Category Archives: Satire

What a Picture is Worth ….

The Stench from the Bench

The Washington Post reported recently that Supreme Court Justice Neil M. Gorsuch would join Mike Pence, Ron DeSantis, and Trump’s White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany in speaking to the Federalist Society. They did and the media, as reported, was excluded. https://wapo.st/3 Jua6Dz  Even rev.com, the repository of many political speeches, could not acquire a transcript.

 I have it on pure speculation, good enough in a Trumpworld, that in a rare act of dexterity, Mike Pence got off his knees and stood erect at the podium during his portion of the show. One wonders how he was received given his shocking one-time decision to comply with the Constitution and the law in connection with Trump’s ongoing attempt to overturn the 2020 election by whatever means will work for him, including violence against the police.

A related question is hanging regarding DeSantis who swings between sycophantic adoration of Trump and hints that he may run against Trump in 2024. McEnany has no such problem. She’s not running for anything but the money. Her connection with the truth is so remote she could satisfy her obligations by just sending a copy of Big Little Lies to sit on the podium during Pence’s talk.

This wasn’t Gorsuch’s first such speech. He did a victory lap at the Federalist Society in November 2017 just after his confirmation to the Supreme Court. https://politi.co/3LySkRt Not surprisingly, perhaps, the only other Justice present then was Justice Alito who has spoken to the Federalists multiple times. In Gorsuch’s 2017 speech, he,

vowed to continue to expound the group’s favored judicial philosophies from his new post. “Originalism has regained its place and textualism has triumphed and neither is going anywhere on my watch,” the justice vowed.

Very interestingly, neither the Supreme Court nor the Federalist Society would say whether Gorsuch was paid to appear and, if so, by whom. Why, I wonder, would they not answer that simple question if he were not going to be paid? Refusing to answer in this context is analogous to pleading the 5th Amendment.

To be fair, it is reported that “liberal justices” are also “often guests of progressive organizations such as the American Constitution Society.” Despite all of that, or because of it, the justices are making public statements defending the high court’s impartiality and integrity. Retiring Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in his book that,

“Political groups may favor a particular appointment but once appointed a judge naturally decides a case in the way that he or she believes the law demands. It is a judge’s sworn duty to be impartial, and all of us take that oath seriously.”

Well, maybe not “all of us.” The sordid conduct of some Justices has now reached the nadir of ethical practice. Justice Clarence Thomas, for example, has defended the court’s “independence” during a lecture at the University of Notre Dame, but failed to mention that his wife, Ginni Thomas, is an avowed right-wing sycophant and Trump lover. She has been widely reported to have played a role in the January 6 attack on the Capitol, has argued far and wide that the 2020 election was stolen, and on and on. And now, we have reports that Ms. Thomas texted multiple times with Mark Meadows, then serving as Chief of Staff to Trump, that Meadows should do everything in his power to overturn the election.

As you likely recall, Thomas was the sole dissenting vote in the case about whether Trump had to turn over documents to the January 6 Select Committee. In Thomas’s participation in that case, there was no mention of his wife’s activities and no apparent concern about the grotesque conflict of interest, or appearance thereof. He apparently thinks he has no disclosure obligations, no recusal obligations regarding participation in cases in which his spouse is actively and aggressively interested.

Something is rotten here – ‘here’ meaning ‘right here,’ not Denmark – and the stench, has only gotten worse in recent days.

Lest we forget, judicial “ethics” also did not stop conservative icon Antonin Scalia from taking trips paid for by … someone not him. Indeed, according to New York Times reporting, Justice Scalia took more than,

258 subsidized trips … from 2004 to 2014. Justice Scalia went on at least 23 privately funded trips in 2014 alone to places like Hawaii, Ireland and Switzerland, giving speeches, participating in moot court events or teaching classes. A few weeks before his death, he was in Singapore and Hong Kong. [https://nyti.ms/3Dk8fPE]

A private individual provided Scalia with a free room at his ranch even though he had business before the Supreme Court. Again, according to the Times,

legal experts said they saw nothing wrong with Mr. Scalia’s accepting a free room at Mr. Poindexter’s lodge. While the Ethics in Government Act, adopted after Watergate, requires high-level federal employees, including judges, to fill out disclosure reports for reimbursements worth more than $335, the visit to the ranch might not have required a formal disclosure, because accommodations provided by a private individual are exempt under current rules.

WHAT????

All my years in private practice I fretted over conflicts of interest issues and Supreme Court justices can accept luxury hotel accommodations if they’re provided by “private individuals?!?!” No wonder “Supreme Court members took 1,009 paid trips between 2004 and 2014.” According to my calculations, that averages to 11 trips per year per Justice. And these are not trips to Bridgeport.

The destinations often are luxurious, including the Casa de Campo Resort in the Dominican Republic, where Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. was listed as a speaker for an event last February, or Zurich, where Justice Scalia traveled at least three times on privately funded trips.

In 2011, a liberal advocacy group, Common Cause, questioned whether Justice Scalia and Justice Clarence Thomas should have disqualified themselves from participating in the landmark Citizens United case on campaign finance because they had attended a political retreat in Palm Springs, Calif., sponsored by the conservative financier Charles G. Koch. Mr. Koch funds groups that could benefit from the ruling. The disclosure report filed by Justice Thomas made no mention of the retreat. It said only that he had taken a trip, funded by the Federalist Society, a conservative legal group, to Palm Springs to give a speech.

Over roughly a decade, Justice Scalia took 21 trips sponsored by the Federalist Society, to places like Park City, Utah; Napa, Calif.; and Bozeman, Mont. The Federalist Society also paid for trips by Justice Alito during that period, but not for any liberal justices, the disclosure reports show.

The disclosure reports, such as they are, reportedly “show that the majority of the privately funded trips — by far — are sponsored by universities.” Maybe, but it’s a fair bet that on those trips, the Justices don’t stay in dorm rooms. Are we to believe the suggestion that universities paid to send Justices to Singapore, Hong Kong, Ireland, and Switzerland? I also note that universities are sometimes litigants or amicus curiae (friend of the court) in cases of major importance.

