Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Show Me The Money

Law porn alert...

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia's passing sent myriad commenters scurrying to their keyboards. It is not an exaggeration to write that a wholesale stampede of pundits, some of whom may have actually known of which they wrote, sallied forth with dire predictions of governmental collapse, as though a Supreme Court having a scant eight members was tantamount to a Marine Corps with no bullets.

The justices have, perhaps accessing greater wisdom, superior intellect or, more likely, breathtaking egos, soldiered on with the business of deciding cases and controversies. Today's decision reveals a court mindful not only of its constitutional underpinnings, but wholly unimpressed with the extra-judicial limits others attempted to place on their deliberations.

In a case all about jurisdiction, Johnnie Roberts and the Supremes duke it out about a lawsuit that has been in the offing since Ronald Reagan's presidency. In 1983 a terrorist attack took the lives of 241 Americans, almost all of them Marines, after an attack on a building used as barracks. The families of the fallen sued, and won. It was something of a reach (the details of venue are really a way) but that isn't what the instant case is about. It's about following the money.

Let's say, for the sake of argument, that you are a multi-billionaire who has somehow been found liable for a judgment of...oh...billions. The money is frozen, but that doesn't mean anything in the ionospheric world of international banking. In a series of paper chases, the relationship between Bank Markazi, the government of Iran (the defendant) and the money became attenuated - which is what any reasonable defendant would do.

A billion dollars. There is no chance - none - that my lovely wife and I wouldn't own a Bahamian island were someone to give me a billion bucks. Goat Cay, for example, is for sale at an ultra-affordable seven and a half million. Let's say I get carried away and get a ten million dollar house, complete with a five million dollar boat dock and a million dollar sailboat. Let's do the math - we'd still have nine hundred seventy-ish (Greer Math) to pay a friend who promised to be my bodyguard. Clearly, the billion and a half being argued over here is worth all the legal maneuvering.

Congress passed a series of laws saying, in essence - "We're often stupid and act idiotically. Often is not always. Don't fuck with our legal system." I know it will confound my good friends of the Right, but the O-man is on board with all of this, issuing Executive Orders (I know, right?) and signing the bills passed in 2012.

Well, to get back to my original point (if you have read this far...sorry). With the skeleton crew available to John Roberts (please, no Ginzberg jokes), six justices had seen enough. Along with the seemingly obligatory nod to the 1803 Marbury decision, at Bank Markazi's insistence they consider the 1872 Klein case. I pretend no previous experience with Klein, about which the Court seemed lukewarm, in any case. Muddling through, a divided and paralyzed Judiciary creaking and groaning in the background, the aforementioned Justice Ginzberg wrote an opinion joined by five others (although Justice Thomas did not join as to one section - yeah,  whatever). That's not the coolest part. Hey, man. Check this out.

Roberts himself wrote the dissent, which Justice Sotomayor joined. Okay, read that again. I'll wait.

Uh huh. Split, not along "partisan, ideological" lines but between six justices who don't see a separation of powers problem, and two who do.

Okay, so what? Well, I decided to read the Harris case, also decided today, on the off chance a cycling friend had somehow gotten dragged into the hallowed halls. Alas - a voter redistricting case from Arizona. Well, they can sometimes be tasty little bits of partisan sniping... Shit. A unanimous court.

Clearly, the Republic is finding a way to live with eight justices (for the moment, at least). So, everybody just calm the frick down.

Rubicon Nightmare

Rubicon: Metaphorically, a point of no return.

Four twenty. 

My daughter Katy posted on Facebook this morning, an excellent and heart-felt recollection of a day of unspeakable horror and loss:

Seventeen years have passed since this horrible day. Most of the victims hadn't even been alive for 17 years and now somehow they've been gone from this Earth longer than they were on it. 17 years ago, this was an unfathomable situation. 
But we will never forget them. We will never forget how it changed our community, changed family friends who were there, changed the way we look at the world and each other. I was 15 and a freshman at a high school not far from there, we sat in math class in utter silence. My teacher was good friends with the principal at Columbine and all he could do was sit at his desk with his head down getting periodic updates from the office. 
My extended law enforcement family was there helping those scared wounded teenagers who fought for their lives inside their own school. An innocence died that day in everyone, an innocence that was never regained. School shootings have become a "when" it happens again not "if."
But we will never forget these precious Souls whose lives were taken far too soon. Today, we pray for them, their families, and the entire Columbine Community who lives with this every single day.
 A courageous man told me, in the aftermath of the shooting, that he had gone home that night and wiped blood and tissue off of his gas mask pouch. He had been part of Patrick Ireland's rescue, caught on film and broadcast all over the world. He wondered what would become of the young man who was so grievously injured in the school's library.

