Have you met me?

Readers react to docu-mental's take on the language of anti-abortion; plus, is this a South Jersey thriller?

vol. 1 issue 7


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Have you met me?

Thank you to those of you who wrote me personally to either shower me with praise or, as one reader (my son) did, declare my “face plant” into the swamp of partisan politics regarding my take on the language of abortion. I read and consider all feedback. And, again, don’t be afraid to have these conversations using the comments section.

But of my critics, I ask, “Have you met me?”

I don’t subscribe to any one dogma, and especially not the dogma of a group that has as its core the desire to overtake another group, which both Democrats and Republicans do. For more on that, please see docu-mental state of mind #3.

The confusion is my own fault, however. It’s a pitfall to be my own editor, because had I not been so heavy-handed with my chopping before publishing, this would have been the lede:

Although I follow and try to understand identity-driven politics, I haven’t ever been driven to act according to them. My experience is that adopting a particular point of view, whatever it happens to be, short circuits a need to think critically. Once you agree to follow a prescribed way of thinking, you run the risk of using platitudes and tropes as short cuts to get to the end of an argument. That, in turn, increases the risk that all the juices run out of your own powers of discernment.

But these days, I feel hated by my own government simply because I am a woman. So, I am paying close attention to what women are doing about the attack on reproductive laws — mostly by men. Women are not introducing laws that restrict women’s rights to healthcare, including options for managing her reproductive health and her future. It’s only men who are doing that.

Instead, figuring no one cared the impetus for my tuning into the language these men are using, I went straight to my point, which I was confident I clearly had made and still stand by:

That the language these men are using is self-serving, terrifying, and mean, and the thread tying them together was their affiliation with the GOP.

Meanwhile, as I noted before, there would likely be more women legislators proposing laws to tighten access to abortion. Federally, this still hasn’t happened, but it has in Louisiana where Rep. Katrina Jackson (D.-Monroe) introduced an anti-abortion bill that would add language to the state’s constitution explicitly absolving the state from protecting access to abortions or funding them.

Jackson’s bill has been overshadowed largely by the bill introduced by her Democratic colleague John Milkovich (D., Shreveport), and signed into law on Thursday by the state’s Democratic governer. Jackson has stated her support for the new law that bans abortions after 6 weeks. Federally, abortions are permitted up to 24 weeks.

What differentiates Jackson from the men I called out initially isn’t just that she’s a Democrat (and a woman), but that she has used rather sanguine language to achieve an aim she cares deeply about. Most glaringly, she doesn’t seek to attack women with an Old Testament ferocity that has no place in our political debate over anything. And, for what it’s worth, although Milkovich did invoke God when describing the new law — “God values human life, and so do the people of Louisiana,” — he didn’t explicitly attack women.

As I pointed out before, these other men — who, unlike Milkovich, are Republicans — choose to use language intended to bully women into submission to their point of view. Cripes, what on earth have the women in their lives have done to them (or them to the women, ahem) that has them so exercised and ready to smite, smote, and smear with God on their side?

It’s all so very, very personal to them. Kind of like, Shakespeare’s clever use of irony in Hamlet signaling a guilty party’s use of hyperbole to cover up said guilt: “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” Makes me wonder if these men have something to hide, and if so, what?

Jackson’s language is self-affirming, but does not weirdly associate her with having a direct line into the mind of God. And, notably, she is making a point to break with her party’s traditional point of view. Here’s what Jackson told the Washington Post:

“I don’t believe in being a cookie-cutter legislator, which means, you say, ‘Oh, what’s the party doing?’ she said. “When you have a sincerely held belief, you stand for that belief. That doesn’t mean you abandon your party. That doesn’t mean that you abandon anyone. That means that you understand that a one-size-fits-all approach to legislature doesn’t work.”

Further, she has kept the debate about states’ rights, as this quote from a local Louisiana news outlet indicates:

"This will show the world and our constituency and those who matter most, those who fight for life, that Louisiana is pro-life, holistically, not only as legislators, but as a constituency as well,” Jackson said.

The most colorful language I can find Jackson using publicly to describe her rationale for introducing the bill is from another local news source in Louisiana,

“This bill will finally give the people of Louisiana an opportunity to say that we are against the shedding of innocent blood in Louisiana," Representative Jackson told members of the committee.

If you don’t like what Jackson says, at least you can argue with her based on her principled interpretation of facts and precedent, the way law is intended to be parsed, not according to some self-important fantasy about being an emissary of God whom you would like to claim has given you special permission to terrorize women.

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Fairy Tale Hour

Credit: From The Emperor’s New Clothes by Hans Andersen. Edmund Dulac, illus., London: Hodder & Stoughton 1911

"Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence!"~ Carl Sagan, astronomer
"Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence!" ~ Donald Rumsfeld, 2x’s Sec. of Defense
"Evidence of absence is not absence of evidence!"— Confused sailors, USS John S. McCain
"Absence of evidence is absence of evidence!" — Random child in H.C.Andersen fairytale

Thursday’s Wall Street Journal reports that, while on tour in Japan where the USS John S. McCain is currently being repaired after an at-sea collision in 2017, POTUS 45 was shielded from seeing the destroyer, lest it upset him:

“U.S. military officials worked to ensure President Trump wouldn’t see the warship that bears the name of the late senator, a frequent target of the president’s ire.”

