When I Held Your Brain In My Arms (Jury Duty)

I’ve served as a trial juror and grand juror on various occasions. Without discussing dates or cases, I’ll share some general observations, as well as a couple of funny videos.

Most jurors want to do a good and conscientious job, but the system tends to be slanted toward the will of prosecutors, in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. Many judges are former prosecutors, and court officers usually share with police a law & order stance which favours quick indictments or convictions of persons accused of crimes. In the distant past, I even knew of one court officer who told a jury to “hurry up and convict this guy.” I was shocked at the time, but many of our fond ideals of justice are compromised daily by the volume of cases and the jaded attitude among court personnel.

Process can determine outcome; and one way the process is manipulated is that novice jurors are instructed by court officers to adopt quick-voting procedures. Quick votes tend to be rubber stamps for the prosecutor; but when a jury takes more time to go over each charge against each individual and discuss the details, they’re more likely to act as a genuine, much-needed check on prosecutorial excess. (Traditionally, grand jurors were meant to be both a sword and a shield. But there’s much discussion in the legal community that today’s grand jurors do precious little shielding.)

Prosecutors do tend to pile on charges, and a good jury will take pains to distinguish between what the target of an investigation really or probably did, and what a prosecutor is piling on just because he or she can.

Some jurors fancy themselves technocrats, and imagine that they hold no discretion as to how the law is applied. But actually, if the function of jurors were merely technocratic, a supercomputer could probably be programmed to do the job. One of the most important functions of jurors is to put a human face on justice. The letter of the law cannot possibly account for all the fine shades of people and situations. It often takes subtle human judgement to arrive at a just outcome. Yet, some jurors will claim that they’re slaves to the letter of the law, rather than being its interpreters.

Grand jurors are routinely advised that they don’t work for the prosecutor, but rather the court. Still, the prosecutor is described as the jury’s “legal adviser.” And while grand jurors can (in theory) ask questions of witnesses, they must do so through the prosecutor. It’s not unheard of for a prosecutor to simply blow off jurors who ask questions which are legally valid, but which might weaken the prosecutor’s case. In theory, a juror could complain to the judge that their questions aren’t being answered; but that’s rarely done in practice.

I’ve observed that jurors often function in one of two very different modes. In the first mode, jurors tend to shoehorn the subject of an investigation into the charges provided by the prosecutor. It may be a tight fit or even a bad fit, but some jurors operating in this mode assume it’s their responsibility to justify the charges given by the prosecutor. Instructions to the contrary notwithstanding, they may have slipped into feeling that they work for the prosecutor, or they want to give the prosecutor everything he or she asks for. And since the grand jury process is notoriously non-adversarial, there’s usually no one there (except perhaps a fellow juror) to question this “prosecutor rules” approach.

In the second mode, jurors stand back from the process and ask whether the charges are really appropriate and justified, based on the acts committed by the subjects. In this mode, jurors engage in more independent thought, and don’t necessarily assume that the prosecutor should get everything he or she asks for. They’re more willing to vote down some charges which seem harsh or excessive, which are not justified by evidence, which require too many leaps of inference, or which charge the target with multiple crimes for what appears to be a single act. I generally prefer this more critical approach to jury duty since it tends to empower jurors, allowing them to reach better (and sometimes more humane) decisions.

Based on my reading and experience, I think conspiracy charges are an area where prosecutors tend to pile on charges more or less automatically. John Doe and Jane Doe didn’t merely commit a certain act; they must have thought about it (if only for a moment); so let’s also charge them with conspiring to commit that act. Or perhaps John Doe was the main actor, and Jane Doe merely had knowledge of his actions or tolerated his actions. Mere knowledge or toleration does not rise to the level of conspiracy, but this tends to be a gray area in the minds of jurors — a slippery slope they can easily fall down or be led down by a prosecutor. (If a ham sandwich was in the room and didn’t vocally object, it must have been a co-conspirator!)

It’s easy to think of cases where conspiracy charges are totally appropriate, as when mafia Dons sit down to lunch and explicitly conspire to divide up a certain territory by borough or region and commit crimes there. They’ve clearly entered into an agreement and are all equally culpable, so it’s appropriate that they should be held responsible for each other’s actions.

