This Morning’s SCotUS rulings offer mixed messages about progress, but a clear message about Gorsuch

This morning the Supreme Court released a pair of decisions, one of which was a solid win for same-sex couples (birth certificates mush now list both parents) and a pretty bad blow to the most vulnerable Muslim refugees (the White House can ban entry to anyone without a “credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States”).

The former seems like a big leap forward toward a just society, while the latter at least a solid stop backward (if I’m seeming overly optimistic in calling this only a step backward, just consider how vaguely broad “a credible claim” to a “bona fide relationship” to any person or entity in the U.S. is—Wanna help refugees? Start a pen-pal program!).

Viewed objectively, these average out to a minor win for the Arc of History in its quest to bend toward justice.  Keep your heart, progressives! (and don’t forget to call your reps!)

But all that doesn’t interest me as much as the buried lede: In

(This "America golem" is Nazi propaganda from WWII, but remarkably apt these days.)
(This “America golem” is Nazi propaganda from WWII, but remarkably apt these days.)

both cases, a unified block composed of Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Neil Gorsuch backed an narrow, regressive alternative reading of the law that is, at the very least, remarkable in how uncharitable it is, in addition to hinting a kind of disconcerting credulity when it comes to the claims of ruling powers (be they the PotUS or the State of Arkansas) that seem set on playing abusive word-games in order to give the force of law to their personal bigotries.🇺🇸🔥

Whoa! I am blown away by this Norm MacDonald interview

I know that makes me sound like a dick, but for context: I was a teen in the 1990s, and so Norm MacDonald is sorta fixed in my head as a half-funny smirk standing off center in a scene framed around David Spade abusing Chris Farley.  It isn’t that I wrote him off—upon reflection, I just realized I never even evaluated what the dude was doing; the director, camera man, SNL staff, and guys I sat with at lunch wrote Norm off, and I took their word for it.

All that aside, this is a really, really fascinating interview.  Neat stuff about craft in here—which I’m always down for—but also a really nuanced view of art as a product of human interaction and actualization.

I was gonna write a book about how to be a stand-up without being funny, but I thought it would be too cynical. I really think I could write it though.

A manual for how to perform an impression of a stand-up comedian?

That’s exactly right. It was mostly about crowd control. If you’re not very good you have to deal with the audience a lot, so it was a lot about how to do that. Like, you can pick on one person in the audience, and then the rest of the audience gets on your side because they’re afraid of being picked on. It’s all the psychology of mobs. You can learn it. I’ll go to a club and suddenly the guy who was the bouncer last time I was there is a stand-up, because he’s been there, watching how it works. Even jokes, you can do them mathematically without having any inspiration.

How’s that work?

You just take a premise and instead of following it to its logical conclusion you follow it to its illogical conclusion by having a faulty premise to begin with.

It’s surprising that you ultimately decided against writing a book that would’ve suggested that your vocation, the field of your life’s work, can be an empty, soulless shell of an occupation.

Yeah, I also thought it would be too pompous. It’s nobody’s fault there aren’t more funny comedians. If I were an awful comedian, I’d probably still be drawn to doing it. I remember when I first came to Los Angeles, Jay Leno was there and at the time he was the king of all stand-ups. And one night, I had to follow him. I was thinking, My god, this is going to be the worst. But Jay told me it’s fine to follow a good comedian. You just don’t want to follow a bad comedian. Or a filthy comic. They pull the audience down. It’s hard to go on after a filthy comic with, “What about Raisin Bran? Doesn’t everyone know how big a scoop is?”

and

Are you following the Kathy Griffin stuff at all?

What she did was grotesque. Disgusting. It shows how isolated everyone is. I was golfing last week and I told the guy I was golfing with, “It’s getting pretty crazy. I heard someone say they’re trying to ‘humanize’ Trump. Well, he is human.” And this guy goes, “Well, barely.” Jesus Christ. But Kathy Griffin went about as far as you can go. It’s like she had no sense of the history of that kind of image.

It’s hard to understand how someone didn’t say to her or the photographer, “Maybe let’s dial this down from an eleven to about a seven.”

The photographer, her manager, her agent, the person who made the severed head—no one said, eeeh. And I hate the immediate apology. Why are you apologizing? You apologize and then everyone just accepts that the apology is genuine.

What’s wrong with apologizing?

If it had gone over good she wouldn’t be apologizing for it. She’s only apologizing for the result and what it might mean for her career. It’s like when a guy like Anthony Weiner says, “I’m sorry. I made a terrible decision.” A decision? You had a pros-and-cons list about texting with that 15-year-old? The action wasn’t the result of a real decision.

