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cab67

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Member since: Wed Jul 24, 2013, 12:10 PM
Number of posts: 1,294

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The realist's lament.

A couple of years ago, I was chair of the faculty assembly for my college. We were facing some unusual challenges that year - possible efforts to break the college up, major turnover in the offices of the provost and dean, and some quasi-union-related conflicts.

At one point, someone who felt very strongly about a particular cause stood up, pointed at me, and shouted, "You.....you realist!"

I've always thought it best to work in the real world. Yes, I want the world to be better. And yes, I'm working to improve it. But that doesn't allow me to ignore the world as it is. Like I once said of a colleague, "his strength is an ability to think outside the box. His weakness is forgetting where the box is." So although the person who called me a realist presumably meant it as a perjorative, I was flattered.

A lot of us want change. Gerrymandering has to end. Citizens United has to be overturned. The Electoral College shouldn't be a thing anymore. And the two-party system, as it currently exists, is strangling the country.

Countries with parliamentary systems often have multiple parties. This means voters are better represented by their elected officials, but it can also lead to instability if one party can't form a majority. If the coalition built to form a government collapses, so does the government itself.

In the US, the parties are the coalitions. The Democratic Party, in my lifetime at least (but see below), has been a coalition of progressives, intellectuals, labor, and (for the most part) African-American and Latinx voters. These parties can destabilize (e.g. when Dixiecrats became Republicans), but by and large, they're more stable. This is good.

But this also means people at the distal ends of the ideological spectra tend to be marginalized. Which, if you're closer to the center, isn't necessarily a bad thing, until one of the parties falls into a death spiral created by talk radio loudmouths, gets pulled way to the far right, and refuses to cooperate with the other party. And the center begins to look more and more like the left. Stability becomes stasis.

All of this is central to the thinking of many people I know. They support certain primary (or, in my state, caucus) candidates because they promise to "shake things up." And more than a few are suggesting they might abstain from the general election or cast a protest vote if the primaries don't go their way.

Herein lies my dilemma. I am very sympathetic to what they say. We need to shake up the two-party system. But that won't work unless both parties are shaken up at the same time. Try to bring down the DNC, and the result isn't a more progressive Democratic Party - it's a much stronger and emboldened Republican Party, along with efforts to bring the Democratic Party closer to the center.

So I find myself begging these people - many are good friends - to be realistic. Some of these candidates are never going to be president. It doesn't matter whether I like these people or agree with some of their policies. They're never going to be president, and all of the highfalutin' speechmaking they make won't change any of that.

How do I reach out to these people? How do I get them to see we're all in this together? That a less progressive candidate may not accomplish as much as we want, but it's better than getting nothing we want? That incrementalism is bloody slow, but it's the only approach that works?

Would like to see a deleted post.

The post was in response to something I posted. It was deleted before I could see what it said. Is there a way I can see it?

Why I think Alan Dershowitz is a contrarian.

A lot is being said of Alan Dershowitz serving on the Orange One's defense team for the impeachment trial. There are lots of reasons why this is odd, not least of which Dershowitz's previous alliances with the Democratic Party. So a lot of people are saying things like "he's lost his marbles" or "he's lost it."

I don't necessarily think so, and there's a reason I think that way.

First - yes, he was on the defense teams that let OJ walk and got Epstein a scandalously light sentence. Assuming he played a major role in those defenses, that doesn't necessarily mean he's nuts. It means he's amoral, but it also means he's a good defense attorney, and that he did his job well. That being said, these were defense teams. Dershowitz wasn't the lone defense attorney, and I've never seen an accounting of who on these teams did what. So he might have been present as window dressing, for all I know.

I think he's a contrarian. I'm an academic, and I encounter such people all the time. These are people who adopt positions contrary to the consensus. They don't necessarily believe them, but they like the notoriety and attention that comes from being a lone voice in a crowd. Almost every academic field has them.

There's a difference between a contrarian and a denialist. Most of the academics or think tank inhabitants claiming that human-driven climate change has stopped, or that human activity isn't to blame, are doing it for the money, political bias, or both. They may also like the attention, but the main motivators are either financial or political. Contrarians may make money from public appearances and whatnot, but it's all about the attention.

Anyway - why do I think Dershowitz is a contrarian?

I decided this when I saw him comment on the Amanda Knox case.

