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Month: August 2016

Who judges the judges?

Five years ago, local police stopped Leroy Duffie because he matched the “black male” part of the description of a so-called suspicious person.

A convenience store clerk called in a report of a passenger in a van holding what appeared to be a handgun and “acted like he was blowing smoke from the barrel.” The driver of the van—not the person holding the gun—was described as black, late teens or early 20s, with braids or short hair. Acting on this information, along with a rough description of the van, Lincoln police conducted a high-risk traffic stop on a bald 58-year-old double amputee:

Ordered out at gunpoint, Duffie fell to the ground as one of his prosthetic legs detached, he said. He knocked his teeth out and tore one of his rotator cuffs. Officers handcuffed Duffie as he lay on the ground and searched his car finding only a paintball gun Duffie said he planned to donate to a local charity. After several minutes, the officers seized the paintball gun and released Duffie.

[Riley Johnson, Lincoln Journal Star, August 25, 2016]

Duffie sued the officers and the city on constitutional grounds. In June of last year, citing qualified immunity for the officers, U.S. District Court Judge Richard G. Kopf granted the city’s request for summary judgment. Kopf’s other career highlights include a full spectrum of good, bad, and ugly:

Last week, the summary judgment against Duffie was reversed on appeal; the 8th Circuit returned the case for further proceedings. It will be interesting to see whether the city waits for a federal trial or appeals directly to the U.S. Supreme Court. Here’s hoping that Duffie has better luck of the draw on justices next time.

A note on Judge Kopf’s 2014 blog post, which was a step on the road to shuttering the blog—a year later—when he was informed that a “great majority” of Eighth Circuit employees felt that it was an embarrassment to the Court. Kopf’s idea of “hyperbole and somewhat mordant tone” is to admit “I have been a dirty old man ever since I was a very young man. Except, that is, when it comes to my daughters (and other young women that I care deeply about)” and then follow with this:

True story. Around these parts there is a wonderfully talented and very pretty female lawyer who is in her late twenties. She is brilliant, she writes well, she speaks eloquently, she is zealous but not overly so, she is always prepared, she treats others, including her opponents, with civility and respect, she wears very short skirts and shows lots of her ample chest. I especially appreciate the last two attributes.

The steaming bullshit of entitlement—I can’t even. I suppose that we should be happy that he doesn’t get horny for his daughters or for other young women about whom he cares deeply (despite waxing rhapsodic about his “tall, statuesque, and beautiful daughter” in the same blog post). Further classifying as sex objects all women who don’t fit either category is beyond artless; it’s disgusting.

Humanity’s exquisite corpse

One benefit of following speculative fiction writer Cat Rambo is getting the occasional lead on marvelous pieces of writing—most recently, a link to Exquisite Corpse, a haunting flash fiction piece by Caroline M. Yoachim. In just 900-odd words, Yoachim manages to capture the anxiety of precognition without context, and the head-spinning awe that comes from contemplating infinity. I compared it to lying on a hillside and trying to “fall” into the sky, something Carl Sagan used in Contact to frame childhood perceptions of the numinous. Yoachim deftly pushes those same buttons in her short work, and the effect is just as dizzying.

I have you now

After months of flirting—accumulating game pieces, reading rulebooks after dinner, playing walkthroughs against myself—I’m about ready to dive in to the X-Wing Miniatures game. It seems like the kind of tabletop game that I’d enjoy: a thoroughly play-tested rule set, spaceship models, diverse playing styles… all without the intense social interaction that comes with other role-playing games. If I didn’t have the stamina to be “in character” in a retail work setting, it’s unlikely that I would be able to spend eight hours dungeon crawling on a Sunday afternoon.

Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures tabletop gameplay
Players compete in a Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures tournament at Gauntlet Games, August 20, 2016

Light socializing during 45-minute rounds of turn-based play is much more my speed. Plus—did I mention spaceships?

Detail of Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures gameplay
Detail of a Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures game at Gauntlet Games, August 20, 2016

I never got the fully operational X-Wing that I wanted when I was eight years old, and I don’t have $7,000 to buy a sit-down 1983 Star Wars environmental cockpit arcade game (which I still think is the best X-Wing flight simulator), so my thanks to Fantasy Flight Games for this engaging workaround.

Strange bedfellows

Later this morning, the state legislature’s Executive Board will meet to decide the fate of state Senator Bill Kintner (not representing my district, I’m relieved to say). Kintner used a state-owned computer to engage in extramarital cybersex, and apparently tried to elude responsibility by reporting “a potential internet scam” to the State Patrol—said scam being that the person on the receiving end of Kintner’s Skype stream immediately threatened to use the video against him. The Governor’s office got wind of it shortly thereafter, but only now, a year later, has the story burst into the public consciousness. Having called on Kintner to resign last year, Governor Pete Ricketts again urged Kintner to step down, while the Senator seems content to work out his penitence with God alone. Meanwhile, advocacy group Bold Nebraska is circulating a petition calling for Kintner’s resignation.

