Category Archives: Culture

Naked Bias

A former president of the United States daily rants about being the victim of a two-tiered system of justice and selective prosecution.  There is one way to find out whether there is any truth to his claim.  Employ the “Sesame Street” learning technique, “Which one is not like the other?”  Here are the options.

  • On August 27, 2018, a jury found comedian Bill Cosby guilty of drugging and molesting Andrea Constand.  The former University of Arizona basketball star was represented by Gloria Allred, known for a series of high profile cases, many of which involved protection of women’s rights.
  • On January 26, 2024, a jury ordered Donald Trump to pay journalist and former Vanity Fair advice columnist E. Jean Carroll $88.3 million for continuing to call her a liar after another jury found Trump liable for sexual assault and defamation.  Carroll was represented by the New York firm of Kaplan Hecker & Fink.  Lead counsel Roberta Kaplan is described by the Washington Post as “a brash and original strategist, with neither a gift for patience nor silence, a crusader for underdogs who has won almost every legal accolade imaginable.”
  • On October 15, 2018, U.S. District Judge James Otero dismissed a defamation suit against Trump by adult film star Stormy Daniels.  On April 4, 2023, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ordered Daniels to reimburse Trump for $121,000 in legal fees associated with the 2018 case.  In 2018, Daniels was represented by Michael Avenatti who is currently serving a 14-year prison sentence for fraud and embezzlement involving clients including Daniels and Nike.

If you guessed the outlier was the case involving Stormy Daniels you would be correct.  Carroll and Constand had the best legal counsel money could buy.  In contrast, as Daniels testified in Avenatti’s federal fraud trial she hired him because “other lawyers were afraid. I was out of options.”  There is one other difference.  Cosby was accused of criminal behavior.  The Carroll and Daniels cases involved only liability and civil penalties.  Therefore, we need to review the basis on which these two outcomes diverged in order to understand how Daniels was also the victim of “naked bias.”

In her closing argument on behalf of Carroll, Kaplan include the following:

Donald Trump is prepared to use his wealth and power to defame people whenever he wants. He ignored the last verdict as if it had never happened.  While Donald Trump may not care about the law, while he certainly doesn’t care about the truth, he does care about money.  [A large punitive award] is the only way to give Ms. Carroll a chance at a normal life again where she is not regularly bullied and humiliated by one of the most powerful men on the planet.

In Daniels’ case, U.S. District Judge James Otero dismissed the charge that Trump defamed Daniels when he tweeted she had lied in 2011 about being threatened not to go public with the story of her sexual encounter with the future president.  In his ruling, Otero referred to the Tweet as “rhetorical hyperbole normally associated with politics and public discourse in the United States.”  He called the lawsuit “a fishing expedition” and declared that Daniels had “failed to show that Trump acted with actual malice or reckless disregard for the truth.”

Following Otero’s ruling, Avenatti tweeted, “Trump’s contrary claims are as deceptive as his claims about the inauguration attendance.”  Clever, but not the fact based-response one would imagine if Roberta Kaplan or Gloria Allred were representing his client.

Much of the discussion about a two-tiered system of justice centers on money and power.  In this case, I believe it rests largely on the profession of the plaintiff.  Carroll was a respected journalist.  Constand, at the time of her assault, was director of operations for the Temple University women’s basketball team.  Stormy Daniels was a porn star.  That should not make a difference.  Of the three plaintiffs, Daniels may have paid the highest price.  Because she feared for the safety of her young daughter, she gave full custody to her ex-husband.  That fear was based largely on the threat she reported in 2011 in which the stranger who approached her car warned her, “Oh it’s a beautiful little girl, would be a shame if something happened to her mom. Forget about this story, leave Mr. Trump alone.”  Which is more credible?  The threat never happened.  Or a mother was willing to give up rights to her only child because she was honestly afraid and did not want her daughter to be collateral damage if someone tried to permanently silence her.

