About Ruminations

As a journalist and academic, I have spent my life writing. First I wrote about other people: their jobs, their hobbies, their suffering and loss, and the joys they wanted to broadcast for all to hear. Then I wrote long, dense, endlessly annotated articles about the law and the courts and the system of so-called justice in these United States. After I lost hope in both the media and the judiciary as platforms for truth and fairness, I worked with others around the world on new ways to achieve peace and justice. I wrote about that, too.

I continue that work here, though not through academic journals or letters to the editor, which seem painfully inadequate to touch and move people when movement is essential to the transformative change we need in today’s fractured and fractious world. I now pursue my efforts toward greater equity and freedom for us all by sharing with you here my personal ponderings and reflections about life, love, loss, and liberation, about family, friends, and fear, and about the misogyny that has colored my life.

I am fortunate and privileged to sit here in my office in my own home in my own private corner of Idaho. My life has benefitted from the inequality–of money, ethnicity, and race, primarily, but other types, too–that I rail and struggle against, and I am often deeply dissatisfied by my inability to do more. I is not in me to be a frontline activist. I do not march with the protesters facing down the police or lay myself in front of bulldozers despoiling old-growth forests. Instead I send words and what donations I can out to support and invigorate the others who do the hard work, the “real” work, the work that costs them jobs and friends and their own freedom. Sometimes their lives.

Sometimes I wish I were other, but I do what I can and hope it is sufficient to help someone somewhere even just for a moment. I hope my writing brings you something of value. Namaste.

Sometimes It Snows

Amid a late week of significant snow accumulation here in the inland Pacific Northwest, a turkey call greeted me from above the house as I fetched firewood in the predawn. I think I know who is calling. She strolled my upper meadow several times yesterday, occasionally pecking for food, but mostly with the air of proprietorship a landowner has as she surveys here gardens several times each day as if not only to see what progress her plants have made but also–at least as much–to cheer her blooming companions on and to applaud the miracle of her own efforts, or so it seemed to me because I felt she was staking her ground, establishing her priority rights to that small newly cleared slope that affords proximity to my feeders and to bramble thickets that offer good hiding and shelter for chicks, nice rich soil filled with worms, grubs and bugs, native grasses and lovely sun all within a short trot of the woods, where she had berthed for the night. I welcome her company and easy companionship as COVID again bares its claws, but I do hope she keeps her own little Idaho private because an entire flock of her brethren is far less lovely.

Again it snows for the seventh consecutive day, totaling thus far about eighteen inches of very light lovely whiteness, an ongoing stockpiling that is beyond odd so late in the season. The first days of snow were amusing, whimsical, and drew me out into frenzied excursions with my ATV plow. As the novelty waned, I grew weary of the sapped gray light and heavy sky, but today it all simply is. This morning’s snow is languid, almost half-hearted, drifting slowly down like motes of dust rater than water-laden missives to the drought-thirsty earth. Turkey and I are each content in our own nesting spots, the trees are frilled and laced with snow that will tumble with great thuds to slowly, deeply penetrate the earth that needs it so dearly. I can’t imagine being so petty as to begrudge the earth, the gardens that I love, having this last full draught of winter.

April 15, 2022

Photo by Mark Olsen on Unsplash

What Rule of Law?

In a Facebook post today, economist and political pundit Robert Reich said it’s time to amend the U.S. Constitution to overcome the Supreme Court’s 2014 decision in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission that “[allowed] individual donors to pour as much as $3.6 million directly into federal campaigns every election cycle – buying unparalleled personal influence in Washington and drowning out the voices of ordinary citizens.” His proposed amendment would establish that: 1. Money is not speech protected by the First Amendment, 2. Corporations are not people endowed with First Amendment rights, and 3. Congress can limit spending on elections.

