Welcome to Orlando, Donald. We endorse anyone but YOU.

Orlando

I have to congratulate the Orlando Sentinel for its endorsement today in the 2020 presidential election — of anyone but Donald Trump.

For those out there simple enough to believe that being for or against Trump is a matter of being a Republican or a Democrat, I should point out that this is a paper that practically always endorses the Republican. But like serious, thoughtful Republicans everywhere (a dwindling breed, although it includes most prominent conservative pundits, which makes it seem like a dominant view to those of us who take in our information from the written word), this board is apparently made up of Never Trumpers.

I’m not a regular reader of the Sentinel‘s edit page, but from afar I’ve always seen it as more or less center-right, based on the few times it has come to my attention (which admittedly could be misleading). For instance, in 1998, I briefly thought we were the first paper in the country to call for Bill Clinton’s resignation when he admitted lying to us — but I soon discovered the Sentinel had done so on the same day.

So… great minds and all that.

Here’s how today’s piece begins:

Donald Trump is in Orlando to announce the kickoff of his re-election campaign.

We’re here to announce our endorsement for president in 2020, or, at least, who we’re not endorsing: Donald Trump.

Some readers will wonder how we could possibly eliminate a candidate so far before an election, and before knowing the identity of his opponent.

Because there’s no point pretending we would ever recommend that readers vote for Trump.

After 2½ years we’ve seen enough.

Enough of the chaos, the division, the schoolyard insults, the self-aggrandizement, the corruption, and especially the lies….

From there, the piece gets into a long litany of his sins, any one of which would have ended a politician’s career, back before our country went stark, raving mad in 2016.

It’s a very well-reasoned piece, although none of the points in it should be a surprise, and the conclusion is inescapable to any thinking person.

It’s a nice, VERY early kickoff to the endorsement season. For that matter, it’s nice to see that some major metropolitan newspapers still do endorsements, or even have editorial boards. Only one in South Carolina still does…

Open Thread for Monday, June 17, 2019

tanker

A few things we might talk about — just don’t cough!

  1. Four years after Charleston church massacre, what have SC lawmakers done? — Nothing, if you’re talking about keeping people like Roof from getting a gun.
  2. Iran Threatens to Exceed Nuclear Deal’s Limits on Uranium Enrichment — We’re in a fix, aren’t we? POTUS has alienated our allies on the nuclear deal, which they have scrambled to try to save. Now, he wants them to back him on on the latest Iranian provocations. Would you, in their place? Meanwhile, Iran seems poised to tell us all to go to hell…
  3. Supreme Court Hands Democrats A Win On Racial Gerrymandering In Virginia — No, NPR, they’ve handed America a win, coming down against the practice that’s tearing America apart. Question is, what do we do next? How do we slay this dragon so it stays dead?
  4. Trump tosses Mulvaney out of Oval Office for coughing — The story notes that Trump “has called himself a ‘germaphobe’ and labeled the practice of shaking hands ‘barbaric.'” I’m reminded of the brilliant “Bern Your Enthusiasm” skit: You sure it wasn’t a cough and a wipe?
  5. Where does your plastic go? Global investigation reveals America’s dirty secret — The report “tracks how US waste makes its way across the world – and overwhelms the poorest nations.” You might be tempted to dismiss this as yet another evocation of The Guardian’s never-ending Evil America theme (it’s part of a series called “Toxic America”), but that doesn’t mean it’s not a serious problem.
  6. Buttigieg says it’s ‘almost certain’ the United States has had ‘excellent gay presidents’ — He was speaking statistically. When asked to speculate which ones, he demurred: “My gaydar doesn’t even work that well in the present, let alone retroactively.” I like that sort of humility in a candidate. On other topics, Jennifer Rubin had some good things to say about Mayor Pete today.
No cough! No shake! And definitely not a cough AND a shake!

No cough! No shake! And definitely not a cough AND a shake!

Yes! In your FACE, Slate News Quiz!

417

OK, so this was a pretty modest achievement. I got two questions wrong, which means that if this were a test in school I would have gotten an 83, which even by South Carolina’s currently overly generous grading system would be a low B.

But here’s the thing… Y’all know that I’ve always taken inordinate pride in my test-taking skills. That’s what got me through high school without studying, slacker that I was. (One of my favorite lines from Woody Allen’s “Love and Death” is when a fellow soldier, heading into battle, moans, “Oh, God is testing us!” and Allen’s character says, “If He’s gonna test us, why doesn’t He give us a written?” Yes! Why can’t all tests be written?)

But the Slate News Quiz is the kind of test that foils me time and again. Partly is that they have a penchant for trivial news over the top stories. But mostly because you get points for how quickly you answer, which rattles me. I hate being timed doing anything, and especially on something requiring thought. I don’t do anything fast.

So week after week, I get skunked on this quiz, humiliated by the Slate staffer they pit you against, or the reader average, or both. But not today.

You know why I did better today? I made myself slow down. I allowed myself that extra beat where I go, Come on, you read something about this, or when I don’t know, Which makes most sense?, or on less certain ones, Which of these names do you have a vague memory of having heard lately?, or more deviously, Which of these names wouldn’t be here unless that’s the one?

I took a hit on my score for taking time, but I got most of them right.

I even did better than “senior editor” Jeremy Stahl. Curious as I tend to be when these online publications call somebody a “senior” something, I looked him up. He graduated college in 2004, so he’s about 37. Which at least is older than I would have guessed.

