A better use for $450 million

800px-Leonardo_da_Vinci_(attributed),_c.1490–1519,_Salvator_Mundi,_oil_on_walnut,_45.4_×_65.6_cm_(framed)

I just thought I’d share here what I had to say last night when I got the news….

I mean, seriously: You know how I got the above image for this post? I right-clicked on it and saved it. It’s in the public domain. Look at it all you want, for free.

I mean, that’s OK, right — you attorneys out there? Or does the new owner own the rights to the public domain photo on Wikipedia, too?

Open Thread for Thursday, November 16, 2017

Apparently, Al Franken thought this was funny.

Apparently, Al Franken thought this was funny.

Some possible topics — but as always, feel free to introduce your own:

  1. Wal-Mart Posts Strongest U.S. Sales in Nearly a Decade — So that’s who’s been doing so well in this economy. Sorry if you can’t pull up the story; I don’t have access to WSJ these days, either. But what I could see said this was the retailer’s “strongest quarterly U.S. sales growth in nearly a decade” and that it was “boosted by a big jump in ecommerce and strong store traffic.”
  2. After Tokyo Commuter Train Leaves 20 Seconds Early, Company Apologizes — Yeah, we get it — yours is a very conscientious culture. But come on; lighten up. You’re forgiven (even though, in my book, leaving early is way worse than waiting a minute).
  3. Senate bill would cut taxes for millionaires but hike them for the poor, working class — That’s according to the official assessment by the Joint Committee on Taxation.
  4. Senator Al Franken Apologizes After Groping Accusation — You know, I still haven’t adjusted to the idea of this guy being a U.S. senator. The above photo fits more closely to the way I think of him than his serious senator photos.
  5. Four Women Accuse Moore as Campaign Pushes Back — Four more that is, bringing it to nine. Who knew there were so many lyin’ women in Alabama? That Bernie Bernstein must be running out of money about now, huh? Of course, this leaves Moore WAY short of Donald Trump’s 16, but then, Trump is the Man… I guess I shouldn’t joke, since there are people reading this blog who actually think that way, which is no laughing matter.

McConnell believes the women. Does Catherine Templeton?

Mitch McConnell says, “I believe the women” and what they say about Roy Moore.

So does Ivanka Trump, although she doesn’t actually say his name.

Henry McMaster does, too — in a conditional sort of way. He says: “Unless Mr. Moore can somehow disprove these allegations, he needs to go.” So there’s an “if” in there, but it’s something. You might even say the “if” is moot, since we all know there’s no way Moore’s going to disprove all of this.

But here’s what Catherine Templeton says:

“I think the people of Alabama will make a decision on Roy Moore,” Templeton told The Post and Courier following a Charleston County Republican Party meeting, where she was the keynote speaker. “We’ve got enough to deal with in South Carolina for me to be keeping up with that.”

Now, some of you will say, Well, she’s just saying what you say, Brad! And indeed, I do go on about how it’s none of my business whom people in other states choose to send to Congress. And I mean it.

She's just too darned busy, you see...

She’s just too darned busy, you see…

But here’s the thing: Catherine Templeton isn’t me. She doesn’t embrace my nonpartisan, federalist ethos. Not so’s you’d notice, anyway.

In fact, she’s been nationalizing her own race like crazy, embracing Steve Bannon in a frenetic effort to out-Trump Henry.

You don’t wrap yourself in Steve Bannon and his effort to remake the nation in his scruffy image and at the same time refuse to have an opinion on his boy in Alabama.

Or maybe you do. But nobody should let you get away with it, even for a minute…

Open Thread for Tuesday, November 14, 2017

You know what ELSE I think Sessions has forgotten? His Twitter account, which is where I found this picture. He hasn't Tweeted since 2014...

You know what ELSE I think Sessions has forgotten? His Twitter account, which is where I found this picture. He hasn’t Tweeted since 2014…

I hate doing back-to-back open threads; I like to give y’all some leavening in between, but it’s been a busy day, and this is all I have time for, and y’all aren’t paying for this, so quit yer bellyachin’…