But conspiracy charges are sometimes filed against groups of defendants who have wildly divergent degrees of culpability or blame. Sometimes a criminal organization has one or two kingpins who are active in planning and conspiring how crimes will be carried out. It also has lower level actors who are not planners or decision makers, who are assigned to perform simple tasks by rote, and who show some fear, hesitancy or reluctance to do so.

Yet, when all such defendants are tied together by the rope of conspiracy, the least culpable are held liable for the actions of the kingpins. This seems less than just. I think our intuition from an ethical point of view is that a low level participant who is not responsible for planning and who shows some fear or reluctance should not receive the same charges (and eventual punishment) as a ringleader.

To the extent humanly possible, we want the charges to be tailored to specific individuals and their varying roles in a criminal organization. Conspiracy charges often have the opposite effect, obliterating important differences between individuals, and assigning equal blame to all.

Another question which often arises among jurors is the question of personal responsibility for the ultimate fate of those processed by the justice system. Our jails are widely reputed to be hell-holes — overcrowded, with little true rehabilitation taking place. Spokespeople for the justice system have a ready-made answer: As jurors, you’re not judging people or meting out punishment; you’re only making a narrow technical assessment about whether or not they committed certain crimes.

This is something of a fig leaf. The justice system has come to resemble a huge (often impersonal) conveyor belt. What happens at the end of the conveyor belt is ethically relevant to those participating at the middle stages. While Holocaust analogies can be tiresome and overly dramatic, we ought be mindful of the train conductor who fails to ask what happens when the train finally reaches Auschwitz.

Another broad distinction between different types of jurors is that some favour a philosophy of “Indict them all on every count and let God sort it out.” Others recognize that even when dealing with the criminal element, there’s still a moral obligation to only indict for acts actually committed, or reasonably believed to have been committed.

Grand jurors favouring the “hang ’em high” approach often assume that if there’s anything wrong with an indictment it will be fixed at a later stage, such as a jury trial. But jury trials are quite rare these days. Although we’re taught that any accused person has the right to a jury trial, the reality is that prosecutors punish defendants who demand a jury trial by piling on additional charges. The consequences of losing a jury trial are so mind-boggling that the vast majority of defendants accept a plea bargain rather than risk trial. This has the effect of making prosecutors (rather than judges and juries) the most powerful players in the criminal justice system. Not ideal!

Broadly speaking, if as a juror you see something wrong at the indictment stage, you would do well to stop it there rather than assuming it will be fixed somewhere up the line. The impersonal, conveyor belt nature of our justice system means that there’s absolutely no guarantee anything will get fixed later on.

As a juror, when people come before you as defendants or subjects of investigations, you hold their fate in your hands. So take your time, do it right, consult the evidence, but also your conscience. Don’t be afraid to speak up for what is right. Respect your fellow jurors, but don’t let them steamroll you. Make sure important issues receive at least some discussion, then let each person vote their conscience.

I promised you some funny videos, and the “fate in your hands” concept gives me an excuse to segue into this song by the gang at Mystery Science Theater 3000:

Naturally, I have the most respect for jurors who don’t “accidentally plop” those persons in their care!

One of the funniest courtroom scenes of all time is from Woody Allen’s 1971 film Bananas:

And if you’re a Britcom fan, it’s hard to beat this scene from The IT Crowd, s04e03:

As I mosey on off into the cleftal horizon, I offer my good wishes to all jurors everywhere. Decisions are made by those who show up, so hats off to you for not pretending that your wife was sick and your cat was pregnant (or vice versa!).

Michael Howard

The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization.

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Christmas, Childhood, and Cable Spaghetti

A story by Moss Hart narrated by José Ferrer reminds this blogger of a story from his own childhood

At Christmastime, I often hearken back to Simple Gifts — a vintage PBS production which has proven a rich source of reflection for me.

I can relate to this Christmas story because it deals with hope and dreams versus harsh reality, and reminds me of an incident from my own childhood.

