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Templeton Project: Humor in Dialogue

Back in October 2015 I wrote about the inauguration of the Abington Templeton Foundation (see here).  The project is now underway (see here) and I will be posting our writing here.

Check out the latest piece entitled “Humor in Dialogue.”

See also:

_____________________________

Humor is appropriate in apologetic dialogue and witness, but there are boundaries to it.  I suggest these guidelines:

  1. No humor is acceptable that is at the personal expense of the other individual or individuals or is meant to discredit them.  It is the world view that needs to be discredited and revised through new insight, not the person.  If the person is deceptive, the strategy will probably show without help.
  2. Disarming humor to prove a point is acceptable, but one should be careful not to insult another.
  3. Off-color jokes have no place.
  4. Illustrative humor to explain your Chrisitan perspective is appropriate. (See Matthew 5: 27ff and 19: 24–examples of hyperbole)
  5. Telling jokes can be good if they are pertinent to the point that is being made. They should never serve as a distraction.
  6. One shouldn’t seek to show that the other is a fool.  This will come to light by what the other person or persons say and do.  They do not need your help. (Proverbs uses the word fool, for those who are fools.  But, in the course of a dialogue one should refrain from its use, for it does not promote conversation).
  7. Humor should always serve to further defense of the faith and witness to Christ.
  8. Laugh with, never at another person.  (Though it may be good at times to laugh at ourselves for our own foolishness).
  9. In the Warner Brother’s cartoon “Robin Hood Daffy,”  Daffy Duck shows that he is an incompetent Robin Hood.  Throughout, Porky Pig in the role of Friar Tuck laughs at Daffy.  At one    point, Daffy says, It is to laugh” with a sour, ironic humor.  He obviously does not mean what he says.  At the end Daffy becomes a friar like Tuck rather than pretending that he is an effective Robin Hood, “Defender of the Poor.”  Was Porky’s laughter helpful (I don’t think he meant to be helpful).  We should use humor to help others gain insight, not to get a good laugh.  We would expect the same treatment.  (I must admit, the cartoon made me laugh, but it’s only a cartoon).
  10. We should never be patronizing, showing in our words and actions that we feel superior to another.  (Being contemptuous can backfire).

Always remember what the author of Proverbs says:  “The wise lay up knowledge, but the mouth of a fool brings ruin near.” (Proverbs 10: 14 ESV)

Michael G. Tavella

August 20, 2019

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux

How Everything Became the Culture War

America’s petty tribal arguments are now driving the bus on serious policy. Here’s why we should worry.

Michael Grunwald is a senior staff writer for Politico Magazine.

You can find this article here.

To understand how American politics got the wayit is today, it helps to rewind the tape to the presidential campaign of John McCain—specifically to his effort to win back a listless crowd at an otherwise forgettable campaign event in south-central Pennsylvania in the summer of 2008. The Republican nominee had opened by promising a country-over-party approach to politics, recalling his compromises with Democrats like Ted Kennedy: “We’ll have our disagreements, but we’ve got to be respectful.” The Republican crowd sat in silence. McCain then denounced Vladimir Putin’s incursion into independent Georgia, warning that “history is often made in remote, obscure places.” No one seemed interested in that particular remote and obscure place.

McCain just couldn’t connect with the crowd, until he unleashed a garbled riff about how Congress shouldn’t be on recess when gasoline prices were soaring. “My friends,” he said, “the message we want to send to Washington, D.C. is: ‘Come back off your vacation, go back to Washington, fix our energy problems, and drill and drill now, drill offshore and drill now!’” It lacked the poetic brevity of the “Drill, baby, drill” line his future running mate, Sarah Palin, would use to fire up crowds, but the York Expo Center suddenly erupted with raucous cheers. It felt visceral, almost violent, as if McCain had given his supporters permission to drill someone they hated. McCain flashed an uneasy grin, like a kid who had just set off his first firecracker, delighted but also a bit frightened by its power. He wasn’t really a drill-baby-drill politician, but he could sense his party drifting toward drill-baby-drill politics.

A decade later, McCain is dead, bipartisanship is just about dead—his funeral felt like the rare exception that proved the rule—and the leader of the Republican Party is a world-class polarizer who mocked McCain’s service while cozying up to Putin on his way to the White House. President Donald Trump has pioneered a new politics of perpetual culture war, relentlessly rallying his supporters against kneeling black athletes, undocumented Latino immigrants and soft-on-crime, weak-on-the-border Democrats. He reverses the traditional relationship between politics and governance, weaponizing policy to mobilize his base rather than mobilizing his base to change policy. And in the Trump era, just about every policy issue is a wedge issue, not only traditional us-against-them social litmus tests like abortion, guns, feminism and affirmative action, or even just the president’s pet issues of immigration and trade, which he has wielded as cultural cudgels to portray Americans as victims of foreign exploiters. These days, even climate change, infrastructure policy and other domestic issues normally associated with wonky panels at Washington think tanks have been repackaged into cultural-resentment fodder.