  1. Senate GOP to add repeal of Obamacare insurance mandate into tax bill — OK, I thought this was dead. Like, three or four times dead. Rotting. Moldering. Did it not get a stake in its heart? Who was supposed to have the wooden stake and drive it in? Somebody is not getting the job done…
  2. Sessions Denies Lying Under Oath About Russia Contacts — You see, he just forgot (as he does so often) about that meeting with his aide who wanted to get Trump together with the Russians. Yeah, forgot — that’s the ticket! Oh, by the way, you know how many meetings we now know about between Trump and Russians? 30. Three-zero. Also…
  3. Donald Trump Jr. communicated with WikiLeaks during 2016 campaign — Wikileaks was like, Why don’t y’all Tweet about what we’re doing to Hillary? and Trump Sr. tweeted minutes later. Then they said, Why don’t y’all Tweet the link, too? And then Trump Jr. tweeted the link. Not that it’s collusion or anything, right? And the Russians weren’t behind Wikileaks, right? And the check is in the mail…
  4. Senate committee questions Trump nuclear authority — While others lead with other stuff, BBC is leading with this. I guess they think nothing is more important than making sure somebody keeps the really dangerous toys out of Trump’s hands. You know what? The thought of Trump having the power to use WMD could tempt Iraq to invade us — with our erstwhile allies cheering them on…
  5. Catherine Templeton: ‘Henry ain’t Trump!’ — Looks like this GOP primary is a contest to see who can bring the most crazy. What else can you say about a competition in which you try to score points by saying your opponent is no Donald Trump?

Open Thread for Monday, November 13, 2017

There he is, representing all of us to the world...

There he is, representing all of us to the world…

Not a lot of what I’d call news, but some things we could talk about:

  1. Moore Faces a 5th Accuser as McConnell Asks Him to Quit — Of course, he’s likely to ignore that the way he tried to dismiss The Washington Post. After all, if I recall correctly, Moore has been running against McConnell and the party. Basically, if somebody says something that makes sense, Moore and his supporters will dismiss it.
  2. Iran-Iraq Earthquake Kills More Than 400 — OK, this is news. Of the really bad kind.
  3. N.S.A. Struggles to Recover After Breach of Spying Tools — Oh, but don’t worry. As y’all keep telling me, these leaks and breaches don’t harm the country in any way. Right?
  4. Trump Picks Alex Azar To Lead Health And Human Services — What I want to know is, why not Joe Azar? Joe’s been interested in public service way longer than this guy, I’m guessing.
  5. Penn State Student Given 18 Drinks In 82 Minutes Before Hazing Death, Prosecutors Say — Tell me again why fraternities should exist? I keep forgetting.
  6. Trump hails ‘great relationship’ with Philippines’ Duterte — Just to remind us that fraternity boys aren’t necessarily the biggest idiots in the country, or the most dangerous.
  7. If you see a naked person in Five Points on Tuesday … — Continuing with that theme… No, it’s not serious news, but it’s local. Why will there be a naked person in Five Points on Tuesday? Well, it has something to do with PETA, so don’t try to make sense of it.

So, are we saying Pence was RIGHT?

The State had an interesting piece in the paper Sunday about sexual harassment in the S.C. Statehouse.

I was particularly struck by this paragraph:

The incident was one of many that went unreported in a S.C. State House dotted with instances of sexism. There, for three days a week, lawmakers — most of them men — leave their families behind in their home towns, and are feted in Columbia by lobbyists and special interest groups in an often alcohol-infused atmosphere….

So, as I read that, it seems to suggest that these things wouldn’t happen if lawmakers had their wives with them when they attend these events where alcohol is served.

In other words, I read that as saying, “Yeah, Mike Pence kind of has a point…

Of course, I kind of thought that already…

Pence was accompanied by his wife when cleaning the Vietnam Memorial over the weekend.

Pence was accompanied by his wife when cleaning the Vietnam Memorial over the weekend.

‘Make Trump Eight Again’

This is so apropos, it’s kind of scary.

There’s a Chrome extension out there, called “Make Trump Eight Again,” that substitutes the font of Trump’s Tweets into a child’s crayon scrawl. It was brought to my attention by this Tweet.

For instance, it makes this Tweet look like this:

crayon

Unfortunately, I’ve loaded and enabled the extension, but it’s not working for me yet.

Here’s hoping I didn’t willingly download and activate a Trojan Horse. Wouldn’t that be the ultimate malicious Russian hack?

A quick word on what happened to Gilda Cobb-Hunter

Regarding what happened to Gilda Cobb-Hunter, I’m inclined to agree with this Tweet:

That’s from the former spokesman for House Democrats, by the way. If Govan is found innocent of the charge, I’ll take that back. But the case for him doesn’t look good. I trust Gilda. She’s not a person to make a fuss about something that didn’t happen.