I mean, at least he’s four years older than that twerp, “Senior White House Advisor” Stephen Miller

And who knows? If the boy studies up, maybe he’ll beat the old man next time. You know how it was in the old Westerns: the top gun always has to be looking over his shoulder for the next punk looking to make a name for himself

 

Where am I going to put my Joe Biden bumper sticker?

my truck

The above picture, which I posted randomly a couple of days ago, reminds me:

I need to figure out where to put my Joe Biden sticker when I get one. Which I expect will be soon. A couple of weeks back, I ran into my friends Sally and Mark Huguley. Mark was pulling up to the curb in front of St. Peter’s after Mass to pick up Sally, and Sally told him to pull up a few more feet so I could see the Biden sticker on the back of their vehicle.

I was, of course, envious. I need to reach out to Kendall Corley or Scott Harriford, two Smith campaign alumni who are now running the Biden operation in SC, to see if they can get me one. And a yard sign, when they’re available. Time’s a wastin’!

But then I look at the back of my truck, and think, where should I put it? I mean, it’s going to spoil my perfect bipartisan symmetry. All through the campaign, I had my James Smith sticker and my Micah Caskey sticker. And while I was a bit self-conscious parking it at HQ at first, that wasn’t my target audience.

My idea was this: Our single greatest obstacle to winning — and in the end, this is what defeated us probably more than any other factor — was that most white voters in the state have some kind of disability, a mental block. They are incapable of conceiving of voting for someone with a D after his name. They don’t think it’s a thing that a person can do.

If I could just get ONE voter, driving behind me, to think, “Whoa! This guy who votes for Republicans just like I do is also voting for James Smith. I wonder why,” then it would be worth any dirty looks I got from Democrats.

Oh, and if you think people don’t have thoughts like that, you’re wrong. Humans are hugely suggestible. Maybe they shouldn’t be, but the Bandwagon Effect is one of the most reliable factors in politics (as ridiculous as I think that is). If people see that other people are voting for someone, they are at least slightly more likely to do so themselves.

I know that some people noticed. The first time I had occasion during the campaign to meet with Democratic Party Chairman Trav Robertson, I mentioned something about my bumper stickers, and he said, “Yeah, I’ve heard about that.” And I thought, Yeah, I’ll bet you have. I knew by that time that there were some Democrats who didn’t like that James had hired someone like me, and it wasn’t surprising that some of them would have brought such a detail to Trav’s attention.

But again, Democrats weren’t my target audience. I was trolling for persuadable Republicans. (And yes, that’s a thing. Here’s one of our Republican endorsements, and a video to go with it.)

Anyway, now I have to figure out where to put my Biden sticker. My first thought is to put it right in the middle, but then my tailgate will be 2/3 Democratic. Which is not the effect I’m going for. But then, does that matter, since Joe is running in the Democratic Primary? I mean, what do I care what Republicans think in this context? Worrying about being perfectly bipartisan is more about worrying about what people think of ME, isn’t it? And that shouldn’t be a factor.

I could put it over the Smith sticker, since the campaign’s over and all, but I won’t do that. My experience last year is something I’m proud of, and I’m going to continue to wear it on my sleeve. Or tailgate.

Anyway, look how shiny and new it still is. It looks good. By contrast, Micah’s sticker has faded considerably.

Of course, being focused on the Democratic primary, I could just cover Micah’s sticker until after Feb. 9. But I’m not going to do that. I don’t want to abandon my representative, even for a short while. He’s got re-election next year.

So… I’m thinking the Biden sticker needs to go in the middle. And I need to get with Micah to get a fresher sticker sometime between now and next spring…

The Pink Screen of Death! AIIIIEEEEEEE!!!!

pink

As a Windows veteran of nearly three decades, I’ve seen some terrible sights, things that would chill the blood of a lesser man. The terrible Blue Screen of Death is an old friend, for instance. That was pretty much the favorite mode of my last laptop.

But I had never before seen what is pictured above. That’s what greeted me when I opened my laptop this morning.

Apparently, it’s a thing. A bad thing.

I don’t know what caused it, but I strongly suspect a Firefox update. Ever since I recovered from the Pink Screen, I’ve been unable to use Firefox at all. A home screen of sorts comes up — a different one from what I’ve seen in the past, which is what tells me there must have been an update — but not the home screens I had programmed into the settings.

And anyway, I can’t call up ANY websites on the browser. But if I try the very same URL on Chrome, it works fine.

Oh, and turning it off and back on again didn’t fix the Mozilla problem. I guess my next step is uninstalling and reinstalling.

Any thoughts, guidance, advice…?

ITCrow

Setting the record straight on ‘The Dirty Dozen’

Can you name them? Not these guys, the ones in the book...

Can you name them? Not these guys, the ones in the book…

I love it when I find out that someone somewhere has, at least for a brief moment, obsessed about something trivial that had obsessed me.

It makes me feel… almost normal. Or at least, human.

In the past, as an illustration of the perverse way that my brain works, I have bragged/told on myself for remembering the names of all the characters in The Dirty Dozen, which I read when I was about 13.

The book, mind you. I wouldn’t expect anyone to be able to name the 12 in the movie, because the movie doesn’t fully introduce them all.

