Two Sudden Insights About Covid Vaccination

Approximate Reading Time: 8 minutes

Suddenly, as I read and heard (on the air) the prevailing stories centering on the persistent anti-vax movement in the news, I had two insights. I demur from calling them epiphanies, but they feel a little like that.

For one, it is clear that there is bipartisan approval of the proven and sometimes seemingly miraculous monoclonal antibody treatment as a desired clinical strategy for mitigating the severity of a Covid infection should it occur. Even people among the preponderant majority of non-vaccinated infected patients who still actively oppose even the idea of vaccination seek the treatment, if not demand it should it be medically warranted.

Combine this with the alternative lunatic list of preventative/cure therapies, going back to the former president’s endorsement of an array of treatments, including anti-malarial medication or common household bleach, and culminating recently in the current dangerous embrace of the equine version of a deworming medication. You have a clear pattern of behavior that suggests the basis of a hypothesis. Philosophically, clearly we are better disposed, those among us susceptible to the serious belief in the efficacy of clinical methodologies – after contracting the disease with sufficient virulence as to require active medical intervention – despite an equally serious, if not stronger, belief in the risk of equally well-proven scientifically valid preventatives in the form of vaccines.

Obviously, there are some among us (an alarming large number, actually) who are willing to swallow (literally) any strange, not to mention dangerous, shit, because we somehow have become disposed to believe in cures. But we persist (by “we,” I mean they) in having no faith whatsoever in the efficacy of prevention, and thereby circumventing the likelihood of ever requiring intervention, least of all medical.

It’s a strange qualified endorsement of science. The qualification is, it has definite limits.

The old adage is an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Clearly, that has flipped, and in monetary terms, at least (not to mention efficacy as measured scientifically) the order of magnitude has multiplied, possibly astronomically. Have you looked recently at the cost of two doses of the Pfizer vaccine (to name just one) versus the cost of a single course of monoclonal antibodies? Let me help you refresh your recollection: As with the vaccine, the actual monoclonal antibody medication cost is absorbed by the government. Any cost associated with the antibodies as a treatment is for the services of the medical facility administering the infusion process. The uninsured cost can be in the tens of thousands of dollars, as much as $20,000. The vaccine is administered for free (just as a benchmark though, the agency that oversees Medicare expenditures allows $40 for each administration of the vaccine, that is, each time a shot is given, it’s 40 dollars paid by Medicare to the provider. The vaccine itself has a book value of one cent. The recipient pays nothing.

Proof (and mathematics) mean nothing. Philosophically, many of us are better disposed to believe in a cure than to believe in ensuring putting the odds in our favor of getting sick in the first place.

What might this mean? Even if I thought I knew or could figure it out, thinking out loud, I am sure there is not enough space here on this platform to explain it – my intuition tells me it would require a book, if not a series of peer reviewed studies. And then a book, to explain the studies.

So, that’s one insight. The other, related to the resistance to vaccination, raises questions about the nature of the philosophical foundation on which some of us build the rules of conduct of our lives…

Increasingly, it appears that any acceptable argument, legally, for refusing to comply with a vaccination mandate would be on the basis of religious belief.

What I learned today, from a news podcast focusing on the current status of this movement, is that, for one, for example, there is nothing, by preliminary general agreement, in Roman Catholic doctrine that constitutes an argument for the validity of such a justification for resistance and refusal. However – an argument, presumably a legal argument, is being formulated – it may be possible that, on an individual basis, an otherwise sincere believer in the Roman Catholic faith might, in an act of individual interpretation of some aspect of doctrine, refuse to be vaccinated. Indeed, to make things more complicated, and certainly to add to the complexity of sorting out any valid interpretation of behaviors that lead eventually – if they do – to legal confrontations, the Vatican has issued what quickly became a controversial endorsement of vaccination as a preventative measure. Catholics still have the right to make the case to their employers for opting out – that is, in the usual interpretation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

If, in fact, as has been reported, there are no major religions that specifically interdict vaccination (though it’s in dispute, at least in the arena of internet debate, as to whether Islam should be included), I further learned, there are, in fact, bespoke religious solutions emerging, including new religions, like the one started by a 20-something self-styled “pop star cult leader from space” named, she says, Unicole Unicorn. According to the cult leader, “your personal reality is reality,” and that Unicult is a legitimate religion. Hence, if your personal reality within the context of this specific belief does not permit you to get vaccinated, you must be exempt.

The question comes up, even in the face of the stipulations of the civil rights of all citizens, because deliberately the Constitution, from the time it was first framed by the founders, avoids defining what constitutes a religion. Hence, the Constitution does not spell out what can be done about the “religious” claims of Unicult, because there is no definition of religion in the context of one’s freedom to believe as one chooses. Ms. Unicorn assures her listeners and adherents on TikTok that Unicult will provide the necessary documentation attesting to the religious exemption of any believer who refuses to be vaccinated.

The deliberate decision not to define religion stems from the prior decision to avoid any chance of any one religion becoming the sole defining authority on matters of belief, morality or religious practice. It also avoids setting up the courts as a platform for adjudicating what constitutes valid religious belief. In the legal realm framed by the Constitution, a religion cooked up yesterday by your neighbor has the same validity in law as some ancient established system of belief, like Judaism, or Islam, or Buddhism, etc.

Aside from the difficulty of getting the courts to adjudicate on a matter, “what is a religion officially?” that is, by definition, not defined by the foundation of our legal system, there is the problem of who to put in the position of making such judgments, especially in the case of laws that permit so-called religious exemptions to adherence. In many instances, as has happened already in the matter of vaccination, the decision is left up to the employer (which is why the mandate in President Biden’s order includes employers of more than 100 employees).

Now, what I am leading up to is the substance of my other insight – though it should really be expressed merely as the discovery of a conundrum regarding this matter. It’s a conundrum that has not only legal, but historical, ramifications.

While listening to the “On the Media” segment from its September 17 podcast, entitled “Why the Constitution Does Not Define Religion,”which is the basis of some of the foregoing commentary, I suddenly found myself thinking about another thorny issue, also a largely ethical problem and having to do with individual rights to act freely even in the face of unjust mandates – unjust on the basis of essential and fundamental questions of what does and what does not accrue harm to others as a result of an individual’s actions. I found myself thrust back in my mind to the 60s, when we were in the throes as a nation with conflicts among various segments of the population concerning a war, a literal war, in which our national defense forces were engaged overseas with armed forces defending their own countries and based on foreign soil. I am, of course, talking about the Vietnam War (or if you prefer, as they refer to it in Vietnam historically, as the American War).

The question in the 60s was about adherence to the mandates of one’s obligations as a male citizen over the age of 18 in submitting oneself to the requirements of Selective Service. That is, should one, if so ordered, enter the armed forces as a conscript and allow oneself to be trained for combat and then to serve actively as a combat participant in live action that could culminate in death or injury, including one’s own risk therein, to a human being.

The only out, save for legitimate medical exemptions that would constitute unfitness for active duty, was what was commonly known and referred to as conscientious objection.

