Thirty-second movie review.

If you love Bruce Springsteen…

If you like Bruce Springsteen…

If you even tolerate Bruce Springsteen…

If you like coming of age stories…

If you are moved by compelling stories about immigrants dealing with racism…

If you find movies about father-son conflict thought-provoking…

If you enjoy well-written, well-directed, well-acted films…

You really must see Blinded By The Light.

And while I’m at it, you should see The Farewell, too. No Springsteen, though.

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A superhero for our age.

I am taking a edx.com course on “Superheroes and Their Impact on Pop Culture.” Part of the “creative track” is to create your own superhero. I have.

Her name is Cassandra.* Like her mythical namesake, she sees the future. Unlike her namesake, she is often (although not always) believed. She can touch an object or a person and know its (or their) whole history. She has telekinesis, albeit over a short range, which comes in handy. She also has telepathy and the ability to plant suggestions in minds, but she chooses not to use those powers. She sees how easily she could slide into the darkness — the example of Kilgrave is forever before her, and unlike him, she is no psychopath. She fears what she would become.

She cannot fly, or repel bullets. She doesn’t have a suit or shield made of vibranium, and she cannot swing from building to building. She does not have a lasso of truth, or a cool looking car. She is very mortal.

But she is strong and unafraid. She weeps for the world, often, but she is at heart an optimist. She sees that, in the very long run, the moral arc of the universe does indeed bend towards justice. She views her mission in life to be helping that bending happen faster.

She is not me.

She has the superpowers I would ask for myself — especially optimism.** I am not optimistic. I am not strong, and I am oh so afraid.

I like her.

(Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s paintings of Jane Morris generally leave me a bit cold, but I like this one.)

*The Red-Headed Menace has informed that there already is a character in comics called Cassandra. Since most of my knowledge of superheroes comes from movies, I haven’t seen her. Oh, well.

**To tell the truth, I would also like to be invisible. I think it would be useful.

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Life’s a thing.

I know I have not been writing in a while. I had actually been working on a third post about the Mueller report — about how totally frightening was the Russian interference in our election, not merely on the social media side, and how they disrupted the entire fabric of American society. We’re at war, even if there are people too dense to understand that or too venal to admit it.

I am sorry that I have not finished writing about the Mueller report like I promised. I really regret it.

But….

The “complex” migraines have been frequent and very problematic. In addition to causing dizziness and difficulty standing, they exacerbate my already scattered attention. (Many days I rely on Lyft to get me places. As much as I have trouble with their business model, they are a godsend in an area with spotty taxi service. They’ve been more reliable than the taxis I have taken here.) Furthermore, the issue is even more complicated by me having fallen down when I was in San Diego for the Red-Headed Menace’s graduation, slamming my head into a concrete wall and sustaining a concussion. Reading complicated things makes me fuzzy-headed.

And the tremors have gotten worse. I have started using a mouse, which helps, but typing is slow and difficult. I know that there are large key keyboards but I have yet to get one. I did get an extended Mac keyboard, which worked except that I kept accidentally hitting one of the function keys and making it so it didn’t work unless I went back into the System Preferences and selected it. It’s a pain.

On the personal side — as I said, the Red-Headed Menace graduated. Hurray! I am very proud of him.

The Not-So-Little Drummer Boy is visiting home from abroad. I am once again reminded how much I enjoy talking with him. I will miss him when he goes back. As far as I can tell, he is going to be settling down many time zones away. I am proud of his decision to go out into the world, but I am sad that I won’t see him very much.

I have not been on Facebook very much, in part to keep from getting more depressed than I normally do this time of year. It is summer, after all, with all that entails for me. I do go to trivia, however, because it is an important social outlet for me and because while I can’t read a complicated legal report I can remember odd little factoids.

But I am going to hopefully be working in a month or so. I am not going to go into it now, but I have submitted all the work for the background check. There is always a possibility that they decide not to hire me, but I am cautiously optimistic.

So hopefully I will get my act together, the fuzzy-headedness will get better, and I’ll be able to write more.

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Mueller Report, II: What sort of investigation, anyway?

I feel compelled to start this post with my usual disclaimer: I am not currently licensed to practice law, and have never practiced criminal law. The analysis of the report is just that, my analysis.

