It’s not my fault.

Look, climate change sucks (for the moment, let’s talk about warming).

It’s not my fault. I didn’t even own a car until I was 30, and then it was small and fuel-efficient.

It’s not my fault. I put in CFL bulbs and then LEDs.

It’s not my fault. I’ve been recycling since I was a kid.

It’s not my fault. I turn the thermostat to shut down A/C whenever I can.

It’s not my fault. I ride my bike everywhere.

It’s not my fault. I avoid air travel.

It’s not my fault. I installed solar panels.

It’s not my fault. I didn’t ask to be born.

The planet looks at me and shrugs. So what?

Look, most of the people who read this are living in the United States, which uses ungodly amounts of energy and contributes mightily to global warming. But I don’t care if you’re linked in from anywhere else.

It’s not my fault. But it is my responsibility.

If it’s your fault, it’s something that you should apologize for, feel bad about, and do something to fix. There’s moral failure and culpability. Blame.

If it’s your responsibility, it’s something you should do something to fix.

Recently, a guest on Stay Tuned with Preet (a podcast well worth listening to) spoke about structural racism in the United State something like this:

Imagine you live in a house with problems. The plumbing leaks. It’s missing some shingles. There’s a big rat infestation. The driveway is in rough shape and so are the front porch steps. Are these things your fault? No, but you still ought to do something about them anyway, since you live there. Even if they’re not your fault.

The point that guest was making about structural racism–that it’s not something to blame each other for, but something to fix–applies equally well to climate change.

It’s not our fault. It’s our responsibility. It’s one of our responsibilities. Let’s fix the house and the neighborhood. Because it’s where we live.

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A Reminder:

Time is not on your side.
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Invidious Comparisons and Snobs

What’s so bad about being “low-end”?

Today’s blog is brought to you by a post I recently saw in a cycling group. Someone mentioned needing a particular diameter of seat post for their bike. Now, if you aren’t a person who messes with bikes, you are probably wondering what the hell a seat post is, and why they come in more than one diameter.

Quick primer: The seat post is that bit of metal that supports the saddle, and that can ride up and down in the seat tube, which is part of the frame proper. Essentially, it’s what attaches the saddle (or seat) to the bicycle. Because different bicycles use different-sized tubing for the seat tube, and because the thickness of that tubing can vary, the diameter of the seat post, which must fit into the seat tube precisely, will vary.

You’d think, since it’s close to 1″ or 25mm, that would be the choice. But it isn’t.

Most traditional road bikes use a 27.2mm seat post. Some are a little bigger, some a little smaller. And you don’t even want to think about the more exotic variations.

Anyway, so there’s a discussion about seat posts that are available in 28.2mm (I said the fit had to be precise, didn’t I?).

Someone points out that a particular manufacturer makes a low-end seat post in 28.2mm.

And my reaction is–how can a fscking seat post be “low-end”?

I mean, the possible variations in a seat post have to do with weight (is it heavier than it needs to be?), strength (can it support me?), finish (is it pretty?), and adjustability (can I get it the saddle into the correct position?). But the differences within these categories are infinitesimally small.

So why did the person describe the seat post in question as low-end?

Simple. People who mess with bicycles are snobs. So are people who listen to music (that turntable is so low-end!). Or people who use backpacks. Or guitars (Squier guitars are so low-end…).

So, actually, it’s not people who _______________________ that are snobs. It’s people. We love making invidious distinctions. My camera is better than yours. My car is better than yours. My kid is smarter than yours.

What if we didn’t do that? What if we were OK with things not being just the way we think we want them, and with variations? What if, instead of calling something low-end we just said something like “I like this seat post.” You can even say you like something because, because that gives you a reason for preferring it, and that reason helps you understand why something that you like may not be the same as something someone else likes.

So; let’s resolve not to be snobs. Being a snob is so low-end.

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The Saddest Story Ever Told

The other day, I noticed that there is a new version of The Man Who Fell to Earth streaming. That triggered my memory of seeing an earlier version, probably in the summer of 1981. So I looked up that earlier version, and this is my report. Near-total spoilers follow.