The cited Times story about all this was published almost exactly five years ago. At that time legislation was pending in Congress to “require the Supreme Court to create a formal ethics system, beyond the Ethics in Government Act, like the one that governs actions of all other federal judges. That system is known as the Code of Conduct for United States Judges.” It should say “United States Judges Other Than Supreme Court Justices” because it apparently does not apply to them in any meaningful way – each of them decides for himself whether his conduct raises ethical concerns.

Chief Justice Roberts has argued that the Supreme Court, even though it generally abides by this judicial ethics code, is not obligated to do so. It restricts how much judges can be paid for private travel, and limits other activities outside the court, such as allowing private organizations to use “the prestige of judicial office” for fund-raising purposes.

Richard L. Hasen, a professor of law and political science at the University of California, Irvine, said that society could benefit when justices — who are paid about $250,000 a year, far less than they would earn in private practice — leave Washington to speak about how the court works.

“Society could benefit.” Perhaps, if that’s what the Justices always spoke about to other judges, law students and the like. Somehow, I doubt that’s what Scalia was talking about in Zurich.

Self-policing is a nice concept but fails in practice a good deal of the time. And since the Supreme Court is the top of the third branch of government, enshrined in the Constitution and the final word on the constitutionality of state and federal laws, self-policing seems a particularly inapt way of assuring fair, neutral decision-making.

The sitting Chief Justice has defended the current approach by arguing that the Justices “consult the code for lower-court judges in assessing their own ethical obligations.”  They may “consult” but are not bound to follow.” Extraordinary.

The “both sides-ing” of the ethical issues involving speeches and political leanings by Justices cannot be allowed to obscure the fundamental obligation of judicial neutrality embodied in the American Bar Association’s Model Code of Judicial Conduct [bolding is mine] set out below, along with the corresponding Code of Conduct for United States Judges.

ABA: CANON 1
A judge shall uphold and promote the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary, and shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety.

Judges’ Code: Canon 1

A Judge Should Uphold the Integrity and Independence of the Judiciary.

 ABA: CANON 2 
A judge shall perform the duties of judicial office impartially, competently, and diligently.

Judges’ Code: Canon 2

A Judge Should Avoid Impropriety and the Appearance of Impropriety in all Activities

ABA: CANON 3
A judge shall conduct the judge’s personal and extrajudicial activities to minimize the risk of conflict with the obligations of judicial office.

Judges’ Code: Canon 3

A Judge Should Perform the Duties of the Office Fairly, Impartially and Diligently

ABA: CANON 4
A judge or candidate for judicial office shall not engage in political or campaign activity that is inconsistent with the independence, integrity, or impartiality of the judiciary.

Judges’ Code: Canon 4

A Judge May Engage in Extrajudicial Activities that are Consistent with the Obligations of Judicial Office

 Judges’ Code: Canon 5

A Judge Should Refrain from Political Activity

The Judges’ Code is accompanied by a lengthy commentary on each section that only a lawyer can appreciate. Suffice to say that, in substance, the ABA Code and the Judges’ Code are essentially the same.

A commission appointed by President Biden to consider some of these issues stated in its report that “this voluntary system may not be the best approach to conflicts of interest that may affect the public’s perception of the court. “It is not obvious why the court is best served by an exemption from what so many consider best practice,” the report said. Indeed, a masterpiece of understatement.

Ironically, I suggest without a hint of irony, Justice Alito who often speaks at the Federalist Society’s meetings, had this to say at its November 2020 convention:

Judges dedicated to the rule of law have a clear duty. They cannot compromise principle or rationalize any departure from what they are obligated to do. And I’m confident that the Supreme Court will not do that in the years ahead. When we look back at the history of the American judiciary, we can see many judges who were fearless in their dedication to principle …. [https://bit.ly/3uEG2iE]

Many, but not all, it seems. Furthering the irony, Justice Alito’s very next words were, “and one who is especially dear to the Federalist Society springs immediately to mind I’m referring to Justice Antonin Scalia.” To quote the infamous Mr. Barry, I am not making this up. I will have much more to say about J. Alito’s extraordinary speech in a future post.

Most of the comments I have read about this issue constitute the highest [lowest?] form of tiptoeing by the graveyard. The stench of politics wafting from the High Court is gag-inducing. The pussyfooting by Democrats only makes it worse: “Justice Thomas’s participation in cases involving the 2020 election and the January 6th attack is exceedingly difficult to reconcile with federal ethics requirements.” https://wapo.st/3DqCQLB “Exceedingly difficult?” Really?

This is the same Justice Thomas and his wife, Ginni, whose text messages to Mark Meadows, Chief of Staff to Trump urged Meadows and Trump to “stand firm” in pursuing legal strategies to overturn the election she claimed was stolen from Trump. In keeping with the circus-of-the-obvious that Washington has become, Democrats in Congress were shocked, yes, I say, shocked, and even “outraged” to learn of these messages. https://wapo.st/35r6N1C

Now some experts see problems with this sordid example of non-self-regulation:

Legal ethicists, even some who in the past have been sympathetic to the notion that justices’ spouses are entitled to their own political activities, said the revelations presented a serious problem for the Supreme Court.

“The public is going to be deeply concerned whether a justice can be fair when his wife has been such an active participant in questioning the outcome of the election,” said Steven Lubet, a professor and judicial ethics expert at Northwestern University law school.

Louis J. Virelli III, a Stetson University law professor who wrote “Disqualifying the High Court: Supreme Court Recusal and the Constitution,” said that “this situation is problematic” considering the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol by hundreds of Trump’s supporters. “It is so stark.” [https://wapo.st/3LtMno4]

Not surprisingly to anyone with a functioning mind, “Congressional Republicans came to Clarence Thomas’s defense.” Names: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, leading House shrieker, Jim Jordan. Icons of ethical conduct, every one. Some of them, McConnell in particular, it is said, oppose Thomas even recusing from January 6 cases. We should not be surprised since the last Republican known to believe in democratic principles appears to have died some time ago.