Before I start, I need to say two things:

  • This is my reading of the Report. I have not even read the Washington Post materials that they included in their edition.
  • It’s been a long time since law school, and I was never a criminal lawyer. Take my analysis with, in the words of the emcee at Woodstock, “as many grains of salt as you want.”

Today’s post centers on the first volume of the Mueller Report, the investigations of the Russian impacts on the 2016 election and possible coordination between the Russians and the Trump Campaign.

One of the questions that first arises for me is: what sort of investigation was this, anyway?

There has been some confusion in the media (looking at you, Fox News) and with both President and his conservative supporters. “No collusion!” became their rallying cry, except when for a while it was “Collusion is not a crime.”

They’re right about that: collusion is not a term with any criminal legal meaning; it’s not in the federal criminal statute and it’s not a legal term of art.  (Mueller Report, “Introduction to Volume 1,” p.2 (Report)) However, the President and his supporters did not pull the word out of the thin air. Although not used in the appointment document, in one of the subsequent memos by Rosenstein he did use the word “colluding.” (Report, p. 11 (Not to mention that “collusion” as a concept is generally understood by the public, as a result of antitrust actions in the sports world and in business.)

This may seem to be a minor point, but the whole issue has been thoroughly politicized on both sides.

The Acting Atty General’s appointment charged Mueller and team to investigate “links” and “coordination” between the Trump Campaign and Russian interests. “Like collusion, ‘coordination’ does not have a settled definition in federal criminal law.” According to the Special Counsel, coordination required tacit or express agreement between the  Russian government and the Trump campaign.  (Report, “Introduction to Volume I,” p.2. Mueller and his team were looking to see if any joint criminal activity would constitue conspiracy under federal law. And as the Report points out, simply because two entities are working towards the same end, and have conversations about it does not in and of itself mean they are engaged in a conspiracy.

This is imporant to remember: this was a criminal investigation. The rules of any criminal investigation apply. This does not mean that there was not coordination. It means that the Office of the Special Counsel did not find enough admissible evidence to warrant charging the Trump campaign with conspiracy.

In reaching the charging decisions about the interactions, the Office determined whether  someone had committed a crime that should be prosecuted under the Principles of Federal Prosecution, found in DOJ’s Justice Manual. (Report, p. 8-9, Executive Summary.) The standards found in the Justice Manual are: does the conduct constitute a federal crime; is there admissible evidence that would allow a prosecutor to obtain and sustain a conviction; and would the prosecution would serve substantial federal interest not served by other means. Justice Manual, 9-27.000 et seq.

[W]hile the investigation identified numerous links between individuals with ties to the Russian government and individuals associated with the Trump Campaign, the evidence was not sufficient to support criminal charges. 

Report, Executive Summary, p.9

This is not to say that no criminal activities occurred. The investigation did not always yield admissible evidence, or a complete picture of activities undertaken by subjects of investigation. Report, “Executive Summary,” p.10. Some individuals took the Fifth, and the team did not feel they were appropriate candidates for  immunity. ibid. Some evidence was subject to legal privilege or were held by members of the media. Some materials were deleted from electronic devices. The Office couldn’t corroborate witness statements with contemporaneous  communications. ibid.

The Office of the Special Counsel recognized the limits of their investigation:

Accordingly, while this report embodies factual and legal determinations that the Office believes to be accurate and complete to the greatest extent possible, given these identified gaps, the Office cannot rule out the possibility that the unavailable information would shed additionallight on (or cast in a new light) the events described in the report.

Report, Executive Summary, p. 10

It should also be noted that Mueller was charged with investigating matters arising from the investigation, hence the prosecutions of Michael Cohen, Paul Manafort, et al. As I go along, I will be touching on these issues more, but I thought it useful to have a framework for understanding.

I would encourage everyone interested in this pivotal issue to read the Mueller Report’s Introduction and Executive Summaries. They are only about ten pages in length, and do a good of outlining the results of the inquiry.

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Pat’s Cranky Corn Chowder.

Okay, ingredients first. The instructions are gonna get rambly. Tough.