As I think I’ve stated here before, in 1976 I was emerging from high school. In 1976, Nicholas Roeg had a film emerging–The Man Who Fell to Earth, featuring David Bowie as an alien who comes to Earth in search of water (because he’s seen that via television broadcasts), but ends up swimming in gin. You can even see the symbols of the Bicentennial hanging from lamp posts in New York in the background.

Nowt this is not a good film in any conventional sense of the word. But it is unique, and emotionally draining.

Bowie’s alien disguises himself as a human from England with the name of Thomas Jerome Newton and, with the help of a patent attorney (who is half of a gay couple–groundbreaking for 1976!) parlays some impliedly alien technology into a massive fortune. Like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, but far more so, Newton is a man of mystery, his company–World Enterprises–administered by the patent lawyer.

Newton is all about the H20 until he meets a woman named Mary-Lou. She works at a hotel, and is witness to the alien’s problems with Earthly devices like elevators (the acceleration puts him into shock). She nurses Newton back to health and introduces him to gin–after which, much of the film looks like a commercial for Beefeater–and so the man who fell to Earth in search of water finds himself enamored of the alternative fluid. But his conscience pricks him in scenes of his family dying on his desert homeworld, and reminds him that his fortune is intended to be used to build a ship that will allow him to travel home carrying vital water.

And he nearly accomplishes this–he creates the first commercial space program (take that, Elon!) and recruits a disaffected professor (of chemistry? of physics? of science?) who has a penchant for 18-year-olds and who works on propellant and designs for the spaceship. The professor also comes to suspect that Newton is not fully human, and soon traps Newton into revealing himself as a visitor.

The only person to whom Newton voluntarily reveals himself is Mary-Lou, who has fallen in love with him and who clings to him fiercely. During a quarrel in which Newton explains that he is leaving and Mary-Lou calls him an alien (remember, he’s English) who has failed to file his paperwork, Newton goes into a bathroom and removes his disguise. In a chilling scene that I remember from my only prior viewing of the film, when he reveals his hairless, nippleless, orange, streamlined, cat-eyed body to Mary-Lou, she is so shocked that she loses control of her bladder, the camera zooming in on the urine running down her leg.

But she’s not so scared as to want to leave Newton, and so, following up on some of the good deal of rather explicit human-human (and/or human-simulated human) and alien-alien sex shown earlier in the film (there are good reasons for the film receiving an “R” rating on its release) Mary-Lou attempts to have human-alien sex with Newton, only to be thoroughly weirded out. Mary-Lou thus accepts, just barely, that her lover cannot remain on Earth.

When Newton’s ship is ready to launch there is a huge crowd there to watch the final tests and wish him well (the real James Lovell, commander of the real Apollo 13 and other missions, puts in an appearance). But on the eve of his return home, shadowy forces that may (or may not) be government agencies kidnap Newton and spirit him off to a research facility that is both Las Vegas weird and 1970s normal (remember wallpaper murals?). Here he is poked and prodded, fed more gin, reunited with Mary-Lou and, ultimately, left by her. When does all of this have time to happen? No way to know, but you can see Mary-Lou and the professor age throughout Newton’s captivity. The two ultimately end up together, bound by their knowledge of Newton’s identity.

Importantly, early in the film, after the professor has tried to find him out, Newton explains that he can see X-rays, and that they are blinding to him. Near the end of the Vegas/Normal section of the film, Newton is told that he going to have his eyes examined and X-rayed. He protests, and asks to at least be given a chance to remove the lenses that make his eyes look human. Instead, he is fed still more gin and flashed with an X-ray machine. I thought when I first saw the film that he was blinded by the X-ray, but today’s viewing showed me his true fear. Referring to his lenses, he says “now they’ll never come off.”

Newton escapes from confinement, but though he remains incredibly wealthy, his ship is deliberately destroyed–now he can never return home. Time passes. One day, in a record store, the professor finds a record Newton has made, titled “The Visitor.” Though he doesn’t like it (and from the price, it is clear that it has not sold well) he is interested enough to hunt Newton down and ask him about it.

