Showing posts with label Stephen Colbert. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Stephen Colbert. Show all posts

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.] 

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Report from Quarantine Week 2: Me and the Violet Fog

Another week in quarantine.  Technically, my latter and last.  But until there's an antibody test, who can go anywhere?  Here's my self-serving report from week 2.


What I'm Reading
(besides Dr. Grillo's blog)

John O'Donohue, To Bless the Space Between Us (2008) (Amazon).  This beautiful little book with blessings for all occasions was a gift of our dear friend Sister Catherine, who missions to children on the Navajo and Zuni Reservations in New Mexico. I perused it when she gave it to us. But picking it up again now amid the present crisis, its texts (and no less its title) have a new layer of meaning. Consider these verses from the poem, "For the Interim Time":
You are in the time of the interim
Where everything seems withheld.
. . .
What is being transfigured here is your mind,
And it is difficult and slow to become new.
The more faithfully you can endure here,
The more refined your heart will become
For your arrival in the new dawn.
There are poems about travel that are especially poignant to me in present circumstances.

First Book of Samuel (BibleGateway).  My church's yearlong Bible-reading study continues telling the ancient story of Israel.  This book, which chronicles King Saul's fall and David's rise, includes David and Goliath (ch. 17) (and Samuel on the whole reminds me of the Kings TV show, not so scriptural, but a beautifully portrayed drama, with Ian McShane as the Saul character).  I should have mentioned last week that we're accompanying the reading with videos from the nonprofit animation studio, BibleProject (1 Samuel). The studio's outstanding quick-draws are a joy to watch and learn from (también disponible en español y otros idiomas).


What I'm Watching

Doctor Who s12 (2020) (season 38 overall) (BBC trailer).  Whenever there's a new doctor, you're not sure whether it's you or the actor who isn't hitting stride.  Excited as we were about the debut of Jodie Whittaker as the first female Doctor, in 2018 (eat dust, James Bond), series 11 was further complicated by the departure of storyline mastermind Stephen Moffat (still waiting on Sherlock s5, Stephen!). Whatever the reason, series 11 felt like a string of unconnected afterthoughts, despite heroic efforts by the cast to make us care.  Finally series 12 reintroduces the concept of arc, and I feel like we're back on track, story-wise.  The scripts still need work, as they condescendingly tell us rather than show us the writers' social agenda.  But looking past that, we quite enjoyed e7's devilish villains, and we're looking forward to the concluding Cyberman saga.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina s3 (2020) (Netflix trailer).  Guilty pleasure, I admit, but this Archie Comics reimagining is too clever to resist.  Where Doctor Who lately clubs you over the head with social allegory, Sabrina catches you unawares like a Maine lobster.  If Riverdale is an artificially flavored orange pop for the brain, Sabrina is a delicate hazelnut gelato.  Amid exquisite sets, the narratives are intricate, the characters are surprisingly multilayered for a live-action comic book, and the actors perform whimsically.  Lucy Davis as Aunt Hilda Spellman walks away with best supporting actress.  We're only getting started in s3, but we're already absorbed and delighted.

Young Sheldon s3 (2019-20) (CBS promo).  Comedy break.  This show remains as strong as it premiered.  I am one of that odd contingent that doesn't like Big Bang Theory but adores Iain Armitage's young Sheldon.  That said, even I was moved by the closing scene of e16 in the Caltech cafeteria—after my wife explained it.

Late night.  All our favorites are back, reinventing themselves in this time of crisis, and, as John Oliver put it to Stephen Colbert, "committing union infractions out the wazoo" to keep us laughing.  For HBO's Last Week Tonight, Oliver just posted his third viral installment.  Production of the CBS Late Show has been a family affair in Colbert's Connecticut home; when did his kids all grow up?  His tech snafu with Daniel Radcliffe was an instant classic, and I enjoyed his gin-infused dialog with Ryan Reynolds.  We're looking forward to Tooning Out the News, premiering officially on CBS All Access on April 7.  Producing Comedy Central's "Daily Social Distancing Show" from his New York City sofa, Trevor Noah has been killing it.  His correspondents haven't missed a beat—see "What Day Is It?," Video Chat with Roy Wood Jr. and Jaboukie Young-White, and Ronnie Chieng with Andrew Yang on universal-basic-income-come-lately—and the Daily Show graphics team rallied in force this week.  Finally, a mellow highlight of the week was Monday night's musical "Homefest" on James Corden's Late Late Show (CBS).  Who needs a studio?


