The Trinity Forum put on a well-worth-your-time program with Rachael Denhollander. You can and should watch it if you have the slightest interest in thinking about the issues of power and abuse. It will make you think differently about how to deal with prevention of abuse and responding to reports. [link]
This is a good time for respectful, thoughtful, listening. It is probably worth seeking out voices which relate experiences and opinions which are a little foreign to us. (It is probably a good time for holding back on dramatic and absolute political conclusions, but that is another post.)
Appropriately for Father’s Day, Aaron Jones, “Two Fathers,” The Player’s Tribune (June 19, 2020) [link] is reflecting on his father and his fatherhood as he holds his two-month-old son:
My dad told me then (and many times after) that life isn’t fair, and that an African-American man has to work a little bit harder — and be a little bit nicer — in order to be treated like he should be treated all the time, like a normal human being.
It’s time for a change. You’re living life as a little boy, and you see things, and then you start to grow up, and then you have your own child, and you’re like, Hold on. I see why my dad was having these conversations with me. I see why he had a fear like that could be me one day, and he might get old without a son, or my son could grow up without a father.
Jones is properly and appropriately seeing the the events of the day in the context of what his son will see a dozen years from now.
The Players Tribune has been focusing on statements of black athletes recently, and if you follow sports you may well find that these stories of people you sort of “know” are useful in broadening your experience. Yesterday’s piece by Kevin-Prince Boateng, “To My White Brothers and Sisters” is also worth your time [link].
Making the obvious (but important) point that the slogans don’t always communicate the same way to different people, Nathaniel Rakich, “How Americans Feel About ‘Defund the Police,'” FiveThirtyEight (June 19, 2020) [link]:
“Defund the police.” In the last several weeks, this slogan has entered the mainstream amid nationwide protests against police violence.
However, there’s some disagreement about what exactly the slogan means. Some activists actually do want to disband police departments entirely, while others argue that police budgets should be radically decreased, but not brought down to zero. But even among those who want to abolish the police, some say they want to do so over time.
But while the slogan is suddenly everywhere, so far it doesn’t poll well. Four polls conducted in the past two weeks found that Americans opposed the “defund the police” movement or “defunding police departments” 58 percent to 31 percent, on average.
In FiveThirtyEight world, these initial statements are supported and explored with polling data.
And from Tony Evans’ 2015 book Oneness Embraced 17-18:
While this tension can also be seen in many other ways, either through swastikas painted on synagogues or Hispanics marching against the concern of racial profiling and the passage of immigration legislation, it is the black/white relationship that has set the bar of racial division the highest. Given the length and volatile history of this divide, if we can ever get this right, we will have developed a template for addressing wherever else this evil shows up in the culture. The church will have established a model on how to biblically address issues such as those found in the current tension arising out of the influx of both legal and illegal immigrants to America, among other things. The church will have put forth biblical and theological answers that have pragmatic manifestations above and beyond mere social and political dialogue about the situation.
Two for early 2020
Christopher Beha, The Index of Self-Destructive Acts (Tin House Books 2020).
The Index of Self-Destructive Acts is the total number of hits batsmen, wild pitches, balks and errors by a pitcher, per nine innings.
Bill James, The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract (2003).
Baseball, math, crime, and faith in New York City! What could go wrong? Beha follows his two earlier novels with a beautifully written narrative about a wealthy family and those who intersect their lives.
Frank Doyle is a baseball writer turned political columnist turned pariah whose career may be jump started by a magazine profile written by Sam Waxworth, wunderkind baseball statistician turned political prognosticator turned writer about all things that succumb to numerical analysis. Frank’s wife, Kit, is on the back end of a lucrative career in investment banking. Their adult children (Eddie and Margot) are largely directionless, but in interesting ways. Eddie has wandered into and out of the military, Margot has wandered into and out of graduate school in poetry. There is a rich collection of secondary characters who alternately stress and soothe the Doyles and Waxworth.
Beha’s characters have to deal with the central question of the novel: “What would you change if you knew it was all going to end?” For some of them the question is prospective—”What choices do I have going forward?” For some of them the question is retrospective—”What can I change about the choices I have made in the past?”
For all, like pitchers, they grapple with their tendency to self-destructive acts.