My question.  Beginning April 15, Donald Trump will face a jury of his peers who will decide if, in fact, he had a sexual encounter with Daniels and paid her to keep it quiet.  If he is found guilty, will the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals apologize to Daniels and reverse the 2023 order for her to pay Trump’s legal expenses.  Contrary to Judge Otero’s finding, it would be clear Trump “…acted with malice [AND] with reckless disregard for the truth.”

For what it’s worth.

The Fringe on Top

The ghost of Yogi Berra spoke to me this morning.  “It’s déjà vu all over again,”  he said.  He was referring to the student protests on college campuses in support of a ceasefire in the Israel/Hamas war.  He continued, “I’m surprised, you of all people, have not made this connection.  You were there.”

Berra was, of course, reminding me of the student protests against the war in Vietnam at my alma mater, the University of Virginia.  Not only was I there, I was an active participant.  My fraternity brother Jeffrey Kirsch summed it up best in a 50th anniversary retrospective in Virginia Magazine. “It was like a cultural train running through the University.  There was this awaking and outpouring of emotions and progressive instincts.”

The early days of the anti-movement at UVA were peaceful.  They consisted of teach-ins and student gathering, including a concert in the Old Cabell Hall lecture room, the same 850 seat auditorium where I attended Economics 101.  I helped organized the concert and even performed, choosing two songs I hoped would generate dialogue about a misguided policy in Southeast Asia.  “The Age of Aquarius” from the musical Hair and Simon and Garfunkel’s “A Poem on the Underground Wall.”

Protest movements are never  monolithic.  For every Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Council there is a Bobby Seale and the Black Panthers.  In 1969, UVA students who favored a more militant approach to opposing the war formed the Radical Student Union.  In hopes of stemming a shift he feared might become more extreme and even violent, another one of my fraternity brothers Robert Rosen led what became known as the Student Coalition, bringing together liberals, antiwar radicals and fraternity leaders.  A third fraternity brother Joel Gardner, who today is among the most conservative advocates of the free speech movement at UVA, writes in his memoir about the effort to keep the more extreme elements of the antiwar movement from hi-jacking growing sentiment against the war and other progressive causes including the lack of racial diversity on campus.

The key was to forcefully demonstrate that the forthcoming actions of the coalition did not represent the ideas of wide-eyed radicals and agitators, and that support for stronger actions to address the issues at the University was widespread.

Two events demonstrated how quickly the complexion of a peaceful protest movement can change.  First, President Richard Nixon’s announcement U.S. troops had been deployed in Cambodia followed by the killing of four students and wounding of nine others by Ohio National Guard troops at Kent State University.  Kirsch, who now served as a president of the Virginia Progressive Party, organized a fundraiser featuring Chicago Seven defendant Jerry Rubin and his attorney William Kunstler.  What Kirsch originally envisioned as a “classroom sized presentation,” was moved to University Hall, the indoor athletic arena, to accommodate the 9,000 students from UVA and surrounding universities who came to hear them speak.

Even Kirsch, who introduced Rubin and Kunstler, remembers his own trepidation as both speakers urged the audience to “liberate the president’s house.”  Immediately following their remarks, Kirsch rushed to Carr’s Hill, the president’s residence, to warn Edgar Shannon of what was about to happen.  In the 50th anniversary retrospective, Ernie Gates writes:

Out front, Kirsch faced the mob he had unintentionally helped to create. “People were inflamed,” he says. “I felt like it was my fault. It was my event.” A megaphone amplifying his words, Kirsch addressed the crowd. “I said, ‘This is not the right tactic. We should be going after a target that is more associated with the war effort—we should take the Navy ROTC building.’ I didn’t want to burn down Maury Hall—I was trying to protect Shannon and his family.”

And to the ROTC building they went, occupying it again and declaring it “Freedom Hall.” A photo from that night shows a scorched mattress that had been dragged from the building’s basement, possibly a remnant of an attempt to follow through on the cries of “Burn it down.” The smoke, however, eventually forced the protesters to abandon the building.