Experts in judicial ethics seem to be falling all over themselves to avoid speaking the dreaded words: RESIGN. The lawyerly hair splitting is disturbing because this is not a problem curable by disclosure or recusal in this case or that. The High Court may well end up deciding multiple cases arising from the January 6 attack and the conspiracies that led up to and followed it.

Even if recusal, the step short of resignation, were adopted by Thomas for those cases, the Court would be deprived of one voice and one vote in an already small group of decision-makers. The burdens on other Justice would increase and the possibility of tie-votes on crucial constitutional issues would increase. Ginni Thomas’s own words proof how tone-deaf and substance-indifferent she and her husband are: ““Clarence doesn’t discuss his work with me, and I don’t involve him in my work.” Sure.

Just imagine:

“How was your day, honey?”

“Fine. Just the usual run-of-the-mill insurrection cases, you know, the attempts to overthrow the government. But you know we can’t talk about that, right?”

“Of course not, so let me tell you what I did today….”

More rules and self-enforcing principles of recusal do not serve the interests of the United States, which should be the only focus here. The interests and feelings of Justice Thomas and his wife are irrelevant. They brought this problem on themselves, and the country should not bear further the costs of their conduct. Thomas has already shown himself to be indifferent, at best, to the high ethically duty that should be the watchword of every Justice on the Court. Resignation is the only appropriate remedy, and it should be forthwith, before more interference with the Court’s business and more impairment of its already wounded reputation occur.

Meme Time Again

These photos and memes were captured from Twitter and Facebook. They present in images and a few words the essence of important messages for these times.

In closing, I want to note that Ukraine was never a threat to Russia. Putin’s claims otherwise are pretextual. His rationale of needing a bulwark against NATO likewise fails because, if he takes Ukraine, his new border will line up against multiple other current  NATO members. Then what? Will he stop there or is Ukraine Putin’s Sudetenland? If you’re not familiar with Sudetenland’s place in history, read this: https://bit.ly/3sqaddo 

We must not make that mistake again.

A Picture is Worth ….

Are you offended by the Featured Meme above? If yes, you’re probably a Republican. Kind of a litmus test, you might say. It’s art, but it’s art with a message.

Of course, there are reasons to be offended by it. It involves a child. It’s about violence done to children. It also relates, in a manner of speaking, to religion. Yet, it’s not about religion exactly. It simply says that people who are prepared to sacrifice children to school shootings to continue having unlimited access to guns for anyone and everyone while also claiming to be a Christian following the teachings of Jesus is a **** ing hypocrite. Politest way to put it. I’m having a hard time being polite these days, what with anti-vaxxers prolonging the pandemic and Trumpers still believing in phantasmagorical conspiracy  theories. The suffering conitnues, and for the anti-vaxxers, anti-mandaters and other aggrieved haters, I have no more f***s to give.

Meanwhile, here is the latest collection of memes/photos/call-them-what-you-will. These items say much about our society and the issues we face now. I provide them for those of you wise enough to stay off Twitter and Facebook from which they have been purloined. But some are very clever and, I think, worthy of wider distribution, a picture being worth a thousand words and all.

WARNING: This is political art. Some of it is harsh. It’s art meant to convey a point of view, not merely an interesting array of shapes, colors and so on.  As such, it has jagged edges and sharp points. Our democracy and thus our country, in my opinion, are under extreme threat.  If you’re concerned about the jagged edges and sharp points, please stop now and await my next kinder, gentler post. 

 

Wondering in the Third Winter of Our Discontent

We are in the third winter of COVID-19. No let-up in sight, although there are some predictions that the peak of Omicron is imminent. Those predictions say that, after the peak, a precipitous drop will occur. We may then, yet again, be out of the woods, they predict/suggest/speculate/hope.

I don’t know. No one does. But we do know some things, and the things we know raise some questions. Knowing things always leads to more questions because we never know everything. As soon as we know some things, we want to know the others. What comes next, for example. Despite not knowing everything, we have progressed as a species from the muck of the Stone Age to now. As a species, we’ve done many foolish things. But here we are, stumbling along.

Thus, I have some questions. I understand the anti-vaxxers are coming to Washington, my home, to “protest” against vaccination against COVID.

I gather they don’t want to be “forced” to vaccinate and don’t think it’s right that they be penalized in any way for their “choice.” Among other things, they claim this is a matter of fundamental personal freedom – the right to do with their bodies what they, and they alone, decide. They appear to believe there are bad things in the vaccines that will, variously, distort their thinking (really), prevent pregnancy, give them heart attacks, and do other unknown but harmful things to their bodies and minds.

Thus, I have some questions. Here in the third winter of our discontent.