I read the article three times before I concluded that POTUS 45 probably did not know that when the Navy could not magically disappear the destroyer, crews were instead instructed to hang a tarp over the side of the big boat — and take the extra precaution of moving a barge between it and the dock — in order to hide the war ship’s namesake. For good measure, shore leave was given to the sailors whose uniform includes caps with “USS John S. McCain” embroidered on them.

I also concluded POTUS was probably tweeting the truth that he didn’t know from the get-go that anyone had tried to perform such a fabulous sleight of hand:

Even so, it reminded me of former NJ Governor Chris Christie’s defense of himself when his posse of protectors set about showing a small town Jersey mayor who wouldn’t accept protection, so to speak, from the heavy on the street, if you know what I mean, claiming that he did not know anything at all about the George Washington Bridge being shut down turning half hour commutes into four and five hour ones, because, you know, he would never do such a thing.

In the end, Christie, who continues to deny he knew anything about the ensuing Trafficgeddon, has never been charged, even though the underlings who were convicted of doing it say he knew all along, and even claim he ordered that it be done.

But really, whether POTUS and the Guv are telling the truth is immaterial.

In Christie’s case, why would his direct reports do something so bizarre and politically dangerous if they didn’t think they’d get cover from him? But okay, let’s believe he didn’t know. Then the obvious conclusion is that he created a culture where that would have been a normal action to take when someone fell out of line. Something to consider since Christie has ever so steadily been peeping out of his hole in Jersey an increasing number of critical chirps about the current POTUS than he had been willing to peep before, and all at a time when he says he is not ruling out a run for the presidency in 2024.

As for whomever the White House official was who sought to disappear a destroyer, I figure the same operating principal is at play.

Here’s what the WSJ reported:

“In a May 15 email to U.S. Navy and Air Force officials, a U.S. Indo-Pacific Command official outlined plans for the president’s arrival that he said had resulted from conversations between the White House Military Office and the Seventh Fleet of the U.S. Navy. In addition to instructions for the proper landing areas for helicopters and preparation for the USS Wasp—where the president was scheduled to speak—the official issued a third directive: “USS John McCain needs to be out of sight.”

“Please confirm #3 will be satisfied,” the official wrote.”

And today’s Washington Post reports that POTUS even said as much:

“Somebody did it because they thought I didn’t like him, okay? And they were well meaning,” he said. “I didn’t know anything about it. I would never have done that.”

Each example points to a larger truth: there exists in both POTUS’s and Guv’s wake a culture of butt kissing so pervasive, it is reflexive, even among people whose aim is actually just to serve not swindle and slight, even among people who otherwise might have the courage and sense to call out dumb stuff.

Before you write to me all in CAPS that plenty of Democrats do that, too, I agree. But they aren’t interesting to me right now. Everyone worth examination gets docu-mentaled, so just hang in there.

In any case, the POTUS mood-preserving prestidigitation got me to thinking about fairy tales, and in particular, Hans Christian Andersen’s The Emperor’s New Clothes.

You might remember it, but just in case:

A vain ruler paid two swindlers who claimed they could enrobe him in the finest clothes that only the smartest and most loyal could see, making it easy for the emperor to know who among his court were trustworthy.

The two untruthful tailors looked busy, sitting at their looms night and day, but in fact they didn’t spin a single thread.

As the honest and good among the town’s leadership were asked what they thought of the finery, they were stunned when they couldn’t see a stitch and concluded they weren’t as good, loyal, and true as they thought they were. They all shut their mouths and scuttled away, afraid of what might happen if they let the emperor see their unworthiness.

It wasn’t until guileless child said the emperor was naked that at last it was okay to tell the truth.

By then, the truth didn’t matter:

The Emperor shivered, for he suspected they were right. But he thought, "This procession has got to go on." So he walked more proudly than ever, as his noblemen held high the train that wasn't there at all.

On docu-mental’s bookshelf

I don’t think it’s possible to understand the american psyche without having a firm grasp of what has happened in the American West where a scramble to control our nation’s rich oil and mineral resources has always been frought, typically with blood.

The West is also the place where, often set against a landscape that is in extremis, Americans have either proven themselves cunning, daring, insane, or insanely daring in their cunning, all states of mind that do not lend themselves to laws and restrictions.

Reading David Grann’s Killer of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI, I was reminded of the starring role the landscape plays in american power struggles.

In the early 20th Century, beneath the Oklahoma land that the federal government had at first determined was useless and so “gave” to the Osage, it was discovered that there was oil. This meant that in the 1920s, the richest people per capita in the world were members of the Osage Indian nation thanks to their ownership of the oil headrights located there on the reservation.

Grann chronicles how dozens of the Osage, maybe even more, were murdered in carefully calculated schemes by white men who routinely collaborated in order to seize ownership of those oil rights. A motiff of nearly every killing — often reinforced by newspaper editorials and reporters — was that the Osage did not deserve their good fortune, and so it was only natural that whites should own the oil instead.

