Sunday, August 27, 2023

An end-of-summer grab bag.


Indigolotos | Deposit Photos
I mean, we do have another week before summer's over, assuming we're using the traditional US end-of-summer metric: Labor Day weekend. Back in the day, school started the day after Labor Day, the first Monday in September. Now schools start in mid to late August, or even earlier, so that's hardly relevant anymore. It also used to be that you were only supposed to wear white between Memorial Day and Labor Day unless you were a bride, but that's out the window now, too.

And of course, the official end of summer for Pagans is the autumn equinox, which is September 21st or thereabouts. Unless we're talking about meteorological summer, which ends September 1st. 

But I'm sure I've banged on about all this before. And really, it hardly matters; after so many decades of considering Labor Day to be the end of summer for all intents and purposes, I just do.

And I'm glad to see this one just about done. 

It occurred to me last month that July has become the worst month of the year for me. There's always some crisis. In 2020, besides the pandemic, I found myself unexpectedly working an extra three weeks in DC while trying to pack and move cross-country. I finally got to Santa Fe at the end of July, but I didn't get my stuff out of quarantine until August. Then in 2021, I decided to buy the condo, which meant packing and moving in July and August for the second year in a row. Last year, I had cataract surgery in late July, and the recovery slopped into August.

This year, I warped the loom for a ruana over Memorial Day weekend, but I didn't get to the weaving in June because I was working on my tote bag for El Rancho de las Golondrinas. Then in early July, the upstairs neighbor's plumbing sprung a leak; I lost all of July and part of August to the repairs. I've spent the past two weekends setting my bedroom to rights. The loom somehow escaped the flood, but I have a lot less time now to finish the ruana before I need to wear it for the final event of the season at Las Golondrinas. Maybe I'll get the weaving done on the first half of the project this week and warp the loom for the second half over Labor Day weekend. That would be a nice bookend to this summer. We'll see how it goes.

So that's one of the things on my mind. Here's another: West Virginia University is drastically scaling back its liberal arts offerings. The school's board of regents has decided to cut 32 majors -- nine percent of those previously offered, including several foreign language programs -- and seven percent of the total faculty. WVU is suffering from a $45 million budget shortfall, hence the cuts. Students are livid. They staged a protest against the cuts this past Monday.

University officials say the problem is declining enrollment. That's exacerbated by the state's drop in population -- West Virginia is the only state in the Union that has fewer residents now than it did in 1950. But critics point to the administration's reluctance to ask for more state funding. Others complain that it's the liberal arts taking the brunt of the cuts -- that the university is more than happy to keep its business school functioning -- and it's particularly galling that it's happening in one of the nation's poorest states. 

WVU may be the first university to scale back on liberal arts offerings, but I doubt it will be the last. There's been a push over the past few decades to devalue a college education. A whole lot of folks have come to the conclusion that college is only for getting a better-paying job; basically, they say, it's vocational education for the professions. Many of these folks see no value in learning for the sake of learning. What's the point of studying literature or art or music, they say, if you can't make a living at it?

Speaking of vocational education, there's also the whole "not everybody needs to go to college" drumbeat. The folks who say that have a point: of course we need mechanics and electricians and plumbers. 

But I think there may be an agenda here. I think there are factions in this country -- conservative, authoritarian-leaning folks -- who don't want people trained to be deep thinkers. I think they regret allowing the middle and lower classes access to a college education in the past, because studying liberal arts in college taught us critical thinking skills. Essentially, we have the skills to call our leaders on their bullshit, and they don't like it. They can't re-educate us, but they can limit access to that kind of education for those who come after us. And I think that's what we're seeing here.

I hope WVU's actions don't become a trend, but I have a feeling they will.

Speaking of authoritarian types: We have a busy week ahead in the Trump indictment saga. Tomorrow, there's a hearing on former Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows's request to move his RICO trial from Georgia state court to federal court. There's also a hearing in DC, where the federal judge overseeing the January 6th case plans to set a trial date; special counsel Jack Smith has asked for the trial to start January 2, 2024, and Trump's team has asked for the trial to be pushed back to 2026. I'm pretty sure the judge will laugh that 2026 date out of court. We'll see if she grants the special counsel's request or picks another date.

It's already becoming hard to keep track of all the former president's trial proceedings, or even to keep them all straight. I proposed on Facebook that we give them nicknames: the Georgia indictment; the classified documents indictment; the January 6 insurrection and riot indictment; and the porn star payoff indictment. Then somebody reminded me that he's facing a couple of civil trials, too, so I guess we need to add the Trump Organization fraud trial and the "I didn't technically rape her" trial.

My, my. He's going to be busy. When's he going to have time to run a presidential campaign? Maybe he should just free up his calendar now and drop out.

