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Showing posts sorted by relevance for query raimondo. Sort by date Show all posts

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Confessions of a Gina Raimondo fanboy

R.I. Gov. Gina Raimondo (2017)
Photo by Kenneth C. Zirkel CC BY-SA 4.0
Well maybe there's not much to confess.  Searching this blog, I've ill disguised my affection for the Governor of the smallest American state, Rhode Island, my home of nine and a half years.  So I was thrilled to see Raimondo named as President-Elect Joe Biden's nominee to be the Secretary of Commerce.

A lot of Rhode Islanders are irritated that Raimondo previously denied that she would take the job, issuing the usual politician's disclaimer that her only focus was on Rhode Island.  But I get it.  You have to play these things cool, so if Pop-pop Joe doesn't pick you, you act like you didn't really want it anyway.

The same libertarianism that unites most Americans at the corner of conservative economics and social liberalism, yet seems an intersection where no Democrat or Republican dares to tread, characterizes Rhode Islanders and explains Raimondo's two-term appeal.  She is a social liberal only as much as we need her to be.  Her "Knock It Off" missive during the lockdown (I mentioned at the time) garnered national attention and is said to be one of the reasons she caught the eye of the Biden campaign.  On the civil rights front, she vetoed the first draft of a state "revenge porn" bill that tread too heavily on free speech.

At the same time, she's a fiscal conservative.  A finance aficionado by trade, she founded a venture capital firm and then entered public service as Rhode Island's General Treasurer.  The powers-that-were saddled her with an unfunded pension liability of more than $7bn, no less in the wake of a recession.  That was probably supposed to be a scapegoating when the problem proved intractable; Raimondo turned it into a pathway to the Governorship.  In the aftermath of Rhode Island's massive squandering of economic development funds on a software development firm, Raimondo championed fiscal accountability in seeking public disclosure of the grand jury investigation.

Raimondo is super smart: high school valedictorian, top economics honors at Harvard, a Rhodes Scholarship and Oxford doctorate, and, why not, a Yale law degree for good measure.  Some of those qualifications might smack of lefty elitism, but they come also with solid working-class bona fides and an Italian-immigrant heritage that complements Rhode Island's Federal Hill—the best "little Italy" on the East Coast by quality, if not size, and I've seen, and tasted, them all.  According to Raimondo's official biography (link as long it's still there), her grandfather immigrated from Italy at age 14 with no English; her father, a U.S. Navy veteran and butcher's son, went to college on the GI Bill; and her family suffered loss of livelihood when Bulova outsourced factory jobs and the Rust Belt was born.

For my immediate family, it meant a lot to have had Raimondo leading Rhode Island while our daughter was in grade school.  From the perspective of a parent, desirable role models seemed harder and harder to come by in our dawning age of social-media stars and normalized divisiveness.  I don't know whether the Commerce Department will be where Raimondo makes the most difference.  Certainly I have grave reservations about what President Biden will achieve, even aims to achieve, as talk of bringing back union jobs resonates to my ear as tone deafness to our crisis in American education.  But wherever the chips fall, I'll be in Gina Raimondo's corner.

Bon voyage, Governor.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Legal attacks on lockdown mount; R.I. Governor's time will run out, report warns

Persons entering Rhode Island remain subject to 14-day
quarantine in the present phase 1 of reopening. Photo by
Taber Andrew Bain CC BY 2.0.
A former Rhode Island Supreme Court justice and a libertarian think tank asserted this week that R.I. Governor Gina Raimondo is running out of rope in sustaining her emergency lockdown orders.

Earlier in the pandemic, we law types found ourselves with time on our hands to read up on, and sometimes write about, the legal landscape of emergency powers.  Report 98-505 from the Congressional Research Service (here from the Federation of American Scientists and updated March 23, 2020) and CDC public health emergency guidance (2009, updated 2017) suddenly became popular downloads.  The 50-state compilation of quarantine and isolation laws at the National Conference of State Legislatures was well visited.  Various guides to emergency powers have blossomed since.  Heritage published a "constitutional guide" as early as March.  The Brennan Center updated a 2018 report about three weeks ago.  At Lawfare, Benjamin Della Rocca, Samantha Fry, Masha Simonova, and Jacques Singer-Emery overviewed state authorities the week before last.