While some might wish devoutly for such an amendment might , its blithe recommendation could come only from someone poorly versed in the law or ill grounded in reality. First, any amendment to the Constitution requires the support of a majority of the members of Congress who, regardless of party affiliation, bathe themselves in the overflowing trough of election money that floods in from wealthy individuals, corporations, and PACs. President Trump famously began his re-election campaign immediately after his election to keep the spigot gushing the cash that flows disproportionately toward the GOP. It appears Trump has spent a large share of the money he continues to amass on personal expenses unrelated to re-election, but the funds also support party initiatives that are systematically gutting state election rules to favor permanent GOP dominance.

Any constitutional amendment requires passage by either a two-thirds affirmative vote in both the House of Representatives and the Senate or a constitutional convention called for by affirmative action by the legislatures of two-thirds of the states. To understand the near impossibility of this in today’s polarized political environment, one need look no further than the Equal Rights Amendment, which is hugely popular with voters. It took nearly 40 years for Congress to pass that amendment, and another 48 years for it to earn the necessary ratification by the required number of states in 2020. Still it languishes because Congress refuses to repeal the 1982 ratification deadline it imposed on states.

Should the nearly impossible happen, with Reich’s proposed amendment becoming law, it likely would not achieve the ends he hopes when applied by a Supreme Court skewed so heavily toward the modern GOP-version of conservative originalism. The problems we see manifest in Court holdings on elections, electioneering, election ads, election funding, campaign lies, and more started far before McCutcheon or the earlier Citizens United decisions. The difficulties are deeply enmeshed in the muddle of First Amendment precedents that establish, move, transgress, and obscure a mind-numbing array tests, lines, categories, and distinctions without a difference and create new divisions that violate logic and reality.

The profound mess of free speech precedent and jurisprudence cannot be untangled through yet another new law with a new set of definitions that cannot be clearly understood or consistently applied. Is there a rational way to assert that election spending is not speech if we believe that “money talks” to express both our preferences and our displeasures? If corporations, which are simply the legal representation of their shareholders, are not “people” with constitutional rights (including freedom of speech), are unions or clubs or political parties … or families? If almost 235 years of constitutional law has taught us anything, it is that every law or rule must be interpreted and applied, and the devil of First Amendment law lies in who decides and how.

Today’s debacle may be built into an increasingly partisan system that selects Supreme Court justices from a very very narrow slice of the U.S. population, appoints them for life, segregates them from society, denies them the freedom to broadly discuss or gather opinions about controversial legal issues, and allows them to act in deeply political and self-serving ways with nearly absolute impunity (think Ginni Thomas). The similarity of justices’ personal experiences, legal training, and backgrounds (with even the most “diverse” members of the Court coming typically through the most prestigious and expensive Ivy League schools) predisposes even the most “liberal” among them to be cautious about broad rulings or new directions and encourages them toward inapt historical analogies ill-suited to real, contemporary applications. Personalities/ideologies that differentially lean individual justices toward or against compromise, mutual respect, and adherence to solid precedent (rather than its selective and overt misapplication and misrepresentation) weigh heavily in an adversarial “justice” system that leads parties to select and color their interpretation of data and allows decisions to be made without a complete set of verifiable, objective facts or full review of all relevant information.

Constitutional scholars (including me) have done little to help the Court address its errors or forge a better path forward because publishable/influential work must justify and credential itself with grounding in the very Court precedents and practices it wishes to excoriate. Like a dog chasing its tail, scholars follow the lead of the Court they wish to influence. The result is Court approval of high rollers with bottomless pocketbooks spending unlimited amounts on election chicanery, lies, and attacks, while voters make poorly informed choices among so-called representatives who offer impossible promises and distorted records that disguise their swift and inevitable dive into the coffers and influence of big money.

When all laws are subject to interpretation, and the rule of law is mutable, no constitutional amendment will correct the problem.

Photo by Brad Weaver on Unsplash

April 2, 2022

Contact: susandenteross@gmail.com

Sometimes It Snows

Amid a late week of significant snow accumulation here in the inland Pacific Northwest, a turkey call greeted me from above the house as I fetched firewood in the predawn. I think I know who is calling. She strolled my upper meadow several times yesterday, occasionally pecking for food, but mostly with the air of…

What Rule of Law?