Emily St. John Mandel, The Glass Hotel (Alfred A. Knopf, 2020).*
No one ever thinks they’re awful, even people who really actually are. It’s some sort of survival mechanism.
Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven 106 (2014).
Emily St. John Mandel made our wait pay off, as she has matched her brilliant 2014 fourth novel with an equally brilliant 2020 followup. Although The Glass Hotel is superficially different than the post-apocalyptic Station Eleven, the two novels clearly come from the same pen.
Mandel again weaves chronology and biography to form a pattern which does not become quite distinct until the last pages. This time the fragile narrative winds through the lives of at least ten major and perhaps another thirty minor characters, but with fewer chronological jump-shifts. (Two characters even reappear from Station Eleven, though the two novels cannot quite share the same timeline.) These characters range from the owner and employees of the Hotel Caiette; to the staff and executives of a Wall Street investment company; to the executives and crew of a shipping concern. There are more than a few musicians, artists and addicts.
No spoilers, here, but the many characters glide into and out of “the kingdom of money,” in which the subjects carry themselves with “with the tedious confidence of all people with money, the breezy assumption that no serious harm could come” to them. P. 44. In the kingdom of money, it becomes all too possible for the servants to become invisible. (“[F]or him coffee appearing out of thin air was so commonplace an occurrence it didn’t merit acknowledgement.” P. 70.)
But for Vincent no one ever becomes invisible, and she enters and exits the kingdom with a high degree of intentionality and clarity, even when her decisions may later prove wrong. At one point she thinks I’m paying a price for this life, . . . but the price is reasonable. P. 65. She may have miscalculated, but she was not naïve.
Other characters are not so self-aware, and Mandel describes their predicaments with her typical crystalline prose:
A revelation earned only in hindsight: beauty can have a corrosive effect on character. It is possible to coast for some years on no more than a few polished lines and a dazzling smile, and those years are formative. (p. 95)
It’s possible to both know and not know something,” he said later [and] he spoke for several of us, actually, several who’d been thinking a great deal about that doubleness, that knowing and not knowing, being honorable and not being honorable, knowing you’re not a good person but trying to be a good person regardless around the margins of the bad. (p. 168).
“If we are to be honest with ourselves,” [he] said, “who among us has never made a mistake?” But this was an error, [she] saw that immediately. . . . Could [he] see the error, too? Impossible to tell. . . . He’d made a mistake but he pressed on with the story, like a boy following a dwindling trail into the woods at nightfall. . . . (pp. 216-17)
Mandel’s characters don’t always live in reality, or they flinch from reality’s glare, and so delude themselves to survive.
This is not a perfect book, and Mandel, a Canadian, stumbles over some minor technical American legal points (FBI investigators are “agents” not “detectives”; the attorneys in the trial she describes would have been federal, not state prosecutors), but her sense of the relevant psychology is perfectly lucid—the lines crossed are evident to her characters only on reflection:
He left the office in a daze, but by the time he reached the corner, he realized he couldn’t pretend to be shocked, . . . , because he was already complicit, he was already on the inside, and had been for some time. “You already knew this.,” he heard himself murmuring, speaking aloud. “There are no surprises here. You know what you are.” (p. 192)
Mandel, like Vincent, plays with light and shadows, creating a precise recording of necessarily imprecise subjects—victims who are perpetrators, innocents who choose guilty actions, insightful people who are blind. In the end, the ghosts are all real, but the dreams are nothing but delusions.
*This review originally appeared online in The Englewood Review of Books [link].
Evangelisto Ramos was tried for second degree murder in Louisiana in 2016. After a two-day trial the jury voted 10-2 to convict him.
In 48 states (and in federal court), this would have resulted in a “hung jury” and a mistrial. Unfortunately for Mr. Ramos, he was tried in Louisiana, which (along with Oregon), permits non-unanimous verdicts, so he was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
The question before the Court was whether the conviction was constitutional.
On this point—the point which Evangelisto Ramos was most interested in—the Court decided (6-3)1 that his conviction was not constitutional.
Here’s the scorecard:
Justice Gorsuch, who needed four Justices to join him, managed to make a 5-4 majority out of Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kavanaugh for most of his nine-part opinion. Gorsuch and Kavanaugh, of course were appointed by President Trump. Ginsburg and Breyer were Clinton appointees. Sotomayor was appointed by President Obama.