These moments of grab-baggy blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Buckle up, guys -- it's gonna be a busy fall!

Sunday, August 20, 2023

Put a pin in this.

First: My thoughts are with my friends and readers in southern California who, as I write this post, are weathering an earthquake and Tropical Storm Hilary at the same time. What a bunch of overachievers. But seriously, you guys -- hang in there.


I don't often go out on a limb with predictions -- my track record isn't great, plus it sets me up for derision when proven wrong -- but I'm going to make a political prediction today:

Donald Trump will never be president of the United States again.

newb1 | Deposit Photos

It's not just because of his many legal troubles -- which are substantial, don't get me wrong: indicted four times, for a total of 91 criminal counts against him, with three of the cases related to his actions while in office. Of the four, the most egregious abuse of power is the one related to the January 6th insurrection.

But it's not only because of those charges. And it's not only because of the conclusions some conservative constitutional scholars are drawing because of it. I'm talking about William Baude and Michael Stokes Paulsen, lawyers, and members of the Federalist Society (the one famous for promoting several Supreme Court nominees approved by the Senate under Mitch McConnell's leadership and led to decisions like the upending of Roe v. Wade). Baude and Paulsen have written a paper for the University of Pennsylvania Law Review that contends that Section Three of the Fourteenth Amendment simply disqualifies Trump from holding office again. 

There's a pre-release version available for free, but it's 124 pages long and, to be honest, I haven't read it. I have, however, read a review and endorsement of the piece published in The Atlantic this weekend. The Atlantic article was written by Laurence Tribe, an emeritus professor of constitutional law at Harvard, and J. Michael Luttig, a retired federal appellate judge. If you watched the January 6th committee's hearings last summer, you'll remember Luttig -- he's the one who enunciated, slowly and carefully, his legal takedown of Trump's efforts to stay in the White House after losing the 2020 election to Joe Biden. Luttig is a conservative; Tribe is a liberal. They both agree with the Federalist Society lawyers that Trump is constitutionally barred from being president again. And they contend that's so even if Trump is never convicted; the mere fact that he exhorted his followers to attack the Capitol -- and sat, watching the mayhem unfold, for hours without trying to stop it -- is evidence enough.

The Fourteenth Amendment was ratified in 1868, as the direct result of the efforts of President Andrew Jackson (who took over after Lincoln was assassinated) to allow back into Washington the very architects of the Southern states' succession that precipitated the Civil War. Heather Cox Richardson, a history professor at Boston College, has a terrific piece at Substack that explains this history behind the this amendment -- how President Jackson made his moves to reseat Confederate members of Congress while Congress was in recess, and how immediately upon returning to Washington, members of Congress enacted the Fourteenth Amendment to keep the traitors out. Keep in mind that none of the traitors had been convicted of anything; it was enough that everybody knew of their traitorous acts. Just like in the case of Trump.

Baude and Paulsen basically say it's going to be up to local election officials to make this stick. Secretaries of state around the country could declare Trump disqualified and refuse to put his name on the ballot. If the Republican Party nominates him as its candidate anyway, it would mean there would be no GOP candidate for president on the ballot in those states. If enough states refuse to put him on the ballot, it could bar him from gathering enough Electoral College votes to win. If his supporters write him in, it would be effectively the same as their casting a ballot for Mickey Mouse; he's not eligible to hold office, either, although obviously for a different reason.

Of course there would be a legal challenge. But the conservatives on the Supreme Court claim to be originalists -- and the originalist reading of the Fourteenth Amendment is the one put forth by Baude and Paulsen: if you swear an oath to the Constitution and then act to overthrow it, you can't hold office again.

But even that's not the whole reason I say that Trump will never be president again. I'm reading the tea leaves, and I believe his support is eroding -- not among his rabid faithful, but among the GOP's big donors. The Koch-financed Americans for Prosperity has raised more than $70 million for political ads, and internal documents indicate they aim to tank Trump's candidacy. Some other big donors have also pulled their support from Trump. And the cash he has raised is largely going to pay for lawyers -- not just for his own representation in those many lawsuits I mentioned above, but for his co-defendants, too.

Granted, he's going to get a ton of free publicity every time he shows up at court for a hearing. But is that really his best option? And too, there's the threat hanging over him that a judge in one or another of his cases gets fed up with Trump bad-mouthing them and tainting the jury pool with a rant on Truth Social, and issues a gag order.

Republicans have been quiet for years while Trump has wreaked havoc on the country -- because he helped them get what they wanted: to stay in power and stack the judiciary with a bunch of conservative appointments. Now that they've achieved the latter, and now that Trump has cost them the last three elections, the powers-that-be appear to be ready to move on. 

