August 4, 2022

Schroeder: A Cat Who Needs a New Home

Schroeder
Schroeder

It’s time to find a forever home for my rescued cat Schroeder. I already have two cats, and I brought Schroeder in from the cold for his protection. I expected to return him to the wild eventually, but he took well to domesticity. I will be moving soon, and doing so with three cats is not an option. (You can see the story of how Schroeder came to be with me here. Some additional recent photos can be seen here.)

Schroeder
Schroeder looks onto deck in the late afternoon
I named this cat Schroeder for consistency. My other two cats are named for Peanuts characters: Charlie and Linus.

Schroeder is a neutered brown mackerel tabby, sort of what comes to mind when you think “cat.” He is a domestic shorthair of unknown parentage and age. My vet’s best guess is that he is between 2 and 3 years old. He is a medium-size cat, weighing 9 pounds or so. He is a very quiet cat; his seldom-heard meow is more of a soft squeak. He is not much of a climber. He manicures his claws on a scratching post and not on the furniture. His coat is fairly smooth, and he sheds very little. He shows no interest in being a lap cat, but this might change if he is given more attention than I have been able to provide. He plays with cat toys, both with and without catnip. He is in excellent health, fully vaccinated, and chipped.

Although Schroeder isn’t keen on being picked up, do not think him standoffish. When I show up in a room where he is, he immediately comes to me and likes to be scratched, especially on his head. In general, he likes to be petted. He follows me around, sometimes getting underfoot when he gets too close. I’ve not stepped on him yet, however. He has never bitten or scratched me or anyone else.

If you live in or near Indiana, Pennsylvania, you can come see Schroeder in his current home. I am willing to deliver cat and cat paraphernalia to an adopter in the Pittsburgh area or elsewhere not too far from Indiana. Schroeder comes with a carrier, litterbox, food and water bowls, dry food, a few toys, and documentation. (You needn’t take all the cat stuff if you don’t need it.)

If you would like to adopt Schroeder (or at least consider doing so), please e-mail me as soon as you can at cat@deimel.org. (Schroeder comes free, of course.)

As a parting shot, here’s a short video of Schroeder playing with one of his favorite toys:

July 24, 2022

Feeding the Hummingbirds

I went through a number of hummingbird feeders before I finally found one that worked well for me. Most of my earlier purchases employed a large reservoir above a circular base that included a number of fake-flower feeding stations. I suspect my placement of these feeders may have had something to do with my failure to attract hummingbirds. But such feeders have two intrinsic disadvantages. First, the reservoirs are outrageously large, encouraging nectar profligacy. The other problem is that the big reservoirs block one’s view of some of the feeding stations.

My current hummingbird feeder is working well, and I am seeing hummingbirds at it every day. Photographing the birds, however, is frustrating, as I can never anticipate when they will show up. I have managed to take a few photos.

The latest feeder holds the nectar below a gently curved top. Unlike some feeders, this one also has a circular perch around the feeder. Interestingly, some birds perch on this rim and drink nectar. Less commonly, other birds hover while feeding. I’ve been unsuccessful taking photos of the hovering birds.

All the birds I’ve seen are ruby-throated hummingbirds, of course, the only species found in the Eastern U.S.


Perched Hummingbird
One of the perching hummingbirds


Feeding Hummingbird
A bird feeding on nectar

July 20, 2022

Democrats and Messaging

I am a liberal Democrat. I believe that governing by Democrats will make America freer, fairer, safer, and more prosperous than will governing by Republicans. In an ideal America, the two major parties would share power and act together for the good of the country. The parties once did that, but it cannot happen again as long as the GOP is dominated by Donald Trump and Donald Trump wannabees.

The Democratic Party cannot advance a liberal agenda—or pretty much any agenda—given the current makeup of Congress and the party’s weakness in the legislatures of many states. This situation demands that we elect more Democrats at every level of government.

