The pope needs to have a chat with some of his clergy

America

Rereading (as I do, obsessively) one of my Patrick O’Brian books the other day, I ran across a passage in which Diana Villiers expresses surprise at Stephen Maturin’s lack of enthusiasm over the fact that a certain French cardinal is to appear at an event. She says, “I thought you would be pleased. Surely a cardinal is next door to the pope; and you are a Catholic, my dear.”

Stephen responds, “There are cardinals and cardinals; and even some Popes have not always been exactly what one might wish…”

Indeed, if one has a sense of history. But that got me to thinking, as I too seldom do, about how blessed I am to be living at this particular moment: I’m very pleased with the current pope, as I am often reminded. And not only that, but Joe Biden is about to be my president. The rest of the world might be going mad, but at least these good men will be in charge of my church and my country. And Joe being a devout Catholic, the two things are tied together

But that hardly means everything is wonderful. After all, as my fellow (but fictional, alas) Papist Stephen would say, there are cardinals and cardinals.

This was documented with stark clarity by this piece a few days ago in the Jesuit magazine, America. The piece was headlined, “How Catholic Leaders Helped Give Rise to Violence at the U.S. Capitol.” It spelled out how, among other things, “an alarming number of Catholic clergy contributed to an environment that led to the fatal riots at the U.S. Capitol.”

Which these “leaders” unquestionably did. And have been doing for some time. I had seen plenty of things to worry about over the past year (which was why I wrote this), but I was startled by how extreme their rhetoric was — how anti-Christian it was, not to mention anti-intellectual. Because God had been merciful to me, and had not exposed me to these specific examples. As the piece leads off:

At the end of last August, the Rev. James Altman, the pastor of St. James the Less Parish in La Crosse, Wis., uploaded a video to YouTube that has been viewed over 1.2 million times. The video’s title voiced what an increasing number of Catholic bishops and priests were saying in the run-up to the presidential election: “You Cannot be a Catholic and a Democrat.”

“Their party platform absolutely is against everything the Catholic Church teaches,” said Father Altman, as music from Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 swelled in the background. “So just quit pretending that you’re Catholic and vote Democrat. Repent of your support of that party and its platform or face the fires of hell.”…

There’s more — quite a lot more. Another example:

A few weeks later, the Rev. Ed Meeks, the pastor of Christ the King Church in Towson, Md., preached a homily, also uploaded to YouTube, under the title “Staring into the Abyss,” in which he declared the Democratic Party the “party of death.”

Father Meeks’s video, which has received over two million views, was warmly commended by Bishop Joseph Strickland, of Tyler, Tex., who tweeted it out to his 40,000 followers with the message “Every Catholic should listen to this wise and faithful priest.” Earlier, Bishop Strickland had endorsed Father Altman’s video as well, tweeting, “As the Bishop of Tyler I endorse Fr Altman’s statement in this video. My shame is that it has taken me so long. Thank you Fr Altman for your COURAGE. If you love Jesus & His Church & this nation…pleases [sic] HEED THIS MESSAGE.” Father Altman later appeared as a guest on the premiere episode of “The Bishop Strickland Show” on LifeSite News….

The things they say, and the language they use, is amazingly startling — again, both on the grounds of being unChristian, and that of being amazingly stupid-sounding. You might imagine something like this coming from one of the very least educated of the “poorly educated” Trump so loves — assuming he’d had a few too many beers sitting on that stool at the end of the bar:

“Why is it that the supporters of this goddamn loser Biden and his morally corrupt, America-hating, God-hating Democrat party can’t say a goddamn thing in support of their loser candidate without using the word Trump? What the hell do you have to say for yourselves losers?” the Rev. Frank Pavone, the national director of Priests for Life, wrote in a tweet that has since been deleted….

But it’s impossible to imagine it coming from someone who has graduated from a seminary, even if you can somehow explain the irrational hatred.

Especially telling, as much as the profanity, is that “Democrat party” bit. That sort of disregard for the difference between adjectives and nouns is typical among the less-thoughtful staffers at your state Republican Party (somehow, they all forgot the name of the opposition party back in the ’70s, and haven’t had it come back to them yet), but it’s extremely jarring coming from a man of the cloth. It’s an unmistakable sign of someone who is incapable of thinking outside the framework of Republican jargon.

Anyway, all this extreme stuff was news to me. I had been responding to more subtle stuff when I wrote the “Let’s talk about ‘real Catholics” piece back in October. I was concerned about the voting pattern in 2016 — which showed almost half of Catholic voters voting for Trump — and the possibility of its repetition.

I was also motivated by nods and winks I was seeing from some Catholics — including some clergy — here in South Carolina. What I was hearing personally was of course far more subtle and polite than the fulminations Father James Martin writes about in America  — this is, after all, South Carolina. But I had been disturbed by it nonetheless. And I felt it was important for me to say, as a Catholic, that real Catholics would never vote for Trump, and should certainly vote for fellow Catholic Joe Biden. Maybe in writing her brilliant piece — which helped inspire my own, more pedestrian one — Jeannie Gaffigan was motivated by some of the horrible stuff in the America piece. But I think it was mostly milder stuff than that, as I recall.

Back to what I had been hearing here at home… First, I’m not going to share it with you. Why? Because it’s close to home and personal, and I’m going to speak personally to the people responsible before I share it with the world. And I haven’t seen those people in awhile — I haven’t been physically to my church since March; we’ve been streaming Mass every week.

Also, since a lot of it was indirect and polite, I’m not always entirely sure of what I’m hearing. I have reached out (via email) a couple of times to fellow parishioners (also Biden supporters) to see if they were hearing it the way I was. And they generally were, more or less. But before I put my objections in writing, I want the parties involved to have a chance to explain their views — in person, not via email.

But to give you an idea of what I’m talking about, here’s a video of our bishop, posted on YouTube before the election:

As you can see, what the bishop says — to a less critical person than myself — is kindly, shepherdly, and very carefully non-partisan. And of course, you know me. I wholeheartedly applaud when he says:

What is important for all of us is to recognize we’re not Republicans, we’re not Democrats. We’re Catholics.

From that alone, you see that there’s a wide ocean of difference between him and the hateful people the piece in America deals with. They are ardent, committed (and sometimes profane) partisans, twisted by their fury at the “other side.”

I don’t know the bishop well. I’ve only met him a time or two, and my view of him is positive and respectful — which is the way you want to feel about a shepherd placed over you. And I think the video bears this out.

Which is not to say I didn’t have problems with it — rather obvious problems, if you know me.

But thank the Lord that here in South Carolina, I haven’t been directly exposed to the kind of overt, hostile stuff Fr. Martin writes about in America.

Back to that stuff…

Let’s look again at this part of the first passage I quote above, speaking of the Democratic Party: “Their party platform absolutely is against everything the Catholic Church teaches.”

Of course, that is utterly absurd and utterly false, and the words “absolutely” and “everything” would render it laughable — if it weren’t so tragic.

Compare the Trump position on a host of issues to that embraced by Joe Biden. Trump is the guy who got elected telling us that people coming into this country illegally was a national emergency — nay, the national emergency — and he planned to build a “beautiful wall” to keep them out, and make Mexico pay for it. He’s the guy who failed to do that, but did succeed in separating children from their parents and putting them in cages. He’s the one who described countries other than white ones like Norway as “shithole countries.” He incited a violent attack on the U.S. Capitol, and has not once spoken a word of remorse for his own actions. (A Catholic like Joe Biden is accustomed to doing penance for his sins. You won’t ever see Donald Trump do that, because he’ll never get as far as the “heartily sorry” part.)