At a time when Blue and Red America have split into two warring tribes inhabiting two separate realities, and “debate” has been redefined to evoke split-screen cable-news screamfests, this ferocious politicization of everything might seem obvious and unavoidable. But it’s also dangerous. It’s as if the rowdy cultural slap-fight the kids were having in the back seat has moved into the front, threatening to swerve the national car off the road. Transforming difficult analytical questions into knee-jerk emotional battlegrounds will dramatically increase the danger that thoughtless short-term choices will throw off our long-term national trajectory. And even beyond the impact on the quality of our public policy decisions, the ferocious politicization of everything is not healthy for the American body politic, which is why a Russian troll farm used fake social media accountsto gin up protests and counterprotests about hot-button issues like police shootings and Trump’s border wall. Our foreign adversaries like it when we yell at one another.

Honestly, though, we don’t need much prodding. Democrats and Republicans are increasingly self-segregated and mutually disdainful, each camp deploying the furious language of victimhood to justify its fear and loathing of the gullible deplorables in the other. One side boycotts Chick-fil-A (over gay rights), Walmart (over sweatshops) and companies that do business with the National Rifle Association, while the other boycotts Nike (over Colin Kaepernick), Starbucks (over refugees, gay marriage and non-Christmas-specific holiday cups) and companies that stop doing business with the NRA. We live in an era of performative umbrage. Every day is Festivus, a ritual airing of our grievances about Kathy Griffin, Roseanne Barr, fake news, toxic masculinity and those fancy coffee machines that Sean Hannity’s viewers decided to destroy for some reason. Every decision about where to shop or what to drive or what to watch is now an opportunity to express our political identities. The 24-hour news cycle has become a never-ending national referendum on Trump.

Politically, it makes sense that debates over highly technical challenges like energy and climate change have been transformed into shirts-and-skins identity issues. Ron DeSantis, the Trump-loving Republican former congressman running for governor of Florida, recently proclaimed that he’s “not in the pews of the Church of Global Warming Leftists,” a very 2018 way of expressing opposition to carbon regulations, renewable energy subsidies and other forms of climate action. He wasn’t disputing that the planet is getting hotter, or questioning the scientific data on the dangers of fossil fuels. He was clarifying which team he’s on, and more specifically which team he isn’t on, the team of tree-hugging scolds who look down on ordinary Americans for eating bacon and using plastic straws. You can see that sentiment expressed in less genteel ways if you search YouTube for “rolling coal,” where pollution-porn videos flaunt diesel trucks (sometimes dubbed “Prius repellents”) retrofitted to spew thick clouds of black smoke into the air, the transportation version of a middle finger to the opposing tribe. And there’s no denying that the opposing tribe of conspicuous composters and recyclers and Tesla drivers have their own identitarian rituals that pointedly broadcast their wokeness.

As long as America keeps sorting itself into two factions divided by geography, ethnicity and ideology, pitting a multiracial team of progressives who live in cities and inner-ring suburbs against a white team of conservatives who live in exurbs and rural areas, this is what debates about public policy—or for that matter about the FBI, the dictator of North Korea and the credibility of various sexual assault allegations—will look like. We will twist the facts into our partisan narratives. The self-inflicted wounds will infect more and more of our lives. And if you want something else to worry about, consider where it might be spreading next.

Politics has always been adversarial. Traditionally, though, we’ve had a fairly robust national consensus about a fairly broad set of goals—a strong defense, a decent safety net, freedom from excessive government interference—even though we’ve squabbled over how to achieve them. What’s different about drill-baby-drill politics is the transformation of even nonpartisan issues into mad-as-hell battles of the bases, which makes it virtually impossible for politicians to solve problems in a two-party system. Cooperation and compromise start to look like capitulation, or even treasonous collusion with the enemy.

Take infrastructure spending, which was once reasonably uncontroversial, at least in principle. Today, many conservatives portray it as a liberal plot to siphon rural tax dollars into urban bike paths, subways, and high-speed rail boondoggles that unions will build and Democratic city slickers will use. The Trump administration actually changed the rules of the most prominent grant program for local transportation projects so that it explicitly favors rural projects, infuriating liberals who now see it as a slush fund for sprawl roads to nowhere serving out-in-the-boonies Trump voters. The war over Obamacare has a similar mine-versus-yours feel; many Republicans see it as a scheme to redistribute tax dollars (and the hard-earned Medicare benefits of older Americans) to lazy and entitled Barack Obama voters, while Democrats see the intense opposition to universal health care as generational warfare on behalf of the aging white GOP base.

