Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Alternate Universes: A Tale of Two Networks

My weekend plans were re-arranged after an unexpected trip to the hospital for my mother. She's fine now, thanks. My mom has a little dog and my most important job last weekend was to stay at her place to take care of the pooch. Crashing at her downtown apartment is a little like staying in a nice hotel, complete with cable TV, which we don't have (for good reason) at home.

My tradition of entering a hotel room for the first time is to plop down on the bed and check out what stations the TV has to offer. It works pretty much the same at my mom's. I'm not a huge TV watcher at home so maybe that's why I'm always eager to take advantage of the tube when I'm away.

It just so happened that my mother checked into the hospital on huge news day. Last Friday three major stories vied for our nation's attention, the Senate vote on the Republican income tax overhaul,  Robert Mueller's indictment of former Trump national security advisor, Michael Flynn, and the acquittal of Jose Garcia Zarate in the murder charges in the death of  Kathryn Steinle.

MSNBC, the only TV news my mother watches, devoted this past Friday to the Flynn case, with only a brief mention here and there about the impending Senate vote. In the time I sat in her hospital room, I must have seen the tape of Flynn leaving his car and entering Federal Court in Washington D.C. with his lawyer by his side, at least two thousand times. Not a single angle of the story was left uncovered while the network's reporters and commentators, especially Rachel Maddow, could not conceal their glee at the prospect that this move of Robert Mueller to go after a one time high ranking member of the administration, nailing him with only the mildest of charges in exchange for his cooperation with the investigation, could set into motion the downfall of this president. While I didn't shed too many tears for the commander-in-chief, I didn't jump for joy either. My skepticism runs high these days as it seems like we've heard it all before. Trump, the teflon president, and before that, the teflon candidate, has gotten where he is despite countless violations of ethics, decorum, common decency, and even the law, wrongdoings that would have doomed anybody else. He could very well survive Michael Flynn an Robert Mueller as well.

But if you listened to MSNBC this past weekend, you'd have thought Donald Trump was all but impeached and headed for jail. I needed a different perspective, one that could be found just one click away on my mom's remote control.

It shouldn't come as much of a surprise that the unofficial voice of Donald Trump, Fox News had an alternate take on the Flynn indictment. Commentator Tucker Carlson who hosts an evening program on the network, had a puzzled look on his face, a trademark of Fox talking heads when speaking about the opposition, as he wondered aloud what all the fuss was about.  After all the time and money spent on the investigation into Russian meddling into our election and Trump's possible connection to it, Carlson suggested, if the indictment of Flynn lying to the FBI was all the investigation could come up with, then Mueller and his whole team owe this country a huge apology. There was no mention of the possibility that Mueller might possibly have bigger fish to fry than Michael Flynn.

Fox News didn't even lead with the Flynn indictment Friday night. It led with the Kate Steinle story. Turns out the staunchly anti-liberal/Democrat network is obsessed with the death of the young woman. If you're like me and hadn't heard of Kathryn Steinle, it's probably because you don't watch Fox News. The Fox version of her story goes something like this:

Kate Steinle, a 34 year old San Francisco woman was walking along the Embarcadero with her father on July 1, 2015, when a bullet struck her in the back and punctured her aorta. She died two hours later in a hospital. The bullet came from a gun that was fired by Jose Zarate, a Mexican national and a convicted felon, here in the United States illegally. In fact Zarate had been deported from the United States five times but always managed to make his way back in. When he finished a jail term on drug charges in San Francisco, despite frequent requests from immigration officials that Zarate be turned over to them for deportation, the local authorities let him go free, enabling him to kill Ms. Steinle.

Zarate went on trial for the murder of Kathryn Steinle this October. Despite there being no question that Zarate fired the shot that killed Steinle, last Thursday he was acquitted on all murder charges, and convicted only on a weapons charge. As California law allows convicted felons credit for time served in jail awaiting trial, Zarate stands to serve only a short amount of time. Never fear, the Trump administration has taken a particular interest in this case and its Justice Department has plans for Zarate once he gets sprung from the California hoosegow.