He is a man who considers his every action (and everything else) — in office and out of office — in terms of how it benefits or fails to benefit Donald J. Trump. If you think he is a person who puts others first, or even on the same level as himself, as a Christian should do, I’d love to hear your arguments on that point, and be persuaded.

I could go on all night, listing the ways in which Trump grossly violates Catholic teaching, and Biden would not. But let’s just cite one more issue, one that bears on the Church’s pro-life teachings: “Trump administration carries out 13th and final execution.

Before last year, the U.S. Justice Department hadn’t executed anyone in 17 years. Trump put three to death in the last week at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana. Under Trump, there have been more federal executions in the past year than in the previous 56 years combined. More to consider:

Not since the waning days of Grover Cleveland’s presidency in the late 1800s has the U.S. government executed federal inmates during a presidential transition, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. Cleveland’s was also the last presidency during which the number of civilians executed federally was in the double digits in one year, 1896….

Trump was in a hurry, you see, with Joe Biden about to take over. Joe, the story tells us, is “an opponent of the federal death penalty,” and may actual bring it to an end.

Joe Biden, you see, is a Catholic.

But some Catholics have gotten twisted around. They’re just talking about abortion, you see. When they say “pro-life,” they’re not talking about Cardinal Bernardin’s Consistent Ethic of Life. Nor are they including the rest of the many, many Catholic teachings beyond cherishing life when they refer to “everything the Catholic Church teaches.”

Abortion is a profoundly important moral issue, but it is one important part of a range of important issues that fall under the description “pro-life.” And then of course, there are all the other things that would fall under Catholic social teaching. Take “solidarity,” for instance, which means “We are one  human family whatever our national, racial, ethnic, economic, and ideological  differences. We are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, wherever they may be.” Can you picture Donald “America First” Trump agreeing with that? Maybe, but only if you add, “except those from shithole countries.”

Folks, I don’t think I know anyone who is more opposed to abortion than I am. And if you asked me to cite the one thing Joe Biden did during the campaign that most disappointed me, it would be his abandonment of support for the Hyde Amendment. I know why he did it. This was at a time when he was one of a crowd of 20 or so vying for the nomination, and the vast number of Democrats who wanted to find a way, any way, to dismiss him completely (thereby insuring the re-election of Donald Trump) saw Hyde as a great gift. I can’t tell myself with any certainty that he’d be the president-elect if he hadn’t done it. But I still believe it was wrong.

But talking about that reminds me of something remarkable: That is the only thing I can think of that he has done wrong over the last two years, in terms that might violate Catholic teaching or offend my own standards. Whereas Donald Trump can hardly get through a day without doing that. Joe is so dramatically more in keeping with advocating the moral, Catholic position on issue after issue that it’s absurd even to make a comparison.

Also, as fervently as I oppose abortion — which we’ve argued about many times here — I differ from these angry priests on a couple of points: First, I don’t believe jamming through justices who agree with me on the issue is the way to solve the abortion problem. (And I find it profoundly wrong for either side to do it — which both do.) I’d like to see Roe v. Wade disappear, but aside from the fact that I don’t think it will, there’s the problem that if it did, it would simply kick the issue to the place where it should be — state legislatures. Those legislatures would be at war over the issue for the rest of my life, and probably my grandchildren’s lives, and I believe legal abortion would still be widely available across much of the country. It’s not a prospect that fills me with optimism.

Secondly, to get to that point requires something that I believe to be immoral in another way, although a secular one: I believe it is critically important for the United States to have an independent judiciary. Therefore it is wrong for me to demand that judicial candidates agree with me on any issue, even one as morally compelling as abortion. Otherwise we can’t have the blessing of living in a country of laws and not of men. And that is crucial to our freedom of religion and everything else that matters. Start applying an issue litmus test on judges, and you will get a country in which law is whatever is embraced by the majority — 50 percent plus one — voting in the last election. We must somehow get past this business of trying to elect presidents who agree with us on abortion, and expecting those presidents to nominate justices who agree with both, and stacking the Senate to confirm them — until the majority shifts again.

I could go on and on on both those points (arguments on the last two points could fill books), but since I’m nearing 2,500 words (not counting the thousand or so I cut out), you’ve probably stopped reading already.

But to go back to where we started: There is something horrific going on among some priests, and even some bishops, in the Church. And I think the pope, who knows better, should have a chat with some of them. Because things have gotten out of hand, and these words (and sometimes actions) have been a great disservice to the country, and to the Church.

A continuation of the pattern

social madness

Here’s a follow-up to my previous post, “Millions of separate realities, destroying our common world.

I’m reading more and more of this stuff about how the way TOO many people consume the internet, and get consumed by it. Specifically, how they get their minds hopelessly warped by a couple of the standard features of social media and other web sites and services — the way these media keep showing you more stuff like what you seem to like, and — in this piece — the way the reinforcement of others (likes, retweets, shares, etc.) seduces people into insane new “realities.”

Here’s another item: A piece from the NYT headlined, “They Used to Post Selfies. Now They’re Trying to Reverse the Election.” The subhed says, “Right-wing influencers embraced extremist views, and Facebook rewarded them.”

This piece doesn’t make many broad observations about these phenomena; it mostly simply tells the story of how several individuals got sucked in. You’ll note the commonalities. The one place where the item touches upon the consistent themes is here:

He’s not alone. Facebook’s algorithms have coaxed many people into sharing more extreme views on the platform — rewarding them with likes and shares for posts on subjects like election fraud conspiracies, Covid-19 denialism and anti-vaccination rhetoric. We reviewed the public post histories for dozens of active Facebook users in these spaces. Many, like Mr. McGee, transformed seemingly overnight. A decade ago, their online personas looked nothing like their presences today.

A journey through their feeds offers a glimpse of how Facebook rewards exaggerations and lies.

But the rewards are trivial compared with the costs: The influencers amass followers, enhance their reputations, solicit occasional donations and maybe sell a few T-shirts. The rest of us are left with democracy buckling under the weight of citizens living an alternate reality….

Yeah, as I said the other day, I know this stuff isn’t new. We knew how the Web worked. You knew it; I knew it. But as I also said before, something just finally clicked recently when I was listening to “Rabbit Hole,” and for the first time in these last few years, I got Trumpism. I finally really saw how these people had become so warped, and so immune to facts and reason. What we’re seeing couldn’t have happened this way in any other time.

And frankly, I don’t know how we’re going to reverse this problem — a problem affecting people’s perception across the political spectrum (as I say, I know I’m vulnerable to it, too), but manifesting itself most threateningly among Trump followers. They’re the big problem now. (As I type this, I keep getting indications that there are people walking about downtown Columbia with semiautomatic weapons. There have been arrests. I might be writing more about it later, but I hope not. I hope the problem fades away…)

I don’t see how the toothpaste gets back in the tube, and people get sane again.

But I’m going to keep pointing out these glimpses of the problem as I encounter them. As I think I mentioned, I watched part of “The Social Dilemma” the other night. When I finish it, I’ll probably post about that, too. It starts from a perspective different from mine (such as worrying about addiction to social media, particularly among kids), but also gets into the problems I’m talking about…

Did anyone pay attention to the State of the State?

