Friday, December 25, 2015

The incredible, unnerving pace of change

Even for a liberal, retired, baby boomer, the pace of change today is a bit unnerving.

Same sex marriage now endorsed by a majority of the Supreme Court. Transgender rights in the military now being recognized. Two minority women as the two most serious contenders to replace one of California's two long serving female U.S. Senators. Two Cuban men currently among the most likely Republican Party presidential nominees for the 2016 election. Barack Obama, the first African American U.S. President who was elected twice to the presidency, now entering his last year in office. Intolerance born of political correctness now threatening to dominate formerly liberal bastions of higher education. Long fought for reproductive rights for women threatened by older white men, a generation of sometimes passive younger women who didn't grow up in a period of back room abortions, and a movement to define "Personhood" as a constitutional standard to include the unborn. A current U.S. Supreme Court with no Protestant Justices. Century old, brick and mortar institutions of commerce, media and the like giving way to organizations such as Facebook built on an internet called the "World Wide Web". Smartphones everywhere even widespread in poverty stricken regions of the world. China emerging as a world power and major creditor of the United States. Thousands upon thousands of Muslim Middle Eastern refugees flooding into Europe possibly altering the faces of countries built upon their own ethnic identities and related nationalism. The emergence or reemergence of Islam as an organizing political ideology in many Muslim countries. Climate change in the form of global warming beginning to have a noticeable impact on everyday life. The disappearance of an American dominated uni-polar geopolitical world.

This pace of change is threatening to many, some of whom have become very receptive to leaders, movements, ideas and ideologies that pledge to slow the pace of change, provide seeming stability, and in many instances to restore a purportedly lost "natural order of things" that, not surprisingly, claims to resemble a past that never actually existed but that reflects an idealized past in the minds of those most threatened and stressed by these changes.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

A Dispute over the Rights of a Transgender Student in Illinois

The student, who identifies as a girl, had not been allowed to change and shower in the girls’ locker room without restrictions.

A recent news article in The New York Times reported on a clash between an Illinois school district and the federal Office of Civil Rights of the Department of Education regarding the rights of a transgender student. 

According to the article, "In a letter sent Monday, the Office for Civil Rights of the Department of Education told the Palatine, Illinois District that requiring a transgender student to use private changing and showering facilities was a violation of that student’s rights under Title IX, a federal law that bans sex discrimination. The student, who identifies as female but was born male, should be given unfettered access to girls’ facilities, the letter said."

Apparently, the transgender student identifies as a girl and participates on a girls' sports team but the school district has not permitted the student to change and shower in the girls' locker room without restrictions. According to the article, the district claims that "district officials had 'worked long and hard' to develop a plan that the district believed would balance the rights of everyone involved. That plan entails having the student change beyond privacy curtains in the girls’ locker room."

In its letter, OCR acknowledges that, "except with respect to locker room access, the District has treated Student A consistent with her gender identity as a girl. This includes identifying Student A by her female name and with female pronouns, providing her with full access to all girls' restrooms, and allowing her to participate in girls' interscholastic athletics." According to the article "[t]he student, who has identified as a girl from a young age, has changed her name, received a passport as a female and is undergoing hormone therapy, the Education Department said."

The student has said she would use that curtain to change. But she and the federal government have insisted that she be allowed to make that decision voluntarily, and not because of requirements by the district. OCR contends that other students' privacy concerns could be accommodated by Student A's willingness to use the privacy curtains and if the District created sufficient privacy curtained areas for any female students wanting privacy.

While this, like most but not all legal disputes, is fact specific, this dispute raises interesting issues, or so it seems to me. 

Balancing social values is a challenge. In a liberal society, and I mean that in a John Lockean sense, the individual’s rights tend to be central. To be sure, the rights of the community are not irrelevant. Take national security for instance. The 1st Amendment to our Constitution has been largely interpreted not in absolutist terms but to require a balance between freedom of expression and national security concerns. But it puts a premium on individual rights. In this scheme of things, communal morality tends to take a backseat. Each individual’s rights are important. But, the rights of other individuals are not identical to their or the community’s sensibilities. Often times, these distinctions are disregarded or prove difficult to draw.

This focus on individual rights in our liberal democracy is to some extent reflected in our Constitution by the principle of equal protection of the law set forth in the 14th Amendment. It has often been interpreted to mean that similarly situated persons should be treated similarly. But how do we determine who is “similarly situated’? And who is to decide that? As to the second question, in this country the legislature gets the first crack at making that determination. But, under the doctrine of judicial review, the courts have the last say. American society's prevailing and sometimes shifting values have some influence upon the determinations of these institutions.