What I'm Eating

Garlic.  A lot of garlic.  Now's the time.  In quarantine, you don't have to worry about any close-talking strangers.  Vampires beware.  Thanks, by the way, to whoever gave us this great gift pack of Terra Delyssa organic infused olive oils, which we rediscovered in the cupboard when we feared our olive oil stock had run dry.

King cake.  And everything else in the freezer.  My culinarily gifted Louisianan wife made this for Mardi Gras, when I was in Bissau, and froze some for me.  I've been told that if we're ever allowed to return to the grocery store, I might get gumbo.  Damn you, quarantine!


Billy’s Bistro.  We’re ordering for curbside pickup this weekend.  Remember, if you can, support your local businesses!



What I'm Drinking

Peet's Major Dickason's Blend.  Peet's bestseller.  We're grinding the beans.  It gets the job done.  It's dark, which I like; my wife likes that less.  We also tried this week Community's Private Reserve Holiday Jazz, which I gave to my wife for Christmas as part of a haul of Community coffees to tide her over while I was (or would be, but am not now) in Africa.  We both love Community coffees.  But there was something off about this one's florals that I couldn't get over.  I'd give you the rest of it, but I breathed all over it, so now it's a biohazard.

McQueen and the Violet Fog (Vimeo).  This is a truly special gin, bearing the unique flavor of a 100% neutral cane spirit from Jundiaí, Brazil, which is just north and inland from São Paulo.  Among 21 botanicals, its six "signature" ingredients are basil, rosemary, fennel seed, calamansi, star anise and açai.  It's small-batch distilled from maceration and vapor infusion in a single copper pot still.  Wine Enthusiast's Kara Newman gave it a 93: "This gin is clear, with a distinctly sweet candied lemon peel fragrance. The soft palate finishes with mild violet jazzed up by white pepper and a hint of coriander. Tailor-made for an Aviation."  The name of the gin comes from a darkly quirky poem by Atticus; the last two stanzas are printed on the back of the bottle.


What I'm Wearing

This was a gift from my mom-in-law.  She gets me.


What I'm Doing to Stay Sane

That's my weight bench from high school in the 1980s, today in my garage.  It's lived with me in five states.  "Do we really need to move that?," my wife asked in Arkansas in 2011. "They have gyms in Rhode Island."  "Why, yes," I said presciently, "in case the gym closes because of a pandemic."



Happy weekend!  

Yeah, it's actually the weekend.  Like I can tell the difference....

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Remembering 'very unique,' 'extremely historic,' pre- post-literate politics

Comedic media have recently lampooned with delight the President's sing-song description of litigation over the "national emergency" at the border.  (My favorites are Trevor Noah's "Guitar Hero" take and Stephen Colbert's "Torah reading."  Jake Tapper told Colbert aptly that Trump's description might actually prove correct.)  Then Bernie Sanders entered the race and admonished media that if his ideas were once fringe, they are no more.  Access to higher education always has been a key part of his platform.

This confluence of events made me nostalgic for the quixotic character of the savant President Bartlett of The West Wing (1999-2006).  To be clear, this is not a political statement: I'm not condemning Trump, nor endorsing Bernie, nor, least of all, saying anything about the politics of Martin Sheen, Rob Lowe, and Allison Janney.  I just wanted for a moment to set politics aside and revel in the appeal of a President who appreciates good writing and the power of language.  So I looked up this video introduction to West Wing season 2, episode 9, "Galileo V," aired November 29, 2000—ten months before September 11.  O simpler times and innocent idealism.


Hat tip to Kayla Venckauskas, UMass Law '19—editor-in-chief of the UMass Law Review, 2018 Rappaport Fellow, ALDF scholarship winner, and survivor extraordinaire of my 1L Torts class—for reminding me of this gem.  (If any of my media law colleagues still want to jump into this year's Law and Media Symposium on March 28, get in touch ASAP, and I'll do my best to hook you up.)

