ARE WE NOT ENTERTAINED?

On Monday night, Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin, in the course of what appeared to be a routine tackle, received a hard hit to the chest. He got up from the turf, stepped backward, then collapsed.

Since his fall, the public has fixated on Hamlin’s condition. By the time the game was officially suspended with 5:58 left in the first quarter, it had become the most watched “Monday Night Football” game in ESPN history. The story was front page news on the New York Times for three consecutive days, matching the coverage devoted to the vote for House Speaker and the war in Ukraine . Hamlin’s online toy drive, which had a goal of $2,500 before his collapse, soon topped $8 million in donations. President Biden called Hamlin’s parents to offer support, then tweeted about it.

Why the fascination? Damar Hamlin is a well-respected and well-liked athlete, but he hardly qualifies as a superstar. He was a 6th round draft pick in 2021, and was used sparingly in his rookie year. He did not win a starting position until September, when his teammate Micah Hyde suffered a neck injury.  It is safe to say that before his collapse, few sports fans outside Buffalo knew much about him. Yet he has become a national celebrity, with millions of people, including many who do not even follow football, keeping up with the daily medical updates and praying for his recovery.

The answer may lie in the trade that we strike with the superbly conditioned men and women who entertain us by playing professional sports. They are our heroes. But they are not our gods. The distinction is important and relevant to the trade.

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THATCHER THE DOG, R.I.P.

My wife, who rises earlier than I do because she has the morning dog-walking duties, woke me the other day to tell me that Thatcher was not moving.

Thatcher is a Goldendoodle or “Groodle,” a species developed in the 1990s by crossing a Golden Retriever with a Poodle. She joined our family about the same time our youngest child graduated high school and headed off to college. Thanks to Thatcher, we did not become empty-nesters.

The previous day, my wife had taken her on a five mile hike. That night, she lay by my feet in the living room, asleep by the fire, while I binged on White Lotus. When I got up to go to bed, I stepped over her carefully and wished her a good night. Sometime that night, she had stirred, moved to our bedroom, lain down, and died quietly without disturbing us.

When my wife woke me, Thatcher was lying beside our bedroom door, facing toward the patio. It appeared that she had been thinking of going out. Instead, she died as she had lived, causing no trouble.

She was just shy of 13, a long life for a dog.

Thatcher had the sweetest disposition an animal could have. She was visibly overjoyed when anyone – friend, relative, postman, deliveryman — rang the bell. She raced to the door to welcome the visitor and to ascertain by a hurried nasal inspection where he had recently been, whether he had pets, and whether he was carrying treats. She held a firm conviction that any creature walking on two legs was put on Earth to play with her.

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AVERTING FUTURE GRINER DEALS

No sooner had WNBA star Brittney Griner and convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout crossed paths on the tarmac at the Abu Dhabi airport than the debate began in this country: Was the United States fleeced when it gave up Bout for Griner, while leaving former Marine Paul Whalen behind?

The arguments on both sides have been fervid, often verging on the vituperative. Critics say Griner was not worth the trade. They have referenced the time she refused to come out of the locker room for the national anthem; “Brittney Griner Hates America” is trending. On the other side, supporters of the deal have blamed “pay inequity” for Griner’s arrest, arguing that sexism compels WNBA athletes to play in hostile countries like Russia to earn extra income. Some have also mentioned that Whalen is no angel; he received a “bad conduct” discharge from the Marines, due to larceny.

All this sniping misses the point. The swap’s significance transcends Griner, Bout, and Whalen. It even transcends Russia. The trade is a symptom of a new and dangerous form of warfare being waged against this country by several foreign governments: seizing and holding American citizens to humiliate the United States and to advance these nations’ foreign policy objectives.

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AFTER THE MIDTERMS

In 2010, President Obama, surveying the wreckage of his Party in the midterm elections, deemed the results a “shellacking.” In November, President Biden may soon be appropriating the same term, or seeking a synonym. But Republicans will face an identity crisis in the wake of midterms victory, and that crisis could prove more dangerous to the GOP than defeat at the polls may prove to the Democrats.

Polls show Republicans poised to take control of the House of Representatives and possibly the Senate. Granted, there are good reasons to view these polls with skepticism. But those reasons suggest that the polls, if inaccurate, are probably understating the Republicans’ prospects, not overstating them.  Andrew Prokop of Vox has analyzed 48 close (within 10 points) Senate elections from 2014 to 2020, and found 40 elections in which polling understated Republicans’ margins by an average of 5 percentage points. In contrast, he found only 8 elections in which polling understated Democratic candidates’ margins, and then by an average of only 1.8 percentage points.