Building Democratic majorities requires strong candidates and well-stocked campaign chests. Gerrymandering and voter suppression laws enacted by Republican legislators make this project especially difficult. But Democrats can improve their prospects by crafting their messaging to appeal to more voters rather than scaring them away. (I have written elsewhere about policy positions in 2022. Here, I am more concerned with how the Democratic message is delivered.)

A classic past messaging mistake is the failure to disavow, in the strongest terms, the ill-conceived slogan “DEFUND THE POLICE.” One cannot blame people for having concluded that the slogan implied disbanding the police without concern for the consequences. Even many (most?) people using the slogan did not take it literally, but any slogan that requires paragraphs of explanation is a bad slogan. Many people—notably Joe Biden—disavowed the slogan. Too few Democrats did, and some actually embraced it. Party leaders should have insisted that the slogan was mindless and counterproductive and, although they acknowledged that policing needed some rethinking in this country, defunding the police was not an idea that the party neither embraced nor condoned. The lesson here is that, although a simplified message has its attractions, one can simplify to the point of incoherence. Messages must be carefully crafted.

Liberals—mostly Democrats, I assume—are being equally stupid with regard to transgender people. They label any suggestion that transgender people should be treated any differently than cisgender people of the same “gender” as transphobia. And they insist that transgender people be acknowledged whenever people are spoken of. Democrats need to recognize that there is a difference between sensitivity to personal differences and pandering or virtue-signaling to what is seen as a disfavored minority. Yes, liberals should support sexual minorities, but they should avoid seeming unreasonable.

The increased visibility of trans people is a fairly recent phenomenon, and, for most people, it takes some getting used to. Anyone who doesn’t harbor at least some ambivalence or consternation regarding such folks probably hasn’t thought much about them. This is not to say that Democrats should throw their trans friends under the bus, but it does mean respecting honest concerns and being willing to engage in discussion about the trans phenomenon.

No discussion of transgender rights can be productive if the audience does not accept the legitimacy of transgender people. Unfortunately, to avoid pointless discussion, it may sometimes be necessary to assert that trans people are real and honest. Everyone has known pansy boys and tomboy girls, and such people may wish to be—or believe that, in some sense, they are—properly members of the opposite sex. That may be hard to understand, but it isn’t inconceivable. This is a reasonable and caring message. Medical care for trans children is a tricky subject and is probably best framed in terms of parental rights. (Republicans seem to like the concept of parental rights regarding their children.)

Anyway, if one can get past the idea that being trans is simply a way for children to spy on members of the opposite sex, issues such as which bathroom they should use become easier to discuss without alienating too many voters. If one thinks of oneself and dresses and acts as someone of the opposite sex, using the bathroom “of the sex you were assigned at birth” is simply embarrassing for all concerned. Avoiding such embarrassment can be justified as a matter of simple human dignity.

Discussing the participation in girl sports by transgender girls should be approached carefully. There are legitimate concerns here. If a transgender girl has experienced male puberty, it should be admitted that she may have an unfair advantage when competing against cisgender females. Insisting otherwise makes one look dogmatic, not sensitive. FINA, which administers international competitions in water sports, has ruled that trans females who have undergone male puberty cannot compete. One can argue that, for younger competitors, a similar rule should be applied or that, at lower competition levels, it just isn’t that important. Arguing that trans girls are being denied their rights if, for example, they cannot swim as females, will simply make one seem unreasonable and more concerned for “unusual“ than for “normal” people. (One wonders whether there is some sport in which a transgender boy would be expected to have an advantage over a cisgender male. I’m not sure what sport that would be. It doesn’t seem to be something state legislators are concerned about.) 