Do go and read the whole thing. It is worth your time today.

Don’t know what to call your reps about today? May I suggest “White House conflicts of interest”?

Here are a few examples moral hazards unique to the Executive Branch ALL DRAWN FROM JUST THE PAST 24 HOURS OF NEWS:

Giving your reps a call (click the link and scroll to “Power User Mode”) is quick, fun, and easy! Don’t miss this opportunity to prevent a violent uprising by Winter 2017!🇺🇸📞💻☝️

Not for nothing, but I think the PotUS actually groks terrorists pretty well

Donald Trump: “I won’t call them monsters, because they would like that term.”

… ‘course, he goes on to say the exact wrong thing, in terms of reducing or eliminating acts of terror (which, fundamentally, are acts of the alienated—which is why I think he zeros in on the terrorist psyche with such clarity), but he starts strong, and says something that few GOPers have managed in the last 16 years:

Terrorists are humans, crappy, fallible, shitty humans, but humans all the same.  Not super villains to be grudgingly admired, certainly not desperate freedom fighters, jut numb-nuts shit-heels who are almost below contempt.

Offered for Contrast: The Case Against the Case for Impeachment

This argument strikes me as willfully obtuse (in the 20thC impeachment has been about a preponderance of wrongdoing, not a single gotcha), but I offer it to contrast most of what I’ve shared over the past few days:

OPINION: The Comey memo offers zero evidence to impeach Trump

(This "America golem" is Nazi propaganda from WWII, but remarkably apt these days.)
(This “America golem” is Nazi propaganda from WWII, but remarkably apt these days.)

For the record, over the past week it’s become increasingly clear that our representatives need to start saying the word “impeachment“—which is, recall, a formal Congressional statement of charges and investigation, not a fancy way of saying “removal from office.”  Is it time for removal from office?  I have no fucking clue.  Is it time to formally level charges?  It sure seems that way—but I don’t know, and am in no position to figure it out.  It is certainly time for us to accept that we need to seriously talk about this, not just throw the word around in histrionic fits.  It’s like the word “cancer” or the phrase “I’m dying”: We use these a lot as shorthands for things like “I feely sorta achy” or “I’m super-duper tired,” but there are also times when you do have cancer, when you are dying, and you need to actually start to talk about that with your loved ones.

And we’re in that place now, the place where we have to talk about cutting off our nose not to spite our face, but to save it before the cancer metastasizes.

This isn’t because the PotUS fired Comey for the stated reason that he was sick of “this Russia thing,” and it isn’t because he spilled the beans to that same hostile foreign power, and it isn’t because he tried to obstruct the early stages of the investigation into Trump-Russia ties back in February and it isn’t because he quite clearly benefited from—and plausible in some form, by action, inaction, or willful ignorance, colluded with—election meddling by that foreign power.  It isn’t because he, his staff, and his family have very publicly sought to personally profit from holding the Office of the PotUS, and it isn’t because everyone in his inner circle seems to treat the very notion of “ethics” the way a dog treats an especially sexy throw-pillow, and it isn’t because of the breaking-strain bend he’s put in the Emoluments Clause, and it isn’t because of his stated seditious animosity to the rule of law as it is widely recognized in this country—especially as pertains to the 1st, 4th, and 14th Amendments.  It is because of the preponderance of those things and more, taken all together, without pause, without recrimination, without apparent shame or the recognition that each of them is not simply Bad, but actually contemptuous of the very notion that governments are instituted among regular folks like us (not inflicted upon them) and derive their powers from the consent of the governed (which again, is us).  His high crime, if nothing else, is that he acts with contempt for us and for our institutions.

“What is his impeachable offense?”

Dude, at this point, what isn’t?

Today is a Good Day to Demand an Independent Investigation into Trump-Russia Ties🇺🇸📞💻☝️

If you haven’t called your reps yet today, may I suggest this topic: An independent investigation into Trump-Russia ties (both coordination during the campaign, back-channel collusion now, and business).  Here’s the email I just sent to my reps:

subject:We need an independent investigation of Trump ties to Russia

Dear TKTKTK,

art by DonkeyHotey https://www.flickr.com/photos/donkeyhotey/
(art by DonkeyHotey)

Given the abrupt firing of FBI Director James Comey yesterday afternoon, I feel it is now abundantly clear that we need an entirely independent investigation into coordination between the Trump campaign (and current Trump White House advisors) and Russia.