In this instance, both the District and OCR have been called upon to determine the scope of the transgender student’s rights but, at the same time, each body has also been required to balance those rights with the rights of other students. These determinations have not been made in a vacuum. The District and OCR have obviously been bound by prevailing law. As well, their decisions have been made against the backdrop of gradually changing values in American society.

OCR’s conclusion, found on pages 12-13 of its letter, is that, “given Student A’s stated intention to change privately, the District could afford equal access to its locker rooms for all its students if it installed and maintained privacy curtains in its locker rooms in sufficient number to be reasonably available for any student who wants privacy.” The availability to all students of privacy curtains would assure each student the right to privacy while changing. Student A’s stated intention to change privately, in OCR’s view, “addresses the privacy interest in not exposing young female students in the girls’ locker rooms to the intimate body parts of Student A - a transitioning transgender girl - in a state of undress.”

The District seems to maintain that it is entitled to require Student A to utilize the privacy curtains and not simply depend upon her “stated intention to change privately”.

In this case, the gap between OCR’s and the District’s respective positions seems very narrow. I believe that the District has the better argument as I don’t think it should be barred from adopting a policy that does not depend upon the stated intention of an individual student, an intention that could change at the discretion of that student.

But what I find most interesting about this dispute is that it highlights the challenge of balancing rights and interests and reaching determinations that reflect sometimes competing social values and interests. Then, too, given what I believe to be a narrow gap between the District’s and OCR’s positions, this dispute does not really address a larger issue lurking behind it. That is the role, if any, of community or public morality in resolving disputes over individual rights and cultural values. As I noted above, but have not discussed in any depth here, it is my view that the dominant values in American political culture reflect liberalism born of the Enlightenment. However, with the emergence on the political scene of Evangelical voters in the latter half of the 20th century, the significance of and weight to be given to public morality have become issues. 

That these issues are topical is further reflected in today’s news featuring the outcome of a vote in Houston, Texas on November 3, 2015, over that city’s adoption of an “Equal Rights Ordinance”. The ordinance prohibited discrimination in city services, public accommodations, private employment and other instances based on an individual’s sex, sexual orientation and gender identity, among other protected categories. Opponents stated that the ordinance would allow men claiming to be women to enter women’s bathrooms and cause injury. The ordinance was repealed by a vote of approximately 60% to 40%.

I am not familiar with the particulars of the Houston ordinance and am not taking a position on the vote here. But I will say that when these kinds of issues are addressed at the ballot box, voters’ sentiments and sensibilities on cultural issues and the sway of public morality, rather than dispassionate analyses of competing rights and values, too often tend to dictate the outcomes. That is unfortunate.◻︎

Monday, October 5, 2015

Brzezinski on US Reaction to Putin's Military Actions in Syria and My Comments

In a commentary in the Financial Times on October 4, 2015, Zbigniew Brzezinski suggests that the United States cannot turn a blind eye to Russia's attacks not on the Islamic State but on groups in Syria supported by the United States, in Putin's efforts to support the Assad regime. Brzezinski writes that "any repetition of what has just transpired should prompt US retaliation."

I seldom agree these years with Zbigniew Brzezinski. Heck, I've seldom agreed with him over the decades. And I thought Obama presented well at his press conference the other day in warning against a proxy war in Syria and suggesting that Russia will find itself in another quagmire (remember Afghanistan). But, I think doing nothing, or appearing to do nothing, in the face of Russia's apparent attacks against those (few) Syrians we find moderate enough to support, and who we hope may form part of a negotiated settlement in Syria (with Assad's departure), isn't good. It not only weakens the moderate Syrian forces we support, but suggests that the U.S. is a paper tiger. I'm not advocating for American boots on the ground. But some measured, forceful response by Obama to Putin is, in my view, called for. I defer to the President on the shape and form it takes, but as to timing, it shouldn't take forever.☐

Monday, September 28, 2015


The older I get
The more I hope
There is a God
The more I doubt it.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Should Brian Williams Be Forgiven and Permitted to Return to Television News Reporting?

Brian Williams will be returning to NBC in August, not as the anchor of the Nightly News but as a "breaking news" reporter on MsNBC, NBC's cable news network.

In preparation for his return, Brian Williams sat down for an interview with Matt Lauer, which was broadcast on the Today Show. Here is a YouTube video of that interview: 

In this interview, Brian Williams apologies for having made inaccurate statements relating to his experience in the field while he was anchor of the Nightly News that led to his suspension. But Williams never admits that he lied. In fact, he denies that he lied.