Wisconsin Supreme Court chamber (Daderot CC0 1.0)
This week brought news of the Wisconsin Supreme Court decision two days ago, striking down the Wisconsin governor's stay-home order.  Clarity around the scope of the ruling and guidance as to how it should be implemented was woefully lacking from the 4-3 fractured court, and public confidence in the decision was undermined by the participation of a lame duck conservative justice in forming the majority.  Against the backdrop of a state supreme court already badly tarnished by partisan politics, the decision has only aggravated America's White House-fueled ideological in-fighting over coronavirus public policy.

Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo
Personally, I've been happy with the leadership of Governor Gina Raimondo in responding to the crisis in my home state, Rhode Island.  But to be fair, I work in Massachusetts, and my job has been relatively secure.  There have been peaceful protests against lockdown in Rhode Island, and there is no doubt that the economic closure is devastating the small-business-heavy economy in the nation's smallest state.

On Wednesday, Robert Flanders, Matthew Fabisch, and Richard MacAdams published a legal analysis of Governor Raimondo's emergency orders.  The report came from the free-market think tank, the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity.  The authors are all lawyers; Flanders is a former associate justice of the state supreme court and was once a Republican challenger to U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse.  Flanders wrote a companion editorial for The Providence Journal.  (HT@ Gene Valicenti.)

The takeaway from the report in the news is that the Governor has overstepped her emergency authority and is ripe for a lawsuit.  That's an understandable but unfair oversimplification.  The report is a solid legal analysis that examines the scope of state executive authority from a range of angles, including the statutory framework and constitutional limitations such as takings.  The popular takeaway derives from just one thread of the analysis, if an important one: The Governor's emergency powers must be limited, and a key dimension of those limits is time.

Rhode Island State House (cmh pictures CC BY-NC 2.0)
The report does not purport to adjudicate the Governor's emergency response as wrong or right.  Rather, the authors opine, when the Governor's authority runs up against the reality that exigencies are, by definition, not perpetual, the General Assembly has a responsibility to step up and lead.  That might mean simply extending the Governor's authority to make the kind of spot decisions that will be required for subsequent phases of reopening.  Or the legislature may override executive-ordered closures and force the reopening of the economy.

Saliently, the legislature should take charge of public policy.  The most cumbersome branch of government in its populous operation, the legislature is to be excused in the throes of emergency.  But after enough time has passed, the most democratically responsive branch of government should be able to gather its wits, get on its feet, and make law.  Decisions such as whether K12 schools will reopen in the fall, for example, not just financial shortfalls, should be the subject of fact-gathering legislative hearings right now.

The inevitable logic of this ideal is subject to reproach on grounds that many of our state legislatures in the United States, Congress besides, have become dysfunctionally non-responsive to increasingly severe social and economic problems. This paralysis has many and complicated causes, including corporate capture and unbridled gerrymandering.

In the functionalist reality of our government of separated powers, if one branch abdicates its mantle, the others will fill the vacuum.  Thus, in the absence of legislative leadership, a governor may be expected to carry on with policy-making, and a state supreme court, especially a politicized one, may be expected to push back.  It's in this sense that the pandemic crisis is exposing yet another grave institutional weakness in the infrastructure of American government.

If a legislature remains paralyzed long enough, the people will become antsy.  Among the ultimate remedies for legislators who would shirk their duties, some are more palatable than others (video: Liberate Minnesota protest, April 17, by Unicorn Riot CC BY-NC 3.0).  Once upon a time in Rhode Island, residents took up arms to compel the legislature to expand enfranchisement through a constitutional convention.

Alas, one problem at a time.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Grand jury secrecy is not sacrosanct

Actors reenact the Moore's Ford lynchings every year or two, lest the public
forget.  (July 26, 2014, photo by artstuffmatters, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.)
Georgia Public Broadcasting reported recently (via NPR; see also WaPo (pay wall)) that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit will soon decide whether to unseal the grand jury records pertaining to a 73-year-old lynching case.  Meanwhile, the Rhode Island Supreme Court ponders whether to open contemporary grand jury records in the "38 Studios" economic development scandal.  Both cases remind us that grand jury secrecy is not sacrosanct and must yield to paramount public interests.

