Should This Teacher Have Been Fired?

We’re in a whole new era of once-private behavior spilling over into the public domain via social media. The rules are fluid, and as is usually the case, applied differently to men and women.

Case in point: A young female math teacher in Long Island, reportedly highly skilled and on the verge of getting tenure, sent a topless nude photo of herself to her then-boyfriend, a colleague she was dating. The photo became public, her students began passing it around, and she was suspended from her job and then fired. She is suing to be reinstated, or for compensation on the loss of her job.

Anthony Weiner went to jail for his online sexting photos, which he sent to minors — despite his political power as an elected official. Jeff Bezos basically told the National Inquirer to buzz off for his indiscreet pics, and has seemingly suffered no adverse consequences — his marriage was already on the rocks.  Bezos came at his battle from a position of wealth and power that gave him defenses most of us will never have. This young woman lost her job over her topless photo, and will have trouble getting another one in her field. She had no cards to play, really, not even the protection of tenure.

By now we all know, have to know, that compromising photos — and I’m revealing my age when a call a nude topless pic a “compromising photo” — sent online, even to a single trusted person, are likely to wind up circulating on social media forever. People can also be victims of doctored photos, made to look like nude pics of them; Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has had fake nude photos of her posted to the Internet. You can question this young teacher’s maturity, or her judgment or her choice of men — although apparently not her intelligence or teaching ability.

We’ve all had teachers. Many of you have been teachers, or have worked in school buildings with teachers. Some of you are parents, or trusted aunts, uncles, or grandparents. If you were this young woman’s principal, or served on the school board whose members ultimately made the decision, would you have fired her? Why or why not?

Lyra McKee: The Lingering Toll of The Troubles

“The Troubles” is the name for the long violent struggle between mostly Protestant Northern Ireland, part of the UK, and mostly Catholic continental Ireland, which is independent. The Troubles formally ended in 1998, with the Stormont Agreement. But clearly the strong ethno-religious differences have never really been resolved, and Brexit is stirring them up again.

Lyra McKee, a very promising 29 year old journalist, was killed during riots in Derry, or Londonderry — the city’s name depending on which faction you belong to. The city is Derry to Catholics/nationalists and Londonderry to Protestants/unionists. McKee was apparently not necessarily the target of the new IRA; she is said to have been standing too close to a police car that was a target.

Read this brave, articulate, and wise letter to her younger self in the London Guardian, and tell me if you share my sense of loss at such a tragic and unnecessary death.

Getting to Know Seattle: From Old to New

Seattle neighborhoods are known for Craftsman homes, built at around the same time as my stucco Tudor home in Rochester, NY — late 1920’s, early 1930’s. The Craftsman homes are not usually very large, and they are often on small lots — making adding to their space difficult. But they are filled with fine architectural detail and skilled wood work. These are features you don’t get in newer condo buildings in downtown Seattle — even at a 1M price point for a two bedroom. The home I live in now, belonging to daughter Sara, is a fine example of the period.

Slowly, the Craftsman homes are being razed and replaced with modern structures — more space efficient, but they change the character of the neighborhood. I passed these homes today on my way downtown, on opposite sides of a steep street.

Old giving way to new…

If you had a choice, which place would you live in?

What Bothers Me Most About the Mueller Report

Jonathan Freedland, writing for the London Guardian, hit the nail on the head. What the Mueller report reveals is that guys who cheat and play dirty win over guys who follow the rules.

Time after time, Mueller made judgment calls that helped the president. Sure, Trump wanted to obstruct justice – but he was blocked by aides who didn’t “accede to his requests”, so, for Mueller it didn’t count (as if obstruction has to be successful to be a crime). To allege obstruction, one has to know the intention of the alleged obstructor and that requires an interview with the accused: but when Trump refused to speak to Mueller in person, the special counsel decided not to use his legal right to subpoena the president, because that would have caused a “substantial delay” and the pressure was on to wind up the investigation. But who exactly was demanding Mueller wrap up? Why, it was Trump and his cheerleaders of course. Mueller emerges as a ref who allowed himself to be bullied by an especially belligerent star player.

But this is about more than a mere difference of personalities, with gangster Trump running rings around his boy-scout pursuers. It’s about a difference in political culture. For the Trump presidency, exposed in all its ugliness in the Mueller report, is predicated on a willingness to shred the rules and norms that sustain liberal democracy – and it relies for its success on the unwillingness of liberal democracy’s guardians to do the same.”

