Nominations for Best-of

I’m a longtime reader of and a big fan of popehat’s main author Ken White’s writing. From time-to-time I share specific posts with friends. Once in a while I even try to quote the site, with attribution, in spoken conversation. E.g. I often use (read: botch) this line: “There are stupid lawyers, there are bullshit artist lawyers, and there are crazy lawyers, but even crazy stupid bullshit artist lawyers sound different than non-lawyers, as a result of being dehumanized by legal education and the practice of law.” Mostly I use the line to scare young people away from law school, but sometimes I just use it to explain to family why I’m less fun to be around since law school.

Popehat has been around and updating regularly for more than a decade, so at this point it has more to offer than you have time to read, so a round-up of the best posts is called for. I haven’t read quite all of the site myself, and of course these are the best posts to my tastes, but if you don’t like it, make your own damn round-up.  So, without more ado…
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There but for grace of God and circumstance…

So, a friend posted to Facebook:

What’s the best way to handle someone in conversation with you sho says overtly racist or misogynistic things? Think: taxi driver. How about someone close to you? Think family member or friend.

I had a dream about it in which mostly I just cried and then asked them to read some books I was recommending. Doesn’t seem actually effective. Would love to read y’alls thoughts.

Amid a lot of comments that aimed at commiseration, and a few enjoyable gifs like a cute kid spouting off, “that’s racist!” I responded:

One helpful phrase to keep in mind (and to get them to keep in mind, if possible) is “there but for the grace of god.” If people assume other people are mostly like them, but different because of external, historical, or other reasons, they usually do a much better job of achieving an inoffensive understanding of how the world came to be the way it is. If people don’t keep this phrase in mind, it’s not surprising that they may arrive at really offensive interpretations of the world. For one example, people who haven’t been reminded to keep “there but for the grace of god” in their minds, the default explanation for differing incarceration rates, across races, is that differences are a result of racial differences in criminal propensity.

In the same vein, there but for the grace of god, I wouldn’t have the phrase “there but for the grace of god” so nicely planted in my own brain, and so it would be me saying offensive things.

Another word for the challenge is how to cultivate sociological imagination. When we stop and think about how much of our present situation depends on forces beyond our control–good luck, or the grace of god, or whatever you call it–we tend to become more grateful and generous and forgiving.

A few days later, my friend posted this:

I hope you all take the time to read this. I don’t often write up such detailed encounters, but I think this story is so very important:

On Wednesday, as I was walking to the bus stop from my visit to Yad Vashem (the holocaust museum in Israel), I was greeted by a gentleman sitting on a bench across the street. For some reason, even though I was extremely emotionally raw, dehydrated and with low blood sugar, I decided to cross the street and engage with him. We had a brief conversation about how he’d visited Ft. Collins to speak at a church there about the ministry he runs to help poor people in Jerusalem. He said he had gone to the nearby forest to unwind. He said he liked the forest because there were no Arabs around.

Emboldened by my days of deliberation on this topic as well as my recent moving experience at Yad Vashem, I pushed back. I explained how frustrated I was with this sort of talk in Israel, that not all Arab people are bad, etc. He responded that they were dangerous. Ardent atheist that I am, I responded to this clearly religious man with [redacted name of your intrepid blogger here at briefliteraryabandon]’s phrase “there but for the grace of god.” (Aside: I personally believe in the sentiment behind the statement even if I don’t agree with the theology behind the exact phrasing.) He said that just this morning an Arab man had crossed the border and stabbed two people. I said, yes that is horrible; that is evil in this world but not all Arab people are evil. I started discussing how viewing Others in such a way is how tragedies like the holocaust occur and that I can relate because I can also catch myself doing the same thing (immediately assuming danger) in the US with our Others. But that I believe we should try to practice radical kindness if we hope to improve the world, etc.

We went back and forth like this for short while when something amazing happened: he told me I was right. That he had been wrong to say what he had said earlier; that is was mean-spirited of him. That he, a rabbi, had learned from me today. He then offered me a ride to my destination and we continued discussing a variety of interesting things along the way. He mentioned again as we neared our destination that I was blessed and that I had been his teacher during this time of repentance (we were squarely in the Ten Days of Penitence between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) and blessed him.

I have so many little stories like this (let’s call them spiritual blessings) from my time here in Israel. I sincerely hope I take the time to write more of them down so I can remember the openness and love I have felt in this time. I am writing this here now with the hopes that I can inspire at least one of my Facebook friends to keep on keeping on. Together let’s keep up the good fight for peace and love in this world even though it sometimes seems pointless. Amen.