Many have criticized Williams for his failure to forthrightly admit that he lied and apologize for having done so. Critics claim that this interview is not much better, if better at all, than Williams' on air apology before his suspension.

I posted two tweets in response to Williams' interview:

Flip Wilson: «The devil made me do it.» Brian Williams: «My ego made me do it.» 

I like Brian Williams & want him back on TV. He obviously fears admitting that he lied will doom him hence his ego made me do it evasion. Eh 

Should Brian Williams be "forgiven" for his transgressions, particularly absent an explicit admission that he lied? At the end of the day, my answer is a hesitant yes. I admit that I like Brian Williams and have enjoyed his style of reporting. I also feel, for reasons I discuss below, that he is in somewhat of a double-bind.

In my view, Brian clearly fears that directly admitting that he lied will doom him; that once he admits that he lied many people, including most media critics, will argue that he can never be trusted again as a journalist or reporter. So he has struggled to find another way to connect the dots. He admits that he told untruths, that he made false statements. 

Some purported communications "experts" quoted in The New York Times incorrectly state that making false or factually incorrect statements is lying. That is wrong. Such a person may be lying or may be mistaken. But what would it mean for Brian Williams to have simply been mistaken in making factually erroneous statements of his own experiences? Is that even possible? How could he have merely been mistaken, as opposed to having intentionally uttered a factually false statement? That is the issue Brian not surprisingly is having difficulty explaining. 

Brian talks about the false statements coming from a bad place, "a bad urge inside of me". He claims his ego made him say what he did, in an effort to elevate himself above his competition. But don't such "explanations" obfuscate rather than clarify or explain? His ego, after all, is not some alien "thing". It is a part of him! He seems to want to suggest or imply, subtly or otherwise, that he deceived himself while deceiving us. 

But, not surprisingly, we're all having problems buying that explanation. Even if over time and through repetition he came to believe that his false stories had actually occurred, there had to have been at least one point in time when he consciously knew he was stating untruths. He even seems to concede this in acknowledging that he inflated his accounts to look "sharper, funnier, quicker than anybody else". And at that point he was lying.

But, I understand the double-bind or conundrum that Brian Williams feels he is currently in. Damned if he does and damned if he doesn't. Hedge about having actually lied and apologize for having made inaccurate statements that he attributes to "a bad urge inside of" him, and critics claim he isn't coming clean or truly taking responsibility for his misbehavior. Admit he lied and seek forgiveness, and critics will claim that, while he may be forgiven, he cannot be restored to a position of responsibility at a major news network.

I'm willing to live with his equivocation and welcome him back to television news. But I understand why others do not share my point of view.∆

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Inside the Mind of a Shoe Fetishist or Why I Have to Return to Work to Wear All My Shoes

The landlord was coming with his pest control contractor. It was time to do a termite inspection but also to check out the crawl space above my 2nd story ceiling where either birds or rats were constantly holding rock concerts and disturbing my tranquility. This meant that I had to create space in my only closet, in my bedroom, so that the pest control contractor could open his ladder and climb into the crawl space through a small entry point in the ceiling. A huge pile of towels, pillow cases, beach blankets, and shoe boxes with shoes that I had seldom if ever worn had to be "relocated," if only for the moment.

I turned to the corners of my bedroom to see where I could find space for the relocation project. One corner was empty but the other held shoe boxes filled with shoes I had acquired over the years from Nordstrom's, Costco and online that I had yet to wear. I quickly moved a few shoe boxes from one corner to the empty corner and piled other boxes on them, together with unopened underwear and socks that also came from the closet. Towels found their way into my living room/dining room area, at least for the moment. Success! The landlord and pest control contractor arrived on time Friday morning, easily accessed the crawl space, and were able to do what they came to do.

But now what? I couldn't simply throw everything back into the closet, if only because the pest control contractor would likely be revisiting soon to see if his traps had done their job. Then, too, in recent days before the landlord's visit, the rats had seemingly taken a break, perhaps having been tipped off about the impending inspection and hoping that if they remained silent the pest control contractor wouldn't set traps, but I now found myself with chirping crickets above the ceiling in my living room and bedroom. The contractor said he'd have to spray and that this could affect air quality so he suggested we wait on the crickets. But last night they were back singing away and he may well need to climb back up to the crawl space to address the "cricket problem".