He has been their useful idiot; now he's still an idiot, but he's no longer useful. That could explain why Federalist Society members are lining up behind Section Three of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Put a pin in this. We'll see how this election season plays out. But I think Trump is toast, one way or another. If I'm wrong, feel free to make fun of me in November of next year.


These moments of bloggy political prognostication have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Stay safe!

Sunday, August 13, 2023

Water leak mitigation progress, or: Everybody wants my money.

Life is calming down at last here at La Casa Cantwell. (I should probably follow local tradition and redub the place La Casita de los Cantwell, except that it's not a traditional casita, being a condo and all. Anyway.) 

Alert hearth/myth readers will recall that early last month, the plumbing in the unit upstairs from mine sprung a leak, and Tigs and I decamped to the Santa Fe Hilton for almost a week on my insurance company's dime, while a crew cut holes in my ceilings and fired up big fans and dehumidifiers to dry the place out.

Then came the ceiling repairs, the wall and ceiling texturing (this place is textured to within an inch of its life -- welcome to Santa Fe!) and painting, and the ripping out of the trashed carpet and the installation of vinyl plank flooring in the bedroom and office/craft room. (This is the second time this year that the upstairs neighbor's bathroom has leaked. I'd be an idiot to put carpeting down again.) All the work was finished this week -- hooray! Well, except for some molding for the thresholds that didn't arrive 'til yesterday, but I can't imagine that installation will take very long. Here's the bedroom now, with the new paint and flooring (please excuse the mess): 

Lynne Cantwell 2023
I like to think Tigs is approving of everything here, but it's possible he was just glad the noise had stopped. It has been a challenging few weeks for him: Every day, he'd get locked in bathroom; strange noises kept happening, and strange men would occasionally pop in to do things in his sanctum sanctorum; and then Mama would let him out and the house would be DIFFERENT. Poor little guy. When he wasn't stuck in the bathroom, he was usually on top of the kitchen cabinets.

The office/craft room is a completely different color now. The crew manager offered to match the old paint for me, but I demurred. I mean, I didn't loathe that watermelon-something-or-other accent wall in the office... 

That's the original accent wall on the right. Not a hue I would have picked. Ever.
Lynne Cantwell 2021
...but I wasn't going to turn down an offer to get rid of it. Now the whole room is this color: 
Lynne Cantwell 2023
I'm going to enjoy working in this room now.


You're wondering where the money comes in, aren't you?

I'm not sure why, but my insurance company apparently handled this claim in a much different way than is typical of these types of claims. I have zero complaints about the way State Farm has handled this, by the way. None. They were johnny-on-the-spot, suggesting contractors, issuing the first round of payments, and pursuing my neighbor's insurance for repayment. But I'm gathering that in these types of situations, usually the insurance company hires the contractor and pays them directly. I don't know whether it's a quirk in New Mexico law or something to do with my policy, but in this case, they had me hire the contractor and sent the checks to me.

So there was a delay of a couple of weeks, after ServPro came and took back their big fans and stuff, while I lived with holes in my ceilings and trashed carpet on the floors. I couldn't figure out what the holdup was. Why were we not starting with the repairs?

It turned out that ServPro was waiting for the paper check that State Farm had sent me. When it arrived, I promptly deposited it, then wrote a check to ServPro. The crew chief seemed disappointed; usually, he told me, people just sign the check over to them.

So when the second check came, I endorsed it and handed it to him. He got all the way back to his office before he called me: he couldn't cash this check because it was made out only to me. Well, yes, I said; so was the last one. So he drove out again to give it back to me, so I could deposit it and write him a check. (Yes, I know, I could have written "Pay to the order of ServPro" above my endorsement. For whatever reason, he didn't want to do it that way.)

But that's not all. Yesterday, I got a weird letter in the mail from my mortgage company. I had to read the thing twice before I could figure out what they were talking about. They were telling me that I could take the check from my insurance company to one of their branches and have it endorsed there. By them. So I could cash it expeditiously.

So apparently sometimes, insurance companies make out the check to your mortgage company as well as to you? And maybe also your contractor? Or rather, their contractor? Huh. This is a whole new world

I'm glad to have it all straight now, finally, because there's one more payment coming. It'll be interesting to see who this check is made out to.

And I really hope I never have to go through this again (and so does Tigs!).


I'm stoked about the color of the accent wall in my bedroom, even though my headboard doesn't work with it. I'm going to make a new headboard, since the premade ones I like are either too plain or ridiculously expensive. Of course I will post about the process. Stay tuned.


These moments of freshly painted and floored blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Stay safe!

Sunday, August 6, 2023

The part of the Manhattan Project that "Oppenheimer" forgot about.