But you know, I’m old school. Remember last month when John Kelly said that when he was young, “a lot of things were sacred in our country. Women were sacred, looked upon with great honor. That’s obviously not the case anymore, as we’ve seen from recent cases (which I took to mean a reference to the behavior of Harvey Weinstein and others — such as Kelly’s boss).”

This caused harrumphing among some of our feminist friends, with reactions such as this one: “No, John Kelly, women should not be seen as ‘sacred’.”

But yeah… they kinda should. That’s kind of one of the prerequisites for having a civilization, instead of a Hobbesian jungle. We’re getting a lot of reminders of that lately…

Yo, Catherine! TURN THE PHONE SIDEWAYS!

Yeah. there’s a lot of other stuff to be said about this bit of poorly-recorded braggadocio.w3ztXvTl_400x400

But I thought I’d start with my own pet peeve: If you’re going to shoot video and inflict it on the world, turn the phone sideways! I really don’t want to see those wasted black bars at the sides, thank you very much.

As for the rest… Catherine Templeton has definitely chosen her bed, as both Tweets shown here demonstrate. Let’s see how comfortable she is lying in it going forward…

Columbia’s 4 percent election turnout

Turnout at the city council debate last week.

Turnout at the city council debate last week.

I got this email from Joe Azar today:

Many, many thanks to all of you that supported me in the city council election. I greatly appreciate it and hopefully the concepts and ideas I promoted will be enacted by council.

Maybe one day we can get Columbia moving in a responsible and intelligent way, but it will not happen until people care, analyze, and vote. With only 5250 voting out of a city of 130,000, it is a herculean job to provide progress in a city that seemingly does not care.

What is the answer? I surely would like to know as I have cared greatly for our city all of my life.

Again, THANK YOU!!! You are wonderful!

Joseph Azar

Folks, my calculator says 5,250 out of 130,000 is 4 percent.

Yeah, I get it — it was a low-suspense election. Joe had no chance against Tameika, and Chris Sullivan was punching above his weight against the veteran Sam Davis. Everybody “knew” that, the way people know things that are obviously true (until they aren’t). You know, like “There’s no way a lunatic like Donald Trump could be elected president of the United States.”

I bought into the same conventional wisdom. Rather than the Community Relations Council (upon which I serve) using resources to sponsor its own candidate forum, I suggested we co-sponsor the one the Chamber was doing — which we did, and I moderated. Two years ago, the CRC’s city council debate drew a packed house. This time, I was pretty sure that wouldn’t happen, and I was right. But I applaud the Chamber and the Building Industry Association (and the CRC) for staging a debate anyway. I mean, it was an actual election that would elect actual council members to help run the city. We should act like it, and provide opportunities for voters to learn more about the candidates, whether they show or not.

But here’s the thing about conventional wisdom…

Tameika Isaac Devine won by getting 3,583 votes to 1,638 for Joe Azar. So if he had identified just 1,945 voters and turned them out, he’d be replacing her on the council. Even though it would have meant getting more than double what he got, that’s not insurmountable with some organization. We’re talking about a city of 130,000, remember.

Chris Sullivan only needed 632 votes, although from a smaller pool.

Maybe they couldn’t have done it. Maybe a 2-1 margin can’t be overcome.

But it’s possible, because the numbers involved are so small

Of course, the big question here is, what will it take to get both voters and strong candidates to care more about Columbia city government?

The much larger crowd in 2015.

The packed house in 2015.

Can Democrats bring themselves to reach out to those who are reachable?

I’ve been meaning to share some thoughts about this Ross Douthat column of Oct. 21, headlined “The Democrats in Their Labyrinth.”

Sure I think the headline was cool, although it provoked in me a twinge of guilt for never having finished that novel. (I had thought I would love it, because in 5th and 6th grades my history classes were in Spanish, and Bolívar and Sucre and O’Higgins and the rest were the heroes of the story we were told. Also, I felt that I should read some Márquez and it sounded more cheery than One Hundred Years of Solitude or Love in the Time of Cholera. But it wasn’t.)

Anyway, I like the column for what followed the headline, so let’s get to that:

America has two political parties, but only one of them has a reasonably coherent political vision, a leadership that isn’t under the thumb of an erratic reality television star, and a worldview that implies a policy agenda rather than just a litany of grievances.Douthat

Unfortunately for the Democrats, their vision and leaders and agenda also sometimes leave the impression that they never want to win another tossup Senate seat, and that they would prefer Donald Trump be re-elected if the alternative requires wooing Americans who voted for him.