For the sake of this particular discussion, let us consider what conscientious objection constitutes insofar as it may be understood as a religious basis for exemption. If one practiced, and could prove such practice as what is now understood as a condition of “sincerity” in one’s practice, a religion that interdicted doing harm to others (and, indeed, it is arguable that all Judeo-Christian doctrine has a basis in the rule that one should not do to others what one would prefer others did not do to oneself), one could claim a conscientious objection to participating in any combat role.

Now, the reason I bring all this up is because, as I recall, any adjudication as to not only the sincerity of one’s stated religious (or moral or ethical) belief and adherence, but also the application of such belief as being in conflict with the requirements of active service in a combat role, was performed by a local board of civilian volunteers. In the case of a conscript claiming a conscientious objection to serving in combat, or, in the extreme, to serving in the military in any capacity, he had to appear in person before the board and make his case convincingly that his moral, ethical, or religious beliefs were not only sincere, but strongly felt enough to constitute grounds for reclassification (if otherwise found fit for duty).

Let’s just say, it was devilish hard to “prove” a legitimate conscientious objection that was not on political grounds. There were not many. There may have been a greater number who ended up “migrating” to another country, usually Canada. Some ended up in prison, presumably for an insufficiency of sincerity.

Again, without getting into the vast and possibly limitless bounds of salient matters for discussion, whether the issue is getting vaccinated or getting issued a weapon and live ammunition and having the direction of the enemy pointed out, especially if one understands that all salient pathways inevitably lead to differences in political viewpoints, I have only something simple (or seemingly) to ask.

It seems obvious to me the difference in these matters. In the case of vaccination, compliance with the law, as defined by the mandate, represents a relatively small risk to oneself (measured by scientifically valid statistical methods) while ensuring increased safeguards to the entire populace; in the case of serving in combat, non-compliance with the laws of conscription represents a significant risk to oneself in terms of punishment and redress as meted out by agents of the state, while ensuring the individual will do no harm whatsoever to anyone else by not participating in acts of violence.

Yet, in the case of the latter, we were content through the course of most of the Vietnam War to leave decisions up to civilians not otherwise prepared, never mind trained or in the regular practice, to make the judgments required as to the applicability of profound and difficult ethical reservations, within the context of, at best, ambiguous and uncertain good deriving from forcing adherence despite those reservations.

In the case of the former, it is clear, even as the plague rages on, and people continue to be infected and to require hospitalization and to die from Covid at rates in some parts of the country almost as high as they have ever been in 18 months of pandemic, with no realistic end in sight, that we will leave the questions, finally, of the ethical obligations of the objectors to the courts, who might ultimately – and who knows when? – relinquish any claim to definition or jurisdiction. And we will be left, once again, with a judicially held point of view, obvious as so many other such observations on other aspects of the conduct of our lives in this country, that any hope of resolution is in the hands of the legislature. We should all live so long.

What I wonder is, have we progressed since the 1960s? Or should what has changed be called something else? Or, and this is a safe bet, has nothing changed really?

Digiprove sealCopyright  © 2021 Howard Dinin

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Getting vaccinated in Pennsylvania

Approximate Reading Time: 6 minutes

The gymnasium at Montgomery County Community College set up as a vaccination center, winter 2021.

“[Yesterday, President] Biden announced that by April 19, more than 90% of Americans over the age of 16 will be eligible for a vaccine and will live within five miles of a vaccination site, including 40,000 pharmacies.” —Heather Cox Richardson, Letters from an American, 30 March 2021

This is great, but goes no distance at all in explaining or justifying why, as of yesterday, the only sure way to get an appointment for a vaccination shot (no choice as to location of the vaccination site, one of three major ones, and no choice as to date, never mind the type of vaccine that would be administered) was to be sure you were registered some time in January or February—and, as I write, in two days it will be, indeed, April. I am talking about those of us, and there are two of us in our household, who qualify by age or other ineluctable factors for being in the first wave of vaccination registration in our county. Pennsylvania, where that county is located, has elected, regardless of the county administration’s ability to handle the logistics, and regardless of the population size and distribution, chose to do it this way. It took the state two full months after vaccinations began in earnest to allow distribution from third-party providers equipped and qualified to administer vaccines in a safe and medically approved manner (like pharmacies and hospitals and medical centers). Distribution was slow and unreliable regardless, and it took the state a full six to eight weeks to ramp up.

I signed up, that is, I registered to be on a list for an appointment in a county-sanctioned vaccination center, on the last day of the deadline period for the initial round of vaccinations to be given. I received an acknowledgment of my registration immediately, and this message also was the opening salvo of weekly “updates” from the county of how the process was going. The messages were lengthy and detailed, but the bottom line report was, “slow and steady.” I received the information and identification materials I would need to appear for my first shot on a specified date, which turned out to be some seven weeks after the registration date deadline I had met. They did tell us it would take as many as ten weeks for this process, so I guess I am not supposed to complain about efficiency, never mind other indices of governmental administrative competence and performance.

I was told where to appear on that particular date, and I was given a choice of a time of day, with remaining slots for five minute intervals of each hour indicated.

The original two sites selected by the county, since expanded to three, are located in county owned or country-run venues (the original two are located in a county administrative buidling in the county seat, a town located about 15 miles from my home, and in the county community college campus, about the same distance away). Albeit true I live on the fringe of the county boundaries, located immediately adjacent (our house is located some 1200 feet or so from the county line) to the most densely populated county in the state, that of Philadelphia, the largest city in the state, and the fifth largest metropolitan area in the country, we are clearly not in the heart of things county.

I’ll interject here that Philadelphia has a minority population, out of two-and-a-half million of just shy of 40%, most of these residents being African-American or somewhat smaller minorities of people of color. You couldn’t tell that by walking the streets of our small town, literally yards away from West Philadelphia, a neighborhood which is even more densely populated by minority residents. We appear to be, because we are, a predominantly white middle-class suburb, which just happens to be in one of the small set of zip codes in this county, and which themselves happen to be in the top decile of the wealthiest zip codes in the entire nation.

We see a lot of black faces, but that’s because most of the jobs that predominate in public service markets: retail, fast food, groceries and beverages, etc. are filled by people of color. As we are so close to the division between city and suburb, and as we are more easily accessible to most of the kinds of businesses, including eating establishments, that the public frequents than one would find to be the case in the city (a condition counterintuitive to what you’d expect given the differences in density per square mile of private homes, especially in our suburb and those immediately adjacent, which are, except for political demarcations by precinct and ward and other jurisdictional determinants, identical). The ease of access and density of choices for where to get a prescription filled, or an order of hamburger and fries, or fried chicken, or a cheesesteak (the staple of the local culinary vernacular) is a function of the predominant mode of transportation for accomplishing any task more complicated than attending your immediate neighbor’s backyard cocktail party, the automobile.

So, day and night, our shops and restaurants are patronized in far greater numbers than by actual residents of our neighborhoods, by the residents of the city’s nighborhoods. The African-American, LatinX, and other minority populations of color are served in the common amenities and categories of purveyors of merchandise and refreshment nowhere closer by than within the borders of this county – Montgomery County – and that immediately adjacent, Delaware County. Though Delaware County is more middle class and lower and extends to the south to the state border with (as you might guess) the President’s home state.