J. Robert Oppenheimer and Gen. Leslie Groves, Los Alamos
Lynne Cantwell 2021

Today is the 78th anniversary of the U.S. bombing of Hiroshima -- the first time an atomic bomb was used in an armed conflict. It's not the only time; a few days later, the U.S. dropped a second atomic bomb on Nagasaki.

But Hiroshima wasn't the first-ever target. New Mexico was bombed first -- on July 16, 1945, when the new technology was tested at White Sands Missile Range.

I didn't know about today's anniversary before I bought a ticket to see Oppenheimer at the Center for Contemporary Arts in Santa Fe, but I did know that a chunk of the film was shot here in New Mexico. I'll get to that, and my impression of the film, in a minute. Let's talk about the Downwinders first.


The dialogue in the film reflects the official record about the Trinity test site: it was remote and isolated, with no one living nearby. Yeah, no. Tens of thousands of people lived within a 50-mile radius of the blast. And since then, thousands -- maybe tens of thousands -- of people have developed various cancers and died. We don't know exactly how many people were exposed to nuclear fallout from the test. The Manhattan Project was top secret, so radiation levels weren't tracked. We do know that it wasn't just people at the site of the blast who were affected: survivors described the fallout as drifting down like snow, covering buildings, crops, and livestock, and contaminating drinking water, too. A month after the test, 35 infant deaths were recorded in Roswell, NM, 140 miles from the test site. Of course, Manhattan Project scientists assured the local folks that the test had nothing to do with it. But those scientists didn't know anything about the effects of nuclear radiation. How could they? They'd set off the first nuclear bomb ever detonated anywhere. 

Nearly 80 years later, those effects are still being felt. One member of the Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium, Gloria Herrera, says she has lost 285 family members and friends to various cancers.

Even after the grave health effects of nuclear radiation became known thanks to the aftermath of the bombings in Japan, the Downwinders in New Mexico weren't told about them. And they've been shut out in other ways. Congress approved the Radiation Compensation Exposure Act in 1990. The legislation set up a fund to compensate those whose health has suffered as a result of nuclear testing. But the Downwinders in New Mexico aren't eligible for any of that money -- it's only for people who worked either with uranium mining and processing or at test sites. Downwinders in a handful of counties are eligible, but none of those counties is in New Mexico. And only certain cancers are covered. There's an effort in Congress to expand the program, but it needs to happen fast; the fund is set to expire in 2024.


Okay, about Oppenheimer. I thought the movie was excellent -- absorbing and gripping. It's three hours long, but I swear I never noticed.

Cillian Murphy does a masterful job as J. Robert Oppenheimer. There's been talk of an Oscar nomination for him, and I fully credit that talk. You can see how the science buoys him until the bomb becomes a reality -- and the effect of others' agendas as he tries to apply the brakes to continued nuclear weapons development.

Other standouts: Robert Downey Jr. as Admiral Lewis Strauss (I had to look twice to see it was him), Matt Damon as General Leslie Groves, Florence Pugh as Jean Tatlock (who Oppy should have run far and fast from, in my opinion), and Rami Malek as David Hill (who brings down the bad guy toward the end of the film). Great flick. You should see it.

Now as I said, a portion of the film was shot in New Mexico. But as Hollywood is wont to do, locations were substituted. When you see the movie, look for this mountain in the background: 

Lynne Cantwell 2018
That's Cerro Pedernal as viewed from Ghost Ranch, where Georgia O'Keeffe had a house. And yup, Ghost Ranch stood in for Los Alamos. Here's what the real Los Alamos looks like. It's about an hour away from Ghost Ranch and another thousand feet up. Think pine trees, not desert.
Ashley Pond, Los Alamos | Lynne Cantwell, January 2021
The filmmakers also didn't recreate the test explosion at the actual Trinity site; instead, they used a site in Belen, south of Albuquerque.

I know that movie tourism floats the boat for some people. If you're interested in seeing where Oppenheimer was filmed -- or the real Manhattan Project sites in New Mexico -- this article lists a bunch of places to visit. I've been to most of them, at one time or another, although not Belen. The Trinity site is still on my list -- it's only open twice a year, and fair warning that the Army is expecting a big crowd this fall because of the movie.


So what happened to Oppenheimer after his security clearance was pulled? He didn't lose his job at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, NJ, but he stopped commenting publicly about nuclear weapons development and began living for part of the year in the US Virgin Islands. 

In 1963, President Johnson presented him with the Fermi Award, for lifetime achievement in the development, use, or production of energy. 

In 1965, he was diagnosed with throat cancer, reportedly as a result of smoking. He died of the disease in 1967.

And in 2022, Energy Secretary Jennifer Grantholm reversed the decision to strip Oppenheimer of his security clearance.


These moments of explosive blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Stay safe!