My father sired me late in life, so when I was ten years old he had already passed his sixtieth birthday. My arrival was not planned, and though he loved me in his own way, my father later confided to me (with some bitterness) that “Mommy stuck me with you.” His genuine love had to struggle against his unpreparedness (due in part to poverty and illness) to become a father, with all the attendant responsibilities.

My father suffered from insomnia, aggravated by physical illnesses, and by worries and sad memories. As a result, by the time I was in elementary school he had taken to sleeping during the day. The flat where we lived was comfortable, but it was a railroad flat with only one bedroom at the far end, where the three of us slept. My bedtime was 9 PM, but my father would sometimes just be arising at that time, and was preverbal in his first hour after waking. So during that portion of my childhood, we lived in the same house, but (sleeping in shifts) had surprisingly little contact.

Still, there were weekends and holidays and other times when our schedules overlapped, and there were happy times when we were together as a family, though these became increasingly rare as my parents approached the breakup point. I can remember a disastrous Thanksgiving with my father posing for a photo as the family patriarch, carving the turkey, and a mocking look on my face like Who is this guy? Any resemblance to a Norman Rockwell poster was disappearing at breakneck speed.

But for the most part, as a child in elementary school I had no sense of normalcy where families were concerned. I lived from moment to moment, accepting things as they were, with very little questioning.

I loved my father with a child’s love, but also feared him for his angry moods. I believed the stories he told me, and came to share in his love of vintage audio equipment, which he would futz around with in our living room (which was the front room) during his waking hours. He had an assortment of old tape recorders and microphones and tuners and amplifers and speakers which he enjoyed hooking up in a variety of ways. I was always fascinated by the infinite possibilities. Making “cable spaghetti” in search of some hitherto undreamt of combination was maybe the most fun I had as a child.

I remember in particular how his old, dying tape recorders made uncharacteristically youthful chirping sounds, as if their innards housed a chorus of newly hatched robins blinking at the capstans and pinch rollers which otherwise inhabited the same wood-and-metal nest. My father, however, thought more in terms of Orthoptera than Erithacus, and referred to the sounds made by these ancient instruments as “crickets.” Though never entirely absent, the cricket sounds sometimes became especially pronounced, and then my father would curse those “goddamn crickets,” and proceed to take apart and put back together the offending recorder, usually with no noticeable improvement. But I suppose it provided him with the much-needed illusion of work, as my own tinkerings with computers do today.

Isopropyl alcohol in tiny vials, Q-tips, and 3-In-One oil were the liniments my father routinely applied to any dead-man-walking gizmo located within his dominion. Some, perhaps several of such gizmos owe to him a few added months or years of life lived in a kind of techno limbo between functioning and non-functioning — a questionable form of Grace arising from his limited repertoire of home remedies for ailing mimetic devices.

While sitting idly and blowing smoke from Pall Malls which he smoked from a holder, my father would fill my head with stories about 45th Street in Manhattan, where all the electronics stores were located. I had never been to 45th Street, but as a budding technophile I could picture them all lined up, filled with an unending supply of alligator clips and speaker wire and phono plugs, and massive woofers pumping out earth-shaking bass tones, and tiny titanium tweeters supplying the highs — highs I was vicariously in search of.

(Dim rumours reached our household now and then of a new development called stereo, but as all my father’s equipment was antiquated, hand-me-down mono gear, we rejected such rumours and lived in our own heavily insulated monophonic bubble. And though my father died in 1980, I don’t believe he ever succumbed to the stereo fad.)

I remember a Father’s Day in the fourth grade when we pupils were asked to create an art project using scratch art — the kind where you scratch out the black to leave a line drawing in coloured crayon.

An example of children’s scratch art, or crayon etching

Mine (lost long ago) was inspired by the one area where my father and I still pleasantly interacted. It was no Precisionist masterpiece, or even of mechanical drawing quality. With its cable spaghetti flying in every direction, occasionally alighting on a vaguely rectangular object, it was more Abstract Expressionist — possibly something Miró would have banged out, a constellation that never quite made it into the night sky.

One of Joan Miró’s “constellation” pictures, this one titled “People at Night, Guided by the Phosphorescent Tracks of Snails.” Look carefully and in addition to fish and birds, you’ll also see a small likeness of Eleanor Roosevelt.