The shooting of Ms. Steinle has become a cause celebre for alt-right groups for whom illegal immigration is a hot button topic. And why not, you would be hard pressed to find a more compelling story than a young woman dying in her father's arms, tragically gunned down by an undocumented felon who was set free by local law enforcement officials in a so called sanctuary city. Jose Zarate has become a poster child for the dangers of illegal aliens, such a big part of Donald Trump's campaign rhetoric, who in his words, cross our borders to rape and murder decent Americans. In fact Zarate was very likely the inspiration for Trump's controversial description of illegal Mexicans in this country. Kate Steinle's name was mentioned by Trump in his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, and the Republicans have introduced "Kate's law" which would "enhance penalties for deported felons who would return to the United States." By far the biggest target for the alt-right Trumpkins is the city of San Francisco and all sanctuary cities whom they feel put the rights of criminal illegal aliens over the safety of law abiding citizens.

Something obviously went terribly wrong here. Even I had to ask myself, how could this happen?

Well as I said, this is the Fox version of the story, and from everything I can tell from other sources, there is nothing out of line about their version, except for the not so small problem that it leaves out a number significant details.

First of all, there are felons, and then there are felons. From the Fox description of Zarate, he could have easily been a member of a notorious drug cartel or a relentless gang banger bent specifically on murder and mayhem. Zarate was none of those. He was a wobegone drifter, homeless and drowsy from the sleeping pills he took after picking them out of the garbage, at the time of Kate Steinle's shooting. The crimes he was charged with were drug related offenses and re-entering the United States after being deported. None of his convictions were for committing violent crimes. As criminal illegal aliens go, Zarate was the smallest of small potatoes and it's easy to see how he fell between the cracks of the system.

The gun he fired was stolen from a California Bureau of Land Management officer, that Zarate claimed he found underneath a park bench wrapped in a tee shirt. A surveillance video seemed to corroborate Zarate's story as it showed two men (neither of them Zarate), discarding a bundle under that bench that could very well have been the gun, hours before the tragedy. Zarate testified that the gun accidentally discharged as he was picking it up from the ground. The police who interrogated him testified at the trial that they lied to Zarate about what they knew about the evidence in order to convince him to come up with a more damning confession. Ballistics showed the bullet that struck Ms. Steinle ricocheted off the pavement before hitting her, indicating that even had Zarate intentionally fired the gun, he was not aiming at the victim. After reading all the details of what happened, the only logical conclusion one can come up with is that Kate Steinle's death was a tragic accident, at the very worst, gross negligence on the part of Zarate, but hardly first degree murder, which was the charge the prosecutor originally sought against him.

Unfortunately logic doesn't seem to play a big part of Fox's agenda. On a day that featured two far reaching stories that will play a significant role in this nation's history, Fox devoted a half hour of a one hour prime time news program to the story of that tragic accident.

And how much time did MSNBC devote to the story of Kate Steinle last weekend? Exactly two minutes and fifteen seconds. I know that because Fox published an article falsely claiming that MSNBC gave zero coverage to the story this past weekend, then corrected their mistake via a tweet that enumerated the minutes and seconds of their coverage.

In the original article now removed from the internet, Fox indignantly claimed their liberal counterpart MSNBC did not bother to cover the story of the shooting simply because "it didn't fit into their narrative." Perhaps there is some truth to that. On the other hand, the Steinle story, minus all those nasty details, fits into Fox's anti-immigrant narrative like a glove.

If you can bear it, watch what "Judge" Jeanine Pirro, by far Fox's most snarky, bellicose and obnoxious commentator had to say the other day about the Steinle case.