Sadly, the tactics and techniques law enforcement developed in the cruel shadow of Four Twenty have found too-often use. After each such incident officers review what happened, how we responded and what can be learned. Recently, in the midst of a training session designed to teach officers when and how to engage an active killer, one of the scenario facilitators asked tartly, as "gunshots" rang out and the participants hesitated - "What is the correct number of victims we need before we go in and stop that?"

The only acceptable answer, in the aftermath of Columbine and other active killer situations, is zero.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Preparing For The Road to '76

“Let us step into the night and pursue that flighty temptress, adventure.”
J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince 

I made every mistake imaginable; some were beyond imagination. With little cycling experience beyond day rides in hometown Pittsford, or college spins around Boston, I nevertheless prepared for a journey to cover four and a half thousand miles over the course of ten weeks. I would do it, alone.

I bought the wrong bicycle, having become enamored of a cutting edge bike, a Viscount with aluminum frame and "sealed" bearings. That they were sealed only meant that when they failed, they could not be serviced, nor replaced in modest shops in small towns. By the end of the ride, neither pedal could be turned by hand.

Long-distance cycle camping was in its infancy, at least as a popular sport. Few manufacturers offered panniers, an old English variation of the French panier, which means bread basket - saddle bags meant to carry items while draped or attached to a rack. Those companies that carried them were quickly overwhelmed by the increased demand in the run-up to a summer that (officials operating Bikecentennial fervently hoped) would see fifteen thousand cross-country cyclists. When the brand I wanted was sold out until 1977, I bought a different pair. The design flaws inherent in these bags became quickly apparent.

As a cold and rainy Rochester spring unfolded, articles and stories about the  approaching Bicentennial celebration filled the airwaves. We were an America still wrestling with the ambiguous end to a long, painful war in faraway Vietnam. President Nixon and his "advisors" had somehow bungled their way onto prime TV, investigated for (and, ultimately brought down by) their involvement in a clownish burglary and ensuing cover up. Yet, down to our souls, we were ready to party.

The grand and the gaudy were everywhere, shouldering their way into the celebratory limelight. The real voice of the season belonged to one man, Charles Kuralt, a reporter for CBS. Chubby and rumpled, balding, jowly - he was "On The Road to '76," traveling in an RV with a bare-bones crew. His voice was at once recognizable, a soft baritone that evidenced no accent, with diction crisp enough to be jovially conversational. What he offered was not portraits of the rich or powerful. From a Slate article written by Seth Stevenson:

 There's the retired fellow who fixes up old bicycles and doles them out to the poor children in his neighborhood. The Kentucky hillbilly who adopted croquet as a hobby and ended up competing against the best players in the world. The Denver man who heats his home with junk mail. The South Carolina town that holds a festival every year to fill in its potholes. 

Kuralt revealed an America made up not of news makers and law breakers, but of ordinary people living common lives in peace. It was (and is) the beauty of our country that the constituent parts are men and women who are as diverse and rich as the land they call home. He reminded us that the blessings of liberty, fought for two hundred years before, allow us to venture forward to find our destiny ourselves, whether at a volunteer fire hall in rural New York, or working in a family restaurant in Rapid City.

Armed with Kuralt's enthusiastic optimism, I accumulated camping and cycling gear, pored over maps and waited for my chance to find the road to '76, and meet people along the way.


Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The Best of the Free Life

Well I hear you had an adventurous youth, makin' love in a telephone booth
And I even hear you did a little stretch in jail.
But now you got a big ranch house with a bar
And eight, nine, ten of them fancy cars
And every other week a check comin' in the mail. "I'll Change Your Flat Tire, Merle," (Nick Gravenites).

Noting the passing of country music legend Merle Haggard.

The man always seemed the perfect contrarian. "Okie From Muskogee," a signature piece from the late '60s, was recorded because Haggard was angry at protesters. In his mind, they didn't know any better than the country folk in Oklahoma. He did not want the record company to release "Fighting Side of Me," preferring a song about a white man who falls in love with an African-American woman. He lost, the record company fearing for his reputation.