  • Do you anti-vaxxers smoke, drink alcoholic beverages, eat processed meat? If you do one more more of those, do you know, really know, what’s in them?
  • When a doctor says, “go home and take two of at night before bed, do anti-vaxxers say, “no thanks, doc. I don’t know what that could do to me, so I’ll take my chances on a heart attack.”
  • Do anti-vaxxers who do take medicines, either prescription or over-the-counter, ever read the labels/prescribing information on those drugs? You know almost all of them say something to this effect: “if you take this drug, you may experience catastrophic side effects including possible death.” And you take them anyway, don’t you?
  • How many global conspirators do you anti-vaxxers believe are involved in the effort to poison/drug/kill/murder people and/or publish falsified information about the infections, deaths and damage done by COVID?  50,000 doctors, nurses, epidemiologists, EMTs? 100,000? A million? Must be at least a million globally, right?
  • Do you anti-vaxxers really believe that medical professionals are falsifying the data on infections, hospitalizations, deaths from COVID? It seems so. Why do they suppose all these professionals who have spent years/decades/entire lives working to help people have suddenly decided to attack the population with a deadly virus and/or falsify the information about the damage it’s doing?
  • If indeed there is a global conspiracy, where do you anti-vaxxers think all the people who have disappeared due to claimed deaths by COVID are being held? Have they actually been murdered and, if so, by whom? If so, how is it that with more than 870,000 Americans having died allegedly by COVID, no one has come forward with a single shred/scintilla of evidence that those people are (1) being held incommunicado in the dessert out west (that many people would require a lot of space, not to mention places to sleep, food, restroom facilities, etc etc to keep them alive) AND what happens when they are released, or is the government/medical profession going to keep them locked up forever? OR (2) buried somewhere, OR (3) cremated somewhere and their ashes disposed of secretly? Is that even possible?
  • Has there ever been a global conspiracy, or even one confined to the United States, in which hundreds of thousands (or millions) of conspirators were involved and not even one came forward to reveal the truth and receive the accolades (and no doubt, a lot of money) of a grateful world?
  • Finally, for now, do you have any concerns about the counter-factual? That’s the one where you’ve been wrong about the vaccine and in reality almost all the deaths are among the unvaccinated with a much smaller number of dead being vulnerable people who were infected by unvaccinated people or denied medical care because COVID-infected unvaccinated patients were occupying all the beds and attention of medical staff? Any concerns about that at all?

So, anti-vaxxers, I have these questions. And more, actually, but those will suffice for now.

So, while you’re in town, maybe you could do a few interviews and answer these questions. Then, well, then we can talk about the next round of questions.

If I don’t see you, well, RIP.

Why I Hate the Snow

We had fair warning even though my two weather apps had drastically different predictions of how the second snow of the year would play out. Until the snow had already exceeded predictions, both said it would amount to little, somewhere between a dusting and three inches. Not that big a deal. And anyone who has lived a while or read books about weather will know that predictions are highly uncertain. Fine, as far as that goes.

My tale.

My wife is flying back to Washington DC from California, scheduled to land at National Airport (DCA to we cognoscenti) at 4:53 pm, a few hours after the snow was expected to start but given the predictions, we should have no issues. I drive a Ford Escape Hybrid that, in addition to extraordinary gas mileage, has front-wheel drive. It’s really a computer on wheels, with multiple sensors around the perimeter (aside: on road trips it will often suggest, by flashed dashboard message, that I am tired and should take a “rest”).

I set out from our apartment in the West End of DC at 4:30, plenty of time given that my wife checked her bag on the return flight. I am monitoring the flight’s progress on a cell phone app that, it will later appear, provides way more information than anyone could need, making the key information very hard to read while also trying to stay on the road whose lane markers have long ago disappeared.

Indeed, traffic is very light, although it’s apparent immediately that the car in front of me has no business being out in this weather. I carefully navigate Washington Circle, one of the cruel gifts of the original French designer of the city’s layout, and proceed down the hill to the Memorial Circle (site of the iconic Lincoln Memorial) and cross the Memorial Bridge to the George Washington (yes, that one) Parkway leading to the airport. Road conditions are not great but I’m moving right along and arrive at the Roaches Run Waterfowl Sanctuary parking lot, a short hop from DCA. I join a handful of other cars hopefully waiting to proceed to the airport where the cellphone “waiting” area is very small and the other places to stop and wait are patrolled regularly by police with guns.

[Aside No 2: According to the Washington Post, Roaches Run is named that because “The stream that feeds the lagoon is named for the family of James Roach, who ran a nearby brickworks and owned a mansion, since torn down, called Prospect Hill.” https://wapo.st/3KhGU3R Do not read that article because you will then be tempted to read the Comments where you will find yet another unnecessary war of words between two readers set off by an allegedly “off topic” comment and followed by “you’re one – no you are – no you…”]

After a while, I glance at my phone and see that the flight arrival is being pushed back. Not surprising considering the weather, runway clearing, etc. My weather app now changes as well – we’re now looking at 3 to 6 inches. No problem. Even had I known that before departure, my plan would not have changed. After all, I drive a Ford Escape ….

I wait. I look at the phone again and BOOM, I now see that the flight has been DIVERTED to Dulles International Airport (IAD to we cognoscenti) which is about 27 miles away and road conditions are deteriorating fast.

I depart Roaches Run, drive into DCA, and go around by the arrivals terminal so I’m now driving north on the GW. There are a few options for routes to IAD, but I choose to stay on the GW Parkway. I know the road well and traffic is sparse though road conditions are deteriorating fast. Several of the cars that also chose this route for whatever reasons are regretting the error as they slide around and, in some cases, get stuck in the mounting snow/ice/slush.

Undeterred, and in any case irrevocably committed to my chosen route, I forge ahead. I believe I am racing against a jet airplane that could be in final approach. Road conditions are deteriorating fast, but it could be worse. Only one driver does something really stupid, forcing me to brake suddenly to avoid him. I do. It’s all good.

I reach the Capital Beltway (the ring road around DC known to cognoscenti as 495), which is the link to the Dulles No-Toll superhighway that takes you straight to IAD. Traffic is much heavier on 495. Why? Is it really necessary for all these people to be driving on a Sunday night in a snowstorm when road conditions ….? Dumb question.

Still, I’m making good progress until the exit for the Dulles No-Toll Road. Here the snow has apparently melted near the pavement, the plows have missed the area and several cars are having that uh-oh moment of realization that they are now spinning in one place. Even my chariot is having a lot of trouble maintaining forward momentum.

But I ease around the floundering cars, leaving them in my dust (very figuratively speaking) and make it onto the No-Toll road. I could take the Toll Road that parallels (literally right next to) the No-Toll Road but why pay when you can drive for free (the Devil whispers in my ear)? I think I will make it to IAD in plenty of time because the government usually keeps the No-Toll Road pretty clear, and traffic remains light. I am maintaining a nice steady 20 mph on a road designed for 55 and often driven at 65 to 70 by many (other people).

