Sunday, July 3, 2022

Local news takes on the Supreme Court. Will it win?

In broadcasting, one mundane but essential task is to check your sound level. It involves speaking into the microphone at approximately the volume you intend to use when you're on the air, while eyeballing a little meter in front of you to adjust your mic level. 

An analog meter features a graduated scale, soft to loud, with a pointy indicator that bounces with your sound level. The scale is mostly black, but it has a section in red on the far right end. The idea is to keep the pointer bouncing mostly in the black, with occasional peaks in the red zone. If the pointer swings all the way to the right and stays there, your mic is way too loud. The technical term is "pegging the needle."

As it happens, it's also an apt description for a ruling that came out of the Supreme Court this week. 

Stolen from Facebook | Creator unknown

No, not that one; that was last week. This week's travesty came in the case of Kennedy v. Bremerton School District. You can read a pdf of the ruling here. But basically, the majority opinion, written by Justice Neil Gorsuch, reverses a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision. The appellate court had held the Bremerton, WA, school district was correct to discipline its high school football coach, Joseph Kennedy, in 2015 for staging public prayers at midfield after the team's football games. The Supreme Court says the disciplinary action violated Kennedy's First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

The problem with the ruling is that Justice Gorsuch gets nearly all of the facts wrong. This column by Danny Westneat in the Seattle Times explains how Kennedy wasn't engaging in "a brief, quiet, personal religious observance," as Justice Gorsuch claims. In fact, Kennedy had made a big deal out of praying at the 50-yard line -- and he'd been incorporating prayer into team workouts as a motivational tool all season. Players weren't required to participate in the postgame prayer rallies, but of course eventually all the players did, at least partly due to fear that Coach wouldn't let them play as much if they didn't participate. (Y'all have been to high school, right? We all know how that works.) Eventually, Kennedy held a news conference before the school's homecoming game, announcing he would give his post-season prayer. He got a lot of press out of it -- Good Morning America even interviewed him -- and as a result, it wasn't just the players out there with him after that game; more than 500 spectators left the bleachers and jumped fences to join them on the field for his 15-second "quiet, personal religious observance."

The general opinion is that the court reinvented the facts here in order to have an excuse to overturn Lemon v. Kurtzman. In that 1971 opinion, the court laid out a three-pronged test to determine whether something violates the First Amendment's "establishment of religion" clause. We do not have a state religion in the United States, and it's unconstitutional for a public employee to promote a particular religion as if we do. In an objective reading of the facts, that's what Kennedy did -- he promoted Christianity, hard, with his very public prayer meetings. But the conservatives on the current court wanted to strike down Lemon, and Kennedy's case was a handy vehicle.

That's scary for those of us in America who aren't Christian. But that point has been made elsewhere. My point is different.

I've opined here before that local journalism matters. Six years ago, I wrote about how just ten companies control a frightening percentage of the news and information business. Three years ago, I cited figures indicating that one in five local newspapers ceased publication between 2004 and 2018; that decline has continued since then. 

Why do I keep making a big deal about local journalism? Because without it -- without local newspapers like the Seattle Times -- there would be no way, when public figures on the national stage lie, for us to learn the truth. 

Support your local independent journalists, guys. They're going to become more and more vital as we bring our country back from the brink.

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These moments of scrappy independent blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Get vaxxed and boosted! And subscribe to your local paper!

Sunday, June 26, 2022

What would Aunt Lydia do?

 

Stolen from Facebook / Artist unknown
Well! It certainly has been a week. 

On Thursday we learned from the January 6th committee that five or six sitting members of Congress had asked for presidential pardons for their roles in former President Trump's attempted coup. 

That headline was very shortly superseded by a Supreme Court ruling that makes it easier for gun owners to carry their weapons in public. Within hours, that headline was followed by the news that Congress had approved (and President Biden signed into law yesterday) a gun control bill for the first time in decades. Even though most Americans would view it as weak sauce, it's better than nothing. Among other things, the new law: requires background checks for 18- and 19-year-olds who want to purchase a gun; closes a "boyfriend loophole" that allowed some convicted domestic violence offenders to get hold of guns; stiffens penalties for people who buy guns for those who wouldn't pass a background check; and provides money to states for mental health treatment and for confiscating guns from those who've been deemed dangerous by a judge. Notably, it doesn't ban assault weapons like the AR-15. But hey, baby steps, I guess.