Ms Knox was an American college student who was studying in Italy when her British roommate was murdered. The local police decided that Ms Knox and her Italian boyfriend were involved in some sort of sex orgy gone wrong. Ms Knox was arrested, interrogated with neither a defense attorney nor interpreter, and eventually convicted of the crime. Her conviction was overturned on appeal and she came back to the US, but the Italian system lets the prosecution appeal acquittals (something they initially did to deal with corrupt judges); her acquittal was overturned, she was convicted again, and the second conviction was also overturned. So she's been cleared, but it took a long time.

The media - especially, though not exclusively, the Italian and British tabloids - went nuts over this. They published all sorts of salacious stories about Mx Knox and/or the crime, most of which were either bullshit, misinterpreted beyond all resemblance to reality, or taken way, way out of context.

If one actually looks at the facts of the case, it becomes very, very clear that the crime was committed by a lone intruder. Every bit of forensic evidence used against Ms Knox or her boyfriend was later shown to be misinterpreted or contaminated. Her "incriminating statements" and "odd behavior" were only incriminating or odd in the tabloids; in reality, they were perfectly normal given the circumstances.

Eventually, almost every legal expert in the US agreed that Ms Knox had been railroaded - that this was a classic case of tunnel vision in which law enforcement decided what happened and framed everything they saw in that context. Mx Knox was obviously innocent of this crime, and the police and prosecutors involved in the case gave a textbook example of how not to investigate a violent crime.

I say "almost" because one American lawyer took the opposite view - Alan Dershowitz.

This is when I decided he wasn't just an amoral defense attorney, but a contrarian. He wasn't involved with the case. He didn't have to open his yap about it. And yet, open his yap he did - and what came forth were claims that the evidence against Ms Knox was very strong. Given his defense of OJ Simpson, where the evidence against his client was pretty solid, this struck me as flat-out absurd. It was like claiming that ghost pepper sauce is as mild as milk, but that strawberry jam is a fiery condiment sure to cauterize your taste buds.

Then I remembered that he works at a university, and it all fell into place. He's a contrarian academic. He may or many not have thought Ms Knox was guilty (just as he may or may not have thought OJ was innocent), but he adopted his position based on his perception of consensus and desire to move in the opposite direction.

Anyway - my tuppence. I think it's worth considering as we watch him on cable news.

Suppose they had a War on Christmas and nobody came.

I wanted to wait for Christmas to wind down before discussing an encounter I had on Tuesday at a local hobby shop.

My primary hobby is birding, but if I can’t get out for whatever reason, I also like to build model aircraft. Right now, I’m building a 1:48 P-47D Thunderbolt, and I plan on printing decals to match the markings of a plane my grandfather was photographed flying in 1945. He was a flight instructor and would presumably have flown trainers most of the time, but flew a Jug at least once. I want to make this as accurate as possible, which meant getting the right shade of yellow-green for the wheel wells. That, in turn, meant going to the hobby shop to buy a small jar of it because yes, I’m that picky. (I’m not the only one. They sell paint that precisely, or so we’re told, matches the interiors of the fighters for pretty much every nation involved in WW2 and, if appropriate, each branch that operated aircraft.)

So, anyway –

Somebody to my right said something. That’s the side where my ear doesn’t work very well, so I didn’t know if he was talking to me. Evidently, he was, because he repeated it, loudly and, I could sense, with some annoyance – “Merry Christmas!”

“Merry Christmas,” I responded.

Evidently, he was one of two people in that hobby shop who considered themselves front-line infantry in the imaginary “War on Christmas,” and that this particular hobby shop was going to be a new front.

“It’s the liberal left that won’t let us say ‘Merry Christmas’ anymore! We have to say ‘Happy Holidays!’ What a bunch of politically correct bullshit!”

The other fellow sat nearby, nodding along with his friend’s tirade.

I’m serious about this whole “War on Christmas” thing being imaginary. I’m constantly reminded of the Vietnam-era peacenik slogan, “Suppose they gave a war and nobody came.” That nobody burst into the hobby shop to drag this enemy of PC off to a FEMA camp should have revealed to this particular culture warrior that he was the only one there fighting some sort of pretend “war,” but it didn’t. He kept yammering on about it. About how people who don’t celebrate Christmas should just get over it. About how “Happy Holidays” is actually offensive to Jewish people – or should be, if they’d pay attention to their own traditions – because Hanukkah is a season, not a holiday. About how this run-amok political correctness is destroying America. And so on.

I kept my mouth shut through this. I really just wanted my jar of Tamiya XF-4 Yellow Green, and maybe a few minutes to browse the aircraft kits for sale.

Then he said something that called for a response: “You know, teachers and professors aren’t allowed to say ‘Merry Christmas’ anymore. Not that it matters, since they’re all a bunch of liberal Marxists who want to destroy America from within.”