Henry 2021

I sort of forgot about it, what with a POTUS getting impeached for the second time and all. And other stuff.

Normally, I’d want to watch and see what sort of excuses Henry is offering for his stewardship of our state, but I was busy and to the extent that I was aware of news, other things were shouting louder.

Once, those were Big Wednesdays for me. They took up a lot of my day and night. My colleagues and I would go to lunch at the governor’s house to be briefed on the speech and receive our copies, and then we’d go back to the office and read the copies and argue over it, then one of us would write the editorial, and the writer and I would stay at work through the speech that night to see if we needed to amend the edit before letting the page go. Which we sometimes did.

All this effort was fitting, since the overwhelming majority of what we wrote was about South Carolina and the issues before it.

But now… I’ve done what I could to help South Carolina get committed, rational leadership that actually cares about said issues — all those years on the editorial board, and those few months in 2018 more directly — and just kept running into the same brick walls. It’s hard even to get people to pay the slightest attention. And now I don’t have the soapbox I once did, so… I don’t follow every word said in SC politics the way I used to.

Especially not yesterday.

What about you? Tell me you hung on every word, and offer some cogent thoughts about what was said, and make me feel guilty for having missed it. Beyond that, I’m just curious: Was anyone paying attention?

Unprecedented, again: The second impeachment

again

It’s after 10 and I haven’t stopped to rest a moment today. But I can’t go sit, watch a bit of telly and hit the sack without saying something about the fact that Trump was impeached today, for the second time.

Which, of course, is as we know the first time that has happened. Yet another way in which Donald J. Trump is unique in our history.

Strange, isn’t it? That someone so dumb, so incapable, so sub-par, so contemptible should be, in so many ways, so extraordinary. Of course, the only reason he is “extraordinary” is that before 2016, not only had no one so very dumb, incapable, sub-par, and contemptible ever come close to being president of the United States, but it had been unthinkable — something we didn’t even have to bother worrying about. It’s not that he’s extraordinary, but that the situation of someone so lamentably low being in such a high office is extraordinary.

Of course, extraordinary sounds vaguely laudatory, so we usually say “unprecedented.” It’s a somewhat more neutral, even soporific, word, compared to “extraordinary.”

Obviously, I’m tired. Why am I sitting here? Oh, yes — because I have to say something about the unprecedented second impeachment.

Or do I? I mean, we knew it was going to happen. The House had to do something. You don’t just sit there passively and wait for his term to end, when the president of the United States has incited a mob and sent it to physically attack a coequal branch in the very seat of our government. Just saying “Oh, he’ll be gone in a few days” seems too much like a dereliction of duty.

And that’s what they did: something. It wasn’t much, in light of the treasonous (and, here it comes again, unprecedented) course of action taken by the POTUS, on that day, and ever since Election Day. If it hadn’t been his constant lies about the election, his actions in court, his bullying of state officials, all that insanity… there would have been no mob to incite that day.

Seldom in human history has anyone taken such a desperate gamble and, having failed, lived to tell the tale. So impeachment — especially to a guy who’s been there and done that and shrugged it off before, because he has zero respect for the principles involved — is only slightly more than water off a particularly greasy duck’s back.

But it was the arrow in the House’s quiver — the only one, really — so they loosed it.

And we know the Senate won’t take it up any time soon. So what’s my hurry? Why do I have to write about it tonight?

I dunno. Maybe I don’t. But I thought I’d give y’all a place to comment on it. If you have things to say.

That’s it. I’m worn out. Good night…

Millions of separate realities, destroying our common world

This is a post I’ve been meaning to write for weeks, but haven’t had the time, because it would be so involved. But I think I’ll throw out a few thoughts about it, and see if y’all take it up, and then add to the conversation as we go.

I’m prompted to go ahead and do so by a piece Jennifer Rubin had in The Washington Post today. It’s headlined, “We must end the post-truth society.” That’s fairly self-explanatory. It deals with a problem we all know exists. And in this case, she’s dealing not only with the grossly destructive tendency of Trump supporters to believe his lies, but other aspects we see in our culture today, such as all the nonsense about the “war on Christmas.”

All fairly obvious, as I said. We now live in a time in which people utterly reject Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s dictum, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.” (He wrote it in a column in 1983, although it is apparently based on something James R. Schlesinger had said previously.) When he said it, people across the political spectrum would have nodded, because it’s so obviously true.

But not now. And the word “entitled” is particularly significant here. People out there really, truly think they are entitled to their own facts. After all, they dwell in a universe in which their belief in such “facts” is fully supported and reinforced.A_separate_reality

I’ve commented on this before. Everyone has. And I was conscious of the cause of the problem. But recently, I came to realize it, to understand it, to grok it, more fully. And it was as though I hadn’t thought about these things before.

It happened first when I listened to a podcast series from several months ago, called “Rabbit Hole.” If you haven’t listened to it, I wish you would — assuming The New York Times allows you to do so. (Since I’m a subscriber, I’m never sure what is available to non-subscribers.) It’s in eight parts. The most compelling are the first few, which deal in great detail with what happened to a young man named Caleb.

Caleb is a guy who initially perceived reality in a fairly “normal” way (judged from the perspective of my own reality), even though he was having a bit of trouble finding his way in the world I know. Then he got addicted to YouTube. He started watching it most of his waking hours. After he got a job that allowed him to listen to earbuds while working, he did it (or at least listened to it) ALL of his waking hours.

Meanwhile, YouTube was growing and refining its product. They were making the artificial intelligence that underlies its operation smarter and smarter, and better at constantly showing you more of what interests you. We’re all familiar with this, and I suppose that mostly, we appreciate it. It’s nice when I go to listen, say, to the Turtles play “Happy Together,” and YouTube suggests a video I had never seen of the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life.” (Which it may or may not do for you in your reality.) I end up wasting time, but it’s enjoyable.

One day in late 2014, YouTube recommended  to Caleb a self-help video by Stefan Molyneux, a self-styled “anarcho-capitalist” who also had a political agenda. He liked what he heard; it seemed to speak particularly relevantly to a confused young man. So YouTube showed him similar things. And more similar things. And it got more and more out there, more and more into the terrain of, as the NYT put it, “conspiracy theories, misogyny and racism.” It essentially said to him, over and over, “Oh, you liked that? Then you’ll love this…”

It became his reality. His only reality, since he had no other sources of information about the world. (He didn’t make time for any other sources.) And he got in deeper and deeper. How this happened is charted quite precisely, because Caleb gave the Times access to his video-watching history. They could trace his descent into his own tailor-made madness clip by clip, hour by hour, day after day. For years.

It’s really something to listen to.

Of course, this was just Caleb’s reality — his, and that of others who were absorbed by the increasingly weird things that he listened to and was shaped by. Each individual, of course, would have a slightly different experience, while at the same time becoming members of new, bogus “communities” of people with similar beliefs in this or that area.

I mentioned this podcast, and recommended it, to friends, who recommended in turn that I go watch “The Great Hack” on Netflix. It examined the same phenomenon from a different angle, the Cambridge Analytica scandal, “in which the personal data of millions of Facebook users were acquired without their consent… predominantly to be used for political advertising.” Data that reflected you through your online habits, using an app called “thisisyourdigitallife.” I recommend that, too. Even if you don’t find it enlightening, at least the graphic effects are cool (such as a person walking down a crowded city street, while bits of data are shown flowing up from every smartphone he passes). Or I thought so.

