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    Ann Rostow: Nasty

    By Ann Rostow–


    I am watching MSNBC with the sound off, as is my wont when I write my column, and I’m looking at Louis DeJoy, who I’ve decided is one of the most unpleasant Trumpaholics I’ve encountered to date, just behind Mike Pompeo, Bill Barr, and Stephen Miller. He’s got that dismissive “I don’t have to answer these questions” attitude, combined with the wholly unattractive look of a man who thinks highly of himself for no good reason. 

    Mel and I watched the first twenty minutes of Monday’s GOP convention, but we couldn’t take any more and switched to a rerun of Rizzoli and Isles. I followed it online by reading The New York Times and the 538 live reactions, and I insisted we turn it back on for Don Junior, who is starting to resemble a chia pet. 

    For the record, we watched every minute of the Democrats, including the hours of analysis before and after the convention, with approval and pride. How is it possible that citizens of the same country can see the world in such stark contrast?

    I spent most of the 1980s living in Paris, and from time to time I would encounter American tourists. And yes, you can spot an American from afar, although not necessarily in a bad way. It’s not just the clothes; it’s something in the posture and walk and style, and you can almost see American English being spoken. I was always oddly delighted to meet a fellow American, and felt an instant kinship even with, let’s say, a middle-aged couple from Enid, Oklahoma, or an elderly man from Boise on a group tour. 

    I say “oddly,” because I previously lived in Manhattan, where I considered myself a paragon of sophistication and looked down with disdain at middle America, fly-over states, and Norman Rockwell type patriotism. Yet here I found myself defending my country and embracing any and all U.S. citizens who crossed my path, suggesting hidden restaurants and even inviting strangers over to our apartment. 

    Well, not all. There was one woman who was traveling outside the U.S. for the first time and announced that she hated France after one day and complained that her taxi driver from the airport refused to accept American dollars. But that anomaly aside, my point is that I’ve changed. If I were back in Paris now and saw Americans with MAGA hats, I would cringe with revulsion, send them in circles, or direct them to the most expensive tourist trap in the city and tell them andouillette was a strip steak. Have I become a bad person? Perhaps. 

    Bostock to the Rescue

    Moving on, I was reviewing the legal blog of New York School of Law professor Art Leonard when I found the case of three New York men who were suing a cosmetic surgeon. The doctor, one Emmanuel Asare, rejected these patients because they were HIV-positive. That’s bad enough, but I was struck by the story of one of these guys, who was on the operating table under sedation when Dr. Asare determined he would not perform the fat removal procedure that was scheduled. The poor guy was awakened and sent home in a cab. He was so groggy that he had to crawl up his stairs, and then passed out for hours! Can you imagine? Oh, and he wasn’t HIV-positive after all, not that this should have mattered one way or another. 

    Earlier this month, a federal judge ruled against the doctor, awarding the maximum $125,000 in damages to each of the men, plus a $15,000 fine. The Americans With Disabilities Act protects people with HIV against discrimination, and the judge found that there was no reason HIV infection should have had an impact on the proposed surgeries.

    Professor Leonard also described two federal court victories for transgender plaintiffs, both of which relied on the High Court’s 6–3 ruling in Bostock v Clayton County that deemed gay and transgender bias a subset of sex discrimination. 

    In one ACLU case, U.S. District Court Judge David Nye put a hold on an Idaho law that forbade transgender women from competing in school sports, ruling that after Bostock, the law was an impermissible form of sex discrimination and thus subjected to extra scrutiny from the court. Transgender women in school sports are generally required to undergo a year of hormone therapy before being eligible to compete, so a blanket law is bias pure and simple; there are no cases of testosterone-packed superwomen lining up to trounce the girls in tennis or what have you. Idaho had also passed a law against changing your gender on a birth certificate, which was also enjoined in a previous lawsuit by Lambda Legal.

    In the second case, New York-based U.S. District Court Judge Frederic Block granted a preliminary injunction against the Trump administration’s anti-trans health care policy, which maintained the now-invalid premise that sex discrimination and gender identity bias are two separate and unrelated ideas. The Obama administration operated under the assumption that trans discrimination was a form of sex discrimination, the very notion that the High Court confirmed in Bostock last June. Trump and company reversed that interpretation, and opened the door to gay and trans bias throughout the federal bureaucracy, not even bothering to update its policy after the High Court’s definitive ruling. Now, we’re seeing the federal courts step in, and as long as we avoid the worst of the Trump judges, we should be on the road to putting more and more teeth into the Supreme Court’s opinion.

    Morbid Curiosity 

    I lent my phone to Mel for her trip to the carry out grocery store because hers is not working. Why am I telling you this? Because my news list is on that phone! What shall I write about without it? By the way, Nikki Haley without the sound looks as if she is doing a voiceover on one of those sad animal commercials. 