The bottom line is that those of us who viscerally oppose Trump in all his sleazy outrageousness have no tools as yet that are capable of containing him. That applies to Congress, the judiciary, the press, and ultimately to us, the voters.

One thing that I think might work — and I hope the Democratic ticket in 2020 uses it — is to apply the psychological strategies that help narcissistic patients manage their behavior, only in reverse. I hope the Democratic candidates use those tools to provoke Trump, spin him out of control whenever they can. Dirty politics? I suppose so. In the era of Trump, that’s what we all become.

The Big Reveal

I’m absolutely disgusted at the flimsy results of the Mueller report. Analysis is early yet, but here’s what I see so far:

From the get-go, Mueller defined collusion/collaboration/conspiracy, or whatever you want to call the overwhelming number of contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives, as “the presence of a formal agreement.” No one thought that even Trump or his dullard son Junior were that stupid.

Simply by saying “I can’t remember” and stonewalling an interview with Mueller, Trump gets to skate on the obstruction of justice charge. Is this how we’re going to treat white collar criminals now, or only Trump?

Obstruction failed, according to the Mueller report, when underlings refused to carry out Trump’s orders. That’s like a mob boss hiring a hit man who fails to kill the target, then having law enforcement exonerate the boss of any crime.

AG Barr and the Republicans in Congress know that as long as they have formal power and a cult-like coterie of Trump supporters, what Democrats or anyone else thinks doesn’t matter.

The message is clear to foreign powers who want to continue meddling in our elections: as long as the meddling is in Trump’s favor, there will be no consequences and no attention paid.

Speaker Pelosi has a difficult path ahead. Polls show that people are tired of the Russia investigation. That said, there has been serious damage done to the integrity of our elections. Democrats won the House in 2018 based not on Trump’s failings, but on health care and confronting the bias of the tax cuts in favor of the rich. What do the Dems focus on now, leading up to 2020?

Totally aside from Trump, we have a serious problem of cyber security, protecting the right to vote, and warding off foreign interference in 2020. Trump has diverted the Department of Homeland Security to focus not on that, but on the ragtag caravans at our southern border. He has no idea about cyber security — he doesn’t even use a computer. Nor is he willing to acknowledge the foreign thumb on the scale that tainted his election.

We have tax cuts that favor the rich and increase inequality, conservative judges well out of the mainstream, and deregulation that fuels the damage of climate change. Other than that, according to Trump and his lackeys, things are just fine and we should still be thinking about locking Hillary Clinton up.

We’ve gone from incompetent and self-serving to disgusting. And yet Trump might still win a second term.

The London Guardian on the Big Reveal

OK, this is an opinion piece, not news reporting from the London Guardian’s Richard Wolffe. But none of the thousands of words that will be written or spoken about The Big Reveal will say it better.

The gravitational singularity of the Trump Hole provides a stark contrast between the principled, rational and precise arguments of Mueller’s lawyers and the brazenly, barkingly mad bullshit that emerges from Donald Trump and everyone who surrounds him.”

The Royal Baby

British tabloids think Harry and Meghan owe them an early photo shoot of the newest royal baby, complete with Meghan dressed up and in heels only hours after the birth, just like her sister-in-law Kate. Harry and Meghan, whose child will be far down in the pecking order of who becomes king or queen, think they deserve private time as a family before introducing the newest royal to the world.

The kerfluffle points to a bigger issue, I suspect. Brits love Queen Elizabeth, and thus royalty in general. But what will the monarchy be after her death? Charles and Camilla are far less popular. Their reign, if it comes about, will be like a divot in the royal line until Will and Kate can take over. That dull indentation could be costly to the attachment between the Brits and their sovereigns. Supporting the sprawling monarchy costs the British people a lot of money. Queen Elizabeth is important to the British sense of identity, a living institution. She’s worth every pound sterling, as they say. Charles and Camilla… not so much.

Going back to the opening point of this piece, I strongly support Harry and Meghan introducing their baby to the world when they and the child are ready. The tabloids will have to wait.

AG Barr

I had hopes that AG Barr, although far more conservative than I, would be an honest defender of impartial justice, a “lawyer’s lawyer”, as was said of him before he took office. What a foolish hope that was. His history as the architect of pre-emptive pardons for senior Reagan administration officials involved in Iran Contra proves predictive. Barr is defining his role as AG as personal defender of Trump and an administration official at the forefront of carrying out Trump’s most vindictive policies.