That means that Gorsuch could not attract the votes of the Chief Justice Roberts or Justice Alito (both George W. Bush appointees) or Justice Kagan (an Obama appointee) for any of his opinion, and that Justice Kavanaugh (Trump) couldn’t agree with him on three parts, and Justice Sotomayor (Obama) could not agree on one part. Justice Thomas (President George H.W. Bush) thought the conviction was unconstitutional, but for a more-or-less completely different reason, so he did not agree with Gorsuch on anything that he wrote, just the decision he made.
Who says that Supreme Court justices vote politically?
1The only other part of the 87 pages of opinions that were published today that garnered this kind of majority was that Chief Justice Roberts, and Justices Thomas, Alito, Sotomayor, Kagan and Kavanaugh agreed that whatever Justice Gorsuch thought he meant by part IV.A. of his opinion could not possibly be right.
NOTE: The greyed-out sections of the chart represent the parts that are not legally binding—73 out of 87 pages!
P.S. One headline “Supreme Court rules criminal jury verdicts must be unanimous, overturning decades-old precedent,” rather misses the point. Ramos overturns a lone case which stuck out of 500 years of precedent and which was of doubtful coherence—a 4-person plurality opinion combined with an odd 1-person opinion by Justice Powell—that “decided” that Louisiana could sort of get away with it, though Gorsuch writes that “no Member of the Court today defends either [the opinion of the four or the opinion of the one] as rightly decided.”
This is not baseball . . .
This is more like my day job as an attorney, but there is some good writing being done, especially by Tom Verducci.
Start with Verducci’s “‘Clean It Up. It Must Stop’: MLB Is in an Ethical Crisis” Sports Illustrated (Jan. 16-17, 2020) [link]. You can follow the links until you get tired of it.
But maybe this will burn out in a few weeks. Nah, probably not, but we can hope.
As Verducci says:
In one month we hope to be restored by the pictures from Arizona and Florida of youthful ballplayers under the winter sun lazily tossing baseballs to one another and giving us once again the beautiful sound of bat meeting baseball, which for us is what the chirp of a bird is to an ornithologist. This is why we watch. It’s the simplicity of the game that soothes us. Every game has a binary outcome. Every event is definable. Runs, hits and errors. Wins and losses. Its beauty is in its simplicity.
We don’t want championships that make us do mental gymnastics to decide whether they are inauthentic. We don’t want player analysis to be derivative valuation. We don’t want ethical dilemmas to test our fandom.
We want a clean game decided by fair competition. Clean it up.
Recent book reviews
Two recent book reviews I have written:
Book Review: Kevin Davis, The Brain Defense: Murder in Manhattan and the Dawn of Neuroscience in America’s Courtrooms (Penguin Press 2017) in The Champion (June 2018) [link].
Book Review: Jack R. Baker and Jeffrey Bilbro, eds., Telling the Stories Right: Wendell Berry’s Imagination of Port William (Front Porch Republic 2018) in The Englewood Review of Books (Sept. 20, 2018) [link].
Always nice to get an interesting book for free, even if you need to do a little work for it.
A “sneaking suspicion of our own badness”
Not everyone will like (or should like) this fascinating piece by Claire Dederer (@ClaireDederer) in The Paris Review: “What Do We Do With The Art of Monstrous Men?” [link] She begins by contemplating the unassailable fact that many people who have created great art have also done monstrous acts (think of Roman Polanski or Woody Allen).
How do we deal with what they have made after we know what they have done?
As such, it is an interesting piece. What makes it more than another of the many think-pieces about the Trump-Weinstein-Spacey storyline is the fact that she becomes introspective about it without letting go of her appropriate moral outrage:
When you’re having a moral feeling, self-congratulation is never far behind. You are setting your emotion in a bed of ethical language, and you are admiring yourself doing it. We are governed by emotion, emotion around which we arrange language. The transmission of our virtue feels extremely important, and weirdly exciting.
