Monday Memo

by Categorized: Uncategorized Date:

This guy nails the problem(s) with the White House Correspondents Dinner, a/k/a the Nerd Prom, although I sympathize slightly with attendees who are asked point blank to name their favorite White House Correspondent. A cool answer would have been to go vintage: “The ’74 Dan Rather.” From the current crop, Don Gonyea is always a nice answer. Mark Knoller is a super-wonky answer. And then there’s the  Cheshire Cat.

On our Monday show, The Scramble, we’ve decided to bag that nerd prom and cover a different one.  Maybe a little less nerdy. We’re talking about Kantchella. We’re talking about Nietzschepalooza. We’re talking about Lockestock. We’re talking about Frommaroo. We’re talking about the 62-philosopher smackdown. Here’s our guest for today on that one.

By 9 p.m. John Cage had given way to pounding disco classics from the 1970s in the embassy’s bookstore, Albertine. Over at the Ukrainian Institute, the coffee machine broke down. On the plus side, free charcuterie from D’Artagnan appeared. Speaking in the Ukrainian Institute’s concert hall, Susan Schneider, of the University of Connecticut, speculated about the nature of alien consciousness and cast doubt on whether extraterrestrial beings might be as interested in communicating with us as we are with them. “You don’t spend time reading a book to your goldfish,” she said.

Also on our show today, when it comes to crime and punishment you might thing that the following two things would result in increased punishment (a) a cynical, as opposed to idealistic, motive (b) the betrayal of a position of great trust. You would be wrong, at least when it comes to Gen. David Petraeus. It turns out that the more important you are, the lighter your punishment, even if your crime involved a direct violation of what made you important in the first place.

Looking down the week toward the Nose, we’re already getting interested in the PEN controversy over Charlie Hebdo. And we’re wondering if we can connect it — at least at the level of walk-outs — with the Adam Sandler controversy.  Here’s Garry Trudeau, over the weekend, on Hebdo:



Drinking Carrot Juice With Lolita in Tehran

by Categorized: Politix Date:

GlassOfJuice and carrotsToday’s Times: 

“Everybody loves us here,” said Ned Lamont, a digital services entrepreneur and former politician, holding a glass of carrot juice offered by one of his hosts.


“I asked, what about the ‘Death to America’ slogan?” Mr. Lamont said, referring to the phrase that appears on many banners across the country and has long been shouted at public demonstrations. But the cleric responded that the slogan was from a different era. “He told us, ‘This is the new Iran,’ ” Mr. Lamont said. “Such messages are hopeful and different.”

The Husky Hushed Puppy

by Categorized: Politix Date:

Boss Tweed, Thomas NastIf you wanted to set up a situation in which corruption might someday flourish, you couldn’t do much better than the currently shadowy state of the UConn Foundation. By the way, I think we should make a point of using words like that to describe it. In reporting oil spills, pervasive hacks and volcano eruptions, we should always add, “It is impossible to rule out the involvement of the shadowy UConn Foundation.”  UPDATE: Foundation veep Derek Slap, on my show today, said the foundation is far more transparent than people realize. He’s right that you can look at their 990 and at their annual report. You can look at other kinds of balance sheets.  But you can’t see where all their money comes from.

A Keating story today makes clear how difficult it will be to pass an oversight bill this year. Here’s why that’s important.

UConn itself resists normal oversight on construction projects and the hiring of related consultants. Even after the disasters of UConn 2000 nearly ten years ago, in which the university’s contracting process was so sloppy as to pose a real danger to its students, UConn still kept a lot of its independence. 

Given that, I think it’s fair to ask questions about all these donors who supposedly don’t want their contributions to the Foundation to come to light. Why would that be, exactly? Usually, with donors, you can’t write their names big enough on a plaque to make them happy. But an opaque foundation screams out “pay for play opportunity.” As I said on the show today, nobody’s saying that’s happening right now, but it makes it hard to police in the future, if, for example, Sith lords take over the Foundation. 

Now let’s add in UConn’s dissolution of its Alumni Association — or at least its ties to same. Here’s how the President of the Alumni Association described it this week in a letter to members.

… as you are likely aware, the University’s Board of Trustees has voted to approve the consolidation of its alumni relations activities under the umbrella of the [shadowy] UConn Foundation.

If there was any possibility of arguing that the Foundation was a free-standing nonprofit, it vanishes when things like this happen. Slap says it’s free-standing, but the Foundation seems more like an extension of UConn. You can even see here how it sits inside their website. It coordinates and oversees university functions, at the direction (Slap would say “request”) of the Board. (By the way, check out the staff of the Foundation. It’s a small town.)

