listening to the Congressional Jan 6 hearings.  But most people seem to be incapable of believing a fascist takeover of the United States could really happen.  Their image of the US as the land of democracy and freedom blocks the image of an authoritarian take over.  No government in history has not eventually fallen.  Despite the talk of American exceptionalism, we aren't any different.  

Some people may think that they are law abiding white citizens so they'll be fine. Only bad people have to worry.  

And many might imagine the worst, but can't imagine they have the power to do anything about it.  That's understandable and curable.  

We all need to keep these two quotes visible:


To remember that losing our democracy is very possible.


To remember that we can work to preserve our democracy and defeat those who want to kill it.  

The most immediate thing you can do is make sure as many people as possible vote blue. Don't believe me?  Stacy Abrams got enough blue voters registered and to the polls in Georgia in 2022 to give its electoral college votes to Biden and to replace two Republican US Senators with Democrats.  She did it by planning and hard work.   There are many organizations working hard to duplicate that kind of work.  In 2020, nearly 2/3 of eligible voters voted.  That was a presidential election year when more people vote.  It was a record high.  But it means that 1/3 of voters did NOT vote.    

You can help find those non-voters and encourage them to vote blue.  Here are some organizations working on that.  

Six Organizations Getting People to Vote and How to Help Them

Fearless Action is a youth led group getting people to vote.

The League of Conservation Voters

Fascist/authoritarian takeover isn't inevitable.  But the fact that majority of the Republicans in the House and Senate won't say that Biden won the election, but instead are denying the insurrection, and are attacking the January 6 investigation, and doing nothing to prevent it from happening in 2024 is not a good sign.  

While the 2022 election is critical to maintaining a democracy, the larger threat looming over the world is Climate Change.  While a growing number of people are convinced that climate change is real, they aren't willing to fight hard to slow it down.  Every day of delay means more extreme climate change impacts and more suffering of all living creatures on the planet.  (Well, there probably will be some creatures who will find a way to thrive in the new earthly reality.)

I'm guessing the title of the book is related to the flag of the short-lived breakaway country of Biafra.

Friday, July 15, 2022

Bill Allen - My Respect For Him As A Pre-Modern Man In A Modern World

When I heard last week that Bill Allen had died, I immediately wanted to write a bit of a remembrance.  I sat through three different political corruption trials in 2007 and 2008 where he was a key witness for the prosecution.  He had already pleaded guilty and would explain each time how he had given money to different Alaskan GOP politicians so they would vote favorably for the oil industry, for his company VECO in particular.

I thought I had a post that spoke to the part I wanted to say.  But I couldn't find it.  

I just read Michael Carey's Anchorage Daily News opinion piece remembering Bill Allen, so I'll refer you to that.  I met Michael on the first or second day of the first of the trials.  He'd heard that the defendant had been a former student of mine and invited me to lunch.  I told him I couldn't talk about what I knew about Tom from my teacher-student relationship, but he still took me to lunch that day.  Michael's a good man and I appreciate his view on things.

Michael's article got me to look again back into the archives of this blog and I found what I was looking for.  It's in a post talking about the stories imbedded in the trail, in this case, cultural stories. I'd note my use of the term "pre-modern man."  This doesn't mean cave man.  It refers to the value systems prior to the Scientific Revolution and the application of science and rationality to agriculture, the production of goods, to medicine, and to government and law.  It was a time when family and power were the key things that mattered. 

From Pete Kott's Trial: The Underlying Stories September 15, 2007

"First, I would note that the main character in the trial so far has been Bill Allen. Pete Kott has said very little since the first day when the jury pool assembled and Kott stood up with the attorneys and introduced himself as "Pete Kott, the defendant." Since then he's been a quiet shadow sitting between his attorneys. Witness Rick Smith has a supporting role to Bill Allen. So let me try on this story as an interpretation of some of what is happening here in court.

We have a clash of two different cultures - a pre-modern, tribal world and a modern, legal world. In Bill Allen's world, as I tease it out of his words and behaviors, power and family are the main values. Loyalty is a second, but lower value. The law, the government, the legislature in particular are seen as either obstacles to be overcome or tools to get what you want. Allen is clearly an intelligent man. Coming from a poor family, as he told the story, where he and his family survived as 'pickers' of fruit and vegetables in Oregon, he often missed school to pick. He finally dropped out at 15 to earn money as an assistant welder. He has used his wits, his ability to work hard, and his ability to size up people, to create a business that earned between $750 million and $1 billion last year, according to his testimony. 

In the world he described, good and bad referred to how something would affect his business. Good legislation was legislation that would benefit - directly or indirectly - Veco's prospects. Good people were those who supported Allen and Veco. Money was a sign of power. And with money, this high school drop-out could show his power over the better educated. He could buy legislators. He paid Tom Anderson to be a consultant who did, apparently, very little for his monthly check. He paid for political polls for state legislative candidates. He handed out checks to legislators. They had audiences with Allen in the Baranof Hotel's Suite 604. But symbolically, he could really show his power by building the addition to Ted Stevens' house and by hiring Ted Stevens' son for $4000 a month to do "not a lot." The most senior Republican U.S. Senator was beholden to him. Surely, that's a sign of power. He even bought a newspaper - The Anchorage Times.  So all these educated people worked for him - a high school drop out who'd picked fruit as a child. 