In a Facebook post today, economist and political pundit Robert Reich said it’s time to amend the U.S. Constitution to overcome the Supreme Court’s 2014 decision in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission that “[allowed] individual donors to pour as much as $3.6 million directly into federal campaigns every election cycle – buying unparalleled personal influence…

About Ruminations

As a journalist and academic, I have spent my life writing. First I wrote about other people: their jobs, their hobbies, their suffering and loss, and the joys they wanted to broadcast for all to hear. Then I wrote long, dense, endlessly annotated articles about the law and the courts and the system of so-called…

Worth a Shot

Yesterday I pulled a rune for the first time in a long while. Ansuz, the first of the thirteen cycle runes of self-awakening and self-change. Auspicious. Ansuz says it is timely for me to receive a message from the universe, a message that can be life changing. Perhaps the rune itself?

Ten days until classes start and I am far from ready. Yet I find myself pickling beets and putting up roasted peppers to kick off this year’s serious canning. Tomatoes are slow because of the cool nights this summer, and they and my infantile squash have a long way to go. I’m hopeful the predicted week of hot weather (just in time for my class-free summer days to end) will get things going. So I’m watering in preparation and thinking what a blessing it is not to have the wildfire smoke and drought so far this year. I never realized how much I had to be grateful for before last summer’s awful smoke and fire-terror filled days and nights. I don’t feel ready to get back to the grind of classes. I’m feeling a bit edgy, touching on overwhelmed, but classes wait for no (wo)man, so push on I must.

As I canned, I spent some time thinking about radical transformation and change. The holidays offer the chance to establish new patterns, new traditions, to create new habits just for me. So last night I went to the pond cabin for no reason other than to change. It was musty and stuffy and hot from being closed up unused through this past week of 90-plus days and much longer, but I decided to sleep there and luxuriate in that space, that wonderful wild place.

I’m glad I stayed there, though I didn’t get a wink of sleep. In the end, I dragged a spare mattress out on the screened porch for some fresh air and a bit of a breeze and for the “glamping” aspect. Ha! I was rewarded by a night of sleepless attentiveness to all the animal noises only a screen away and by a late night/early morning visit from the bear. She was standing beside the pond tearing the leaves and branches from the mountain ash, making these low, soft throat vocalizations. Little half growl half purrs. Gentle sounds of self-comfort.

Still, here I am well before 6 a.m. with my coffee and yogurt, shaking the night from my head, and thinking I’ll revise those first chapters of the memoir here in the cabin, away from routine and the demands of the new term. Worth a shot.

Aug. 17, 2016

Any Two Days

All our work on the Bernie campaign produced a 78% win for him among Idaho Democrats. Truly wonderful and remarkable. Then two days of glorious weather have me acting as if it’s spring: cleaning the garden, shopping for plants, but I know it’s false hope. That was a few days ago, before I spent four hours in half a foot of the new, heavy, wet snow that falls this time of year (knocking the power out, too, of course) with the tow truck to get my RAV out of the culvert next to the drive up to Keith’s pond.

Everything started so well, and then the freezing rain began. I left for yoga at 7:20 and was returning on ice-slick roads from a wonderful class. Carefully navigating the steep, slush-covered drive, I was stopped dead just above the culvert, blocked by an enormous, 80-foot pine that had fallen across the drive. I had no way to drag it out of the way and, with my neighbor out of the country, no one to cut it up and clear it with his chainsaw. Nothing but to try to back back down with limited rear visibility. Near the bottom I decided to back into the pond drive to turn around, but as I made the turn, slipping sideways, the weight of the engine slid the front end in seeming slow motion off into the culvert, wedging the front bumper against the ground and leaving the driver’s tire dangling. That bumper saved me from rolling. No way a pickup would pull me out of that.