The next morning, all the news reports and images focused on the incident at the Navy ROTC building.  In a New York minute, the extremist fringe of the anti-war movement fractured a coalition, three years in the making.

I share this story in such detail because the same forces seem to be at play on college campuses today.  When I see peaceful student protests calling for a ceasefire in the Israel/Hama conflict and humanitarian aid to civilians, I do not believe the overwhelming majority are calling for the destruction of Israel nor do I believe they hold American Jews responsible for what strike so many as counterproductive policies of the Netanyahu government.  At UVA, a majority of students voted in favor of a resolution demanding the university divest its endowment funds in companies doing business with Israel.  The text is similar to a 1987 resolution in response to apartheid in South Africa.  The resolution did not include antisemitic language or call for the dissolution of Israel.  It only addressed government policies believed to be contrary to the rights and aspirations of Palestinians.

Unfortunately, there is an extreme fringe of the pro-Palestinian movement on campus that has threatened Jewish students and vandalized property.  Concerned parents of Jewish students believe President James Ryan has not done enough to protect their children.  Some are demanding he resign.  And once again, when the fringe elements of a social movement, regardless of the cause, make the headlines (i.e. get top billing), it only detracts from the greater purpose.

Which begs the question, where are leaders of the pro-Palestinian student movement, who like Jeffrey Kirsch acknowledge their role, even if unintentional, in creating a hostile atmosphere and say, “This is not the right tactic.”

For what it’s worth.

The Broken Mirror

Two events in the last 48 hours make it clear, the motto for the MAGA-verse should be, “Don’t watch what we say, watch what we say!”  (No, that is not a typo.)

Event #1:  A remote segment during Friday night’s edition of Jimmy Kimmel Live consisting of interviews with three South Carolina Trump supporters.  Here are excerpts from “Debate and Switch.”  The interview starts by asking each if they would mind if she asks them about things that Joe Biden has said or done.

Interviewer:  What did you think when Joe Biden suggested that Covid could be cured by shining a bright light inside the body?
Trumpster #1:  It is very sad that Joe Biden is clearly a dementia patient.
Interviewer:  I’m so sorry.  I got my notes mixed up.  Can we start all over?
Trumpster #1: Okay.
Interviewer:  What did you think when Donald Trump suggested that Covid could be cured by shining a bright light inside the body?
Trumpster #1:  It depends on what that technology is.

Interviewer:  There are accusations Joe Biden cheated on his wife with a porn star after his son was born, and there’s actually a paper trail showing he paid the sex worker $130,000 to keep quiet about it.
Trumpster #2:   Who did that?  Joe Biden?
Interviewer:  Joe Biden.
Trumpster #2:  And he was making less than $100,000 a year at that time as a senator.  How does he do that?
Interviewer: You tell me.  Would you vote for someone who did that?
Trumpster #2:  Of course not.
Interviewer.  So Trump did do that.
Trumpster #2:  Trump had a fling with Stormy Daniels.
Interviewer:  And paid her $130,000.
Trumpster #2:  And paid her hush money.
Interviewer:  Yes, and you’re voting for him.
Trumpster #2:  I am.  My father had affairs too and I still respect him.

Interviewer:  How do you feel about Joe Biden using bone spurs to dodge the Vietnam draft?
Trumpster #3:  Joe Biden has a problem.  He isn’t an American.  He isn’t a patriot.
Interviewer:  I’m sorry, I asked you about Biden but I meant Trump.  Can I ask you the question again?
Trumpster #3:  Yes you may.
Interviewer:  How do you feel about Donald Trump using his bone spurs to dodge the Vietnam draft?
Trumpster #3:  My brother-in-law had flat feet. I’m sure you cannot go into a military zone like Vietnam with bad feet.  You just can’t do the job.  And it actually impacts the other soldiers.

To be fair, the Kimmel staffer could have spent days working on this project in order to find these three “gems.”  As we know, there are also a few nuts in every box of Cracker Jacks, even ones who would give permission for this footage to be aired on late night television.  Posthumous kudos to Andy Warhol.  It’s amazing what people will do for one minute, much less 15 minutes of fame.