There’s no denying that the opposing tribe of conspicuous composters and recyclers and Tesla drivers have their own identitarian rituals that pointedly broadcast their wokeness.

Trump has never shown much interest in the details of policy, but he does understand how to use the levers of government to reward his allies and punish his enemies. He froze the pay of federal employees, a key Democratic constituency, while approving a $12 billion bailout for farmers, who, like other industries, have taken a hit from his trade wars, but, unlike other industries, tend to vote as a Republican bloc. Trump’s tax bill hammered blue states by reining in deductions for state and local taxes, while his energy policies have provided relief to red states that rely heavily on fossil fuels. His administration has picked fights with California, the epicenter of coastal-elite Blue America, over fuel-efficiency standards, net neutrality and water policy.

It’s probably not a coincidence that this shift is happening at a time when college-educated voters are trending Democratic and noncollege whites have been Trump’s most reliable constituency. Policies that hurt colleges, like policies that hurt cities, are policies that hurt Democrats. To listen to pols talk about college these days is to watch a wedge issue in its embryonic stage, as substantive questions about the cost and relevance of higher ed, the burdens of student debt, the adequacy of worker training and the power of political correctness on campus start to morph into red-meat attacks on pointy-headed elitists who look down on ironworkers and brainwash America’s youth. Republicans are starting to fit the Democratic push for universal free college into their larger critique of the Democratic urge to hand out free stuff to Democratic voters. And they’re portraying a liberal arts education as a culturally liberal thing, like kale or Kwanzaa or reusable shopping bags.

I saw a soft-edged version of this anti-college theme at a manufacturing roundtable that Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, the Republican candidate for governor, held in September in Youngstown. DeWine listened for an hour as a group of executives complained how teenagers are constantly told they need college degrees to get ahead in life, how students who might flourish in programs to prepare them for factory jobs are steered into mainstream classes they hate. DeWine perked up when the director of a local career center said that only 12 percent of students who pursue four-year degrees end up earning enough to pay off their loans and that many never learn about other options. “The goal should be exposing kids to more things, not forcing them into anything,” DeWine interjected.

“We need to stop pushing everyone into college,” Renacci said. “Let’s get this stigma off our backs: You can live the American dream without college.”

Renacci’s event was supposed to be about trade, but none of the local farmers expressed any concern about the beating they’re taking from Trump’s trade war. What they expressed concern about was illegal immigrants who commit crimes and demand handouts; the deep state; Democrats who want to steal from Medicare to fund Obamacare; and Antifa thugs. Even though their party controls Washington and Columbus, they believe they’re under siege; one 60-something farmer told me he’s afraid to speak out because “radical Democrats will burn your house down.” When I said that seemed unlikely in the rural expanses of Ashtabula County, he said I should check out the angry leftist millennials he’s seen when he’s visited the Ohio State campus, “wearing boots and backpacks and shouting stupid slogans.” I asked him whether he supports government spending on higher education for those millennials, and he shot back: “I’ll tell you what I don’t support: free college for illegals and higher taxes for me.”

There are real policy debates to be had over higher education, and they’re important. U.S. universities aren’t blameless: They’ve jacked up their tuition costs much faster than inflation, overpopulated their faculties with liberals, failed to hold themselves accountable for the employment outcomes of their students and policed speech to the point that they look more concerned with stamping out “micro-aggressions” than promoting free inquiry. At the same time, a lot of work has been done to try to make colleges, especially community colleges, more relevant to the job market; DeWine’s roundtable event highlighted a model partnership between local educators and manufacturers. The Obama administration also established tough new rules limiting federal dollars to institutions that don’t move students into gainful employment. Ironically, the Trump administration is trying to roll back those rules, as well as others providing relief to students defrauded by Trump University-style for-profit diploma mills.

What they expressed concern about was illegal immigrants who commit crimes and demand handouts; the deep state; Democrats who want to steal from Medicare to fund Obamacare; and Antifa thugs.

But modern politics isn’t about these nuances of policy substance. It isn’t evidence-based. The debate over immigration isn’t really about measured wage effects or growth effects; it’s about whether a diverse America is the “real” one, and whether nonwhite newcomers make the country great. The Trump fans who came to see Renacci in Ashtabula County didn’t care any more about the details of higher education studies than they cared about the details of Paul Manafort’s guilty plea or our trade deficit with Canada. (It’s actually a surplus, a fact that will change approximately zero minds about Trump’s trade rhetoric.) The signal of substance breaks through the noise of politics so rarely that the noise has become the signal.