Once clear of other cars and with open (figuratively speaking) road ahead, I glance at my phone for a time check. WHAT???? The flight has been RE-DIVERTED back to DCA!!!!

Now, for those who don’t know, the thing about the No-Toll Road is that, because it’s free and might be abused by commuters who want to escape the frequent congestion on the parallel Toll Road, once you’re on the No-Toll Road you may not exit until you reach the airport. Aaarghhh!!!

There are, of course, a few “Official Vehicles Only” exits with dire warnings about high penalties, gates, red lights, and other reasons not to use those exits. Once entering one of those lanes, you might not be able to get out and the police are around trying to help motorists when the can.

Soooo, I chicken out and keep driving – allllll the way out to IAD where I circle through the airport. My computer-on-wheels is now flashing all manner of dashboard warnings to the effect that the sensors that tell you when you’re about to crash and burn are blocked. I am a bit concerned that the computers may simply shut the engine off, so I stop in a no-stopping zone at the end of the terminal, exit the car and try, unsuccessfully, to remove the ice caked all around the lower perimeter of the car (where, naturalement, the sensors are located).

To hell with it. I get back in the car and head back onto the No-Toll Road back toward DCA, still 27 miles from where I just came. I can’t be sure, but it appears that my wife’s fight is still circling DCA so I’m still good on arrival time.

Indeed, the snow is turning to rain/sleet (a miracle?) and while it’s cold as hell (world class mixed metaphor), the rain is clearing the road of snow much better than the snowplows could. I am traveling 40 mph at times. I stay on the No-Toll Road until it merges with I-66 (known to cognoscenti as The Road Where Cars Go to Run Out of Gas While Idling in Traffic) and miraculously arrive in Crystal City (don’t ask if you don’t know). The phone rings — my wife is in the terminal with a large group of people awaiting delivery of their luggage, running back and forth from one carousel to another (Guess Which Carousel If You Can – a favorite game of the baggage handlers at DCA). I slow down, arrive in the “road” that serves as the airport pick-up zone for arriving passengers, acquire my wife plus luggage and head back to DC.

She is starving because she believed that having been served a meal traveling west, she would also get one coming east. She had, after all, paid for an upgrade to Premium Economy. In reality, enroute from LAX (Los Angeles for cognoscenti on a flight that exceed five hours, she was served a … cookie. Meanwhile, my total driving time was almost as long as her flight, so there’s that.

All’s well that ends well, of course, and the ride from DCA was uneventful, I didn’t get a ticket for the U-turn I didn’t make on Pennsylvania Avenue to acquire carry-out at the local Thai place, and we settle in to watch a blood-soaked movie starring an aging Pierce Brosnan who, miraculously, fought like a twenty-something.  There is hope.

 

 

I Am Never Wrong

I also never exaggerate. Believe me.

Why then do things not always work out the way I want them to? I realize that my unerring instincts were not one of the self-evident truths to which Thomas Jefferson referred in the Declaration of Independence, but still, things should be working out better because I’m always on the right side and always right.

How, for example only, can it be true that, as former Republican congresswoman Barbara Comstock said on Meet the Press, May 30:

.… many Americans“ still don’t realize how violent that [day] was. … People are still talking about [sic] these were like tourists. We need to have that full story out. It’s going to get out one way or the other.

[As noted in an opinion piece by Washington Post Digital Opinions Editor (??) James Downie. https://wapo.st/3uzxCqM]

Because I’m never wrong and that is one of the most improbable statements I’ve seen made about the January 6 Trump-directed attack on the Capitol and the 2020 election, I went to the Meet the Press transcript, conveniently provided by NBC at https://nbcnews.to/3uIo7pc in search of context.

[An aside: Chuck Todd opened the show with, “And a good Sunday morning. And I hope you’re enjoying this Memorial Day weekend, wherever you are.” Interested to note that the Republican Party has not demanded hysterically that Todd be removed, nor has it questioned his patriotism for suggesting that Memorial Day was a time that could be enjoyed. No, they saved that vitriol for Vice President Harris who tweeted almost exactly the same sentiment. You’d have thought she’d asked for help from Russia or something.]

Returning to what passes for reality, Ms. Comstock was on the show apparently because she “spent the week unsuccessfully lobbying Republican senators” to vote for a commission to investigate the January 6 insurrection. Her effort failed in part because Mitch McConnell, aka MoscowMitch on Twitter, was opposed: “There’s no new fact about that day we need the Democrats’ extraneous commission to uncover.”

Well, if McConnell is right about that, I must be wrong. Impossible. How, for example, would McConnell know that we already know everything that’s important to know about what happened on January 6? Hmmhh? How does he know that? That claim alone requires further investigation. If McConnell knows everything important there is to know about the Capitol attack, he should be examined under oath to find out what he knows. If he is lying and doesn’t know anything important, he’s going about his business in a curious way. The truth, of course, is that he doesn’t care what happened on January 6 as long as no one can pin it on him, his Congressional buddies in the far-far-right wing of the Republican Party or the former president whom McConnell worships as a living god.

For reasons that defy understanding, Chuck Todd described McConnell as “being honest publicly” in admitting that the greater the light shed on January 6, the worse for Republicans in the 2022 mid-terms. Todd: “That’s why he’s against it, period.” The irony, of course, is that Todd implied, correctly, that McConnell is rarely “honest publicly.” And if that’s true, it’s not a stretch to conclude that he’s rarely honest in private either. The truth  hurts. Or it should. Todd gets a C minus for this non-revelation. McConnell gets an F.

But let’s get back to Comstock’s assertion that “… many Americans still don’t realize how violent that [day] was….” She cites as proof that “People are still talking about [sic] these were like tourists.”