I don’t recall if my father ever saw or commented on my youthful masterpiece, but I do remember pressure mounting on him to take me to the tech oasis of 45th Street, which he had inflated in my mind, and which I had further inflated with the imagination-power that only ten-year-old boys possess.

Finally, the great day came! My father rose earlier than usual — as early as 3 PM. We departed from home by 4 PM on a cold winter day, as the light was fading. (Did we ride bus or subway? I can’t remember…)

We arrived at the Mecca of 45th Street around 4:30, and the Fairy Lights which lit up my brain were noticeably absent. We managed to visit one or two electronics shops, but it was drawing nigh on five minutes to five, and it began to dawn on me that the Great Transformation of Life which I expected as a result of beholding the Awe and Mystery which was 45th Street had not yet happened, and wasn’t going to.

I don’t recall that my father bought anything at either store. I asked wanly whether we would visit more stores, but my father replied matter-of-factly that they were just closing up. He was a fairly cynical person, but perhaps my own imagination had somehow cross-pollinated with his on this occasion, and he too was expecting more from the experience.

Rather than a shared epiphany, this was like a moment of unshared existential sadness — my father realizing that this one short trip wouldn’t make him Best Dad Ever, and me realizing that 45th Street was just another place with shops — human-sized shops not bulging with electronic toys for the taking, and not providing a gateway to Paradise. We both felt let down, but it failed to bring us closer together. We walked onward, each managing his expectations in his own way, and neither outwardly acknowledging defeat.

Of course, this anticlimactic ending was not entirely my father’s fault. True, he could have gotten up earlier, could have planned the trip better, and could have arranged some concrete purchase (however small) which would have made it all seem worthwhile. But much later on in life, in the course of my spiritual studies, I came to understand that it’s the nature of desire that its fulfillment can never compare with the imagined thing. We have an innate core longing which all desires merely animate or focus on small trifles. Experience teaches us that what we crave will not really satisfy us, yet we become accustomed, or habituated, or addicted to fulfilling our desires, in spite of knowing the fruitlessness of their fulfillment.

Had I learned nothing since the days of childhood, I would now be preparing to go to that Big Electronics Store in the Sky. I suppose the modern version would involve cable TV with 10,000 channels, a fully interactive supercomputer, a smartphone with built-in 16-track recording studio, unlimited Internet access with no data caps, and a host of other things that Big Tech promises us in ads, then takes away in the fine print or the doing.

I am fortunate that through reading, study, meditation and dreams, I now look forward to something much more meaningful, and not based on Fairy Lights. But that is another tale, and today’s tale is only a Christmas Story or Winter’s Tale.

My father was a proud and often emotionally inaccessible man. This was true until his death. Like Moss Hart, I was with my father in the period leading up to his death, when he was in a nursing home. Unlike Moss Hart, I can’t claim that we shared a moment of perfect closeness. I do remember a day, sitting quite near to him as he sat in a wheelchair. It was a sunny day, out on the grass, overlooking the river in Riverdale, New York. Running out of things to say, I closed my eyes and meditated on peace. When I opened them again, he too looked peaceful, almost as if meditating. He remarked that it felt peaceful.

I don’t suppose it was more than a month later that he died, and while that moment of shared peace is less than I might have hoped for, it is more than many are granted. I remain grateful for it to this day.

May all be granted Peace at Christmastime, especially those who have shown me kindness beyond my imagination.

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A River of Gratitude

The story of how one simple gift changed everything between Donald Trump and China’s President Xi

President Trump recently returned from a relatively successful visit to Asia — measured on a bell curve where managing not to vomit on the Japanese Prime Minister and not to start World War III are considered successes. There were few substantial gains or diplomatic breakthroughs, but no mega-gaffs either. (Possibly a few dead fish in the koi pond at Akasaka Palace, but for Trump that is coals to Newcastle.)

What should we make of the visit? On the one hand, they say travel broadens the mind. On the other hand, Japanese zen has the concept of no-mind. If Trump had no-mind to begin with, then maybe the trip didn’t broaden anything (except perhaps the national debt). Or maybe Trump’s version is “I no mind if you flatter me to pieces.”