Pirro wears her contempt for anyone who disagrees with her, particularly liberal Democrats, like a mink coat. She is so snarly and vindictive, she makes Fox's biggest name commentator, Sean Hannity, no shrinking violet he, look like the avuncular actor/singer Burl Ives. In the commentary where she refers to Zarate at least twice as a "dirtbag", Pirro, like Trump and other members of the far right, claims that the trial was a miscarriage of justice. "That's why we call it criminal justice, not victim justice." Pirro said.

It's surprising to hear someone with supposed legal experience, express such shock over the procedures and the outcome of a real life trial. No, the jury was not made aware of Zarate's immigration status as Pirro claims, but such is the case in similar cases. Yes she's right, the judge denied the jury from seeing and handling the gun that killed Ms. Steinle to determine how easily it could misfire, again, common procedure. Pirro conveniently didn't mention the police admission of lying to the suspect or the prosecutors' choice to go after the big enchilada, murder one, rather than the much more realistic charge of manslaughter. She also didn't mention the chief prosecutor's far-fetched closing argument which stated that Zarete was "playing his own secret version of Russian roulette" with Ms. Steinle, or the culpability of the BLM ranger who carelessly allowed his gun to be stolen in the first place. Real life law and order doesn't work like it does on TV where justice is always served for young, attractive victims  (as Ms. Steinle was constantly referred to by Fox). To hear Pirro talk about the trial, you would think that because it was held in that heaven forbid, liberal bastion of San Francisco, all the cards were stacked in favor of that dirtbag Zarate and against the attractive Steinle. Pirro even bemoaned the unfairness of the fact that the decedent, Ms. Steinle wasn't present at the trial to represent herself while the defendant, Mr. Zarate was. I could be wrong but it's my impression that murder victims are not customarily present at the trials of their accused killers.

The wisest, most even-handed words I've read about this case, come from Robert Tracinski, Senior Writer for the conservative website "The Federalist." The gist of his article comparing this trial to the George Zimmerman trial in Florida, can be summed up by its sub heading: 
The Kate Steinle verdict is the Right's turn to be outraged after an acquittal because they were never warned about the weaknesses of the actual case.
Tracinski cautions against using crimes and personal tragedies as narratives for promoting agendas or ideology, no matter what side it comes from by saying this:
individuals are not symbols and…every shooting has its own irreducibly concrete facts and context…. Every case of the use of force is a discrete incident with its own unique facts. It is not an abstract morality tale about racism or poverty or heavy-handed policing. Nor is it a parable about illegal immigration and sanctuary cities
The tragedy that befell Kate Steinle and her family, can never be minimized. But she and her family have been exploited by the Right (just as Trayvon Martin and his family were by the Left) as standard bearers for a cause they never asked to be a part of. Jeannine Pirro suggests that justice for Kathryn Steinle would not come until more draconian immigration laws are implemented, a wall is built along the Mexican border, and zero government funding is granted to sanctuary cities. My guess is that the Steinle family would beg to differ. From what I've read about them, while they're disappointed with the verdict, they want no tributes or laws in their daughter's name, just a chance to be left alone to grieve properly.

My guess is that as long as the Steinle family tragedy can be used to promote the alt-right's anti-immigrant, anti-sanctuary city agenda, as long as it can be used as an easy distraction from all the problems and missteps of the Trump administration, Kate Steinle will not rest in peace anytime soon.

And that's the real injustice.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Photographs of the Month

Elm Tree, North Garden, Art Institute of Chicago, November 2

My friend, photographer Tom Harney, Adams and Wabash Station, November 2

Wabash Avenue, November 3

Evanston, IL, November 3

CTA Red Line Subway, November 10

"Junior Snow", Performing Arts Limited, Rogers Park, November 12

Lincolnwood, Illinois, November 17

Christkindlmarket, Chicago

Chicago's Picasso standing watch over Christkindlmarket
This year saw the closing of my favorite restaurant in the world, Karl Ratzsch's in Milwaukee, as well as the imminent demise of one of this city's last German eating establishments, Chicago Brauhaus. While the sit down German restaurant is becoming a thing of the past in this country, Teutonic holiday festivals have never been more popular. My guess is that while the expensive comfort food with high caloric content your parents liked to eat is fast losing its appeal among young, educated, health conscious, gastronomically adventurous Americans, in other words, the majority of people who eat out in this country, drinking never goes out of style. That's why Oktoberfest is behind only New Years Eve and St. Patrick's Day as this country's favorite bacchanalia.