Earlier in the trial, I'd thought perhaps loyalty was the main virtue in this world - the loyalty of the Pete Kotts. The loyalty of his Veco employees. He said he trusted Kott as a friend who would do whatever it took to support him. He told the court he'd put aside $10 million when Veco was sold, to support the loyal employees who'd worked for the company and made it what it was - not the executives, but the workers. 

But then I looked at the situation before me. Allen was the government's witness against his most loyal servant, Pete Kott. We've watched this tribal culture on HBO - in the Sopranos and in Rome. We see it in the car bombs of Baghdad. We even see it in the White House where the rule of law is trumped by the raw use of power, and the redacting of significant parts of the Constitution. If the rule of law has any meaning in this culture, it is might makes right. And when the FBI confronted Allen with hundreds of hours of secretly recorded audio and video tapes, he saw that their army of investigators and attorneys had more juice than Veco. In this conflict of power, the FBI had him by the balls, a graphic image that would say it all in Allen's world.   And to protect the ultimate core of a tribal culture, his family, he abandoned Kott and the others, to keep his family out of prison.  

This is not an immoral man. Rather this is a man who lives by a different code of right and wrong from the one that now judges him. Family and power come first. Loyalty to underlings comes next. He told the court he didn't expect anything from the Government for his testimony. He recognized their power, and in their place he would not treat his vanquished with 'fairness'. But he also had his own pride - in the powerful company he built by his own hands and wit, in his own hard work - and as he told Kott's attorney, "I won't beg" the government to lower his sentence. He'll take what comes as a man. He's protected his family, whatever else happens, happens.

This man who ruled by the pre-modern values of power and personal loyalty is put on trial by the rules of a modern state, where rationality, not personality count. Where merit, not loyalty and personal connections, is the standard. (A merit system generally prefers college degrees to dirty fingernails.) His behaviors are judged, not by power, but by laws. The kind of laws he paid legislators to write in his favor and that he ignored when they were in the way.  

I think it is important to recognize the good qualities in Allen. This is a man who, it would appear, was raised in a culture where poverty was bad and thus money was good. No one was there to help him, he had to help himself. The modern, civilized world failed him. It forced him to work as a child. The school system didn't work for him. The idea of rule of law wasn't, apparently, one he learned from his family and he wasn't in school enough to get it there. With what he had, he built a large corporation which gave him the power to take care of his family. He played well by the rules of tribal culture. 

And lest those of us who believe in the rule of law get too smug, tribal instincts are alive and well under the veneer of civilization we wear. We see it flare up in divorce courts, at football stadiums and boxing matches, among hunters and fishers. It's part of our humanity. We're still learning how to balance the tension between protecting our own and helping others, between the freedom of the individual and the good of the larger community.


Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Privilege - What Does It Mean? Responding To A Commenter

I wrote a post about the protests against the Supreme Court decision on abortion.  In it, I mentioned how, during the Vietnam war era, everyone was affected by the draft; men who were subject to the draft and the women who were connected to them.  And that led to a lot more anti-war activism than any war since the draft was ended.  I said I thought the abortion decision would have the same effect on activism now.  

I got this comment:

'During the 1960's the protesting against the Vietnam war was invigorated by the fact that all 18 year old men had to register for the draft and stood a decent chance of being sent to Vietnam to fight. '
Not true Steve, I graduated HS in 1969 in June. July I got the notice that I was 1-A and August I was called for my physical. This is while most of my friends who were going to college got a student deferment. The decent chance came after the draft lottery in 1969 when everyone one was treated equal and the privileged class was treated like everyone else. You get a student deferment?

I thought that 'privileged class' seemed like a pretty broad brush to paint all college students and explained in a follow up comment that while I acknowledged that as a white US citizen I clearly had privilege over people of color, but not over other white men subject to the draft.  I explained my family background - that my parents had gotten to the US with very little and both worked full time. I also acknowledged that you might say I was privileged to live in California in the 60s when college was readily available to most anyone who really wanted to go and that it was cheap.  Cheap enough for me to pay my room and board by working 15 hours a week.  I asked what it was that privileged me that Anon didn't have.  

His short answer was:

"Your privilege was not being 1-A like people who could not get a deferment."

I asked for his definition of privilege and what I had that let me get into college that he didn't have, given that his friends went to college.  His response:

'What privilege did I have that got me the deferment that you didn't have?'

My argument is that you got a four years get out of jail free card because you went to school. Tell me why studying English Literature gets you out of the draft for four years and working in a sewing machine factory does not?

I wrote one more response trying to get him to clarify what class advantage I had that he didn't have.  When I finished, and hit 'publish' Blogger comments said it was too long.  

