Posted May 15, 2020. To settle a pandemic-related financial crisis at UMass Dartmouth, law faculty are not receiving research compensation in summer 2020. I will be away from my desk, May 16 to August 15. Blog posts will be sparse, and I will not receive email. On the upside, summer 🌞! If you need to reach me, please send a message through the faculty assistants’ office (Ms. Cain and Ms. Rittenhouse). Stay thirsty.
Showing posts with label Easter. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Easter. Show all posts

Friday, April 17, 2020

Report from a Social Distance: Week 4

Dispatch from a scapegrace stuck in a rabbit warren

"Black Rabbit of Inlé" by Ken Whytock CC BY-NC 2.0
Isolation is now a way of life, and the days are dissolving, each into the next.  There's a plateau in new infections in U.S. hot spot New York, but it sits at a high level of daily mortality.  Testing in the United States remains limited to detecting active infection in the symptomatic, if that, though antibody detection is being deployed experimentally.  Like in other states, Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo has ordered that face coverings be worn in shops and workplaces to slow down contagion.  (Another executive order refined the suspension of public meetings and records laws to balance access and lockdown.)  In times like these, as Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said to Trevor Noah, "Humor is kind of the unifying thing."  In that Light(foot)hearted vein, this is what I'm up to.

TV Quote of the Week: “I didn’t believe I’d ever see my racist Aunt Ida licking up gasoline at the Arco station on Saticoy with her Filipino nurse from the Jewish Home for the aging, but it happened.  Anything is possible now.”  —Principal Burr in Daybreak s1e06

What I’m Reading

Scott Johnston, Campusland (2019) (Amazon).  Kirkus Reviews called this self-described “satire” of university life, “richly imagined.”  Well, no disrespect to Scott Johnston’s very enjoyable writing, but if I have a criticism here, it’s that what passes for parody is often less absurd than the reality.  Johnston, a New York Yalie with an eclectic background, spins a tale of PCism run amuck at a fictional elite northeastern private university from varied student, faculty, and admin perspectives.  It’s funny when Johnston depicts a “bias response” star chamber investigating a professor on contrived charges of racism, but the casual reader might not realize how on point the narrative is.  It’s equally absurd yet true when Johnston writes about a weaponized “title IX” being wielded as a verb.[*]
King Solomon
by Kristian Zahrtmann
Our church Bible reading continues in week 14 with 2 Samuel and 1 Kings.  As usual, the BibleProject has an excellent video overview of the books of Kings.  The books begin with the reign of Solomon, who, anointed as king, pleaded with God: "But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?"  1 Kings 3:7-9.  Remember when humility in leadership was a thing?

What I’m Watching

Onward (2020) (trailer).  This beautiful new story from Disney Pixar more or less skipped theaters because of the pandemic lockdown.  It’s now included on Disney+ and available to rent on other platforms.  Be prepared to reallocate some of your precious tissues to mop up tears of joy.  As usual for Disney features, the voice cast is top shelf.  Lead female roles bring together comedy legend Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Oscar winner Octavia Spencer.  Lead male voices are two Peters of Avengers fame, Quill (Star-Lord) and Parker (Spider-Man), that is, Chris Pratt and Tom Holland.

Motherless Brooklyn (2019) (trailer).  I thoroughly enjoyed this book by Jonathan Lethem (Amazon), and I'm a big fan of Ed Norton, who was born in Boston and grew up in Maryland, so I eagerly awaited this theatrical release—though not as earnestly as Ed Norton awaited it, the film adaptation being his 20-year passion project.  It did not disappoint.  Norton himself played the protagonist with a performance reminiscent of his genius alongside Brando and De Niro in The ScoreMichael Kenneth Williams, The Wire’s Omar, gets to be a mostly good guy for a change, the enigmatic “trumpet man.”  There are small but significant roles, too, for Robert Wisdom, another Wire alum (“Bunny”), and Fisher Stevens, who seems to be in everything, but whom I’ll always identify favorably with Early Edition.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008) (trailer).  What do you really know about Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi?  The Star Wars movies show us only dramatic highlights of their lives.  At some point, Skywalker and Kenobi, together with Master Yoda, waged war, and their bond was forged in that fire.  Such is the story of The Clone Wars, set between live-action episodes II (Attack of the Clones (2002)) and III (Revenge of the Sith (2005)).  Friends have told me for years to embrace this animated saga, and now I’m sucked in.  Best part?  Seven seasons of televised series (2008-14, 2020) followed this 2008 film, Disney+ having revived the show for a finale season this year.  So I’m going to need a clone to watch all of that.  I’m giving a miss to the earlier three-season animation (no “The” in the subtitle) that ran from 2003 to 2005; it was pre-CGI.