Consider recent developments in the state of Alabama, where the Republican Party has nominated a Senate candidate manifestly unfit for office, a bigot hostile to the rule of law and entranced with authoritarianism.

And who have the Democrats put up against him? An accomplished former prosecutor, the very model of a mainstream Democrat — and a man who told an interviewer after his nomination that he favors legal abortion, without restriction, right up until the baby emerges blue and flailing from the womb….

But just as this post wasn’t about Gabriel García Márquez, it’s not about abortion, either. That’s just an illustration of the way Democrats push away people in the middle who might vote for them occasionally if not for their rigid, prickly ideological orthodoxy — and the fact that they think people who don’t subscribe to their more extreme manifestations of dogma are barbarians, people they wouldn’t want voting for them anyway, because they’re not the right sort.

The point, in other words, is the assertion that Democrats “would prefer Donald Trump be re-elected if the alternative requires wooing Americans who voted for him.”

This is a problem for Democrats, and a problem for the country. Because, you know, Trumpism needed to end a year ago. And if we wait for Democrats to do anything to end it, we might have to wait the rest of our lives. (We could depend on principle Republicans, the ones who know better, but so far they only seem to want to stand up and speak truth when they’re headed for the exits. As for us independents — well, we lack organization.)

Douthat’s “point is that a party claiming to be standing alone against an existential threat to the republic should be willing to move somewhat, to compromise somehow, to bring a few of the voters who have lifted the G.O.P. to its largely undeserved political successes into the Democratic fold.”

But perhaps you won’t. And admittedly, for those of you who lean Democratic, perhaps a conservative Catholic such as Douthat isn’t the messenger you’re likely to heed — although I believe in that column he means you well.

How about Rahm Emanuel, then? Here’s what he was saying earlier this year:

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has warned Democrats they need to “take a chill pill” and realize that they are not going to take back national power anytime soon.330px-Rahm_Emanuel,_official_photo_portrait_color

“It ain’t gonna happen in 2018,” Emanuel said Monday at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business in California. “Take a chill pill, man. You gotta be in this for the long haul.”

As he did last month at an event in Washington, D.C., the mayor expanded on what he believes is the road map back to power for his party — putting moderate candidates such as veterans, football players, sheriffs and business people up in Republican districts, picking battles with Republicans, exploiting wedges within the GOP and fighting attempts to redistrict Congress on partisan grounds….

Remember how Emanuel did just that and won a majority in the U.S. House in 2006? Democrats don’t, near as I can tell.

The problem is, I have the feeling that too many Democrats are doing what the Republicans did after losing in 2008. Back then, egged on by ideological extremists such as our own Jim DeMint, the GOP leaped to the conclusion that they lost in 2008 because they weren’t extreme enough, because they had bet it all on relative moderate McCain. This led to the Tea Party and the Freedom Caucus and Steve Bannon and so forth, which led to our current national crisis.

If the Democrats want to be part of the solution to that crisis, they need to reach out beyond their “safe space” and engage with people who don’t entirely share their worldview. Because, ahem, most people don’t.

Yet there are a lot of people trying to pull the Democrats in the opposite direction. They take the DeMint approach, which goes: The Democrats lost in 2016 because they weren’t extreme enough. They needed more feeling the Bern and less Clintonian Third Way. Perhaps, as New York magazine wrote early this year, The Socialist Takeover of the Democratic Party Is Proceeding Nicely. If so, then the left will dominate the party. But they won’t be running the country, because they won’t be winning general elections.

Let me share one more thing with you, from The New York Times Magazine over the weekend. It begins with an anecdote about a conference call Nancy Pelosi made to House Democrats right after their disastrous defeat a year ago:

Several members on the call later told me they expected their leader to offer some show of contrition, an inventory of mistakes made or, at minimum, an acknowledgment that responsibility for the previous night’s disaster began at the top. Already, Trump’s sweep of what had for years been Democratic strongholds in the Rust Belt had led to a fast-congealing belief that the party had lost touch with white working-class voters.