GPB reported more in August about the brutal murders of Dorothy Dorsey Malcom, her brother, George Dorsey, and his wife, Mae Murray Dorsey, at the hands of a mob of 20 to 30 assailants at Moore's Ford Bridge, outside Monroe, Georgia, in 1946.  As many people were there, the crime remains "unsolved," as GPB's Grant Blankenship explained:
The crime made national headlines. Over the course of a grand jury investigation, the FBI interviewed over 2,000 people—almost half of the county in 1946. A hundred people testified before the grand jury, but not a single indictment was handed down.
Now historians seek to unseal the grand jury records to find out more about what happened that day in 1946 and why the investigation was unyielding.  The Department of Justice and Federal Bureau of Investigation are resisting.

Incidentally but importantly, the definitive book on the Moore's Ford case is Fire in a Canebrake: The Last Mass Lynching in America, by Laura Wexler.  I went to secondary school with Wexler, so #BrushWithGreatness.

I welcome public reminders that grand jury secrecy is not sacrosanct.  Grand jury secrecy is a reasoned and historically derived common law inversion of the usual presumption of transparency in our judiciary.  As such, it's an odd nod, for our typically ruthless paradigm of all-or-nothing privacy, to the importance of protecting the reputations of persons who might be connected with investigations, but turn out not to be fairly implicated as witnesses or suspects.

However, an inverted presumption is still a presumption, which means it can be overcome, or rebutted.  Equally historically, common law has allowed challengers in the public interest to overcome grand jury secrecy, for example, after Watergate.  Transparency is a means to accountability, and when a gross miscarriage of justice has occurred, as seems indisputable in the Moore's Ford case, the public interest in learning what went wrong in the investigation, and possibly delivering some belated justice, may be ruled paramount.

R.I. Gov. Raimondo
(Kenneth C. Zirkel
CC BY-SA 3.0)
Meanwhile, Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo is feuding with the state Attorney General's Office over access to the records of grand jury proceedings in 2014 and 2015 over the "38 Studios" economic development scandal.

As The Providence Journal recalled, "The state’s $75-million loan guarantee to retired Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling’s high-risk video game venture ended up costing taxpayers a bundle when the company went belly up."  Criminal investigation was, again, unyielding.  "The statewide grand jury sat for 18 months, ending in 2015 with no criminal indictments. State lawmakers, former state Economic Development Corporation board members and staff, and 38 Studios executives were among the 146 witnesses the grand jury interviewed."

The ProJo summarized the pro and con of unsealing.  On the Governor's side, the state's attorney told the Rhode Island Supreme Court, 38 Studios marks "'a seminal event in recent Rhode Island history. It has cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars. It has brought threats to the State’s credit rating.  It spawned a massive civil litigation resulting in $61 million of settlements. It caused the Securities and Exchange Commission to file a complaint against a state agency.... It prompted a criminal probe that reportedly touched the entire membership of the 2010 General Assembly (save one former member serving a federal prison sentence).'"

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning was the only game published by 38 Studios
(and partners, including EA) before the enterprise went bankrupt.
The AG's office responded: "'[N]o one was indicted, the grand jury only recently concluded, the participants are still alive, and ... the [10-year] statute of limitations has not expired.... Unlimited disclosure ... may also adversely affect future grand jury participants who will be unable to rely upon the long-established policy that maintains the secrecy of the grand jury proceedings.'"

Ongoing payments to bondholders will cost R.I. taxpayers, me included, "$446,819 this year and an anticipated $12,288,413 next year," the ProJo reported.  I'm with Raimondo.  The Superior Court was not.