Completely wrong. “People” aren’t talking about the Trump-mob as if they were tourists. One Member of Congress said that. A Republican, of course. As for “many Americans,” I suggest Comstock is gaslighting us. After a bazillion words and hours-and-hours of videos have been produced on the subject, it is simply not possible that “many Americans” do not understand the violence of January 6. To be sure, many of them continue to assert that the mob was actually “antifa,” all of whom came dressed in Trump paraphernalia & carrying Trump flags, and if there were any Trump supporters in the mob, they were simply carried along with the crowd of antifas. Oh, and Black Lives Matter people also. BLM was also involved in the attack, wearing Trump gear and bearing Trump flags. Sure.

If it were true, and it’s clearly not, that the January 6 mob was antifa and BLM, why would the Republicans not be jumping at the chance to expose the truth about the attack instead of resisting the creation of a January 6 Commission at every turn? How would the Republicans explain the presence of Ashli Babbitt, the woman shot trying to force her way into the House chamber?

And if antifa and BLM were behind the attack, wouldn’t the Republicans want to know who planted the pipe bombs on January 5 at the RNC and DNC? The video shows a person in a hoodie whom many of us believe was a female whose form and movements suggest Lauren Boebert, a Republican Member of Congress. We have no hard evidence beyond the video, but you’d think that the Republicans would be anxious to put that question to rest and to pin it on antifa or BLM. But, no, they oppose any further investigation.

You’d have to be either dead, severely ill or a delusional Republican to be unaware of the violence of January 6. Comstock is wrong and I’m right. The Republicans in Congress know the awful truth about January 6 and are living under the delusion that they can somehow prevent the truth from being told. They know Trump is guilty. The Republicans are protecting Trump and almost certainly some of their own Members of Congress. Their claims about January 6 are as nuts as Marjorie Taylor Greene, aka MTGCuckoo, who claims school shootings were staged and … forget her, too bonkers to warrant more attention.

But I bet the Republicans in Congress and, formerly, the White House, are not sleeping too well, wondering who among the more than 400 people arrested so far is going to spill the beans to secure a lighter sentence. This issue is never going to go away. It will be like a weight, a yoke if you prefer, around the necks of every Republican running for office in 2022 and beyond. The real question is whether the Democrats will be sufficiently astute to use the weight effectively. It’s past time. Tick tock.

Democrats, Time to Call the Question on MTGCuckoo

Media reports, https://wapo.st/3blQSS0, for example, indicate that Marjorie Three Names, real name Marjorie Taylor Greene, known to me as MTGCuckoo, has once again violated House rules and norms of behavior by openly confronting Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez outside the House chamber, screaming at her and calling her names. WAPO reports that this led “the New York congresswoman’s office to call on leadership to ensure that Congress remains “a safe, civil place for all Members and staff.”

Indeed. It can be frustrating at times to observe the extreme formalities used by Members of Congress in addressing each other during hearings and debates, but those formalities serve a vital purpose. They are a device for keeping the focus on the issues being discussed and to reduce the flaring of tempers and personal recrimination that serious disagreements about serious matters can inspire. By and large they work.

Or at least they worked until the arrival of Donald Trump on the American political scene. Trump consistently behaved like the trashy human being he consistently proved to be. He labeled his political adversaries in his own party with offensive nicknames, made derogatory remarks about their physical appearance and their families, mocked a disabled reporter and on and on and on. His Republican competitors vehemently objected to Trump’s schoolyard behavior until he won the presidency. Then, like the miracle that was supposed to end the COVID crisis at its inception, they bent the knee to him, seeking jobs, swearing fealty to him personally and adopting his constant lies as “alternative facts.”

Trump inspired a new wave of Republican leaders who have adopted his tactics, among them is MTGCuckoo, a QAnon conspiracist among her other charming propensities. She cares nothing for tradition, standards of personal respect or any other norm of civilized conduct, just like her idol, Trump. With the support of 11 Republicans, she was stripped of her committee assignments in February because her extremist remarks that included

questioning whether deadly school shootings had been staged and whether a plane really hit the Pentagon on 9/11.  A supporter of the fantastical QAnon conspiracy theory, she also shared videos with anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim sentiment, and expressed support for violence against Democratic leaders in Congress.  [https://cbsn.ws/3yazBF6] ….

Greene has made a number of incendiary and false statements in recent years, among them that Black people “are held slaves to the Democratic Party,” that Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) — the first two Muslim women elected to Congress — represented “an Islamic invasion into our government offices,” and that Jewish megadonor George Soros collaborated with Nazis.

She had previously harassed David Hogg, one of the teenage survivors of the Parkland school shooting, on the Capitol grounds and, reportedly, another member of Congress in a hallway dispute over Greene’s refusal to wear a mask.

This obnoxious and dangerous behavior has not harmed Greene’s appeal with the Trump base. She continues to collect large donations from them. In typical fashion, Republican House leadership has done nothing meaningful to rein in Greene’s manic conduct.

This is on the Democratic leadership. MTGCuckoo is violating every rule  and norm of behavior for a Member of Congress. She craves attention and will do almost anything to get more of it. One of these days someone is going to get hurt because of her low class schoolyard behavior. It may be her or someone else, but Democrats control the House and should put a stop to this immediately before it gets further out of hand. Many of the Trump sycophants look to people like MTGCuckoo for guidance regarding their own behavior. She doesn’t care a bit if she inspires some craven Trumper to act out their violent fantasies on a Member of Congress or someone else.

Closing Note: no doubt someone will decide to chastise me for hypocritically name-calling Greene in the fashion that I am criticizing her. Guilty as charged. Now they don’t have to bother. Greene has earned the nickname I gave her on Twitter, and I’ll continue to use it as long as she behaves like a tantrum-throwing child who makes statements that are, by any standard, beyond the realm of rational behavior. She belongs in rehab, not in Congress. My choice of nickname relates to her behavior, not to her appearance or her family. Apologies, however, to cuckoos.

Is DC Sinking?