They say there’s honour among thieves. Politicians? Not so much so. That’s why at the ASEAN summit held on November 13, Trump participated in a complicated form of handshake designed to prevent the motley collection of leaders from picking each other’s pockets while on stage together.

The ASEAN summit, and a handshake instead of a kiss.

Trump reportedly signed up for an event billed as “The Spilla in Manilla,” but chickened out when he heard his hotel room was bugged. Clad in a Barong at one point, he was mistaken for a waiter and forced to return the tips he collected from other waiters’ stations.

Trump and Duterte: Two Barongs don’t make a right (or Human Rights)

The most notable feature of the trip was the turnaround in how Trump regarded China and its newly annointed strongman President Xi Jingping. During his 2016 campaign, Trump spoke harsh words about China, accusing the nation of rapacious trade policies and vowing revenge. But after being fêted in the Forbidden City and treated to a military parade, Trump began to thaw slightly.

By the end of his China visit, Trump was singing a different tune entirely. What prompted this miraculous turnaround? It’s almost like he was ready to start passing out little red hats saying Make America Xi Again. (Not to be confused with the motto of the Ex-Lax company, which is Make America Shi– well, better not go there.) But seriously, what spurred the change?

The Chinese are gracious hosts and masters of the ceremonial, so it stands to reason that President Xi could locate just the right gift that would soften up Trump and appeal to his particular interests and proclivities. It was an audio CD that reportedly did the trick:

So next time you have a tiff with a friend (or even a head of state), think how some little gift, carefully selected, can open the floodgates of forgiveness and lead to a river of gratitude.

Michael Howard

The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization.

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Alabama Narrowly Averts Deluge of Roy Moore Jokes

We’ve all heard the digs at our Southern compatriots: Amabala – the backward state. Passing a roll of Cottonelle to the state which dares to defend its rights (and wrongs).

I know it’s not polite when Easterners rib Southerners about their “backward” culture. But it’s also not polite for Southerners to (very nearly) send the likes of Roy Moore to the Senate, where he might have voted on issues affecting the lives of everyone in the country. Moore’s proximity to the Senate understandably causes a rift in civility.

The late Andy Kaufman was, in part, a comedian. He was also a combination merry prankster and provocateur specializing in the politically incorrect. He craved intense interaction with a crowd, and stand-up comedy seemingly wasn’t doing it for him at a latter stage of his career. So he decided to become a pro wrestler.

As a wrestler, he adopted various bad guy personas, and reveled in the hatred he could generate by (for example) wrestling women, and claiming to be the Inter-Gender Wrestling Champion of the World. In this persona, he would act like the consummate male chauvinist pig, taunting women that he was so superior to them, and they could never beat him (though occasionally they did).

When wrestling men, especially in the deep South, he adopted a different bad guy persona. He and fellow wrestler Jerry Lawler formed a partnership where Lawler would play the popular Southerner that everyone would root for, and Kaufman would play a parody of a New York Jew — which entailed him losing the match, then threatening to sue everyone in sight. But he took it much farther…

Kaufman seemed determined to tear away at any thin veneer of civility which existed between Southerners and Easterners, and to provoke a response of sheer hatred. He knew the stereotypes of Southerners that Southerners hated, and his routine entailed baiting them crudely and mercilessly until he was finally pounded by Lawler (to the crowd’s delight).

Kaufman would bait Southerners live in the ring, or in pre-recorded TV segments meant to drum up publicity for matches. He gave the crowd their money’s worth. They loved to hate him, and loved it when Lawler would finally use the “Piledriver” (his patented move) to finish Kaufman off. If it looked like Lawler had broken Kaufman’s neck, so much the better.

What was the abuse that Kaufman heaped on Southerners that made them want to see Jerry Lawler break his neck?

It was all theatre or a strange kind of comedy, but you wonder who was or wasn’t in on the joke.

Anyway, if Amabala had sent us Roy Moore, what could one do but pass them a roll of Cottonelle, possibly with an instruction manual using pictographs only?

Let’s hope the Old South is truly dead and buried (or at least resting comfortably), and that the election of Doug Jones is a harbinger of the New South marching in the general vicinity of the twenty-first century!