But Pelosi sounded downright peppy on the call, noting a few vulnerable House seats that the Democrats had managed to hang onto. As for those working-class voters, “To say we don’t care about them is hard to believe,” Pelosi insisted, according to a transcript of the call I obtained. “I have to take issue and say I don’t think anybody was unaware of the anger.” The Democrats weren’t out of touch, she said. They just hadn’t made their case clearly enough to voters — or as she put it, “We have to get out there and say it in a different way.”

“It reminded me of that scene at the end of ‘Animal House,’ where Kevin Bacon is standing in the middle of all this chaos, screaming: ‘Remain calm! All is well!’ ” Scott Peters, a congressman from California who was on the call, told me. “After telling us before that we were going to pick up 20 seats, and we end up with six, underlaid with Clinton losing, I had no use for that kind of happy talk.” During and after Pelosi’s monologue, Democratic representatives who were listening texted and called one another incredulously, but Peters was one of the few who spoke up on the line. “I think we’re missing something,” he told Pelosi. “We’re just not hearing what’s on people’s minds.”…

Yeah, so what did they do? They held a quick leadership election, and stuck with the same crowd who had brought them to this low point. But before they did that, there was a brief moment of truth-telling:

In the end, her only opponent was Tim Ryan, a young congressman and former high school quarterback star from Ohio’s 13th District, the ailing industrial region surrounding Youngstown and Akron. Ryan offered a splash-of-cold-water speech just before the vote: “We got wiped out,” he said, according to a recording of his remarks. “We’re toxic in the Midwest, and we’re toxic in the South.”…

Jaime HarrisonThere are Democrats who acknowledge this — I think. This morning, The State reported that “Jaime Harrison knows how Democrats can win elections. Are Democrats listening?” The story, unfortunately, didn’t really explain what it is that Jaime knows. Perhaps I should give him a call and see if he’ll share the secret sauce.

Smith, if he goes about it right, has an opportunity to make a play for those of us in the middle. After all, the Republicans seem hell-bent on having the most extreme gubernatorial primary in living memory: Oh, yeah? Well I’ll see your imaginary sanctuary cities and raise you a Steve Bannon!

Can Smith, or anyone, reach out to the state’s sensible center and rescue us from Trumpism? I certainly hope so. Because we are in serious need saving. But they can only do it if they go after people who’ve fallen into the habit of voting the other way, and do it competently…

James Smith

How’s Election Day going (if you’re having one)?

file photo

2014 file photo

Joe Azar sent this out a few minutes ago:

Voting is today for city council. If you do not vote, you can complain all you want about city government, but nothing changes. I am challenging a 4 term incumbent, and it is time for change. Please go vote for Joseph Azar.

Polls are open a few more hours, until 7p.m.

Oh, yeah! I’m not voting today, but other people are. I have a separate notification from the SC Democratic Party that notes there are elections in 123 municipalities in our state, plus a special election down in Charleston.

And POTUS started the day throwing his weight around in a gubernatorial election in Virginia, where an erstwhile establishment Republican is trying to win using Trump/Bannon tactics. For instance, he’s campaigning against “sanctuary cities” even though Virginia has no sanctuary cities. Poor Virginia! Aren’t you glad we don’t have nonsense like that down here? Oh, wait…

So… have you voted? Are you going to vote? How’s the turnout (I sort of think I know, but let’s see if I’m right)?

Or would you just like to comment on what’s going on out there? If so, here’s your chance…

Open Thread for Monday, November 6, 2017

The Guardian has gone totally ape over this Pentagon, uh, Panama, uh, Paradise Papers thing...

The Guardian has gone totally ape over this Pentagon, uh, Panama, uh, Paradise Papers thing…

Some possibilities:

  1. Texas gunman who killed 26 ‘sent threatening texts to mother-in-law’ — This angle is many hours old, but this shooting story remains the big one, and we haven’t talked about it yet.
  2. Paradise Papers — I don’t have anything to say about this yet, for two reasons: First, it’s about money, so, ya know. Second, I can’t concentrate on it for Bernie Sanders yelling, “I tolja so! I tolja so! I tolja so! I tolja so!” Meanwhile, The Guardian‘s gone absolutely ape over it — you have to scroll down a screen and a half to read about anything else.
  3. Which Columbia-area hospital is the safest? Not one got an A. — Yikes.
  4. Amazon’s Roy Price Left Alleged Trail of Sexual Harassment — I’m just sharing this to note that The Wall Street Journal is leading with it, when everybody else (except The Guardian) is leading with the Texas shooting… Interesting… Maybe the WSJ is just trying to distract The Guardian from its shiny new toy: Look! Business executives! Sexual harassment! 
  5. Steve Benjamin won’t be on the ballot tomorrow — No, he’s running, and I assure you he will be re-elected. But he’s not on the ballot, which Cindi is pointing out because it’s such a dramatic example of one of her pet electoral peeves…

Open Thread for Friday, November 3, 2017

Yet another shot of Ben Tillman with a bird of prey on his head.