The Advent holiday festival market, Weihnachtsmarkt, or Christkindlmarkt, is a tradition that began in the Middle Ages in Germany and spread throughout Europe. The typical Advent/Christmas market  found in the center of just about every German town, consists of stands where vendors sell Christmas themed wares, food and of course, drink. Visitors can eat and drink either while strolling from stand to stand, or in some markets, they can sit down and eat in a heated tent which often provides a performance space for musicians.  Here in this country, Christkindlmarket with the extra "e", is a recent tradition. Chicago's first Christkindlmarket, held annually during the four weeks before Christmas, took place in 1996.

On their website, the market's organizers claim this one is modeled after the one in Nuremberg. I haven't been there, but can attest to the authenticity of Chicago's Christmas market as I visited more than one much like it in Berlin during my visit to the German capital in 1994. There is one significant difference between the original and its American counterpart. In Germany, the stands selling goods feature local handmade toys and crafts that typically sell in the 1 to 20 dollar range. As you can see from the pictures here, the items for sale in Chicago, be they ornaments, beer stiens, or other assorted imported bric-a-brac, are much pricier. My guess is that the vendors, most of whom come from Germany and other parts of Europe, would find it difficult justifying the expense of selling their wares thousands of miles from home for the kind of money they would get if they stayed put.

Nevertheless, the satisfying feeling of genial well being, coziness and happiness, or as the Germans call it, Gemutlichkeit, is the same, especially after drinking ein gutes Deutsches Bier, oder zwei.

You can feast on your knockwurst, sauerkraut, potato pancakes and Glühwein either al fresco,...
...or inside a heated tent as these  Loop workers did the other day.

A typical sampling of the items you can find at Chicago's Christkindlmarket

A vendor direct from Germany selling shiny objects for Zuhause...
...and another selling more sedate hand painted ornaments for the the Weihnachtsbaum

And of course, what would a German market be without beer steins?

Chicago's Christkindlmarket at Daley Plaza is open every day until Christmas Eve, 11am until 8pm, and until 9pm on Fridays and Saturdays.

There are two other similar markets in the Chicago area, one outside of Wrigley Field and the other in the suburb of Naperville.

Here is a link to their website.

Fröhliche Weihnachten!

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The CTA, Bringing People Together

Standing at the L platform the other day, I heard the familiar voice of the operator whose train I've been riding regularly for the past couple years. Unlike most operators who prefer to let the official canned voice of the CTA make the announcements, this operator went to extremes to make sure his passengers knew who was in charge of his train.

The train I usually take in the morning runs express for part of its run, and it was during this ten minute gap between stations where he usually took the opportunity to speak to his captive audience. "Good morning riders..." he'd say after pulling out of the station where I board the train, "...welcome to run number (such and such). I am CTA senior operator number (such and such), and welcome aboard CTA's love connection." Then he'd go on to describe details of that day's run, including possible delays or anything else out of the ordinary we could expect to encounter on the run. If there was nothing out of the ordinary, the exception, not the rule, he'd just shoot the breeze for about half the time between Howard and Wilson.

But the other day when I heard the voice over his train's external speakers, it was not my train. As he reminded us every day for the past month, the CTA in its infinite wisdom, was changing his runs. In one of his laments about about how sad he was to leave this particular group of riders and how it has been his pleasure over the years to serve us, he told a story. It turns out that one day, a couple came up and told him that they got together because of him. Day after day it turns out, this couple who were strangers, noticed each other but as is often the case on public transportation, respected each other's personal space too much to do anything about it. Eventually the ice between them was broken during one of the operator's trademark banters. when one of the two, (not sure which one), made a comment about him. Now the operator didn't mention whether the couple's first conversation ever was about how funny, or how aggravating he was, (he could indeed be both), but without question it was he who brought the couple together. Presumably this was the inspiration for calling his run the "love connection."