    How about the 20-year-old Michigan woman who was declared dead and sent to a funeral home? The embalming team discovered her breathing with her eyes open and sent her to the hospital where she is now in critical condition—likely due to the fact that instead of giving her medical care after her apparent heart attack, the EMTs zipped her up and shipped her down to the James C Cole Funeral Home in Detroit. The AP article I was just reading has links to two similar incidents from 2018. One man in Spain was about to undergo an autopsy and even had markings on his body in preparation for that procedure before he woke up. And another woman in South Africa was sent to the morgue after a car crash and actually refrigerated before someone noticed she was still alive.

    The South Africa story from The Washington Post, in turn, has links to several other cases, including one in which a 91-year-old Polish woman “woke up after 11 hours in the morgue and asked for hot tea and pancakes.” And finally, the Post recounts the tale of an 80-year-old grandmother in Los Angeles who was put in one of those morgue drawers and later was discovered to have moved around and tried unsuccessfully to escape. 

    It kind of makes one reconsider cremation, although being buried alive wouldn’t be a major improvement. At least you’d have a few days to beat on the coffin before the services. By the way, I learned that “taphophobia” is the fear of being buried alive, something that never occurred to me to worry about until just now.

    Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

    Do you remember the gun-toting couple, Patricia and Mark McCloskey, who waved their firearms menacingly at protestors walking past their house last month? Of course you do, and they even appeared on day one at the GOP convention, although I missed their two minutes of fame.

    Apparently, their land abuts a synagogue where, in 2013, children and others had mounted bee hives along the dividing line, inadvertently edging six inches into the McCloskey property. One morning, they discovered the hives smashed with an ax, and a note from Mark McCloskey demanding that the remnants of the hives be removed or “a restraining order will be obtained and we will seek damages and attorneys’ fees.” 

    Speaking to Forward, Rabbi Susan Talve of the St. Louis’ Jewish Central Reform Congregation said she hesitated to condemn her neighbors but their appearance at the convention was galling. “It’s so upsetting that they have a national audience,” Talve said. “It’s upsetting we make heroes out of people who hate.” Talve’s synagogue has a large garden that produces 2,000 pounds of fresh produce a year as well as numerous fruit trees. Seven years ago, she recalled, the kids cried when they saw the wrecked bee hives, which were set to be harvested for honey in time for Rosh Hashanah. “[Mark McCloskey] could have picked up the phone and said, ‘Hey, those beehives are on my property,’ and we would have happily moved them,’” she told Forward.

    In another ugly anecdote, Talve recalled that the McCloskeys, who are both lawyers, sued the home owners association in an effort to enforce a rule that prohibits unmarried couples from living in the gated community. The effort, which I’m assuming did not succeed, was aimed at a gay couple. 

    “They are bullies,” said Talve. “The fact that they’re speaking at the convention is a win for bullies.” 

    On Pangolins

    Let’s see. I read an article about Shakespeare’s sexual orientation that I don’t care about right now. And I wrote down “Nebraska,” (yes, I have my phone back), but as is often the case, I’m not sure why. 

    In another notation on my list, I told myself to read a certain New Yorker article, which I thought would prove inspirational. Obediently, I just retrieved it and made it through only the first paragraph, which reminded me why, on the one hand, I try so hard to read The New Yorker, and why, on the other, I so often fail:  

    “The town of Yokadouma lies in remote eastern Cameroon, close to the border with the Central African Republic, at a juncture of narrow roads that … were unpaved and parched, their laterite clay pounded to powder by logging trucks rumbling north from the Republic of the Congo. The town’s name translates as Standing Elephant, and in the central roundabout stood an elephant statue, its tusks and part of its trunk broken off, rebar protruding. I checked in to the Hotel Elephant, whose dining room had a gorilla skull hung on one wall, a python skin stretched beside it. I remember the place because it was here, on the following morning, that I met my first pangolin, which was also my last.”

    Would you like to know why I told myself to read this article? It’s because it was about pangolins, bizarre animals with a strange attraction, which I’ve longed to write about ever since they (perhaps) triggered the COVID-19 pandemic. But that lead paragraph! Author David Quammen is asking too much of a commitment here. I want to follow him, but I can’t right this minute. Someday, David.

    Meanwhile, thanks to my notes, I see that I was going to pursue the story of a federal judge in Louisville, one of the Trump judges, who ruled that the city’s Fairness Ordinance should not be applied to a Christian photographer who rejects gay wedding clients. The Ordinance bans GLBT discrimination in public accommodation, but Judge Justin Walker seems to think Christians need not follow the law. This is the next line in the sand we face, but I see that my time and space have been exhausted by other topics. 

    I’m so jealous of David Quammen. Would that I had written that last sentence. Indeed, would that I had met a pangolin even once. I can still dream of attaining such heights, however. As Senator Tim Scott’s mother told him, reach for the moon and if you don’t make it, you’ll still be in the stars. But that’s not right now, is it, fellow Democrats? If you don’t make it to the moon, you’ll just be in the ionosphere or somewhere closer to Earth. You won’t be thousands of light years further away


    Published on August 27, 2020