I’d always been concerned about the thing that was working on Caleb. Back in the 90s, when I was first exploring the Web, I saw that a lot of sites — including newspapers, such as The Wall Street Journal — would invite you to create your own, personalized interface. “Mywsj.com,” or whatever. I found this disturbing, especially when newspapers did it. But I confess I didn’t see how bad things would get. My objection was simply that the point of a newspaper is to provide a community, or a state or a nation with a common set of information about what’s going on — something that in a free country will inevitably lead to fierce debates about what to do in light of the facts, but at least everyone was starting from a common set of facts, a common perception of reality, which at least provided some hope of an arrival at a rational course of action. Facts collected and passed on by professionals with a quasi-religious ethic of accuracy and impartiality, let me add, and curated by editors who had over the years demonstrated skill and insight into current events. (Now watch all the self-appointed media critics go ballistic on that one. Hey, it wasn’t perfect, but man was it superior to what we have now.)

To be a fully prepared citizen, capable of contributing constructively to the public conversation, you needed to see ALL the news, not just the bits that tickled your personal fancy. You needed a sense of the fullness of what was going on.

Now, we have separate realities, millions of them, curated by algorithms to tell us what we want to hear (as opposed to editors, who tended to irritate all of us with the unwelcome information they shared). Everyone on the planet is now an editor and publisher, with power the old-school professionals couldn’t dream of: Each person is able to cast out his or her versions of reality to the entire world, instantaneously. No matter how well- or ill-considered their perceptions are. And each person is informed by sources such as these — the particular ones that each person chooses, or has chosen for him or her by the algorithms.

More than 40 years ago, I enjoyed Carlos Castaneda’s series of books about his apprenticeship under the Yaqui Indian shaman called Don Juan, including a volume titled A Separate Reality. It was fascinating to read of his adventures in that separate universe, and enjoyable (rather than threatening) because I lived in the safe, mundane reality with most people. Castaneda’s universe was shaped by not just Don Juan’s tutelage, but a variety of hallucinogenic drugs. Which I avoided, satisfied simply to read about it. It was a nice escape.

But that was amateur hour compared to what surrounds us today. There are millions of separate realities — one shaped separately for each of us. And some of them are truly wild. Worse, they have rendered any sort of consensus-forming through our system of representative democracy practically impossible.

And that’s how you get things like the mob attacking the Capitol last week. A mob of people absolutely convinced that they were “patriots” saving the republic from something that threatened it. Because that’s the way it is in their respective separate realities.

It’s the Trump brand of reality that’s currently wreaking havoc on our country, appealing to each adherent in a different, personalized way. But of course there are billions of others around the globe.

I’m sort of wary of my own, and perhaps I should be even warier. Just the other day, after the failed revolution, I was noticing how everyone seemed to agree with me about what had happened, more or less, on Twitter. (Which, if you’ve spent decades as an editor fielding reader complaints, causes you to get suspicious.) This happens because they are brought together in a reality shaped by the people and institutional sources I have chosen to follow, and those who have chosen to follow me.

But I’m simultaneously aware that, despite the shocking violence last week, which led even Mike Pence and Mitch McConnell to go ahead and certify Joe’s election (something that would have been utterly unremarkable — would in fact not even have been prominently covered — in the world in which these separate realities did not yet exist), these views are not universally shared. It’s not just the abomination of Joe Wilson and the other members who voted against confirming the election. The almost half of the country that voted for Trump seems to be spread along a vast spectrum, from your Mitt Romney types to your Ted Cruzes. And they have all sorts of verdicts on events, shaped by their distinct online interactions.

Each and every one in his own, separate universe, shaped by its own separate facts. To which he is quite certain he is entitled….

Nice job there, Ah-nold

Just thought I’d share this video Arnold Schwarzenegger put out yesterday.

It’s gotten a lot of positive reactions. Conan O’Brien said, ““This is the most powerful and uniquely personal statement I’ve heard from ANYONE on where we are right now as a country.”

I thought it fitting to quote O’Brien, since in the video, Arnold wields his “Conan” sword…

Conan sword

Thanks for letting me know!

dogs antifa

After the attack on the Capitol, I went to see what was being said on the Facebook page of a certain person who is, shall we say, an acquaintance.

There, I found reassurance. I told my wife, “You’ll be happy to know that the attack on the Capitol was NOT carried out by Trump supporters. It was Antifa.” I was so relieved that such an abomination wasn’t incited by a sitting president of the United States!

Along those same lines, I share with you the image I received today via text.

Yeah, I know the language violates my blog standards, but I’m giving them a break. Hey, they’re dogs. They don’t know any better…

Impeachment, 25th Amendment, or wait for Inauguration?

Scene_at_the_Signing_of_the_Constitution_of_the_United_States

What’s it gonna be then, eh?

How are we going to deal with the man who incited the mob’s attack on the U.S. Capitol? As I see it, these are our choices:

  1. Impeach him again, only this time, the Senate does its job and removes him.
  2. Use the 25th Amendment to remove him.
  3. Just wait two weeks, and he’ll be gone anyway. Plan to have a big party once Joe is sworn in.

Let’s look at each option a little more closely.

  1. Impeachment — Possibly the best thing I’ve read today was Bret Stephens’ column in The New York Times, headlined “Impeach and Convict. Right Now.” He makes a very compelling case, and his points about why we all should have expected what happened yesterday the moment Trump came down that escalator in 2015 are compelling. He argues that “To allow Trump to serve out his term, however brief it may be, puts the nation’s safety at risk, leaves our reputation as a democracy in tatters and evades the inescapable truth that the assault on Congress was an act of violent sedition aided and abetted by a lawless, immoral and terrifying president.” True. My one disappointment in reading it is that he didn’t deal with the details: Just how would it get done that fast. It would take more time than between now and the 20th just for the Senate to go back and do what it should have done on the first impeachment — hear witnesses. I’d like to think it was possible, but is it?
  2. 25th AmendmentNancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer are pushing this option. Because when it comes to impeachment, you know, they’ve been there and done that. It makes perfect sense. It really shouldn’t take much time to get those signatures together, and in any other administration since the Amendment was adopted in 1967, it would have happened already. Ah, but that’s the thing you see. There has never been an administration like this before. Everyone in the Cabinet was chosen by Trump — often as a replacement to someone who was not sufficiently subservient to him. The vice president would have to lead the way. And while it was nice that Mike Pence didn’t join the riot yesterday, do you think he would step up and do this, and that enough “principal officers of the executive departments” would go along? That would indeed be something to see.
  3. Wait for the Inauguration — We’ve endured it for four years, and we’re only talking 13 days. No, there’s no guarantee that one or more of those 13 days won’t be like yesterday, only worse. There was never a guarantee that ANY day in the last four years wouldn’t have been like that. Most of us knew this. The rest learned it yesterday. Given the difficulties of the first two options, this one seems the most practical. There’s just one big argument against it in my book, but it’s a biggie: This is what Lindsey Graham wants us to do.