  • 4 ears Super Sweet corn, pre-husked so you don’t have to deal with corn silk
  • 3 slices of thick bacon cut into small pieces
  • Onion, diced (pre-diced from Safeway — suck it, Trebek Alton Brown)
  • Celery diced from the sticks I bought at Safeway (I wanted diced but they didn’t have them)
  • A bunch of little potatoes, cut into quarters or sixths (maybe 20? I wasn’t counting. A bit over 2 cups)*
  • 1 1/2 c. hot water
  • 1 chicken bullion cube
  • 3 Tbs Butter
  • 3 tbs flour
  • 3 c. milk (fat-free because nobody in the house drinks anything else)
  • 1/2 c. heavy cream
  • Spices and whatnot

Optional:

  • Decent but not too good chilled white wine (I used Chardonnay)
  • Dry ginger beer (Fevertree or Gosling’s are good; Bundaberg is too sweet)

Serving suggestions: shredded cheddar, sour cream, hot sauce (my hot sauce of choice is Chipotle Tabasco.)

*****

I started by hauling out the heavy (and beloved) cast iron Dutch oven, so I could feel like a real cook. I looked up twenty zillion corn chowder recipes and decide screw it, I’ll make my own.

Browned bacon pieces, resisting the urge to just eat the bacon. Removed pieces, leaving fat behind. Sweated onions and celery in bacon fat. While that is going on, cut kernels from corn. (I swear, next time I’m using frozen.) Congratulated myself that I still have all my fingers unscathed.

Dissolved the bullion cube in the hot water. Idly wondered how much sodium is in the bullion, and decided I am too lazy to check. Dumped dissolved bullion into pot, and added potatoes. Cooked until potatoes are nearly but not completely tender.

Got butter out of freezer and discovered I hadn’t bought 1/2 cup sticks last time I went to Costco, I had bought pound blocks. Chopped off what I think was three tablespoons. Melted the butter, got distracted, and managed to grab butter off burner before it got more than a little brown. Made a roux using the flour because I was born in New Orleans by God so I damn well better know how to make a roux. (Okay, so my parents left when I was four and I consider myself a Floridian, but still…) Added milk slowly, whisking all the while. Added cream, the second 1/2 cup after I accidentally knocked the first 1/2 cup all over the stove, including the burner which is for some reason missing a drip pan, which means it will be a bitch clearing it off the underpart of the stove.

Dumped milk mixture and corn in with potatoes. Added bacon pieces. Tasted. Decided that I was too nervous that I would screw the seasoning up, so I limited them to salt and Penzey’s Florida Pepper, because it is one of my favorite spices. (Besides, every time Trump does something stupid they have a promotion so I have accumulated a lot of spices I am trying to figure out how to use.)

Simmered a little while more so the corn could cook a little bit and the flavors could cozy up. Meanwhile, I placed a couple of ice cubes in a glass. Filled it halfway with chilled white wine. It gets topped off with ginger beer. This goes into the cook, not into the soup. It may not be everybody’s cup of tea — or glass of wine — but I like it.

*****

Railfan and I ate the soup with shredded cheddar and sour cream (and in my case hot sauce). It was very tasty — good enough I will probably make it again. (I will play around with the seasonings — it probably could use parsley.) This also means that, with the Vidalia onion soup I made a few days ago I made soup (that was not chili) from scratch twice in a week.

Go me.

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Mueller Report, I

I am reading the Mueller Report, so you don’t have to. Not that it’s boring or difficult, but it is nearly 400 pages, not including introductions and appendices. I will be taking this in chunks — consider this my introductory post.

My first thought is that there is no way in hell that Barr read the whole report in a weekend. Even if he assigned the material to assistants, reading the report and reviewing the underlying evidence would take longer than that. Given the length of time between his press conference claiming that the report exonerated Trump and when the report was released to the public, I believe that he had not actually read the report, especially as he made a great deal of Mueller not recommending indicting the President when Mueller clearly indicates why he did not.

I am working on three assumptions:

  1. Robert Mueller is an honorable man who investigated with an open mind and as responsibly as was possible.
  2. Robert Mueller and his team are much better lawyers than I am — certainly very much more experienced.
  3. Just because I detest someone and their behavior does not mean that they have committed a crime.