This sentiment, plus a spurious federal law predicated on claims that Indians were too simpleminded and debauched to handle their own business affairs and so must hire white men as their guardians. This essentially put the killer cats into the canaries’ cages; the greedy guardians — lawyers, cattle ranchers, and a self-proclaimed reverend who pretended to have the Osages’ best interests in mind — were tantalized into committing killing sprees to control much of the Osage wealth.

The dehumanization of the Osage by their murderers is so casual, it’s shocking, but also upsetting is the pervasive lack of curiousity surrounding their deaths, even at the FBI where once a victory was settled in favor of the agency and its director, J. Edgar Hoover, plenty of other murders were left uninvestigated. Add to that the vast influence of certain power brokers who could buy anyone with a promise and a favor, and the story reads like any good who dunnit.

Grann spins out the story like a fiction writer. He is so good at developing plot and weaving in characters and their possible motives for murder, that I found myself trying to guess what the ultimate summation of all the moving parts would be, just as I do when I read mystery novels. There is also the tragic element of how familial love cannot withstand the temptation of wealth. And it makes plain: In the face of tyranny, there is also extreme cowardice, enough to even sacrifice your own wife and children.

Grann also explores the era’s national ambivalence to having a federal law enforcement agency, and how Hoover used men who looked and acted a certain way to help overcome that ambivalence. Yet, the real work was done by a gritty Texas ranger who didn’t quite fit the image Hoover wanted his law men to have.

It’s notable in the context of today’s focus on the role of the FBI in national affairs.

I came away wondering:

Is societal evolution a spiral upwards that sometimes makes us look backward and think we’re not moving forward at all…?

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The Garden State:
Come for the pollution, stay for the corruption!

“Thank you, Kevin. Like the proverbial pig, we are now committed to the ham sandwich !!!!
“Cheers, K.”

I see an Osage parallel in this curious report on potential evidence of graft and corruption in New Jersey from Pro Publica. If you’re unfamiliar with Jersey politics, the basics are this: North Jersey and South Jersey. Two different states forced to act like they are one. North Jersey is where the Wall Street traders and hedge fund managers and all their wealth, and the NY Jets and Giants reside. South Jersey is where the Jersey Devil, the Pineys, the South Philly strivers (including a few stray mafiosos and their kin), and the battle for dominance over — or at least parity with — Philadelphia’s rich healthcare sector, and most important, the perennially broke city of Camden, are located. Yes, that ABSCAM Camden.

Plop into that goofy Southern stew, the familial power duo of George and Phillip Norcross, who sit on so many local corporate and nonprofit boards they probably have splinters in their backsides, and others like the author of that cryptic pig bit, and a few more like former Goldman Sachs banker, North Jerseyman, and Democrat ex-governor Jon Corzine, plus a pinch of ex-guv Republican Chris Christie, and you have all the ingredients for a South Jersey-styled felonious feast.

Or at least that’s what New Jersey’s current governor, Democrat Phil Murphy, thinks and so has tried to get to the bottom of why the brothers keep showing up as the beneficiaries of quite a bit of state and federal dough.

So far, that hasn’t worked out for him.

Don’t let the Rs and Ds confuse you about Jersey. They’re irrelevant. In Jersey, where about 15 years ago there was so much corruption even the corrupt and those they corrupted cried uncle and said, “Hey, guys! We need ethics training!” In Jersey, it’s all about the points on the compass — North and South, and the land inbetween, which is where the tax dollars predominately are tied, which is why whoever controls the land and what’s on it in this puny state with just under 1,200 people per square mile, you want to be that guy and his brother and maybe one of their ham sandwich eating buds.

There are a few parallels to the Osage, in my reading of this report, but the predominant one is Robin Hood Syndrome: one for you, fifty for me.

The Norcrosses are both loved and feared across the two Jerseys. And they have a third brother, Donald who is also powerful, but actually bothered to get himself elected to the US Congress for that power.

They’ve come under scrutiny before with no ill-effect so far, but ProPublica lays out some interesting plotlines similar to the Killers of the Flower Moon: control struggles over limited natural resources such as waterfront land and other once undervalued property now poised for redevelopment, including the campus and environs of a shiny new medical school gleaming on the Jersey side of the Delaware River, in plain view of the East Coast’s Medical Mecca — Philadelphia; powerful brothers acting suspiciously; guardianship over vast sums meant to benefit minorities; and investigations into wrongdoing that possibly don’t end well, at least not at first. And anyway, who really killed NJ Republican macher John Sheridan and his wife, and why?

Maybe it’s just business as usual in New Jersey. Maybe it’s a thriller in the making.

Friday Fun:

Photo credit: Francois Dourlen

Toot, toot! You can read my reviews of opera and classical music performed in Washington, DC and area venues here.

Have a great weekend and I look forward to seeing you twice a week starting next Tuesday and more podcasts! Don’t forget to pass this docu-mental along to people you think will enjoy it. Doing so supports grassroots thinking!