Personally, I’m torn. Even if it’s impossible, I’d like to see people do their absolute best to bring about his ouster through option 1 or 2. Either would be the right thing to do. We can’t just shrug off what has happened, and miss this opportunity to redeem our country from the shame of having Trump as our president. That’s wrong.

But… would even more damage be done to the country if we tried one of those options and failed, not because either was a bad idea, but because we ran out of time? How would the rest of the world, and history, see a failed attempt to remove someone who has done what he has done? Would anyone ever see those very necessary options as being worth trying — and if they’re not, what does it do to confidence in the Constitution?

So what should we do? I look forward to your arguments…

Remember their names. Remember what they did.

washpost homepage

I just wanted to share with you this “how they voted” from The Washington Post. This list neatly divides Congress between those who may arguably deserve to be there (to widely varying degrees) and those who unquestionably do not.

The ones from South Carolina who unquestionably do not include:

  1. Jeff Duncan
  2. Ralph Norman
  3. Tom Rice
  4. William Timmons
  5. My own congressman, for far too long, Joe Wilson

Lindsey Graham didn’t vote with them, but he tried to have it both ways, saying “I prayed Joe Biden would lose.” How dare he so blaspheme against God, and his country? Yeah, I get it. You’re saying that “even a guy like me” accepts the election result — at long last, after trying to involve yourself in Trump’s efforts to overthrow that result. But this was a day for showing profound remorse for all you’ve done the past four years.

Nancy Mace surprised us a bit — pleasantly, considering that she ran as a Trump ally (to the extent that I paid attention to that district). Tim Scott less so, because I think at heart he’s a pretty decent, although deluded, guy. (I think his speech was the high point of the Republican National Convention. Of course, that’s like being at the top of a molehill at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, but I’m speaking relatively. As in, you know, he wasn’t Kimberly Guilfoyle.)

But the main thing is that you remember the five. And all those from other states who put themselves on the list.

I’ll close with a thought from my Republican state representative:

The day Trump’s mobs stormed the U.S. Capitol

insurrection

There was just so much going on at the same time, even before the barbarians knocked down the gates of our nation’s seat of government and defiled the place where our laws are made.

Even before that, so much history was being made…

I’d been scoffing for weeks at all the people talking about Georgia “turning blue,” just because Joe Biden — who, if we were a nation of rational people, should have swept the vote in every state — managed to squeak by there by 11,000 votes. The “blueness” was something yet to be demonstrated. There were a lot of things going on as the two Senate races ground slowly toward the runoff that seemed to take eons to arrive. Too many to predict what would happen, as the nation focused not only its attention, but ungodly amounts of resources, on the state next door to us. Any one of a number of combinations could have come out of all that. But the one that came was that the Democrats — who, in case you hadn’t noticed, don’t win Senate seats in the Deep South — won BOTH seats, and the slimmest of advantages in the Senate.

So I guess Georgia has indeed “turned blue,” to the extent such phrases have meaning. Or purple, anyway. For my part, I was happy for my man Joe Biden. The restoration I’ve been hoping and praying for will come easier now. Not easy, but easier.

That should have been the whole story — it was big enough to keep the country busy trying to absorb it for some time to come.

But because of our intolerable situation in which we’ve found ourselves the past four years — having Donald J. Trump as our president, and the Republican Party enslaved to him — a boring little bit of processing that none of us have ever paid attention to before, the acceptance of the Electoral College’s verdict on a presidential election, was going to have everyone riveted all day. We would watch as the (Thank God) rational majority dealt with a wretched, nauseating spectacle being perpetrated by my own congressman, Joe Wilson, and a bunch of other despicable loonies such as Ted Cruz. (Remember Lindsey Graham, who used to be a decent human being? He once said nominating either Trump or Cruz would be the death of the Republican Party. “Whether it’s death by being shot or poisoning doesn’t really matter,” he said. He was right. Back then. The gun went off and the poison fully kicked in today.)

It was low, grotesque farce that would accomplish nothing. But until it was over, we’d be riveted nonetheless — while waiting for the final assurance out of Georgia, which still hadn’t come at midday, when Donald J. Trump started shoveling truckloads of steaming bovine excrement to a crowd that loved him.

Lost amid all that was some very good news: Biden plans to nominate Merrick Garland as his attorney general. That was wonderful to read — not just a great move by Joe in filling a key position, but a moment of historic justice. But no one was really noticing. By the way, E.J. Dionne wrote a good piece about why this would be great weeks ago, when we all had time to think about such normal things. I recommend it.

And then, of course, came the determined attack of the home-grown America-haters on our Capitol.

That had so many aspects, and they are so profound in implication, that all I can do tonight is throw out a few bullets that may start conversation. Each is just a thumbnail. Each bullet could be a book. But let me throw them out:

  • When did anything like this ever happen in our history? Well, nothing in my own lifetime, and I’ve been around awhile. Or at least, not in the years when I was aware of such. Many years later, I remember being shocked when I learned about something that happened when I was a baby, back when the country was supposedly so peaceful and quiet and Ike was our president: Wikipedia calls it the “1954 United States Capitol shooting.” It occurred on March 1, 1954, when four Puerto Rican nationalists fired on members of Congress and wounded several. As shocking as it was, though, it was just an act of violence by a small group of extremists. It wasn’t the personification of the Trumpian Id, actual Americans (technically) rising in unison to strike at the very heart of what makes our republic work — the peaceful transfer of power after elections. The Puerto Rican thing was small by comparison. Maybe we have to go back to when the British burned Washington in 1814. But that was just an act of war, a war that would soon be over. And Americans were pretty unified in being appalled by it. If Al Qaeda had succeeded in flying that other plane into the Capitol or the White House, it would have been spectacularly shocking and tragic — but it wouldn’t have been an instance of the country trying to tear itself apart over… a bunch of transparently absurd lies. So I haven’t been able to match it yet.
  • Before the violence broke out and the Capitol shut down, another sadly encouraging thing happened: Mitch McConnell (buh-bye, Mitch!) was actually standing up and saying the kinds of things — reacting to the Joe Wilson insurrectionists rather than the ones outside — he should have been saying for the last four years. As I wrote, “Mitch McConnell is actually giving a pretty good speech right now. We haven’t heard such common sense from him in a long, long time. A good way for him to go out… Oops, never mind, he just shifted into paranoid anti-media rhetoric… OK, now he’s back to saying sensible, responsible stuff meant to preserve our republic. So, good for him again…” No, we shouldn’t have had to wait all this time for the leader of the U.S. Senate, once the world’s greatest deliberative body, to say such things — which is why I said “sadly.” But at least he was saying them. I resolved that if I found time today, I’d write a blog post about one thing he said — the fact, ignored even by many who voted for Joe, that this wasn’t even a particularly close election. I’d meant to write about this many weeks ago when Jennifer Rubin made the same case, more eloquently (“The size of Joe Biden’s victory matters. And it is huge.“) — but hadn’t gotten around to it. Mitch’s point, of course, was to point out how completely absurd it was for anyone to question, even for a moment (as Mitch himself did for weeks), Joe’s victory. But then the troglodytes started crashing through the doors, and I didn’t get around to it.
  • At one point today, I retweeted a particularly brief message: “Impeach and remove. Tonight.” Well, yes, that would happen in any just world. And it would be fully justified. You could say it’s a waste of energy when Trump’s about to be gone anyway, in mere days. But it would be right and just, and it would make sure no one thinks Trump is leaving office with the equivalent of an honorable discharge. But it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen tonight. Hey, I’d settle for Mitch just allowing evidence and holding a real vote on the first impeachment — although Trump’s crime this time is even worse. Arguably. The first one was pretty damned horrible, and unquestionably the sort of thing for which impeachment exists.
  • I mentioned this earlier in a comment, but I’ll repeat it as a bullet here: “The Post and Courier, and my old paper The State, should call for the immediate resignations of my congressman Joe Wilson and everyone who encouraged this insurrection in Washington today — including the Inciter in Chief. For starters…” I’m not holding my breath, but I’m waiting. There was a time when no one would have had to wait. Our editorial in 1998 calling on Bill Clinton to resign was on the page within a very few hours after he admitted he’d been lying to the country when he shook his finger at us about Monica Lewinsky. And he should have resigned. But while that was a firing offense, what Trump has done is astronomically worse.
  • A woman was shot and killed as a result of the attack by these thugs. I don’t know what to add to that. The members of Congress shot by the Puerto Ricans at least survived.
  • I just want to ask, and maybe some of y’all can tell me: Now, I won’t have to hear anyone say, “Despite all your hand-wringing, nothing really BAD happened under Trump, did it?” ever again. Will I? Please say no.
  • Finally, the evil of today has led to some long-overdue good. As I’m typing this, I’m listening to McConnell saying the Senate won’t be deterred from doing its duty by an “unhinged crowd.” Suddenly, people who have cossetted and supported Trump as he trashed our nation’s honor for the past four years are saying things they should have said all along. This doesn’t in any way excuse their utterly inconceivable, inexcusable behavior up to now. Nothing does. Their cowardice in the face of the Trump “base” cannot be justified. But the fact that they’re doing it now is good.