The Rhode Island Supreme Court heard oral arguments yesterday, November 7, In re 38 Studios Grand Jury, No. SU-2017-0301-A, but puts precious little online.  The ACLU of Rhode Island filed as amicus on the side of the Governor.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Revenge porn law can survive First Amendment scrutiny by requiring 'actual malice'


Last week a Tyler, Texas, appellate court struck the state’s criminal revenge porn law as fatally overbroad, so facially unconstitutional, under the First Amendment to the federal Constitution.  The ruling garnered headlines heralding the unconstitutionality of revenge porn law, which could have big implications in privacy law and policy nationwide—even ramifications for U.S. foreign relations.

However, the court’s ruling was not so broad as headlines have suggested.  In fact, the court gave wise and constructive feedback on what a revenge porn law needs to look like to pass constitutional muster—which it can.  It seems in the end that the Texas law was just not well drafted.  Accordingly, the revenge porn laws that have proliferated in the United States, now in 38 states (collected at Cyber Civil Rights Initiative), should be scrutinized and, if necessary, corrected.  (Constitutional problems with Vermont and Arizona laws were mentioned just today by the U.K. Register, here.)

The Texas case, Ex parte Jones, No. 12-17-00346 (Tex. Ct. App. Apr. 18, 2018), involved a criminal information against Jones under Texas Penal Code section 21.16(b), which criminalizes the “unlawful disclosure of intimate visual materials.”  The statute reads:


A person commits an offense if:
  (1) without the effective consent of the depicted person, the person intentionally discloses visual material depicting another person with the person’s intimate parts exposed or engaged in sexual conduct;
  (2) the visual material was obtained by the person or created under circumstances in which the depicted person had a reasonable expectation that the visual material would remain private;
  (3) the disclosure of the visual material causes harm to the depicted person; and
  (4) the disclosure of the visual material reveals the identity of the depicted person in any manner[.]


The statute, section 21.16(a), furthermore defines “visual material” broadly (“any film, photograph, videotape, negative, or slide or any photographic reproduction that contains or incorporates in any manner any film, photograph, videotape, negative, or slide,” as well as electronic transmission) and “intimate parts” specifically (““the naked genitals, pubic area, anus, buttocks, or female nipple of a person”).

The court’s First Amendment analysis was sound.  The court applied de novo review to test the constitutionality of a criminal statute.  The court rejected a narrow construction that would confine the law to mere obscenity, as stringently defined by federal precedent.  Because the statute is then a content-based restriction of expressive content, the court charged the government with the burden of rebutting presumptive unconstitutionality.  The State conceded at oral argument that the law must survive strict scrutiny, i.e., advance a compelling state interest and be narrowly tailored to do so.  Intimate privacy passes muster on the first prong, but the statute facially fails narrow tailoring.  The court acknowledged that overbreadth doctrine is “strong medicine”; nevertheless, the statute could not measure up.

The court illustrated the statute’s fatal flaw with a hypothetical, unattributed so presumably original, that seems drawn from a law school or bar exam:


“Adam and Barbara are in a committed relationship. One evening, in their home, during a moment of passion, Adam asks Barbara if he can take a nude photograph of her. Barbara consents, but before Adam takes the picture, she tells him that he must not show the photograph to anyone else. Adam promises that he will never show the picture to another living soul, and takes a photograph of Barbara in front of a plain, white background with her breasts exposed.

“A few months pass, and Adam and Barbara break up after Adam discovers that Barbara has had an affair. A few weeks later, Adam rediscovers the topless photo he took of Barbara. Feeling angry and betrayed, Adam emails the photo without comment to several of his friends, including Charlie. Charlie never had met Barbara and, therefore, does not recognize her. But he likes the photograph and forwards the email without comment to some of his friends, one of whom, unbeknownst to Charlie, is Barbara’s coworker, Donna. Donna recognizes Barbara and shows the picture to Barbara’s supervisor, who terminates Barbara’s employment.”


“In this scenario,” the court observed, “Adam can be charged under Section 21.16(b), but so can Charlie and Donna.”

