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 Komlan Aloysh. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Komlan Aloysh. Show all posts

Friday, April 24, 2020

Report from a Social Distance Week 5: A Birthday, a Flood, and a Fire


April snow (RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-SA 4.0)
My plan-B return to Africa in June was just canceled.  I kind of expected that.  Here in New England, it remains unseasonably chilly, lows this week at the freezing point, and highs usually in the low 50sºF, 12ºC give or take, and a mean wind chill.  One morning even brought a light snow.  The long-range forecast shows no warming for the remainder of the month.  We’re getting deeply anxious for the transition to spring, even as the names of the days have become arbitrary.  At least in this week 5 of isolation, we had occasion to celebrate a calendared milestone, my wife’s birthday.


What I’m Celebrating…
It was a Quarantine Birthday!

For my wife, I made a birthday cake!: a classic pound cake with hazelnut buttercream frosting.  I won no points on aesthetics, but the sweet taste was spot on.  I also made our dinner of vegetable pasta with mozzarella garlic bread, heavy on the garlic.  We had my wife’s favorite wine, Gazela vinho verde (she’s a cheap date).  And from her Amazon WishList, she received some admittedly non-essential but long desired Yuxier BBQ gloves (Spider-Man-style, but not really, because a Chinese maker wouldn’t dare test trademark).  Our daughter sent our favorite flavored honeys from the Savannah Bee Company, and there were lots of lovely cards: thanks, family and friends.

What I’m Reading
The Atlantic (May 2020).  The latest issue of my favorite magazine, The Atlantic, hit my doorstep this week, and I’ve never been happier to see it.  This month has the usual plenty of enthralling content, from an assessment of the fractured right in American politics (Robert P. Saldin and Steven M. Telles), to a photo study of social distance (Amy Weiss-Meyer), to an exploration of the everlasting allure of Scooby Doo (Christopher Orr)—this year’s May movie Scoob! will skip theaters.  Most-interesting-item honors go to MacDowell Colony fellow Francesca Mari’s “The Shark and the Shrimpers” for breaking down the legal system’s obscene exploitation of the BP disaster with faked compensation claimants.  The conduct of key plaintiff’s lawyer Mikal Watts, acquitted, I found frighteningly reminiscent of Ecuador v. Chevron's fallen star, Steven Donziger.  According to Mari, Watts even commissioned a documentary about himself; cf. Donziger’s PR panache.  Somehow, despite the well reasoned fury of U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan, Donziger last week wrangled the validation of 30 Nobel laureates.  That’s more Bizarro than the “liberate” tweets.

🙏 Our ongoing Bible reading has proceeded from First to Second Kings, and we’ve begun a Sunday Zoom study of my favorite book, James.  If you feel in need, or wish to support others, in these strange times, you are welcome to visit our church’s new virtual prayer wall, as well as Sunday service at 0930 US EDT.

What I’m Listening To

Floodlines (2020).  This eight-part audio series by Vann R. Newkirk II represents a first foray into podcasting for The Atlantic.  It’s a fascinating deep dive into the Hurricane Katrina disaster, exploring all angles, especially race and socioeconomic implications.  Newkirk skillfully weaves a narrative that traces New Orleans history from its roots in slavery to its contemporary demography.  A lot of what’s here wasn’t new to me, because, for work, I’ve done a more-than-normal amount of reading about Katrina, and I'm personally familiar with NOLA.  (The audio pacing is slow, and you can nudge up the speed if you use an intermediary such as Google rather than streaming from the home page.)  There’s still plenty here, though, for anyone, and maybe a lot for some: Katrina was 15 years ago, so young adults might not even remember it.  For my part, I had never heard of the case of Ivor van Heerden, who lost his academic post at LSU Baton Rouge in suspicious subsequence to his criticism of the Army Corps levees.  That one nugget from Floodlines part 3 sent me down a depressing rabbit-hole-reading of van Heerden’s ultimately unsuccessful litigation.  Academics, even with tenure, almost always lose to judges’ sycophantic deference to university bureaucrats, while a 2011 AAUP report had no trouble seeing through LSU’s pretext.  FIRE wrote about the importance of the van Heerden case just this week.