So I'm creating a whole new post.  I think the concept of privilege is important to think about in the US.  White Privilege was first outlined, to my understanding, by Peggy McIntosh, as a way of showing the differences that disadvantage black US citizens.   Again, if you want to see the original post and the complete comments, go to this link.  There are, of course, other forms of more exclusive privilege - particularly great family wealth, fame, etc.  

But in recent years people have been throwing the term around pretty loosely - basically to mean, you have something I don't have.  It's a Right Wing slur to go along with "elite," to attack people who believe in education and science as important pillars of democracy and civilization.  

I'd also note that I suspect the commenter is someone who has commented many times before under the name of Oliver.  The writing style, the tendency to not respond to the specific points I raise, the seeming resentment of higher education suggest that.  I suspect Anon really believes there is something privileged about going to college, but I'm not sure why and he doesn't seem to want or be able to explain it.  

I'd also note, in previous exchanges (not based on this recent post) I've noted that I believe that academic education is probably not the best choice for all, that technical and other kinds of training should be available to lead everyone to gainful, respectable employment.  But that such training should include ethics and civic duties of all US citizens.  I would add now that given our economy no longer seems to require everyone to work, we need to accommodate how we allow those who are put out of work due to automation and artificial intelligence to still live respectable and decent lives. One option that has been proposed is Universal Basic Income.  The field of economics needs badly to rethink how a post - modern economy can and should think about and work including the moral judgments attached to it.  .  

The Comment That Was Too Long So It Ends Up With Its Own Post

Since you aren’t going to explain your definition of privilege, let me try to explain what I think it is and why I think it’s not the right word here. From 
"1. a special advantage or immunity or benefit not enjoyed by all 
 2. a right reserved exclusively by a particular person or group (especially a hereditary or official right)" 
 It also says: 
“Privilege comes from Latin privilegium, meaning a law for just one person, and means a benefit enjoyed by an individual or group beyond what's available to others.” 

 My question to you was: What special group did I belong to that allowed me to get a deferment that you didn’t belong to?  OK, I know you are going to say 'you were a college student."  But what privilege did I have that got me into college that you didn't have?  

You haven’t answered that question. I’ve already said that I was ‘privileged’ to live in California in the 1960s when higher education was readily accessible to most anyone at a very low cost to anyone who chose to pursue it. 

 I’ve acknowledged that I was privileged over people of color who had far greater obstacles than white folks to get into good public schools and into colleges. 

 I’ve pointed out that my parents arrived in the US with almost nothing and both worked full time all the time I was going to school and beyond.  So I didn't have any special wealth or connections.  

You now say that getting a deferment for being in college was a privilege that a full time sewing machine factory worker didn’t have. Is this a hypothetical factory worker? Since you said you were drafted right after high school, I assume this factory worker wasn’t you. 

And if someone was working full time in a factory to support a family, and thus couldn't go to college, there’s a good chance he was a father or had some other good reason to qualify for a hardship deferment. And, in fact, there were more hardship deferments than college deferments as I mentioned in the first response to you. 

Do you feel people missing a finger or with bad eyesight or some other physical disqualification that kept them out of the military were privileged too? 
Were females privileged, because they didn’t even have to register for the draft? Those who wanted to serve in the military, like some women, might say your hypothetical factory worker was privileged because he could serve but they couldn't. So, I’m asking again, what was it that you lacked, that I had, that allowed me to go to college but not you? 

You said your classmates went to college. Why didn’t you? From these comments and previous ones (if this is indeed Oliver commenting), it appears you have some resentment toward people who go to college and I’m trying to understand it. Do you think college is a bad thing? Do you think studying English Literature is frivolous? If so, read my post about the college class I learned the most valuable lessons in. Would it have been better in your mind if I had been studying engineering or business? 

Are you saying that Congress was wrong to allow college students deferments until they graduated? You may be right on that point, and the lottery, as you pointed out, changed that. But Congress did allow college deferments, so if a deferment was what people wanted, they knew what paths to take. (That wasn't why I went to college, but it was a benefit I wasn't going to scoff at.) 

 I wasn’t part of any wealthy elite. I am white and that gave me privilege over people who weren’t. I didn’t come from a family with a long tradition of serving in the military who had expectations I would join the military, like many had.  Is that the privilege here? Other than being white, I didn’t belong to any special class of people that gave me an advantage over the sons of other people who had to work full time to achieve their version of the American Dream. In those days factory jobs paid better than many other kinds of jobs and had retirement benefits and health care. 

Are you saying I was privileged because my parents didn’t beat me and they valued education rather than the military? (I didn't mention these things, but they do apply.)  Well, yes, then I was privileged.      But that's a pretty loose definition of privilege.  

So tell me: what do you think I had that wasn’t available to you?   And was that something I had based on some exclusive group I belonged to that was closed off to others?  Some sort of birthright that gave me an advantage that other white working class US kids didn't have?