Event #2:  The South Carolina GOP Primary.  Surely, most Palmetto State Trump supporters could not be this unaware.  If only there was a way to prove it.  As legendary sports reporter Warner Wolf would say, “Let’s go to the video tape.”  In this case it is National Election Pool (NEP) exit polls from yesterday’s South Carolina GOP primary.  When voters were asked about the condition of the national economy, 16 percent said it was “Good,” and 84 percent said it was “Not Good.”  They were then asked about their “family’s financial situation.”  The envelope please.

Getting Ahead/22 percent
Holding Steady/60 percent
Falling Behind/16 percent

Really?  Eight-two percent of South Carolina GOP voters are doing okay or better and yet 84 percent think the national economy is in the proverbial dumpster.  Not to mention every indicator of national economic health is performing at a record pace or trending in that direction.

This morning, not a single major newspaper or media outlet reported anything about this case of cognitive dissonance from the NEP polls.  I had to go back to last night’s MSNBC’s election night coverage to find where it appeared once on the crawl at the bottom of the screen.  None of the MSNBC commentators mentioned it during the broadcast.

This does not happen by accident.  No one wakes up one morning and says, “You know, the economy sucks but my family situation is pretty good.”  Those conclusions come from different sources.  You understand your personal financial condition through everyday experiences.  You know when you can and cannot pay the bills, even if inflation is above the target set by the Federal Reserve Bank.

Information about the national economy is provided by outsiders.  And your outside sources are a matter of choice.  I am sure if you asked the 84 percent who think the economy is “not good” where they get their news, a significant majority would be Fox News and Fox Business viewers.  I do not expect the Murdoch media empire to address this “I’m fine but…” anomaly.  Surely, someone in the “liberal press” noticed South Carolina voters were speaking out of both sides of their mouths.  Yet, they said nothing.

Is this going to convert die-hard MAGA voters?  Of course not.  But 2024 is not just about saving America from Donald Trump.  It is also a campaign to expose the irrationality underpinning the MAGA movement.  Certainly, there is someone out there who saw the Kimmel segment and thought, “I’m not that crazy, am I?”  More importantly, they should not have to depend on a late night talk show host or a Sunday morning blogger to point this out.


I rarely defend Donald Trump.  But unlike MAGA world which believes Fox News, NewsMax and OANN can do no wrong, journalistic integrity is important no matter the source.  Last night, Lawrence O’Donnell, who should know better, echoed a story going around that Trump called his wife “Mercedes” during Saturday’s speech at CPAC.  To be fair, Trump was lying about how supportive Melania has been despite the fact she has not been with him in court or on the campaign trail.  Of course, the lemmings in the audience applauded loudly.  Then Trump turned slightly to his left and said, “Mercedes, how about that?”  Even I know that the wife of CPAC president Matt Schlapp and Trump’s second White House Director of Communications is (drum roll) “Mercedes Schlapp.”  And chances were pretty good she was sitting in the front row during Trump’s speech.

I have no doubt there will be a Trump or MAGA PAC ad in which they talk about “how desperate the liberal press is.”  And O’Donnell and others handed him the ammunition to credibly do exactly that. 

Never has this Nate Silver quote been more relevant.  “Distinguishing the signal from the noise requires both scientific knowledge and self-knowledge.”

For what it’s worth.


[NOTE: The best way NOT to get my thoughts on a subject is to identify a topic and say, “You need to write about this.”  In most cases, the seed of a specific post comes from a personal discussion with friend or former colleague.  Then, something that emerges during the course of that conversation suggests a need for a deeper dive into the subject matter.  Or, in the case of today’s topic, my reaction to the issue under consideration is, “Where have I seen or heard this before?”]