But even that news was overtaken on Friday by the release of the Supreme Court's ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, in which the justices overturned Roe v. Wade and then promptly left for the weekend. Liberals and progressives weren't surprised by the ruling -- after all, somebody at the high court leaked a draft in early May. But they were shocked -- okay, we were shocked -- by Justice Clarence Thomas's concurring opinion, in which he said he'd like to see decisions that legalized gay marriage and access to contraceptives reconsidered, too. The majority opinion attempted to reassure everyone that the court didn't intend to go after those decisions -- but the three justices nominated by former President Trump swore during their confirmation hearings that Roe was settled law, making this most recent claim somewhat less than trustworthy. (Observers have noted that Thomas made no mention of overturning Loving v. Virginia, which legalized interracial marriages. That's especially interesting, given that he's Black and married to a White woman -- with whom, by the way, the January 6th committee would like to have a chat, due to her involvement in Trump's coup attempt. But I digress.)

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I'd attended a lecture -- a Q&A, actually -- given by Margaret Atwood, the author of The Handmaid's Tale. It occurred to me then that I had never read the sequel, The Testaments, so I did. I read the first book shortly after it was published in the '80s; it describes an America that has descended into a fundamentalist hellscape, with women forced to either submit to an arranged marriage or produce babies for the men running the place. The Testaments has been out since 2019, so the statute of limitations on spoilers has probably run; still, I'll try to avoid giving away the ending. Suffice it to say that the prime mover of this second novel, Aunt Lydia, remembers what America was like before Gilead, and is secretly doing everything she can to overturn the regime. 

I find today that The Testaments gives me hope. I don't believe we've hit rock bottom yet; things are going to get worse in the United States before they get better. But women are smart and resourceful. We won't tolerate attempts to make us give up the independence we've had for fifty years. To those who think Dobbs is the beginning of the end for liberal ideals, I say this: 

Just wait.

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These moments of bloggy upheaval have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Get vaxxed! And if you value your freedom, for gods' sake, VOTE!

Sunday, June 19, 2022

In which I admit to being a snowflake.

Or a flake, at least. I had every intention of posting last Sunday night, as is my usual practice, but somehow the day got away from me. When I realized what had happened, I told myself I'd just post the next night. I've sometimes skipped Sunday and posted on Monday night instead. But that didn't happen this past week, either. So I apologize for flaking out on you last week, and I hope not to do it again (too many more times). 

Clker-Free-Vector-Images | Pixabay | CC0
Now about my snowflakery. 

As a retired person, I have the luxury of being able to watch the House January 6th committee hearings -- even the daytime hearings -- in real time. This past Monday, one of the topics was former President Trump's fundraising efforts after he lost the 2021 election to Joe Biden. Here is the scam in a nutshell: First, Trump lied that the election was stolen. That's been dubbed the Big Lie. Then he sent millions of emails to his supporters, asking them to donate to something called the Official Election Defense Fund to help fund the legal fight to "stop the steal." And his supporters did donate -- $250 million total, $100 million of that in the few days after the election. 

But the Official Election Defense Fund never existed, and none of the donations ever went to pay lawyers to challenge the election. Instead, the donations went to a political action committee Trump had just created, a charity begun by former Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows, a conservative organization, Trump's hotel company, and the outfit that organized the January 6th rally that preceded the insurrection at the Capitol. In short, Trump raised a quarter of a billion dollars on a lie, and then lied about where the money went. During the hearing, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) called it the Big Ripoff.

Moreover, more than half of the small-dollar donors to this scam -- that is, people who donated $100 or less -- listed their occupation as "retired". When this came out during the committee hearing, I got a little choked up. I felt sorry for the folks who got conned into giving money they probably didn't have to such a shyster. And I said so in a Facebook post.

I got pushback. 

A whole lot of people I know have zero sympathy for anyone who has gone along with any of Trump's lies. They believe it's his fans' own fault that they got taken in, and they deserve to lose their money.

But here's the thing: If you've been scammed, you've been victimized. It doesn't matter if the scammer is a guy claiming to be Nigerian prince, or someone who tells you to pay a bogus bill by sending them gift cards, or Donald Trump. It's still a crime, and crimes have victims. Making fun of a victim, or telling them they should have known better, doesn't solve anything. And it sure as hell doesn't help the victim.

Did Trump's victims have ample opportunity to wake up from the lie? Maybe, maybe not. Depends how deep into the rightwing media ecosphere they've been. Sure, they could have stepped away from Fox News and QAnon videos like their family members pleaded with them to do -- but keep in mind that Fox News has been in operation since October 1996. Trump's hardcore followers have been marinating in this stuff for more than 25 years. It's been said that if it hadn't been Trump who captured their slavish devotion, it would have been someone else (and we should count our blessings because that person might have actually been competent).

