Friday, January 20, 2023

Happy Friday

Nobody said that Ron DeSantis doesn’t have a sense of timing: two weeks before the start of Black History Month comes this bit of brilliance.

Florida will not recognize a newly created Advanced Placement African American studies course, with officialsarguing that the lessons are illegal under state law and that the class “significantly lacks educational value.”

The decision is the latest volley in Gov. Ron DeSantis’s long-running war on what he considers to be overly “woke” curriculum. The Republican governor is widely seen as positioning himself for a possible presidential run in 2024 and has made culture-war issues central to his political identity.

Florida’slegislature has enacted laws limiting how teachers can talk about subjects including race. A measure signed last spring, for instance, seeks to ensure that students are not made to feel guilty for racist acts carried out by others. “A person should not be instructed that he or she must feel guilt, anguish, or other forms of psychological distress for actions, in which he or she played no part,” the law states.

It was not clear, though, exactly what in the new AP class runs afoul of those limitations.

The decision was communicated to the College Board, which runs the AP program, in a letter last week that was released to reporters Thursday.

“In its current form, the College Board’s AP African American Studies course lacks educational value and is contrary to Florida law,” Cassie Palelis, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Education, said in a statement. “If the course comes into compliance and incorporates historically accurate content, the Department will reopen the discussion.”

She said that under Florida law, districts need state approval to offer a course to their students.

The AP African American studies course, an interdisciplinary class that draws from history, literature, political science, art and other subjects, is being piloted in about 60 public high schools across the country, the first new course offering from the College Board since 2014. It was unclear whether any Florida schools are included in the pilot program.

I’m not saying that Ron DeSantis is racist.  No, not at all.

Something to soothe the nerves.

Vanda orchid in bloom.

Thursday, January 19, 2023

If It Quacks…

From the Miami Herald editorial board:

Gov. Ron DeSantis seems intent on making Florida a sanctuary state for quack doctors.

In his latest legislative push, DeSantis is asking lawmakers in the 2023 session to pass a measure that “protects medical professionals’ freedom of speech” by stopping any punitive actions against those who deviate from “the preferred narrative of the medical community.”

Translation: Florida is issuing an open invitation to doctors to peddle conspiracy theories at will. We can already hear the punch lines. But this proposal is no joke.

DeSantis billed the proposal as a COVID-related measure. But imagine the wide vistas of crazy, far beyond COVID, that this could open up. Anti-vaxxers will be just the start. How long before miracle cures and mysterious “tonics” follow?

We could assume that this is just a lot of talk that won’t actually make much difference. After all, we trust doctors with our lives; they must have better sense than to fall for what is a political ploy. But then there’s Dr. Joseph Ladapo, Florida’s DeSantis-chosen surgeon general who has pushed ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine as legitimate treatments for COVID, though they are not. With him setting the tone for Florida’s medical community, that hope goes flying out the window.

DeSantis made his political calculation plain at his Panama City Beach press conference on Tuesday: “If a high quality physician is driven out of California, this is going to be the first place people are going to want to go.”

That’s aimed at California Gov. Gavin Newsom, whose blue state passed a measure last year that would let medical boards take action against doctors who spread false COVID information. But it almost doesn’t matter who it’s aimed at, as long as it helps elevate DeSantis to a national stage. This is about his drive toward the White House.

And the “free state of Florida” schtick was getting old. California gives him a whole new fight to pick. That’s one tip he picked up from his old mentor, Donald Trump. Sow division and stoke the flames of anger to turn out the base. Sadly, it works every time.

Of course, there’s another problem with DeSantis’ statement. “High quality” doctors are not the ones we’ll be getting if this measure succeeds. We’re more likely to get the bottom of the barrel with this move, not the cream of the crop. And at DeSantis’ side during Tuesday’s event? A Panama City dermatologist named Jon Ward, who has repeatedly pushed COVID conspiracy theories on Twitter, most recently that Lisa Marie Presley’s death was “brought to you by @pfizer and @moderna_tx.”

The governor didn’t offer much in the way of details when he unveiled his idea beyond a one-page “Prescribe Freedom” document that vowed to protect Floridians from something he called the “biomedical security state.” But it’s not really new. He tried a similar thing last year when he backed two bills that would have prevented medical boards from sanctioning doctors for their speech, including on social media. The bills died in committee, a rare defeat for the governor in the Republican-controlled Legislature.

This time, though, the governor has the Legislature even more in his thrall as lawmakers try to ride his coattails straight to Washington. The odds of him getting a measure like this through the legislative process are greater. It will be bad for our health, but at least it will serve the governor’s political purposes.

Proving that he would literally kill to become the next president.

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Grow A Spine

Josh Marshall on the unwillingness of some to point out who’s the crook here.

