MONDAY, APRIL 19, 2021
Snapshots of cascading failures: The headline on a front page in today's New York Times says this:
Minneapolis Braces for Verdict in Floyd’s Death
Minneapolis is bracing for that verdict, the front-page headline says. On the front page of today's Washington Post, the headline in question says this:
Minneapolis braces for unrest
We've already seen several pundits say it this morning. Our nation is bracing for the verdict in this high-profile trial!
Here at this site, we're so in love with our (professed) American values that we're doing something different this morning. We're so in love with our American and Enlightenment values that we're actually waiting to hear the closing arguments in this high-profile trial.
We're waiting to hear the closing arguments! Can you imagine that?
In fairness, we're fairly sure that defense attorney Eric Nelson won't be saying several things in his closing argument. For one thing, we're fairly sure he won't say that the late George Floyd died of a dug overdose.
In yesterday's New York Times, Will Wright devoted a lot of time to that alleged argument. In part, Wright's report said this:
WRIGHT (4/18/21): Arguably the most important question in this case is what caused Mr. Floyd’s death. The prosecution has maintained that Mr. Floyd died from asphyxia, or the deprivation of oxygen, and has called several expert witnesses to support that notion. Dr. Martin J. Tobin, a pulmonologist and a world-renowned expert on breathing, agreed, saying that Mr. Floyd died from a lack of oxygen imposed by the restraint.
Dr. Tobin said he saw no evidence of an overdose, striking a blow to the defense’s contention that drugs played a primary role in Mr. Floyd’s death. In nuanced testimony, Dr. Tobin counted Mr. Floyd’s breaths and said that he was breathing at a regular rate in the minutes before he died. Had he been suffering an overdose, Dr. Tobin said, the rate of breath should have slowed.
Though regular in interval, the breaths were not deep enough to sustain life, Dr. Tobin said. He was one of several expert witnesses who testified they saw no evidence of an overdose.
Wright is at the Times for one year as a "national reporting fellow." That program recently replaced the paper's summer internship program.
Presumably under the guidance of an older editor, Wright went on, at some length, about the flaws in that alleged argument. According to Wright's report, "witness after witness called by the prosecution...sa[id] they saw no evidence of a drug overdose."
In fairness, Wright's statement was perfectly accurate. Various prosecution witnesses actually did say such things.
That said, we're fairly sure that Nelson isn't going to claim that Floyd died of a drug or fentanyl overdose. That seems to be a bit of a straw man—a straw man quite a few major pundits have also enjoyed shooting down.
As best we can tell, there's something else Nelson won't be claiming in his closing argument. He won't be claiming that the late George Floyd died of carbon monoxide poisoning.
We're assuming he won't make that claim. We mention this because of something we read in Friday morning's Washington Post:
BAILEY (4/16/21): Chauvin’s decision [not to testify in his own defense] effectively ended the defense case, which called just seven witnesses over two days—far less than the three dozen prosecution witnesses who appeared over a span of two weeks.
On Thursday, prosecutors recalled Martin Tobin, the Chicago-area pulmonologist who testified last week in excruciating detail about Floyd’s fight for breath. He appeared as a rebuttal witness to challenge testimony from David Fowler, the former Maryland state medical examiner and chief forensic witness for the defense, who floated a theory Wednesday that Floyd may have died of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Holly Bailey went on at some length about this alleged theory. But did David Fowler really "float a theory that Floyd may have died of carbon monoxide poisoning?"
Is that what Fowler actually said? Is Nelson going to make that claim in his closing argument?
We're going to guess that he won't. We were surprised by what Bailey wrote, in part because, during Wednesday's testimony, we saw and heard such exchanges as these:
NELSON (4/14/21): And let me just ask you, are you suggesting that Mr. Floyd died from carbon monoxide poisoning?
FOWLER: Absolutely not, no.
NELSON: So again, you're not suggesting to the jury that Mr. Floyd died of carbon monoxide poisoning.
FOWLER: Not exclusively, no.
NELSON: So if you're not saying that carbon monoxide caused Mr. Floyd's death, can you likewise eliminate it as a contributing factor?
FOWLER: The only way to eliminate carbon monoxide as a contributing factor would be to ensure that there was none in his blood or a very, very low level in his blood...
Which part of "you're not saying that carbon monoxide caused Mr. Floyd's death" didn't the Post understand? Fellow citizens, we're just asking!
Also, is it really that hard to handle the logic involved in a claim about (possible) "contributing factors?"
Is the logic of that presentation really that hard to handle? Here in Our Town, and at times like these, yes, it actually is! And so we reach the terrible state we find ourselves at this point.
Here at this site, we're running out of ways to describe the cascading breakdowns on display here in the streets of Our Town.
You can see these cascading breakdowns as an intellectual failure. You can also see them as a moral failure, but because we believe in the "love ethic" Dr. King described and endorsed, we'd suggest being careful with that, lest you start conjuring Others.
Experts offer a third perspective on our cascading meltdown. They tell us the breakdowns to which we refer represent an anthropological failure. They say we're looking at the way our human brains are wired, and have always been wired.
They say that explains the remarkable columns Gene Robinson won't stop writing. They say that explains how someone as unreliable as Rachel Maddow could be sold to us, and accepted by us, as the brightest person in town.
They say that explains the remarkably strange news report which topped the front page of the Metro section of yesterday's Washington Post. They say that explains the way our news orgs are describing, but are also refusing to describe, the circumstances surrounding Daunte Wright's shooting death.
"This is the way the world ends," the poet once wrote. "Not with a bang but a whimper." Like Luther laboring in his garden, we're still willing to wonder what Nelson is going to say.
(He faces a challenging task.)
According to our American values, no one will be required to agree with whatever it is he says. But according to our American values, we should probably wait to hear what he says—and we shouldn't misdescribe it.
Due to our cascading failures, we're on the road to perdition here in Our Town, or so major experts keep saying. That doesn't make us bad people, they say. It simply means that we're people.
This morning, we're going to watch the closing arguments. Concerning the forthcoming end of the world, we'll be offering snapshots of our cascading failures all week.
Full disclosure: This report was posted before the start of closing arguments.
Tomorrow: A portrait of widespread indifference