• Daniel Ethan Finneran

Finneran's Wake - Ep. #8

ITEM # 1: TEXAS SNOWSTORM


The vast and wild state of Texas, bastion of liberty, ruggedness, and illimitable space, has been assaulted by an unprecedented winter storm.


That, if no other, is the single word by which this lamentable story ought to be shaped, to which the critic and pundit alike should, from time to time, make an effort to return: unprecedented. It’s in acknowledgement of this fact, and with a constant repetition of this word, that we humble ourselves as we proceed into this story.


The snowy, icy, frigid weather by which Texas was pummeled is, if not completely unexampled through the course of its long history, quite extraordinary in modern times. Doubtless, on occasion, it gets to be rather chilly in that massive and diverse state, but never have the wintry conditions converged in such a way as to produce such widespread devastation and lingering trouble.


Every one of Texas’ two-hundred and fifty-four counties was placed under a “state of emergency”, a strikingly-broad declaration on which Governor Greg Abbott dutifully signed off. This, of course, proved no great protection from the crisis by which the state was soon to be overwhelmed. The multifarious sources of energy on which Texas is reliant (be it solar, wind, nuclear, coal, or natural gas) failed the citizens in their time of peril and heightened need.


The wind turbines froze, and the solar panels thirsted for the sun. Typically responsive to the growing demands of this large population’s needs, both were inoperable by day’s end. This is not to cast a moral judgment on the propriety of renewable sources of energy, nor to reject their utility on a diversified and lively grid, only to suggest their unreliability when extreme distress accompanies unforeseen weather. This seems to be an unfortunate truth from which renewables can’t easily be disentangled.


For what it’s worth, non-renewable sources of energy fared little better. The quantity of natural gas for which the moment called was insufficient, and the pipes through which it might’ve flowed had there been enough, were frozen. The few nuclear reactors by which Texas is served were likewise affected in a discouraging way. Sensitive to the falling temperatures by which the state was suddenly struck, they too decided to hibernate for the hour.


How is it, you might ask, that a state famous for its wealth of subterranean oil could be caught inadequately supplied of so vivifying a liquid? How is it that a state rife with energy and overflowing with fossil fuels, a place to which the old football team known as the Oilers was once home, could suffer the chilly despair of brownouts, blackouts, and frostbitten elders?


The answer, I fear, is not only a climatic, but a political one. It’s an answer at which, admittedly, many will bristle, but it’s one about which none should be left in the dark.


Years of federal and state subsidies for wind turbines, solar panels, and delightfully “green” infrastructure have come at a cost; attention to and procurement of natural gas has diminished. So too has the focus on the development of more nuclear facilities, a source of energy about which—in the unshared opinion of your humble speaker—we all might be a bit more sanguine. For the past few years, wind and solar energy might’ve been over-emphasized, while the more “catastrophe-resistant” forms (such as coal and natural gas) were pushed aside.


Either way, as stated, the unprecedented nature of this event might make all such arguments meaningless. It was, as we can all agree, a veritable force majeure, an act of God in the presence of which all political squabbles should be rendered, if only momentarily, mute.


As a result of all this, dozens have perished, some in horrific ways. The exact number of the fatalities, sadly, will remain unknown for weeks to come. All we can do is applaud the indefatigable efforts of those trying to restore energy to the state, and warmth to the cold.



ITEM #2: CUOMO CONFRONTS ANOTHER ACCUSER


The astonishing collapse of New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo, the same man from whom every public official was urged to take his or her “lessons in leadership”, and from whom no self-respecting citizen was allowed to withhold his perfervid applause, continues apace.


Is it even conceivable, you might ask, for Cuomo’s reputation to be tarnished beyond its currently soiled state? Is it even possible, you’ll doubtless wonder, for a man undeserving of anything higher than contempt to have aroused in us even deeper feelings of scorn? The answer, in a word, is yes.


In a recent Medium post, a cringe-inducing missive by which a thousand calls for the governor’s immediate censure, if not his outright removal, have been launched, Lindsey Boylan—a former deputy secretary for economic development in his administration from 2015 till 2018—accused her old boss of sexual harassment. She documented, in graphic detail, the lascivious behavior, the toxic aggression, and the misogynistic bullying with which he comported himself, and under which she, his subordinate, suffered.