What all this has to do with vaccinations is this. The sites chosen for vaccination administration centers are deep in the interior of Montgomery County, indeed are actually closer to the opposite boundaries of the county to the northeast and northwest than we are (given our proximity to the City of Philadelphia). Yet the members of our household given leave and registered to be vaccinated had to travel, because of the convoluted geographic routes to those venues, the better part of an hour to get to a point only 15 miles away by car. We are actually closer to sites, including medical care annex sites of the major medical center in downtown Philadelphia where we are both treated (these annexes and the medical center itself are between four and six miles away, on local streets and thoroughfares), where the vaccines are administered. However, because we are neither residents nor do we work in either Delaware or Philadelphia Counties, we are constrained by the regulations stipulated by the state government from having the vaccine administered to us in these nearby locations.

Such constraints are irrespective of supply and efficiency of administration in any one of these counties. It just happens Montgomery County, which has perpetually been rated by the monitoring done of all counties in the country by the New York Times as having a “very high risk” of Covid infection, apparently also has one of the worst records for rate of vaccination of county residents.

In turn, I’ll ask rhetorically, what does this have to do with the minority population density of Philadelphia and adjacent counties? I’ll answer simply by observing – and admittedly these are purely personal and anecdotal observations – that both I and the other member of the household who qualified for vaccination, and finally were able to have done so, at least, so far, for the first shot of two of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine assessed the unrelenting crowd of fellow citizens being processed and vaccinated in two different vaccination centers as being far and away predominantly white and (somehow a salient if merely collateral observation) as a whole, individually significantly overweight.

I’ll only observe further that I have long since noted that the whole American system of political division within an individual state by county is innately an ancient legacy of the effective modes of government that originate in the colonization of this continent by the imperial European regimes that bankrolled the exploration and development of these originally pristine and wild frontiers of virgin geography. And further, of course, the word “county” itself is feudal in origin, being the fiefdom of that noble taxonomy of lord called a “Count” (or, in the original French, “comte”), as in the Count of Savoy. With, obviously, no regard for how these divisions serve our needs as a nation – in all dimensions: political, social, cultural, financial and economic – we preserve the feudal order, and live with what seem otherwise to be the arbitrary dictates such order imposes on the daily lives of our citizens. And as various and unpredictable as the whimsey of the particular Count who was your lord in those olden days. I’ll leave it to you to figure out the rest insofar as to the implications that may be drawn.Digiprove sealCopyright  © 2021 Howard Dinin

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Paranoia Porn

Approximate Reading Time: 4 minutes

Detail from Hieronymus Bosch, “The Garden of Earthly Delights,” at the Museo del Prado

The germ of this thought comes from listening to an interview on Fresh Air yesterday, Thursday, November 12, recorded the day before, which would have been Wednesday, a week and a day since the still officially unresolved election, and at least two news cycles previous. I point it out using this commonplace gauge of cultural progress because it is also still current (or why would Terry risk the embarrassment of being out of touch?). To wit, I notice in both the New York Times and the Washington Post that President Trump – his aides are alleged to say – has no plan; he is merely getting himself however he can from news cycle to news cycle.


White house memo

Trump Floats Improbable Survival Scenarios as He Ponders His Future

There is no grand strategy. President Trump is simply trying to survive from one news cycle to the next.


The thought flits through my head that, maybe, he has at long last legitimately found his own bit of revelation and, as an endgame, turned to religion and a faith in miracles.

But nah. I can’t help but grab the seat of my pants and what’s left to palpate of my shrinking gluteal mass, and deduce from the condition of my hind parts that it’s the same old shit, just a different day. But it’s the implications of the ghoulish contemplations and deliberations on the possible, the probable, the unthinkable, and the preposterous that nag at me. It’s like a constant frigid flow of air from the left, a polar express of glacial horror originating from somewhere “between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge.” Yet it keeps nagging at me that I should just give in, and allow the temperature in my core to keep dropping, to the zone of absolutely no hope. It’s tempting, but I resist.

On Fresh Air, Terry’s guest was a dude touting some what is now considered durable, if not estimable, cred. His name is Garrett Graff, and he is the very model of the cyber-age journalist: former editor of Politico, a contributor to Wired, and the author of at least three books, one on Robert Mueller’s tenure as head of the FBI, a history of the bunkers built in secret to protect government leaders in case of nuclear attack, and an oral history of September 11 (which I am only guessing does not include President Trump’s notorious lies about witnessing people, which he averred were Muslims, dancing on rooftops and cheering from across the Hudson straits from Hoboken as the twin towers burned and finally tumbled).

The topic of their conversation is entitled, on the Fresh Air home page, as “Journalist Details ‘Potential Mischief’ of Trump’s Remaining Weeks in Office.” It consisted, in my hearing of it, of admittedly only speculative outcomes of the potentialities of the various “moves” and actions taken by the president in the past few days, and weeks, and, even going back months – with the unstated implication that every measure, every step, every vindictive or mean-spirited or sheer lunatic act was performed aforethought, and, conceivably… not saying it’s so, but this is how autocrats, authoritarians, totalitarians, dictators do things, have done things…

And I realized, not a new thought for me, but a refreshed set of impressions, that this is how a certain quarter among the news media has been reporting and commentating on the Trump presidency all along. To me, it constitutes a really unsettling superset of the stuff of dread-scrolling. For now I call it Paranoia Porn.

It amounts to imagining the worst outcomes of a regime that resists owning the qualities ascribed to it, beyond the malevolence and hatefulness embedded in the spirit of its worst aimless deconstruction of certain entities and systems necessary to the conduct of governance in the United States. These stories and conversations, these interviews and analyses, the stuff of a whole industry of media content engineering and manufacturing that has kept it going, and not just going but thriving – with the major companies, like The Times, reporting record levels of revenue and profits – in my view are the final throes of examining minutely what Trump has been doing, and then fantasized about by the far left media in the way of speculative horror scenarios based on incredibly complex conspiracies involving setting up a shadow government in the hollowed out shell of the existing legitimate infrastructure which has been performing the business of government for the entire history of the republic.

In fact, as far as I can tell, and anyone – from the lowliest whistle-blower to Carl Bernstein, from Mattis to Bolton, from Comey to Scaramucci – but anyone has been willing to make public, frankly and truthfully (by their own recognizance) has reported on every conceivable twist and turn, every u-turn and wrong turn, every impulse and miscue, there is only evidence of one large truth. Trump has proven repeatedly and consistently the incompetence and shallowness and shortsighted nature of nearly every one of his more far reaching initiatives and in four years, and continuing into this period of interregnum, when his aides tell the media that he has no endgame intended as a culmination of his current chaotically disruptive machinations, he has never betrayed the possession of anything resembling a strategy or plan.