Nate Cohn of the New York Times notes that only 0.4% of pollster dials result in a completed interview. That means that a pollster must spend two hours making calls to obtain a single response. Republican voters, already suspicious of pollsters, are more likely than Democrats to be among the huge majority ignoring such calls.

In addition, between now and November 8, the numbers, to the extent they move at all, are likely to move favorably for the GOP. In late September, the Real Clear Politics average of polls projected Republican gains in the House in the range of 5 to 38 seats. This week, the range has grown to 12 to 49 seats. If these trends continue, the range will almost certainly be higher on election day, meaning that a Republican net gain of 50 House seats is a real possibility.

Turning to the Senate, Republican candidates are moving up in all of the toss up races. As with the House, the current crop of polling results likely understates the dimensions of the coming Democratic disaster. The Real Clear Politics website projects a net gain of 3 seats, meaning a 53 – 47 Republican majority. (We may have to wait until December to see the final numbers because neither Party candidate is likely to surpass 50% in Georgia – necessitating a runoff the following month under that state’s peculiar rules.)

Again the RCP projection may understate GOP prospects. It assumes the Democrats will hold the New Hampshire and Washington senate seats occupied by incumbents Maggie Hassan and Patty Murray. But Hassan has seen her lead over Don Bolduc shrink from 7.6 points in September to 3.4 points, and Murray has seen her lead over Tiffany Smiley diminish from 13.7 points to 5.0. Republicans have a real shot at flipping one or both seats.

To sum up, on November 8 we may well see a Republican “wave” election, in which the GOP not only secures control of Congress, but does so decisively, gaining close to 50 seats in the House and 4 or 5 seats in the Senate.

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A CALIFORNIA COURT’S DECISION DEFINING BUMBLE BEES AS “FISH” IS A LOSS — FOR CALIFORNIA COURTS

Last week, the California Supreme Court decided to let stand a lower appellate court decision holding that bumble bees are “fish” under the state Endangered Species Act. Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, anticipated (quite correctly!) that her ruling would puzzle the public. She wrote:

…[O]ur decision not to order review will be misconstrued by some as an affirmative determination by this court that under the law, bumble bees are fish. A better-informed observer might ask: How can the court pass up this opportunity to review the Court of Appeal’s interpretation of the Fish and Game Code, which seems so contrary to common knowledge that bumble bees are not a type of fish? Doesn’t this clear disconnect necessarily amount to “an important question of law” … warranting this court’s intervention, because the Legislature could not possibly have intended such a result?

Were things always that simple.

Well, as a matter of fact, some things are always that simple. It is, and always has been, a simple fact that bumble bees are not fish. Pretending that the law provides otherwise – even while acknowledging that “the Legislature could not possibly have intended such a result” – is worse than judicial error. It is a self-inflicted wound on the credibility of that beleaguered branch of government. Polls show that in recent years the public has already been losing confidence in our judicial system. Little wonder.

How did this happen?

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OUR FIRST LIBERTARIAN PRESIDENT?

For many ordinary Americans, politics has become an unpalatable pastime, too distasteful to digest or follow. It seems incredible that in a country of 330 million, the foremost political leaders are Joe Biden and Donald Trump, two men of low character and of lower, if any, principles.

That may explain why Troy Senik’s biography of Grover Cleveland, A Man of Iron, arrives as such an unalloyed joy. Turning from cable news to Senik’s work is like emerging from a fetid swamp to find oneself alongside a pristine brook.

Many see in Cleveland our first  and perhaps only outright libertarian president. He was a firm exponent of laissez faire economics, federalism, the gold standard, and anti-imperialism. Granted, to describe him as a libertarian runs the risk of over-simplification. His politics were more nuanced than that. For example, years before Teddy Roosevelt made conservation popular, Cleveland was setting aside forest land in Wyoming’s Grand Tetons, Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, and South Dakota’s Black Hills.

Still, the libertarian label is more accurate than not.

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CRITIQUING LAND ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Unless you are a hermit, you have probably listened to a “land acknowledgment.” These are short statements uttered before social gatherings, acknowledging the prior possession of the land on which the events are taking place by indigenous peoples. Originating in Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, they have become popular in the United States, and are now regular features in theaters, sports arenas, academic conferences, college commencement ceremonies – and even private family gatherings.