For the past couple of days, I had a totally unrelated conversation with a long time mentor and friend about the importance of the humanities as part of a well-rounded education.  He asked my thoughts about how the humanities program at his alma mater might engage students in the STEM disciplines with the goal of helping them appreciate the value of literature, art and philosophy and their relevance to their career aspirations.  Knowing his affinity for the “Socratic method” of teaching, I was reminded of a PBS program (1977-81) called, “Steve Allen’s Meeting of Minds.”  For each episode, Allen cast an ensemble of actors to portray famous figures from the past such as Plato, Marie Antoinette, Martin Luther, Charles Darwin, and Catherine the Great.  The content consisted of a largely scripted conversation in which each opined about a current topic from their own historical perspective.

I suggested the university might revive this format as part of a series of seminars open to all students regardless of major.  I then asked ChatGPT to create a sample of what the script my look like.  “Create a dialogue between Edmond Burke, Thomas Paine and Machiavelli.”  And it did with Burke setting the stage.

Good evening, gentlemen. What an intriguing gathering we have here: the advocate of conservatism, the champion of revolution, and the pragmatist of power.

My friend responded with the following email which focused more on my use of ChatGPT than the content it generated.

A real challenge going forward!

To which I replied:

It is no coincidence that the emergence of AI should come at the same time as “Oppenheimer.”  Hopefully, we learned a lesson about the benefits and risks of technology from Einstein and Oppenheimer.  Though I doubt it.

My friend is not one to let me off so easily.  He came back with:

Ironically, we (referring to himself and his wife) just watched it, ending just 10 minutes ago, with very interesting observations from her.
Neither of you were witness to VJ Day!
However, no use of nuclear weapons since that fateful day!

The debate was afoot.  The following is an edited, expanded version of my next email about the perceived connection between the emergence of readily available artificial intelligence in the form of Open AI and a movie about the birth of nuclear warfare.

First, I wanted to correct the record.  I wondered if my friend assumed that I thought the decision to use atomic weapons to bring a quicker end to World War II was a mistake.  If you have read my book on the creative process, you would know I believe there is no such thing as a bad decision.  The outcome and long-term consequences of the decision may not be what we hoped for,  but at the time and circumstances under which the decision was made, it was not wrong.

What I find hard to believe, in hindsight, is that nobody, even as the Enola Gay took off from North Field in the Mariana Islands, asked the question, “What do we need to do on day one after Japan surrendered to ensure that this threat to humanity is properly managed?”  Especially, since they had to know Russia or someone else would master the technology to create their own bomb.

You might argue winning the war was such a priority, no one had time to consider what comes next.  But another situation in the exact same time period tells us that did not have to be the case.  Consider the almost immediate response to stabilize Western Europe after Germany’s surrender.  In 1947, Secretary of State George C. Marshall outlined what would become known as the Marshall Plan, authorized with passage of the Economic Cooperation Act of 1948.  Economic distress in Europe post-World War I was a major factor in Hitler’s rise to power.  The United States was determined to make sure that environment was not recreated after the Nazi defeat.

What’s more, the Western allies recognized there needed to be a credible deterrent to discourage future efforts by Germany or the Soviet Union to annex territory as Hitler did in Austria and Czechoslovakia.  The groundwork was laid by Great Britain and France with the Treaty of Dunkirk in March 1947,  The March 1948 Treaty of Brussels expanded the mutual assistance pact to include the Benelux nations.  The February 1948 communist coup d’état in Czechoslovakia became the catalyst for the establishment of NATO with the U.S. and Canada as members in April 1949.

From watching the movie about his life, one could contend Robert Oppenheimer was a visionary in the same mold as Marshall.  He knew what he created and the long-term dangers of an arms race.  His warning went unheeded.  The U.S. and other nuclear powers waited until 1968, 23 years after the wartime use of atomic weapons, to sign a nuclear proliferation treaty.  By then the genie was already out of the bottle.  Introspection about the estimated civilians who died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, even if justified from a military perspective, should have raised moral questions about “what next” to preempt or at least temper a multi-national nuclear arms race.

Should we not be asking those exact questions with the emergence of artificial intelligence?  Or, are we going to wait until AI produces some devastating outcome before we have mechanisms to manage its constructive use, potential benefits and unimagined dangers?