Donald Trump was not the first Republican president to exploit America’s divisions. Think of Richard Nixon rallying his “silent majority” against bra-burning, free-loving, acid-dropping hippies, or even George H.W. Bush running against flag-burning and Willie Horton. And Trump didn’t create the so-called Big Sort of Americans into two ideologically polarized, geographically and racially segregated, mutually suspicious partisan camps. The rift between the mostly white camp of gun-owning, evangelical-church-going Fox News watchers who live relatively spread out and the more diverse camp of Whole Foods-shopping, funky-cafe-going NPR listeners who live closer together has been widening for decades.

Trump may be America’s leading culture warrior, but a war requires two armies. The frequent journalistic safaris into the right side of America’s divide tend to focus on the unwavering faith that Trump supporters have in Trump, but polls suggest the left side is just as prone to motivated reasoning about politics, and perhaps even more consumed by anger over politics. In a Pew Research Center survey, 47 percent of liberal Democrats said that if a friend supported Trump, it would put a strain on their friendship, and 68 percent of all Democrats said it’s “stressful and frustrating” to talk to Trump supporters. Andrew Gillum, the Democratic candidate for governor of Florida, had to fire his youth outreach director for posing for an Instagram post while wearing a shirt featuring the 2016 electoral map, with blue states labeled “United States of America” and Trump states labeled “Dumbfuckistan.” It was a perfect manufactured-outrage episode for our time—needless to say, similar shirts on which the blue states are labeled Dumbfuckistan are available for purchase—but it did reflect a common Democratic disdain for Republican rubes in the provinces.

So the culture war is not all about Trump. But Trump has a destructive genius for exploiting the culture war, exploding Washington’s norms of decorum and euphemism to trash his adversaries and torture the truth, portraying Puerto Ricans as ungrateful, immigrants as dangerous and Democrats as un-American. You’re with him or you’re with the terrorists. And the rest of Washington, which was already uncelebrated for civility, has followed him into perennial attack mode, to the point that even Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh bellowed partisan conspiracy theories during his confirmation hearing.

Our higher education system is still one of America’s most valuable competitive assets, and breaking it in a fit of cultural fury would be the national equivalent of choking on diesel smoke to own the libs.

It’s hard to have serious public debates about the massive changes in public policy that Trump is pursuing, because there’s no longer a clear path for facts and logic to break through the daily onslaught of demonization and obfuscation. We’re too busy fighting to think. It’s especially tough to have an evidence-based debate about an issue like trade when Trump proclaims at one rally that his tariffs have prompted U.S. Steel to open seven new plants, and after fact-checkers point out the actual number is zero, he ups the number to eight or nine at his next rally. He understands that modern political debates don’t depend on facts or logic. Where you stand—on questions of whether to believe Kavanaugh’s accusers and whether there was any collusion with Russia, as well as questions about corporate tax rates or lifetime insurance caps—depends almost entirely on where you sit. Deficits are bad when your team is in charge, benign when my team is in charge. I’m being denied due process by a witch hunt, but you belong in jail. I’m no puppet; you’re the puppet.

This is presumably how entire countries turn into Dumbfuckistan. The solutions to our political forever war are pretty obvious: Americans need to rebuild mutual trust and respect. We need to try to keep open minds, to seek information rather than partisan ammunition. We need to agree on a shared foundation of facts from authoritative sources. But those words looked ridiculous the moment I typed them. Americans are not on the verge of doing any of those things. Once the dogs of war have been unleashed, it’s hard to call them back. And we should at least consider the possibility that we’re fighting this forever war because we like it.

The thing I remember most about Trump’s rallies in 2016, especially the auto-da-fé moments in which he would call out various liars and losers who didn’t look like the faces in his crowds, was how much fun everyone seemed to be having. The drill-baby-drill candidate would drill the Mexicans, drill the Chinese, drill the gun-grabbers, drill all the boring Washington politicians who had made America not-great. It sure as hell wasn’t boring. It was a showman putting on a show, a culture-war general firing up his internet troops. It wasn’t a real war, like the one that Trump skipped while John McCain paid an unimaginable price, but it made the spectators feel like they were not just spectating, like they had joined an exhilarating fight. They got the adrenaline rush, the sense of being part of something larger, the foxhole camaraderie of war against a common enemy, without the physical danger.

It’s not clear how a fight like that would ever end.

Penny Wise and Pound Foolish

We all know that the phrase “penny wise and pound foolish” refers to people who do things to save money, but end up spending much more because they did not do a simple cost/benefit analysis. I receive many calls weekly from potential clients who, regardless of how much they earn, automatically say they cannot afford a modest retainer to proceed with their case. Others want a “guarantee” that the amount they pay for a retainer will gain them the results they want. I note that when the economy is not doing well, or the media is trumpeting bad economic news or employment figures, or mortgage foreclosures, that people are even more reluctant to spend on legal services, because they consider this to be “optional” versus “mandatory” spending.