Newton tells him that he made the recording for his wife, who will someday hear it on the radio waves broadcast from Earth. Upon saying this, he drops his glass of Beefeater, and a waiter says that he thinks that “Mr. Newton has had enough.” The professor replies that he agrees–though he is thinking of a different “enough” altogether, and Newton regards this observation with an “Ah.” Curtain.

This was a film sold as science fiction, but in an era without computer graphics and with only extremely costly special effects (see, e.g., 2001: A Space Odyssey, or Silent Running or, for that matter, Star Wars, which came out the next year) the film is actually about Newton’s moral and mortal fall. Caught between Earth and sky, he truly belongs to neither. He is, after all, a visitor–a stranger–in a strange, strange land.

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Patriots

“Patriot” used to be such a solid word, a happy word. We all wanted to be patriots. I graduated from high school in our country’s bicentennial year; when I was a ham radio operator I had QSL cards that proudly displayed my country’s flag along with my call sign (WB0IKW).

What does it mean to be a patriot? I ask, because it feels harder and harder to be one. Displays of Old Glory are all too often forerunners of nationalist blather, saber-rattling, and Trumpism.

According to Merriam-Webster, a patriot is “one who loves and supports his or her country.”

Now there are people stealing the word. “Patriot Front.” Bull. What do these people stand for?

An excerpt from their manifesto, via Wikipedia:

Those of foreign birth may occupy civil status within the lands occupied by the state, and they may even be dutiful citizens, yet they may not be American. Membership within the American nation is inherited through blood, not ink. Even those born in America may yet be foreign…Nationhood cannot be bestowed upon those who are not of the founding stock of our people, and those who do not share the common spirit that permeates our greater civilization, and the European diaspora…In order to survive as a culture, a heritage, and a way of being, our nation must learn that its collective interests are fighting against its collective threats of replacement and enslavement…The damage done to this nation and its people will not be fixed if every issue requires the approval and blessing from the dysfunctional American democratic system. Democracy has failed in this once great nation.

These people are not patriots. Not even close. They’re white nationalists. And they do not love their country.

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Tools and Ideas

A few weeks ago, I finally tore the back steps off the house.

You have to understand that this house is about 100 years old, and the wooden steps, while not quite that old, were in bad shape. The stringers, such as they were, were sitting directly on the soil. The stringers themselves were built out of bits and pieces, and the treads and risers, both of which were warped, were simply nailed to the stringers. A recipe for disaster.

At some point more than ten years in the past, the previous owners had put a deck on the back of the house and–rather than remove the old steps–had simply built the deck over the steps. When we got rid of the deck a few years ago, the steps were revealed in all their glory, and we’d been using them for a while, but with increasing problems.

So the time had come to replace them. These steps were six feet wide, and there were three of them, so I went to the home despot and bought four stringers, two 2x10x12′ pressure-treated boards, and some other miscellaneous lumber for various bits of bracing. I planned to cut the 2x10s to size using a battery-powered circular saw, which I also bought.

With the risers sitting properly on brick and concrete slabs, everything put together with deck screws, the steps took an afternoon. There was a bit of leftover lumber, both PT and non-PT. And the saw.

Now. I do not like air conditioning except when it’s exceedingly hot. I grew up without it, and prefer fans. We have a number of those dual-window fans in the house, and I have one in my office.

Unfortunately, the fan sits in the window just below a shelf that sits in front of the window, which means that it blows air against the back of the shelf.

So I was looking at that earlier today and it occurred to me that I could make a spacer to lift the fan above the shelf.

All of the remaining lumber was too wide to fit in the window, but there was a nice chunk of 2×8 non-PT that looked promising. I would not have wanted to cut it, except–oh yeah! Circular saw!

Ten minutes later, the fan is blowing as it should, cooling the family router and yours truly.

Tools are dangerous that way…

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Use Your Damn Bell!

               Friday was a day when a lot of shit happened.  The Supreme Court of the United States overruled long-standing precedent, i.e., Roe v. Wade, in the Dobbs opinion (for which, see my earlier view); it had already essentially gutted Miranda, and in a concurrence in Dobbs, Justice Clarence Thomas called for the end of substantive dual process and the overturning of everything from the right to privacy with regard to marital relations and contraception (Griswold v. Connecticut) to same-sex marriage (Obergefell v. Hodges).