Yet another shot of Ben Tillman with a bird of prey on his head.

We haven’t had one of these all month, have we?

  1. G.O.P. May Repeal Health Mandate as Part of Tax Bill — These fellas just do not want to pass any actual legislation, do they? The tax bill was already an uphill climb, so what do they do? Stick in a poison pill. This is really, you know… stupid.
  2. Bergdahl Avoids Prison; Trump Once Urged Death Penalty — Well, we generally don’t shoot deserters anymore, but no prison at all? Really? I heard someone on the radio — probably from his defense attorney — talking about what a terrible ordeal this has been for poor ol’ Bergdahl. Yeah, well, tell that to his comrades who suffered casualties trying to “rescue” him.

  3. European arrest warrant issued for ex-Catalan leader — We’ve been ignoring this story, and it’s a biggie.

  4. White House allows release of dire climate report that contradicts views of Trump officials — How about that? But what does it mean, Mr. Natural?

  5. SC governor hopeful Templeton praises Bannon, calls him ‘voice for the rest of us’ — I neglected to mention this earlier in the week. She just seems determined to out-crazy Henry, try as he might with his crusade against nonexistent “sanctuary cities.”

The hawk that sat on the head of Pitchfork Ben

Then I realized it was too BIG to be a pigeon.

Then I realized it was too BIG to be a pigeon.

Yesterday afternoon, knowing I had somewhere to be that night and wouldn’t have time for my evening walk, I left the office for awhile to get the rest of my 10,000 steps around downtown.

As I came around the State House on the Assembly Street side, I saw a pigeon sitting atop Ben Tillman’s statue. I decided to approach and get a picture.hawk closeup

Then I realized it was too big for a pigeon.

It was a hawk.

There’s lesson to be inferred here somewhere, one fraught with symbolic meaning, but it’s escaping me. After all, my former newspaper was founded to fight Tillman — my professional forebear, the paper’s first editor, was shot and killed by Tillman’s nephew over his editorials. My grandmother used to live next door to Tillman in Washington as a little girl, although her family despised him.

So it must mean something that this vision appeared to me, of all people.

Or maybe not. In any case, I thought it was an interesting sight. I see hawks soaring high above all the time, but I seldom see them perched so near the ground. What caused this one to choose to sit there, of all places?

‘You shall not molest or oppress an alien…’

Dr. Heyer during her lecture.

Dr. Heyer during her lecture.

This past Sunday, I did the first reading at the Spanish Mass, the first time I’d done so in awhile.

It was from Exodus Chapter 22. Here’s how it began:

Esto dice el Señor a su pueblo: “No hagas sufrir ni oprimas al extranjero, porque ustedes fueron extranjeros en Egipto. No explotes a las viudas ni a los huérfanos, porque si los explotas y ellos claman a mí, ciertamente oiré yo su clamor; mi ira se encenderá, te mataré a espada, tus mujeres quedarán viudas y tus hijos, huérfanos….

For you gringos, it goes like this:

Thus says the LORD:
“You shall not molest or oppress an alien,
for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt.
You shall not wrong any widow or orphan.
If ever you wrong them and they cry out to me,
I will surely hear their cry.
My wrath will flare up, and I will kill you with the sword;
then your own wives will be widows, and your children orphans….

Because I had just read that Sunday (after a lot of practice that morning, which I have to do with Spanish these days), I was struck to hear the same message again last night, when I attended this year’s Cardinal Bernardin lecture at USC.

Our speaker was Kristin Heyer from Boston College, and the rather involved title of her lecture was “Immigration Ethics in a New Era: Embracing Cardinal Bernardin’s challenge to be both ‘prophetic and public’ amid the contemporary political climate with respect to migration.”(Headline writing isn’t a core strength of academics, I find.)

I won’t go into the whole thing, except to say that the message was not, shall we say, Trumpian.