Let’s explore the cost versus potential benefits of hiring a qualified law firm to represent you, by viewing the below Example.

Alan is earning $100,000 a year. He has been with his employer for 10 years. Well, ever since he returned from family medical leave after two months for surgery for a condition which was not work-related, he has been criticized for his work performance. That criticism has escalated from verbal to written warnings, and when he contacts me he has just been placed on a performance improvement plan. Alan asks me if I can guarantee that if I contact his employer he will be able to keep his job. When he hears that the majority of time this Firm can be of significant assistance to him, but we can’t guarantee results, he says he can’t afford a retainer. The end result is that Alan is fired, and that his employer alleges that he broke a work rule which led to his termination, and disputes his right to receive unemployment compensation. Alan represents himself at the unemployment compensation hearing and loses. Alan is therefore without a job, without a neutral job reference, without insurance benefits, and without unemployment compensation, all because he did not want to pay a retainer to a lawyer.

What I might have been able to do if we were retained.

I might have been able to allege some form of discrimination and keep Alan’s job for him. I might have been able to secure a severance package for Alan if indeed the employer was intent on terminating him. This package may have included salary, benefit continuation, and sometimes legal fees. I might have been able to have the employer lay him off instead of terminate him for breaking a company work rule. I might have gotten Alan a neutral versus a negative job reference for future employers. I might have gotten permission that Alan can represent that he was laid off or resigned so he can state that on future employment applications without lying. Even if I didn’t get Alan any additional funds, I most likely would have been able to negotiate an agreement which would have permitted him to locate other employment without a black mark on his record.

Can I guarantee that I could have accomplished all of these things? No, but I negotiate these matters regularly and my clients are usually pleased with the results. ALAN WAS THEREFORE PENNY WISE AND POUND FOOLISH. Stay tuned in this Blog for other examples of being penny wise and pound foolish in hiring a lawyer.

By: Faye Riva Cohen, Esquire on her blog “Toughlawyerlady”

Tennessee Passes Law Protecting Faith-Based Adoption/ Foster Care Agencies

This is from religionclause.blogspot.com which you can find here:

Yesterday, the Tennessee General Assembly gave final passage to HB0836 (full text) which bars denial of licensing or funding for faith-based child placement agencies. The law protects agencies that refuse to participate in placing a child for foster care or adoption in violation of the agency’s written religious or moral convictions or policies. According to AP, Gov. Bill Lee’s Communications Director says that the governor will sign the bill.

You can learn more about this issue here.

Templeton Project: Of Self-control

Back in October 2015 I wrote about the inauguration of the Abington Templeton Foundation (see here).  The project is now underway (see here) and I will be posting our writing here.

Check out the latest piece entitled “Of Self-control.”

See also:

_____________________________

Self-control, or temperance, is one of the four cardinal virtues along with courage, prudence and justice that come to us from pagan philosophy.  It is found in the list of fruits of the Spirit in Paul’s letter to the Galatians (5: 23).  It is a virtue that pertains to keeping the passions and desires under control.  It bespeaks moderation.

Can we restrain our passions in our speech to others?  In the midst of dialogue and debate can we refrain from out of control  behavior.  This is a test for the man or woman who would be self-controlled.  To be unself-controlled is a great temptation. We do not need any coaxing to bad behavior.

In a discussion where there are high stakes (as religious faith always is), it is very tempting to call someone a name, interrupt, be accusatory, blame, distort, attempt to manipulate, make fun of, yell, insult, discredit another’s character, dismiss, and so on, and so on, and so on ad nauseam.

We must remember our identity as Christians.  We can pray that the Spirit give us a better capacity for self-control.  We can test our ability in our relationship with loved ones, especially our spouse and children.  In debate we can be emphatic and committed to our faith without being unself-controlled.

Paul writes,  “Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.” (I Corinthians 9: 25 ESV) Controlling our temper and anger in everyday relationships is a sign that we may do the same in our private and public apologies of the faith. Our discipline must be intentional with those we love, especially spouse and children. I have failed many times in this endeavor, but I also hope that today and tomorrow I will do better. We must focus on a discipline of moderation. The Holy Spirit will lead us to do this.

Michael G. Tavella

August 6, 2019

The Transfiguration

The Huxley Trap: How technology and masturbation tamed the sexual revolution

By Ross Douthat and published on Nov. 14, 2018 in the New York Times and can be found here.