For what it’s worth.
Dr.  ESP

In Case You Forgot

Every Super Bowl has a back story.  Sometimes, that behind the scenes drama is so compelling, the event is referred to by a nickname.  When brothers Jim and John, head coaches of the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens, respectively, faced off in Super Bowl XLVII (2013) it was tagged “the Harbaugh Bowl.”  And each annual contest between the NFL’s best is memorialized in a single image.  Last night’s game was no exception.

Welcome to the “Nepo Baby Bowl.” For those unfamiliar with the term, it refers to celebrities who are born to famous parents with similar careers.  Among the most famous is Gwyneth Paltrow, daughter of actress Blythe Danner and director/producer Bruce Paltrow.  Or Martin Sheen’s sons, Charlie and Emilio Estevez.  The field during Super Bowl LVIII was littered (pun intended) with nepo babies.

  • Eventual MVP Patrick Mahomes is the offspring of former New York Mets pitcher Pat Mahomes.
  • 49ers running back Christian McCaffrey learned the game from his father Ed, who was an All-American receiver at Stanford University and spent 13 seasons in the NFL including three Super Bowl championships.
  • And of course, there is 49er head coach Kyle Shanahan who is following in his father Mike’s footsteps.  Among the storylines for Sunday’s game was, “Would this be the day when son Kyle joins his dad as head coach of a Super Bowl champion?”

But, as Arlo Guthrie would say, that’s not what I came here to talk about.  Instead, I want to go back to the defining image during last night’s broadcast.  If the game itself was of primary interest, the outcome might be captured by one of three photographs.  For some, it was the moment Chiefs linebacker Leo Chenal blocked Jake Moody’s extra point.  Or when a punt inadvertently struck 49er Darrel Luter’s foot which led to a Chiefs touchdown on the next play. Or Mahomes’ three-yard touchdown pass in overtime to relatively unknown Mecole Hardman which sealed the Chiefs’ victory.

Maybe you tuned in for the entertainment provided by a host of performers before the game and culminating in Usher’s halftime performance, a soul and rap montage, reminiscent of an earlier time when Dick Clark would tour the United States with his “Caravan of Stars.”  For the record, I find the halftime extravaganza, regardless who headlines the performance, a great opportunity to start solving the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle.  To the chagrin of 49er fans, once again, the extended mid-game break turned out to be a momentum changer.

Finally, no discussion of Super Bowl LVIII would be complete without a reference to Tay-Tay and Kel-Kel.  For those who bet on the over/under, during the game, Taylor Swift appeared on-screen 12 times for a total of 53 seconds.  But the main event was the couple’s on-field reunion after the trophy ceremony.

Even Joe Biden’s deep state could not have pulled off such a complete American experience, though he trolled the MAGA/QAnon snowflakes with the Tweet, “Just like we drew it up.”  But the moment and image that truly represented the America we so often think is in the rearview mirror occurred before the kickoff.  It was a brief shot of Chief’s defensive tackle Chris Jones during Reba McIntyre’s rendition of The Star Spangled Banner (below).

Jones is no “nepo baby.”  He was born in Houston, Mississippi, the son of a furniture factory worker.  According to his profile on the Chiefs’ website, when Jones was in the fourth grade, his father was jailed for nearly a decade after a DUI arrest.  Despite the odds, Jones proved his football credentials first at Houston High School, then Mississippi State University and as a second-round draft choice of the Kansas City Chiefs.

One can only imagine the pent-up emotions which produced that tear.  Having made his mother and father proud.  Gratitude to those who contributed to his development as a football player and a selfless member of his community.  Remembering the bedroom at his grandmother’s home he shared with 10 other family members while he was in high school.  Or the physical contrast between Allegiant Stadium and his humble surroundings as a child.

At a time when so many Americans question whether the United States is still the land of opportunity, ask Chris Jones.  Recalling his own journey, he would likely echo comedian Yakov Smirnoff’s tag line, “Is this a great country or what?”

For what it’s worth.