There’s a compelling public interest in seeing its list of donors right now and asking questions about how that dovetails with who gets what work at UConn. Maybe there’s nothing to see, but these conditions set the table for a banquet of knavery.


I Surface You; You Surface Me

by Categorized: Words and phrases Date:

I like where I work. I work at Connecticut Public Radio (WNPR). It’s pretty easy to go on the air — as we’ve been doing this week — and ask people to pledge money, because we do good stuff, stuff I firmly believe in.

Today I got on the elevator and noticed, posted on the wall, this mission statement for our whole company, CPBN.

CPBN Vision and Promise

VISION: To be the world’s bravest public media organization, exploring territory in ways no one else can, and empowering our audience to make our world a more extraordinary place to live.


— Create a safe space for exploring hard topics.

— Surface all sides of an issue without judgment.

— Give Connecticut a voice.

— Explore our shared curiosities.

— Connect, grow, and learn with you.

— Make you laugh, cheer, and reflect.

OK, my heart sank a little. (But then it surfaced?) The ideas are nice. I can (more than) live with all  but one of those sentiments. The first sentence would have benefited from some copy editing. For example, the double use of the pronoun “our” creates unnecessary confusion. “Our audience” is CPBN’s audience. But “our world” is presumably everybody’s world, right? We’re not asking our audience to make things extraordinary just for us, I hope. Whatever. I’m not upset about that.

I am upset about the word “surface.” What, in that context, can it possibly mean? “Surface,” used as a transitive verb, has a small set of meanings, all of them having to do with putting a new surface on something, like a road. In that sense, surfacing something inevitably involves changing its exterior, either by adding a new coat or perhaps by polishing. There is something “Dr. Maxmilian” does in his Dubai tooth clinic, but I doubt you’d want it done to you. The transitive sense of “surface” seems completely at odds with all that follows. How can you present “all sides of an issue without judgment” if you’re polishing and sanding and pouring some new asphalt on it?

The other possibility is that this is some attempt to play around with intransitive meanings of “surface” — possibly in the sense of “bring to the surface.” If so, it’s a non-standard use of the word. It’s unnecessarily confusing. Why would the world’s bravest public media organization want a confusing word in its mission statement?

I smell a consultant. They can’t charge you $100,000 an hour (or whatever they charge) just to come up with “present all sides of each issue without judgment.” No. They have to use “surface” in manner that implies a acquaintance with special idioms of the business world.

Of course, it’s also not our mission. We’re not supposed to present all sides of, say, the vaccination issue without judgment. That wouldn’t be very brave.


Porcupines & Bushels

by Categorized: Deep thoughts, Politix, Words and phrases Date:

No. This was not the working title for “Polka Dots and Moonbeams.” That I know of.

The other day, the Porcupine, in explaining his own general lack of reticence, invoked Scripture thusly.

“Listen: I’ve never hidden my candle under a basket,” Malloy said last week.

Today being Easter, I thought it might be interesting to take a look at the way that phrase has come down to us. Especially the last word. Also, there’s a nifty tie-in the “Wolf Hall” which kicks off tonight on PBS. We read it in the KJV as:

“Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.  Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.”  (Matthew 5:14-15)

Like many before him, the Porcupine has assumed that a bushel is a basket. But to a person in the age of “Wolf Hall” and the KJV  it would more likely be an 8-gallon bucket.  It makes more sense that way. A candle under a basket is a fire hazard, and the light would seep through.

Bucket (PSF).jpg
Bucket (PSF)” by Pearson Scott Foresman – Archives of Pearson Scott Foresman, donated to the Wikimedia Foundation. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Now, who chose “bushel?” This is where it gets very interesting and all up in Wolf Hall. You have probably never heard of William Tyndale even though you use his jams  every day, especially if you are celebrating “Passover” right now or complaining that in this “moment in time,” Calipari is kind of a “scapegoat.” Check out the “impact on the English language” here.  It’s breathtaking.

Tyndale is a big deal in the world of “Wolf Hall.” Note this review.

[Thomas] More’s admirers have glossed over his crusade against Protestantism, which led to the torture and burning of men who distributed Tyndale’s English New Testament. Wolf Hall brings this back into the open, a reminder that religious steadfastness is not necessarily a virtue or flexibility the Mark of Evil.