Over the last couple days I’ve read a dozen or more articles and newsletter briefs which describe the purported political disaster that is the Biden classified documents issue, then explain how it bears no comparison to the ongoing Mar-a-Lago scandal and then note that the difference and lack of comparison actually don’t matter because that’s how it is. Punchbowl runs through a list of Democratic lawmakers who are barely willing to make the distinction in public, let alone defend the President from the adverse comparisons. The headline of this Dan Balz column perhaps sums it up most nicely: Biden, Trump cases aren’t alike. The political system doesn’t care.

The deputy editor of the Post opinion section goes so far as to say that the Biden documents “should spell the end of any realistic prospect of criminal charges against former President Donald Trump” and lauds this as a wonderful thing since such charges would have been terrible for the country. Arrrghghghghg.

To state the obvious succinctly: we are the political system. We shouldn’t be afraid of stating clearly and loudly what happened here. Indeed, much of the press momentum behind this story is driven by Democratic sheepishness about it. Republican elected officials are going to town on it while Democrats try to avoid eye contact. That’s embarrassing. One instance here is at most administrative sloppiness; the other is willful theft of government documents, refusal to return them, claims to own U.S. government documents, ongoing obstruction of government attempts to retrieve the documents. Any of these Democratic elected officials should be spending whatever microphone time they have on this reiterating the gravity of Trump’s offenses.

Clearly, they think they are gaining some credibility or credit for evenhandedness but lying or actively misleading people — which is what they are doing — doesn’t make you credible. It certainly gains no credit in a capital still mostly wired for the GOP. We can’t dictate how the “political system” operates but we can choose what part we play in it.

Late Update: I was heartened to see this concise description of the issue from the defrocked conservatives at The Bulwark: “This is really bad because people are too dishonest or too stupid to grasp the difference between Biden’s documents and Trump’s documents.”

What the hell are they afraid of?  Some Republicans will unfriend them on Facebook or not come to their birthday party?  Sheesh.

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Welcome Back, Dan Fielding

“Night Court” is back and so is John Larroquette as Dan Fielding, the character that won him a ton of Emmys in the first iteration.

In 1985, John Larroquette won the Emmy for best supporting actor for his work in “Night Court.” Larroquette, a New Orleans native with a double bass voice and a 6-foot-4 frame, played Dan Fielding, the smarmy prosecutor assigned to the graveyard shift at a Manhattan municipal court. (Here is Entertainment Weekly’s appreciation: “Rarely has horny smugness been so convincingly portrayed.”)

Larroquette won again in 1986. And in 1987 and 1988. Then he declined to be considered for further awards.

“I didn’t want to outstay my welcome,” he said on a recent video call, from the study of his home in Portland, Ore., a black-and-white diptych of the playwright Samuel Beckett behind him. (Larroquette collects rare books, particularly Beckett first editions.) He had taken the character, he felt, to the limits of what the network would allow. The Academy of Television Arts and Sciences should give someone else a chance.

“It was a high-class problem, my God,” he said.

“Night Court,” an affable workplace comedy with a rich vein of absurdism, ran from 1984 to 1992 as part of NBC’s vaunted Thursday night bloc. Enjoying the stability and the camaraderie, Larroquette put in the hours until the end. But when the network offered him a spin off, he declined. His nine seasons as Dan had defined his professional life; he wanted to try other people on for size.

“I thought, I’ve done this for a long time,” he said. “If I let him die his natural death, maybe I can do another character elsewhere.”

But Dan Fielding didn’t die. On Tuesday on NBC, he approaches the “Night Court” bench once more. In the show’s reboot, a multicamera passion project for Melissa Rauch (“The Big Bang Theory”), Larroquette reprises his role — bearded, grayer, less able to leap a courtroom’s railing in a single bound.

[…]

On the original show, Larroquette had a talent for going big without ever seeming to show the strain. Marsha Warfield, who joined “Night Court” as the bailiff Roz in its fourth season, remembered his effortlessness, no matter how absurd the jokes. “He was fully committed to the insanity and all of the gags and things,” she said. “He made it look easy.” (How absurd was the original? “We had an episode where a ventriloquist’s dummy committed suicide,” Larroquette said. “Not the ventriloquist, but the doll.”)

While making this new version, Rauch noticed a similar facility. “It’s almost like watching a jazz musician riffing,” Rauch said, describing a scene in which Larroquette had to deliver his lines while shooting backward in a swivel chair. “He’s never not funny.”

But this reboot had gravitas, for Larroquette at least. Almost every major member of the core cast has died — Anderson in 2018, Markie Post and Charlie Robinson in 2021. While filming on a set that mixed pieces from the original production with recreations, he said, he sometimes would look over and see his old castmates as they had been.

“So it was sad,” Larroquette said. “It was. It hurt.”

