How to Avoid Discrimination — A strange day in court

How to Avoid Discrimination

A strange day in court

Bryan Zepp Jamieson

July 1st 2023

The docket was distinctly odd. The next half-hour was given over to something listed as “an advisory trial,” a term that simply didn’t exist in Judge Meyersota’s experience. Only one attorney and a “client” were listed. He scanned the courtroom confusion softening his stern features. He glared at the bailiff. “Well?” his eyebrows inquired. The bailiff gave a slight shrug and glanced at the district attorney. Meyersota gave a light cough, getting an obedient attention from the DA. “I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that is it customary to have an accused in these types of proceedings. Despite having looked at the accustomed location in this court room for a defendant, such a person stubbornly refuses to manifest. Perhaps you have an explanation for this?”

The DA gave another shrug, one carrying an admixture of dread and resignation to Meyersota’s practiced eye. “Your honor, there is no defendant.”

Meyersota gave a benign smile and glanced down at the desk before him. He looked up at the DA, wearing an expression normally used to reassure frightened kittens. “No…defendant, Mister, erm, Kavano? Am I hearing you properly?”

“You are correct, your honor.” Kavano fumbled at the book he held before himself. Meyersota noted that it was a bible. “The, um, defendant is hypothetical.”

“Hypothetical.” Meyersota paused, considering his next words. “To quote: ‘involving or being based on a suggested idea or theory: being or involving a hypothesis. Conjectural. Speculative.’ Am I to understand that your non-evident defendant is conjectural? Or would the word be speculative?”

Kavano was sweating. Meyersota did not see this as an endearing quality. “Suppositional might be a better word.”

“I see. I see. And what is it that you are asking me to suppose about this defendant?”

“The defendant is a group of people that the plaintiff believes may make unreasonable demands upon her.”

“May make?” Meyersota glanced at his screen. “I see we do actually have a plaintiff listed, and apparently she has a name. Erm, Karen Scalito.” He turned his attention to the woman sitting next to Kavano. “Would that be yourself?”

Scalito stood and bowed her head. “It would, you honor.”

Meyersota knew that declaring a recess and suspending the proceedings would be his only real course of action at this point. No defendant? Could you even HAVE a plaintiff if there was no defendant?

But his curiosity was piqued at this point. What were Kavano and this Scalito woman playing at?

Meyersota gavelled. “I declare court to be in recess. Would Mr. Kavano and Ms. Scalito attend to me in chambers? He glanced around. “Is there a defense attorney here? Or is he as real as his client?”

Kavano winced. “I’m presenting arguments for the defense.”

“You’re…” Meyersota actually gasped. “Am I to understand you are prosecuting and defending attorney…erm, attorneys in this travesty?” Kavano nodded, clearly wishing to put his Bible between him and his view of Meyersota’s face. Meyersota was wearing a well-practiced expression designed to melt certain grades of titanium.

“Chambers. NOW!”

* * *

“All right. Siddown.” Meyersota normally offered a choice of sweets and non-alcoholic libations in chambers discussions, hoping to promote a sense of collegiality amongst warring factions. But this was unknown territory, and Meyersota was wondering if Kavano was pranking him in some way. Misdirected humor in court was sometimes a career-ender. No sweets for you, Mr. Kavano. Not until I know what the hell this is.

“Now, explain to me how this is even remotely a proper court proceeding with no defendant.”

“303 Creative v. Elenis, your honor. Just came out this week. The ruling says that an artist may not be compelled to write or portray actions or images that he or she finds objectionable.”

“303 Creative…wait a minute. It that the case where some woman sued over the right to not have to violate her religious principles and write a message on a wedding cake for a gay couple?” Meyersota paused to recollect. “It turned out that the party she named as opponent in the suit in fact wasn’t gay, was married for many years to a woman, still was, and had no intention of marrying anyone else? In fact, it turned out that he had never approached that woman and asked her to perform any service at all for him? She just picked his name out of a phone book or something?”

Kavano nodded. Meyersota looked aghast. “And the Supreme Court ACCEPTED that mess?”