Therein lies the problem: not necessarily as applied to Adam, but as applied to Charlie and Donna, who are ignorant of the circumstances under which the photo came to be.  Certainly Charlie, who received the photo from Adam “without comment,” might as well believe that Adam ripped the photo of a stranger from a pornographic website.  However indecent the photo, both Charlie and Donna have a First Amendment right to communicate the photo “downstream.”  Yet without Barbara’s consent, Charlie and Donna run afoul of the revenge porn law.  Given the ease with which persons can share visual images in the age of electronic and online communication, the court found “alarming breadth” in this potential criminalization of expression.  In First Amendment overbreadth doctrine, a facially overbroad criminal law must be ruled unconstitutional even if it might be constitutional as applied to the defendant before the court.

The court distilled the law’s flaws in two dimensions related to culpability.  Typically of a criminal prohibition, the statute requires intent.  But intent pertains only to the republication of the image.  The statute does not require that the actor have “knowledge or reason to know the circumstances surrounding the material’s creation, under which the depicted person’s reasonable expectation of privacy arose.”  Second, the statute does not require “intent to harm the depicted person,” or even knowledge “of the depicted person’s identity.”  Borrowing the language of civil law (meaning common law tort), one would say that the statute requires volitional intent, but not intent to commit a wrong or to cause an injury.

The requisite intent to survive constitutional challenge may be likened to “actual malice,” which is used in both civil and criminal defamation law to describe “knowledge of falsity or reckless disregard of truth or falsity.”  In the context of revenge porn, a constitutional law might require “actual knowledge of the depicted person’s reasonable and continuing expectation of privacy in the image, or reckless disregard of same.”  If Charlie knew the identity of Barbara, so might infer the circumstances under which the photo had been taken, then the State might at least allege recklessness.  Donna, who did know Barbara’s identity, might be charged.  But she should be entitled to defend upon a qualified privilege, borrowed again from common law defamation, to share information in the interest of a recipient or third party when the defendant should disclose according to general standards of decency.  A corrected statute would hold Adam accountable without a constitutional problem.

Also just last week, the Rhode Island legislature (my home state) passed a revenge porn bill (2018-H 7452A) that has the support of the Governor Gina Raimondo (AP).  Raimondo vetoed a revenge porn bill in 2016, objecting on free speech grounds (Providence Journal).  Her position now is bolstered by the Texas decision in Jones.  Beefing up the intent requirement is precisely one of the R.I. legislative fixes that brought the latest bill to fruition.  The Rhode Island bill requires that the defendant intentionally disseminated, published, or sold “[w]ith knowledge or with reckless disregard for the likelihood that the depicted person will suffer harm, or with the intent to harass, intimidate, threaten or coerce the depicted person.”

I still have qualms about extending the “reasonable expectation of privacy” (REP) standard—which is drawn from Fourth Amendment jurisprudence as a bulwark against improper state action—being extended into the realm of private criminal or civil liability.  REP is potentially much broader than the intimate-depiction definitions of revenge porn laws.  And criminalization and civil liability are not the same.  Even though criminal defamation is constitutional when qualified by actual malice, contemporary human rights norms discourage the criminalization of expression at all.

At the same time, I have argued in favor of evolving U.S. law to recognize downstream control of private information, in consonance with both American values in the information age and emerging global legal norms.  Revenge porn laws—as against Adam, to the exclusion of Charlie and Donna—are a modest step in that direction, which European observers will welcome of us.  We will have to remain vigilant to continue to protect freedom of expression in tandem with expanding privacy rights, especially in a time in which the latter at the expense of the former is the fashion.  Conscientious actors such as the Jones panel (Worthen, C.J., and Hoyle and Neeley, JJ.) and Governor Raimondo are doing well, so far.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Report from a Social Distance Week 7: For lockdown horror, 'Dr. Rick' prescribes hibachi, водка, and tulips

My new doorbell cam
spies a ne'er-do-well.
Quote of the Week:  "Murder hornets, but with the right lawyer, manslaughter bees. 🐝"  —attorney Jennifer T. Langley

Our stay-at-home order is formally lifted in Rhode Island as of today, May 9, though in this phase one, most restrictions remain in place as either mandates or recommendations.  I’m not eager to go out much myself until we have effective antibody testing, and then we'll see.  And we’ll have to hope and pray that our economic reopening doesn’t drive up the infection numbers.  Three days ago, with stay-at-home still in place, I saw dozens of kids playing basketball at Burr's Hill Park.  Parents were there, too.  “Knock it off,” Governor Gina Raimondo would have said.

