TAKING ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ SERIOUSLY

“I do think that a system that allows billionaires to exist when there are parts of Alabama where people are still getting ringworm because they don’t have access to public health is wrong.”

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, N.Y. Times, February 10, 2019

When dealing with statements by Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez, the maxim coined by journalist Salena Zito about President Trump is equally applicable: “The press takes him literally, but not seriously; his supporters take him seriously, but not literally.” In Ocasio-Cortez’s case, it tends to be Republicans who take her literally but not seriously. The press and her supporters (the two often overlap) take her seriously, but not literally.

Taking her literally, the statement makes no sense. Ringworm is a common skin disease, similar to athlete’s foot or jock itch. It’s easily treated by over-the-counter antifungal ointments, and incidence of the problem has little or nothing to do with access to health care.

Apprised of this, Ocasio-Cortez clarified her statement, tweeting: “For what it’s worth, I  meant to say hookworm.”

Alexandria-Ocasio-Cortez-1-e1534170511949

For what it’s worth, hookworm, a gastrointestinal parasite, is a serious problem, unlike ringworm. But contrary to a report in a leftist English publication claiming that the diseases is “rampant” in the American South — a report she apparently relied upon — the Alabama Department of Public Health released a later study showing “no evidence of an increased incidence” of the disease.

So it’s best to weigh her statement by taking her seriously, but not literally. Read that way, her message is: “A system that allows billionaires to exist while there is extreme poverty is wrong.”

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THE TWO HOUSES OF THE MARVELOUS MRS. MAISEL

Two houses, quite unlike in dignity, in fair Manhattan, is where we lay our scene.  One is the House of Weissman, whose patriarch serves as an esteemed tenured professor of mathematics at Columbia University. The other is the House of Maisel, whose patriarch operates a garment factory, a profession commonly known as “the rag trade.”

We are of course in the milieu of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, the award-winning series about Miriam Maisel, née Weissman (played by Rachel Brosnahan), an affluent Jewish girl, circa 1958, who seems to have it all: Upper West Side apartment, supportive husband, a toddler and a baby, and two very sophisticated and cosmopolitan parents. But by the end of the first episode, her husband has left her for another woman, and she is forced to move back in with her parents. Miriam decides to pursue a career in stand-up comedy.

Critics have seen Mrs. Maisel as an Eisenhower Era precursor to the Modern Woman.  A review in the New Yorker notes that her “routines feel like feminist TED talks, with some ‘fucks’ thrown in.” The New York Times  proclaims  that Brosnahan’s star turns “comes at a time when it’s crucial to reclaim women’s place in stand-up history.”

But something deeper than feminism seems to be at work in the series. Consciously or not, it touches upon a historic division within the American Jewish community:  the chasm between American Jews of Russian or East European descent and those of Germanic descent.

maisel photo weisman photo

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THE YEAR OF PAIN

“The day I had my colonoscopy was the best day of my life,” Everett Staley told me. Staley liked to shock. But he tended to tell the truth.

“I hated the prep of course. But the colonoscopy itself lingers in my memory like a comforting dream.” Even now, the thought evoked a sigh from Staley.

I should explain something. Everett Staley’s colonoscopy occurred toward the end of what he called his “Year of Pain.” He was in pain, more or less constantly, for more than twelve months. It had nothing to do with his colonoscopy. The colonoscopy was merely a foil to make the Year of Pain more understandable.

“Whenever I go in for a colonoscopy, I always ask them to go easy on the anesthetic so I can watch,” Staley said. “The inside of your intestines are up on a monitor, you know. If you’re not fully knocked out, you can watch the doctor’s progress.  I like to watch and pose questions and offer advice. At least I think that’s what I’m doing. Maybe I’m just dreaming.” Staley paused and reconsidered. “The truth is, I asked them to go easy on the anesthetic this time so I’d be conscious enough to enjoy it.”

“Enjoy what?” I asked.

“The absence of pain.”

Hospital Corridor

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LOOKING BACKWARD ON HARVARD’S DIVERSITY PROBLEM

Last week witnessed two events, both involving Harvard University and the enigma of ethnic diversity. On October 15, the trial of Harvard College began in a Boston federal courtroom. The institution stands accused of racial discrimination against Asian-Americans in admissions. On the same day, in the courtroom of public opinion, former Harvard Law Professor, now U.S. Senator, Elizabeth Warren released a DNA report supposedly corroborating her claim to Native American heritage.

Both events are surrounded by controversy, with partisans lining up along predictable lines. And both events take on added significance when viewed against the background of Harvard’s first experiment in what might today be considered affirmative action: the establishment of an “Indian College” in 1655.Old-Harvard-Yard-according-to-Anthropology-1130-e1419632116650 Continue reading

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AFTER KAVANAUGH

As this story goes to press, it is uncertain whether Judge Kavanaugh will be confirmed to sit on the Supreme Court. But one thing is certain. The confirmation process itself is broken, and in desperate need of repair. Here are three recommendations. They may not necessarily fix the many problems manifested over the past few months, but they may at least moderate them.Panorama_of_United_States_Supreme_Court_Building_at_Dusk

First, the process needs a consensus among its participants on the meaning of judicial temperament. Everyone agrees that judicial temperament is a crucial qualification. No one agrees on what that temperament should be. Continue reading

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DisRESPECT IN DETROIT

Funerals are meant to be dignified occasions to honor the dead and to remember their deeds. Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, led a life that certainly deserved honor and memory. The first female performer to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, she was also inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame, and received the National Medal of Arts and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

It was therefore distressing – in fact, disgusting – to see the occasion stained by the presence of Louis Farrakhan.  Not just present, but in the front row, next to former President Clinton, Jesse Jackson, and Al Sharpton.Farrakhan

We live in age in which terms like racist, sexist, and anti-Semite are bandied about so freely, that they have almost lost their meaning. Watch cable news. Listen to talk radio. Nearly anyone with whom one disagrees is labelled a “hater” in today’s over-heated climate. If one wants to witness true, sincere hatred – not the ersatz version paraded in the media – one need only read the words of Minister Farrakhan. Continue reading

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THE MONKEY AND THE DUTCH MASTER

Who or what qualifies as an “author” under copyright law? Recent events on opposite sides of the world shed light on the question.

Last April, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals confronted the issue of whether animals qualify as authors. The case arose when Naruto, a 7-year old crested macaque, noticed a camera lying unattended on the jungle floor of his neighborhood on the island of Sulawesi in Indonesia. For reasons known only to himself (but which may have involved the same egocentrism harbored by humans), Naruto paused in his travels to use the camera to take several photographs of himself. These pictures, dubbed the “Monkey Selfies” by the court, went viral.

Macaquex  Next Rembrandt

While the Monkey Selfies case unfolded, a team in Holland — once the colonial master of Naruto’s homeland – were hard at work studying the facial features and proportions of the 346 known works of the Dutch Master, Rembrandt van Rijn. The team designed an Artificial Intelligence (AI) software program, incorporating a deep-learning algorithm, which analyzed Rembrandt’s use of geometry, composition, and painting materials. Utilizing a 3D printer, the   program replicated the paint and brushstrokes Rembrandt might have used, applying 13 layers of ink. It generated a new work of art, consisting of more than 148 million pixels based on 168,263 painting fragments from Rembrandt’s body of works. The portrait, known as the Next Rembrandt, was put on display in 2016, and won two Grand Prix for cyber and creative data at the Cannes Lions Festival.

The Monkey Selfies and the Next Rembrandt would seem to have little in common. But for students of copyright law, they stand together, cheek by hairy jowl, forcing reconsideration of the nature of authorship. Continue reading

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