“And ruled on it, your honor.” Kavano opened his bible and pulled out a sheath of papers. “It says here, ‘Ms. Smith and the State stipulated to a number of facts: Ms. Smith is “willing to work with all people regardless of classifications such as race, creed, sexual orientation, and gender” and “will gladly create custom graphics and websites” for clients of any sexual orientation; she will not produce content that “contradicts biblical truth” regardless of who orders it; Ms. Smith’s belief that marriage is a union between one man and one woman is a sincerely held conviction; Ms. Smith provides design services that are “expressive” and her “original, customized” creations “contribut[e] to the overall message” her business conveys “through the websites” it creates; the wedding websites she plans to create “will be expressive in nature,” will be “customized and tailored” through close collaboration with individual couples, and will “express Ms. Smith’s and 303 Creative’s message celebrating and promoting” her view of marriage; viewers of Ms. Smith’s websites “will know that the websites are her original artwork.

“Hmph. Well, it is stare decisis that the First Amendment forbids the government from compelling people to say something that they would rather not say. But that’s an action taken by the government. Was your suppositional defendant a government?”

“The situation we’re stipulating is that the plaintiff, Ms. Scalito caters party functions. She is moving to prevent having to cater events which she finds objectionable.”

“’Objectionable.’ You mean like stag parties, or…I don’t know, frat parties where there’s underage drinking going on?”

Scalito spoke up. “I mean heathen events. Bar Mitzvahs, Arab weddings, that sort of thing.”

Meyersota had tried some extremely distasteful people in his day, and was well-versed in maintaining an impartial mien. He had also learned to hear a person out, no matter how unpromising the start. But Scalito was already trying his patience.

“Mr. Kavano, you might advise your client that the law forbids discriminatory practices against those in protected classes. This includes religious beliefs.” Meyersota glanced at the Bible Kavano was still holding. “ALL religious beliefs. I’m a practicing Christian myself, but generally do not permit holy texts and artifacts in my courtroom other than in an evidentiary role. Is that Bible you’re waving around evidence of some sort?”

Kavano glanced at the bible as if it had come to life and was wriggling in his hands. He stuffed it into his briefcase, giving Scalito a dark glance. She made him carry it, Meyersota realized. This was getting weirder by the moment.

Scalito gave Kavano a disgusted look and spoke up. “I have nothing against Arabs, your honor, and some of my best friends are Jews. But I am an artiste, and I feel that if I am forced to engage in thematic imagery or wording as part of my catering services, people might think that I personally am Jewish or Muslim, and as a devout Christian, I wish to be spared that.”

Meyersota gave Scalito a level stare. “That seems a bit far-fetched, Ms. Scalito. Take me, for example. I wrote lesson plans and essays as part of my role as an adjunct professor at the local college. I wrote a piece that laid out the groundwork for the findings for legal action against the police whose African American prisoner died in custody last summer. I argued that the prisoner in question was entitled to the full rights of any white prisoner and might still be alive had he been treated the same as a white prisoner.

“Does that mean people will think I am African American? And for that matter, should I care if some people get that impression? There is no shame intrinsically in being African American, just as there is nothing shameful about being Jewish or Islamic.”

“But I have a right as a Christian to not be lumped in with those other religions. They are false!”

Kavano spoke up. “Your honor, my client isn’t asking for the right to discriminate. She is asking, under the provisions set out in Creative 303, to be permitted to avoid serving customers so that she can avoid having to be discriminatory.”

Avoid being discriminatory.  Yeesh.  Meyersota had heard enough. “I don’t see grounds for a trial, or any sort of legal proceeding here. You don’t have a plaintiff because nobody has been wronged. You don’t have a defendant. The argument that a client may discriminate in order to avoid having to discriminate is absurd on its face. Come back when you have something that fits in the framework of law, or even common sense, and we can proceed.

“Now get out of my courtroom.”