So there you go.  If I end with “Godspell” will that wreck the mood? They rhyme “bushel” with “crucial.”

So Does Connecticut Have a RFRA Like Indiana’s?

by Categorized: Uncategorized Date:

1855 Colton Map of Indiana - Geographicus - Indiana-colton-1855
Yes and no. Mostly no.

You’re going to read this often in the commentary about Malloy’s travel ban. It’s in the comments to this article.  And it’s in this disingenuously worded piece of commentary. The argument made is: how can Malloy object to Indiana when Connecticut has essentially the same law?

Believe me, I came to this question with an open mind.  It would have amused me if Connecticut were caught in an act of ahistorical hypocrisy, and I like being amused. In a different way, it would please me to say that our law is not like Indiana’s. I’m happy either way. So let’s look at the facts.

Connecticut’s law is relatively old. It dates back to 1993.  You can read the text here. The law is restricted to interactions between the government and a person, and it says that the government can’t burden the person’s “exercise of religion” except in furtherance of a compelling government interest and even then only when the burden is the least restrictive means of furthering that interest. That’s the whole law. You could say it screams out for court cases that will define terms like “exercise of religion” and “compelling government interest.” You could not say that it goes out of its way to define those terms on one side’s behalf. I was halfway into writing this post when Dan Klau, an actual lawyer, published his own take on it. He gives you some of the 1993 history here. 

The Indiana law — read it here –is, of course, the modern, updated version.  But that does not, in this case, mean “sleek.” The Indiana law is clunked up with new language, and most of that language is based on lawsuits from the intervening years. The purpose of the new language is almost invariably to make it easier for the party claiming religious injury to prove its case. Let’s pull this out of the realm of the abstract. Let us imagine that I am a communicant of the Church of the Giant White Serpent (CGWS). My church believes that blacks are inferior and that physically disabled people bear the mark of Cain. The First Amendment allows me to belong to such a distasteful church, provided I don’t go around inciting wrath. But now I would like to go a little further. I would like to open a lunch counter, and I would like to run it along the lines of my beliefs. What does the new Indiana law do for me?

1. Perhaps the biggest difference between Indiana and Connecticut is that the Indiana law does not restrict itself to state vs. person conflict. Instead it says I may make my argument  “as a claim or defense in a judicial proceeding, regardless of whether the state or a political subdivision of the state is a party to the judicial proceeding.”  At my CGWS lunch counter, I make blacks sit separately and I don’t let disabled people in at all. It’s my religion! The Connecticut law deals only with my rights vis a vis the state, but the Indiana law arms me against complaints from private parties. I can kick out the guy in the wheelchair, and I’m on firmer legal ground, even if he sues me. In Connecticut, I don’t really have any spelled out rights until the Attorney General shows up and tells me I have to seat African-Americans and blind people alongside my regular customers.

2.   But wait. There’s more. Indiana’s law affirms that I can assert that my exercise of religion has been burdened “whether or not compelled by, or central to, a system of religious belief.” So I don’t even have to prove that my intolerance toward blacks and the disabled is a central tenet of the CGWS, just that it’s in the mix somewhere. (So don’t fall for the argument that Indiana’s law has a higher burden of proof because it uses the phrase “substantially burdened” while Connecticut’s does not. The Indiana law is in other respects explicit about how insubstantial the burden can be. Also, see item 3. )

3. What else can Indiana do for me? Well, it can say that I don’t have to prove a burden to seek relief. I can claim I am “likely to be substantially burdened.” What does that mean? I have no idea, but I hope my CGWS attorneys will argue that even the possibility that someone — a government agent or a private party — will show up and claim I’m in the wrong is more than my pretty little white head should have to bear.

4. The Indiana law spells out four forms of relief.  Go ask Klau what that means.  It’s certainly different from the CT law.

5. Is that it, Indiana?  I mean, I’m just a little guy, a lunch counter owner whose religion contains important teachings about the pernicious nature of blacks and disabled people. What chance do I have if the government shows up claiming that it has a compelling interest in making me serve these children of a lesser god?

In Connecticut, that killjoy George Jepsen is probably going to shut down my racist lunch counter with the argument that it is not an exercise of religion. It’s just a damn lunch counter. George would say I’m not exercising my religion when I’m making and selling sandwiches.

