A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 152

Our new twig fence, constructed while we were in NYC.

Thursday, September 24

We’re back in East Hampton, experiencing a mix of emotions. Once we unloaded the huge amount of stuff from the car, it felt good to be back. But there are several unnerving aspects: How long will we be confined here? The last time, we stayed for six months. A similar period now would take us into March of 2021. Moreover, during our last stay, in spite of fear and trembling over the coronavirus, there was one reason for cheer: The days were growing longer and warmer as we experienced late winter passing into spring. Now, days are getting shorter and winter is coming on. 

The city wasn’t as frightening as we expected, and, with a little trepidation, it was O.K. to go into a drugstore, the supermarket, or the greenmarket and get the few items you needed. That’s harder to do here—stores are fewer and farther away. So there must be more thought given to just what foodstuffs or other supplies are needed to cover a period of several days. 

What farm stands are still open? Should we go all the way over to one in Amagansett to get plums for that yummy plum graham cracker crumble?

Dare we try to make Korean-style bulgogi steak, which involves grilling outside in the 6 p.m. gloaming?

As for outings, before it gets too cold we might strap on our masks and go to a nearby park/sculpture garden such as Longhouse Reserve or Madoo Conservancy in Sagaponack.

I put out birdseed yesterday, and it usually takes the birds a day or so to discover new goodies. A few have already come today.

Also, we found that our old, dilapidated twig fence has been replaced with a new cedar fence while we were away. The distressed brick walkway was also repaired. And, miracle of miracles, Optimum has finally installed the internet cable—although they’ve overcharged for doing so. Speaking about that overcharge to a customer representative was just another exercise in maddening frustration.

Our daily bread, fresh from the machine.

The bread machine is beeping, signaling a new loaf is ready—only the second that we have made in the relatively new machine. The loaves come out pretty nice, although a bit square. They’re rising better than they did with the old machine, where I think the paddle had worn out and ingredients weren’t getting mixed very well.

As the election approaches, Trump is making ever-more-threatening noises. “Get rid of the ballots and we’ll have a very peaceful—there won’t be a transfer, frankly. There will be a continuation.” OOOO-Kayyyy. If voters aren’t sick of all this—and there will have to be a very large majority against him to keep the Supreme Court from pulling another Bush v. Gore abomination—then the U.S.A. deserves what it’ll get. 

Dinner: wine-braised chicken with artichoke hearts, noodles, and a green salad.

Entertainment: more episodes of Netflix’ Ozark and Borgen.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 101

“Chinatown dance rock” group “The Slants.”

Wednesday, June 24

Emily has been taking online Continuing Legal Education courses. (All lawyers must accumulate 24 CLE credits per year, and she now has 14.) Most of these are dull, little videoed lectures delivered by lawyers who should, in many cases, avoid all microphones. I ask her if she chooses the lectures based on their potential for humor. No, she says, you generally cannot tell what the tone will be.

A case in point is the course she just took. “Government Regulation of Hate Speech” turns out to be a discussion of cases involving outrageous branding and trademark law. Could a San Francisco girl-biker group trademark its name, “Dykes On Bikes”? What about an Asian rock band, “The Slants”? Are these names invidious and thus undeserving of intellectual-property protection? What protection does trademark afford such groups, anyway?

This course was a bit like a George Carlin routine. There is something inherently funny about discussing an outrageous subject from a bureaucratic or legalistic perspective. That was the nature of Carlin’s classic monologue “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television.” The monologue gave him an excuse for saying the words—shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker, and tits—again and again, on television.

Carlin was arrested in 1972 for delivering the monologue. In 1978, the U.S. Supreme Court considered whether a radio broadcast of Carlin’s monologue merited an F.C.C. complaint that could have resulted in penalties against the station. 

According to The Atlantic, “The majority decision stated that the FCC was justified in deciding what’s ‘indecent,’ saying the Carlin act was ‘indecent but not obscene.’ The Court ruled that because Carlin’s routine was broadcast on the radio, during the day, it did not have as much First Amendment protection.”

Years later, you still couldn’t say the forbidden words on broadcast TV. But the rise of anything-goes cable TV along with the Internet has made the ruling pretty much moot.

Hate speech is another matter. Defamatory words are not allowed in trademarks, but violations of the First Amendment aren’t allowed either. In the case known as Matal v. Tam, the Supreme Court, in an opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito, ruled the Trademark Act’s clause regarding disparaging language was a violation of the First Amendment. Thus the group could register the racist slur “The Slants” as its name. (FYI, the group has a well-regarded album “Slanted Eyes, Slanted Hearts.”)

I’m looking forward to seeing a YouTube video of these musical folks. Dykes On Bikes is inherently funny too. I said to Emily that of course they are based in San Francisco—had they been from Des Moines, they’d have felt compelled to move to the Bay Area.

Dinner: leftover balsamic chicken with mushrooms, couscous, and a lettuce and avocado salad.

Entertainment: Episodes from season two of Broadchurch.