Michael Howard

The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization.

Of Further Interest

Kaufman and Lawler continue their feud on Letterman (YouTube)

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Al Franken and Democratic Remorse

Some democrats are lamenting the ouster of Al Franken and what it portends for the future. Is Mika Brzezinski the face of democratic conscience? Can feminism be fair and evenhanded?

Like democracy, feminism is a word which can mean so many different things to different people. Whose idea of democracy, and established by what means? Likewise, whose idea of feminism?

To some, feminism means equality for women, equal respect for women, equal opportunity for women, equal pay for women, equal choice for women, equal justice for women, and fully valuing women in whatever roles they choose to play. In this version of feminism, men are also winners, because (to whatever extent men’s interests enter into it) men then have mothers, sisters, wives, daughters, doctors, lawyers, colleagues, friends, and partners who are fully living their potential — happier, more fulfilled, and therefore also more able to give to others in every field of endeavor. Looked at in this way, even selfish men have a selfish interest in seeing feminist ideals succeed.

As for less selfish men, I think they embrace this ideal of feminism because deep down they know they can’t be happy unless women are also happy; they know they can’t be happy if any segment of our society is intentionally held back, disadvantaged, or devalued. Some men are (believe it or not) capable of great empathy, and are truly with women and for women in their struggles for equality.

Nevertheless, every difference between groups of people has the potential to divide them and devolve into tribalism. Because (like democracy) feminism is such a vast concept, there are versions of that concept which are less enlightened, and which don’t lead to peaceful coexistence, mutual respect, or shared love and trust between women and men. Some feminism is highly tribal and represents more of a naked power grab than an effort to achieve harmony through equality.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but some extreme feminism says, “You had the power; now we’re taking back the power by any means we can, and we’re going to make you suffer. You’re scared? We want you to be scared.” And as Bari Weiss implied in a New York Times opinion piece, some feminism ascribes to every woman everywhere an absolute unqualifed Truthfulness which (realistically) doesn’t apply to human beings in general, regardless of gender.

Some years ago when serving on a trial jury, I recall how we were all instructed that police, however heroically they may be portrayed in police procedurals, are just human beings like the rest of us. They sometimes lie, and are sometimes motivated by base instincts like greed and hatred.

There is much wrong with our justice system, and our jails are hell-holes. But at least the ideal of justice embodied by our adversarial system is that anyone accused is innocent until proven guilty, that a jury should be a trier of fact, that there should be due process, that the defendant should be fairly represented in the proceedings, and that the jury should not reach a verdict based on prejudice, but on the specifics of the case before it.

If any prosecutor or defense attorney tried to instruct the jury that their moral or legal duty was simply to “believe the women” (just because they are women), they would probably (and rightfully) be admonished by the court.

The demand by women for equality and justice is absolutely right and righteous. But it sails past the target when it demands that women as a tribe or as a gender should have a unique right not granted to any other tribe or gender that whatever they say must be believed — must be accorded unqualifed and unquestioning belief — simply because they are women. Pressing this view (as many are now doing) does result in backlash, because it’s an example of overreaching. It threatens notions of fairness basic to our democracy, and when put into practice, leads to gross injustices to men.

I would think the goal of enlightened feminism is not to turn the tables and create a system which favours women over men, but to create a system which is equally fair to both men and women. I would think the goal of enlightened feminism is not to exacerbate the so-called “war between the sexes,” but to find a way to lasting peace and understanding.

There’s also a very practical point to be made about backlash, which allows me to segue into a video clip from Morning Joe where Mika Brzezinski expresses concern about the manner in which Al Franken was dispatched by his senate colleagues, and what this could portend for women. Going to break (though not shown in the clip), Mika quips: “If I claim that somebody grabbed my butt, could I get him fired right now? Is that the reality?” No evidence or hearing required, was her implication. And I sensed her further implication was that this might lead to fewer women being hired, because they would be viewed as too much of a liability.

The clip is a mixed bag due to the dynamics, with Joe Scarborough interrupting Mika Brzezinski (nothing new there!) to make acerbic comments about some viewers who’ve apparently been hectoring (or even threatening) the two of them.

