Friday, July 6, 2018

In Their Humble Opinion

The 2017 term of the United States Supreme Court (or, if you must, SCOTUS) is in the history books. As usual, they giveth and they taketh away... Or, more accurately, they do a lot of writing, make a lot of pronouncements and mostly the rest of us get on with our lives. 

Sometimes I get confused - am I doing binge writing and day drinking, or have I misplaced my modifiers? In this case, I should probably have waited for "The Cocktail Hour" before considering this topic for a blog. If you have gotten this far, a word of caution. A good stiff belt is probably in order. I offer a primer:

How NOT to Read Supreme Court Opinions

Hop Onto Facebook and Debate THAT "Friend"

Come on, really? What do these discussions usually degenerate into? I copy and paste something, you copy and paste something and then we call each other (and our respective essay writers) names. I had barely finished reading the moments-old majority opinion of a recent case when the out-of-breath political writer for some on-line rag had written "What You Need To Know" about it. Set aside the presumption of such a headline. How much thought did he put into the carefully-crafted legal language? Zero. How do I know he wrote the post? Someone had copied and pasted it to FB, then declared life as we know it to be over.

Read the Digested Heading

Let's say you are a cricket fan. Well... Bad example. Let's say you are a college basketball fan - a Syracuse University alum, for example. It is Tournament Time, and the Orange have been selected. Do you (a) go onto ESPN and watch the highlights, or (b) Traeger some wings, crack open a cold one, tune in and suffer along with the ebb and flow of the game? Unless you have gone full contrarian, I'll bet you chose (b). Skip the digest, except to see who wrote, and on what side.

Assign Sides or Political Identities

I'm sitting in law school on the campus of Syracuse University, September 1986. I am in the first moments of my 1L Con Law class and the professor gets all The Paper Chase on us. If you don't understand the reference - "You are law students. You no longer have an excuse for classifying Supreme Court justices as conservative or liberal in their opinions."

"Aha!" (you say). "Now that's utter bullshit!" (you say).


Collins v. Virginia, decided in May 2018. It was a search and seizure case, a technical one. It limited searches by police officers, and drew some fairly fine distinctions on order to do so. Justice Sotomayor wrote it. No surprise there, right? Well, four of the five "conservative" justices joined the opinion.

It isn't about conservative v. liberal. Look for the process they undertake to arrive at their conclusion. Do they start with the law and follow it to the end, even if "the little guy" loses? Do they start with what they think is an equitable result and reason their way there? A little of both?

That's actually the fun part of reading opinions.

Take Sides and then Read Only the Opinion That Agrees With You

I was a guest in a Maine Law School class, visiting my soon-to-be lawyer daughter. The professor uttered what I consider the most basic truth about legal reasoning, to wit:

"When you cite to authority, it may just mean you've found someone who agrees with you, but is also wrong."

A recent FB (I admit it) exchange illustrates the point. It was the Cake case, I think, where the majority opinion by retiring Justice Kennedy spoke for seven members of the Court. A good and gifted friend suggested that Justice Ginsburg's dissent was more to his liking.


Because the result she sought agreed with his wishes.

Tune into (Fill in Fox, MSNBC, CNN, etc.) and Repeat Whatever You Hear

I just finished reading a book called "Amusing Ourselves to Death." The underlying premise of the book is that Television - especially television news - relies heavily on its entertainment value at the expense of conveying (or evaluating) information important to a culture. He says, in the concluding pages, that Cheers (for example) does far less damage to American society than 60 Minutes (for example) because while the goal of both is to entertain, only the former bills itself so.

Who can argue with that?

But I've done enough damage for one day. Unfortunately I have not prolonged my (or your) agony long enough for the sun to pass the yard arm. But, what would Jimmy Buffet do?

Modest Talent, Big Heart

"Don't you hear them pounding in the stakes? The circus is in town." Former Robbery/Homicide Detective Pat Wilson (circa 2006).

It is said that law enforcement is a ringside seat to the greatest show on Earth. In the summer of 2008 the circus literally came to town, in the form of the Democratic National Convention.

Before I'm accused of bias, let me add this caveat - that label has nothing to do with politics, but everything to do generically with the political process. No doubt the Republican affair was equally panoramic for its characters, bombast and manufactured drama. That said, the DNC was the experience of a professional lifetime.