From what I have read so far, one thought keeps recurring: it is a blessing that Trump is an egomaniacal idiot who refuses advice. Yes, it has been a disaster in a great many ways, and the damage done will last for a generation. It could have been worse.

I have heard it said that we have become a Russian puppet state. I don’t believe it, even though Putin and friends have certainly disrupted not only our elections but the fabric of our social discourse. But had we had a candidate, or God forbid, a President, willing to do whatever it took and make whatever promises they needed to win, and who was more intelligent, more politically sophisticated, and more accepting of advice, we might actually be on our way to becoming a Russian puppet state.

A more politically savvy “statesman” would have welcomed — nay, insisted upon — Jeff Sessions’s recusal. A more nuanced politician would have not fired James Comey, but would have done everything to hamstring him as much as possible behind the scenes. (They certainly would have not gone on national television and given incriminating statements after the fact.) Because the White House acted guilty as all hell, seventy per cent of the general public (minus Congressional Republicans and their “base”) wanted an investigation.

A more careful politician would have exercised restraint in their dealings with the Russians. They would have not met alone in the Oval Office with the Russian ambassador. They would not have praised Vladimir Putin so effusively, or met with him or called him secretly.

All the nefarious activities would be undertaken at a remove, by middlemen who could be fired if they were found to be engaging in activities damaging to U.S. national interests. (With suitable sadness and regret, naturally.) The President would be above reproach. Let the intelligence agencies investigate; there would be nothing to tie the President to the Russians, until we were entwined arm in arm.

Any information the public got would be thrown above the transom of newspapers and other media outlets. A thoroughly scurrilous operation would blunt the effect of the leaks, by creating “leaks” of their own, seeded with just enough information while enveloping them in a cloud of falsity so as to discredit the mainstream media. (As an aside, it still impresses me how leak-free the Mueller investigation was.)

I think I need to stop for now; I’m scaring myself. There’s clearly a novel there waiting to be written (if Tom Clancy or James Patterson have not already written one).

At any rate, as Rachel Maddow is fond of saying, “Watch this space.” Although be warned, it may take a little while. As I said, it is a nearly 400 page report.

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Existential questions.

How do you know when you’re broken? How do you determine whether this is your psyche demanding a few days (or months) of letting go?

Or when you have become a Good German? Or a Soviet comrade?

When is it all too much?

Perhaps I suffer from a lack of imagination, but I never expected to reach this point in my lifetime. I hated the Reagan and GWB administration, but I never felt hopeless. I never entertained the thought that there would be anything other than a smooth transfer of power between administrations. Michael Cohen, the President’s fixer and someone who really new Trump, raised that very possibility in his testimony to Congress. When I heard him say that, I felt sick. Never in my lifetime, not even during Watergate, has any Congressional witness said anything like that.

It received no media coverage, lost in all the other revelations during Cohen’s testimony.

I know the only hope we have is to fight. The Third Reich collapsed, albeit under the withering attack of opposing militaries. The Soviet Union fell apart, too, albeit taking over seven decades to do so. If the forces of hatred and oppression, who would turn the clock back to an era they claim was a Golden Age of American history but was really a time they could grind people of color and women under their heel, get thoroughly entrenched, it may take a generation or more to uproot them. Their strategy of nominating and confirming young judges who share their twisted views (such that not only Roe v. Wade but Dredd Scott were wrongly decided (ETA: it is Clarence Thomas who thinks Dred Scott was wrongly decided; Trump’s judicial nominees don’t think Brown v. Board was correct) is thoroughly effective: regardless of what happens at the ballot box, these people will totally control a branch of the government for decades. This is good news for corporations, I suppose, but terrible for a lot more of us.

I have causes; I just need reasons to think I am not just tilting at windmills.

I understand I am probably overreacting. But I need to know the world — the country — can be the good and moral country we used to say we wanted to be.

Hey, a hummingbird!

Hummingbirds don’t care what happens in Alabama. It doesn’t matter to the plovers on the shore whether the President has released his tax returns. The deer on the side of I-280 couldn’t care less what the Mueller Report says.

It’s not much, but it helps.

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