This week the morning train ride has been remarkably silent and ho hum. The general good feeling and even camaraderie that once existed between the riders is broken. Couples who are attracted to one another on the train are going to have to find some other way to break the ice. Or like me they can start riding the local, where operator number (such and such) can still be found, no doubt engaging, enraging, and bringing people together.

In the climate of division this country is currently experiencing, that can only be a good thing.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

No More Lines?

I concluded this post back in March with the thought that big stuff like public sentiment over Russian meddling in the presidential election, and the health care fiasco might not bring down the Trump administration, but that possibly little stuff like cutting funding to popular charitable programs that help the most vulnerable among us like Meals on Wheels would. After all I reasoned, Trump, by cutting such programs, was resembling the mean spirited character of Old Man Potter from the movie "It's a Wonderful Life", and nobody likes him.

Well it turned out like all my predictions of the downfall of Trump, I was wrong. In the eight months since I wrote that piece, Trump and his administration have gone places never thought imaginable by previous administrations, and have crossed lines of common sense and decency no one would have dared crossed, at least not in the last 100 years, if ever. And they seem none the worse off because of it, at least among their supporters.

I say if ever because I don't know of any U.S. president in history who has so blatantly exhibited friendly relationships with brutal leaders of hostile foreign nations as Trump has with Vladimir Putin. He has also expressed admiration for other authoritarian rulers such as Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of Turkey, Viktor Orban of Hungary and others, while keeping himself at arm's length from the leaders of democratic republics, Angela Merkel of Germany being a prime example. In doing so, Trump is sending a clear message that he values the leadership of brutal oligarchs over democracy, and oppression over human rights.

On the home front, Trump has picked fights with anyone and everyone who crosses him or his agenda. Even Gold Star families of fallen servicemen and women, and veterans themselves, including former POWS, have been the targets of Trump's vicious tweets, especially if they happen to belong to minority groups.  By contrast, one group who has gotten off easy in the Trump-tweetosphere, is white supremacists. This is an about-face from every president in memory who, no matter the guiding ideology,  bent over backwards to respect veterans and their families regardless of race, creed or color, and unequivocally disavowed hate groups.

And now this. Not so long ago, eleven months to be exact, the mere mention of a public figure taking liberties of a sexual nature with an underage person, meant a one way ticket to Palookaville, at least in the court of public opinion. Not anymore. Roy Moore, the former Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, the same guy who was booted out of that job twice for his blatant disregard of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, was accused by several women of abusing them while they were minors. Moore was in his thirties at the time, His behavior back in the seventies and eighties was such common knowledge that scores of people from his home town, Gadsden, AL recently went public with testimonies of Moore's proclivity for seducing young teenage girls. So bad were those charges that Senate Republicans led by Mitch McConnell, made a public plea to Moore to withdraw from the race to fill the void of the Senate seat of Jeff Sessions, as his possible election in the heavily Republican state, would be a terrible embarrassment to their party. For a party whose leadership has shown little or no scruples, moral compunction or shame in the past twenty years, that's really saying something.

Even Trump originally intimated that Moore would be doing his party a favor by stepping aside. But after it became clear that Moore had no intention of doing so, Trump weighed his options and decided that counting a child moleter among his supporters in Congress, was better than letting a Democrat, who most certainly would vote against his much cherished tax bill, fill the void left by the current attorney general. Besides, Moore denied all charges against him; had Trump condemned the man solely on the basis of the multiple allegations of women, what would that say about the plethora of women who have come forward to accuse Trump himself of similar behavior?