The story continues into the night, and I don’t know what will happen next.

But I expect this: Members of Congress are going on to carry out the routine task for which they assembled today — before being interrupted for four hours. The criminals failed, just as their hero has failed, completely.

Joe Biden will become president. His party will — barely — control the Senate. The job of restoring our country — starting with defeating the coronavirus — won’t be easy. But it will go on, and I believe it will prevail.

But we will never forget this dark day. Or those who made it happen — those who hold offices of trust and have defiled them, and those who did not.

Happy Epiphany! And other stuff that’s going on

Yeah, Christmas is over, but we can still smile, can't we?

Yeah, Christmas is over, but we can still smile, can’t we? Someone posted this on social media today.

And there’s a bunch. Going on, I mean.

For instance:

We’re also waiting for confirmation that not only Donald Trump, but Mitch McConnell, will soon be out of power.

I wish you joy, Joe Biden!

Of course, it’s not certain. Life contains surprises. For instance, I was sure that today was Epiphany, but when I got my daily email of today’s readings from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, it said, “Wednesday after Epiphany.” Well, yeah, I know we celebrated it on Sunday, and sang “We Three Kings” and all, but I thought today was the actual day.

Nobody tells us converts anything.

Anyway, Christmas is over, especially for Donald Trump and, we hope, the aforementioned Mitch McConnell. I wasn’t sure how much I cared about what was going to happen in Georgia (I just wanted it to be over so I didn’t have to hear about it anymore), but the idea of saying “buh-bye” to Mitch is rather charming, I find.

Anyway, I post this as a place for y’all to comment on the many things happening around us at the moment…

Magi_(1)

Here’s hoping the NEXT state flag is better

5fdd1877300d6.image

Did you see the “official” South Carolina state flag that a “high-powered team of historians,” in the words of Avery Wilks at the Post and Courier, had put together for lawmakers to consider?

As Avery reported Dec. 27:

South Carolina historians settle on a new state flag design

COLUMBIA — A high-powered team of historians has done the research and determined what South Carolina’s state flag should look like once and for all.

Rest assured, not much is changing.

The flag will still feature a white Palmetto tree and crescent against an indigo blue backdrop, a combination of historically significant elements that makes South Carolina’s flag one of the most iconic banners in the country — and, arguably, one of the only good ones.

But next year, lawmakers will have a chance to nail down details of the design that have been in flux since the last official flag specifications were repealed in 1940.

The height and shape of the tree in the flag’s center. The shade of indigo that colors the background. The thickness and angle of the crescent in the upper left hand corner — note: the crescent is not a moon, historians say. …

Anyway, it turns out they may have thought they had “settled” on it, but once people reacted to the unveiled proposal on social media, the team has gone back to the drawing board. They had done an about-face three days later, when another story from Avery started this way:

South Carolina’s new flag design seemed like a fine idea — right up until everyone actually saw it.

As it turns out, people hate it. They really, really hate it…

I was one of those who had reacted. I won’t say I hated it exactly. I was more like, “Say what…?”

My attention was drawn to it on the 28th by Mandy Powers Norrell, who reacted to Avery’s story with this brief review: “Those fronds tho.

Yeah, I thought. Is this just after a hurricane? And doesn’t the trunk look — indistinct? Low-res? Stepping back a bit, I added, “I’m sure it’s fine. If you ask me to LOOK at something, I’m going to see flaws…”

I kept trying to be positive, adding “I mean, it’s PROBABLY fine. I just looked at it again. It’s… blurry. Maybe it’s a bad jpg file or something…”

I thought what Mandy said next was pretty smart: “I agree. I could get used to it. I could also get used to the idea that we don’t have an official design and that it’s conceptual. I think there’s merit in that too. It feels more accessible.”

Yes! That’s the way to go. A concept rather than a template. Something that means what it means to each of us. Organic…

In other words, we don’t need anybody to tell us exactly where to put our palmetto tree. Or to tell us how close to the corner the crescent moon has to be. Or to tell us the blue has to be Pantone 282 C.

Do we?

(I’m seeing this as an opportunity to agree with some of my libertarian friends out there. For once…)

pantone

Open Thread for Monday, January 4, 2021

This person does not exist.

This person does not exist.

Just a few little somethings to kick-start the year. Another fairly random list, mainly consisting of things that have grabbed my attention in recent days:

  1. Designed to Deceive: Do These People Look Real to You? — I’m deliberately starting with something other than politics. Y’all have got to follow the link and check this out. Over the last 25 or 30 years we’ve all seen some remarkable things done with digital images, but this is truly freaky. Now that I’m in the marketing game, I’m regularly exposed to the “fake people” that various clips services provide for websites and such. But those are real people, models, trying to look like real people and failing at it. These images are completely fake, but they all look like real people you might meet on the street — until the writer of the piece explains what to look at to see the flaws. This is amazing, and ominous…
  2. Soon, we can finally ignore Georgia — Of course, our priority is getting to where we can ignore You Know Who, who is still doing everything he can to make sure we can’t. His latest spectacular instance of impeachable thuggishness was over the weekend, and it of course involved… Georgia. (Which makes you wonder how many other state secretaries of state he’s harassing without The Washington Post knowing about it — managing to steal Georgia would do him little good without stealing the votes of several other states). But after the runoff Tuesday, and the insanely pointless demonstration by Joe Wilson and others that we expect on Wednesday, this should all start fading away. And I can’t wait.
  3. Joe Wilson must go — Of course, there is another dozen or so whose names will be forever blackened on Wednesday when they express their contemptible wish to overthrow our democracy. But Joe Wilson is my congressman, so I’m focused on him. I mean, I voted against him in November and all, but his latest step goes so far beyond the pale of civilized behavior that he must be ostracized by decent people in all he says and does from now on.
  4. Zorro at 100 — An interesting piece, marking the century that has passed since the release of “The Mark of Zorro,” starring Douglas Fairbanks Sr. El Zorro looms large in my personal legend — while other kids went with Mickey Mouse, my first watch was a Zorro watch (also licensed by Disney of course, based on the Guy Williams version). I also had a Zorro sword — a plastic foil or epee or whatever, with a piece of chalk on the end, so I could practice making the “Z.” What I like about this piece is the way it charts how Zorro was the progenitor of the whole superhero thing in American culture, what with his secret identity and all (although it gives proper credit to the Scarlet Pimpernel, which came some years before).
  5. Linda Greenhouse’s Joe Biden Story — There’s nothing remarkable about it. Just an experienced journalist remembering encounters she has had with Joe over the years. We’ve all got stories like that, especially those who, like Ms. Greenhouse, have spent our careers in Washington. But it’s something that illustrates why Joe was the One for 2020 — the one person who had everything it took to bring rationality and decency back to our national government, when we needed it most.
  6. My perfect year — I’ve remembered to take those two pills they put me on after the stroke — the platelet-suppressor and the statin — four days in a row now. Which is a significant improvement. Perfect record all year! Anyway, I thought I’d share some real news…
The Zorro I remember best -- Guy Williams, the Disney version...

The Zorro I remember best — Guy Williams, the Disney version…

Open Thread for New Year’s Eve Eve, 2020

How was your Christmas?

Did you get anything this cool for Christmas? No, it’s not from the hotel…

It’s almost over. Here are some thoughts or things I’ve run across that I found briefly interesting in recent days, while I was busy doing other stuff:

  1. First, how’s your Christmas going? — I’m hanging in there, with the first six days under my belt now. Been trying to catch up with paying, day-job stuff when I haven’t been busy doing Christmas things. And of course, I’m not going anywhere tomorrow night because a) I’d rather stay safe, and b) I don’t want to — I don’t get the whole going-out thing, especially on holidays.
  2. Socialist view of John le Carre’s work — You know how I prefer reading opinion to news, and don’t much care what the point of view is, as long as a case is made effectively? Anyway, I was glad Google showed me this, from the World Socialist Web Site, because it gave me the perspective on le Carre, George Smiley and the Circus from the point of view of Moscow Centre. Well, not really, since the writer doesn’t seem to consider Stalinism to be real socialism (and you know how picky socialists can be about that sort of thing), but it was interesting. Of course, now that I’ve read it, MI5 has probably put me on a list.
  3. No more Niekro, and no more knuckleballs — Just thought I’d note the passing both of Phil Niekro, and of a particular, esoteric American art form. It caused my wife to ask me what a knuckleball was, and I told her what I knew, and then went and read up on it to see if I had been right (I had been). Did you know that Eddie Cicotte, ace hurler of the Black Sox, may have invented it? I did not…
  4. The dusty old op-ed page still getting folks worked up — The op-ed page is gone in most communities — The State hasn’t had one for years — but the few that are still around stirred up some trouble in 2020. A perspective on the year a little different from the usual “movies of 2020” story…
  5. Dave Barry’s review of the year — You don’t want the year to end without the perspective of Mr. Language Person himself, do you? I don’t. And I need to get back to reading it, because I haven’t finished. My favorite bit so far was about Prince Harry and his bride, who “are sick and tired of being part of the British royal family and want to just be regular normal everyday hard-working folks making millions of dollars solely because one of them was born into, and the other one married into, the British royal family.” The way Dave relates it, Her Majesty made short work of this, sorting them out good and proper. It didn’t really happen that way, and normally I don’t really dig dark humor, but it got a snort out of me, I’ll confess. Even though, from what I hear from South Carolinians who served with him in Afghanistan, Harry is a decent sort.
  6. ‘Mary Ann’ dies of COVID — Or rather, of course, Dawn Wells. This is the only actual news from today. Very sad. Something as innocent at “Gilligan’s Island,” and someone from my childhood, running smack into the hard reality of 2020, and being done in by it. Never mind the fact that her character was the nicest one on the show. This isn’t an appropriate time to bring up the whole “Who was hotter, Ginger or Mary Ann?” thing, so I won’t, except to say that Mary Anne was definitely the more appealing.

Dawn Wells as Mary Ann

 

 

Alexandra got it right — or the most important part, anyway

But I liked "The Little Drummer GIRL." I get points for that, right?

But I liked “The Little Drummer GIRL.” I get points for that, right?

I wrote about this before, didn’t I? But I can’t find it, so…

I happened to run across Alexandra Petri’s piece from two years ago, “A ranking of 100 — yes, 100 — Christmas songs,” and I nodded approvingly once again, and so I thought I’d share it. Even if it means I’m doing so, you know, once again…

The main thing is, the Christmas song she hates the worst is the same one I do: “The Little Drummer Boy.” As you may recall, I dislike it even more than I dislike Paul McCartney’s insipid, monotonous “Wonderful Christmas Time,” as I explained in my Top Five list several years ago.

One nice thing about this year is that I haven’t been to the mall even once, and I don’t think I’ve been in a single store where such drivel was being pumped at me, so that’s a point in favor of 2020. There’s that, and Joe Biden getting elected. Yay, 2020.

But the distaste lingers from previous years.

Anyway, nice job, Alexandra. Here’s her explanation of why “Drummer Boy” is the worst:

100. “Little Drummer Boy.” My hatred for this song is well-documented. I think it is because the song takes approximately 18 years to sing and does not rhyme. The concept of the song is bad. The execution of the song is bad. There is not even an actual drum in the dang song, there is just someone saying PA-RUM-PA-PUM-PUM, which, frankly, is not a good onomatopoeia and probably is an insult to those fluent in Drum. I cannot stand it. Nothing will fix it, even the application of David Bowie to it. Every year I say, “I hate this song,” and every year people say, “Have you heard David Bowie’s version?” Yes. Yes, I have. It is still an abomination.

Quite right. Although as I said the other day in my piece on the passing of John le Carré (another bad point about 2020 was losing him and a bunch of other cool people), I really like “The Little Drummer Girl,” so maybe my feminist friends will give me some points for that. Which would be a rare treat…

The conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn

This was the best I could do with my phone tonight. That's Jupiter on the left, Saturn crowding it on the right.

This was the best I could do with my phone tonight. That’s Jupiter on the left, Saturn crowding it on the right.

I am no astronomer.

But for whatever reason — maybe it’s that I found myself taking more walks after dark — it became obvious to me that I could see three planets in the sky, and none of them was Venus. And I was impressed — both by the planets, and by myself for actually having a clue what was happening in the sky. Because most of my life, I hadn’t noticed.

Mars was easy, of course. It’s red. Or reddish, anyway. I would see it soon after its rising, in the east southeast (I think; my memory on this isn’t perfect) and watch it climb to the heights. It was in the process of being impressed by this that I wrote this on Oct. 7, the night of the vice presidential debate. For whatever reason, it seemed brighter, or redder, or something that night. Basically, it was really looking very Arean:

But that’s not all I had been noticing for, I think, some weeks before that. Far off to the right in the path the planets follow, I would see the brightest thing in the sky after the moon. The first night I noticed it, I told myself it was Jupiter, and when I looked it up in the little astronomical app I have on my phone, I was right! Therefore I started taking a proud, proprietorial interest in it, and looked for it each night. There it was, and next to it Saturn.