Since the shoe boxes now piled in two of my four bedroom corners therefore had to stay, at least for some period of time, I decided to "prioritize" them. That is no easy task for a shoe fetishist who loves each and every pair of his shoes and entertains the illusion that he will be wearing one or another in only a matter of weeks. But knowing that I had actually never even worn most of these shoes, I opened each box to determine where in the shoe box piles they belonged. Six pairs of stunning, never worn Allen Edmonds shoes led the list. And those didn't include two pairs of Allen Edmonds that were already open and which I had worn in the last days before my retirement in December 2011 but had seldom worn since. Then came the Reeboks original glove leather sneakers, two pairs of Nike racing shoes, one in striking phosphorescent yellow, Dickies' work shoes from Costco, and two fairly recently acquired Chuck Taylor Converse sneakers, one oxford and the other high top. And these didn't include other shoes otherwise stored in that part of my closet I didn't have to empty, including a beautiful pair of Allen Edmonds' Dalton boots I had to have but have never found occasion to wear, and two pairs of older Salvatore Ferragamo loafers I bought at Nordstrom's Anniversary Sale a decade ago but which somehow got too tight the minute they left the store and that remain in almost mint condition.

Well, one can only imagine what the "prioritization" process entailed: lingering over each pair, at least the unworn, still boxed shoes, trying to decide how soon I would likely choose to wear it. Well, the Converse sneakers had to be near the top of the pile since I bought them recently to be au courant and intended to be so. And one pair of Allen Edmonds' more informal shoes also begged for a high "ranking". Other pairs, while beautiful and stylish, had not fared well in the test of time and therefore fell toward the bottom of the piles.

But, deep inside my psyche, or perhaps not all that deep, I knew that, in my present situation, I was unlikely to wear almost any of these shoes. After all, I am now retired, seldom "dress up", and almost never wear dress shoes. At home I go mostly barefoot. And when I go out I typically wear either a trusty pair of Ralph Lauren sneakers that have lasted for years, my Keen's sandals, a pair of Sebago boat shoes, or my Johnson & Murphy loafers. And, waiting in the wings, so to speak, if any of these shoes wear out, are unworn pairs of Sebago loafers and Timberland boat shoes, and a well worn pair of Merrill slip-ons.

So is the "answer" finding a job, returning to work, putting myself in a situation that requires that I wear Allen Edmonds, Salvatore Ferragamo, or other "formal" footwear? A collateral benefit would be that I might have occasion to open and pull the pins from six or eight Ralph Lauren dress shirts I also never got the opportunity to wear before retiring! 

The truth is that I cannot part with the shoes, so giving them away or selling them on Ebay is no alternative. I guess I could try starting a new trend of wearing Allen Edmonds on walks along the beach in Belmont Shore. But, short of that, leaving retirement may be the only "solution". For those who might think otherwise, know that therapy is not an option!∆

Friday, May 22, 2015

On David Letterman

I was never a David Letterman fan. At times I found him funny, sardonic, sarcastic, amusing, silly, and/or entertaining, but in the main I was not drawn to his shtick. I watched his Late Night show on NBC on occasion for a number of years in the 1980s but was not drawn to what I would call his physical comedy and his style of humor, which included dropping objects from the NBC building to the sidewalk below. In later years, after he had departed to CBS and was hosting the Late Show, I increasingly did not find him particularly funny. Admittedly, as a result of these experiences, I did not watch him a great deal.

After viewing his concluding broadcast this week, I was curious what others felt about Letterman. Not surprisingly, in the period since he announced his retirement, and especially during the last few weeks, many were giving him high praise, which was quite understandable. I was curious whether there were any other perspectives.

I sought out reviews on the internet to see whether there were varying points of view about him, his style and his performance over the years. I came across a number, three of which I am linking below together with an interview Letterman gave The New York Times in late April of this year. One is very praiseworthy; two are highly critical; and, the last is the Times interview Letterman gave. I am sharing these for any who might be interested, as I was, in what others are saying about David Letterman.

1. The irreplaceable David Letterman.

2. Why David Letterman is among television history’s biggest losers.

3. After losing to Jay Leno, David Letterman’s bitterness cost him his Indiana soul.

4. David Letterman reflects on 33 years in late-night television

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The arbitrariness of death

I've been ruminating the past few days about the arbitrariness or unpredictability of death. While all sorts of people die every day, particular occurrences sometimes stand out for each of us. Two recent deaths struck me because of their apparent accidental nature, not the result of old age, disease or suicide.

One was the death of Bob Simon not long ago. He was an accomplished reporter and commentator, in recent years with 60 Minutes. He was roughly my age, in his early 70's. As I recall, he was being driven in NYC in a chauffeured car, apparently using a limo service he had often used. There was a car crash that took Simon's life, suddenly and unexpectedly. Actions of his own driver may have contributed to Simon's death.