Watership Down (2018) (BBC trailer).  The animation is superb in this BBC-Netflix co-production.  With James McAvoy as Hazel, this four-installment adaptation is not the first to adapt to screen the Richard Adams’s 1972 classic (N.Y. Times Mag.).  A 1978 British animated film won a Saturn Award; Art Garfunkel sang “Bright Eyes” for it.  A British-Canadian animated series ran for three seasons, from 1999 to 2001, but never aired in the United States.  Two years ago, we postponed watching this Netflix incarnation because, for an animation about bunnies, it’s heavy emotional lifting.  As James Parker wrote of the novel for The Atlantic, “An unprecedented mash-up of eco-anxiety, homely bottom-of-the-garden anthropomorphism, real violence, and febrile mythmaking, Watership Down struck a nerve.”  That’s only more true of this miniseries in our present era of climate change, pandemic, and xenophobia.

The Night Of (2016) (HBO).  I’m not usually one for what is essentially a criminal procedural, even if well crafted.  But this 2016 production came recommended by a reliable source, and I couldn't resist John Turturro as a scruffy, docks-trolling criminal defense lawyer who’s smarter than anyone gives him credit for.  The show is one part Oz and one part The Practice, spiced with a pinch of The Verdict.  Michael Kenneth Williams is in this one, too, as a scary prison gang leader, and so is Fisher Stevens, who has some darkly funny scenes as pharmacist to Turturro’s eczema-afflicted attorney.

Tales from the Loop (2020) (Amazon).  We’ve just started this new release from Amazon Prime, and I’m all in.  I do not fully understand how a crowd-funded book of surreal science-fiction art by Swedish artist Simon StĂ„lenhag in 2015 got turned into first a role-playing game (2017) and then this TV show.  I think it best not to ask too many questions.  Critics have knocked the show for being slow, and ordinarily, slow plays poorly with me.  But Legion alum Nathaniel Halpern wrote these odd and beautiful stories, and, at just e03 of 8, I’m spellbound with anticipation of more.  Halpern mixes the classical wonder of Amazing Stories Magazine with the playful ingenuity of Stranger Things to serve up a premise irresistible to those of us reared on dandelion wine.

Give it a miss:  I’ve liked Ed Helms since he worked for Jon Stewart, but, save a line here and there, Netflix's Coffee & Kareem (2020) was unwatchably unfunny.

Also out now:  We just discovered that Apple TV+ has made some of its top original content free during lockdown, so check it out.

What I’m Eating

Our Easter feast was simple but delicious: ham, potatoes, peas, and homemade bread.  My wife made my late aunt’s annual springtime-classic peach pie for dessert: brilliant, even though we could find only canned peaches.

My gifted wife also this week made chicken garam masala on basmati rice, a favorite in our house.  In the past, she has made the garam masala herself, from its component spices, but products such as McCormick’s, used here, are a satisfying convenience.

Image by BlackRiv from Pixabay
Fortunately, some Cara Cara oranges made it from tree to home: thanks to my mom and stepdad for a fortifying Easter gift.

I picked up cactus-fruit jelly in North Africa, and it’s been chilling in the fridge.  Faced with an abundance of fresh bread this week, we cracked it open.  Not bad.  Tastes like … I don’t know, cactus fruit.

What I’m Drinking

Alto Grande“The coffee of Popes and Kings,” this premium bean, grown in “ideal soil and climate conditions” in Puerto Rico’s mountainous interior, makes a brew too bold for the coffee novice.  We’re indebted to a family friend (Twitter) for our supply line.

Rhody Coyote Hard Apple Cider.  Celebrating Easter, we opened this harvest holdover from nearby Newport Vineyards. When things get back to normal, there's a tasting room.

Chicory Root VodkaThe flavored liquors of Philadelphia’s Art in the Age distillery never disappoint. The New Hampshire-drawn maple syrup eclipses the chicory in this vodka, but the balance is delectably sippable.  Also a tasting room in better times.

Scapegrace GinHow often does a gin teach you a new word?  “Scapegrace” originated in the 18th century to mean a rogue or rascal: one who escapes God’s grace.  Unironically, the name attached to this gin when New Zealand maker Rogue Society Distilling went international and confronted Oregon-based Rogue Ales in a European trademark tangle.  Thus this small-batch brand means to make its mark with a rough-and-tumble reputation in a dark bottle that pays homage to gin’s progenitor genever.  A suite of botanicals is led by juniper.  Different accounts locate distillation in Auckland or Christchurch; either way, Scapegrace boasts water from New Zealand’s Southern Alps.  But be warned: the gold variety, which we have, packs a navy-strength punch: at 57% ABV, it’ll make you forget all the new words you just learned.  The classic silver weighs in at 42.2% ABV.  I am keen to get my paws on some of “the world’s first naturally black gin,” Scapegrace Black, 41.6% ABV.

