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Sunday, August 13, 2017

How I Spent My Summer Vacation, Part 6 (Or Whatever): Concussion

Alternate title: the dangers of a clean house (well, if someone else cleans it).

My mother moved in with us recently. This not only brings a loved family member into the household, but inspires us to eat better (fewer frozen dinners); to eat together (as opposed to separately, one reading and one watching TV); and to clean the house more often. Or rather, to have it cleaned, as I'm both lazy and somewhat arthritic.

So Friday afternoon, the cleaners finished up, allegedly, and asked if I wished to inspect. We live in a ranch with partially finished basement. I trundled downstairs to the lower floor and stepped into the room we somewhat grandiloquently call our library, a walkout basement room lined with bookshelves and filled with overflow belongings stacked on top of what I vaguely recall to be furniture.

Did it take one step or two? I don't remember, but my feet slid swiftly out in front of me. In that slow-motion way that accidents seem to occur, I had time to think: I'm falling backward. Well, it's not that far. But that's cement down there. CLONK.

I made it to all fours, then slowly up the rest of the way. I got out of the room without further mishap and went up to report to family and cleaners.

Cleaners: "Oh, no! Are you all right?"

KAW, grimly: "I hope so."

I knew a little about severe concussions, having written one into the book I'm now editing, but had the mistaken impression that all concussions leave one with pupils of uneven size. I had also read about the late, lamented Natasha Richardson, who fell on a ski slope, disdained medical attention, and died a few hours later of a brain bleed. So I tried to monitor myself pretty closely over the next couple of hours. When I noticed a faint feeling of pressure in my forehead, coupled with the odd feeling that my skull was a couple of inches lower than usual over my right eyebrow, I asked my husband to drive me to the ER.

The nurse who first processed me ordered a CAT scan. The doctor, however, opined that I had very little risk of bleeding, but most likely did have a mild concussion. Fine. And that I should refrain for at least 24 hours from driving, intellectual work, looking at screens -- TV, computer, and cell phone -- and reading.

NOT fine. I haggled for a bit about the reading, being, as I confessed, addicted to it. She explained that one had to rest the brain after an injury, just as one rests any other injured body part, and that lighted screens, reading, and concentration did not add up to rest. Oh, and don't drink alcohol for 24 hours either.

How do I shut down my overactive brain and get to sleep at night? Well, the ritual includes reading and a glass of sherry. . . .

I still don't know whether bathing my brain in a neurotoxin (my husband's vivid description of my glass of sherry) would have been worse than insufficient sleep. But my husband did what he could by reading to me. He hadn't done that since I was in labor with our older daughter. (I was in labor for 46-1/2 hours, and he got through a good deal of Jurassic Park. Which my daughter says "explains a lot.")

My plans for the next day included Drum Corps International finals. For those not initiated into the world of drum corps, that means hours of magnificent, LOUD live music, while corps members wearing a wild variety of uniforms and costumes march in inventive formations and toss around giant flags, wooden rifles, and not-entirely-blunt sabres . I had asked the ER doctor whether I could still attend. For good or ill, she was a drum corps enthusiast. "Sure!" The noise might seem (even) louder than usual, but I could wear ear plugs if necessary. . . . I didn't think to tell her what good seats we had. In fact, it didn't occur to me until after the first hour or so that I had a stadium's width of bright lights glaring down across the top of my peripheral vision. Oh, well. By the last hour, I alternated holding up my hand as a visor and closing my eyes -- which made the music even more impressive (at least where, as for most corps, it was impressive already).

So how am I? Not, I think, entirely recovered. But after a little online checking, I've decided to cut back somewhat on the reading and screen time (and abstain from booze at our anniversary dinner out tonight), rather than resume the complete fast. Hence this account.

Now to sit in a room with a view for a while, with neither book nor phone in my hand. Adieu.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

The Framers Didn't Think "Advise and Consent" re Confirmations Needed a Supermajority

I'm reading a book about the American presidents and how they rate when judged by constitutional standards. It wasn't long before I needed to refresh my recollection of Article II of the U.S. Constitution, which establishes the executive branch. In reviewing it, I noticed some pretty solid evidence that the Framers of that Constitution would not have thought a super-majority of the Senate -- such as a 60-vote threshold -- necessary for confirmation of presidential nominations.