Since returning to live in DC four months ago, one thing that has struck me, literally and figuratively, is the condition of the District’s streets. Roads I drive on frequently, long sections of I Street NW, Pennsylvania approaching Washington Circle from the east and in the 24-to-25th block, and long stretches of L Street NW, are in really poor condition. A remarkable number of axle-busting holes are everywhere and either jolt you out of your kidneys or cause cars to suddenly veer out of their lanes in avoidance maneuvers. And then there are the manhole covers. Some streets are “littered” with them and they seem to be set in the precise path that car wheels follow if the car is centered in the lane. All too frequently the covers are an inch or more below the road surface. These are not acceptable conditions for the capital city of what purports to be the greatest nation on earth.

I recently learned, courtesy of the DCist newsletter, https://bit.ly/3sWOXZT, that a monster machine, named Chris, has just finished digging and lining the walls of a 5-mile, 23-foot-wide tunnel 100 feet below the city. The 650-ton machine is reportedly longer than a football field (100 yards for the unknowing). We better hope that Chris does not become sentient one day and decide it doesn’t like working underground anymore.

Anyway, the purpose of the tunnel is to “prevent sewage overflows into the Anacostia River and stop flooding in low-lying neighborhoods, including Le Droit Park and Bloomingdale,” which seems like a really good idea. My theory, however, is that one explanation for the condition of the roads may be subsidence induced by Chris’s underground excavation.

My theory is no doubt a bunch of hooey, but I need to understand why Washington’s roads are in such terrible shape, so I make up stuff. There is, however, some hope. This morning I noticed, as I was flung about the interior of my car, that a long section of I Street NW has been “shaved,” perhaps by a relative of Chris, in preparation for resurfacing. Now the manhole covers protrude above the road surface. It was dodge-em cars the entire stretch as drivers tried to avoid blowing tires on the edges of the covers that, as I have noted, seem to be everywhere and in all the wrong places.

I am now aware that Mayor Bowser “has committed to eliminating all poor quality roads in the District by 2024.” More details than you want to know may be seen at the DDOT Paving Plan. https://bit.ly/3dZbpxh Hmmh. 2024? That’s easier to grasp if you look at the history of road improvement expenditures. https://tabsoft.co/3nqSxKM To paraphrase a paraphrase, it’s a long road ahead.

 

Me & My Manuals

Subtitle: More Than You Want to Know About My Technology Skills

Subtitle: Why We Are Doomed

Modern life is complicated. Much more so than when I was growing up (some people say I was never actually young – not so, but I won’t argue). I am, however, astounded that anything actually works any more.

Growing up, I was a tinkerer/investigator. I would skulk around the neighborhood and remove broken radios/lamps/vacuums, anything electrical, from neighbors’ trash  to disassemble and study how they were built and what made them work. I didn’t learn much but it was something to do.

I was a “technology leader” in my profession. While still a young associate back in the 1970s, I introduced my law firm to its first electronic calculator. It cost me $125, grudgingly reimbursed by the partnership that saw it as wasteful and pointless, an enormous sum at the time for a lowly associate lawyer. It had only four functions. It was the junior model to the first Bowmar breakthrough product, as reported at www.bowmarllc.com:

One of the company’s biggest defining moments came in 1971 when it produced the world’s first hand-held calculator. The Bowmar Brain sold for $240 and ushered in a new frontier of global technological advances. However, since its inception, Bowmar’s primary market has remained aerospace and defense.

While I couldn’t afford a Bowmar Brain, I bought the next best thing and thus it was Bowmar and me on the frontier of technological innovation. The firm resisted but I persisted and soon the partners were secreting the device in their desks to prevent others from secreting it in their desks.

Leaping from Memory Lane to almost-today, I once again faced the technological frontier.

I had owned two inexpensive, limited-function devices to work with my high-powered iMac computer. One was a flat-bed scanner that scanned documents and photos one page at a time. Like an old bike, reliable but slow.  As time passed, the controlling software became somewhat squirrelly (details spared—thank me later).

The other “device” (device, that’s what we call them now) was a simple printer. It did both black/white and color and had a limited but functional sheet feeder. The company that produced this inexpensive marvel decided it was a good idea to modify the software in some fashion that caused the printer to … die. Since the device was far out-of-warranty, multiple tries to download/update the software failed and there was apparently no one home at Hewlett-Packard anyway, I made a command decision: give the scanner to a friend who could use its limited functions and trash (recycle) the moribund printer, replacing both with a more modern, all-purpose single box that would do everything I needed: copy, print and scan. Fantastic. What could go wrong?

My extensive online research led me to what turned out to be a very large, incredibly heavy (circa 50 pounds) All-in-One (AiO) machine from a well-known brand not Hewlett-Packard (some affronts cannot be forgiven). Algorithms at American Express, acting on their own, “decided” that the company identified in the purchase order was “suspect,” and rejected my charge. Stunned at this development, I called Amex which promptly said, “oh, ok, no problem.” So, no problem.

Reasonably believing the algorithmic rejection of the charge had invalidated the first purchase, I returned to the source website and purchased the item again. I also bought a service contract with a firm that claimed to offer turnkey setup and technical advice for years. Little did I know that algorithms in the seller’s website had kept the first transaction “alive” following the credit rejection, so now I had unwittingly ordered two of the devices, each of which was half the size of a Volkswagen beetle.

These particular devices would not connect to my wi-fi system for reasons never understood. The algorithms did not like my network, I suppose. The service contract also turned out to be useless, as, after multiple excruciating waits “on hold,” the “technical experts” at the service company simply told me to call the manufacturer for advice on set-up. They had no idea what to do and really weren’t much interested.

So, I returned the devices. Both of them. Fortunately for me, the seller had a UPS pick-up system so all I had to do was get the devices, in their original boxes with all wrappings, wires, etc., down to the concierge desk. Done and done, sore back and all.

The search for a viable machine resumed. I located another AiO, from a different well-known brand, sold by Best Buy. Well-known brand. Free shipping. What could go wrong? Chastened by my earlier experience, I paid for another service contract with the “famous” Best Buy Geek Squad that claimed to include 24-7 installation/setup advice, guaranteed. I’m on a roll now. Stand back and stand by.