The Rise of the Codgers — or, Casey Kasem saves the universe

September 13th 2019

I didn’t bother watching the debate last night because I’m thoroughly fed up with the ‘loaves and fishes’ approach in which each candidate gets fifteen minutes to discuss eight or nine separate items in answer to questions the moderators pose, not to shed light, but to to show ‘impartiality’ by being the sort of assholes who put bugs in jars to ‘make them fight.’

But I’ve been hearing plenty about one incident; Joe Biden was hit with a gotcha question and fumbled the response. Perhaps not a ‘hold the presses!’ moment, but once the uproar died down, it lay bare a problem Joe, along with all the other major candidates for president this year, share.

One of the moderators asked Joe about an intemperate remark he made in 1975. Now, I’m sure you all remember 1975: disco, Whip Inflation Now buttons, endless rumors that the Beatles were getting back together, and Jaws. Cassette players were the hot new thing, and people speculated that it may cut into the popularity of vinyl LPs and turntables.

Joe’s remark, made a mere 44 years ago, was pretty vile. He was asked then about reparations, and said he would “be damned if I feel responsible to pay for what happened 300 years ago.” The moderator, who apparently had never read a news story since then, wanted to know what Biden had to say about that now. Biden decided to deflect, admitting that “…there is institutional segregation in this country.”

So far, so-so. He wasn’t going to address reparations, but he was at least willing to admit that race remained a central problem in the country.

I sure wouldn’t want to be held to account for some of the stupid stuff I said in 1975. Or even stuff that wasn’t particularly stupid at the time, but was just the sort of crap people said back then. So I understand how Joe handled it, am even a bit sympathetic.

But then, Joe got more tangential, arguing that black kids should have better educational opportunities, and saying that parents needed to play a bigger role in home instruction. To that end, he said, “Play the radio, make sure the television… make sure you have the record player on at night.”

OK, some people are saying that the deflection and trivialization of the issue was racist, but I don’t think that’s the case here: it was just Joe running his mouth and being a numbnuts. The answer was facile, and would have been condescending if Joe were able to understand he was talking down to people.

Well, Joe is the safe and uninspiring candidate. If you want to be safe and uninspired next year, he’s your man.

But his answer, aside from being tone-deaf and simplistic, revealed a bigger problem that Joe shares with Trump, Warren, and Sanders: they’re all codgers.

They’re all older than Reagan was when he first ran for president, and Reagan’s age was an issue—as was the fact that he had pretty severe dementia going on in his second term. More and more people are arguing that in addition to being a narcissist and a sociopath, Trump is also suffering from dementia, an argument that get more persuasive every time the man opens his mouth (or taps his phone) and utter nonsense spews out. Bernie obviously had a bad case of laryngitis going on last night, leaving me to wonder what kind of voice he would have by the end of the primaries. Warren was the only one of the four who appeared vigorous and up-to-date.

Joe’s codgerhood really came to the fore with the ‘record player’ remark.

First off, how many households with young children even HAVE a record player? Could a typical five year old know how to operate a record player, or would he be trying to jam the disk in a slot in the side, because he remembers seeing an old movie where people did that with their “CD players”?

For those of you born after 1968 who bother reading a codger like me, you played a record by dragging a needle along grooves in the disk. This created vibrations in the needle, which were converted to electrical impulses. It was all very 19th century. The sound quality was actually pretty good, and you could tell the gender of “Bing”, “Doris” and “Frank” if the record wasn’t warped.

Even “radio” is dated. It’s what my grandfather used to call “the wireless” (nothing to do with the internet or computers) and your grandpappy called “the ray-dee-oh”. It’s still around, and you can buy radios that pick up signals right out of the air broadcast mostly by religious nuts, scammers and neo-nazis.

Well, at least Joe knows they play music on the television, but then, MTV has been around since the early 80s. I’m not sure what Joe would make of a Roku player; I have a vision of that one ancient Star Trek movie, the one with the whales, where Scotty is trying to talk to a computer mouse.

The incident is trivial. I’ll talk about “winding a clock” or “looking at the road map”. I’m a codger myself. ‘Course, I’m not running for president, and compared to any of the three Democrats running, I would be a shit choice. (Compared to the incumbent, well let’s just say I’ve dropped turds that would make a better president than him).