Of course, as I like to say, I could be wrong, and I hope I’m not. But if I am, I am, and you are, no worse off than the doomsayers are perpetually hinting we may find ourselves to be. In which case, we will indeed be beyond help. But I am not sure I will regret (nor would I find solace in doing so) thinking this is all, as I say, a morbidly prurient fascination with yet a new form of pornography. It scares me to think of paranoia as a desirable state in which to seek ecstasy.Digiprove sealCopyright  © 2020 Howard Dinin

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Like Tiresias Throbbing

Approximate Reading Time: 5 minutesOf course he won’t go quietly

Donald J Trump emoting

photo by Albert H. Teich/effects added by Howard Dinin

I’m thinking as we all, in some corner of our consciousness, fidget and distract ourselves awaiting an outcome, and suffer the condition of Tiresias in The Waste Land, not so much throbbing between two lives, as vibrating between what I’ll call two civic states of being. Is it the end of the beginning, or the beginning of the end?

The more that suddenly positivist liberal media, and especially the commentariat – that overpopulated sub-state of what it fancies itself to be, part of the fourth estate – are merely anticipating what they seem to think is a foregone outcome, the more I feel the hum of true uncertainty. Joy is in the air, and after a long term, it’s closing in on four years after all, of pissing and moaning and talking about the inconceivably further decaying state of civilization, and all embodied in one clinically obese semi-failed real estate developer with a knack for expropriating the attention of every person, including anyone not immediately in his presence. Optimism, can you believe, from the baleful doomsayers. This despite being bitten in their hindquarters innumerable times by a perversely indifferent set of facts, in this case numbers of votes to be counted. And yet, and yet… that delirious outcome of which we are on the brink – suddenly we’re a happy few, a band of brothers, whereas yesterday, they were all too ready to tell us what’s wrong with us – an outcome soberly still measurable against some calculable total of statistical deviance… is generally concluded.

And by the inherent permission accorded by an assumed happy and propitious resolution (however tiny, and therefore ambiguous, the margin), the collective wonder turns to a focus on how the incumbent, presumably, and in what I’ll cling to calling a presumptive way, is expected to make his exit. He has promised even well before, weeks before, the polls were scheduled to open – and briefly he gave us pause to think that he could even alter the implacability of that received fact: the immutability of the Election Day, as defined in the Constitution—call it off, delay it, schedule it for next year, or the release date of the vaccine; Can he do that? He seems to think he can do anything? He can’t do that! Well, of course not… but isn’t it pretty to think so, with echoes of his innate impotence in virtually all matters in which, in fantasy, in his wishes, he wields power impervious to the most refractory resistance – that he will contest whatever there is to contest, having established, at least for his own nefarious rhetorical purposes that not only was there a fraud of historic proportions afoot, but that it was already started, weeks ago remember, and all ballots save those cast, defiantly in the face of a raging monstrously contagious viral epidemic, by voters in person with proper identification, were bogus and void. Not just suspect and uncountable. Strip away the franchise that was born with the Republic, and never abrogated or delayed, not once in our history – except temporarily in 11 renegade southern states, and the Union would have magnanimously and unquestioningly have granted them continued voter status, if they would just, at the same time, put their muskets and rifles down, and let those people go…

He would not even answer the question about whether he would comply with the protocol of an orderly and non-disruptive transition of administrations as a new one took power from his – his non-responsiveness not to be interpreted as the globally accepted legal policy, ‘tacet contire,’ silence implies agreement, but really more in keeping with the rules of the game of stud poker, and he chooses, in anticipation, to keep his hole card face down for a long as possible. And of course, there were those of us who have expected the worst from him, even without provocation, because we had taken the measure of his character, and without pausing to analyze the sum of his life of grifts, not only weighing the comical grandiosity of the rewards when they succeeded, but also assessing the abject ignominy of the intentionally circumspect, if not downright concealed, and ultimately uncountable, failures, but including also the repeated acts of salacious indulgence that were the chief excrescence of his innate, his almost genetically determined, vulgarity. And those of us who did fully expect he will make his longed for extrication from the seat of power ugly – really ugly and gut-wrenching – and difficult (Herculean), and, if possible, violent, in a series of final acts of his particular style of scorched earth deconstruction of the social and civic order, which is then gilded over, like a chandelier of base metal left hanging among the ruins by a single strand of tarnished wire.

And so, it may surprise you to hear me agree, of course he will make it as bad as he can, not because he is vindictive and vengeful, though he is, not because he is a pugnacious bully, though he is, but because that is his nature. To be loud and attention-seeking, and monotonically in the mode of self-aggrandizement. In short it’s the manner in which he does everything. It is the template for the caricature of himself to present to a credulous world, hungry for the cheap seats version of some manifestation, two-button sharkskin suit and all, with the fake hair, and the fake skin, and the multiple layers of gold in the form of ostentatious artifacts, the gaudier the better, to be worn on one’s person, that passes in the age of the infinite loop of streaming content version, of a hero.

He was loud and attention-getting as a mere over-publicized and, measured by the tacit codes of socially accepted behavior (this was years before the concept of Real Housewives was ever imagined as a germ of an idea), over the limit in lubricious demeanor and affect, as phony as the very-expensive-dental-work realty shark, whose closest manifestation as front page content was the barely proximate permanent slot reserved for him on Page Six of the tabloids, like the best table at some parody of an ostentatiously “glamorous” venue. He was loud and attention-getting through the 70s, when he forced himself on a jaded media as the latest personality to pay attention to, and on through the 80s and 90s as his notoriety – always positioned as fame by his own exertions at spin – spread all over New York, like melting oleomargarine on toasted Wonder Bread, and oozed occasionally into the notice of the national downmarket tabloids.

It was the mode of his announcement – I’ll remind you: loud and attention-getting – with generous dollops of hyperbole and outrageous character assassination on a global scale, and perpetrated with the corrosive weapons of glittering, wholly mendacious stereotypes as he ascended that famous golden escalator with a hired mob of cheering sycophants.

Of course, he’s going to make noise, and make it difficult, and he won’t go quietly. It’s not in his nature otherwise.Digiprove sealCopyright  © 2020 Howard Dinin

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Nothing Changes, 1879 Edition

Approximate Reading Time: 6 minutes

Mark Twain, 1909. By Photographer: A.F. Bradley in his studio. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Mark Twain wrote the following piece the year previous to the tumultuous and critical election year for President of 1880. Only 15 years after the Civil War had ended. The incumbent, Rutherford B. Hayes, had run in 1876 with the promise that he would not seek re-election – a promise he kept… astonishingly to our modern sensibilities. As a result the election was highly contested.

Recall, for perspective, that the country had already weathered the initial vagaries of Reconstruction, the various eruptions of corruption that marred the chances for a more peaceful process of reconciliation between the north and south, or for the assimilation of African-Americans, now fully established as citizens with rights (albeit what these were, and their extent continued to be contested). It had weathered the chaotic and tumultuous administration of Andrew Johnson, the martyred Lincoln’s successor, and as a great exponent of exploiting his office for purposes of politically biassed exercise of power. It had weathered the previously unrivaled level of corruption revealed in the administration of President Grant, sullying the reputations of all but the General himself.