So last Wednesday, between pardoning a turkey and heading off to Florida for yet another weekend of playing golf, Trump declared his unequivocal support for Roy Moore.

In doing so, Trump is joining ranks of Republicans all over the great state of Alabama who say they would rather be represented by a child moleter than a Democrat.

Despite Trump's about face on the Moore issue, many Republicans holding steadfast in their opposition. Tim Scott, the junior senator from South Carolina recently had this to say:
In my opinion — and in the opinion of many Republicans and conservatives in the Senate — it is time for us to turn the page,... it’s not about electing Republicans versus Democrats. This is about the character of our country. I want to be on the side of right when history writes the story.
The senior senator from that state, Lindsey Graham took a less eloquent, and more pragmatic approach saying Moore's remaining on the ticket is a lose-lose situation for Republicans:
If he wins, we get the baggage of him winning, and it becomes a story every day about whether or not you believe the women or Roy Moore, should he stay in the Senate, should he be expelled?... If you lose, you give the Senate seat to a Democrat at a time where we need all the votes we can get.
Apparently there is trouble brewing in the paradise otherwise known as the Republican Party between rational politicians interested in governing, and those who support Trump come hell or high water.

Lest you think that there are no lines of decency that Trump supporters will not cross, you would be wrong. This post was originally inspired by Trump's reversal of an Obama era law banning the importation of ivory into the United States. The goal of the ban was to limit the market for the luxury item and in doing so, hopefully reduce the hunting of the ever dwindling number of the Asian and African elephants. Well as they say, if Obama had found a cure for cancer, Trump would have tried to find a way to repeal it. It seems likely that the reversal of the ivory ban was simply another attempt to dismantle the legacy of his predecessor.

Now I knew something wasn't right in the state of Denmark when my friend Dave came out and said he was appalled that Trump would do anything that would harm elephants. Dave you see is the most vocal Trump supporter I personally know. While all my other Trump supporting friends are keeping a very low profile these days, Dave without hesitation, proudly and publicly carries the mantle for "our president". When Trump told the faithful to boycott the NFL, Dave was there. When Trump refused to call Nazis, Klansmen and the folks who marched with them, nogoodnicks, Dave defended him. And when Trump said that all the women and townsfolk who accused Roy Moore of wrongdoing were lying, Dave went along just as he's gone along with practically everything this president has done or said in the past eleven months. One good thing about having Dave as a friend is that he regurgitates whatever comes out of the mouths of the likes of Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh so faithfully, I never have to watch or listen to those mouthpieces of the administration, both of whom give me a bad case of indigestion.

In a nutshell, Dave is the paradigm of the typical Trump supporter, right down to the demographics. So when he lambasted "our president" for his role in opening up the doors to the mass murder of elephants, I had to take notice. Apparently, so too did Donald Trump. After Dave's stunning Facebook announcement, quicker than you could bat an eye, Trump rescinded his executive order on the ivory trade, so as not to put off his supporters, like Dave.

So the answer to the question I posed up at the top of this post is yes, there is a line that Trump supporters will not cross. The problems and suffering of their fellow human beings might be quite irrelevant to them, but not those of animals, at least not elephants. Maybe if all of us Trump detractors started wearing huge floppy ears and trunks, sported enormous tusks, and pooped everywhere at will (as elephants cannot be housebroken), this country could start back on the road to unification.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Lies

In case you somehow missed it, the recent downfall of Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein has set into motion a maelstrom of accusations of sexual misconduct against men in positions of power, especially in the fields of entertainment, politics, and journalism. At the start of this writing, the latest man to fall is journalist and TV personality Charlie Rose. I have little doubt that before I finish this piece, there will be others.

The public reaction to these revelations has been inconsistent to say the least, ranging from disappointment and disgust, to outright denial and counter accusations of the accusers. In one particularly disturbing case, that of Alabama senate candidate Roy Moore, the suspect's alleged crimes have been generally accepted, yet have been overlooked by many voters and officials in his state, including the governor. Apparently to them, voting for a child molester is more appealing than voting for a Democrat.