Oh, and the list is different. This is partly because, for whatever reason, Archer Maggot — played by Telly Savalas — was a mashup of three very different characters from the book. Maggot was a redneck career criminal from Phenix City, Ala., a really malevolent, violent guy. Calvin Ezra Smith was a prison convert who constantly quoted Scripture. Myron Odell was a shy little rabbit of a man who was scared of women, and supposedly had killed a woman who came onto him sexually (which he vehemently denied).

I’m not sure why they combined those three into one, but somehow Savalas pulled it off, so hats off to him. But then they had to make up a couple of names of characters to replace Smith and Odell. Then there was the fact that Jim Brown’s character was nothing like the one black character in the book, so they changed his name from Napoleon White to Robert Jefferson. White had been an officer and an intellectual (he and Capt. Reisman have debates about the writings of T.E. Lawrence), which I guess they thought didn’t fit Brown, so they made Charles Bronson the ex-officer.

They went on to change several other characters’ names — sometimes just the first names — for reasons that would only be understandable to a Hollywood producer.

Anyway, I’m going on about this because today, while looking for something totally unrelated, I ran across this Los Angeles Times story from way back in 2000. And it contained this paragraph:

Can you name all 12? Roll call: Charles Bronson as Joseph Wladislaw; Jim Brown as Robert Jefferson; Tom Busby as Milo Vladek; John Cassavetes as Victor Franko; Ben Carruthers as Glenn Gilpin; Stuart Cooper as Roscoe Lever; Trini Lopez as Pedro Jimenez; Colin Maitland as Seth Sawyer; Al Mancini as Tassos Bravos; Telly Savalas as Archer Maggott; Donald Sutherland as Vernon Pinkley; and Clint Walker as Samson Posey.

Wow, I thought. There’s someone else on the planet who has wasted gray cells memorizing the names of the Dirty Dozen! Worse, memorizing the names of the ones in the movie, not the real ones!

It gave me a fellow-feeling, if only for a moment, for this Donald Liebenson who wrote the piece…

Anyway, the real names, from the 1965 E.M. Nathanson novel:

  1. Victor Franko
  2. Archer Maggot
  3. Calvin Ezra Smith
  4. Myron Odell
  5. Glenn Gilpin
  6. Ken (not Seth) Sawyer
  7. Napoleon White
  8. Samson Posey
  9. Roscoe Lever
  10. Luis (not Pedro) Jimenez
  11. Vernon Pinkley
  12. Joe Wladislaw

dirty

Open Thread for Tuesday, June 11, 2019

I didn't have any pictures to go with any of these topics. So here's a pic of the back of my truck...

I didn’t have any pictures to go with any of these topics. So here’s one of the back of my truck…

I thought I’d point to several things that have been interesting in the last few days:

  1. Harpo gonna do some world-shakin’! — Dick Harpootlian had a huge impact on what happened at the State House this year, for a rookie. Of course, it helps if you’re a rookie who already had a larger-than-life profile, and who really doesn’t mind getting people stirred up. But I bet the Democrat wasn’t fully prepared for the letter to the editor that said he’s a lot like Trump in these regards.
  2. Richland penny program has $154M in rising costs. Can all projects still get done? — This is Doug’s cue to say, I knew it all along! And the rest of us, who knew we had real infrastructure needs and that the penny was a logical way of paying for them, can say, How did Richland County screw up this program as much as they have, and how do we fix it going forward? So, you know, something for everybody…
  3. Did the Democrats’ abortion inflexibility just give Trump four more years? — This is a Michael Gerson opinion piece. He voiced the thought I’ve had in my mind since the fire-breathers browbeat my man Joe Biden into backing down on the Hyde Amendment. Marc Thiessen, a guy with whom I seldom agree on anything, had a similar piece.
  4. Want to See My Genes? Get a Warrant — First, I don’t agree with that sentiment. But I’m pondering a larger piece on the use of genetic genealogy to fight crime, and I’m offering this piece as an appetizer to get the conversation started.
  5. Anybody know of a good Davy Crockett biography? — I rewatched the 1960 version of “The Alamo” in recent days, and also not long ago rewatched portions of the latter-day one with Billy Bob Thornton as the King of the Wild Frontier. And I’m burning to understand What Davy was doing down there? I mean, I know he had time on his hands and was up for something new after losing his re-election to Congress, but nothing I’ve seen fully explains his motivation in going there, staying there, and dying there…

I guess that’s enough for a start…

FalloftheAlamo

Would Jesus have cursed my fig tree? And can I save it?

IMG_4778

Look at that ridiculous, tiny thing near the center of the photo: Call that a fig?

It’s always been one of the passages in the Bible that I find problematic, but at the same time, it’s also one that has an authentic air that says, “This really happened.”

12 The next day as they were leaving Bethany he was hungry. 13 Seeing from a distance a fig tree in leaf, he went over to see if he could find anything on it. When he reached it he found nothing but leaves; it was not the time for figs. 14 And he said to it in reply, “May no one ever eat of your fruit again!” And his disciples heard it.

I like that “And his disciples heard it” touch. The writer of the Gospel is saying, You may not believe he laid a curse on a tree, but we were there, and we HEARD it, man!

This was just before Jesus drove the money changers out of the Temple, which is an interesting juxtaposition: The fig tree thing suggests Jesus could get pretty peevish when hungry, the second is the only account we have of him getting violently angry.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about that passage lately as I look at my own fig tree, which I planted maybe a decade ago, and which has yet to produce what I would consider to be a normal crop of figs. I think last year was the best we’ve done, and I got to eat maybe five or six figs, total.