The election was precedent-setting for several reasons. Unlike today, there was, in practical terms, virtually total engagement of the electorate. More people voted, as a percentage of the whole population in the 1880 election than had ever occurred previously in the United States. The vote could hardly have been more evenly split. The winner, James Garfield (who ran with Chester A. Arthur as Vice President, later to succeed him to the highest office) garnered a majority of the popular vote over his rival,  Winfield Scott Hancock, the Democratic Party candidate. The vote was split by a difference, in the final tally, of less than 2,000 votes nationally. But in electoral terms, although each candidate won an equal number of states (19 to each), Garfield’s electoral votes were entirely from the more densely populated, urbanized and industrialized north, including Oregon in the enclave of Pacific and Mountain states that existed in a kind of civic isolation from the rest of the country, separated by what was then still the territories (and therefore non-voting) of New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Idaho, and Wyoming. This band of not-yet-enfranchised territory included the contiguous Dakota territory, not yet divided, and that of Montana. Importantly, the Democrat Hancock’s victory in the entirety of what had been the formerly secessionist southern states, plus Texas, Delaware, Maryland, and New Jersey, set the precedent that persisted for decades, of a solidly Democratic south. Until the the first third of the ensuing century the liberal banner was carried by the Republican Party – the classic notion of the “party of Lincoln” as the nucleus of progressive ideas, a notion now obviously defunct. Curiously, and consistent with the bizarre unpredictability of the American electorate, the one state Hancock did not manage to carry, and whose allotment of electoral votes would nearly have reversed the outcome (as opposed to ensuring the landslide that was Garfield’s) was Pennsylvania… still a contested state and, today, a potential game changer if President Trump does not manage to retain his advantage there in 2016. For perspective, if Hancock had won Pennsylvania, he would have lost the Presidency by a very slim two electoral votes.

In any event, whatever the actual political reality and the culture that inspired Twain to write this piece as he did, he does seem to have captured, as he did so often, what it turns out is an enduring, perhaps, in a sense, a genetic, characteristic of the peculiar and continuously unpredictable condition of what the electorate will find not just tolerable, but acceptable about its would-be representatives.

The “moral crimes” of Twain’s imaginary contestant for the office, qualified to run sufficiently by his own lights (the only ones that count, as apparently has long been the case in our country, if not from the beginning) despite his peccadilloes, may seem mild by comparison to what passes for business as usual in Washington or what is considered a candidate’s “private business” and of no bearing in fitness for office. But those were gentler times, and we and the politicians, have had just over 140 years since then to invent far more ingenious ways of interpolating tolerance for depravity into our perception of normal behavior, and the same amount of time to have our sense of outrage ground down, possibly to only a trace presence in our consciences.

“An Open Letter to My Countrymen”

I have pretty much made up my mind to run for President. What the country wants is a candidate who cannot be injured by investigation of his past history so that the enemies of the party will be unable to rake up anything against him that nobody ever heard of before. If you know the worst about a candidate to begin with, every attempt to spring things on him will be checkmated. Now I am going to enter the field with an open record. I am going to own up in advance to all the wickedness I have done, and if any Congressional committee is disposed to prowl around my biography in the hope of discovering any dark and deadly deed that I have secreted, why—let it prowl.

In the first place, I admit that I treed a rheumatic grandfather of mine in the winter of 1850. He was old and inexpert in climbing trees, but with the heartless brutality that is characteristic of me I ran him out of the front door in his nightshirt at the point of a shotgun and caused him to bowl up a maple tree, where he remained all night, while I emptied shot into his legs. I did this because he snored. I will do it again if I ever have another grandfather. I am as inhuman now as I was in 1850.

I candidly acknowledge that I ran away at the battle of Gettysburg. My friends have tried to smooth over this fact by asserting that I did so for the purpose of imitating Washington, who went into the woods at Valley Forge for the purpose of saying his prayers. It was a miserable subterfuge. I struck out in a straight line for the Tropic of Cancer because I was scared. I wanted my country saved, but I preferred to have someone else save it. I entertain that preference yet. If the bubble reputation can be obtained only at the cannon’s mouth, I am willing to go there for it, provided the cannon is empty. If it is loaded, my immortal and inflexible purpose is to get over the fence and go home.

My invariable practice in war has been to bring out of every fight two-thirds more men than when I went in. This seems to me to be Napoleonic in its grandeur.

My financial views are of the most decided character, but they are not likely, perhaps, to increase my popularity with the advocates of inflation. I do not insist upon the special supremacy of rag money or hard money. The great fundamental principle of my life is to take any kind I can get.

The rumor that I buried a dead aunt under my grapevine was correct. The vine needed fertilizing, my aunt had to be buried, and I dedicated her to this high purpose. Does that unfit me for the Presidency?

The Constitution of our country does not say so. No other citizen was ever considered unworthy of this office because he enriched his grapevines with his dead relatives. Why would I be selected as the first victim of an absurd prejudice?

I admit, also, that I am not a friend of the poor man. I regard the poor man, in his present condition, as so much wasted raw material. Cut up and properly canned, he might be made useful to fatten the natives of the Cannibal Islands and to improve our export trade with that region. I shall recommend legislation upon the subject in my first message. My campaign cry will be: “Desiccate the poor workingman; stuff him into sausage.”

These are about the worst parts of my record. On them I come before the country. If my country don’t want me, I will go back again. But I recommend myself as a safe man—a man who starts from the basis of total depravity and proposes to be fiendish to the last.

—Mark Twain
“Let’s Look at the Record”
Harper’s Magazine, July 1954
Reprinted from the
Kansas City Journal, June 15, 1879

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The Difference Being

Approximate Reading Time: 2 minutesIf you feel like the current conditions of political life in our country are pretty much a matter of the greater number of us being in thrall to a much smaller number, whose will to do bad acts seems to grow perceptibly, you’re not alone. Sometimes it feels like the situation of our physical selves being in thrall (and certainly at threat of finding ourselves in such a condition) to microbes (or even smaller… viruses are very much smaller than bacteria, for example) about which little seems to be able to be done.

But there’s a significant difference, however compelling the analogy and however helpless and bereft you may feel. Like the body’s own immune system, of which, let’s face it, we remain substantially unaware as well, we have it in ourselves to take action against even a sea of troubles.

We can vote at the very absolute least.

Remarkably little of the electorate feel the power of their right to vote. Despair unhinges us. Disgust, frustration, anger, ennui, whatever the erosive demotivators we suffer, there seems less and less hope left in this most fundamental of American rights. But it remains the key to collective empowerment. In part this is what we mean when we speak of democracy, and we mean it with the connotations of good, and ethical, and right. Individually, we have, each of us, our one small bit of command, of entitlement. This is what substantiates our agency as citizens. The power of the ballot.

Enough votes at once will effect change. We’ve seen it in the lifetime of the current generation. Changes in administration. Changes in the majorities of Congress. Changes in laws, including at the highest, the constitutional level.

Inherently our system still works, even as we plod on, seemingly limping and bleeding from what has come to seem not merely a chronic, but a continuous assault on our fundamental humanitarian principles, uncertain of not if, but when, our sense of belief will give out completely and we submit, if not surrender, utterly. All it takes is a vote. And as the actions of key leaders among those who hold power over our behavior as a people and a nation seem to portend that we will crash on in defiance of other of the world’s sovereignties, in defiance of nature itself—utterly despite the collective will, at the deepest level, of the greater percentage of our entirety as a nation—the power of that vote we still have seems to have less and less reason to enact it effectively. But repeatedly, we have proven as an electorate, that this is not so.