Of course not all sexual predators and their crimes are created equal. Some are accused of committing the most heinous violations of decency, not to mention the law, namely child molestation and rape, while others are accused of lesser, but still serious indiscretions of predatory behavior. Yet public reaction to these men and their acts, seems to be determined more by who they are and what they stand for, rather than what they supposedly did.

It shouldn't come as a surprise that folks on the left, those who claim at least to champion women's rights, would be less than forgiving of sexual predators, including the ones whom they support in the case of politicians, or are fans of in the case of entertainers. It's unlikely for example that the careers of liberal darlings such as actor Kevin Spacey or comedian Louis C.K. will ever recover after the darker sides of those individuals were publicly revealed. By contrast, Donald Trump was elected president, despite his infamous comments bragging about abusing women, and over a dozen accusations against him of the very same. It should be noted that the current president has denied all charges against him and claimed that his recorded comments were simply manly braggadocio, not at all uncommon "locker room talk" as he called it. Roy Moore also denies the allegations against him. By contrast, both Spacey and C.K..admitted their wrongdoings, at least to an extent. 

While the actor and the comedian's careers look to be toast, at least for the moment, the jury of public opinion is still out on Senator Al Franken whose feet are planted firmly in both the political and entertainment worlds. Franken who is one of the most outspoken U.S. senators against the current administration, was accused of making unwanted sexual advances against a fellow performer, Leean Tweeden, who was traveling with him on a USO tour to Iraq and Afghanistan in 2006. What his accuser described in detail, if accurate, would constitute assault, a serious crime. She also produced a photograph taken aboard a military plane showing Franken grabbing at her breasts while she was asleep, his head turned to the camera bearing a lascivious grin.

After the accusations were made, unlike Trump and Moore, Franken immediately apologised saying that while his memory of the events did not exactly jibe with those of his accuser, he still made egregious mistakes for which he was ashamed. He then called for an official ethics inquiry into the events in question. Surprisingly Tweeden said that would not be necessary. Interestingly enough, an inquiry would require testimony under oath. You can read into that whatever you like.

The president, who probably would be best not to weigh into the sexual escapades of others so as not to appear as the pot calling the kettle black, nevertheless tweeted about Franken's problems:

The Al Frankenstien picture is really bad, speaks a thousand words. Where do his hands go in pictures 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6 while she sleeps?

From that comment, and the comments of right wing pundits, it would appear that it is not the word of the accuser that matters, notice Trump did not mention the alleged assault, he mentions only what appears in the photograph, and what he imagined to have taken place after the picture was taken. In other words, Roy Moore (and Trump) may have had dozens of women make allegations against them, but what they didn't have, was a photograph depicting their indiscretions. You can deny accusations to your heart's content, but you cannot deny what is depicted in a photograph.

But having spent nearly half a century directly involved in the medium of photography, I can tell you most assuredly this: because of the verisimilitude of the photographic image, photography can lie like no other medium. Several years ago I wrote a post about the most controversial photograph taken in New York City on September 11, 2001. There is nothing fake about the photograph, it is a straight image presented without any undue editing or alteration. The picture depicts five young adults sitting along the bank of the East River in Brooklyn, engaged in what appears to be casual conversation, as smoke billows from the site of where the World Trade Center stood just hours before. The photograph wasn't published until five years after the event. Upon its publication, viewers were aghast at the seeming indifference to the tragedy unfolding right before their eyes in the attitudes of the people depicted in the photograph. An intrepid reporter for Slate Magazine tracked down two of the people in the picture and discovered that while their gestures did not replicate the faces of disbelief and terror of the people photographed in lower Manhattan on that terrible day, they were anything but indifferent to the situation that was going on around them. The interpretation of the picture by both the photographer who snapped the photo then moved on without talking to his subjects, and the assumptions of writers who used the picture to illustrate the seeming lack of empathy in the American psyche, got it completely wrong. You can read my post about that photograph here.