It took a long wait for a large tow truck and a long winch line wrapped around two trees to ease the car backwards up the incline to get me back on four wheels. Meantime, the tow truck slid off the drive, but my neighbor with her trusty pickup got it back out. Quite the fiasco. I called around and found someone to get the tree off the drive for a usurer’s ransom. Someone else pushed the slush off the drive to make it passable, and I have spent the past two days in pure recovery mode. Living in these woods in my sixties definitely has its challenges.

March 24, 2016

Thank you, Universe

The temperature dropped to 9 degrees last night and it’s 58 in the house, which isn’t too bad except that my fingers get really cold writing. Once the fire gets going, it’ll heat up. The main driveway is passable again after my ex next door spent half a day plowing yesterday. Apparently he decided it needed to be done because a friend nearly slid off into the creek near the top of the rise a few days back. I’m glad he has friends who like to visit or else he might never plow until it’s too deep for his ATV, which it almost is.

I’ve been trying to find someone to plow my spur and to help with the main drive, but no luck. No one wants to drive out here to plow even though some plow quite nearby. It’s something I hadn’t foreseen, this difficulty of getting folks to come out here to work. I mean it is only five miles from town!!!

It took me five hours to shovel the deck, but I’m glad I did it. The stuff was really piling up and I’m afraid it can’t take that much weight. Who knows when it’ll stop coming down. I earned sore muscles for all that shoveling. And the drive is thigh deep. I have to get some help with that.

On top of that, I needed to bring in Presto logs from the hardware store because I’m worried I won’t have enough firewood for the entire winter. This was supposed to happen weeks ago, but the neighbor with the truck is full of good intentions and sometimes lacks the opportunity to follow them through, shall we say. Anyway, turns out the delivery had to be this weekend or who knows when because of other commitments. Unplowed driveway be damned.

In her trusty 4WD truck with chains, she insisted she’d be good backing into the unplowed drive. But she’s unfamiliar with it and rather overzealous and quite confident of her driving skills, though some have suggested otherwise. So back in she did and kept too close to the uphill side, a natural instinct were it not for the drainage ditch there. She got stuck up to the axle, tore up the drive, and nearly capsized the truck, dumping a large share of the logs into the snow. Another friend helped dig them out and get them under shelter quickly because they absolutely disintegrate when wet. He also promised to bring his big snowblower up tomorrow to clear my drive. Hooray. Thank heaven.

Yikes. The drive’s a real mess, impassable for sure, because we had to get a tractor in to tow out the truck. Now my friend’s snowblower seems to be out of commission, but he assures me he’ll come up tomorrow with his neighbor’s four-wheeler and plow because after a slightly warmer day the snow is now too heavy to blow. I’m worried I’ll have to park at the bottom and haul everything in the half mile all winter if we don’t get this figured out soon.

But it’s such a small problem compared to a friend’s ongoing and ever uglier divorce, another’s serious financial woes, their personal and parental medical problems including, perhaps, early onset dementia, vague murmurings of what sounds like abuse and an irregularity in a breast that now requires a lumpectomy and more tests.

I hate it that I seem to use their serious issues as a reality check, but they really do help me see how truly blessed I am now, living here in this beautiful place I built, where my biggest challenge is the driveway. Oh, and a brief encounter with my ex to deliver his wine that was incorrectly delivered to me. He looked like it nearly killed him to stand outside (he would NOT come in) and chat for a minute while I retrieved the wine. But such small problems. Thank you, universe.

Jan. 8, 2016


We had a massive wind storm last night. All around town, limbs were crashing and power was out so folks went off to bed by 8 p.m. I had power but went to bed early too. So, here it is, 4 a.m., and I’m writing a children’s book in my head rather than go back to sleep. I’ll scribble down what I have to empty my brain and maybe go back to sleep, though I doubt it.