What I’m Watching

Code 8 (2019).  Eh.  It killed a couple of hours.  Did you know that Stephen Amell (Arrow) and Robbie Amell (The Tomorrow People) are first cousins?

For All Mankind s1 (2019).  A pandemic gift on free Apple TV+, I’m loving this series.  It’s not what I expected, and I don’t want to give away too much.  The premise of the show is an alternate history in which the Soviets won the moon race; that much was in the trailers.  Unexpected was the clever imagining of an alternatively unfolding history of American civil rights as a consequence of that pivotal national shame.  The title of the show turns out to have much greater significance than a fleeting reference to the Lunar Plaque or an innocent homage to Neil Armstrong’s famed phrase.  Joel Kinnaman returns to earth from Altered Carbon s1 to deliver a credible old-school astronaut struggling to find his place in a changing NASA, while Sonya Walger, as America’s top female astronaut, shines among an extraordinary cast of leading women.

KN Aloysh (Apr. 19).  My friend Komlan Aloysh launched his YouTube channel of interviews with African changemakers by sitting down to Zoom with Rhode Island-residing, Liberian tech entrepreneur Jacob Roland, founder and CEO of West Africa-serving Pygmy Technologies.  Their wide-ranging conversation reached from the transnational tech sector to Liberian food and culture.  Roland well observed, in whatever area one might wish to create, the Liberian market is ripe and ready.  And he tipped viewers off to top unspoilt beaches in Liberia, though I suggest you get there before Chinese developers do.  The show made me conscious of how much I am missing West Africa just now.

What I’m Eating

Bluewater Bar + Grill. This week's self-sacrifice (sarcasm) to #Save­Our­Restaurants went to a local institution and its generous and hard-working staff.  Our bounty included R.I. calamari, battered cauliflower, chili broccoli, burgers and truffle fries, and the pièce de résistance, cinnamon beignets worthy of their Louisiana heritage.

Bread machine.  “While you're watching Ozark and baking bread ... ,” Trevor Noah began a bit this week.  He had my number.  Ozark s3 is on the to-do list, and already I had dragged the bread machine up from the basement.  My aim was to save from waste the remaining brine from a finished jar of pickles.  For reasons unknown, my pickle-juice bread didn’t rise properly.  I got over the initial disappointment.  Though it was dense and a touch chewy, my undersized loaf was delicious, and I ate it up in the course of the week.

What I’m Drinking

New Orleans Blend.  My wife doesn’t usually care for dark roasts, but even she fell for this offering from Community Coffee.  Its rich texture kicks off your day with a Bourbon Street party in your mouth.  Maybe that’s the cabin fever talking, but laissez le bon temps rouler.

Bombay Sapphire East.  This geo-themed gin in classic Bombay blue boasts of Thai lemongrass and Vietnamese peppercorns.  I’m not sure I could distinguish it from straight Sapphire in a taste test, but I’m willing to pay for a foreign feel while stuck in the States.

Veiner Nössliqueur von Pitz-Schweitzer.  A yummy sample of hazelnut liqueur I picked up in Luxembourg: I used it in the icing for the birthday cake.  And maybe I sampled some according to the one-for-the-cup-one-for-the-cook rule.  The drinking policy at my work-from-home-place is super chill.

What I’m Doing to Stay Sane

Burn this.  Our town has suspended yard-waste pickup, so I collected from the yard and burned in the fireplace the winter season’s accumulated kindling.  We had a nice, hot fire for the birthday celebration.  Though I always worry whether the trees outside are alarmed by the smell of smoke from their fallen limbs.


This is the matrix.  Ramadan Mubarak to our Muslim friends, and blessed weekend to all.

Photos in Celebrating, Eating, Drinking, and Staying Sane are mine, CC BY-SA 4.0.

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 StÃ¥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)]."]