Oh, I almost forgot the week's most exciting news.  Hitting the grocery store first thing in the morning, we scored a whole package of toilet paper!

Knock it off.  This is week 7.

What I’m Watching

Knives Out (2019).  This movie is a rollicking good time, an Oscar-nominated screenplay in the hands of a classic cast.  Daniel Craig, with a credible Mississippi drawl, proves why he’s so much better than Bond, and Jamie Lee Curtis, well, enough said.

Ozark s3 (2020).  I finally caught up, and there’s a reason why this show was viewers’ number one new binge in lockdown.  The show remains intense, not for the faint of heart.  I didn’t see coming that Helen would play such a pivotal role in season 3.  Now I have to make room on my top TV lawyers list, category: drama, for Janet McTeer’s Helen Pierce (link to spoilers).  This is not Newcastle UK-born McTeer’s first turn as a TV lawyer; she played Patty Hewes’s vengeful secret sister Kate Franklin in the final season (2012) of Damages.  In the Marvel universe, she’s Jessica Jones’s mom, Alisa Jones.

American Horror Story: 1984 (s9) (2019).  For me, AHS has never been able to top season 5’s super-creepy Hotel (2015-16), with Lady Gaga, but season 9 was enjoyable.  It’s AHS’s answer to Stranger Things, and I can’t get enough of these tongue-in-cheek ’80s tributes.  As usual, the anthology series assembles an all-star squad of regular and guest stars.  Carrie Fisher daughter and “Scream Queen” Billie Lourd well anchors the cast.

Locke & Key s1 (2020).  I was pleasantly surprised by the first couple episodes.  The show may fairly be described as YA, employing the convenient contrivance that the adults can’t see the evil spirits.  Nevertheless, it’s creative and cleverly executed.  Our teenage heroes occupy a haunted house, of sorts, in coastal Massachusetts.  Really the series is filmed mostly on finely crafted sets in Toronto with gorgeous outdoor scenes in UNESCO World Heritage Site Lunenberg, a port town on Nova Scotia’s southeastern coast.  I’m fast becoming a fan of lead actor Connor Jessup, who played Ben Mason in Falling Skies (2011).  The Locke & Key story is based on a 2008-13 graphic novel series (Amazon) of the same name and in a style that pays homage to H.P. Lovecraft (a Providence, Rhode Island, native, see also Atlas Obscura) and Richard Matheson (obituary).  A Fox pilot that wasn’t picked up, Locke & Key also was a 2011 TV movie by director Mark Romanek, who directed the recent s1e01 of Tales from the Loop.

Outer Banks s1 (2020).  I'm not going to pretend this is more than it is.  Another YA offering, sometimes I like to immerse myself in the equivalent of what my grandmother called her "stories," pretty people in the throes of impossible melodrama. Bonus, Outer Banks actually has a thrilling story from writer Shannon Burke and the filmmaker Pate Brothers. It's Treasure Island meets 90210, and I thought that before I learned that Burke's most recent and successful novel, Into the Savage Country (2016), was, he said, inspired by books including TI, Kidnapped, and White Fang.  The show totally confirmed my suspicion that my niece and nephews growing up on the OBX lead frenetic lives filled with intrigue, murder, and buried treasure, all interlaced with vertiginous adolescent lust.  The cast, the usual twenty-somethings pretending to be ten years younger, are mostly relative newcomers, well handpicked from the minor character ranks of such other recent features as Stranger Things, Black Lightning, and The Hate U Give.  On the adults-as-adults side, American Horror Story alumna Adina Porter, also a veteran of True Blood and Newsroom, turns in another spellbinding performance as Sheriff Peterkin.