There are times in any columnist’s life when you worry about being too much oneself, too on-brand, too likely to summon from one’s readers the equivalent of the weary line delivered by a colleague listening to J.R.R. Tolkien read aloud from his Middle-earth sagas: “Not another [expletive] elf!”

The appearance in the same week of a Politico magazine essay on how conservatives lost the culture war over pornography and an Atlantic cover story on the decline of sexual intercourse makes me concerned about this possibility — that if I weave both pieces into an argument about our culture’s decadence, my readers will find it to be a little bit predictable, a little, well, too much.

But like Tolkien with his beloved elves, I’ll persevere, because the articles are worth the recommendation. For Politico, Tim Alberta tells the story of how the internet essentially killed off the anti-pornography movement, by making pornography so ubiquitous and porn use so pervasive that trying to regulate it in any meaningful way seemed like giving orders to the tide.

Then Kate Julian’s Atlantic examination of what she calls the “sexual recession” looks at a surprising reality of life in the sexually liberated West — the fact that despite (or because of?) our permissive culture and the sweeping availability of entertainments that cater to every kind of sexual desire, the sexual act itself has fallen somewhat out of fashion, along with its usual accompaniments (relationships, marriage, childbearing), while onanism and long-term celibacy are on the rise.

Conservatives didn’t expect it because they believed that sexual liberation would inevitably lead to social chaos — that if you declared consent the only standard of sexual morality and encouraged young people to define fulfillment libidinally, you would get not only promiscuity but also a host of dire secondary consequences: Teen pregnancy rates and abortion rates rising together, a pornography-abetted spike in rape and sexual violence, higher crime rates among fatherless young men … basically everything that seemed to be happening in the 1970s and 1980s, when the anti-porn crusade Alberta describes was strongest.

But many of those grim social trends stabilized or turned around in the 1990s, and instead of turning teenage boys into rapists, the internet-enabled victory of pornographic culture had, perhaps, the opposite effect. Rates of rape and sexual violence actually fell with the spread of internet access, suggesting that the pleasures of the online realm were either a kind of substitute for sexual predation, a kind of sexual tranquilizer, or both. And that tranquilizing effect seems to extend beyond predation to the normal pursuit of sexual relationships, because some combination of Netflix, Tinder, Instagram and masturbation is crucial to the decline-of-sex story that Julian’s Atlantic essay tells.

So the pornified, permissive post-sexual revolution order today seems much more stable than conservative pessimists expected 30 years ago, with no social collapse looming on the horizon.

But liberal optimists were wrong as well — wrong to expect that the new order would bring about a clear increase in sexual fulfillment, wrong to anticipate a healthy integration of sexual desire and romantic attachment, wrong to assume that a happily egalitarian relationship between the sexes awaited once puritanism was rejected and repression cast aside.

This isn’t the sex-positive utopia prophesied by Wilhelm Reich and Alex Comfort and eventually embraced by third-wave feminists. It’s a realm of fleeting private pleasures and lasting social isolation, of social peace purchased through sterility, of virtual sex as the opiate of the otherwise sexually unsuccessful masses.

And the one person who really saw it coming was Aldous Huxley in “Brave New World,” the essential dystopia for our times, which captured the most important feature of late-modern social life — the way that libertinism, once a radically disruptive force, could be tamed, domesticated and used to stabilize society through the mediation of technology and drugs.

True, none of our pharmaceuticals quite match his “soma” — the “perfect drug,” a booster calls it, with “all the advantages of Christianity and alcohol” but no hangover or religious guilt. (Our own versions are more dangerous and unevenly distributed.) But our hedonic forms of virtual reality are catching up to his pornographic “feelies” and his “Violent Passion Surrogate.” (“All the tonic effects of murdering Desdemona and being murdered by Othello, without any of the inconveniences.”) And on the evidence of many internet-era social indicators, they increasingly play the same tranquilizing and stabilizing roles.

Above all Huxley nailed the way that a society sufficiently far gone into hedonism will lose even the language to describe clearly why, say, “a single-use silicone egg that men fill with lubricant and masturbate inside” (a recent Japanese innovation mentioned by Julian) might not be a positive development.

The people trying to argue against porn in Alberta’s article, or the people struggling to articulate their sexual and romantic discontents in Julian’s, are trying to find their way back to a worldview that takes moral virtue and human flourishing seriously again. But they inhabit a society that often recognizes only arguments about pleasure versus harm, and that at some level has internalized the logic of Mustapha Mond, one of the Controllers of Huxley’s world civilization: “Chastity means passion, chastity means neurasthenia. And passion and neurasthenia mean instability. And instability means the end of civilization. You can’t have a lasting civilization without plenty of pleasant vices.”