Then there is the use by liberals (and, sad to say, mainstream journalists) of such phrases as “pregnant people,” “birthing people,” “menstruating people,” and the like. This drives me, a dyed-in-the-wool liberal, up the wall. Think how the average voter must react. The motivation behind these locutions is, of course, “inclusion.” Yes, a transgender man can be pregnant, but only because he has the biological mechanisms—ovaries, uterus, vagina, etc.—characteristic of a female. However he presents to the world, he must be treated as a woman by any doctor monitoring his pregnancy, irrespective of his “pronouns.” To mangle one’s language to somehow accommodate very rare exceptions is not only self-serving virtue signally, but it is demeaning to cisgender women, who, ironically, feel dismissed, rather than included by the use of such phrases as “pregnant people.” After all, when addressing an audience, one does not normally say “ladies and gentlemen and transgender ladies and transgender men and intersex folks and non-sexual people.” Being “inclusive” just isn’t worth it, and it irritates most of the audience. Democrats, take note.

A bit of an aside: Apparently, it is at least theoretically possible for an intersex person to become pregnant, although this is unlikely for most such persons. In any case, the intersex folks don’t seem to have much of a lobby and probably don’t want to advertise their condition anyway.

Finally, there is the matter of the word “Latinx,” which has been adopted by liberal Democrats (and, again, journalists) and that polling establishes is disliked by most of the people to whom it is intended to refer. Besides the fact that it alienates the very people it seeks to attract, it is a linguistic abomination and should therefore be avoided. We used to get by calling people from Latin America Latinos (Latinas, if only females were being spoken about). No one seemed to get out of sorts at that usage, but the inclusive crowd decided that this was somewhat sexist. (One can see the point.) Thus, they invented Latinx, where, I suppose, the x can represent either o or a (or perhaps both at once). This follows no orthographic rule I have ever encountered and only sort of works for adjectives. Does anyone use the word Latinxes? (Does that word refer to Latin American divorced people?) If Democrats insist on being more inclusive, why not use Latin American—a plural works just fine here—or, to be more creative, just Latin?

Admittedly, in 2022, public speaking is a minefield. Politicians who want to be elected (or re-elected) would do well to seem humane and reasonable and to avoid pitfalls that, sadly, too often seem obvious only after the fact.

Volunteer

Each spring, I plant new flowers and herbs in various planters on the deck. Last winter, I bought new flowerpots and retired one large plastic pot in which I had planted mint. Mint is in a different, more attractive pot now.

Although I worked hard to plant everything and make the deck attractive, I put the retired pot aside and did nothing with it. It still contained soil and the remnants of dead mint plants. I recently noticed a tall stalk growing out of the pot with a bud of some sort at the top. What, I wondered, was this thing.

Today, I found that bud in full bloom. I have no idea what it is, and it resembles nothing I have deliberately planted. This volunteer is a pretty little yellow thing, and it is a joy to see it on the deck. Perhaps it is a daisy of some sort. Can someone tell me what it is?
 

Volunteer Blossom

July 11, 2022

Diane L. Duntley Laid to Rest

A small group of relatives and friends traveled to the Riverview-Corydon Cemetery today to bury the ashes of my friend Diane L. Duntly beside the graves of her parents. The cemetery is in Pennsylvania, just south of the New York line. From this place, one can look down toward the lake created from the Allegheny River when the Kinzua Dam, completed in 1965, was built, The waters behind the dam inundated a number of towns along the river, including Corydon, where the Duntleys maintained the dairy farm on which Diane grew up. The farm was in Pennsylvania and bordered the New York state line.

The Rev. Bill Geiger conducted a brief service early in the afternoon, and I read Eric Whitacre’s poem “Child of Wonder” from The Sacred Veil. The group picture below was taken after the ceremony.
 

July 9, 2022

Course of American Rights, 2022

I began working on a poem a few days ago and was not making much progress. In reaction to the usual enthusiasm attendant the Fourth of  July, I was thinking about events in our history that have not exactly covered our nation with glory. I was thinking about slavery, the Salem witch trials, Wounded Knee, the internment of ethnic Japanese, UpStairs Lounge, and, most recently, Highland Park. My list was much longer.