Our police department was asked by Denver to help with security at "The Venue." A ton of us volunteered, and I was assigned (probably with the help of a good friend who assisted with overall management of our group) as one of the ground floor supervisors. The first several days we spent getting acquainted with the building, the staff and members of the press setting up their expensive equipment.

There seemed to be a pecking order among the print, TV and radio personalities who mingled with us, some of whom were especially pro-cop. Meghan Kelly, for example, would gladly stop for a picture with any cop who wanted one. The big-time networks had booths on the convention floor, and also suites above. Even Al Jazeera had an optimal presence. Print media were tucked away in a big room. Bloggers - well, I think they went to the bars to write.

Then, there were the local radio "talent," tucked into a corner of the building, in a hallway near a fire exit. These were the folks who were live for their hometown audiences, bringing listeners up-to-date on the globally fawned-over events happening just yards from the radio personality's "own broadcast center." These folks dressed casually, worked in cramped, austere quarters and did their jobs with on-air panache. Off the air, they were just average folks.

The pre-convention credentials we were required to display were plastic-laminated, bright and robust. They told anyone in the know that I was permitted anywhere in the building - within reason, of course. However, when the convention itself began we were issued flimsy strips of paper, as though a third grade class had been awarded the project. They fell apart on the first day.

Not to worry, I had fallen in among thieves and brigands. Several of the guys working with me had a genius for scrounging. They knew everyone (in about the first ten minutes) and were able to score us coffee, gourmet food and plastic protectors for our IDs. Lots of them.

They were as good as cash. I have a box of trinkets and pins I traded for with these fifty-cent plastic sleeves. Everyone wanted them. My first mission was to make sure my cops had them, and that's when I met Ed Shultz.

Ed had a radio show that was broadcast out of Minnesota. He had something of a following, about 3 million according to Wiki. He'd started in radio in Fargo, North Dakota (WKRP fans are now saying "F-F-Fargo? Fargo?") doing sports play-by-play and had fashioned a successful career doing what radio announcers do - announce. He was stocky, with a certain WOLD tire around his gut, ruddy complexion, meaty face and slicked-back hair. His outfit - shorts and a polo shirt, were rumpled and unmatched. It didn't appear that he cared.

Ed's broadcast center were actually a desk, a mike and a couple of chairs. He was off in a corner, right next to one of our posts occupied by an especially gregarious academy classmate. I was distributing credential sleeves when I heard "Hey, where's mine?"

In point of fact I had a few spares. We bantered back and forth for a minute or two, the long-time police supervisor and the seasoned broadcaster. He was gracious, down-to-earth and funny. So I said "What do I get for it?" He agreed that every time he came back from break he would extoll the virtues of the Lakewood Police Department and the men and women guarding the building. He did, too, naming names depending on who was around. For the rest of our stay in the Pepsi Center.

Ed's pliable left of center tendencies and flight-of-fancy showmanship got him a gig at MSNBC. He stayed there a number of years, where (I hope) he accomplished his stated goal in show business - to make a lot of money. He was adept at poking fun at the right, which settled comfortably into the MSNBC corporate culture. Of course there happened a Great Kaboom, and by and by the network let him go.

Ed passed away this week at the tender age of 64, from natural causes. I remember him as publically outrageous - a showman - but, once the mike was off he was a kind professional, a man who could look a cop in the eye and recognize we were all human beings trying to make our way in the world.

Thanks for treating us working dudes like we mattered, Ed.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

A Man Like Few Others

"Whenever you're faced with an explanation of what's going on in Washington, the choice between incompetence and conspiracy, always choose incompetence." 

"Better to be paralyzed from the neck down than the neck up."

"Some will protest that in a world with so much human suffering, it is something between eccentric and obscene to mourn a dog. I think not. After all, it is perfectly normal—indeed, deeply human—to be moved when nature presents us with a vision of great beauty. Should we not be moved when it produces a vision—a creature—of the purest sweetness?"
Charles Krauthammer, MD.

Mourning the passing of the iconic Charles Krauthammer.

A few bland lines - born in Manhattan to a Belgian mother and Ukrainian father, Harvard educated psychiatrist, speechwriter for Carter VP Walter Mondale. A diving accident in his first year at Harvard left him paralyzed from basically the neck down (he still graduated). Author, speaker, Fox News commentator. Blah blah blah.