Basic Versus Baller: Travel at Any Cost s1 (2018-19).  The perfect virtual escape from lockdown, I'm torn between loving these guys and burning with envy that I didn't think of this first.  Brothers Marko and Alex Ayling, "the Vagabrothers," went to university in southern California and were teaching English in Spain when they started vlogging in 2012.  They became a YouTube sensation and were invited to make 10 episodes of this show for Tastemade, an eight-year-old, Santa Monica-based, food-and-travel media company that has carved out a lucrative niche on the digital frontier.  The show is available on various platforms; I'm watching on Hulu.  The conceit is that in each episode, one brother gets to live the high life and the other has to hostel it, as they explore destination cities and their food worldwide.  Sponsorships figure in unobtrusively.  The competition angle is light-hearted, as the brothers succeed in sharing the delights of different price points and put local culture on center stage.

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL-TXSFxFLp5G0ZEePpmHEjyFWvCbxzYfC
Progressive adsProgressive Insurance—which has never had a worthwhile deal for me—has a hilarious new ad character, "Dr. Rick."  “Progressive can’t protect you from becoming your parents” is the theme; Dr. Rick's intervention was forecast by two also funny "parentamorphosis" ads seven months ago.  Two new 30-second bits are “Group Outing” and “Pillows.”  There’s also a 74-second mockumentary on YouTube.  Progressive’s faux Zoom lockdown ad, with Flo, is pretty funny, too.  Progressive uses the Boston-based ad agency Arnold, and Martin Granger directed.

What I’m Eating

Miku Japanese CuisineTo #Save­Our­Restaurants, we ordered curbside this week from nearby Miku: wonton soup, crispy calamari, pork gyoza, sesame chicken, and a ridiculous portion of hibachi chicken.

What I’m Drinking

Community House Blend.  A new order arrived from Community, and we started with the solid house blend, a medium-dark roast.

Водка Окно в Европу.  We took a short interlude from our gin habit.  The name of this Russian vodka by St. Petersburg-founded Ladoga Group translates to “Window on Europe.”  I brought it back from Russia, mostly for the pretty design on the bottle.  Inside, what can I say, it’s vodka.

Dry Line Cape Cod GinA Christmas gift from my wife, this briefly barrel-aged, organic-cane-sugar double distillation from South Hollow Spirits in North Truro, Massachusetts, leads with juniper berries harvested locally from eastern red cedars, and follows up with angelica root grown in a compost of Truro Vineyard grape skins.  My bottle is from small batch #10.  The Boston Globe aptly said it “has a soft bite,” and Drink Hacker likewise reported a “palate … extremely soft for a gin of this alcohol level,” 47% ABV, with a “sweet and lengthy” finish.

What I’m Doing to Stay Sane

Google Nest Thermostat and Hello.  We gained some distraction through home improvement and a socially distancing visit from our masked local technician.  Google’s thermostat gets a 👍 thumbs up; its doorbell gets a 👎 thumbs down.  The thermostat we bought to replace our broken one.  It’s pricey, but we expect to recoup savings from all those times we both leave home and forget to turn the heat off.

The Hello doorbell/security cam was a gift.  It makes a quality image and shares a futuristic look with the thermostat.  But it comes with a lot of shortcomings.  First, the Hello is almost useless without a paid subscription.  The device itself has no processing ability; it’s dumber than a mere motion sensor.  The Hello must constantly stream image to and from Google just to check for motion.  Hence, the subscription is necessary if you want the device to be anything more than a doorbell.  Second, the data stream eats bandwidth and will ruin you if your service is capped.  Third, the cloud-based detection algorithms have a long way yet to go.  The motion sensor is oversensitive, set off by trees and shadows.  The sound sensor is a non-starter on our busy street.  These shortcomings are all understandable for a work-in-progress product, but not for one that demands a monthly fee.  I have a Blink camera already, and I’m much happier with that.

Watching spring spring.  The tulips are opening, despite a continuing cold that diverges daily more from seasonal highs.  The birds are fighting it out for access to the feeder.  Sometimes #QuarantineLife is just about watching the grass grow.

Happy Mother's Day!


🌷🌷🌷🌷🌷🌷🌷

Photos and video except in "Watching" RJ Peltz-Steele 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 Stålenhag 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)]."]