Land acknowledgment details may differ depending upon the event and the attendees, but certain characteristics apply more or less consistently. The statement is delivered in solemn and serious tones. The Indian tribe or tribes identified in the statement are portrayed as innocent victims, and their land described as “ancestral” or “unceded,” thus implying that the non-Indian attendees are trespassing. For the most part, the statements are gentle. Few go as far as the Northern California ACLU, whose website advises readers that land acknowledgment statements help us “confront our own complicity in genocide.”

These statements do carry educational value. They remind us that the conquest of the North American continent by settlers of European heritage was accompanied by massive, often monstrous mistreatment of the native peoples. And learning about the people who earlier inhabited one’s place of birth or residence is always a laudable undertaking.

Yet at the same time that land acknowledgments have proliferated, so have criticisms.

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A HISTORY OF JUDICIAL VIOLENCE

Are we witnessing an upsurge of violence against government officials?

Congress is holding hearings on the January 6 riot, during which the physical safety of the Vice President was threatened by a mob chanting “Hang Mike Pence.” Nicholas John Roske was arrested at 1 am outside the home of Justice Kavanaugh, while carrying a suitcase containing a Glock 17 pistol, a tactical knife, ammunition, hammer, crow bar, and other equipment useful for breaking into a home and murdering its inhabitants,

America has experienced a long history of political violence. Four American presidents – Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield, William McKinley, and John Kennedy – have been assassinated. Six others have survived assassination attempts: Franklin Roosevelt, days before he took office; Andrew Jackson, Harry Truman, Ronald Reagan, and Gerald Ford (twice) while in office; and Theodore Roosevelt, after he left office while campaigning for another term.

Fifteen members of Congress have been killed while in office, and an additional thirteen have been seriously wounded.

But this history of violence has involved the executive and legislative branches. Only one Supreme Court member has ever been the victim of actual violence.

The event occurred on August 14, 1889 and involved Supreme Court Justice Stephen Field. The assailant was a lawyer and former judge, David S. Terry. The characters and the circumstances are worth recounting, as they provide some perspective for the current turbulence.

Stephen Field
David Terry (Source: U.S. Marshals Service)

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HARVARD’S LEGACY OF SLAVERY

Thirty two years ago, a San Jose State University English professor named Shelby Steele published a short book entitled The Content of Our Character: A New Vision of Race in America. Steele perceived an unholy bargain between white and black Americans. Under its terms, whites, burdened with guilt for their history of discrimination, would exercise the power to bestow preferential treatment on blacks, and in return blacks, commanding the asset of innocence, would exercise the power to bestow absolution on whites.

Steele deemed the bargain harmful for both sides, but especially so for blacks:

I think the reason there has been more entitlement than development is … the unacknowledged white need for redemption – not true redemption, which would have focused policy on black development, but the appearance of redemption which requires only that society, in the name of development, seem to be paying back its former victims with preferences. One of the effects of entitlements, I believe, has been to encourage in blacks a dependency both on the entitlements and on the white guilt that generates them.

Last month, in a letter to the “Members of the Harvard Community,” President Lawrence Bacow announced the release of a 134-page report documenting the history of Harvard’s “extensive entanglements” with slavery. At the same time, President Bacow  announced a $100 million commitment to implement the authors’ recommendations on “how we as a community can redress – through teaching, research, and service – our legacies with slavery.”

Is this an exercise in true redemption? Or is it an engagement in the kind of superficial trade-off that Shelby Steele analyzed three decades ago?

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WHAT DO MEN WANT?

Sigmund Freud, pop psychologists, and even Mel Gibson have pondered: What do women want? This post explores a different but equally important question: What do men want?

Conventional wisdom holds that men want sex — and plenty of it. Also wealth. And fame. And power. And then more sex, please.

Of course, men want those things. But there is something else they want even more. Something less physical, less palpable, but prized all the more for its ethereal value. Every man wants to see reflected upon his beloved’s face a look of pure adoration. Men want to see what we may call the “Ilsa Face.”

This is the face that Ingrid Bergman, as Ilsa Lund, casts upon Paul Heinreid, as Victor Laszlo, in Casablanca.

To discover the Ilsa Face, one must turn to the 40-second La Marseillaise” scene. Here is a link to it.  Readers may wish to take the time to watch before we move on to explore what men want.

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