I also think about the parable:

He spoke also of this parable; A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came and sought fruit thereon, and found none. Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground? And he answering said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it: And if it bear fruit, well: and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down….

Even by that more patient standard, this tree is on thin ice.

We pruned it during the cold weather. Then, I did indeed “dung it” with some Black Kow manure. I worried that maybe we’d pruned it too much, because it was slow to produce new greenery. But eventually it broke out with a decent profusion of leaves — but no figs. Finally, a couple of things that look like they might aspire to become figs some day have emerged — but they’re kind of weird and misshapen.

When I walk around my own neighborhood and across the USC campus, I see loads of green figs popping out all over the place.

Maybe it’s the variety. (My tree isn’t the usual Brown Turkey fig. When it produces fruit, it’s bigger and it stays green even when ripe. I want to say it’s some sort of Greek variety. I bought it at the State Farmers Market.)

Maybe it’s because we had no rain for so long, up to the last couple of days.

I don’t know. Any suggestions?

This is on a tree that I regularly pass on walk across the USC campus.

This is on a tree that I regularly pass on walks across the USC campus. I see at least eight figs in this shot.

Top Five TV Dramas of this Golden Age

'Long as I got a job, you got a job; you understand?'

‘Long as I got a job, you got a job; you understand?’

I don’t know why I just ran across this a week or two ago. The piece ran in the NYT back in January. But for some reason I saw a Tweet about the list just days after the end of “Game of Thrones.” And to me, that made now a better time for pondering such a list than several months ago. Since everyone speaks of GoT as such a landmark and all…

Anyway, the headline was “The 20 Best TV Dramas Since ‘The Sopranos’.” It represents the consensus of three TV writers. (Consensus. I like that about it. That’s how we made decisions on the editorial board. Not enough decisions are made that way. It’s a great process.)

It’s a pretty good list. Of course, it contains a number of shows I’ve never seen, so I can’t judge whether they deserve to be on the list: “The Shield,” “Battlestar Galactica,” “Veronica Mars,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Friday Night Lights,” “Adventure Time,” “Enlightened”… hang on…. I just realized that I’ve never seen well over half the list.

That’s all right. Some of us are not paid to watch TV and write about it. Some of us are just people living our lives in a certain time and place and looking around us and occasionally trying to make some sense out of the tiny slices of existence we have time to experience.

Anyway, I have a snobbish disdain for Top Twenty lists. They lack discipline. They are promiscuous and indiscriminate. I continue to believe that Nick Hornby’s Top Five system represents perfection. You have to work at it. You have to choose. You have to be ruthless, and let the also-rans fall by the wayside, gnashing their teeth. You have to have standards, and stick with them.

On a couple of points, I’m right there with the NYT writers. On others, I have to wonder where they’ve been, or at least what they’re thinking. Anyway, here’s my list:

  1. The West Wing” — No surprise there, right? It topped the NYT list, too. And in describing why, Margaret Lyons admits that yeah, it’s a fantasy, “a fantasy about caring… because you’re my guys, and I’m yours, and there’s nothing I wouldn’t do for you.” Or as Leo said, long as I got a job, you got a job. It’s about much more than that — the people care not only about each other, but about Things That Matter — but that’s an important part of it. When I went to work for the campaign, I told James I wanted to be a part of something again with a bunch of people who cared about things. Like on “The West Wing.” Go ahead and mock me. I was perfectly serious, and I’m glad I got that chance. Not everyone does.
  2. Band of Brothers” — This didn’t fit into the parameters of the NYT list, because they defined a series as something meant to go more than one season. But before I saw “The West Wing,” this was unquestionably the best thing I’d ever seen on television. I knew it would be that back before it existed, when I was toying with the idea of writing a letter to Spielberg and Hanks to suggest it (but I didn’t have to; I guess after they connected with Steven Ambrose it was just that obvious). And of course, aside from being wonderfully acted and directed and crafted, it was a story that mattered.
  3. The Sopranos” — This is a guilty pleasure, probably the ultimate example of that phenomenon in the annals of TV. It represents sort of the opposite of the first two, which are about good and decent and admirable people who care about the right things and are willing to work and sacrifice for them. The Sopranos is more typical of the serious Golden Age dramas, in that it lacks a moral center or characters to admire or regard as heroes. But it was supremely engaging, and again we’re talking craftsmanship. I have debates with my wife about this, which she always wins. She asks why time should be spent on stories and characters completely lacking in redeeming qualities, and I reply that it’s so well done! Which is a vapid answer, I know, but I’m a sucker for things that are done well…
  4. The Wire” — Best thing about the NYT feature is that the bit about The Wire is in the words of actor Michael K. Williams. You know: “Omar coming!” This series had a lot of contemptible characters in it, too, but you cared about so many of them, from soulful snitch Bubbles to the infuriatingly self-destructive McNulty to the Greek-tragedy labor leader Frank Sobotka. This was a work of fiction with hugely ambitious journalistic aspirations: This season is about drugs in the projects; this one is about the dead-end life on the docks; this one is about Baltimore public schools; this one is about city politics; this one is about the newspaper. And it really worked.
  5. Breaking Bad” — This was the hardest to watch, but I had to keep watching. It gave me something of a complex. I’d watch it at night after my wife had gone to bed — again, not her thing and I love her for that — and after another hour of Walter White’s traumatic slide into evil, I’d slip into the dark bedroom feeling guilty, as though I were the one building a drug empire and lying to my family about it. I think I half expected my wife to wake up and say, “Why do you have two cell phones?” or “Who’s Jesse Pinkman?” That’s how deeply the show implicated me in Walter’s evil madness. Which was not fun, and probably the main reason I haven’t rewatched the whole thing since it ended. I mean, I “lived through it” once, and that was enough…

So that’s it. Two that are about honor and courage and decency, two that are sordid as all get-out, and one — “The Wire” — that hovers between the two, although leaning toward the sordid.