My own speech is peppered with anachronisms. Hell, I still wear a wrist watch. (I took Douglas Adams’ hint and got a digital watch. It’s pretty cool.) This doesn’t mean I’m ready for ‘assisted living.’

Nor does it mean any of the Democratic frontrunners are ready for what we used to call “the old folks’ home”. Joe might be a numbnuts, but he was a numbnuts in 1975, too, and if he isn’t showing much in the way of progression, at least he isn’t showing signs of mental decline.

So don’t read too much into the ‘record player’ thing. It isn’t a red alert; it’s just a reminder that all these guys are within hailing distance of their 80th birthdays, and it’s gonna catch up to them, sooner rather than later.

It’s time for us baby boomers to let loose of the reins (a dated reference to a type of self-driving device before Tesla) and pass the torch (which was not carbon-friendly or LED) to the next generation, who by now have to be feeling a bit like Prince Charles, late middle-aged with nothing to do except wait for us to kick off.

It’s not like we did such a wonderful job of running things.

There’s a lot of potentially great leaders in their 50s and even 40s out there. The Constitution thinks the right persons would be ready to be president by age 35.

A codger will probably win the presidency next year. But hopefully, he or she will be the last of the codgers, and we’ll then start considering candidates born after the rise of the cassette tape.

The Squirrel Seller

Khalid rubbed the dusty and sunburned bridge of his nose and tried not to glare in disgust. The man before him was aged, and perhaps not quite right in the head. The Prophet taught the virtue of compassion for the aged and the infirm, even if they were assholes. This particular asshole may have stood tall just a few decades before, and a small ring of blubber around his midriff suggested he might have been portly at the every least. Khalid could imagine him waddling about an almost-forgotten green and verdant golf course, relics of cool and wet times. Now he was as dessicated and worn as the sun-and-wind blasted lands in which they lived.

“I have no interest in your squirrels,” Khalid explained patiently. “Half the people within a day’s journey of here have squirrel farms, including myself.” He pointed to a board behind him. The board read “Fresh water: One liter for one cat. One half liter per chicken. One liter for one kilo of edible nuts, fruits, tubers. One liter for small dog, two for medium (10-30 kg) three for a large.”

He tapped the board meaningfully. “No squirrels. No chipmunks. No rats. No rodents of any kind. Everyone has all they can eat, and then some. Bring me a live turkey, and I’ll give you three liters. I’ll give you twelve liters for a tom.”

“I don’t have any toms.” The supplicant, bald but for a few straggled wisps about the ears, sagged, the very picture of abject misery.

Khalid, burdened with the idealism of youth, might have been a bit more sympathetic, but the man had a long history of lying, cheating, and flat-out swindling. He often had contracted with someone, receiving a good or service, and then sneering and simply stiffing the person with whom he had made his agreement. If pressed, he would offer coins of silver or gold, arguing that their value easily exceeded that of the food or water or labor he had received. In theory, that was true, but people had discovered that they could not eat gold and silver, and everyone was desperately clinging to survival and couldn’t be bothered with jewelry and ornaments.

The Prophet’s Law taught that the visitor should be afforded amenities and courtesies, and that to turn away a beggar was shameful, and to do so to a man incapable of caring for himself was a deep disgrace. Outside of the conclave lay only dust and heat and the rapidly decaying ruins of what had, just twenty years before, been a prosperous suburb with cars and trees and running water. A young and vigorous man armed with knowledge and quick wits might survive in the deserts of Maryland, but this old wreck was not young, nor vigorous, and it was doubtful he ever possessed knowledge or quick wits.

Some of the residents argued that he should be expelled anyway. He was a thief. He was also a braggart, a conceited blowhard who demanded respect he had done nothing to earn, boasting of great wealth and power, and had even been known to use such sad flourishes to bully some of the village children. At least once he had been beaten, when his hand brushed against a woman’s breast once too often for it to be mere coincidence.