I'm a professor at a public university. I do say “Have a good holiday” when responding to a student at this time of year, but it’s not university policy, and it’s not a sense of moral arrogance. It’s a matter of courtesy. Yes, most of my students celebrate Christmas, but not all of them. Some celebrate Hanukkah. Others may celebrate something else. I don’t want to presume to guess which one. So I say “have a good holiday” on the theory that the student will either be celebrating some sort of holiday or enjoying winter break, and that my statement will be understood not as political correctness, but a wish that the student has a good holiday.”

So I spoke up. “Actually, we’re not forbidden to say ‘Merry Christmas.’ Many of us do prefer to say ‘have a good holiday…’”

“Because you’re worried you’re gonna get sued,” he said.

“No,” I replied. “I’m not afraid of getting a nasty email, either. But I think it’s polite to be as inclusive as possible. Don’t you?”

He started back on his list of reasons for wanting to be offended. People need to lighten up! It’s meant as a good thing, don’t they know! Pretty soon, we won’t even be allowed to celebrate Christmas!

I didn’t say anything after that.

I would have told him some people actually do find “Merry Christmas” somewhat offensive, and that they have a legitimate reason to feel that way – they dislike the assumption that the majority applies to all, especially when there’s been a long history of their traditions being suppressed. We could brush it off with “don’t be so sensitive,” or we could try to understand why some people might feel strongly about this.

I would then have told him that I had a choice – I could decide to make my holiday wish into a political statement, knowing that I might offend some people and feel offended when the other person expresses offense (or even has the audacity to respond with “Happy Hanukkah” or whatever). Or I could express a genuine wish that someone have a nice holiday, whichever holiday is involved. Which wouldn’t offend anyone and would actually reflect the spirit of goodwill and kindness this season is supposed to embody.

But the best part came as he left the store. “I’m still going to say “Merry Christmas!” And it’s my Second Amendment right to say it!”

Anyway – I got the paint.

Here's something I wish Jerrold Nadler, or some other Democratic committee chair, would do.

It's the Democratic Party. Its members in Congress are Democratic congresswomen and congressmen.

They are not Democrat members. It's not the Democrat Party.

This practice of dropping the "-ic" suffix started in the 1990's as an explicit effort by some Republicans to belittle and demean their opponents.

This should be a sanctionable action. The chair should insist on proper terminology - it's also proper decorum - and stop it.

I think I understand Turley's motivation.

I've heard him speak before. He's basically a contrarian. His positions may hold some principle, but in large part, he's taking the opposite side just to do it. He's a more intelligent version of Alan Dershowitz.

Academia is full of such people.

I just did something I've never done.

I sometimes use C-SPAN to follow the hearings while I'm working.

I decided to keep it on during a pause in the hearings and listen to the call-in segment.

Where, exactly, do these callers come from? Half of the callers on the "Democratic" line are either Republicans or very, very ignorant people. Ditto for the alleged independents.

I was once surprised at how close I came to convincing a graduate student - a geology graduate student - that clocks in the southern hemisphere go in the other direction because of the Coriolis Effect. Now I know where such graduate students come from.

Wow. Just....wow.

I'd never really listened to Devin Nunes until now.

This dude is living in an alternative reality.

How should the constitution be fixed?

When this nightmare ends, the constitution should be amended to make sure this never happens again. But how?

Some needed amendments are obvious. The electoral college has to go. Partisan gerrymandering has to be abolished. Citizens United has to be overturned.

But I think additional amendments are needed:

1. The president's power to pardon should not be absolute. Presidents should not be able to pardon people whose crimes occurred during their administration, for example. I also think presidents should be barred from pardoning previous presidents. The "let's move forward" attitude has done real damage to the Republic.

2. There needs to be clarity on whether a sitting president can be indicted.

3. Presidents should also be unable to interfere with independent counsels.

thoughts?

Yeah, about the Orange One's mental decline -

I think it's pretty obvious to most people that the president's cognitive faculties have been on the downswing. The amount of sense he makes when he talks - never large to begin with - is shrinking. His behavior seems increasingly erratic.

What impact might this have on future attempts to prosecute him, either for crimes committed while in office or before?

I'm serious about this. I wonder if a good lawyer could get a judge to rule him unfit to stand trial.

I'm not talking about an insanity defense. I'm talking about legal professionals deciding that Trump is mentally incapable of defending himself in a court of law.

I recall this being the subject of discussion in the aftermath of Iran-Contra; there were concerns that Reagan's Alzheimer's was advanced enough to render him untriable.


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