Over the two years he’s been in office, Trump has gotten rid of people with independent expertise and voices — think Mattis — and filled those jobs with sycophants. The damage being done to the credibility of our democratic institutions is inestimable. Our justice system operates because people trust that for the most part, it’s fair. It hasn’t been fair for a lot of marginalized communities. But the majority perception is one of fairness and impartiality. Once lost, I’m not sure how that trust is rebuilt.

The 2020 election is clearly going to be close. I’m wondering what will turn the tide for enough of the 42% who voted for Trump so that they change their votes. Trump has appealed to strong white nationalist sentiments, and those are clearly more powerful and more widespread than I imagined. I’m wondering when the business community, which normally leans Republican, gets tired of the turmoil and chaos. Trump’s tax cut was hugely beneficial for them. They don’t much care about immigration on the southern border, although they do need high skilled workers on H1-B visas. They can’t possibly have any respect for the way Trump is running the country. If they ran their businesses this way, they’d be ousted. Do business leaders care about justice, and the public perception of the justice system? I’m not sure they do.

Berlusconi in Italy, a Trump-like buffoon, stayed in office for eight years. Italy is still standing, but who knows in what shape behind the facade of a functioning country.

Watching Notre Dame Burn

I was at the gym on the treadmill watching CNN when pics of Notre Dame du Paris burning came on. Evident almost from the first appearance of flames and smoke was that this would be a catastrophic fire.  Nearly destroyed is the iconic 12th-14th century structure that sits at the heart of Paris, of the Roman Catholic Church, and is of significant artistic and architectural importance globally. The inferno gripping Notre Dame was terribly hard to watch.

Apparently these centuries-old buildings undergoing construction repairs –filled as they are with dried out wood and flammable art — are primed for catastrophic fires.

I’ve been at Notre Dame du Paris twice, once many years ago, and once in recent years when I stayed with my friend Jane in that fabled city. Although TV commentators are talking about how long it will take to rebuild the cathedral, anyone who has been there knows that much of what was destroyed is irreplaceable.

Structures are important to us, especially ones like Notre Dame that convey a sense of permanence. We don’t expect such massive stone edifices to fall.

Buddhism teaches us much about the impermanence of life. Sacred mandalas, sand paintings, are created by the work of several highly skilled monks over many weeks. Then, after contemplation of the beautiful work of art, the mandala is swept up and the sand deposited into a nearby body of water. We have, and then what we have is gone. Such is the nature of life.

But those of us who have not cultivated the Buddhist sense of detachment are devastated when something like Notre Dame du Paris falls.

This is a different loss from the Twin Towers, because injury and loss of life was limited. But the loss is immense nonetheless. That something so beautiful, a building that has stood for centuries and which was still a living faith community, could be consumed and destroyed in a matter of hours, is almost unimaginable. And yet here we are, with soot and ashes and our belief in permanence gone up in flames.

Trump’s Disdain for Norms

We’re in a slow-rolling crisis of democracy, with a president who disdains all norms other than those that measure his personal enrichment and scorecard on winning. His cabinet heads are Acting, so that Congress is prevented from inquiring about their philosophy of governance and their competence. His appointments to major bodies like the Federal Reserve are ludicrously unqualified. He rebuffs any attempts by Congress to exercise legitimate oversight. His white, male conservative judges are often shockingly unqualified. Yet Mitch McConnell shovels them through the confirmation process anyway. Trump refuses a legally well-grounded request to hand over his taxes. I personally believe that even if ordered to do so by the Supreme Court, he will refuse. He’s learned that there are no consequences from his base, and therefore no consequences from a Republican majority in the Senate.

Trump has brought out the worst in his core supporters, who seem untroubled by his trashing of the norms of democracy and eagerly join in when he attacks women, Muslims, people of color, immigrants legally seeking asylum — pretty much anyone he deems useless in his efforts to increase his family wealth and power.

This presidency is a disaster for our country, and the fact that 42% of Americans seemingly are in full-throated support boggles the mind.

Anyone for a Buttigieg/Stacey Abrams ticket, with either on top of the ballot? One focuses on competence, the other on voting rights. What a concept for a democracy.