But I was struck at the serendipity of her slide citing numerous biblical injunctions to be good to the alien. The first one she cited was from the chapter after the one I had read from in Exodus, and it’s a stripped-down, to-the-point version of what I had read:

You shall not oppress a resident alien; you well know how it feels to be an alien, since you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt…

That was Exodus 23:9. Think maybe somebody’s trying to tell me something this week?

IMG_2933

Good riddance to ‘House of Cards,’ indeed

Underwoods

This morning, I read with approval a piece headlined “The allegations against Kevin Spacey got ‘House of Cards’ canceled. Good riddance.” And it reminded me that I had meant to note with approval the demise of this awful series.

But my thoughts on it have nothing to do with Kevin Spacey’s sexual proclivities or behavior.

It was just an awful series, on a number of levels.

The last episode I watched was at the beginning of the fourth season. I tried watching it on my iPad while giving platelets at the Red Cross. I was using earbuds, but I also use subtitles because of my Meniere’s, and I quickly realized I did not want anyone seeing me watch this. It was NSFW, or for the Red Cross, either. Also, there’s this nice, grandmotherly tech who frequently makes conversation by asking what I’m watching, and I didn’t want to be drawn into that conversation.

That’s because the first scene opens upon a prison cell in which one prisoner is reciting pornography aloud while his cellmate, shall we say, pleasures himself. Not mild, euphemistic porn here, but intentionally shocking stuff. The “c word” is used, as I recall, to no redeeming social purpose. At first you don’t know what’s going on; the screen is dark and you just hear the words.

And this is the opening scene of the season premiere. Welcome back to “House of Cards,” ladies and gentlemen. If any ladies or gentlemen are still watching.

Before anyone could glance over my shoulder, I quickly changed to some other show — something innocuous. “Blue Bloods,” perhaps.

Later, in keeping with my weak-minded determination to be up with the latest thing, I watched the rest of the episode. And it provided me with no enticements to keep watching, so that’s the last episode I saw. And I certainly haven’t missed it.

That was spring of last year.

Earlier this week, I read that the series was being canceled. There would be no sixth season. That’s all I saw initially, just a headline. At first I assumed it was for lack of merit, and that gave me some satisfaction. I was slightly disappointed to learn it was because of another sex scandal. But I suppose, in a way, that was appropriate, too. Frank Underwood certainly had it coming on that score.

But the show had been nasty on so many other levels, peopled as it was with such irredeemable characters following soul-sucking plotlines. (I’ve complained about the morally arid characters on too many “quality” TV shows lately — but none of the others could hold a candle to this show. It tried hard to be worse, and it succeeded.)

And then there’s the worst thing about it: There were people who took it seriously. People who thought politics really was full of such creatures and such actions. People who thought this was politics, that this was what politics was all about. Thus the show was one of many things contributing to the disaffection, the sickness in the land, that led us to Donald J. Trump.

Watch this: Doug, or someone, will say, “Look around you! This IS politics! Look at the indictments in Columbia, in Washington.” And I will tell you that you can choose the worst person involved in any of those scandals — go back to Watergate, if you’d like — and you won’t find anyone as completely evil as Underwood and company. Maybe not even G. Gordon Liddy, and he was a pretty sick puppy.

Compared to Underwood, Richard Nixon was Jack Armstrong, All-American Boy. Frank Underwood had the morals of Pee Wee Gaskins, if you want a real-world comparison.

Something really went wrong with this project. I never found it enjoyable, from the beginning — although I tried to give it a chance. I watched because everybody in the political world was talking about it, and because it was supposedly about a congressman (a white Democrat, no less, which was our first clue that it would not be realistic) from South Carolina. The Gaffney Peachoid even made an appearance!

The original.

The original.

But it didn’t work, even on its own, strange terms. With the original British series back in 1990, it was completely obvious that this was arch, extreme satire. Or at least it seemed so to me. Francis Urquhart’s evilness seemed deliberately too much. And I found it more engaging — but not enough to watch past the first season.

And at first, we were invited to see the U.S. series the same way, with Frank Underwood’s little asides through the fourth wall serving as a smirking nod and wink to keep us from taking him too seriously: See what a bad boy I am?

But it wasn’t really funny, even going by a decadent notion of humor, and eventually the series seemed to abandon even that pose.

Did “House of Cards” lead directly to Trump? No. But it offered a little encouragement — which they did not need — to the nihilists who were already pleased to think the very worst of politics. Some of them (such as the Vince Foster fantasists) were sufficiently far gone to think this was some sort of documentary about the Clintons, just with the names changed. And it’s little wonder that anyone who thought that would vote for Trump over Clinton, even if they could see what an idiot he was.

