My job is not important. But I go into lives. While there I collect snapshots. One life sticks with me. He was older. He would not let me read or hold the file, but sat at the small round table in the prison while I sat opposite. In his 40s, still coughing and husky from a recent cold, he read aloud from the narratives. Some were from the paramedics. One princely story was from an officer. He read, or perhaps recited, into my office’s tape recorder, session after session, skipping gore and anything else he thought too personal, announcing “propusk” (“omission”) at each cut.

The omissions were not for my benefit. They were not for anyone’s benefit but his own. Even here he could not bring himself to bring certain words into the world. As long as he could keep the words trapped on the paper, part of a world he did not think about, then the words and the world they represented could not affect him. Or that is what I hope he thought. There is a calming, reassuring logic to it. Twisted but understandable.

I needed to know whether he was sane. Several other people were similarly interested. Part of the process was noting his reactions and hearing his theories regarding his defense. If he could provide a cogent, coherent narrative of his own to provide to the court then there was a sign of sanity and therefore competence. In a perverse way his ability to help himself was his biggest liability. If he had that ability he would lose his best defense. If he did not have that ability, he had a defense.

He thought his father was part of a large conspiracy. The conspiracy extended, as conspiracies inevitably do, to the police. The walls of his house were also implicated. They hid the enforcers, the whisperers, that flourished in the wall space. In retaliation he would pour and rub lotion along the walls. Bottles on bottles. I saw the photos of empty bottles stacked on top of each other. If only he was richer this would all be considered eccentric, but since he was poor he was crazy. He poured lotion on the walls and was irrationally distrustful of his father. Such is life among the Naciremas. Dove would have sponsored him if only he had more followers on Twitter.

But they did not. He had no followers. He got worse. Perhaps some of it was an accident he had. Perhaps some of the disease was meth speaking. There was no reason for why it could not be both. His eyes did not dart. His fingers did not tremble. There was nothing that indicated sustained usage. His teeth sparkled. The sparkle was muted but by comparison to some of his peers they radiated a reassuring haze of healthy living. He read. I watched. An associate took notes. The recorder lived out its life hearing but never speaking, poor thing.

I was reminded of a homunculus: a being who is soul-less until instructed in certain rites. His expression and affection was blunted. He was accused of stabbing his father in the neck with a small wood knife. But the accusation did not touch him. I asked him if he understood the situation. He replied yes. I explored further. Did you stab your father? Yes. Is it because you suffer from delusions? He seemed to grin. From the side it was a grin. But he was only showing his teeth. Social niceties, in all their oddness, do not leave the insane. That is all the commentary social niceties deserve.

Did you stab your father because he was conspiring against you? He gave the most condescending, dismissive and empathetic chuckle. Empathy was not something I expected. No one expects empathy. He replied you do not believe me. No I don’t. I know. But do you know why I don’t believe you? Doesn’t matter what you believe. I stared at him. He stared back. I want to tell the judge what happened. Tell me what happened. My father was attempting to kill me and off he went. The rendition was not earnest because emotion could not escape the blunted face. Thick fingers held themselves firmly in his lap. But an energy was there. A foot tapped. Perhaps it was his.

Los eruditos a la violeta is a satirical work (1772) by the Spanish poet and essayist José Cadalso y Vázquez. It attacks pseudo-erudition by offering would-be scholars lessons on how to appear to be learned without too much reading. Like all satire it picked a slow, large and undefended target. The cultural aristocracy of the late 18th, especially in Spain, fulfilled those requirements. I have no idea why it came to my mind at that point. There was something about the man’s stance. His slow, elaborate and unnecessarily deliberate explanation could have been the root. Or his stance. He had crossed a leg over his other. No chains because this facility was not constructed on a Hollywood set. Yet striped orange pants and shirt were too absurd looking to be believed.

In short, he looked like a professor or a parody of one. Not an affable parody. Not a Pnin or Charles Kinbote. Our man’s work, dear reader and his life. His drugs, his analysis, his self-pity, his delusions and his moods take on a curiously hermetic quality. He comes to resemble some minor medieval scholastic, desperately scrabbling around in categories of his own imagining. But even the most obscure theological speculation usually had as its goal something of significance. From his musings, however, nothing followed and nothing would ever follow. They were not subject to proof and they had no intelligible wordly application except as abstruse apologetics for this man’s humanity. I sighed. I carefully slide the file back to my side of the table. Thank you for your time.

I think about that day quite a bit. I hope to have more like it.

Analyzing the ‘You Have Nothing to Hide’ Argument

Analyzing the ‘You Have Nothing to Hide’ Argument

In this short essay, written for a symposium in the San Diego Law Review, Professor Daniel Solove examines the nothing to hide argument.  When asked about government surveillance and data mining, many people respond by declaring: “I’ve got nothing to hide.”  According to the nothing to hide argument, there is no threat to privacy unless the government uncovers unlawful activity, in which case a person has no legitimate justification to claim that it remain private.  The nothing to hide argument and its variants are quite prevalent, and thus are worth addressing.  In this essay, Solove critiques the nothing to hide argument and exposes its faulty underpinnings.