The President has now established a pattern of suddenly dismissing executive appointees (e.g., former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, and now Mr. Comey) seemingly because they either insist on upholding the Constitution, or because they are investigating him and his associates.

This is a very, very worrying trend.  We desperately need to uncouple the Trump-Russia investigation from “politics,” or risk lasting damage to our democracy.

Thank you.  Keep fighting the good fight!

All Best,

David Erik Nelson . . .

Thanks!  We shall defeat them one by one!🇺🇸☝️

There’s only one thing stopping Trump from truly revolutionizing our broken tax system…

… and it’s sitting in the Oval Office: “Trump’s Industry, Real Estate, Poses Hurdle to Tax Overhaul

Give this a read, give your reps a call, carry on with your day.

Thx!

P.S.: I was gonna do some sort of gag about dude’s total floundering for his first 100 days, but it quickly got tedious.  Here’s his “Contract with the American Voter” (SPOILER ALERT: he’s in breach).  Go ahead and play “broken promise/laughable goal” bingo on your own; I’m done playing pigeon chess with the PotUS (who, I’m sure, is just about to release another deluge of tweets about how great he’s doing, or would be doing if the world was fair—but a poor ole richer-than-God, weasel-wording, sexual-molesting, pee-faced pathological steak-ruining tin-whistle shukster-turned-U.S. President just can’t catch a break in America).

pigeon-chess

UPDATE: I love this sentence: “one of the biggest threats to the timeline on tax reform is the continued survival of magic unicorns.”

A Brief Tale of Uncertain Moral for Yom Ha’Shoa

I wrote about this via Twitter back in January.  I’ll more-or-less re-iterate what I shared then here.  I don’t know why I feel compelled to do this (again), apart from the fact that, as the years go on, I realize that this anecdote is, more so than the Torah or Midrash or anything else, the primary text by which I attempt to understand the nature of God.  And Judaism is a religion that has, despite poor odds, survived, and it has done so on the basis of repetition: I say the words that my dad said that my grandfather said that his parents said; I teach them to my children to repeat, maybe out in front of a crowd, maybe in candlelight away from windows.  But the words are repeated, and we persist, a thin red thread stretching through human history.  And when I cannot believe in anything else—as is frequently the case—I can believe in the worthiness of that task, and my fitness toward taking it up:  I can persist in the repetition of the words, I can take them a little farther down the road.

I’ve got a lot to say about this but I bet you can guess most of it. And the parts you can’t guess… there’s no room for them here.

Like, for example, here’s a thing: When I was in college I used to participate in this thing in the Diag, where for 24hr we’d read names of…

…Holocaust victims. The names were on these ledger sheets in a big, thick binder. I’d always take an overnight shift, 3 or 4am, reading out…

…into the dark, telling cold air and trees and sleeping crows the names of the dead. The ledger sheets, there were columns for name, number…

…birth place and date, death place and date. Maybe some other stuff. The first time I did this, I hit a patch where there were no names…

…just numbers. The birth and death dates were close together—not much more than a year, as I recall, some much less—and the birth and death…

…places were both camps. These were infants born in camp, numbered, and then taken elsewhere to die or be executed. No names, so I read …

… their numbers, told them to the cold air and the trees and the sleeping crows and the dark and the handful of Jews standing around w/ me…

…I know a lot about the Holocaust. I know numbers, I know places, I know people. I’ve seen pictures and films, I know stories that are…

…published and well known, and others that are between me and the person who no longer remembers them (z”l). I think about all of them…

… often. But I think of those pages of numbers, the empty column for names, those infants, that dark, the crows most often. B/c I feel…

… more than any other, that fact, that moment, has something important to tell me about the Nature of God and the Nature of Humans. And…

… 20 years on, I still have no idea what precisely that is.

Except for maybe that, nowadays, I think of it and, for no particular reason, I think of Malachi 3:18—which you can look up on your own.

I lumped this into my “Take Action” category, not because there is any particular action you should take today, but so that you maybe might seraphchamsa-IMG_7181meditate on this story further, as you go about your days.  Because someday you will need to take action, and all I can do for you is prime you for that not-at-all-good moment.

Actually, on reflection, there is an action to take today:  Tell this to your sons and daughters.  This is thing, it was a grand—almost inconceivably grand—project humans undertook.  Not monsters.  Not one Very Bad Man—worse even than Pharaoh or Bashar al-Assad—but just normal human beings—tons of them, whole nations of them, doing their jobs.  No more, no less.

Human beings like you and me.  No more, no less.