In the arena of ideas, he was a titan, a man whose wit and wisdom, his grasp of concepts and vocabulary, often required a rereading to completely digest. His coworkers and contemporaries spoke of his kindness, humility and good humor. I'm sure the recipients of scalpel-like verbal excisions could easily have done without. He was an intellectual, and an unapologetic conservative. If that formulation makes you queasy:

"[They are] no longer trying to win the debate but stopping debate altogether, banishing from public discourse any and all opposition. The proper word for that attitude is totalitarian. It declares certain controversies over and visits serious consequences from social ostracism to vocational defenestration upon those who refuse to be silenced."

He had good things to say, as well as harsh, about nearly everyone involved in public life. He labeled President Obama as a first-rate intellect, while marveling at how a young man with no paper trail, no history would become president. This truly difiant conservative took time out during the 2016 campaign to brand then-candidate Donald Trump an infant ("I thought he was an eleven year old, but I find I'm off by a decade"), that the man was prone to the occasional gaffe of telling a revealing truth.

One could easily write a worthy blog about Dr. K that merely listed a dozen or so of the more pithy comments advanced over his amazing life. Like this one, written about him by his friend George Will:

"Some people are such a large presence while living that they still occupy space even when they are gone."

They Wrote What?!

Albert Sánchez Piñol
“Yes, I felt very small. The typewriter seemed larger than a piano, I was less than a molecule. What could I do? I drank more.
-pg 237”
Albert Sánchez Piñol, Pandora in the Congo
Almost a month. That is beyond unusual. But, as William Forrester said, the first key to writing is to write.

My absence hasn't been spurred by a dearth of topics. Perhaps it was paralysis of the kind writers sometimes encounter. Where. To. Start.

The 2017 term for Johnny Roberts and the Supremes is winding to a close with more of a whimper than a roar. This group is developing - very nicely - a habit of sidestepping big changes with deftly-worded, narrowly reasoned masterpieces of nuance. The "travel ban" case is yet to be published (it's already been decided, technically) but there was the cake case and the data search case.

The cake case. Has more mischief been made recently through a vicarious mis-reading of what is fairly straightforward? One need not agree with the outcome, or even the reasoning. Caveat - the editorial staff here at Bikecopblog (me, and Jed) are strongly in favor of marriage being open to all. So, when Jed turns 10 we won't be shopping at Masterpiece for birthday cupcakes, which is coincidentally right here in beautiful Lakewood.

That said, the case does not stand for "You don't have to serve anyone you don't want to serve." Individuals on several sides of the political spectrum (typically people hanging way out in the breeze) have justified all kinds of mischief by reading this case... Okay, by reading other people's opinions of this case, and then setting their feet firmly in the quicksand of ignorance. Masterpiece is a great read, if for no other reason than all of the judges who wrote opinions - Kennedy for the majority, Kagan, Gorsuch, and Thomas  concurring and Ginsburg in dissent - wrote beautifully crafted opinions that clearly reflect their method of interpretation. Maybe you agree with the majority. Maybe Ginsburg's dissent is more your cup of tea. It's well worth the read.

The cell phone case - Carpenter v. US. "Oh, the humanity..."

You know what this opinion says, in essence? Instead of issuing subpoenas to get cell phone records from the provider (which is what happened in this case), law enforcement will have to get warrants. According to the nitwit Fox legal "expert," it struck a blow for privacy.

Okay, big guy. Whatever.

There are dissenting opinions, but they are of the kind where reasonable people have disagreed and are being respectful as such. Don't read the breathless, not especially well-thought-out Wiki entry. At once it calls the decision "landmark" and "very narrow" in that it didn't overturn anything, really. Chief Justice Roberts' interesting opinion for the majority walks a fine line that technology has paved. It is also worth the read. Oh...emergencies? Guess what. All the time-honored exceptions exist. Take a breath. We're fine.


I'm over Justice Sotomayor. Trevino v. Davis. The Supreme Court denied cert in a death case, and she wrote a dissent to the denial. Soto thought they should have heard it (and basically wrote that the sentence should be overturned) because Trevino's lawyer didn't make enough of a thing that his mom drank a lot of beer when he was in the womb. So, according to her, Trevino's life should be spared (and before you say "life without possibility--" New York just sprung some asshole who literally executed two NYPD cops) because his mom drank.