Despite–or because of–the early start, it was a good day. I finished a first draft of the children’s story that once I get it illustrated will be a great one-of-a-kind Christmas present. I’m really happy to have that in the works, and it gave me the reality of being productive while totally avoiding those horrible class essays I need to grade. Ugh. I reviewed all the sources used, and in the main they did so poorly there that I may merely do mechanical grading for failure to meet the prompt’s requirements. It’s beyond sad that this is the work of graduating seniors, but I’m not going to tie myself in knots about it.

A proposal for a two-term, two-country Fulbright on migration and conflict in Turkey and Greece passed the first hurdle with Phil and Sevda on board, and Greek Fulbright looking into how to make it possible. It would be wonderful and exciting and a great way to move toward a hoped-for 2020 retirement. I hope it works out. Meanwhile, I really do need to get cracking on that quilt for Matthew and Lizzie.

I am occupied with too much busy-ness these days and need to go outside for a stroll with Otto. The forest will do me good.

Nov. 18, 2015

The Cusp of Flu

Somewhere above western Oregon in an aging Air Bombadier jet heading south to Fullerton. The skies are dove gray, powdered blue, layered in nimbus, cumulus, pockets of deep and fading distances. The rustle of today’s Oregonian belches SALE! Take an additional 25% off already low prices. Headlines proclaim the bank bailout. Aid for automakers. Walmart workers protest cuts.

Christmas songs barely audible in the Super 8 courtesy van shuttling our throng of shoe-horned aging adults to an unplanned layover. Luggage wedged between knees, against the seat, under feet, on laps, blocking the exit door. The woman on her way to Florida, first to the door, stops to remark to no one in particular, “Thank god no one had gas!”

Perhaps it’s Dayquilled fog or the fatigue of early waking to rush and wait in cattle pen antechambers sandwiched into seats too small amid the smell of anxious bodies that subdues frustration at another too small plane with knees pressed through the seat back, my own wedged in too tight by a reclining neighbor. Laptop cannot open, and it’s difficult not to wither in yesterday’s imported air like onioned exhalations, thick and rife with germs, and the ripe scent of idle, overheated bodies.

I am en route to a handful of days in the sunshine state of tinseled dreams and cocained illusions, homes cindered by wind-driven fires and hills sliding sliding sliding toward the Pacific blue. I’m headed to UC-Fullerton to teach media criticism and the skew of so-called objectivity to students indoctrinated into the Truth of inverted pyramids and balanced he-said/she-said reporting . The frenzied freeway drive through unwelcoming, mall-riddled, high-rise urban California does nothing to buoy my spirits as smog like sea smoke blots the sky.

Nov. 18, 2008

Sunday Evening

The hood of fog clings to the roof tops before it slides in wet-cold clouds to our feet, Beneath its cowl all is stripped of color as evening descends. Wet pavement dulls in fading lite. Gray-white feathers of frozen mist fur branches and ground, obscuring patches of black ice and murky slush puddles. It is risky walking at this hour of demi-night when gloom and fog swallow street lamps and headlights that blur than blink out like a hand recoiling fast from a hot stove.

It is not silent though footfalls make no sound. The distant church tower rarely heard above the shush of cars and clammer of children, doors and dogs, tolls a muffled half hour. From the north, I think, though my ears may deceive, the mournful honk of Canada geese drifts low. It cannot be, or should not, on this frigid night. The should have flown south to open water. But again, at the edge of my hearing, the soft low call drifting perhaps from the stubbled fields to the east.

Now distant voices bounce beneath the fog dome. Two boys appear mere feet away, laugh and walking in the street, exuberant in their newfound invisibility. “We’re gonna be late, ya know.” “Nah, we can get there really fast if …” And they fade into the fog with the dull, rhythmic clatter of skipping feet as one sidekicks like and Irish dancer.

It is Sunday evening and a lone bicycle rider appears and disappears as I make my way home in the cold. To the soft, sweet sounds of home.

Photo by Daniel Spase on Unsplash

Jan. 18, 2009

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