The NYT writers allowed themselves a “Toughest Omissions” list, so I will, too:

  • Firefly” — Was it a drama? Was it comedy? Was it fantasy? I don’t know, but it was awesome, and I can’t believe those gorram network people cancelled it before the first season was even over. The only funny, heartwarming, witty, inventive show about space cowboys in the history of the medium. But even if there were a hundred such, this would have been the best one.
  • The Walking Dead” — I was determined I was never going to watch this, but one of my kids talked me into trying it and I was hooked. For awhile. I finally got to the point that it was no longer watchable for me. That happened in that hopeless episode in which Rick and the rest were captured by the Saviors, at the end of the sixth season. I don’t know what happened after that.
  • Barry” — I’m just trying to be topical, since this is newer than anything else on the list. As long as I still had HBO NOW for watching “Game of Thrones” (which you’ll notice does not make my list), I went ahead and finished the second season of this show about a hit man who wants to be an actor. I may sign back up when the third season comes out. This is worth watching for NoHo Hank if for nothing else. There’s also Stephen Root. And Bill Hader’s always great.
What, no Honey-Nut?

What, no Honey-Nut?

I am appalled that this man represented my country at the D-Day commemoration

1118px-Into_the_Jaws_of_Death_23-0455M_edit

As y’all know, I generally don’t like to let the sixth of June go by without acknowledging it in some way. The events of that day in 1944 stagger the imagination, and loom large in my concept of my country and its place in the world.

It’s not just the bold stroke at dislodging Hitler from the Continent, from the world. For that matter, I’m not even sure it was the decisive battle of the war; I remain too ignorant of the titanic struggles on the Eastern Front to be able to peg that with confidence. Serious students of history can have lively arguments about that.

But it was monumental. In fact, it was, on almost any measurement or any scale, just possibly the most impressive thing the human race has done in one day in the past century. It’s absolutely astounding, not just as the aggregation of personal acts of courage it took, but the fact that human beings worked together that well to do a supremely difficult thing that was eminently worth doing. (So yeah, for me there’s a huge communitarian aspect to it.)

A thing that hope for future freedom depended on to such a degree…

So I like to take note of it, I feel obliged to take note of it, particularly since I live in a world in which far too few people even care about having a concept of historical context, of what it took to form our present existence. And the 75th anniversary, likely the last major milestone that any of those few remaining veterans will see, is particularly important.

But I haven’t written about it before this late hour because I haven’t wanted to share the cloud of negativity that has overshadowed this event for me this week, this year.

All week, we’ve been building up to it. The man this country elected president has been slouching toward Normandy ever since the weekend, spewing his vulgarity, his grossness, his self-absorption and disregard for decency before him like the burning fuel from a flamethrower.

I’ve been so embarrassed for our country that Queen Elizabeth, the prime minister and other dignitaries of the best friend this nation has ever had have been forced, by respect for our relationship, to entertain this supreme vulgarian. The Brits have been doing what decency and respect for friends demands, and the fact that they’re having to lavish all this on Donald J. Trump is our collective fault for electing him.

I’m not going to recite all the mortifying things he’s said and done this week while representing our country among civilized people abroad. Go read about them yourself, here and here and here and on and on. I call your attention in particular to his constant evocation of himself, which is the only person on the planet he cares about.

All that has been bad enough.

But to know that this person was going to head our delegation to the commemoration of the Normandy landings was so much worse.

This was a day for taking stock of our country and what it has stood for, what it has meant to the world back before the ugly resurgence of “America First.”

This was a day for humbly acknowledging Courage and Honor and Duty and Sacrifice. And we sent a man who does not know what those words mean, who does not care that he does not know, a man who in fact is the embodiment of the opposites of those virtues.

Seventy-five years ago, we sent such good men over there, the best we had.

Look what we sent this week.

And yes, yes, I know we sent D-Day veterans as well, and I stand in awe of them. No one, not even Trump, can take the slightest scrap of honor from them. But look who we sent to stand in front of them…

D8ZT_ZxXUAEf2dM

Look — there’s Alfred E. Neuman at the Russell House!

Russell House magazine rack

Yeah, I know this doesn’t prove anything.

It’s just that, after all that stuff about how younger people can’t be expected to know who Alfred E. Neuman was, I thought I’d take note of this.Alfred E

I was doing my afternoon walk across the virtually deserted USC campus today, and cut through the Barnes & Noble (and no, I still can’t get over the fact that the Russell House bookstore is now a Barnes & Noble) in the Russell House because I like to get that short blast of air conditioning (and also because I love me some Barnes & Noble).

And as I passed by the magazine rack, there he was. Almost as big as life as the Swimsuit Issue. (Or Swimsuit Issues, plural. When did there start to be more than one of them?)

Does this mean kids automatically know who Alfred E. is? No. But at least it means the kids who pass through here have had the opportunity.

The weird thing about this to me is that magazine racks still exist. Who reads magazines? I know people still read comic books, and their big brothers graphic novels, but that’s kind of a cult commodity. Like vinyl records among some serious audiophiles.closer

They just seem like such big, slick, absurdly-expensive-to-produce dinosaurs.