Seldom a week passes without at least one ugly revelation, one shocking and sordid story, by which Cuomo’s misbehavior isn’t exposed. It’s an unfortunate reality with which, not unlike the pandemic itself, we’ve grown uncomfortably to live. Indeed, much like this very show to which you settle down and listen, from which I hope you derive some small but lasting pleasure, Cuomo’s scandals have become—to borrow from obscurity one of her finest words—hebdomadal. Once a week, every week, with the predictability of the rising sun, a new allegation illuminates just how odious a creature Cuomo is.


If only briefly, we’ll revisit the misdeeds of which, hitherto, he’s been accused.


Attorney General Letitia James issued a report that revealed Governor Cuomo undercounted Nursing Home deaths in his state by over fifty percent. The governor promptly contested the figure at which her meticulous study arrived. The following week, the contents of a damning zoom call were released, during which his top aide, Melissa DeRosa, confessed that the administration concealed the genuine number of deaths. This act of omission was performed for fear of arousing President Trump’s attention (and, more significantly, the curiosity of his Department of Justice). Days later, state congressman Ron Kim disclosed the expletive-ridden nature of his recent conversation with Cuomo, by whom he was personally threatened, and his charming young family, unnecessarily shaken.


Now, this.


Boylan divulged in her post that Governor Cuomo “Created a culture within his administration where sexual harassment and bullying was so pervasive that it was not only condoned, but expected”. It was the very water in which she and those like her swam. She went on to explain that, “He used intimidation to silence his critics...and if you dared to speak up, you would face the consequences”. Such is the world of New York politics: it always comes with a warning.


It appears to be the case that now, freshly emboldened, Boylan’s either indifferent to the impending harsh consequences by which so explosive an allegation will be attended, or she recognizes in Cuomo a lion defanged by his own supporters. Perhaps, now, she sees a man incapable of making good on what was, from at least 2015 until today, a very real and bone-chilling threat.


Exactly what were the gross and unseemly characteristics by which this strange culture was defined?


Boylan lists among its more nauseating features the fact that Cuomo would ask her (and the other nubile aides by whom he was surrounded) to join him in games of strip poker. Apparently, this happened on a plane ride funded, naturally, by the taxpayer’s coin. Once grounded, he would invite her, to the exclusion of all others, to his office in Albany or Manhattan. He would then retrieve from his shelf a cigar box gifted to him by none other than Bill Clinton, the notoriously prurient president from whom the governor, equally virile, hoped to take an example. He would use the prop to raise the topic of Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky, a means by which he might deftly gauge Boylan’s openness to infidelity, and her willingness to indulge a workplace tryst.


In time, words led to actions, physical displays of affection for which Boylan was unprepared. According to her story, Cuomo touched her repeatedly in inappropriate ways. Eventually, he dared, as is the wont of such men, to kiss her on the lips. He did so without having first secured that most precious and elusive of all things—her consent. As expected, she never gave it, yet Cuomo was undismayed. He kissed her regardless of her assent.


Of course, every story of this nature is incomplete if read from only one side. We await Governor Cuomo’s response to Boylan’s damning allegations of harassment and abuse. It’s for this reason that a final verdict on the beleaguered Governor must be suspended.


It must be said, though, that Cuomo’s kinship to scruples, and his devotion to candor, rank quite lowly among his finer attributes. They certainly don’t rush to his defense in a situation such as this.


That’s not to say, of course, that Boylan must be believed, only that Cuomo’s credibility is—to put it mildly—wanting. He’s already concealed the deaths of thousands of citizens of whose fate he was the author; he’s already shirked responsibility for his own in-state failures, pointing instead to the blunders of the federal government; he’s already obstructed investigations into his maladroit handling of this pandemic; and he’s shown himself, completely shamelessly, eager to accept an award and a book deal for his fabricated achievements.


Perhaps, on this single matter, he’s to be believed. If history is to be our guide, however, we might be otherwise convinced.