               For me, it was a little less momentous.  I had cataract surgery last Thursday, and Friday was my post-op exam, and everything looks fine.  Of course, I’ve only had surgery on one eye, so I’m walking around with a rather weird perspective on the world.

               I can’t do anything about Dobbs or Tekoh v. Vega (the case that’s gutted Miranda) just yet, but there’s something that I can do something about, and I’m doing it right here.

               On the way home from my post-op, I was walking on the bike trail. I was walking because my surgeon told me that I couldn’t exercise—including riding my bike—until this coming Monday. When I walk on the trail, I stay close to one edge or walk on the gravel along that edge, actually off the trail. I was passed by a number of runners, skateboarders, and cyclists.  Since it was late (c. 5:30 PM), only seven cyclists passed me, only one of whom bothered to call out “on your left.” The rest passed silently.

               Silence is golden, but not when one person is walking and another is moving with significant velocity.  I was very nearly hit several times.  And all it would have taken would have been for the riders to call out or ring a bell.

               So I’m doing something about that.  I’m repeating, a little more loudly, what I said quite a few years back.

GET A BELL AND USE IT!!

Please.

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It’s Still the One

It may seem odd to write an encomium to a piece of luggage. And it is. But sometimes something is very nearly perfect to an important point. This is the item I first wrote about here and later, here. As you’ll see if you actually read my blog, I have a thing for bags, and I’ve been tempted to try and have tried a number, but I always have come back to this one.

There is a point at which you approach “perfect” so very nearly that you don’t need to get any closer. Bagwise, for me, that point is my Manhattan Portage Europa, size Medium.



You can still get one. Or, rather, you can get one that’s almost but not quite like it, What I really like about my bag falls into the following categories:

  1. Size. The large is enormous. I had one for a while, but I found that my stuff rattled around in it–and I’m a lawyer, immersed in paper. The small is just a little too small, and won’t easily handle my laptop (currently a Surface Laptop 3 13″). I bought a cheap felt sleeve that I can pop into the Europa for a little extra protection, and it’s worked well to keep my laptop nice and safe (you can see its flap peeking out at right in the photo). Sizewise, this thing is Goldilocks.
  2. Organization. Or lack thereof. If you go back to some of my earlier writing, I complained that the bag lacked any real internal organization. You know what? Turns out that’s not a bad thing. I have small cases that hold my pens, etc., and I can tell them apart by feel, so it’s easy just to unzip the front pocket, reach in and grab what I need. The newer model has an organizer inside the front pocket and while that may suit some people, it doesn’t suit me. So there!
  3. Logo. Actually, the fact that the big red Manhattan Portage logo patch is easily removed with a knife–it isn’t cemented onto the bag like some.
  4. No back zipper! Another place where the current model fails, in my view. That bottom back zipper is there so that you can slide the bag down onto the handle of an airport card. Meh. This also means (A) if you put anything small into that pocket and the zipper is open, you may lose it; and (B) the back of the back is no longer smooth. The zipper can catch on stuff. Dislike.
  5. Tough as Nails! After almost nine years of near-daily use, it’s still all there. Every zipper still works, the strap hasn’t come apart or come off (I love bags with permanent straps) and the stitching is good. The buckles haven’t broken. It just keeps on ticking.
  6. Color. Mine is a nice chocolate brown–not currently available, but you never know.
  7. Bikeability. This is related to size, but you should know that this bag slides perfectly into a Wald basket, such as the one I’m currently using on the front of my bike, and leaves enough room for my lunch. It’s also small enough to fit inside some medium panniers.

I should probably give it a cleaning or something, but nah. Call it beausage.

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Plain Language and the Ninth Amendment

On the way back from lunch just now, I passed a sign on the door of the building where I sometimes teach:

What’s wrong with that sign?

  1. The door isn’t actually automatic. You need to do something to open it.
  2. It’s unnecessarily repetitious and wordy. Activate to Operate?
  3. It doesn’t tell you where the switch is.