My friends think what Trump and his true believers have done to the country is so damaging that they should never be forgiven. I've written about my view of forgiveness before, and I've gotten pushback on that, too. I don't believe in forgiving someone who has done nothing to deserve it. However, when it comes to gaslighting, it takes a lot to wake someone up to what's going on. Seeing the violence at the Capitol on January 6th woke up some of them. Maybe the hearings will wake up others. And it seems to me that the realization they've been had is the first step toward remorse -- and feeling remorseful is the first step toward earning forgiveness. 

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying the originators and perpetrators of the Big Lie should be forgiven; on the contrary, I hope they all rot in prison. But for folks like small-dollar donors who got sucked in? If they realize their mistake now, and take steps to undo the damage they've done, we shouldn't turn our backs on them. In my view, they deserve not ostracism, but compassion.

If we ever hope to bring this country together again, we need to find ways to breach the divide. Seems to me that compassion is a decent place to start.

And if that makes me a snowflake, so be it.

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These moments of flaky blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. The pandemic isn't over yet -- get vaxxed and boosted!

Sunday, June 5, 2022

Carding and spinning and weaving, oh my.

It's Sunday night, which means I owe y'all a blog post. But I'm tired and my feet hurt, so I'm going to try to keep it short.

The reason I'm tired, etc., is that I've just completed my first weekend as a volunteer with El Rancho de las Golondrinas here in Santa Fe. Yesterday, I sat out in the placita (the little plaza in the part of the museum depicting 17th century life in northern New Mexico) in the shade and learned how to card wool and use a Navajo spindle. I even got my picture in the Santa Fe New Mexican, the local paper -- click here for the article, then click through to the third picture. (There's a typo in the caption, by the way. We were carding the wool, not carting it.)

Carding involves taking the washed, dried, and matted wool fibers that have been shorn from the sheep and combing them to get the tangles (and other junk -- sheep live outdoors, you know) out and to get the fibers to lay straight so that they can be spun. The carding combs sitting next to me on the bench are adult-sized; we also have some smaller combs for the kids. And yes, kids carded wool back in the day -- even toddlers were taught how. After all, it's not like you could have popped down to Target to buy a new shirt; if you wanted one, you had to weave your own. And it's labor intensive work, so everybody had to contribute.

The wool comes off the cards in a little roll. Here it's called a lamb's tail; I've also heard it called a rolag. A spindle is then used to make the rolags into yarn.

There are a bunch of different types of spindles, but the one everybody used in 17th century New Mexico was called a malacate (pronounced mah-lah-CAH-tay). It's also known as a Navajo spindle. Now, just like a lot of other terms, there's some question about whether "Navajo spindle" is politically correct, but I'll link to a video in a minute that was shot in 2020 and features a Navajo woman calling it a Navajo spindle. So there you go. 

Here's what a Navajo spindle looks like:

 Photo shamelessly stolen from woolery.com

It's a supported spindle -- that is, the tip of the spindle rests on the ground (or in a bowl), so the yarn you're spinning doesn't have to support the weight of the spindle the way it does when you use a drop spindle. It's hard to tell from this photo, but a Navajo spindle is about a yard long, which is two or three times longer than a typical drop spindle. You spin the yarn by rolling the top of the shaft against your thigh. (Video of that Navajo woman demonstrating it is coming up in a sec.) 

I am not proficient either at carding or at spinning on this kind of spindle, so here's that video I've been talking about. First you get to see some Navajo churro sheep, which are the kind we have at Las Golondrinas; then come the demonstrations on carding and spinning. The whole video is about 20 minutes long. She starts carding the wool at about 37 seconds in, then she picks up the spindle at about 9:10 and talks about the technique and what weaving means to the Navajo. If you want to skip over that and just watch her use the spindle, start the video at about 12:26.


So that was yesterday. Today I was in the demonstration loom room, letting guests try their hand at weaving. Of course I didn't get a photo of the demo loom because pockets are anachronistic, so my phone was in my shorts underneath my skirt. But going back to the article in the New Mexican, if you click to the fourth photo, you can see a couple of the other looms we have: the jerga (YEHR-gah) loom takes up a good bit of the front of the photo, and behind the guy in the red shirt you can kind of see the loom used to weave sabanilla (sah-bah-NEE-yah), the cloth that's used for colcha embroidery (which is a whole 'nother craft that I have yet to try).

I was commiserating today with a guest who both knits and weaves that while knitters have a big online home in Ravelry, there's no comparable website for weavers. So I'm happy that I've landed here in New Mexico, where weaving is part of the culture. I met so many experienced weavers this weekend -- more than I ever have in the years since I started learning the craft. I'm happy to keep learning, and to keep sharing what I learn.

And now I think I'll go and put my feet up.

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So much for keeping it short...

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These moments of fiber-crafty blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. The pandemic's not over, guys -- get vaxxed and boosted!