He'd indeed done "a little stretch in jail."  He was arrested several times as a juvenile, and then as an adult. He ended up in San Quentin prison after a botched robbery (according to Rolling Stone he was pardoned by then-governor Ronald Reagan in 1972). He emerged a changed man, having narrowly escaped participating in a prison break that led to the murder of a police officer and the execution of Haggard's proposed co-conspirator.

He had a string of hits and successes. Many of the songs growled and sputtered at things for which he had little patience. "Rainbow Stew" seemed to suggest that, when politicians did what they said they'd do, we'd "all be drinking that free Bubble Up, and eatin' that Rainbow Stew. Eatin'g Rainbow Stew with a silver spoon underneath that sky of blue." Like that would ever happen, he inferred. He wondered, in the song "Are the Good Times Really Over," if, having been lied to by Richard Nixon, the best of the free life was behind us.

The digital revolution had overtaken music in the 1990's. For those of us who grew up with FM radio and our fingers poised over record buttons, it was like the world was made anew. One could order, for a modest sum, one song at a time. There was piracy, and lawsuits, and haggling over the billions of dollars chasing a technology that refused to be stilled. In the midst of it, dipping my toe into a rapidly filling ocean of sound, I heard Merle sing these lyrics:

I've been throwing horseshoes over my left shoulder.
I've spent most all my life looking for that four-leaf clover.
Yet, you ran with me, chasing my rainbows.
Honey, I love you too, and that's the way love goes.

I had to have that song. It was the first I downloaded, for $.99. The best of the free life - for me and the woman with whom I continue to chase rainbows - was still yet to come. 

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Not Over Till It's Over

"No, Tumbleweed. Bad Tumbleweed." Irv Blitzer (John Candy) in a bar in Jamaica, listening to a radio and screaming at the losing horse he bet on, just before smashing the radio with a pool cue. Cool Runnings, 1993.

"Okay," he says calmly, setting the stick aside. "Next race."

They're still dancing on University Hill in Syracuse. We are...


No S'Cuse Offered

"Carolina was too big and too strong for us. We had to have an almost perfect game." Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim's post game comments to TBS's Craig Sager.

They were flawed. They were fallible. It wasn't almost perfect. Early in the game, tied at 18, one of the Orange stepped to the free throw line. Shooting two. He missed them both. The Tar Heels really never looked back.

In a game where Syracuse had to shoot well, they didn't. Breaks didn't come their way. They had to defend their own basket, but second and third looks for North Carolina were routine. Turnovers came in bunches. The most common sound at the charity stripe for 'Cuse players was a sickening clang.

An improbable run came to an end. Syracuse's men's basketball team wasn't expected to make the tournament, let alone the Final Four.  Along the way, they beat excellent schools, demonstrating heart and determination. 

 Hell, given the turmoil over the course of the season they were lucky to have more wins than losses. I'm still not sure what the NCAA sanctions, suspensions and forfeits were all about. Coach Boeheim wasn't even allowed to be around the team for nearly two months. Yet, this gritty team refused to let the naysayers, the doubters and reality set in until nearly midnight on a Houston evening.

And then... Sideline reporter Craig Sager is battling a particularly nasty form of leukemia. Boeheim told him "I'm proud of you." Sager was a fighter, something everyone should aspire to, an example to follow. And then he complimented Sager's tie, with it's orange highlights.

The players gave a proud, fierce though ultimately vain effort on the court. Their coach demonstrated amazing class afterward. 

We are, proudly, SU.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Gift

And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. John 11:26 (King James Bible).

Mission Chrch, San Jose del Cabo, Mexico
The Resurrection story. To a Believer, it is a promise, a covenant...a contract. He died, that we may know eternal life in the presence of God the Father.

In a very real sense, it is more than just the key to a great beyond. The writer in me reads a challenge, not just to believe but to live up to the promise.

Jesus does not say "believeth in only me." That some individuals might read it that way isn't his fault. While taking classes to be confirmed into the Presbyterian Church in Pittsford I was taught not just to revere the words in the Bible, but also to respect other faiths, other religions...other ways of coming to the Lord. I was taught that faith is an individual pursuit, one that begins in the heart of each person.

The Resurrection is also about life while it is being lived. Much of the Jesus story is about how the future is not yet written for us, even as his father had plans for him. Nothing in history, said historian David McCullough, had to turn out the way it did. A new day can dawn, not just literally but in the way they are cherished, and in how we see ourselves.

Happy Easter, not only for what was, but for everything tomorrow could be.