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Laughing with Lenny Bruce, from schmuck to conscience

 
Kitty Bruce cuts the ribbon on the Lenny Bruce archive at the Brandeis University Goldfarb Library.

There is indecent language in this post.

In the last week of October, Brandeis University hosted a conference, “Comedy and the Constitution,” celebrating the life and work of comedian Lenny Bruce (1925-1966).  The conference marked the accession in the Brandeis University Library of Lenny Bruce’s papers, donated by his daughter Kitty Bruce, who participated in the conference.  The program was organized by Professor Steve Whitfield in American Studies and Sarah Shoemaker in Goldfarb Library Special Collections.  Featured speakers included Christie Hefner, former chairwoman and CEO of Playboy Enterprises, and “outrage” comedian Lewis Black, known to many through his long-running Daily Show segment, “Back in Black.”

My own paper for the academic part of the program concerned free expression and communication regulation.  Specifically, I looked at Bruce's technique of repeating indecent words with the aim of disempowering them.  If one repeats fuck again and again, the tenth repetition doesn’t sting the ear as much as the first.  George Carlin was there at least once when Bruce was arrested for “obscenity” based on the use of discrete words.  There can be little doubt that the experience directly influenced Carlin’s famous “seven dirty words” routine.  This comedic tradition at least tracked a strengthening of free expression in U.S. culture and law—think “Fuck the Draft” on Cohen’s jacket, 403 U.S. 15 (1971)—and might moreover have been a precipitating force.  For better or worse, the power today that attaches to many favorites in the pantheon of bad words is not what it used to be.  Ruth Wajnryb observed in her 2005 book, Language Most Foul, “[N]owadays it takes several fucks to achieve what one lone fuck would have achieved ten years ago.”

The lodging of Bruce’s legacy at Brandeis is a good fit for a couple of reasons.  The university is named for Justice Louis Brandeis, an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court from 1916 to 1939.  Brandeis was a key contributor to modern First Amendment law.  In the wake of World War I, he laid the groundwork for a more vigorous model of speech protection than had been known in the prior century.  Even amid the Red Scare, Brandeis recognized that if freedom of speech means anything, then minority perspectives on politics must be protected, however distasteful to the establishment.

Brandeis also was the first Jewish member of the U.S. Supreme Court, an experience that informed his views on social justice and antimajoritarianism.  Judaism played a key role in the founding of (non-sectarian) Brandeis University and remains today an omnipresent part of the university’s social culture.  Bruce was a Jewish comedian, and his cultural experience shaped his comedy.  

A number of academic papers at the conference focused on the role of Yiddish in the comedy of Bruce and also in the wider tradition of Jewish comedy.  I was ignorant on this point.  But presenters made a compelling case that the Yiddish tongue is especially well suited to comedic devices such as double entendre and nuanced word play.  In broad strokes, the particular compatibility of Yiddish with comedy seems a function of the truism that people have always turned to comedy to relieve suffering.

Christie Hefner

In terms of political commentary, Christie Hefner traced a direct legacy from Lenny Bruce to the sharp witted comedy of The Daily Show and Last Week with John Oliver.  I think she’s right.  Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert routinely scoffed at the notion that they produce news, despite serious research showing their influence on popular thinking about politics.  Stephen Colbert’s SuperPAC bits on The Colbert Report spoke volumes on the very real role of money in politics.  John Oliver eschews the label of journalist, but his work at HBO has at least raised awareness, if not effected reform, on critical social issues such as net neutrality.

Someone at the Brandeis conference pointed out that some of our attribution to Lenny Bruce of a desire to make the world a better place--by cursing of all things--has got to be a posthumous fiction.  I think that’s right too.  Bruce was just a person, not a legend.  He wanted to sustain himself with his flair for the funny, to fill seats at shows, and to take care of his family.  Arrests for obscenity--the more absurd the state's case, the better--were good for business.

I’m not troubled by any dissonance in the legend and the man who was Lenny Bruce.  The Old Testament is replete with the sea changes of unlikely messengers.

Lewis Black