I don’t have all the answers, but Mika Brzezinski’s view, tempered by conscience, is one which I admire. I’ve seen similar concerns expressed by progressive women who are also mothers of sons, and whose identification with their sons leads them to feel that men are not an opposing tribe, and should not be assumed to be villains. These women are feminists, but they’re also wise enough to know that in any dispute between a man and a woman, gender is no guarantee of truthfulness, and taking sides based solely on gender does not result in any true and lasting benefit for women, but is rather a form of prejudice.

In other posts, I’ve touched upon the concept of a moral panic (here and here). Without revisiting all that, let me clarify that just because something has risen to the level of a moral panic doesn’t mean there is no underlying problem. Sexual abuse of women and girls is a serious problem in society. But when that problem is raised to the level of a moral panic in the media (with accompanying frantic fingerpointing and search for scapegoats), does this help or hinder the ability to make progress on the underlying issue?

I would argue that a moral panic tends to hinder. For one thing, it takes a great deal of psychic energy to sustain a moral panic, so they tend to burn themselves out after awhile. In the aftermath, people may end up being less sensitized to the underlying problem than they were before. This is because during a moral panic a problem is presented dramatically as an immediate and dire threat which will engulf society unless drastic measures are taken. There are communists hiding under every bed, satanists at every preschool, or every congressman is a sexual abuser. This overstatement of the problem leads to harmful overreactions in which some innocent people’s lives are ruined. This in turn leads to remorse, reevaluation, and a recognition that the problem was less severe and the danger less immediate than was claimed by the government, the media, or whoever spurred the moral panic in the first place.

To really put an end to sexual abuse will require gradual changes in society. Overheated rhetoric, frantic fingerpointing, inflated claims, and suspension of due process are counterproductive over time, leading to backlash and reduced sensitivity to the underlying problem (which is a real problem).

Given that feminism is a vast concept, perhaps there exists political feminism, humanistic feminism, even spiritual feminism. In political feminism, individual human beings are sometimes seen as expendable if this advances political objectives. Thus, in the video clip Susan Del Percio refers to Al Franken as “collateral damage.” This is why I tend to prefer spiritual feminism.

I’m sure the last thing most women want is for me to “mansplain” them feminism; but as I’ve written a few posts about the Al Franken matter, I wanted to try and tie things together in this post, which represents my evolving understanding.

Potent quote: “Trust me, Kirsten Gillibrand I want you to run for president, but you gotta keep it real.” –Mika Brzezinski (My translation: Don’t be a headhunter!)

Michael Howard

The views expressed are my own, and do not represent any other person or organization.

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Of Goobers and Gobbers

If the Donald’s tweets are to be believed, gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie failed to “embrace” Dear Leader, and so suffered a shocking defeat. He mother no love him anymore!

I pity people learning English as a second language. (I pity myself, but that’s another story.) Where does “gubernatorial” come from? It always reminds me of, well…

Mr. Peanut, the original “goobernatorial” candidate

Still, I suppose some candidates are bigger goobers than others. Some are bigger gobbers than others. Remember Gobber Newhouse?

With a feeling of disbelief I recognised Gobber Newhouse. I had had previous experience of his disregard for the licensing laws and it was clear he had been at it again. … He reeled up the aisle, turned, to my dismay, into our row, rested briefly on Helen’s lap, trod on my toe and finally spread his enormous carcass over the seat on my left.

— James Herriot, from All Creatures Great and Small

Enter the Gobber Newhouse lookalike contest and win a free MAGA hat! (Ability to slobber all over oneself not strictly required.)

Gobber Newhouse played by Ivor Salter

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Breaking: Trump Opens New Golf Course on Indian Land

“This is a line of Indians leaving Rancho Malario. To make room for you! Here’s the beautiful Trail of Tears Golf Course…”

Full comedy album here.

More About The Firesign Theatre

“Classic comedy album a Firesign of the times” (Boston Globe)

Note: The album title in question admits of seasonal variations. Now that the Trumpster claims to be resuscitating Christmas, one might say “Don’t crush that crèche, hand me the pliers.” Something to think about while eating at Papa John’s. (Don’t!)

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