Larroquette won’t do another nine seasons on this new “Night Court.” But revisiting the show seems to have helped him to accept the progress of his career and to acknowledge the original as a high point. Though a serious man, he has accepted that he is best loved and best remembered for portraying a pervy fathead. He joked that he looked forward to “Entertainment Tonight” setting his obituary to a slowed down version of the “Night Court” theme.

He is, he said, a clown, which he meant both in the Beckettian sense, a witness to the absurdities of life, and in the red nose one. The idea of going out the way he came in, making jokes about men arrested for lewd conduct, had started to feel pretty good.

“I was born a clown,” he said. “It was easier to make people laugh, and usually they wouldn’t beat you up if they were laughing. I’ve tried to live by that, just trying to make people laugh. You can’t think of your troubles if you’re laughing.”

“Night Court” was must-see TV for me and Allen.

Monday, January 16, 2023

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther KingToday is the federal holiday set aside to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday.

For me, growing up as a white kid in a middle-class suburb in the Midwest in the 1960’s, Dr. King’s legacy would seem to have a minimum impact; after all, what he was fighting for didn’t affect me directly in any way. But my parents always taught me that anyone oppressed in our society was wrong, and that in some way it did affect me. This became much more apparent as I grew up and saw how the nation treated its black citizens; those grainy images on TV and in the paper of water-hoses turned on the Freedom Marchers in Alabama showed me how much hatred could be turned on people who were simply asking for their due in a country that promised it to them. And when I came out as a gay man, I became much more aware of it when I applied the same standards to society in their treatment of gays and lesbians.

Perhaps the greatest impression that Dr. King had on me was his unswerving dedication to non-violence in his pursuit of civil rights. He withstood taunts, provocations, and rank invasions of his privacy and his life at the hands of racists, hate-mongers, and the federal government, yet he never raised a hand in anger against anyone. He deplored the idea of an eye for an eye, and he knew that responding in kind would only set back the cause. I was also impressed that his spirituality and faith were his armor and his shield, not his weapon, and he never tried to force his religion on anyone else. The supreme irony was that he died at the hands of violence, much like his role model, Mahatma Gandhi.

There’s a question in the minds of a lot of people of how to celebrate a federal holiday for a civil rights leader. Isn’t there supposed to be a ritual or a ceremony we’re supposed to perform to mark the occasion? But how do you signify in one day or in one action what Dr. King stood for, lived for, and died for? Last August marked the fifty-seventh anniversary of the March on Washington and Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech. That marked a moment; a milestone.

Today is supposed to honor the man and what he stood for and tried to make us all become: full citizens with all the rights and responsibilities of citizenship; something that is with us all day, every day.

For me, it’s having the memories of what it used to be like and seeing what it has become for all of us that don’t take our civil rights for granted, which should be all of us, and being both grateful that we have come as far as we have and humbled to know how much further we still have to go.

*

Today is also a school holiday, so blogging will be on a holiday schedule.

Sunday, January 15, 2023

Sunday Reading

The Show-Me State Disapproves of Showing Shoulders — Alexandra Petri in The Washington Post.

On Wednesday, the Republican-dominated Missouri House of Representatives decided to spend its one wild and precious legislative life focusing, laser-like, on the issues that matter most to the people of the state: the dress code for female legislators. All I can say is: Thank goodness!

The good people of the state of Missouri had been cowering for months in a state of panic, knowing that unless prompt, legislative action was taken on the very first day of the new session, some Missourian lawgiver might, without any warning, see a woman’s shoulder. I almost do not want to type it! I am sorry that you had to read the word, which may have forced you to picture one in your mind and derailed your legislative business for the month. Sh***der. That is better. I have already done too much harm.

Imagine the shock and horror of seeing a shoulder that belonged to a woman who was using it at the time! The mind reels. The jaw drops to the floor. I can think of nothing less respectful. A shoulder, covered not with a blazer, but with some sort of unstructured wrap — unthinkable! An abomination in the eyes of the law, and of all right-thinking citizens!

The new rule states that “proper attire for women shall be business attire, including jackets worn with dresses, skirts, or slacks, and dress shoes or boots.” Sweaters, formerly permitted, are right out! Cardigans were a subject of debate on the floor — could one possibly be adequate to do the duty of a blazer? After all, this is the Missouri legislature, not a Taylor Swift album! They had to think of the consequences.

I once saw a woman’s shoulder — in fact, two shoulders — not covered by a blazer. She was in a dress, supplemented by a drape of some kind, but that, as the legislators wisely noted in their statute, was not enough. It was a statue, on the top of the United States Capitol; I do not know what sick, disrespectful pervert put it there, but I am still recovering from the ordeal.

I thank the gods that I am not a male legislator (the ones most devastatingly affected by such sights). I read a story that one saw the Venus de Milo by mistake (he heard it was art) and is still in a hospital, groaning in agony.