I guess I’m recording this here, so I can point to it if anyone says nothing I wrote ever affected anyone.

Or maybe it’s because I haven’t been getting out enough lately. But, dear reader, before you judge, remember that there but for the grace of God, you too could end up consigned to advancing humanity one Facebook comment at a time.

In which I borrow’s sock puppet, and attempt to explain 12(b)6 motions and crappy journalism.

(This post was created with the help of a couple of sock puppets I pre-permission borrowed from I intend to put both through the washing machine once or twice, and return them before anyone over at Popehat notices they are missing.)


So! Did you hear I was proved right after all? 

I’m happy for you.

But aren’t you going to ask me what I was right about all along? 

Look, I’m kinda busy.

But this time I do understand something, and I knew it all along!  

A clock that is stuck at 5:00 is right twice a day, and when 5:00 rolls around, you could imagine the the clock saying, “I knew all along it was 5:00.” You probably are worse than the clock. Broken clocks can be fixed, but there’s no cure for stupid. So, uh, whatever it is, I don’t want to know.

Remember how I always said that the election was stolen by treason, and lots of people called me an idiot? 

See, you really could take a lesson from lots of people calling you something. They are onto something. Don’t let that make you feel lonely; lots of people are stupid. Just know that I despair of ever helping you.

Well a court just ruled that the Presidential Election was stolen.

Uh, look I would doubt a court had done that, even if it were a trusted news outlet, rather than my own sock-puppet telling me so. Anyway, whatever you were going to say a court had ruled, I’m refusing to engage with you. I don’t see a benefit to speculating wildly about an ongoing investigation into how much the Trump campaign knew about or encouraged the Russians to meddle in our election. Move along.

Yes, but look at this headline: “Court Admits DNC and Debbie Wasserman Schulz Rigged Primaries Against Sanders.”

Satan’s whiskers you’re a persistent idiot.  What part of “Move along, please” didn’t you understa—wait. You’re not even talking about Russia… You’re stuck on the primary. There is no way this is worth my time.

It’s from, and “Observer” is an English-speaking word that sounds trustworthy, so that means it’s written by trustworthy Americans who want to give me good information, right?  

There are so many things wrong with this sentence. Please just stop. Every new thing you say just compounds the stupid. Move alo–

That’s what I was saying. It’s obviously fake news, planted by the Russians and the Koch brothers to destroy Hillary. 

God kill me there are two of you. As though one sock puppet wasn’t enough. I hope you cannibalize each other’s crusty bits and mutually choke to death.

That’s unkind. But whatever, I was just going to post this on the internet, for all my friends, so my friends that liked Hillary will know that anything bad about Trump is forever their fault for supporting her over Bernie…

And I was going to tell all my friends to boycott voting and stop reading fake news until they make Hillary Clinton chair of the DNC, and nominate Elizabeth Warren… 

Right. Blackmail me with threats to further derail civil discourse and the democratic process. I hate you both. I hope you both get stranded on a desert island with a horny teenage boy, for months. Months. Fine, I will explain to you why your understanding is about as misguided as a hungry bear humping a beehive.

Are you mixing your metaphors? Why is the bear humpin–

The point is, you’re confused about something very basic, and it’s probably going to hurt you in personal and embarrassing ways. And that I hate you. And yeah, maybe it’s a confused metaphor. You’re a sock puppet, you think you always get Shakespeare?

1. You know that the core story of the DNC emails was that a foreign power–Russia–which is effectively a dictatorship that hates freedom and the American Way, and which is currently waging low-grade war on some of its neighbors, and which is under severe sanctions from the U.S.–hacked the servers of the Democratic Party and released their emails out of context to make Bernie supporters, who would otherwise vote for Hillary as much better than Trump, stay home rather than support her on the theory that Hillary cheated. (There’s this idea that elections are over-determined, and so there are plenty of other things that, if they’d gone the other way, might have meant Hillary would have been elected. But I don’t expect sock puppets to understand that. Anyway, over-determined or not, there’s some folks in Russia who are congratulating themselves for hacking the U.S. electoral system.) Let’s just go with this: It seems like the Russian subterfuge of our election worked, and without it, Trump might not have been elected. The main questions, at this point, seem to relate to whether anyone on Trump’s campaign encouraged the Russians to do that, and whether any of them had Trump’s approval in doing so.