Pleasant vices and stability: With some technological assistance, that’s the sexual culture we’ve been forging. The only good news, and the best evidence that we might yet escape Huxley’s trap, is that we retain enough genuinely-human aspiration to be unhappy with it.

PA Superior Court Says QDRO’s Take Effect Upon Execution of Marital Agreement

Conway v. Conway v. City of Erie Police Relief and Pension Association, 209 A.3d 367 (PA Super. 2019)

Brief Summary of the Facts:

Michael Conway (“Husband”) and Julie Conway (“Wife”) were married on July 12, 1991 and separated in August 2007.  Husband was employed as a police officer and filed for divorce on July 28, 2009. The parties executed a Marital Settlement Agreement (“MSA”) on Aug. 19, 2016, that directed the parties to prepare, execute, and file a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (“QDRO”) to allow Wife to receive her marital share of Husband’s pension. At the time of the execution of the MSA, Husband’s pension plan stated, with regard to a QDRO, “a former spouse of a Participant shall be treated as the spouse or surviving spouse for all purposes under the Plan.” A divorce decree was entered on Aug. 22, 2016, that incorporated the MSA. On Aug. 23, 2016, the municipality for which Husband worked amended the pension plan to read “a former spouse of a Participant shall not be treated as the spouse or surviving spouse for any purposes under the Plan,” (emphasis added). Wife submitted the QDRO to the pension plan administrator on Aug. 29, 2016, which denied the QDRO on the basis that as it was filed after the Aug. 23, 2016 pension plan revision and is inconsistent with the same. Wife filed a Motion for Entry of QDRO, which was denied by the trial court, prompting Wife to appeal to Superior Court.

Issue:

Did the trial court err by failing to enter the QDRO submitted by Wife to secure her post-divorce rights to Husband’s pension when the MSA and Divorce Decree were both filed/entered and in effect prior to the revision to the pension plan? Holding A QDRO is an order “which creates or recognizes the rights of an alternate payee to receive all or a portion of the benefits payable to a participant under [a pension] plan.” A QDRO merely implements the terms of a preexisting MSA and does not in itself create new rights or terms. In the instant matter, the MSA was entered and incorporated into a Divorce Decree before the pension plan was revised; therefore, as the QDRO only serves to recognize and implement settled rights, it is enforceable as the underlying MSA predates the pension plan revisions. The denial of the QDRO amounts to an unlawful ex post facto application of the revised pension plan. Based on the above, the court directed the QDRO to be entered.

Comments/Impressions:

The court also pointed out that the objective of the Divorce Code “is to effectuate economic justice” for the parties to a divorce. In the court’s estimation, to rule against Wife “would deny [her] the benefit she bargained for and would cause an unfair and severe injustice concerning the parties’ settlement of their existing rights” and would be “contrary to the goal of achieving economic justice.”

Originally published in the Pennsylvania Family Lawyer in Volume 41, Issue number 3 (Autumn 2019)

Templeton Project: Examples of Uncivil and Civil Speech

Back in October 2015 I wrote about the inauguration of the Abington Templeton Foundation (see here).  The project is now underway (see here) and I will be posting our writing here.

Check out the latest piece entitled “Examples of Uncivil and Civil Speech.”

See also:

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Uncivil Speech

  1. Name-calling  (pinhead, jerk, bozo, idiot, moron, stupid, etc.)
  2. Attacks on character.
  3. Intentional distortion of opponent’s/opponents’ views and argument.
  4. Humor directed at the person of the opponent so as to cause shame or embarrassment.
  5. Monopolizing the discussion.
  6. Sloppy argumentation; attempts at obfuscation in order to win the argument.
  7. Return abuse with abuse.

Civil Speech

  1. Respect for the other no matter how much you disagree (Don’t call him fool.  Comment that his argument is unwise).  Address him/her respectfully.
  2. No derogatory references to the person’s character, in fact, no references to the person’s character.
  3. Carefully lay out the opposing party’s position, as you heard it, so that you are sure that you have it right.  Ask questions for clarification.
  4. Humor pertinent to the topic, but not to the embarrassment of the interlocutor.  Self-effacement is proper as long as it is not intended to manipulate.
  5. Giving the other person an opportunity to express his views and ask questions.
  6. Carefully laying out one’s argument in a clear and coherent way.
  7. Return respect for abuse.

A public dialogue should be well structured so as to help minimize abuses.

At a later time we will discuss one on one or small group conversations

 

Michael G. Tavella

July 22, 2019

Sex has never been easier to find. Why aren’t young people having it?

The good news is young people are having sex later and less frequently than previous generations.

The bad news is young people are having sex later and less frequently than previous generations.