Ham Sandwhich Nation: Due Process When Everything is a Crime

Ham Sandwhich Nation: Due Process When Everything is a Crime

“Though extensive due process protections apply to the investigation of crimes, and to criminal trials, perhaps the most important part of the criminal process — the decision whether to charge a defendant, and with what — is almost entirely discretionary.  Given the plethora of criminal laws and regulations in today’s society, this due process gap allows prosecutors to charge almost anyone they take a deep interest in.  This Essay discusses the problem in the context of recent prosecutorial controversies involving the cases of Aaron Swartz and David Gregory, and offers some suggested remedies, along with a call for further discussion.”

Today I Noticed

Judicial activism, n: the result of a decision that contradicts one’s own beliefs.

I have heard that social sciences are not sciences, they’re humanities. If that’s the case then the sciences must be the inhumanities.

“Forward!” The current administration’s admonition that reflects their awareness that we do not like what they have done previously and we like less what they are doing right now.

Privileged, adj. A signpost used to indicate the end of calm, reasonable discussion. “You are privileged, thus!” Alternatively, “I am less privileged, so.”

Atheists, n. The most oppressed people on the internet. Go ahead. Ask them about it.

Literature, n. A manuscript where the editor doesn’t know three or more words.

Myriad, n. Used too often.



Windsor Ruling

The point of departure for my reflection today is a quote from Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio. Anderson is a little obscure in our time, and perhaps rightfully so. His best book, by far, was Winesburg, Ohio. His other writings, with a few exceptions, are pitiful companions in comparison. If there’s anything we cannot stand, except amongst our friends, it is failure. It is not enough to simply succeed.

I’ll quote the passage in full.

That in the beginning when the world was young there was a great many thoughts but no such thing as a truth. Man made the truths himself and each truth was a composite of a great many vague thoughts. All about in the world were the truths and they were all beautiful.

The old man had listed hundreds of the truths in his book. I will not try to tell you of all of them. There was the truth of virginity and the truth of passion, the truth of wealth and of poverty, of thrift and of profligacy, of carelsssness and abandon. Hundreds and hundreds were the truths and they were all beautiful.

And then the people cam along. Each as he appeared snatched up one of the truths and some who were quite strong snatched up a dozen of them.

It was the tuths that made the people grotesques. The old man had quite an elaborate theory concerning the matter. It was his notion that the moment one of thee people took one of the truths to himself, called it his truth, and tried to live his life by it, he became a grotesque and the truth he embraced became a falsehood.”

The sad reality is that our country’s moral, law-abiding citizens left the streets and the ballot boxes to the mob. Neither straight nor queer citizens felt it their duty to advocate their position persuasively. Ultimately, the country decided that the enforcement of the law against mob rule and intractable evangelical movements was none of their business. The Supreme Court would ‘get the job done.’

The court was asked to step into the gap–that is, something neither our absent President nor the equally inconspicious represenatatives of the American body politic felt called upon to be. The Supreme Court, in a curious mix of coincidence and design, were given the opportunity to do what should have been done a long time ago. In no small way, my hat goes off to them. The majority, and the equally prominent minority dissent, performed up the standards that the nation holds them to.

Now if only the nation would itself to those same standards! For what strikes me the most about the decision is the impressive futility and needles embitterment of all parties concerned. Going into the decision they all seemed to know very well that nothing was being achieved under the auspices that something was being done. The Court bailed them out, literally and figuratively. The court also bailed out the country as a whole because America has failed. But that the Supreme Court had to, finally, step in and decide the issue is an unpleasant situation. “I tremble,” Thomas Jefferson remarked, “when I think God is just.”

I understand that the issue that confronted the court was not an easy one. Speaking from first principles. discrimination is a requirement of society. Without it our society, and all societies, would discontinue. The possibility of free association and group conglomeration would end. The question is not how to abolish discrimination, but how to keep it confined within the social sphere, where it is legitimate, and prevent its trespassing on the political and the personal sphere, where it is destructive. From the standpoint of the daily grind, there were two embittered political sides that were slowly waging a war of unsightly attrition at each other. It was a race to the bottom and once there those who had lived on the bottom–the worst of democracy’s excess–rose to prominence on the back of their experience there.

As Arendt summarized, “Liberals fail to understand that the nature of power is such that the power potential of the Union as a whole will suffer if the regional foundation on which this power rests are undermined… If the various sources from which power springs are dried up, the whole structure becomes impotent. And states’ rights in this country are among the most authentic sources of power… for the Republic as a whole.” I think we do. She nails it. In an effort to spread the truth of equality, this truth was lost. The court became a grotesque. Instead of allowing the United States to confront its demons it has dragged out the battle. A hollow, legalistic victory has won out over one of true change.

When the Supreme Court accepted the mantle and perogative of doing something the states themselves should have been attempting a long time ago, much less the people that inhabit them, it accepted a corrupted role. A role that I do not agree with. Social change is not a top down affair, but a bottom up one. In that vein I find the dissent proposed by Scalia to be especially worthy of mentioning. I’ll look at it in fuller detail at a latter time. For now, however, I want to throw some ashes on the majority opinion, the Americans who made it necessary and even myself–I certainly was not out there in the streets fighting for equal rights.