What’s in a magazine that I can’t get in an even more attractive and interactive format, and more immediately, on my iPad? I don’t read the paper versions of newspapers, and I’m a lifelong newspaperman. Magazines just lie there and don’t do anything. You can’t even click on links. So why would I read a magazine?

Why would anyone?

 

I’m no privacy freak, but yeah — that’s a little creepy

door

Actually, the headline sort of said it all.

Today, I got a notification that something my wife had ordered from Amazon had been delivered to my home.

Wondering what it was (apparently, some frozen treats for grandchildren), I clicked, and got the above page.

Yeah, that’s my red front door in the picture.

I can see a practical reason to do this. For instance, Amazon delivery folks tend to put our packages in different places (inside the garage if that door is open, the mailbox, etc.) and sometimes we have to hunt around to confirm that yes, Alexa is right — something has arrived.

But this still bothers me a little bit. Not much, but a bit. Mainly because I wasn’t expecting it. It’s like having some stranger say, “Look, here’s you on a surveillance camera…”

It doesn’t do me any harm that I can tell, but it’s weird…

OK, I have now heard the word ‘progressive’ used too many times. You can stop saying it now. Please…

argument

For many years, the word was “conservative.” It was said so often — generally by a politician seeking to ingratiate himself with people who don’t think much about words but for some reason love clinging to that one — that it was like fingernails on a blackboard for me.

It still is. It’s still hugely popular here in S.C., waved as a proud banner by people who have no business associating with the word — people who identify with Donald Trump or the Tea Party or the Freedom Caucus or some other phenomenon that bears no relationship to the sobriety of actual conservatism.

It gets used as a password. It is brandished to say, “I am an acceptable person, like you.” It performs a function like that of the word “Christian” in the early 19th century — referring not to a set of religious beliefs, but to a state of being a normal, acceptable person of reasonable breeding and education, someone who knows the ropes of life in Western civilization. Patrick O’Brian used it to mild comic effect in his Aubrey/Maturin novels. The sailors in that world would lament the fact that the perpetual landlubber Stephen Maturin never could learn to board a ship “like a Christian,” which was to say, like a normal person of basic good sense. He was always contriving to fall into the water instead.

Anyway, “conservative” gets used kind of like that, only it’s more obnoxious.

I’ve tried dealing with it with humor, but sometimes it’s just not funny. Sometimes it’s downright nasty, used to try to separate the world into people who are acceptable and those who are not. In any case, it continues to occupy a lofty position on my list of peeves.

And now, another word is laboring mightily to catch up to it: “progressive.”

Again, it’s a slippery word. It’s meant many things, sometimes apparently contradictory things. It’s been attached to muckraking authors in the early 1900s, and Teddy Roosevelt. I also associate it with a sort of early- to mid-20th century form of pro-business boosterism, connecting capitalism with human “progress.” Then, 30 years or so ago (did it predate Reagan, or follow him?), it became something liberals called themselves because the rise of “conservative” came with a denigration of the otherwise innocent word “liberal.”

At that point, it seemed to be trying to suggest a particularly mild, moderate, nonthreatening form of liberalism, as in, “Don’t be scared! We’re not liberals; we’re just progressive!”

Now, it’s gone in another direction. Now, it’s used to refer to people for whom liberalism — certainly the beleaguered postwar liberal consensus — is not enough. It attaches to socialists, and socialist wannabes. It suggests a fierce, uncompromising leftward march. (And ominously, it suggests the element in the Democratic Party that seems determined to blow the nation’s chance of turning Donald Trump out of office in 2020.)

And it’s reached its saturation point with me.

This happened suddenly, while I was listening to a podcast while on a walk yesterday.

I was listening to an episode of “The Argument,” the NYT podcast featuring opinion writers David Leonhardt, Ross Douthat and Michelle Goldberg. It was one that I’d missed a couple of weeks ago, featuring an extensive conversation with Pete Buttigieg.Buttigieg

I recommend you go listen to it. I learned some things about Buttigieg and formed a fuller opinion of him. In short, here’s what I’ve decided thus far: I like the guy, but when he talks specifics about policy, I disagree with him on one thing after another. (Which is bad from his point of view, since he likes to project himself as a substance-over-style guy.) And not just the wacky stuff, like expanding the Supreme Court, or (the horror!) the size of the U.S. House of Representatives. (Did I hear that last one right? I’m finding proposals to do that on Google, but not associated with Mayor Pete…)

Also — and I’d heard this before about him — while he talks a good game on getting past the Culture War, time and again it sounds like he believes the way to end the conflict is for everyone to accept that his side has won the arguments. He does this on a number of issues, but one that sticks in my mind is his bland assertion that the nation, and even folks in Alabama, are closer to his doctrinaire pro-choice position on abortion than they are to the recent anti-abortion measure passed there.

That one sticks in my mind because just that morning before hearing this, I had conincidentally read something by one of the hosts of The Argument, David Leonhardt. It was about the fact that polls show we are as divided as ever on abortion, that “Public opinion isn’t where either side wants it to be.” Look at the numbers. Clearly, no one — neither Buttigieg nor someone with a diametrically opposed position on the issue — should be congratulating himself or herself on having won that national argument.