But the new Indiana law includes, in its definition of a (possibly burdened) person “a partnership, a limited liability company, a corporation, a company, a firm, a society, a joint-stock company, an unincorporated association, or another entity that: (A) may sue and be sued; and (B) exercises practices that are compelled or limited by a system of religious belief held by: (i) an individual; or (ii) the individuals; who have control and substantial ownership of the entity, regardless of whether the entity is organized and operated for profit or nonprofit purposes.” Whoa!  This is certainly not in the Connecticut statute. I am engaging in protected religious exercises when I’m making and selling (or refusing to sell) liverwurst sandwiches. Who knew?

In conclusion, anybody who tells you Indiana and Connecticut have the same RFRA law is a big fat liar.

Now, if my lunch counter refuses to serve gay couples, yet another difference kicks in which is not contained in the two laws. Connecticut affords specific protections from discrimination based on sexual orientation — oh God, please, don’t make me explain “quasi suspect classification!” — whereas Indiana does not.  I suppose you could say that the new Indiana RFRA strengthens the capacity of business to discriminate against gays, as opposed to creating a whole new capacity. (Klau, any thoughts?)

What you cannot say, however, is that our beloved Porcupine has failed to note the similarities between the Connecticut and Indiana laws. They are not the same laws — in intent or letter.


Alta Tensione!

by Categorized: Colin's Theories of Culture, sports Date:

altaYou know what the Courant should do to John Altavilla?  Basically nothing.*

And I don’t say this as his chum. I worked onsite at the Courant for 20 years, but that was, um, 20 years ago. I’m not in the building now. I don’t know him.

And is it great that he informed the world about the way the skimpily dressed Texas cheerleaders delighted him? No. It is not great. But neither is it dastardly. Just kind of bad judgment. The Altavilla story, which has been sitting out there as the center lead at Ct Capital Report for half a day now, is more a story about the world of online Pecksniffs who have never outgrown the habit of telling the teacher what the other boys were doing. Thus we have somebody named Andy Hutchins who, were he a different person, could easily have confronted Altavilla, at least on Twitter, and suggested he tone it down. This is what big boys do. You got a problem with somebody? Tell him. He might even thank you for the nudge. If he won’t straighten out, see the light, take the hint, maybe you go upstairs at that point. But Hutchins’ first instinct was to drag Altavilla’s employer into the fray.

As a caustic political columnist, I may have no standing to complain about this. And I get that the internet is often about counting coup and maybe even loading your belt with scalps. But what I can’t forgive is a piece written by AA Locker.  If you’re going to write a takedown on your Deadspin wannabe website, use a real name, please.

I started thinking a lot about the culture of digital ostracism last week while preparing for this show. I was struck anew by how much trouble you can get in these days, and how little it takes. This seemed especially true in the case of Andrew Pessin.  Let me preface this by saying I sit on the other side of the aisle from this guy. I’m more likely to think that the Palestinian case is under-represented in the American debate and that the actions and rhetoric of Israel are often too easily waved off. So the last thing I need is another armchair Likkudist professor, and I was prepared to be thoroughly outraged by his comments.

And then. I wasn’t.

I mean, I didn’t agree with them.  Or like them. I would have welcomed a chance to tell him he was off base. But I would not have needed to do it with my hands around his throat, nor would I have had to retreat to my fainting coach and reset my trigger warning light.

So, John. Eyes off the pom poms. Eyes on the court. I realize that part of the problem may have been how boring most UConn women’s games are. My idea of hell is to be stuck at a 105-54 blowout (and with a 1 seed playing a 5, for heaven’s sake). Attentions are bound to wander. Don’t do it again. Bygones.

* I’m reserving one escape clause. I had to think about the “urban sportswriter” tweet for a while before I realized it was a reference to the Boz Scaggs song in “Urban Cowboy.” Did I miss something else. Is there some more profoundly carnal meme in these tweets?

Still Rubble-utionary!

by Categorized: Uncategorized, Year in Review Date:

Here is a new idea.

With no money for staff and upkeep of our once-proud state park system, why not knock things down and market the faux ruins?

A second concept, called an “ecological park,” would involve restoration of a historic building as a visitor center, while other buildings may be demolished or restored to a ruined state to preserve the spirit of the history of the property.

The great thing about this is idea is that when the park falls into neglect, nobody will be able to tell!

An “attractive ruin” is a building left intentionally in a ruined state intended to be evocative of the structure’s historical uses.

I like the name Pam Award.


Ogrodzieniec widok z wi?y obronnej.jpg
Ogrodzieniec widok z wi?y obronnej” by AisogOwn work. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 pl via Wikimedia Commons.