The beggar glared. “Someone told you not to take my squirrels. I will find him, and he’ll pay. Believe me. He’ll pay.”

“No one told me not to take your squirrels. I don’t take any squirrels. I can’t sell them, I can’t trade them, and I don’t need them for food. Come back with some cloth, or unbroken glass, and I will treat with you.”

“You are a poor businessman. You have goods to trade, I have goods to trade. What is the problem?”

“You need my goods. I don’t need yours.”

“I could make better use of them than you.”

Khalid ignored the jibe. “But I have no need of your goods. The art of the deal is based on the value perceived by each party, resulting in a trade.”

“Who taught you that shit? Look, these are fine squirrels. The best squirrels. I raised them like they were my own children. Believe me, you will never regret buying these squirrels.”

Khalid glanced into the cage, where a half dozen dusty and disheveled rodents resided. One blinked at him slowly with rheumy eyes, and another appeared to be in the throes of an epileptic seizure. The beggar gestured at them, beaming with pride. “These are quality squirrels.”

“If you raised your children like you raised these poor creatures, it would explain why your children are not helping you in your dotage.”

“Those swine.” The old man spoke without passion or conviction, but spat precious bodily fluid into the dust. “They abandoned me in my hour of greatest need. I was a great father, the best father, and they turned away from me. They were disloyal!” Now the beggar’s voice rose, and his eyes flashed. “Disloyal!”

Khalid sighed. This was a well-worn recording. Left uninterrupted, the screed would expand, until Earth’s once-teeming billions had all risen up in conspiracy and envy to destroy this man. And indeed, Khalid had heard reports that had civilisation not collapsed in 2019, this man might well have been in prison today, along with his wives and children. If any of his family remained alive, Khalid thought. It was little wonder they would eschew this vile man.

Khalid’s patience was at an end in the sweltering day. He rose from his seat, towering over the old man, who shrunk in on himself, revealing a personal cowardice.

“Look, enough is enough. I have told you what I am willing to trade fresh, clean water for. If you cannot find items of value, you can drink from the river everyone else drinks from. It won’t kill you.”

“But it’s scummy and tastes bad,” the beggar whimpered. “Do you have any idea who I am? I am the most important man in the world! You can’t make me drink bad water!” His eyes glittered, whether from self-pity or calculation Khalid couldn’t tell.

This, too, was a familiar tack in the squabble. The man would describe how he had smote nations, and punished the parasitic poor. It was a bloody canvas of greed and avarice and vainglory, and Khalid had no desire to sit through the demented diatribe.

He slapped his hands on the rough-hewn counter, and again the beggar shrank back, quailing.

“Look, Donald,” Khalid growled, using the beggar’s name for emphasis. “One last time.”

He pointed to the board. “This is what I want for my water. Produce that, or leave.

“And don’t waste my time telling me how powerful you once were.

“The fact is, I don’t care what you were President of.”

Trumping the Newt

Nyuk nyuk nyuk

December 12th 2011

 I watched Mitt Romney offer a bet of $10,000 that he wasn’t out of touch with the common man, while the Republican crowd cheered the idea of child labor, and I reflected for about the thousandth time that the GOP debates were probably the best thing Obama could have hoped for for the 2012 campaign.

I’m not quite sure what the people who came up with the idea were striving for. Obviously, they wanted to publicize the policies of the people running for office, and those of the GOP as a whole. The trouble is they succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. The debates have done a spectacular job of publicizing the views of the candidates and the reactions of the Republicans watching the debates, and it’s safe to say that at this point, there’s more gleeful Democrats watching the debates than there are Republicans.

Having your front runner come out and double down on the crazy by imploring the country to replace union janitors with five year old children is pretty bad. Hand a typical five year old a bottle of bleach and a bottle of ammonia and tell him to go clean the floor, and pretty soon you’re going to end up with a dead five year old, and worse, the floor will still be dirty. But you will save money.

I don’t guess I even have to say who came up with that one.

Continue reading “Trumping the Newt”


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