But let’s get back to my point. Time and again, whenever the mayor wanted to speak of ideas or proposals or attitudes or people that were agreeable to him, he used that word: “progressive.” It seemed to sum up rightness and goodness for him, very neatly.

And at some point — I don’t know know exactly how many times he’d said it when this happened — I reached my saturation point. I’d heard the word too many times.

So, everyone do me a favor: If you want to propose an idea, argue the idea on its merits. Tell me why it’s a good idea. Telling me it’s “progressive” or “conservative” gets you nowhere with me, and in fact will dig you down into a hole you’ll have to work to climb out of.

Words should encourage people to think. But these two are used too often now as a substitute for thought, as a signal to members of a tribe that they shouldn’t bother straining their brains, because this idea has the official seal of approval.

I just thought I’d let y’all know where I am on this now…

Oh, give him a break. At least his hair looked semi-normal

I saw yesterday on social media that people were giving Trump trouble for his appearance at one of those hopped-up megachurches. Something about his showing up in golf shoes, or failing to mention the Virginia Beach shooting, or whatever.

But hey, let’s give the guy credit for one thing: This is the first time I’ve seen a picture of the man in a decade or two in which he looks like he has hair that belongs to an actual earthling. No Flock of Seagulls or whatever you call that usual extraterrestrial do of his.

He just looks like a guy who needs a haircut, whose hair is kind of slicked back by sweat because he’s been out playing golf wearing a hat. Specifically, a circa-1975 used car salesman who’s been out playing golf wearing a hat.

But however one describes it, it’s the most normal look I’ve seen on the guy in a generation. It’s humanizing. Admittedly, it’s not much, but it’s something…

Trump hair

The officer who refused to launch the missiles was LEO!

"Turn your KEY, sir!"

“Turn your KEY, sir!”

Yes, this is about as insubstantial as a blog post gets, but I enjoy life’s little coincidences.

Friday, I was at one of the Relic Room’s monthly Lunch and Learn sessions, which I help publicize (and y’all should come check them out, because they’re all interesting). The speaker this time was Sumter attorney Frank Shuler, talking about his experiences as an Air Force officer serving in a nuclear missile silo during the Cold War. (Here’s a release about that.)

At some point, someone asked him about the sidearms he and the other guy down in the capsule buried 60 feet under North Dakota were required to wear while on duty — originally .38 revolvers, later changing to 9 mm semiautomatics. He said that they weren’t really for the purpose depicted in the movie “WarGames.” He was referring to this, the opening scene.

Well, this morning I was looking for something new to watch on the Roku during my workout on the elliptical, and I noticed something new on Amazon Prime: “WarGames!”

Actual missile silo blast door.

Actual missile silo blast door.

So I started watching, initially to see how accurate the depiction was, after what I had learned from interviewing Shuler and writing that release. And a lot of it was pretty much on the money — but one thing was wrong for sure: They showed the guys closing the massive, vault-style blast doors by pressing a button. In reality, someone had to pump the hydraulics on those doors, by hand, and it was a strenuous, tedious process — both opening and closing.

But then I noticed something that delighted me: The officer who refused to turn his key to launch the missiles was my hero, Leo McGarry!

Well, not really Leo, but the actor who played him, John Spencer. I’d had no idea, because when that movie came out, “The West Wing” was far from even being a twinkle in Aaron Sorkin’s eye.

It’s sort of bittersweet to see him unexpectedly. John Spencer was only 58 year old when we lost him and Leo simultaneously. But it was a treat. Especially since, as I think about it, what else did I ever see him in, but this and “West Wing?”

Of course, you know that Leo himself served in the Air Force, but not down in a bunker. He flew the F-105 Thunderchief with the 355th Tactical Fighter Wing out of Thailand during the Vietnam War. Which is the personal experience from which he was able to ‘splain military service and national security to President Bartlet…

How many of these candidates do you recognize?

candidates

The above image was included in an email I received today, showing most (but not quite all) of the Democrats running for president.

I gave myself a test: How many could I name, without thinking about it, just from these mug shots?

I didn’t do too great. I got 12, I think. I might even be wrong on one or two. Of course, I’m at a disadvantage because I follow the campaign through the written word, and to a lesser extent by radio and podcasts. So I’ve read or heard a good deal about people I’ve seldom if ever seen pictured.

At the same time, if I don’t recognize you, you might have a bit of an uphill climb.

Here are the ones I could name, with question marks next to ones I wasn’t 100 percent sure of:

  1. Bernie Sanders (or maybe Larry David; it’s hard to tell)
  2. Kamala Harris
  3. Elizabeth Warren
  4. Cory Booker
  5. Amy Klobuchar?
  6. Kirsten Gillibrand
  7. Beto O’Rourke
  8. Tulsi Gabbard?
  9. Seth Moulton
  10. Pete Buttigieg
  11. Andrew Yang?
  12. Joe Biden

The Post’s Fact Checker on pre-Roe abortion death rates

four pinocchios

I’m raising this because I found it fascinating when I saw it yesterday, for several reasons. I’m hoping to be able to raise it independently of our respective views on abortion, because this is interesting wherever you are on the spectrum.

That may be overly optimistic on my part, but here goes…

Basically The Washington Post‘s Fact Checker team took a look at the frequent claim from Planned Parenthood and other groups that if abortion bans being enacted in various states succeed in overturning Roe v. Wade, then we’ll be “going to go back in time to a time before Roe when thousands of women died every year.”