Whom I’m Wearing

Chartwell Wealth ManagementContact my friend Dan Harrington (LinkedIn) for financial advice in Rhode Island/South Coast.  Dan wrote the ProJo op-ed on quarantine that I cited here on the blog a couple of weeks ago, with art by Dan’s talented daughter, Grace.  This fashion choice puts me in good company: Dan’s and my friend Komlan N. Aloysh sported a Chartwell T to launch his new YouTube channel, on which he interviews “African changemakers both on the continent and in the diaspora.”


Happy birthday to my dear wife, and happy Earth Day!

Eating, Drinking, and Wearing images except oranges are mine, CC BY-NC-SA 4.0.

[*UPDATE, April 19: To give credit to the author where due: I've since finished the book, and, in an afterword, Johnston wrote that "while Campusland is written as satire, it doesn't stretch the truth by much, and sometimes not at all.  Title IX, as depicted, is true to life.  If you want some good nonfiction on the subject, I suggest Laura Kipnis's excellent (and horrifying) book Unwanted Advances [(2017) (Amazon)]."]

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Lockdown tests religious freedom, responsibility

For two reasons, it pains me to see churches on the news violating stay-at-home rules.  First, like almost everyone, I'm horrified by the potential impact on people's health and lives, put at risk utterly unnecessarily.  Through the Bible, God calls on people to worship together, as a body, e.g. Hebrews 10:24-25. At the same time, as author Jon Meacham told Stephen Colbert in a terrific recent interview, during Passover and in anticipation of Easter, "Being willfully stupid is not part of the Christian tradition."


This might be an especially authentic Easter, Meacham suggested, in the sense that early Christians met in homes, e.g., Acts 12:12, and the disciples, if together, sought refuge behind locked doors after the Crucifixion, John 20:19.  Moreover, I've written previously about the biblical precedent for quarantine.

Second, these stories on the news are man-bites-dog coverage; what's being reported is aberrational, not normal.  And the truth about churches and other places of worship in this crisis could not be more poorly represented.  My church is the norm.  To protect congregants, the elders suspended our live worship service and other on-campus meetings before the law required.  We had Easter services on a live feed, and we're having classes, prayer, and meetings on Zoom.  Most importantly, we encourage and support one another, Romans 14, notwithstanding social distance.  In the absence of coordinated leadership and a functional social safety net from government, communities of faith are filling the gap, keeping people sound of mind and body.  That's the real religion story of the crisis (see also, e.g., NYT Wehner op-ed, Apr. 10).

Winston-Salem, N.C., March 20.  Photo by Breawycker CC BY-SA 4.0.
Seeing authorities in Kentucky and Louisiana effecting arrests and citing drivers at live religious ceremonies that defy government orders, I started to worry what damage these aberrational observances might do to our jurisprudence and tradition of free religious exercise.  Would this be yet another instance of #RuiningItForEveryone?  That is, if courts start making rulings that approve authoritarian government controls over even ludicrous assertions of religious freedom, the unintended consequence might be to water down religious freedom for all of us—however much I try to remain cognizant of the First Amendment's critical function in anti-majoritarianism.

A Methodist preacher on Deal Island, Md.,
probably the Rev. Joshua Thomas in the 1830s.
From Adam Wallace, The Parson of the Islands 93 (4th ed. 1872).
George Scoville, Nashville attorney and adjunct professor in political science at Belmont University, has written an excellent analysis of the present landscape in religious freedom law amid the lockdown, including explication of a recent federal court ruling in the Western District of Kentucky, and the potential application of the U.S. Supreme Court jurisprudence on Native American peyote use.  He writes:
As an initial matter, nobody contests that, under the structure of our Constitution, states have always had plenary police power to regulate the health, safety, welfare, and morals of their citizens–the simple requirement being, at least after the 1860s, that people receive due process of law before a state-sanctioned deprivation of life, liberty, or property.  On the religious liberty question, my gut reaction is that, generally speaking, “safer-at-home” or “shelter-in-place” orders that prohibit gatherings of people larger than some discrete number, or which require that people maintain a proper social distance of some discrete number of feet, are not per se constitutionally problematic.  Rather, these orders, like the criminal prohibition on peyote use that applied to all Oregonians, apply to everyone.

However, As Scoville explains, there might be room for a challenge where the due process thread of the religious freedom argument intertwines with the equal protection thread.  Thus the court in Kentucky entertained the argument that disallowing drive-through worship while allowing drive-through liquor sales was constitutionally problematic.

Read Scoville's treatment at Church Closures During the COVID-19 Pandemic (Probably) Do Not Violate the First Amendment, April 13, 2020.

[UPDATE, April 26, 2020:  Attorney Scoville has authored an op-ed for The Tennessean in which he additionally considers the potential impact of mini-RFRA litigation amid the pandemic.]

[UPDATE, May 15, 2020: The Sixth Circuit has issued an injunction allowing live church services despite the Kentucky Governor's orders.]