Just the other day, Dave Goldberg, best known to most as husband to Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg but also head of SurveyMonkey, died on vacation in Mexico. He was exercising on a treadmill at the vacation resort when he fell and hit his head and died of traumatic brain injury. It appears to have been an accident. He was only 47 years of age.

I haven't tried to draw any "lessons" from these events. I'm more sad than reflective about them. I guess "seize the day" does, however, come to mind.

Monday, April 20, 2015

On Obama and Bush 43: A Tweet

no more expected the than expected 9/11. Neither adequately managed a response. W launched wars; BO avoided them.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

On Preparing Wristwatches for DST

Computers and smartphones do it on their own. But not wristwatches. I mean springing forward an hour at 2 AM Sunday morning for DST. Since I may be too distracted at that hour, I decided to advance my four wristwatches at 10:30 PM Saturday night. Here I was sitting on my couch with all of the watches calibrated to 11:30 while I stared at my cable TV box as it edged to 10:30 PM. At that moment I rushed to push in the knobs on all four watches, trying not to send any to the floor that had been draped over my right knee. Success! But now I realize that the three that indicate the date need correction because February was such a short month!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

My reaction to Netanyahu's speech to Congress on March 3, 2015

Here are my tweets in response to Bibi Netanyahu's speech to Congress on March 3, 2015, and some further comments beneath them:

#Netanyahu: reject deal, #Iran will blink, better deal to emerge. Evidence? None. That's been #Bibi approach to #Palestinians w/zero results
9:11 AM - 3 Mar 2015

.@SenFeinstein Excellent observations on #Netanyahu speech, its strengths, weaknesses. Bibi short on concrete alternative but evokes symbols
9:36 AM - 3 Mar 2015

Netanyahu, GOP can rail against Obama's #Iran nuclear deal as weak. #Bush43 & #GOP sure reined in North Korea's nuclear weapons. Not! 👎
9:48 AM - 3 Mar 2015

@RepAdamSchiff Agree w/you on @wolfblitzer. Bibi alternative? Iran blinks. Likely? Not really & P5+1 may relax sanctions, #Iran develop bomb
10:21 AM - 3 Mar 2015

I would like to see Obama respond publicly to Netanyahu's speech, calmly but with force and emotion outlining the rationale for his approach
10:23 AM - 3 Mar 2015

While I believe Netanyahu gave an impressive speech that may serve his political purposes in Israel where parliamentary elections are scheduled in a few weeks, and may buttress Republican opposition to President Obama's negotiations with Iran, I do not think he effectively laid out an alternative approach for the negotiations between Iran and the P5+1.  Essentially, Netanyahu argued that the terms of the deal apparently on the table are bad and that if the United States walked away from negotiations and increased sanctions, Iran would ultimately blink, return to the bargaining table and negotiate terms better for the United States, Israel and the world. But Bibi offered no evidence that such an outcome was highly likely, or even likely, other than to evoke the Persian bazaar and Middle Eastern bargaining proclivities.

It isn't very clear that the other world powers involved in the negotiations would accept the rejection of the present deal and the sanctions regime, rather than being intensified, might collapse. As well, the Iranians would redouble their efforts to develop sufficient fuel for nuclear weapons, apparently a goal they are not far from achieving.

That leaves the threat of war or war itself as the final way to stop Iran, something Netanyahu threatened in a veiled way in his speech. War itself, which could occur if no deal is reached or if Iran violates a deal that is reached, is an outcome most Americans, including Obama, strongly oppose. As to the threat of war inducing Iran to capitulate to stronger restrictions, including such a threat from Israel, such a possibility cannot be completely ruled out but the evidence at this point that it would work to bring about stronger restrictions in a deal isn't apparent.

I was struck by Senator Dianne Feinstein's reaction to the speech. She too noted the absence of concrete alternatives but she noted that she favored a deal with a longer breakout period for Iran to develop sufficient nuclear fuel if it violated the deal's terms and a longer period during which the deal would remain in force. Will Obama seek better terms on these issues? Will Netanyahu's speech and the reaction in this country play a role in securing these stronger restrictions? Or will Iran's negotiating position remain unchanged, leaving Obama with the choice of the deal as presently understood or no deal at all? I suspect Obama will opt for the deal he recently sketched out over no deal: a one year breakout period and a 10 year period for the restrictions on Iran in the deal. And I support the President in this matter.