I began thinking about liberty and the tenuousness it seems to have acquired in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs. The resulting poem—some may not find it very poetic—captures the pessimism that motivated my writing project, though the final output is not at all what I set out to produce. I was thinking about abortion rights, but there are many reasons to fear for other freedoms as well. Justice Thomas’s concurring opinion in Dobbs intensifies that fear.

I don’t know that this poem is in its final form, but I need to let it go for now. My friend Lisa Keppeler helped me edit this poem, and I am grateful for her assistance.
 

Course of American Rights, 2022
by Lionel Deimel

Rights unconceived
Rights named
Rights sought
Rights won
Rights protected
Rights threatened
Rights defended
Rights restricted
Rights revoked
Rights uncertain



Home of the Supreme Court

July 7, 2022

“Electoral”

I have always pronounce “electoral“ with the emphasis on the second syllable. This is the first pronunciation given by Merriam-Webster. The word is related to “election,” of course, and no one seems to place the emphasis in that word other than on the second syllable. Merriam-Webster gives a secondary pronunciation of “electoral” with emphasis on the third syllable, however. Frankly, this is a pronunciation I never heard until recently. This is how Liz Cheney pronounces the word, and everyone I hear on the radio or television seems to be following suit. Is this pronunciation going to become the standard one? If so, why? It really doesn’t seem logical.

Preventing Gun Violence

It has been difficult not to think about the numerous mass shootings that seem to have become a daily feature of news in America. What can we possibly do to lessen the frequency of these events?

After each horrific event, there is an attempt to discern why a shooter acted as he—inevitably he—did and whether there were warning signs that might have been used to predict future violence and perhaps prevent it. Warning signs are usually discovered but only after the fact.

So-called red flag laws, which allow removing weapons from people who are thought to be a danger to themselves or others, are popular. The recently enacted federal gun legislature provides financial incentives to states to enact red flag laws. Studies have suggested that such laws have effectively prevented suicides, though their effect on mass shootings is less clear.

There are several problems with red flag laws. First, although a person may have shown a propensity toward engaging in violent behavior, the signs may be missed or ignored. Shooters are often found to have been active on obscure social media sites where they expressed an affinity toward violent behavior, for example. Participants in discussions on such sites may be sympathetic and disinclined to report distressing behavior.

Red flag laws to not remove guns permanently from potential shooters. Temporary removal may be effective in preventing suicides, which often are inspired by some powerful, yet transitory events. For someone with antisocial tendencies and an inclination to methodically plan a mass shooting, temporarily removing a gun or guns may only delay an attack.

 Red flag laws raise serious civil rights questions. This may be less true for minors, but adults are another matter. If someone writes favorably about violence and this is used to take away a weapon, are we not violating free speech rights? It is difficult not to see red flag laws as punishing someone for crimes not yet committed. One immediately thinks of Minority Report. This is distressing.

So red flag laws are problematic and perhaps not even effective at preventing mass shootings. It is very difficult to identify and stop someone contemplating mass murder. Some have advocated “hardening” potential targets. I suggest, however, that we neither want to nor can afford to make every school, church, and courthouse an impregnable fortress. Nor do we want to treat every Fourth of July parade the same way we treat outdoor speeches by the president of the United States.

In the end, we have a choice. We can accept mass shootings as the cost of “freedom,” or we can restrict the ownership of guns. I sincerely hope that, as a society, we make the latter choice.

July 2, 2022

More on Dobbs

Having already read Justice Alito’s draft opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, when the Supreme Court announced its final decision, I decided that my time would be better spent reading the dissenting opinion from Justices Breyer, Sotomayer, and Kagan. Doing so proved very enlightening, and it’s a project I recommend to anyone with the interest and time to take it on. Or you can read below my observations on what the three justices wrote. (My initial essay on Dobbs is here.)