We still have, remarkably, another chance. In the most primitive of assessments, it’s down to basics. Almost a Manichean choice of a duality facing us. Possibly as simple as right and wrong.

Gratefully, the choice is even simpler, because there is only one wrong choice. And many right ones, with nuances and more blatant differences for sure, but any one is right in this electoral challenge. Just don’t give up. Just don’t vote wrong. Just vote.Digiprove sealCopyright  © 2020 Howard Dinin

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Too Old to Run?

Approximate Reading Time: 4 minutesAm I the only one who thinks it’s crazy, solely on the basis of their ages, that Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders is viable as a candidate for president? It’s not a matter of ageism on my part. I’m 73, though I don’t “feel” it, as is statutorily required of me (that is, to say I don’t feel it). But I wouldn’t want myself to be nominated to any office, never mind CEO of the US, solely because I am too well aware that statistics are not on my side. And even less so on theirs. They’re older.

Then there’s the matter of how that job “ages” the job-holder. It’s been evident of every occupant of the office since it killed FDR, which is 74 years ago. Not that the effects, whatever they may be, are irreversible.

Jimmy Carter two days ago became the longest-lived former president. George HW Bush, who just died, was also in his 90s. No one asked either of these guys if they wouldn’t have wanted the job in their latter years—not to suggest they didn’t want a longer term in office than either of them got. Bush was 69 when he left office. Ten years younger than Biden would be if he ran and won, and assumed office in 2021. And Bernie is just a wee bit older than Joe, so he’d be closer to 80 standing on that platform in a chilly January inauguration. And Carter was 56 when he lost his bid for a second term.

It could be that Jimmy and Pappy were fortunate being spared the vagaries of the stresses of office in their declining years. There are those whose lives belie what I am implying, like, say, Rupert Murdoch and Warren Buffett (just to keep this argument ecumenical), but they aren’t having to deal with being President.

My sense of all this would be mitigated somewhat if we, like certain tribal peoples, were a society that did not just give lip service to venerating elders, but actually constituted a culture that included a system of governance whereby it was the elders who ran things.  And everyone accepted it. That’s what “culture” means in part.

Never mind a tribal council of sachems and elderly wise men and women, there won’t even be a minyan of ten “seniors” to hustle up for a cabinet session. Not that the current completely rational compensatory demand for greater diversity of electoral representation would stand for it, if there were.

No one running who was that old, and who was rational enough to expect to be elected, would choose a running mate anywhere close to 70. Donald Trump, who’s a year younger than me, chose a feckless non-entity (who mainly reinforced a perceptible bias of opinion of a plurality, at least, of likely voters), but still a guy who was not even quite 60 on election day in 2016.

In the case of either Biden or Sanders, significant weight would have to be given to strategies for running mate selection to respond to one facet of the selection question. What is the likely perception by a significant number of voters that they would be voting, as they rarely have had to in previous elections, for the inevitable occupant of the White House possibly well before the first term is up.

America is generally characterized as the land, if not of opportunity, then surely as the land of boundless optimism. Which is how we elected William Henry Harrison, Zachary Taylor, Warren G. Harding, and Franklin D. Roosevelt as president, and ended up with John Tyler, Millard Fillmore, Calvin Coolidge, and Harry S. Truman, respectively – though not predictably in any case. The ages of the incumbents when they involuntarily left office were 68, 65, 57, and 53. As for why I speak of optimism, let me just say, Quayle, Cheney, and Pence; while saying nothing of the merits of the men who chose them as running mates who got into office, regardless.

Please note the argument is not to be wary in any case, and that we should merely be careful of what we wish for, because fortune acts with equal severity on young and old alike. The argument is about actuarial tables of mortality – the odds, if you like – and keeping an eye not so much on the age, but the substantive qualifications of the running mate.

This “actuarial” argument is co-extensive of any question of Trump’s fitness for office, and he will still be younger than either Sanders or Biden, and it cannot be ruled out that Trump will not be shy to suggest that unlike him, his opponent is “losing it” not least because of senility; in fact, the counterfactual quality of such an assertion – very much from the heart of the Trump school of rhetoric – almost guarantees that we would hear it. On the purer political grounds of who to run against Trump, the age factor must be considered. A younger candidate for the Democrats will not nullify the proven impact of his strategy of vulgar denunciation by ridicule and derision of any candidate daring to run against him.

Unclear what any analysis of Sanders’s or Biden’s appeal to young voters consists of, and whether it would persist through an actual candidacy. The spirit of the new younger, “millennial” Democratic caucus, and the gathering power of an argument for change, and not just change, but a re-direction for both parties suggests either of them may not sustain the political momentum needed to make it to the nomination. The Democrats are only that much more susceptible to criticism, because of the innately fractured nature of its factionalism, and so they are more visibly and obviously ripe for a contentious struggle for dominance of the party going into the 2020 election cycle. Young Republicans, or young conservatives, are a gathering force as well, and seem overdue to mount a powerful (and possibly eruptive) effort at revolution and revitalization after a corrosive four years of Trumpism.Digiprove sealCopyright  © 2019 Howard Dinin

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Nonplussed by the Left

Approximate Reading Time: 4 minutesThere are certain words whose meanings have always eluded me, and I need to refresh my comprehension, long since, or so I thought, hard won. Nonplus is one of those words… Is it a good quality, a bad quality. All I usually am sure of is that it is a condition of uncertain benefit imposed by outside events or actions on one’s sensibility.

Jacobin Magazine [disclosure: I am a subscriber] has always elicited from me a sense of ambivalence, the prevailing response I give their endless outpouring of screeds. Sometimes the balance tips to positivity on my part, as I am mainly in concurrence with some sweeping, often categorical, pronouncement they have made about an occurrence or a presence on the world stage. I am, for sure, never left with a doubt that the magazine is turned out by a stalwart, that is, an unwavering staff of ideologues, or at least adherents to a prevailing principle, or, at worst, wage slaves who, to earn their weekly stipend, must show allegiance to the messages defined by the editorial mission.

It is with a strange sense of stupefied admiration that I have to read – yes, have to, as I subscribe, for the time being, to their email newsletter and to the newsfeed one sees on Facebook (and other social media for sure, but apparently the effect of my Facebook “like” has been to auto-vaccinate me against the urge to follow them on Tumblr, let’s say, which is about the only other place I might see their torrent of propaganda regularly, hour to hour, day to day).

In today’s email was the following link (below). You’ll have to click on it to see the degree of brazen chutzpah (no, I don’t believe that constitutes an unnecessary rhetorical redundancy: there’s chutzpah, there’s a higher degree of chutzpah, and then there’s our current president) they can effect when moved to comment, in three-part harmony, so to speak.

In this instance, the body is not even in a state of detectable decay turning into some form of inevitable compost, and yet they hasten to shit on it, or at least on the memory of the individual that once inhabited it.