I became sort of obsessive about it. Each night when I’d start on a late walk, I’d look up and make sure they were still there. And it pleased me that they always were, although as time passed they moved farther and farther to the right each night. (On the rare nights my wife would walk with me so late, I’d point them all out: “There’s Mars! And Jupiter! And a little to the left of it, Saturn!” She was very patient with me, though.)

Then, I read that the brightest gas giants were going to put on a show on the winter solstice, coming so close together — for the first time (at night) in 800 years — that they would appear more or less to be one star. Or so it might appear to the magi looking for it two millennia ago.

I liked the story, especially since it involved my planets with which I had been so pleased in recent months. My planets, which I had so recently noticed — I mean, discovered!

When the show happened tonight, I’ll admit I was a little disappointed that they hadn’t come completely together — there was about a tenth of a degree of darkness between them. Also a tad put out because they had now moved so far to the right that they’d only be visible for an hour or so before setting. And I was especially ticked at myself for not being able to line up the lens on my phone with my binoculars to get a really awesome shot.

But I still thought it was pretty cool.

Did you see it? Thoughts?

NASA has better cameras than I do. They shot this on Dec. 13.

NASA has better cameras than I do. They shot this on Dec. 13. Saturn was to the left then.

Open Thread for the past week (Dec. 14-21), more or less

The most recent picture I had in my files of Don and Carol Fowler. This was at a reunion of Don's old Reserve unit, the 360th Civil Affairs Brigade.

The most recent picture I had in my files of Don and Carol Fowler. This was at a reunion of Don’s old Reserve unit, the 360th Civil Affairs Brigade.

Yeah, I know it’s been a few days. I’m still learning how to ration time, interest and my physical/mental energy in the wake of my stroke (still dealing with some fatigue), and what with the holidays and day-job work to do, I’ve fallen behind on the blog. But here are some things I’ve thought about posting in the last week or so, and I decided I’d throw them out and see if any of it interests you:

  1. George Shultz on Trust, from a century of perspective — Possibly the best piece I read last week was in the Post, headlined “The 10 most important things I’ve learned about trust over my 100 years.” Saying “Trust is the coin of the realm,” he explained that “When trust was in the room, whatever room that was — the family room, the schoolroom, the locker room, the office room, the government room or the military room — good things happened. When trust was not in the room, good things did not happen. Everything else is details.” Absolutely. Long ago (as in, a quarter-century ago), I wrote a column on that subject, which seems quaint now. Things are so much worse today. But the fact remains: We can talk about partisanship, ideology, or Donald Trump, but bottom line, our biggest problem and challenge remains a lack of trust.
  2. Closing religious services — There was another Supreme Court development on this front last week — actually it was about a religious school, but it reminded me of the topic. And I’m wondering a couple of things: First, those of you who, like me, normally attend religious services — how long has it been since you’ve been to one? Second, what observations do you have on the many issues involved — the Constitutional issue, the personal one of how not attending services (or attending them with or without social-distancing protocols) affects your spirituality? Or anything else you want to say about it. For my part, I haven’t physically been to a Mass since March. But we stream Mass every Sunday. And it’s… different.
  3. The passing of Don Fowler — I don’t know how well-known he was to my readers, but for those in the political/media universe, he was a giant. I first met him when I covered the Democratic National Convention in 1988. I remember chasing him down a staircase in Atlanta to get a question answered and thinking as he turned to face me, “This guy’s too busy for me to be bothering him with this.” He was always busy, in Democratic politics on the state and national level (most notably as national chairman during the Clinton administration), and he did his best to lead the party forward productively during an age of sad decline in his home state. Over the years, I interacted with Don through many roles — as party leader, as a consultant, as a former National Guard colonel, as a college professor (on one or two occasions, I took over his class for him when he had pressing business in Washington or somewhere). We often disagreed — after all, he was a party man and I was not — but I always had great respect for him. Don will be missed.
  4. ‘Latinx’ hasn’t even caught on among Latinos. It never will. — That’s for sure. I was recently shocked to hear Dr. Fauci use this odd term — obviously created by people who do NOT speak Spanish — on the radio. Out loud, not just in writing. No one who speaks or understands Spanish, or has any kind of respect for the language or the culture it represents, would use such a neologism. Anyway, this opinion piece explains some of the reasons why you will seldom hear a Spanish speaker using it. I thought the headline was a little weird, though. “Even?” Latinos would be the last people I’d expect to use it.
  5. Farewell to Lamar Alexander, one of the vital few — I’m very sorry to see Lamar leave politics, and was glad to see George Will take the time to honor him on the way out. Of course, Lamar is closely linked with my youth and the early stages of my career — the week I spent traveling with him in 1978 was my first experience of covering a statewide political campaign (it was his first successful run for governor of Tennessee). He became my favorite Republican of that era. And I guess, in spite of his disappointing me last year, he’s my favorite of this era as well, although partly because of the lack of competition (with John McCain gone, and Lindsey Graham’s conscience gone). And now Lamar, too, will leave the scene.
  6. Graham a ‘personal disappointment,’ says Biden — To say the least, Joe — to say the least.
  7. Serbian Elevators — Someone used this phrase in a tweet the other day, and I immediately added it to my list of possible band names. Just to keep you posted on the progress of my band, which I’ve been intending to get together since 1971, once I get the details sorted out. You gotta get the details right — like, you know, deciding who will be in the band…
  8. Cunningham for governor? — OK, this is technically something I just saw this morning, but I’ve added it to the list. Anyway, good luck with that. Joe’s a pleasant young man, but seriously — if we couldn’t elect a war hero and respected (across the political spectrum) lawmaker such as James Smith as a Democrat statewide, this seems unlikely. And we tried awfully hard, I assure you. Anyway, that’s my first reaction. Perhaps someone will talk me out of it.
From a Charleston event in 2018.

From a Charleston event in 2018.

Mitch puts on his Big Boy Pants

mitch

OK, so maybe I was a tad dismissive today when Mitch McConnell made his grand gesture…

I know it’s not helpful. I know having the top-ranking Republican in Congress congratulate Joe is better than not having him accept reality, even after all this time.

I know that Joe himself would not be so dismissive, because it’s his job, his mission, to pull our country back together. And he’s worked with this guy before, and might well be needing to work with him a lot in the future. And if I were Joe’s communications director or something, you’d see me striking a different tone.

But I’m not, so I indulged myself there.

Hey, I get it. Mitch didn’t do the right thing over a month ago because a) he knew it wouldn’t have deflected Trump’s nonsense, and b) he didn’t want to start an intraparty kerfuffle “that could hurt the party’s chances in two Georgia Senate runoffs and imperil must-pass legislation.”

He thinks he’s done the statesmanlike thing, you see.

But you know, I don’t give a damn about his Georgia runoffs. And I feel a great amount of disgust for anyone who would tolerate the determined efforts of the President of the United States to undermine our electoral system and our country just so he and his party can cling to power.

So it’s nice Mitch has donned his Big Boy Pants. But he should have pulled them up a long time ago…