As you might suspect, the three dissenting justices are unimpressed with the reasoning of the majority. Supreme Court justices are not in the habit of calling their colleagues nasty names, but, within the bounds of judicial decorum, I think it fair to say that their dissent is scathing. Their view of what the reactionary justices in the majority were about is best captured in this analysis: 

The majority has overruled Roe and Casey for one and only one reason: because it has always despised them, and now it has the votes to discard them. The majority thereby substitutes a rule by judges for the rule of law.

Much of the dissent is about the flimsy rationale offered for overturning Roe and Casey and the disdain shown by the majority toward both judicial convention and American women.

The Roe decision is nearly 50 years old. The Casey decision came fifteen years later, affirming the basic finding of Roe while rejecting its trimester scheme of Roe and introducing the undue burden standard limiting state-imposed restrictions on abortions.

Breyer, et al., argue that Americans have come to rely on the right to abortion. Extinguishing that right will have profound consequences, particularly for poor women. The court’s majority dismisses the reliance interest of women, however, and argues that any reliance interest that militates against rejecting a prior decision must be “very concrete,” involving, for example, contracts. The dissenters observe

The majority’s refusal even to consider the life-altering consequences of reversing Roe and Casey is a stunning indictment of its decision.

The propriety of overturning Roe and Casey turns on the validity of the decisions themselves—the dissent actually focuses on Casey, as it was the ruling opinion prior to Dobbs—and on the doctrine of stare decisis, the legal principle that, absent compelling reasons to do otherwise, previous opinions should be respected.

 Breyer, et al., explain that the right to seek an abortion was predicated on the concept of personal liberty derived from the Fourteenth Amendment. In Casey, the court struck a balance between state interests and those of the individual woman. In Dobbs, however, the interest of the woman disappears. The court, they say, does not believe in balance.

Why did the court not recognize a right to abortion in the Fourteenth Amendment? The answer involves the perverse notion of originalism, a legal concept not actually called out by name in the dissent. According to the dissenters, the majority was interested in only one question: Was the right to an abortion understood as a consequence of the Fourteenth Amendment when it was adopted in 1868? Of course, no one suggests that it was. If you buy into the notion that the meaning of a constitutional provision is forever fixed at the time of its adoption—this is the essence of originalism—then you must conclude that there was not a right to abortion in 1868, and, therefore, there is not one in 2022.

We should not be shocked that the court was willing to toss out half a century of legalized abortion based on what men thought in 1868. (Women had no voice in governing back then.) For example, in her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Amy Coney Barrett declared that originalism is the system of legal interpretation to which she is committed. As she explained,

I interpret the Constitution as a law, that I interpret its text as text, and I understand it to have the meaning that it had at the time people ratified it. That meaning doesn’t change over time, and it’s not up to me to update it or infuse my own policy views into it.

 Breyer, et al., reject this strange view and point out that the court has recognized other rights not enumerated in the Constitution and not recognized in 1868. Frighteningly, Justice Thomas is well aware of this and plans to do something about it in the future.

The dissent offers a long discussion regarding the circumstances in which a prior court ruling may properly be overturned despite the default inaction demanded by stare decisis. It is not enough—non-lawyers may be surprised by this—that a case was wrongly decided. There must be special circumstances that demand a correction. What has changed since Roe and Casey were decided? Nothing of substance. Only the philosophy of a majority of the justices has changed. Ironically, whereas the current court is returning the question of abortion to a time decades ago, many other countries have, in recent decades, expanded abortion rights.

The majority opinion cites a number of cases that were subsequently overruled to justify their action in Dobbs. The dissenters analyze each of these and find significant changes in society to justify the original decisions being overturned. They do not provide appropriate models for the decision in Dobbs.

The dissenters note that the legitimacy of the court is built over time, but that “it can be destroyed much more quickly.” They conclude their remarks with this observation:

In overruling Roe and Casey, this Court betrays its guiding principles.