Fact Checker ended up giving the claim Four Pinocchios, which is its harshest rating of a falsehood. Having cited that, though, I urge you to read the whole thing, because the numbers are complicated and often murky, so judge the data for yourself.

For my part, I’ll make several observations:

  • As y’all know, I’m a words guy. I try to appreciate the point of view of my numbers-oriented friends out there, even though I think their insistence on reducing everything to digits can lead arguments astray on many issues. In this case, I’ve always looked askance at the numbers, whether someone is claiming the number is high or the number is low — not because I don’t think numbers are important in this instance, but because I think they are unknowable with any precision. You’re trying to count something that happened in the shadows, a dubious exercise at best. So while I see the Post‘s finding as interesting, I don’t necessarily see it as Gospel.
  • Any deaths are too many. Of course as you know (and here’s the only place I’ll refer to my views on abortion) to me every abortion is a death, and a tragedy. If the mother dies as well, then the tragedy is that much more horrific — and yes, more than twice as tragic. It should be society’s adamant goal to prevent that from happening ever. No one’s ideology should get in the way of that.
  • To that point, perhaps the most interesting data points in the piece are these: “In 1972, the number of deaths in the United States from legal abortions was 24 and from illegal abortions 39, according to the CDC.” So aside from the overall number being far, far less than “thousands” (which is the main point of the piece), it turns out that where abortion was legal, there were still more than 60 percent as many deaths as there were where it was illegal. Make of that what you will.
  • That year, 1972, is particularly relevant to the debate, because as the piece points out, a post-Roe America would most likely be most comparable to the time immediately before Roe, rather than to the decades before that (when the estimates of deaths were much higher). The main commonality is this: At that time, abortion was legal in some states and illegal in others. If Roe suddenly disappeared, I expect we’d return to a situation like that one — although my guess is that it would likely be legal in more places than it was then.

Finally, here’s the point that drew me as a journalist, and I hope it is not entirely lost among the media’s detractors: I realize that few critics of the Trumpista variety are likely to ever read this, but it they did they would see as effective a demonstration of this newspaper’s fairness regardless of whose sacred cows get gored. It’s hard to imagine a Fact Checker verdict more likely to cause distress to the political left, which the press supposedly shills for.

So I hope somebody on the right notices it, and has his or her prejudice lessened at least a bit.

Anyway, as I said, it’s interesting on a number of levels, so I thought I’d share it.

The weather app on my phone is torturing me

In the foreground the old boards, in the background the new ones. In the far background, you can see some new ones that we've stained.

In the foreground the old boards, in the background the new ones. In the far background, you can see some new ones that we’ve stained.

For the last few weekends, we’ve been engaged in a project.Dublin

The deck on the back of our house has two layers of boards, running perpendicular to each other. I don’t know whether this is standard deck construction, but that is what we have. I suspect the top layer is newer than the other. When we bought the house 21 years ago, the deck was a roofed, screened-in porch. Since the roof was removed, the top layer of deck boards haven’t weathered well. So we’re replacing them with new, treated boards. We’re also spacing them a bit so we don’t get standing water on the deck any more.

We’re doing it in stages. We’ll tear up a section — a tedious process that involves various implements of destruction (hammers, flat bar, crow bar, my old cat’s paw I’ve had since I worked construction while in college, and occasionally my reciprocating saw). Then we clean and repaint the boards underneath. Then we buy enough lumber to do about ten rows. Then we repeat. We’re a little bit past halfway done now.

Of course, the last couple of weekends have been brutal, thanks to the weather. What, I must ask, will August be like if May is like this?here

But it’s made worse by the way the weather app on my iPhone keeps taunting me. I keep consulting it with the thought, “Let’s see whether the heat is going to try to kill me again today.”

For some reason, when I tap to call it up, it does not default to the weather where I am. Oh, no. The first thing I see is the weather in Dublin. So on Saturday, I was told the high would be 67, and the next day it would be 63, and the day after that 58, with a fine sprinkling of God’s generous rain. I could almost hear it add, “And would ye be after havin’ a Guinness after yer toil today, me lad?”

When we were in Ireland, the difference between the weather here and there was not that huge. A little cooler, and I was glad most days to have taken my water-resistant winter coat, although some days I took it off for a short while. Decent weather for the end of winter and start of spring.

But now, it’s like being on different planets. Ireland is the sane, normal, temperate planet. And West Columbia is on the one ruined by greenhouse gases. I’m reminded of the line from “The Matrix” to the effect that “It was us that scorched the sky.”

Last week was absurd for May. This coming week will be more so. Why must we live like this?

boards close

‘Tactical pants?’ How stupid do they think men are?

tactical

Actually, I’m sort of forcing the indignation there. They think men are about as stupid as they actually are. The fact that AR-15s, which allow grown men to pretend they are bada__ soldiers, sell like hotcakes proves that point.

Lately, I only see the kinds of commercials I used to see on television in three places — on YouTube, on Hulu and on game apps on my phone.

A couple of times lately on one of the apps, I’ve been fed an ad for something called — and I am not making this up — “tactical pants.” I don’t know what that means. Perhaps they have a special zipper that helps you pee from a defilade. Or something.

But the part that really drives home the stupid is the video bit where the guy looks like he’s trying to stab himself in the crotch with a sharp knife. See below.

Oh, yeah, I need me some of those…

Actually, wait… $29.99? That’s pretty reasonable for a pair of really sturdy pants. And you say they’re waterproof?… Well, then, let’s not be so quick to scoff…

via GIPHY