A fascinating new Atlantic article takes a deep dive into what author Kate Julian dubs “the sex recession.”

“To the relief of many parents, educators, and clergy members who care about the health and well-being of young people, teens are launching their sex lives later,” Julian writes. “From 1991 to 2017, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey finds, the percentage of high-school students who’d had intercourse dropped from 54 to 40 percent. In other words, in the space of a generation, sex has gone from something most high-school students have experienced to something most haven’t. (And no, they aren’t having oral sex instead — that rate hasn’t changed much.)”

This, despite the fact that sex has arguably never been easier to find (Hi, Tinder) or regarded with less shame. The share of Americans who say sex between unmarried adults is “not wrong at all” is at an all-time high, Julian notes, birth control is easy to access and we toss around terms like polyamory, kink and BDSM with abandon. (Hi, “Fifty Shades”).

“These should be boom times for sex,” Julian writes.

The fact that they’re not is, in many ways, good news. The U.S. teen pregnancy rate has been declining since the ’90s and is at a third of its modern high. Some experts, Julian notes, say the statistics indicate that young people feel less pressured into sex they don’t want to have, thanks to shifting gender expectations, a better understanding of consent and growing awareness of diverse sexual orientations, including asexuality.

Hooray!

Then again …

“Signs are gathering that the delay in teen sex may have been the first indication of a broader withdrawal from physical intimacy that extends well into adulthood,” Julian writes.

That, to me, is the most interesting thread in Julian’s long, multifaceted, nuanced article.

A healthy, happy sex life is an important indicator in a person’s overall well-being. If forces are swirling together into a storm that sabotages our ability to achieve that, we should recognize the red flags waving on the landscape of what seems like, at first glance, all good news.

Through interviews and data analysis, Julian explores the impact of several factors that may be contributing to the lower rates of sex among teens and 20-somethings: an increase in the number of adults under 35 living with their parents, helicopter parents, lower rates of marriage and co-habitation, Netflix and other on-demand entertainment options serving as a no-fuss substitute, easy access to porn for sexual release, dating apps that are ubiquitous but inefficient, an over-reliance, in general, on screens for so much of people’s relating, communicating, connecting.

Taken all together, that feels like a lot of red flags.

“When, over the course of my reporting, people in their 20s shared with me their hopes and fears and inhibitions, I sometimes felt pangs of recognition,” Julian writes. “Just as often, though, I was taken aback by what seemed like heartbreaking changes in the way many people were relating — or not relating — to one another.

“In time, maybe, we will rethink some things,” she continues. “The abysmal state of sex education, which was once a joke but is now, in the age of porn, a disgrace. The dysfunctional relationships so many of us have with our phones and social media, to the detriment of our relationships with humans. Efforts to ‘protect’ teenagers from most everything, including romance, leaving them ill-equipped for both the miseries and the joys of adulthood.”

All of which has me, as a parent, contemplating how to raise my kids to respect and protect their own and other people’s bodies and desires, but also to cultivate the skills to form human connections that surpass the fleeting and lukewarm satisfaction of Netflix and other screen-based avocations.

No small undertaking, but one that feels more essential than ever.

By Hedid Stevens and published in the Chicago Tribune on November 15, 2018 and can be found here.

Social Media is Outpacing the Legal System

Courts have not caught up to the realities of social media and its role in workforce issues. As an employment lawyer, representing both employees and employers, I know that social media policies need to relate to the industry in question. In the case of the airline industry, especially in the case of flight attendants, social media is the prevalent way that thousands of airline employees communicate with each other because they often have shifting work assignments and rarely work with the same people or at the same location on a regular basis. Therefore, they rely on social media to exchange ideas, comment and or complain about their industry or unions, and discuss the nature of their work.

Some points to consider about social media in the workplace are:

  • Courts have generally not considered social media posts and online bullying have a severe impact in the real world. The old saying “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” no longer applies in the world of social media which is public and enduring. Social media posts are a different form of harassment than is face-to-face harassment.
  • Courts have not penalized employers whom have refused to investigate claims of violations of their social media policies, and have distinguished the failure of employers to follow their own policies from actionable harassment.
  • Employers are often quick to discipline or terminate employees who they determine have embarrassed or damaged them, yet they are slow or refuse to enforce social media policies to protect employees from insults or abuse on social media from other employees or managers.
  • Much like other policies that employers have “on the books,” such as sexual harassment policies, social media policies are often not enforced by employers. It is up to the employee to take proactive action, hopefully after consulting an experienced attorney, to require employers to enforce and apply these policies.

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Please click here to learn more about the Law Office of Faye Riva Cohen, P.C. and how we can assist you in addressing your problems with the least risk to yourself.

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