Much better would be “Push button to open door” with an arrow pointing to the switch.

No offense to Horton Automatics, but Humans tend to use a lot of words when just a few would do, and to be awkward when they ought to be clear. This blog is evidence of that, but please bear with me. That sign stuck in my head because of something that happened while I was in the shower.

This morning I was looking for a podcast to listen to in the shower when one came up with a title that grabbed me–it was called The Shadows of the Constitution (2020) and it was built around the wonderful one-woman show, “What the Constitution Means to Me,” written and performed by Heidi Schreck. I was lucky enough to see the show on Broadway before COVID hit, but I was so exhausted by having seen To Kill a Mockingbird earlier the same day that I fell asleep during parts of Constitution.

I shouldn’t have.

One of the rather important things that Scheck points out in her show is that the Constitution is mainly made up of negative rights. You don’t have a right to healthcare–that would be a positive right–but you do have a right against warrantless searches, for example:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Fourth Amendment

Lots of your rights are like that, and the reason that they’re like that is that the United States was designed around the principle that power should flow from the people to the government, and not vice-versa, which was the standard approach throughout much of the world: power flowed from a god to the head of state (e.g., the king) and then power flowed from the head of state to the people. With, of course, a few structures in between.

We don’t do it perfectly, but that is the idea. We don’t, for example, have kings.

Now, one of the points that Schreck hammers home is that the Constitution, while it has woefully failed some people–women and African-Americans come to mind–still exists to protect rights that haven’t yet been discovered. Her text for this is the Ninth Amendment:

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

That’s all that it says. That just because many rights are fully-described in the Constitution, that doesn’t mean that the people don’t have other rights. The drafters of the Constitution could not see into the minds of all people (and so there is no explicitly protected right in the Constitution to have imaginary friends) or the future (and so there is no explicit Constitutional right to listen to the radio). But it seems pretty evident that we actually do have those rights.

Now, something else that you should know is that the fourth and ninth amendments are part of the Bill of Rights, and the Bill of rights only applies to the federal government and most importantly, not to the states. So (for example) that right against warrantless searches guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment? Only applies against federal officers, and not against your police. Well, it didn’t until the Supreme Court did something.

In 1961, a case came to the United States Supreme Court called Mapp v. Ohio. In deciding that case, the Supreme Court incorporated the Fourth Amendment as applying against the state government as well as against the federal government. Prior to that time, evidence from warrantless searches could be used against you in state proceedings (like most criminal trials). There are exceptions to Mapp, of course, and I suggest you read about them here before you get too sure of things, but you get the idea.

Many, but not all, of the rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights have been incorporated against the states, nor have all of the rights enumerated within a given amendment necessarily been incorporated. The Eighth Amendment states that

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

However, it was not until the 2019 case Timbs v. Indiana that states were prohibited from imposing excessive fines. In that case, Timbs pleaded guilty to relatively minor drug charges, was sentenced to a year of house arrest followed by five years of probation, and fined $1,200. But Indiana also used a law permitting it to seize assets used in crimes to take Timbs’s $42,000 SUV. The Indiana Supreme Court upheld confiscation of the SUV, noting that the Eighth Amendment didn’t apply to the states, but only to federal actions.

The United States Supreme Court, however, in an opinion by Justice Ginsburg, held that the Eighth Amendment is incorporated to states under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and that protection from excessive fines “has been a constant shield throughout Anglo-American history: Exorbitant tolls undermine other constitutional liberties.”

That outcome seems fairly obvious–the value of the SUV was 35 times that of the fine that Timbs paid. But without the Supreme Court’s incorporation of the excessive fines clause against the states, there was nothing to halt Indiana from taking the vehicle. Thanks to incorporation, not only did Timbs get his vehicle back, but states now know that they can’t impose excessive fines.