Section 2 of Article II  is one long sentence. The first clause (or whatever the appropriate grammatical term), up to the first semicolon, gives the president "the Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur . . . ." Note the "two thirds." That's a supermajority. Any time more than a majority is required in a vote, you have a supermajority.

Next comes the power to appoint various officers: "and he shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law . . . ." Same "Advice and Consent" language -- but no two thirds threshold. No supermajority. Evidently the Framers thought Treaties so important that the super-majority safeguard was necessary, but weren't as concerned about presidential appointments.

So the Democrats were well within the constitutional comfort zone when they amended Senate rules to drop the 60-vote requirement for cutting off debate on almost all presidential nominations. (The first version of that rule, by the way, dates from 1917 -- not from the Framers' era. For some background on Senate debate, filibusters, and the cloture rule, follow this link.) And the Republicans will, likewise, be doing no violence to the constitutional framework if (or, per most expectations, when) they eliminate the last vestige of that requirement in order to allow confirmation of Judge Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Monday, March 13, 2017

A terrible bill in the Arkansas General Assembly

Many years ago, a trial lawyer pulled me into an appeal -- and I ended up something of an expert in an area of the law I'd hardly known existed.

Many, perhaps most, parents don't know that in most states, at least under some circumstances (such as a parent's being widowed, separated, divorced, or unmarried), a parent's decision that a particular grandparent (or sometimes, great-grandparent) should not be allowed to supervise and/or transport and/or care for and/or spend time with a child may be challenged in court. Such a decision is usually reached after years of painful experience -- and not every parent is well equipped, personally or financially, to defend that position in an extended legal proceeding. In June 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court held that at least, trial courts must start out presuming that a fit custodial parent's decision to limit or deny nonparent visitation is in the child's best interest, and giving that decision special weight. Some state supreme courts, including that of Arkansas, have gone further, holding that only if the decision is likely to harm the child may the court override it. Arkansas's current statute governing grandparent and great-grandparent visitation accords with these rulings. But now, a bill has sped through the Arkansas House and will soon be heard in an Arkansas Senate committee that would flout this precedent and make it extremely difficult for Arkansas parents to fend off visitation they believe to be unwise.

HB 1773 would place the burden of proof on many parents seeking to limit or deny grandparent or great-grandparent visitation (specifically, single, divorced, or separated parents -- or married parents, if a judge considers that their decisions lack a "justifiable purpose"). Not only that, but the bill is so drafted that a parent would not satisfy his or her burden simply by proving that the petitioner seeks visitation that would not be in the child's best interest. The parent would ALSO have to prove that the petitioner does not have a “significant and viable” relationship with the child. Under this standard, visitation that is clearly not in the child’s best interest – for example, overnight or out-of-state visits with a sensitive toddler, or visitation with an asthmatic child in the petitioner’s smoke-filled home – may, and perhaps must, still be granted. Similarly, the parent must prove that the petitioner doesn’t have the capacity to give the child love, affection, and guidance – even if the parent has already proved that the petitioner is unwilling to cooperate with the parent, and that the parent’s decision is unlikely to distress or harm the child. As I've already mentioned, HB 1773 would also allow grandparents and great-grandparents to sue married parents peacefully raising their children, with no prior involvement in the judicial system, so long as they were able to convince a judge that the parents’ constitutionally protected decision to limit or deny visitation did not have a “justifiable purpose.” This judicial second-guessing has the potential to drag many families into the prolonged purgatory of family law litigation.

Nonparent visitation cases can be every bit as ugly, financially devastating, emotionally disruptive, and prolonged as divorce and post-divorce litigation. The resources that should go toward the child’s education, enrichment, and future are instead spent on legal fees. The ultimate victims, deprived of not only these resources but of the parents’ time and attention, and caught in an emotional cross-fire that may endure for many years: the children whose best interests are supposed to be the motive for the melee. Visitation orders also reduce the time the children can spend with other extended family members whose relationship to the parents is more harmonious. It is for these reasons that the family law bar in Indiana, despite the obvious financial incentive to back such litigation, has consistently opposed bills with effects similar to HB 1773 -- though those bills did not go as far as HB 1773 in contradicting constitutional requirements.

If anyone reading this post lives in Arkansas or has acquaintances who do, I hope you will bring this bill to their attention -- and soon. The Arkansas Senate Judiciary Committee will be hearing this bill any day now -- and if it passes out of committee, it will go to the Senate floor within two days. The committee's members' contact information may be found at this link.