Linda Salinas was fifteen when she happened upon street gang thugs in San Antonio, Texas. They offered her a ride, then took her to a park. She was raped, and stabbed to death. Trevino's comment to his friends? "I learned to kill in prison."

No one disputes - Trevino included - that he raped and murdered a fifteen year old girl. But, he alleges, his legal responsibility is limited because his mom drank and his trial attorney didn't make enough of a point of it.

Sotomayor can write whatever she wants. I'm not a fan of the death penalty (either is Jed), but... Linda Salinas's life is worth less because her murderer's mom drank?

I need a drink.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

In the Shadows of the Fallen

"The real men, the real heroes, are the fellas that are still buried over there and those that come home to be buried." Edward James "Babe" Heffron, 506th PIR, 101st Airborne Div., "Points," Band of Brothers, 2001.

Memorial Day, 2018. Remember the men and women of the United States military who gave their "last full measure of devotion" in defense of our country. Divided as we are, uncertain of our future as always, regardless of party or outward appearance they offered America The Blank Check. May they rest in peace, knowing that the freedoms they fought for grow stronger every day.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

An Artist For the Heavens

"The star pilot in the class behind Pete’s, a young man who was the main rival of their good friend Al Bean, went up in a fighter to do some power-dive tests. One of the most demanding disciplines in flight test was to accustom yourself to making precise readings from the control panel in the same moment that you were pushing the outside of the envelope. This young man put his ship into the test dive and was still reading out the figures, with diligence and precision and great discipline, when he augered straight into the oyster flats and was burned beyond recognition. And the bridge coats came out and they sang about those in peril in the air and the bridge coats were put away, and the little Indians remarked that the departed was a swell guy and a brilliant student of flying; a little too much of a student, in fact; he hadn’t bothered to look out the window at the real world soon enough. Beano—Al Bean—wasn’t quite so brilliant; on the other hand, he was still here." The Right Stuff, Tom Wolfe (1979).

Al Bean:  Pleasant, persistent, relentless pursuit of required information - give him an office boy's desk and within a week he will know what the president of the company does. Very pleasant fellow to be around, especially if you like spaghetti, which is all he eats on a trip. Carrying the Fire, Michael Collins (1974).

Noting the passing of Alan LaVern (Al) Bean, test pilot, astronaut, painter.

Extraordinary times, extraordinary people. Al Bean was born in Texas, attended the University of Texas and took his commission as an ensign in the United States Navy. He flew fighters during the early jet age, at a time when aircraft teething problems made Naval Aviation a dicey proposition. He became a test pilot, trained by one Charles (Pete) Conrad, Jr. In the early 1960s he applied to become, and was accepted as, a NASA astronaut.

Isn't life strange, sometimes? Bean's former flight test instructor, astronaut Pete Conrad, specifically requested Bean for Apollo 12 after Conrad's original crewmate Clifton (CC) Williams was killed in a T-38 jet trainer crash. Together, Bean and Conrad landed the Lunar Module Intrepid within sight of the Surveyor 3, an unmanned probe that had landed on the Moon two years before. Bean was the fourth human being to set foot on another planet. Unbeknownst to NASA, Bean had smuggled aboard a self-timer for his Hasselblad camera - intent on taking the first Moon Selfie at the Surveyor site. Alas, he could not find it in the gear bag before he and Conrad departed to return to their LM.

Captain Bean went on to command the second mission to the Skylab, a rudimentary precursor to the International Space Station. Of course, Conrad commanded the first.

Once retired, Captain Bean took up painting. He saw things as only a man could - who had seen the Moon not through a telescope, but through a thin layer of gold-impressed glass, his feet planted on the gray, powdery, desolate surface. Some canvases are detailed and formal representations. Others, displaying a bit of humor. All of them painted by a man who was there. He was there.

Al Bean passed away after a short illness. Another space age hero, gone.

I wonder, sometimes, how it is for other generations of Americans to watch as their childhood heroes fade away as octogenarians. Glenn, Armstrong... And Al Bean. There was a day, it seems not so long ago, when they danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings.


Wednesday, May 23, 2018

All About Amy

I don't usually do this.

Read this article. Then, make your donation. Remember the man who will have to go on without the love of his life. And say a prayer for the thousands of men and women like Amy Caprio who put on a police uniform every day.

Pray for the souls of the other four officers killed in the line of duty the day she died.

She was a warrior. We will never forget.