Understand that I bear no love, and bore none while he was alive, and least of all while he served as President, for George Herbert Walker Bush. The worst thing I could bring myself to say was, at the time, he was the most cynical man who ever held the office. But, in my defense, because I see the weakness of this characterization (and no, not because of the degree of the comparative, or because it was the worst thing that I thought), but I can only see its inadequacy and shortsightedness because of the two individuals who held the office after him.

I have always been wary of the accusation of “war criminal,” certainly during the tenure of the usual suspects, going back, at least, to FDR (to name the first of a series of presidents within my ken; I was born only within two years of his demise, and his memory was a living thing itself within my family, because my father, a Jacobin in his own right, and a union organizer, worshipped the departed president). For one thing, it tests the notion of war as a crime. I’ll concede, even declare openly, that war is a great evil, but as for being a crime, that requires the intervention of a defining framework, including a body of laws that elucidate formally what constitutes a crime. Then you must have a suitable court to adjudicate the indictment during, presumably, the course of a trial in which evidence, hopefully of the unimpeachable sort, is presented to the court before judgment is pronounced.

With someone like George H.W. Bush, never mind Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, well, you get the idea… most such accusations, usually broadcast publicly and purely by self-sanctioning prosecutors, with no official role or appointment by a sovereign body of government, become especially forceful and louder at their demise, because, well, because that’s the last shot we plebes have got, isn’t it? I mean before the slow, quiet engines of historical judgment gather evidence, vet it, verify it, and present it in the appropriate venue for any follow-on implementation of fitting redress, whether punishment of a living perpetrator or vilification of a dead one. And that can take years, sometimes more than some of us reasonably have to look forward to.

But for some, often those of an ideological disposition, this is not a constraint, and freedom of speech being still a right in even these oppressive times, they feel free to pre-empt whatever order might impose the foregoing sequence of an act of justice. Usually there is no such order prevailing—the complainants would probably say it is not even apparent. But my point here is not to argue that condition.

My point is merely to marvel at the heedless and often terminally earnest sense of outrage and violated justice demands that card-carrying hotheads should make pronouncements, completely out of phase with even the mildest public notion of a qualified grief at the parting of a fallen former leader. My point is to say, Jacobin, once again, and what is becoming all too often, is leaving me nonplussed.

Here’s what was in my inbox this morning:

Digiprove sealCopyright  © 2018 Howard Dinin

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Complacent

Approximate Reading Time: 3 minutesIt is only in my lifetime to my knowledge, and largely restricted to the Anglo northern semi-continent of North America that individuals with Jewish forebears have relaxed a vigilance that most Jews of the modern era have instilled in them from birth. Having been born only within about a year after the ovens of the camps in Germany and Eastern Europe were extinguished, and as the first generation son of a couple of immigrants from that same enclave — whose families were tormented, if not outright killed, by their gentile neighbors in Russia, and whose immediate relatives sought refuge with them to the West – I was regularly, if passively and, so to speak, tenderly made mindful of the threat, however covert, “out there.” Whatever the outcome in terms of my faith, and in time I repudiated the religion of my fathers, I was never allowed to forget I was a Jew. Someone intent on making me suffer, if not worse, for that sole reason, would not care how devout or heretical I might be.

Blacks, I always understood, would have it worse throughout their lives, as they each wear their identity on their skin, and I have never encountered anyone of African descent, however remotely it could be traced, who, in some part of their conscious minds, was not aware of being the subject of a potential hostile gaze. At the very least.

Periodically, and it is happening again now, at this moment, because of the massacre of Squirrel Hill, Jews remind themselves of what too many are lulled into forgetting—a state of mind few African-Americans seem to allow themselves to indulge in. So vast is our country, and so large is our still growing population, that it has happened for virtually every identifiable ethnicity or sect or nationality that has found shelter in it that seemingly for them, if not ever for all, and never all at once, there is no longer a cause for alarm. No longer a need to fear bigotry, oppression, bodily injury or mortal danger.

However, it seems necessary every time there is an unexpected upheaval (and doesn’t a lack of vigilance, or a mere lack of staying alert, a lack of mindfulness, necessarily determine the condition of shocked surprise when it happens?) suddenly that group under attack, in however focused and localized a way, is reminded of the difference between true neutrality and dormant hate. With sufficient empathy, anyone among us, especially those who can discern some substantive and differentiable marker in their biological being that, under the malevolent scrutiny of an authority would define them as some alien “other,” will, like those once again active targets, realize their status as prospective prey – simply for being who they are. Of course, if the bigotry is overt, there is no mistaking it for disinterest.

But even in America, the friendliest of nations, how often is prejudice left wholly unmasked? How often is what at bottom can only be called hatred made naked, actively so, for anyone to see?

I’m not saying that the alarm and dismay, the sadness and grief, the unremitting emotional anguish of hearing of and seeing the victims of violence borne out of hate is inappropriate or serves no purpose. I am simply reminding all of us of the virtues of being mindful, if not consciously in a state of vigilance. I mean, whatever the level and degree of guardedness we exercise – and it should always be within the bounds of reason – complacency that is the yield of a false sense of security is likely not a rational way of carrying oneself through a world, and everywhere within it, that every day provides savage testament to the still untamed facets of human nature. There simply is no utterly safe enclave anywhere.Digiprove sealCopyright  © 2018 Howard Dinin

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Cold Cases and Warm Bodies in the Supreme Court

Approximate Reading Time: 8 minutesThe current ordeal of the nominee for the seat on the U.S. Supreme Judicial Court vacated on the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy highlights, among other things, two contradictory tendencies among the public. We tend to accept fully, or utterly reject, and purely at face value allegations of extreme behavior. What gets our juices flowing are cases of murder or even significant bodily harm, kidnapping, and, of course, sexual misconduct. At the same time, we have a spot in our hearts, perhaps softened and predisposed by all those juices, for seeing justice done however long it takes in the special instance of what are called in police jargon “cold cases.” The only matters that compare for compelling sympathy are cases that later prove to have indicted, and usually punished, the wrong person. But these latter instances, both unsolved crimes and crimes erroneously attributed to an innocent, are related if merely by the power they have to excite our emotional involvement even after protracted periods of time. We even can work up a compulsion for cases involving offenses so ancient they are history, and all the parties involved long dead, if not almost altogether forgotten. Nothing stirs certain of us like the words, “disinter,” or “exhume.” You’d think we had a scholarly love both for Latin and rotting flesh.

Among the genre programming that claims sufficient following there is always current a choice of shows, both on network television and cable or streaming. We have the fictions of the very popular series, which ran for a respectable seven years, called, simply, “Cold Case.” What underscores the avidity for that series is that all the cases featured were fictional. On the other hand, there is equivalent enthusiasm for a series which features what are purported to be real cases, in which we are to suppose there is the satisfaction of seeing in the end the meting out of “Cold Justice.” In the latter a real-life former prosecutor and a crime scene investigator team up to crack such cases across the country.