The device was delivered promptly enough but, and this is a big but, this device also was unable to connect to my wi-fi system and thus could not, for example, print documents that resided on my computer. It was the  algorithms, I’m sure. I spent more than two hours on the phone with various “representatives” from the Geek Squad, mostly on hold, none of whom had any helpful advice on the rare occasions when I was able to actually speak with someone. And, Best Buy, it turns out, does not pay or arrange for returns.

Since by this time we had moved from New York City to Washington DC, but had no car, we paid an Uber fee to return the machine to the nearest Best Buy. The staff there was singularly uninterested in why we were returning it: “just drop it over there.” But, without argument, they did refund both the purchase price and the cost of the utterly useless Geek Squad service agreement. [Note to self: don’t forget to send Best Buy a bill for the Uber fees].

Sooo, the search resumed yet again, eventually settling on an older, smaller AiO from Epson with more limited features (e.g., a smaller sheet feeder) available at Amazon, where, in my experience, returns were usually pretty straightforward. Now, my prime criterion for buying anything was whether it was easy to return the item when, most likely, it didn’t work. Ben Franklin said “experience keeps a dear school but a fool will learn in no other.” That is what we have come to. I declined to buy the service contract this time. It was me and my manual or bust.

Well, and here I reach the point at last, the substantive portion of the user’s guide for my device is only available online and is 350 pages long! That’s in the upper end of the range for New York Times Best-Seller Non-Fiction books, since the list began. I don’t know what the significance of that is, but it seems important.

Suffice to say that the manual was pretty much useless. Recalling my early successes in the law firm back in the golden era of the 1970s, I succeeded on my own in enabling “print from computer” and “copy from on a roll using my wi-fi network to connect the devices.

BUT, not so fast. The scanning function would not work! The Epson device in scan mode would not “recognize” my printer sitting just a foot away. “Recognize?” Don’t you love how we’ve anthropomorphized computers? We think they’re like people but, of course, people can do things. Algorithms just say no.

After multiple hours on hold with Epson Support, lengthy discussions with multiple technical reps, including several “Level II” senior advisors, several dropped calls after being put on hold “for just a minute while I check something,” I suggested that maybe a direct connection between the printer and the computer with a USB cable might solve the problem. “Oh, for sure, that will do it,” the Epson guy said, as if this obvious solution had been under discussion all along.

I bought a cable, Amazon delivered it the same day (a miracle right there) and then a fellow named “Albert” [uh huh] walked me through a software uninstall/ reinstall of two of the dozen software programs involved in running my device and voila! I was able to scan while using the “buttons” on the front of device, which had been my simple goal all along. It was a victory worthy of Game of Thrones.

Of course, no one at Epson thought it might be a good idea to offer to pay for the USB cable as partial compensation for the staggering time I had spent while setting up the device, not to mention that it was I who came up with the solution.

Now, standing alone, this story has little meaning in the grand scheme, whatever that it. BUT, as I mentioned earlier, we just moved to Washington from New York City, thereby necessitating the purchase of a car. After extensive research, we decided to buy a Ford Escape Hybrid similar, but much more fuel efficient, to the one we owned three years ago before decamping to NYC from Alexandria and giving up our cars. But, no, not so fast.

There are no Ford dealers in the District of Columbia! None. Mon Dieu!

We ultimately settled on two options in the near Virginia suburbs, based on distance from our apartment and the late-season availability of the car type/color, etc. we wanted (relevant but probably ineffectual).

Suffice to say, the salesmen at both dealers knew next to nothing about the cars they were selling nor about how they are taxed or financed. Actually, not next to nothing. Just plain nothing. But, OK, cars have only been around a short while and young guys no longer tinker with them, so nobody knows a damn thing about anything. So be it. I can always look things up. Right?

And that, my reader (if you’re still here) is where the gist of the gist is found. The car manual is an actual book. And when I say “book,” I mean “book.” The manual is 550 pages long! Not only does the inside of the car resemble an airplane cockpit, but you need a degree in aeronautical engineering to understand how to operate it.

Lest you think I exaggerate, something I never do, permit me an example or two. At p. 54 of said manual, one encounters “Keys and Remote Controls.” The first subheading is “General Information for Radio Frequencies.” Radio Frequencies!?! Why do I need to know about radio frequencies to drive my car????

Following three bolded “Notes,” there is a subheading for “Intelligent Access (if equipped).” Parenthetically, I don’t know whether that is a reference to a car feature or to the possibility that the owner may not be intelligent. Maybe it’s just a linguistic oversight because no one knows anything anymore.

Returning to Keys & Remote Controls,” there are three ways to unlock your car door (details unimportant) UNLESSexcessive radio frequency interference is present in the area,” which I take to mean you are parked under a military radar installation (in which case you are about to have other problems). Anyway, if your car won’t unlock electronically, you can always do it with the “mechanical key blade” hidden in your “intelligent access key” as to which “see Remote Control (page 54),” which is, as it happens, immediately below and unsurprisingly reads “REMOTE CONROL” followed by “Integrated Keyhead Transmitter” and another paragraph of instructions. Finally, all of this is on page 54. All of it. Who, then, thought it was useful to direct you to Remote Control on page 54 when you’re already on page 54? Is proofreading now a completely dead occupation?

The above information is followed by pages of information about keys and their uses, including 11 “photos” of various keys and functions most of which do not resemble my keys.

Thereafter, it gets … worse. There are, for example, seven pages devoted to Starting and Stopping the Engine and another seven on Unique Driving Characteristics, which seems likely to be important. Someday I will read about it.

Well, I have to go now. If we’re ever going to actually use our new car before the warranty expires, I have to study up to be sure I don’t accidentally activate the passenger automatic ejection seat (we did not get the moon roof option) while trying to turn on the ten position/six speed variable/fixed windshield wiper/cruise control. Wish me luck. And remember, this is why nothing works any more. You read it here.