But her emails! All the crap we hate about Trump is Hillary’s fault–
Shut up! You’re just a woman-hater. All the crap we hate about Trump is the fault of the Bernie “bros” who didn’t show up to vote–

2. Okay sock puppets, please tone down the uncomfortable realism, that’s way too much like real, dysfunctional people. Let’s keep this cartoonish. Take a deep breath. Now re-read that paragraph up there, with the #1 before it. If you ask the Russians when they’re drunk enough to tell the truth, or the CIA or the FBI, that’s the gist of what happened. From the perspective of the Russians, it worked. From the perspective of Americans who want our elections to be immune to foreign meddling, we got played like bongos. Sucks, don’t it? The Hillary supporters/sock puppets can blame the Bernie supporters for falling for Russian meddling in our election, and not showing up, AND the Bernie supporters can blame the Hillary supporters for supporting Hillary during the primary. AND they can all blame the Never-Trumpers for being latecomers, who could have made the difference between Trump and not-Trump if they’d been louder sooner. And we can ALL blame Jim Comey and the FBI and the CIA for not ringing alarm bells about deliberate foreign intervention in our election. Everyone is to blame. SO. How’s this for an idea: we could focus on finding common ground–can Dems all agree on Trump being awful, and try to make 2018 and 2020 a little less awful than 2016?

But the headline–

The headline is wrong. Go back and read #1 and #2. I haven’t read the article, but is hardly a quality news site, (for one, it famously likes to push a pro-Trump angle in sophisticated ways, such as by pitting Hillary and Bernie people against each other) and legal reporting is hard enough that even good journalists get it wrong all the time…

But the article block quotes the court, and it’s really pretty clear–

Fine. I will read your craptastic article, and try and explain in small words what kind of steaming turd it is. The article block quotes the court, as follows:

“In evaluating Plaintiffs’ claims at this stage, the Court assumes their allegations are true—that the DNC and Wasserman Schultz held a palpable bias in favor Clinton and sought to propel her ahead of her Democratic opponent.” 

3. You know, this is really pretty clear. But it’s really pretty clear in the opposite way you–idiot sock puppet that you are–are taking it. The court is making the stated assumption not because it is true, or even because it is likely, or even merely plausible. Rather, the court is asking the “even if” question, which courts use all the time to throw out lawsuits. Here’s how it works. Person A sues Person B by filing some paperwork with a court. Person B then asks the court to ask, “Even if all the things Person A is suing about happened, would Person A be entitled to get a court order that Person B do something, such as pay Person A money?” In lawyer-speak, this is what the court does when a party files a motion under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2). 

In relevant part, Rule 12(b)(6) reads, “[A] party may assert the following defenses by motion…  failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” 

Here’s an example. Say Red Sock Puppet and Blue Sock Puppet bring a law suit against a particular teenage boy, who you accuse–in a very colorfully detailed and even downright lurid court filing–of conduct directed at yourselves amounting to “an affront to the dignity of sock puppets everywhere.”

You’re gross and offensive. Are you sure you’re not a Bernie “bro”? 

Yeah, well screw you, sock puppets. You started this.

So say the teenage boy files a 12(b)(6) motion in response to your having sued him. The court will then assume that the teenage boy in question behaved exactly as you accuse him of behaving, without taking any evidence from you or even looking at the teenage boy’s version of events. The court will make this assumption for the sole purpose of determining whether or not to throw out your law suit. Since the law does not protect sock-puppets from any or all of the indignities to which socks may be used, the court would throw out the suit without ever giving the teenage boy a chance to defend himself, and somewhere in the opinion–which would probably be very short–would be a line like this, “For purposes of this state of the proceedings, the court assumes that Teenage Boy did all the untoward and deeply depraved acts which Plaintiff Sock Puppet accuses him of committing.” 

Journalists worth any spit figure out pretty quickly how completely unfair it would be to the Teenage Boy in question to publish an article under the headline, Teenage boy did untoward and deeply depraved acts to Sock Puppet. Lots of news outlets get this wrong and publish crap. Sometimes I sincerely suspect many of them–yes, including, of deliberately misconstruing what these court rulings mean, because that way they can get a lot more eyeballs reading their news.

In conclusion, (although I’m making several inferential leaps without explaining them because I’m tired of this topic) when stupid, credulous idiot sock puppets re-post “news” about court rulings from crappy sources, you reward journalists for teaching teenage boys how to abuse sock puppets, and contribute to sock puppet misery everywhere. Repent! 

This still doesn’t make sense, and I don’t like being threatened. I still think you’re just trying to cover for Hillary and Wasserman Shulz, and I’m tired of listening to you. I’m never asking you anything again.

I think you’re a Bernie bro, so I’m done with you.  

Really that’s great. Just great. Please stay gone.