We all know how many male legislators have suffered this fate, thanks to a previous dress code that did not pause for a moment to consider them as people. Those legions of men glimpsed a wrap, sliding precipitously down a human shoulder in the Missouri Capitol, and have had to give up public life entirely to spend their days screaming and staring at the wall.

Sometimes, at night, I still hear them, howling. Their lives, as they know them, have ended. So many lives, taken completely out of their owners’ hands and made to serve the whims of a legislature that didn’t think it was a big deal to allow shawls and sweaters, that didn’t take into account the impact on people’s lives of their careless words.

The people of Missouri sat there last year in the midst of major flash floods worrying: “Are my legislators going to protect their eyes from sh***ders? They had better focus on that,” they thought, “rather than the infrastructure. I know it is also important to try to make it more difficult to change the state constitution by ballot initiative, since the voice of the people might be heard, and that could be very awkward. But first! First, they must look to swaddling all those hideous, loathsome appendages and hiding them from view! Ugh, ugh!”

You would think that people so horrified by the sight of an innocent shoulder would not want to, voluntarily, delve any deeper into other people’s bodies and enact cruel, dehumanizing restrictions about their medical choices, but — you would be wrong.

Oh, the horror.  The horror.

Doonesbury — You are obsolete.

Saturday, January 14, 2023

Art Deco Weekend On Miami Beach

This is the only time I can get a good parking space on Miami Beach: when I take the Pontiac to the Art Deco Weekend car show.

This is from 2020, but you get the idea.

Friday, January 13, 2023

Thursday, January 12, 2023

Your False Equivalency Is Showing

Charlie Pierce on the document snipe hunt.

Oh, dear Lord. CNN is actually going to hunt the snipe.

Among the classified documents from Joe Biden’s time as vice president discovered in a private office last fall are US intelligence memos and briefing materials that covered topics including Ukraine, Iran and the United Kingdom, according to a source familiar with the matter. A total of 10 documents with classification markings were found last year in Biden’s private academic office and they were dated between 2013 and 2016, according to the source.

Oh, I have so many guesses on the “source.”

Attorney General Merrick Garland has assigned the US attorney in Chicago, a holdover from the Trump administration, to investigate the matter, CNN previously reported. Garland made this move after receiving a referral from the National Archives and Records Administration. The documents were discovered on November 2, just six days before the midterm elections, but the matter only became public Monday due to news reports.

What Garland is doing is what protocol demands. What NARA did is what protocol demands. The lag between the discovery of the material and the “matter becoming public” is explained by the Biden people doing exactly what the protocol demands, as even CNN seems to understand. And the documents also were discovered only four days before the Patriots beat the Colts, 26-3, for all that their proximity to the midterm elections matters.

This business about the midterms is to provide some ominous background music to what is, at best, a semi-story. (Ken Dilanian and Hallie Jackson on MSNBC also seemed hot in pursuit of this particular snipe on Tuesday afternoon.) The administration handled this the way it was supposed to be handled. As shocking as it may be to Dilanian and Jackson, telling the press is not part of that. So even the leak was an informal part of the Washington protocol.

The source told CNN that a personal lawyer for Biden was closing out the downtown DC office that Biden used as part his work with the University of Pennsylvania. The lawyer saw an envelope with markings indicating they were the former vice president’s personal documents, opened the envelope and noticed there were classified documents inside. The lawyer closed the envelope and called NARA, the source said. After making contact with NARA, Biden’s team turned over several boxes in an abundance of caution, even though many of the boxes contained personal materials, the source said.

In other words, the story stopped being newsworthy almost immediately. It should have been a one-line entry in a daily wrap-up column. Its only lesson should be that government officials, large and small, should not take classified material out of its secure setting, just because it’s a monumental pain in the ass for everyone involved if you forget you have it.

(Oh, and don’t stash them in your Pool Shed, and then lie to those nice National Archives people about it, and then stonewall the FBI when they come over for a chat.)

The newly empowered Republicans, of course, went predictably bazats on the whole business. Rep. Marjorie Taylor-Greene has already called for the president’s impeachment, and several others have called for ramped-up investigations. Most of the news coverage of this seems content to pretend that this isn’t a transparent attempt to use this moment to both-sides the ongoing investigation of the Pool Shed Papers.

Democratic Sen. Mark Warner, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has asked for a briefing on both episodes, surprising many with the fact that the committee has yet to be briefed on the Pool Shed Papers. This set off another burst of doomy organ music on the cable television news: “DEMOCRATIC CHAIRMAN wants a briefing…”

The snipes are migrating toward D.C. again.

This was written before a second set of documents was found, but it doesn’t change the fact that the Biden administration did exactly what they were supposed to do: turn them over to NARA immediately without a fuss or a search warrant.  So take your false equivalency and… well, you know where to put it.

Wednesday, January 11, 2023