Reminder: not “you,” not “we,” but “I.” Stop side-stepping ownership. I am the audience. And I can sense there’s something entirely unacceptable lurking inside me. Even in the midst of my righteous indignation when I bitch about Woody and Soon-Yi, I know that, on some level, I’m not an entirely upstanding citizen myself. Sure, I’m attuned to my children and thoughtful with my friends; I keep a cozy house, listen to my husband, and am reasonably kind to my parents. In everyday deed and thought, I’m a decent-enough human. But I’m something else as well, something vaguely resembling a, well, monster. The Victorians understood this feeling; it’s why they gave us the stark bifurcations of Dorian Gray, of Jekyll and Hyde. I suppose this is the human condition, this sneaking suspicion of our own badness. It lies at the heart of our fascination with people who do awful things. Something in us—in me—chimes to that awfulness, recognizes it in myself, is horrified by that recognition, and then thrills to the drama of loudly denouncing the monster in question.
In the end, she properly calls attention to the fact that even in the midst of doing something apparently praiseworthy — finishing her writing project — she may do (does do!) some “little savageries” to come to the end of her work.
Either way, the questions remain:
What is to be done about monsters? Can and should we love their work? Are all ambitious artists monsters? Tiny voice: [Am I a monster?]
And the question is a fair one, not just about art, but about all accomplishment.
It is not a comfortable question, and the answer is not that their/your/my monstrosity is a fair trade for the art or the accomplishment, never that. The answer must include the incredible fact of the monstrosity in all of us.
Still, there is a grace that comes in the introspection itself. It is not the final grace, but it is an elegant beginning.
Thank you, Ms. Dederer.
Three stimulating articles, without any obvious common theme except the most common of all — a fallen world with fallen people in it:
“Ultimately, God is still good. And he is still enough.” Bekah Mason, “Finding My ‘True Self’ As a Same-Sex Attracted Woman,” Christianity Today (June 2017) [link].
“I am capable of any sin. And God loves me in spite of my sinful nature.” Sanya Richards-Ross, “My Abortion Broke Me, God Redeemed Me,” Christianity Today (June 2017) [link].
“What explains a person or a group of people doing things that seem at odds with who they are or what they think is right?” Malcolm Gladwell, “Thresholds of Violence,” gladwell.com (October 19, 2015) [link].
But still, there is always the offer of God’s grace.
I understand that this is long, but there may not be anything better you can do with the next five minutes of your life. You can read the commentaries later. Remember that this man is writing out of the context of just being fired from a job he held for twenty years.
Open Letter from Zachary Fardon, March 13, 2017
Today I submitted my resignation, effective immediately, as United States Attorney in Chicago. As I walk out the door, there are a few things I’d like to say.
I am not a political person. I belong to no political party; never have. I am not a Democrat. I am not a Republican. I am not a liberal. I am not a conservative. I never found a need or interest in associating myself politically. I have no interest in political office.
For the past three and a half years, I’ve been lucky to be in a position of power as the US Attorney in Chicago. That means I’ve gotten to lead what I think is the best prosecutors’ office and maybe the best public office this country has to offer.
During those three and a half years, by my own choice, I focused my greatest attention on violent crime. I came into office in 2013 not long after Hadiya Pendleton was killed by an errant bullet in a public park. Like most folks, I was horrified and confused by Hadiya’s death and the constant drumbeat of seemingly random deaths of so many others, including kids, on the south and west sides of Chicago.
“This is theft. And this — stealing the color white — is a very good example of the problem. It’s not a national security secret. It’s about stealing something you can make a buck off of. It’s part of a strategy to profit off what American ingenuity creates.”
John Carlin, Assistant Attorney General, U.S. Department of Justice (National Security Division. Del Quentin Wilber, “Stealing White: How a corporate spy swiped plans for DuPont’s billion-dollar color formula” Bloomberg Businessweek (Feb. 4, 2016)[link]
This story has everything—simple chemistry, industrial espionage, criminal prosecution, and international travel! The details seem criminal—hacking private computers, bribing disgruntled ex-employees, secret safe-deposit boxes, lying to federal agents—but there is something about the basic chemistry which seems like it should not be protectable. So simple: Ti + O + O. But like many things it is more complicated than that.
Further reading: FBI press release: “Walter Liew Sentenced to 15 Years in Prison for Economic Espionage” (7/11/2014) [link]; “U.S. v. Liew: Opening Statements and FBI Testimony Kick Off Seven-Week Industrial Espionage Trial” Orrick (1/8/2014) [link].