Exhibit A for Legal Realism: I’m Not in Washington Defense

“‘Defendants maintain that because the state constitution defines Washington’s northern boundary in relevant part as the 49th parallel, the State does not have jurisdiction to prosecute them for crimes committed south of the international border between the United States and Canada, but north of the 49th parallel as currently located.’

Perhaps not wanting to create ‘a nebulous strip of territory along the border that was part of the United States, but not part of Washington,’ in the words of the AP, the Court ruled against the defendants. (Per the decision, ‘the political and conceptual location of the international and state borders was the same when Washington was admitted as a state, and remains so.’)  But don’t write off their case as entirely frivolous. One of the nine members of the Court, Justice Richard Sanders, dissented, arguing that ‘this case is easier than pi. The 49th parallel can be located to the decimal. If that term is ambiguous, the language of law is no more than sand shaped into castles at the arbitrary whim of he (or she) who wears the black gown.'”

-Dan Lewis, “I’m Not in Washington Defense.” NowIKnow.com. November 18, 2020.

Cain’s Jawbone

“Cain’s Jawbone, a 100-page-long murder mystery puzzle, was last cracked in 1935 when two puzzlers claimed £15 in winnings, just a year after it was originally published.

Now a British comedian has solved the literary puzzle for the first time in 85 years, after submitting the correct solution shortly before the closing of a new year-long competition.

—Jessica Carpani, “British comedian solves world’s ‘most difficult literary puzzle’ becoming third winner in 100 years.” The Telegraph. November 4, 2020.

The Road Map Back From Authoritarianism

“Experts in authoritarianism advise keeping a list of things changing, subtly, around you, so you’ll remember. Days after the 2016 presidential election, I started a list. Each week, I chronicle the ways Donald Trump has changed our country. This selection, adapted from more than 34,000 entries — or about 1 percent of the total — focuses on the norms he and his administration have broken. The List offers us a road map back to normalcy and democracy.”

-Amy Siskind, “This is not normal:
A guide to what the next president will have to unwind.
The Washington Post. October 16, 2020.

Doom scrolling, at its very best.

Art as Tool for Emancipation

“Although the age of community-based photography collectives and adequate funding for the arts is over, their principles are more salient than ever. As our lives become increasingly saturated with manipulative visual culture, questioning the social context of a constant stream of images could not be greater. By asking who images are currently produced for and for whom should they be produced, this forgotten history teaches us the power of inclusion, the importance of documenting community struggle and reinforces a belief in the camera as a universal tool for emancipation.”

-Clarlie Bird, “Flashing In Hackney: The Forgotten History Of London’s Radical Photography Collectives.” The Quietus. October 24, 2020.

Never really thought of photography as a tool for emancipation. Also, interesting to read about the Hackney Flashers as a precursor that led to the Guerrilla Girls, whom I had heard of before. Doing a quick Internet search, I came across this quote in a New York Times piece:

“‘Some of us wanted a piece of the pie, and some of us wanted to blow the whole pie up,’ Kahlo said. ‘We agreed to disagree.'”

Melena Ryzik, “The Guerrilla Girls, After 3 Decades, Still Rattling Art World Cages.” The New York Times. August 5, 2015.

The fuller article and the focus on counting as a means of highlighting inequality is worth thinking on.

What is Amazon?

“So, what is Amazon? It started as an unbound Walmart, an algorithm for running an unbound search for global optima in the world of physical products. It became a platform for adapting that algorithm to any opportunity for customer-centric value creation that it encountered. If it devises a way to keep its incentive structures intact as it exposes itself through its ever-expanding external interfaces, it – or its various split-off subsidiaries – will dominate the economy for a generation. And if not, it’ll be just another company that seemed unstoppable until it wasn’t.”

-Zack Kantor, “What is Amazon?zackkantor.com. March 13, 2019.

The Precautionary Principle and Innovation

“First, there are issues of scale: small-scale explorations by lead users are relatively harmless until they are scaled up to become the dependence of mass consumers. Innovations may grow so popular that their production and consumption affect the stability of ecosystems and democracies, such as plastic waste choking our oceans, or Facebook becoming an increasing threat to the stability of democracies around the world.

Second, there are end-of-product-life considerations that are not properly taken into account, such as dismantling a nuclear energy facility or the recycling of electronic waste. 

Third, the harm from innovation may come not from regular use, but from unanticipated consequences, as shown in the Chernobyl disaster.

Fourth, innovation may be undertaken to deceive consumers and regulators about the nature of a product. The classic example from recent history would be Volkswagen’s intentional programming of its diesel engines to give misleading measurements of NOx emissions during regulatory testing. We might also mention here the case of complex financial market innovations designed to trick unsophisticated investors. 

A fifth dimension relates to the social injustice whereby those who gain from an innovation differ from those who lose. A recent Oxfam report estimates that the richest 1% of the world’s population is responsible for more than twice the carbon pollution of the poorest half of humanity during a critical 25-year period of emissions growth. 

Taking into account the downsides of technological innovation as well as the advantages leads us to think about the tradeoffs involved. The ‘precautionary principle’ suggests that regulators should not wait until an absolute scientific or societal consensus is achieved before taking regulatory action against dubious products and processes.”

-Alex Coad, “Innovation is harming us in ways we have yet to understand.” Pando. October 5, 2020.

Cults: Dissociation, Group Psychology, and Cognitive Dissonance

“”How does cult psychology work? How is it possible to persuade human adults to enter a weird cognitive landscapewith no basis in reality? To enter a fantasy realm so profound that they’ll willingly die for whomever has been selected as the local Messiah?”

–Matthew J Sharps Ph.D, “Cults and Cognition: Programming the True Believer.” Psychology Today. October 2, 2020.

Partial answer: Through dissociation group psychology, and cognitive dissonance.

“…cognitive dissonance (e.g ., Festinger et al. 1956), which manifests itself in the tendency to overvalue anything in which we’ve invested too much—money, time, emotional energy, whatever. Cognitive dissonance essentially means that the more you’ve paid, the better you like. Whether it makes any sense or not.

-ibid.

Auden on Time and God

“‘I’ve learned a little in my life,’ he said. ‘Not much. But I will share with you what I do know. I hope it will help.’ He lit a cigarette, looked at the ceiling, then said, ‘I know only two things. The first is this: There is no such thing as time.’ He explained that time was an illusion: past, present, future. Eternity was “without a beginning or an end,’ and we must come to terms with what underlies time, or exists around its edges. He quoted the Gospel of John, where Jesus said: ‘Before Abraham was, I am.’ That disjunctive remark upends our notions of chronology once and for all, he told me.

I listened, a bit puzzled, then asked: ‘So what’s the second thing?’ ‘Ah, that,’ he said. ‘The second thing is simply advice. Rest in God, dear boy. Rest in God.’

Auden’s two points of wisdom have taken decades to absorb. He was telling me, I think, that our frantic search for meaning in the calendar and clock — the race against time — is foolish in the context of a larger universe or God’s eternity (one can define ‘God’ in so many different ways). ‘Ridiculous the waste sad time,’ wrote T. S. Eliot, urging us toward ‘the still point of the turning world.’

The advice to rest in God seems more and more relevant to me. It invites us to relax into the power of the universe that sustains us, that holds us up, embraces us — even to the point of death. This is, I think, the Easter message in a nutshell: trusting in God’s power to transform our lives into something better.”

-Jay Parini, “What W.H. Auden taught me about Easter, God and surviving a season of Covid-19.” CNN. April 9, 2020.

h/t Alan Jacobs.