There have also been myriad mini-series and podcasts devoted to examining afresh baffling or vexing seeming (or actual) crimes in which, originally at the time of occurrence, there was either a successful conviction, or the mystery of a total lack of an indictable offender. The more popular of these “reality-based” extended inquiries resulted in concluded cases being overturned and retried, or in the case of utter failure a latter-day confession by the perpetrator. Receiving equal acclaim have been a certain number of shows that incorporated fictionalized or speculative aspects of exposition of a real case. The most engaging of these kinds of programming, in my personal experience, have included the documentary mini-series “The Jinx” (the case of admitted murderer Robert Durst), the documentary podcast (that spawned a powerful genre of such shows, and the establishment of a production company devoted to producing them), “Serial” (involving the case of an accused and convicted Adnan Syed, who had his case re-opened 16 years later, in part because of this inquiry, after being sentenced for the crime in 2000—as recently as five days ago, incidentally, the State of Maryland, which is running out of appeals of the decision to retry Syed, appealed, probably as a last resort, to the highest court in that state… as they say, stay tuned, and back to my regular programming).

Suffice it to say there is an ongoing hunger for stories of injustice, of justice forestalled or upended or perverted. Generally, we find these compelling and engaging, and a test of our willingness to keep an open mind, or at least to examine more closely how we arrive at the conclusions and convictions we arrive at in the light of what is sometimes conclusive evidence—when sometimes other factors we can’t quite identify compel us to arrive at a contradictory “verdict” in our minds despite that evidence. When the evidence is inconclusive or fragmentary or, seemingly, non-existent, we are thrown back on our entire internal system of beliefs, biases, and what we persist in calling logic, no matter what part of the brain is involved, acquired over a lifetime of childhood development and all of our experience.

We long for evidence of the successful pursuit of justice. We plunge into the fascination of cases involving the extremities of behavior, especially when there seems to be no satisfaction of that longing. We put aside our repugnance, if not outright horror, of certain acts, in the interests, we say, of truth. And we endorse, at least as passive witnesses, if not outright bystanders with no other skin in a game but our shared skin as human beings, the additional energies, if not the material expense of time and cash in pursuing what we insist on calling the truth. We do. Unless some other order of value, some objective conforming to that order and that value, is at stake. Then, it would seem not only are bets off, we don’t care to venture into the casino altogether to watch other players confront the stakes. It can be a complex and complicated business, this business of who did what to whom, and what’s it worth, if anything, to find out.

And so now, let us consider the even more convoluted contradictions of the matter before the Senate that is hogging the headlines, concerning Judge Kavanaugh.

Stating the obvious, apparently unsubstantiated allegations about sexual misconduct by alpha individuals – mostly men, but let’s not introduce the specter of gender bias – in our society have been enough to bring down politicians, both in office and seeking them. Enough to bring down very powerful media executives and on-air talent. Enough to bring down star athletes, as well as athletic management of professional teams and the de facto equivalent, major college sport organizations.

What they are not sufficient to derail, never mind to oust from any current office, are the ambitions of men who are nominated for one of nine seats as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. Other misdeeds, or so they were positioned, have been sufficient to scotch a nomination. Even Abe Fortas, a sitting Associate Justice nominated to replace the retiring Chief Justice (and the first sitting Supreme Court justice to be called in to testify at his own confirmation hearing) failed in his attempt to be seated, largely because of unpaid political debts by President Johnson owed to Republican senators who elected to find that the stipend Justice Fortas received from a university to teach a course at American University during the summer recess of the Court was sufficient sign of moral unfitness that they filibustered the confirmation process into extinction. The upshot was that Justice Fortas chose to resign from the Supreme Court altogether.

And now, of course, it should be mentioned as an aside, as well as ironic counterpoint to latter day machinations, the filibuster is dead as a political weapon. The Democrats in the Senate as it is currently constituted are sufficient in number and temperament to have put an end to the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh long since, and without an ounce of painful personal discomfiture for anyone.

Though I don’t mean to turn this into a discussion about the range of historical precedents for finding reasons to disqualify candidates on what, after all, were strictly political grounds, there have not been many instances, as I started off by saying, where an alleged act of sexual impropriety lost a nominee a seat on the highest court in the land. A quick review online reveals none. There has been at least one instance of a state District Court justice losing his seat (and not a lifetime appointment at that) because of sexual improprieties, but not without his stepping down while also denying the allegations against him. Not to mention U.S. Appeals Court justices (the most recent one being the infamous Alex Kozinski, who sat very close to his colleague on that bench in the Ninth Circuit, that is to say the aforementioned Brett Kavanaugh—but Justice Kozinski got away clean by the expedient of retiring, though at the youngish age for senior judges of 67).

To be fair, Judge Kavanaugh is in the process of being prepped for being pilloried in the court of public opinion, not to mention the Senate Judiciary Committee if the Democrats in the minority can somehow get their way, for activities in which he is accused of participating when he was still a teen-ager. He was in prep school as a senior of 17 in one instance, and in a newly revealed alleged incident, it was a year later, his freshman year at Yale College.

By any definition, these incidents, accepting the premise they may have occurred, are cold cases, especially in view that the warm bodies involved are still among us, still vital, still relatively young, though the occurrence of these alleged incidents was at a time that the bodies were not just warm, but in the full flower of youth—which seems to have a fluid meaning and pertinence depending on whose opinion you ask about the allegations. Yet, given our penchant for deep interest in such cases – whence the course of justice, indeed? – there is a divide as to whether there should be any intensive effort to examine either case, but especially that of the first allegation involving the sexual assault of Dr. Ford at a prep school party, for further evidence or corroboration beyond that of the principals in this drama. Indeed, it’s clear that for the Republicans in the hearing room, and in Greater Washington DC, and in suburban Connecticut, and around the country, there has already been too much allowance, and the chance being given to Dr. Ford to submit herself to examination and inquiry (let us not call it interrogation, even though the Republican majority of the Senate Judiciary Committee insists that lawyers appointed by them be permitted to pose the questions to those testifying) is sufficient effort, energy and expense. And not because of the nature of the offense, but because of, well, that’s the question isn’t it?

If it were a Hollywood mogul, it’s easy. Guilty as charged. And if not guilty, though Mr. Harvey Weinstein, in fact, will have to face the court, so let’s consider, ahem, another example. Well, if it were a U.S. Senator or a member of the House of Representatives, either of whom will be up for re-election in short enough order, and either of whom could be made the focus of an ethics inquiry by the body on which they sit as a member (but why bother with such a nasty and un-collegial business, when a man’s honor can be invoked and he can be called upon, in private, to do the right thing?), he would do the honorable thing and simply step down, by way of tacit admission no matter what discrepant verbiage actually issues from his lips, which it inevitably will. But this is a sitting judge, who will have to suffer the bitter deprivations of continuing in his seat on the bench of one of the second highest courts of the entire nation, continuing to wield power and influence on the laws of the land, rather than assume an even higher agency holding a judicial position for life.

Is this a matter or justice? Is this a matter of life and limb? Nah. Apparently not, at worst it seems to be a matter of teenage hanky panky and indiscretion. It’s merely a matter of the reputation and word of a woman. How many times must we be taught what that’s worth, at least in certain arenas?Digiprove sealCopyright  © 2018 Howard Dinin

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