ITEM #3: PRUDE’S DEATH PROVOKES NO CHARGES


A grand jury convened for the purpose of assessing the culpability of a half-dozen Rochester police officers, a group of seven men by whom the forty-one-year-old Daniel Prude was detained, chided, and possibly killed, has voted against its indictment.


To the consternation of all those clamoring for the urgent need of “police reform”, and to the great outrage of those convinced of a deep-seated racism of which our institutions of power and privilege simply can’t be cleansed, it’s an outcome by which many, already quite exasperated by recent events, will be all the more angered. This is unsurprising. For those, however, upon whom such weighty considerations as truth, evidence, testimony, due process, and the neutral application of the law yet impose a deep and meaningful imprint, it’s a decision to be viewed as painfully difficult, but ultimately right.


Either way, as we learned this week, it’s a decision at which the grand jury in New York has arrived. It did so nearly one year following Prude’s death late last March, a date toward which, for want of an appreciation of the vague circumstances of this case, we must now turn.


Prude was, by any measure, a troubled man. He was, by every account to which the public’s thus far been made privy, psychologically unwell. He was emotionally unstable and psychiatrically ailed, as evidenced by the fact that, but a day prior, he was admitted and then released from a mental ward.


A resident of Chicago, he’d fled one windy city on the bank of a Great Lake for the equally inhospitable clime of another: Rochester. It was there that his brother Joe lived, a sympathetic relation with whom he hoped to spend some time and regain his footing after two years of dismay and imbalance.


A young cousin of his, with whom he was apparently quite intimate, died by an act of self-violence. This happened in the year 2018. Like any suicide that occurs in any family, it was a death with which Prude had great difficulty coping. One might even say it was a death by which, two years hence, his own was precipitated. That, however, might be imposing upon this sad story too poetic a view.


Desperate for relief from his suffering and woe, he began to seek refuge in mind-altering drug, “PCP”.


Colloquially known as “Angel Dust” (for the appearance of the heavenly purity revealed in its white powder), PCP is an extremely dangerous drug. Powerful while it lasts, it offers its user a mighty but temporary assuagement, a brief respite from the troubles from which he’s attempting to flee. A dissociative anesthetic, it causes its user to hallucinate, to become combative, to overheat, and, in many cases, to succumb to the forces of an excited delirium by which death is occasionally provoked.


On that dread night late last March, Prude seems to have experienced the whole list of the terrible symptoms for which PCP is rightfully notorious.


His desperate brother called the police when Prude, unable to be conciliated by fraternal coaxing, ran out into the street unclad. Mind you, he did so when it was nighttime in Rochester, just as a swelling flurry of snow was beginning to coat the ground.


With all promptitude and every good intention, the officers arrived at the scene. As their protocol compelled them, they made as thorough an assessment as possible, as close a glimpse of the situation before which they stood.


Prude, obviously distraught, proved intractable. This much was immediately clear. He was resistant to the officers’ commands and repeatedly threatened them with either physical or biological harm. He demanded that one of the officers relinquish his gun to him, before threatening to infect the officers with COVID. Mind you, back then, this was a disease about which—still so early in the year 2020—few had any real knowledge. It was thought, at that time as well as this, to be inescapably contagious and almost certainly fatal.


To address this risk, and gain control of an unraveling situation, the officers placed a “spit-hood” atop the head of the naked Prude. It was, for the distant viewer comfortably detached from the cold and tension of the scene, an admittedly distressing sight—one by which memories of a lynching were quickly evoked. While the sincerity of those memories can’t be dismissed, the appropriateness of the hood can’t in all good faith be impugned.


Prude was brought to the ground by the collective force of the officers’ weight. Minutes later, it was noticed he’d grown unresponsive. The cursory performance of CPR at the site proved unavailing; he was transported to a local hospital in which he displayed the faint signs of a possible recuperation.


Alas, so miraculous a recovery was not to be. Prude’s heart sustained a beat, but not without external assistance. After a week on life-support, he was pronounced dead. The autopsy report mentions as the causes of his death, “complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint” and “excited delirium and acute intoxication by PCP”.


The officers under whose supervision he died, against whom he perhaps imprudently fought, won’t face criminal charges.

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