Unlike the right against excessive fines described in the Eight Amendment, The rights described in the Ninth Amendment have never been incorporated against the states. Indeed, the Ninth exists in tension with the Tenth Amendment:

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

The Ninth Amendment has never been incorporated, but perhaps it should be. We may live in (the mad scientist’s) laboratory of democracy, but for all of the importance of the states, we live in an increasingly national country. We may reside in North Carolina or Connecticut or Hawaii, but our citizenship–the core of our rights–is national in nature. Of course, incorporating the Ninth would make the job of courts a great deal more difficult. Each claimed right could be subject to wrangling through the courts.

But maybe it wouldn’t have to be. The language of the Ninth Amendment is plain and clear and to the point. Just because the Constitution doesn’t specifically identify a right doesn’t mean that that right doesn’t exist. Push button to open door. Shouldn’t the burden be on the states when they want to foreclose a right?

This is especially worth considering in light of Justice Alito’s draft opinion that would (and may yet) overturn Roe v. Wade in large part on the basis of a right that was unidentified and, as I have argued, essentially unidentifiable at the founding.

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Cold as Ice

Let’s set the scene: 

You walk into a 3rd floor student apartment in Chicago.  To your right is a huge closet about six feet wide and almost as deep (don’t get excited, it’s not in all that good shape, it’s badly arranged, it’s nearly all of the storage in the apartment, and the sliding doors do so only grudgingly).   Dead ahead is the bathroom door. Turn left and you’re headed into the bedroom.  But instead, you turn right and you’re in the main living room—to your left, a three-segment bay window that looks out over a parking lot and Hyde Park Boulevard (51st Street) In fact, the building is surrounded by paved parking surfaces that absorb sunlight in the day and give it off at night and very little green. This is an old building with steam radiators and there’s no air conditioning.

To your right, a small dining area with a table and two chairs and, behind a dividing wall setting it off from the living area, a tiny galley kitchen.  On the left are metal cabinets over and under a small counter, a sink, and a small gas stove.  Across a narrow aisle, a refrigerator.  Next to the refrigerator, a counter thing that I commissioned a few years before and call “the unit,” good for keeping pots and pans and providing an actual work surface more than 12″ deep. 

From the outside, the apartment looks like this, exactly as it did 36 years ago when T and I moved into it:

But let’s get back to that refrigerator for a moment.

It’s a fairly small fridge that looks like something from a black and white fifties film or perhaps an Indiana Jones movie. It’s got slightly rounded corners at the top and, importantly, has only one door.  There’s a microwave oven precariously perched on top.

That’s because the freezer is a metal compartment near the top of the interior. With its own internal plastic swinging door.

Now, remember that parking lot?  It’s July or August.  Chicago is hot and humid, and there’s not that much circulation behind that wall that separates the living room and the kitchen.

So the humidity builds in the kitchen, and every time you open and close the refrigerator, some of it goes in and condenses on the metal of the freezer—mostly inside, but also outside.  Until…

You’re looking at a block of ice and there’s nowhere in the freezer to keep your chicken pot pie.  And something must be done.

Here’s how that something worked:

First, you got all of the food out of the freezer and, importantly, out of the fridge.  If you have a cooler, you stick the food in there.  If not, maybe the bathtub, because it’s not all that far away.  Then, you unplug the fridge.

And…

At the same time as you’re making sure that the fridge is empty, you’ve got every pot and pan you own filled with water and sitting on the stove, heating up to boiling, and you’ve got a bunch of towels ready on the unit.

And then, it begins—you put pans of hot water into the freezer, and use a butter knife to chip away at the built-up ice.  If you’re lucky, huge chunks of ice fall off the bottom of the freezer and onto the racks below.  If you’ve put your food in the bathtub, you can now put the chunks of ice around it.  If not, they go into the sink and offer some blessed relief from the heat in that little kitchen.

And then, when all of the ice is gone, you use the towels to mop up water from the freezer compartment, the fridge generally, the floor, and every other surface in the kitchen.  And then you plug the fridge back in, and start restocking it from the tub.

Easy as pie?  Yes, and I miss it.  I haven’t had to defrost a refrigerator in more than three decades, and I kind of miss it. T and I would get overheated and soaked from the process and–believe it or not–it was fun.

It’s a good thing when household tasks can be fun and not work. We should think more about how that works.

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