There are plenty of reasons to dislike Kintner and want him out of public office, not least of which is the sputtering homophobia—e.g., writing on Facebook, “It is sad to see the City of Cincinnati promoting sin” in response to rainbow flag banners being hung during Pride. And I don’t object to pointing out the hypocrisy of a politician who prattles about family values and then gets caught [cyber]cheating. But some of the calls to resign have been tinged with sex shaming (cf. Bold Nebraska’s repeated use of the phrase cybersex scandal), and that’s not a path I have any interest in following. Senator Kintner has been fined $1,000 for the misuse of state property (though no one seemed to mind as much when he sported a gun rights coalition sticker on a state laptop some years ago). If Kintner resigns his seat, I won’t miss him, but if he’s to be pushed out of office—and recognizing my own naiveté while writing this—I’d prefer that it be for more substantive reasons.


While talking about [re]starting a backyard garden at our house, my wife said the words “coming to terms with the work.” I never had thought of that as a distinct step in a process—which explains an awful lot about how I approach time/task management (and my lifetime success rate).

Its own form of freedom

Earlier today, and as if to drive home the conclusion of my previous post here, I finished Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl, Carrie Brownstein’s electrifying memoir. There still is a lot for me to unpack from the book—but I found resonance in its immediate theme of tearing oneself down at all times in order to be steadily [re]building a better version of that same self. Then I reached the point where she quoted Sleater-Kinney’s singular song “Jumpers.”

Be still this old heart
Be still this old skin
Drink your last drink
Sin your last sin
Sing your last song
About the beginning
Sing it out loud
So the people can hear
Be still this sad day
Be still this sad year
Hope your last hope
Fear you last fear

There was a time when I’d have thought otherwise, but now I take it to be about living, not about dying. And it makes perfect sense.

Sounds of summer

It’s been a few years since I’ve had a proper summer jam, something that breaks me out of July’s heat shimmer stupor and captures the frisson of August’s headlong rush into fall. In 2012, it was “Broad Sky Blues” by Nebraska band UUVVWWZ, which I can best describe as a protest torch song, captured perfectly in Michael Thurber’s haunting music video. The following year, when my wife and I volunteered at the Maha Music Festival in Omaha, I developed an instant crush on Thao & the Get Down Stay Down, spending the rest of 2013 immersed in the title track from We the Common. Then life took some weird swerves and a dense emotional fog settled over 2014 and 2015. I retreated into old unhealthy habits, regained a lot of weight, and shuttered myself mentally. Breaking out of that rut has been a frustrating grind occupying most of this year, with more sudden lunges in positive directions coming in just the past couple weeks. Enter the Seratones:

“Lose what you learned to fear,” indeed.

I’m taking it as a sign: 2016 is the Year of Fixing Shit. Let’s go.


This will be my last 50-hour work week; after Saturday, I’ll be back down to one job and have my evenings free. It’s one of the more awkward employment transitions that I’ve made. I was fully expecting to moonlight for months longer, with the possibility of something more permanent at the new place perhaps becoming a solid offer in January. But the offer came after just one week of what was expected to be a half-time job—so I took it, giving three weeks’ notice at my current job.

It’s not the most graceful evolution; the current place is an intimate, highly focused retail setting with a minuscule staff covering all bases at all times. The right kind of person could thrive in that atmosphere; I am not that person. I’m gregarious, but introverted enough that continuous burnout and emotional exhaustion took hold fast, and set me back in other unexpected ways. I also have an impression that the very act of an employee departing can lay bare certain semi-permanent stress fractures in the workplace culture. I love the place, but I really must be going.

I’ll miss the cats, though.

In any case, vague kvetching is not my purpose here. As unpracticed as I am at journaling, public or private, now into my fifth decade of walking the earth, the summer of 2016 seems a ripe enough time to exercise my brain in a new habit. My hope is to turn this sounding board into a more serious writing pursuit—but I expect to start out with a typical hodgepodge of stuff I like as it occurs to me.

Write to me here if the mood strikes you. I may open up commenting later—I’m not entirely sold on the idea. One primary reason I’m changing jobs at all is to get away from a community setting that’s always “on,” and give myself space to reallocate emotional energy. As I said, there’s a bit to sort out. Thanks for reading this far.

Test for echo

“But how can I tell,” said the man, “that the past isn’t just a fiction designed to account for the discrepancy between my immediate physical sensation and my state of mind?”

—Douglas Adams, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

And here we are.