Now it would be a fallacy to claim that the photograph of a leering Al Franken appearing to grab a women's boobs while she slept, is anything less than creepy, inappropriate, and demeaning to women. But if we are going to take the word of a photograph over the testimony of women as the president suggests, it would stand to reason that we might question the word of the accuser as to what was actually going on in the photograph. Could it be for example, as someone who was present at the event has suggested, that Tweeden was actually in on the gag and not really asleep? From the photograph alone, we simply can't tell.

Where folks on the right seem to always question the motives of women who charge men of sexually assaulting them, especially if the accused happen to be right wing politicians, folks on the left seem to always, and I mean always believe the women without question. This article that appeared on the website Medium, written by S. Novi, suggests both sides are wrongheaded, that we need to take a critical approach in evaluating the credence of such claims. The writer suggests that yes, it is indeed conceivable that a woman may bring false charges against a man.

She goes on to suggest that the charges against Franken are a setup. In her piece provocatively enough titled Al Franken: The Obvious Setup and Liberals Took the Bait, Novi points out that Franken's accuser is under the employ of Fox Network, and a frequent guest of Fox News's Sean Hannity, the commentator who serves as the personal mouthpiece for Donald Trump. Then there was Republican strategist Roger Stone spilling the beans about Al Franken's "time in a barrel." Stone tweeted the following, twelve hours before Leean Tweeden came forward with her allegations:

Franken next in long list of Democrats to be accused of `grabby’ behavior.”

This is all purely circumstantial of course; working for an ultra right wing media outlet and perhaps having a motive for making up the charges against a notable left wing adversary, does not mean in the least that the accuser was not assaulted by Al Franken. Nor does Roger Stone's remarkable clairvoyance. Nor do the photographs that surfaced of Tweeden on that same USO trip, grabbing the butt of a country singer as he performed on stage, or catching a GI unawares and kissing him passionately. These are photographs, and as we have seen, photographs can be interpreted any way you like. Leeann Tweeden's actions in those photographs as many Franken apologists would have you believe, have absolutely nothing to do with her charges against Franken. No means no period, and if Franken did indeed kiss her without her consent during a rehearsal and in the process stick his tongue down her throat as she alleges, he is guilty of a crime, and should probably be removed from the Senate.

But as the right keeps pointing out, one of Roy Moore's accusers was a woman who worked for Hillary Clinton and had a clear motive for making salacious charges against the candidate on the eve of an election. Yes I thought that was a bit suspicious at first. In that same vein, a certain thread of incredulity runs through my mind about the charges against Al Franken.

However in the Roy Moore case, my suspicions were put to rest after several other woman of varying backgrounds and political bents come out and accused Moore as well, not to mention practically the entire town of Gadsden, Alabama where Moore while in his thirties, served as a prosecutor.  It was no secret in town that Roy Moore liked to frequent the local shopping mall to prey on teenage girls.

I will not go as far as Ms. Novi in suggesting that Tweeden's charges against Al Franken are an obvious setup. We'll never know for sure what happened of course, it could all come down to the word of one person over another. Franken admits to at least a certain amount of impropriety and has expressed contrition, which in my book is the basic requirement for forgiveness. He knows his base at least as well as Donald Trump knows his and may end up throwing himself at the mercy of that base in deciding his fate. For all his shortcomings, Al Franken's base knows that as a U.S. senator, he is a tireless worker on behalf of women's rights as well as other issues desperately important to them.

Franken also may have gotten the last laugh, as having come clean and knowing exactly what happened during that trip, he can honestly testify before an inquiry under oath without fear of perjuring himself.

Who knows if the same can be said for his accuser.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Photographs of the Month

October 3

October 3

October 6

October 6

October 7
October 17

October 18

October 21
October 21
October 24

October 25

October 29