The painful irony is that this absurd show, which (one hopes) was never meant to be taken seriously by anyone, led in any, tiny way to our present situation, in which the White House is occupied by someone so unfit that a couple of years back, we could not have imagined it.

Not that Trump is quite as bad as Underwood. But he’s every bit as absurd….

And no, the high production values -- such as the interesting opening credits -- couldn't redeem this show.

And no, the high production values — such as the interesting opening credits — couldn’t redeem this show.

Kyle Michel ponders All Souls’ Day

"All Souls Day" by Jakob Schikaneder, 1888

“All Souls Day” by Jakob Schikaneder, 1888

Earlier this week, the lady who schedules us lectors and eucharistic ministers sent out an email looking for volunteers for the Masses on All Saints Day. I wrote to her to say I could serve at the one at noon, but couldn’t do the evening Mass because of the debate.

But I had to ask her a dumb question, just to be sure: You’re talking about Wednesday, right?

As a convert, I still get confused by some stuff cradle Catholics take for granted, and the distinction between All Saints’ Day (yesterday) and All Souls’ Day (today) is one of those things.

But because we have so much to learn, we examine these things more closely. And an unexamined life, etc.

So I sort of enjoyed this email from Kyle Michel, who like me grew up Southern Baptist before marrying into a Catholic family:

All Souls Day has always been kinda intriguing to me. The idea of praying for all souls gone before you makes you wonder where the heck they’ve all gone. Maybe my Jewish friends are right – you’re here, you make your mark, you’re gone. Or, maybe there’s some kind of next stage – put whatever label you want on it. It would be hard to say that every person who has ever seen a ghost or had some paranormal experience was just imagining it. But everybody who ever died can’t be hanging around or the whole world would look like that Michael Jackson Thriller video. ​
I grew up Southern Baptist and we never had All Souls Day. According to the Baptists, there’s just no need – God’s already sorted them out, no need for further input. The Catholics have more of a Jesse Jackson approach – Keep Hope Alive! That Catholic approach seems a little better suited to a procrastinator like me – give it your best shot while you’re still breathing, but if you fall a little short, you’ve still got a chance.
Though, for Catholics, All Souls Day is still a little uncomfortable because you’re supposed to pray for all those in purgatory, which means you gotta make a call on who you think didn’t quite make it in – awkward!  At the funeral, everyone makes it in, right? Now, I gotta admit I think Uncle Freddie never made the cut!
Lucky for us, this year All Souls Day falls on First Thursday, so you can come down to Main Street and spend the evening thinking about all your dearly departed while walking among your not-yet-departed who probably still need a little prayer themselves.
If you’re out, stop by. We’ll be here at 1520 with our usual fare and selling the records of some of the souls we’re praying for – including a few of those “under-the-counter” ones that belonged to Uncle Freddie.

Kyle sends out these emails every First Thursday, inviting folks to drop by his law office on Main Street. He has the most awesome record collection I’ve ever seen outside of Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity, and he puts out some of his treasures out to sell from tables on the sidewalk.

You should check it out tonight. I can’t, because I’m doing another Catholic thing: I’m going to the annual Bernardin Lecture. Kristin Heyer of Boston College will speak on “Immigration Ethics in a New Era.”

Video and a Twitter account of the city council forum

microphone

Having only one microphone was a bit awkward…

When I’m moderating a debate, I’m always thinking about too many other things — keeping an eye on the timekeeper, shuffling through questions from the audience, picking the next question — to take notes on what is actually being said. I mean, I hear this and that, but I can miss the overall flow, and I wouldn’t trust myself to report on it.

Fortunately, the Chamber streamed last night’s city council forum on Facebook Live. This is good for those of you who’d like to hear what the candidates said, and bad for me, because I find my own fidgeting and rocking back and forth in the background too distracting when I try to watch it.

If you’re only interested in one of the two races, we did the at-large contest between incumbent Tameika Isaac Devine and Joseph Azar first, then you see the candidates for District 1 — incumbent Sam Davis and Chris Sullivan — starting at -49:18.

If you’d like to read what the candidates said, Chris Trainor of Free Times Tweeted extensively during the event.

My main aim was to have an informative event that focused on issues rather than irrelevancies. I was pleased that Chris Trainor’s last Tweet said this: