‘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

Open Thread for Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Way to go there, Father!

Way to go there, Father!

Just to toss out a few possible topics:

  1. Belgian monks resurrect 220-year-old beer after finding recipe — Some news we can all agree is good. Actually, the recipe is from the 12th century. They haven’t produced it in 220 years because the monastery was burned down by French revolutionaries. Further evidence supporting my firm belief that on the whole, the French revolutionaries were a bunch of a__holes. And don’t even get me started on that Buonaparte…
  2. Hitchens on what was wrong with ‘Master and Commander’ — This piece is more than 15 years old and Christopher Hitchens is dead. But I just ran across it (trying to remember, upon writing the item above, how O’Brian spelled “Bonaparte”) and thought I’d share it, for Bryan and Mike and anyone else interested.
  3. Democrats’ Impeachment Divide Tests Pelosi — Oh, come on, people. Just get behind Joe and fix the problem in 2020. Yes, he should be impeached. He richly deserves it. But will it solve the problems posed by Trumpism? No, it will not.
  4. ‘I Don’t Want an Exciting President’ — An opinion piece by Michelle Goldberg, and as usual, I disagree. She counsels Democrats against choosing Joe just because they think he can win. She says they should follow their passion. I give this for their passion. If they’re excited about someone other than Joe, they should take a sedative. Enthusiasm of the masses, devoid of thought, is not the way out of this problem. It’s how we got Trump to start with. Anyway (he says, shifting gears suddenly), Joe’s the only candidate worth getting excited about. So there.
  5. ‘Grab ‘em by the ballot box’: Activists at SC State House target abortion bans in 2020 — I don’t know about you, but I am really, really dreading the role that abortion is likely to play in next year’s election. The passions are stirred on both sides, and I’ve just told you how I feel about people and their passions.
  6. Bond film extra killed with fatal dose of chemsex drug, jury told — Uhhhh, what’s a “chemsex drug?” Sounds like something invented by, well, a Bond villain. Which I suppose is why this is being played prominently by The Guardian.

Are you old enough to remember bouncing on the car seat?

truck

Do you remember a time before seatbelts in cars? I do. Standing on the seat as a little kid, looking around and bouncing up and down (and being told by a parent to “Sit down!”).

Young parents today might find it hard to believe that people could have been so careless with their children. (We even rode bicycles without helmets — gasp!) But life was cheap back in the Middle Ages.

A favorite family story features the lack of seatbelts. The first time my Dad met his future in-laws, they all went somewhere in a car together. He and my Mom were in the back seat, and my much-younger uncle — who is only six years older than I am — was standing on the front seat between my grandparents and giving a running commentary: “Mama! Daddy! He’s touching her hand!” This did not endear him to my Dad.

I first saw a seatbelt in a car when we lived in Ecuador when I was about 9 or 10. We couldn’t take a car down there with us, so the Navy issued us a series of different vehicles to use. They were usually jeeps. But one was a brand-new station wagon, painted Navy gray of course, with the first seatbelts I’d ever seen outside of an airplane. (Yes, I had flown — in a C-47, like the guys in “Band of Brothers” — before I ever rode in a car with seatbelts.) I thought it was very space-age. I felt a little like John Glenn strapping myself into the capsule.

I was a little surprised, though, when I saw that Mandy Powers Norrell had a similar memory, even though she is 20 years younger than I am. I guess it was a matter of the age of the vehicle, rather than the age of the passenger:

So happy tonight! Mitch and I have brought my daddy’s truck home! I have so many memories as a little girl standing up barefoot in the seat, holding onto the gun rack so I wouldn’t fall down when we’d make a turn. Times sure have changed. But this truck has not changed at all!

Seatbelts? Where we're going we don't NEED seatbelts...

Seatbelts? Where we’re going we don’t NEED seatbelts…

 

An Open Thread on the end of Game of Thrones

Burning the Iron Throne: An unusually subtle move, coming from a dragon.

Burning the Iron Throne: An unusually subtle move, for an angry, bereaved dragon.

Over the last couple of weeks, as we waited for the finale, I read a bunch of stuff written by people with serious perspective issues. So it is that my favorite thing written so far about the last episode is this:

It’s likely you’re already aware of the dissatisfaction with the conclusion tweeted hither and yon — six weeks of nitpicking complaints, first-class nerd whining and an ungodly amount of postgame analyses. Consider all those hastily posted diatribes or that pointless online petition with a million deluded signatures on it, demanding (demanding!) to have Season 8 scrubbed and remade. In some ways, “Game of Thrones” had grown so popular that it made its viewers look embarrassingly out of touch with life itself.

This can only happen when we love our popular culture a little too hard, crossing some line of personal investment, forgetting when a TV show is only just that. It was our fault for coming to regard the show as the apogee of the medium itself. It’s also why I’m glad some unnamed, unwitting hero left a coffee cup in the camera shot in the episode that aired May 5. That one coffee cup humanized the whole endeavor. It reminded us that a TV show, no matter how absorbing, is a folly, a fake, a job that someone is hired to do, so that an HBO subscription can be sold to you. The coffee cup will be scrubbed away with a quick flick of magic technology; but before it’s entirely gone, I hope they give it an Emmy….

Absolutely. And the plastic water bottle should at least get a nomination.

I hereby go on record as being one of the few who are satisfied with the ending, and happy to move on. About the only criticism I agree with was the rushed nature of the last two seasons. I guess it was just really hard making episodes that went beyond the original books, and this was all the show runners had in them. But it did make the tying up of loose plot threads seem a bit too hurried. Maybe if it had taken more time — say, the usual 10 episodes per season — there’d be less dissatisfaction out there.

Of course, while I am satisfied, I do have a few questions, objections and observations remaining. Here are some of them, in no particular order (SPOILER ALERT):

  1. So how many troops did Dany have? Raise your hand if, like me, you thought the Dothraki were wiped out in that ill-advised charge (the Red Woman lit up their sickles, and they just went bananas — they were excitable boys — and charged off to their deaths) at the start of the Battle of Winterfell. And yet, at the end, she seems to have more of them than ever. Not to mention all of the Unsullied, apparently. Enough for a Nuremburg-style rally that put the icing on Dany’s Mad Queen cake. As of that moment, it seems that the troops she brought over in a few small ships outnumbers anything in Westeros. Which sort of defies expectations.
  2. Dragons got higher-order thinking skills! So, in the final, climactic moment, when Jon is sure the dragon (no, I don’t know its name; I’m not going to waste gray cells learning something like that) is going to light him up, that being the one thing dragons know how to do, the dragon apparently goes, Wait! His death would be meaningless. I should instead burn a symbol, because they mean so much to me. Ah! The Iron Throne — the cause of all the trouble! If I melt that, it will truly achieve my mistress’ (I’m not going to say “my mother’s;” that was always kind of ridiculous) goal of Breaking the Wheel! That’s what I’ll do, even though most humans in Westeros are probably too dim to come up with such an idea… Did you know big lizards were way philosophical? Neither did I.
  3. I thought Arya, not Jon, was going to kill Dany. The penultimate episode had set that up nicely. She was the one survivor who had seen the horror of the incineration of King’s Landing up close and personally. She was horrified, traumatized and ticked off. The Hound had talked her out of the vengeance that had been her Purpose since the first season. All that training had to be for something. (Taking out the Night King doesn’t seem enough.) And only Arya would be able to get to her no matter how many murderous mindslaves surrounded her.
  4. Why did the Unsullied go so easy on Jon? In one scene, they’re slitting the throats of captives just because they served in Cersei’s army. The next, they deal with Jon’s murder of the woman they view as more or less divine by — locking him up. Oh, and how did they know he did it? There wasn’t even a body. We are left to assume he told them. (“Guys, you notice how the Khaleesi isn’t around? That’s because I killed her. I actually feel kind of conflicted about it, if that helps…”) Which brings us to…
  5. Right to the end, Jon Snow knew nothing. When he told Dany she was his queen, now and forever — even as he stabbed her to death — I think he really meant it. It just never sank in for this boy. Ygritte was right about him all along, and it’s easier than ever to understand why she shot him. Up to this point, everything had been pointing toward Jon being the one to sit on the Iron Throne: He was pure of heart, the people loved him, and it turned out the bastard actually had exactly the right pedigree for it. But what kind of king would he have been with so little between his ears? I’m trying (and failing) to find a link to something I read this morning about Jon standing there with a confused “This doesn’t seem right” look on his face during the Nuremberg scene. It pretty well summed him up.
  6. How does someone get to be a Sansa fan? She just never made that great an impression on me. I guess I never got over judging her for the stupid stuff she did early on, which led to, among other things, the death of her father (I think. It’s been awhile, and I don’t commit all this stuff to memory). I mean, she had the good sense to get rid of Littlefinger, but I’ll never get to like her the way, say, Alyssa Rosenberg of The Washington Post does: “After all this time, seeing Sansa crowned should have been an absolute triumph… Jon’s admission, at long last, that Sansa… is capable, strong and brilliant…” Where does that come from? I suspect that it’s an Identity Politics thing — there were a lot of folks out there who thought it was really important that a woman end up on top. (Alyssa was also really bugged that the last we saw of Brienne, she was writing a mash note about Jaime. Me, I thought it was kind of touching.) But Sansa? Brienne and Arya were women who excelled on the macho terms of their swashbuckling culture. Sansa just sort of stood or sat like a statue most of the time.
  7. Finally… winter actually came, right? I mean, we’d been hearing about it for all these years, and when it came, it was… unimpressive. Seriously, in what way was anyone’s life changed by it. Things went on fairly normally — the usual slaughter and associated mayhem. And near as I can tell, the southern reaches of Westeros were untouched by even a flake of snow. Reminds me of when we get this big buildup in Columbia about the possibility of snow, and… all that happens is that a couple of inches fall in Greenville.

OK, that’s enough. Back to real life…

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Mort Drucker, caricature genius

MAD-Magazine-Godfather-Parody-Splash

Our discussion earlier of MAD magazine caused me to say that my favorite part was the movie spoofs.

So I did a little Googling, and came up with the above, which epitomizes what I was remembering. I was trying to recall who the artist was who did the best of those parodies. I found out.

Mort Drucker is amazing (or perhaps I should say “was amazing,” since he’s 90 now and I assume retired). The very piece you see above is mentioned on his Wikipedia page, where a writer is quoted as saying, “The way he draws James Caan‘s eyebrow is worth some folks’ entire careers.”

Exactly. And check out his rendering of Barzini in the panel below.

Another thing from that page:

In a 1985 Tonight Show appearance, when Johnny Carson asked Michael J. Fox, “When did you really know you’d made it in show business?”, Fox replied, “When Mort Drucker drew my head.”[1]

Absolutely.

Oh, by the way: I don’t expect people to know who Mort Drucker is for me to consider them to be sufficiently aware of the world around them. Alfred E. Neuman is an icon; Drucker is more esoteric. Just for those keeping score.

If you’re confused about where the line it, just ask me; I’ll tell ya…

On Gary Cooper, Tony Soprano and Alfred E. Neuman

The other day I wrote something for a client that said in part, “Think Gary Cooper: Be the strong, silent type – but polite.”

Never mind what it was about, except that it was in the context of a metaphor about making movies. So it made sense.

But then one of my colleagues asked whether young people would know who Gary Cooper was, and what he was known for. So I polled a millennial or two with disappointing results. At one point, I tried explaining his character in “High Noon,” and my respondent said, “Sounds kind of like my grandpa.”

Exactly. So we just cut out the reference. It was impossible to insert a later pop culture figure, because it wouldn’t mean the same thing. We don’t have “strong, silent types” any more; men are a bunch of whiny babies. Which is essentially what Tony Soprano was on about in the clip above: He was expressing his contempt for modern men like himself, whining to therapists — although you’ll notice the therapist is careful not to tell him that that’s what he’s doing, because she’s afraid of him. You can be a scary guy and still a whiny baby.

And now we’ve got the kid with the funny name dismissing the fact that Trump compared him to Alfred E. Neuman by saying, “I’ll be honest; I had to Google that… I guess it’s a generational thing. I didn’t get the reference….”Neuman

No, Pete. It’s not a “generational thing. ” It’s a basic American popular culture thing. Saying you didn’t know who that was doesn’t make you hipper than the old guy in the White House. It means maybe you missed something, something the average idiot knows, when you were learning how to speak Norwegian just so you could read a novel in the original language.

Knowing who the “What, me worry?” kid is is simply a matter of pop cultural literacy.

The Post reported on the exchange by saying Trump was “comparing him to a caricature created decades before Pete Buttigieg was even born.” Really? Well, where does that leave such characters as Huck Finn, or Romeo and Juliet, or Jay Gatsby?

OK, maybe that’s unfair; those being such major cultural touchstones. How about this: Buttigieg knowing who Alfred E. Neuman is would be… like me knowing who Will Rogers was. Or Al Jolson. Or George M. Cohan. They were all dead before I was born, but I’m familiar with the roles they played in the popular imagination. By contrast, I believe MAD is still being published, although admittedly I haven’t read one in decades.

In Buttigieg’s place, I would have said, “I’m shocked at the suggestion that Trump has actually read something, even  if it’s only MAD magazine…” That would have been more to the point.

These kids today and their temporal chauvinism…

Where have you gone, Gary Cooper? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you...

Where have you gone, Gary Cooper? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you…

Don’t let today’s earworm bring you down

Perhaps this should be a regular feature, even daily. It would be a gift to my readers, a helpful explanation. They could say, No wonder he says all this stupid stuff; look what he’s got running through his head.

The reason this was lodged there is stupider than most. I was playing a video game that involves blowing up castles. Really. I’ve got a blog post I want to write that will explain. My time-wasting pursuits are growing dumber and dumber.

Anyway, I’m not sure what the song is supposed to mean.  Without having really thought about it, I’ve assumed subconsciously that it was a sort of leveling, sixtiesish nod to social equality: Who cares if castles are burning? Most of us don’t live in castles, and those who do deserve to be burned out. Anyone who lives in a castle is The Man.:

Don’t let it bring you down,
It’s only castles burning
Find someone who’s turning
And you will come around…

But maybe that’s not right. The song contains a number of alarming or at least dark images, things I don’t think people would shrug off easily — the dead man lying by the side of the road, the red lights flashing through the window in the rain. Are we not supposed to be brought down by any of that?

I don’t know. Maybe it’s just meaningless rhymes. Maybe it’s like “I am the Walrus,” which Lennon composed from random lines he would write down and stick in a drawer to use later. One day, he just pulled them out and jammed them together.

Anyway, that’s today’s earworm…

neil young

Let’s celebrate a belated win for solar energy and SC

The unanimous vote in the House on Thursday.

The unanimous vote in the House on Thursday.

And may I add, it’s a win for my erstwhile boss James Smith, even if he’s no longer in the Legislature to share in the celebration.

Last year, James’ bill to lift the cap on solar energy in our state was cruising to victory before the big utilities got the rules changed at the last minute. It was a stunning exhibition of “your oligarchy at work,” as one State House sage described it long ago. Check out my report on that, headlined, “In stunning reversal for people of SC, utilities manage to kill solar bill AFTER it passed overwhelmingly.”

Here’s Sammy’s story on what happened. An excerpt:

As the legislative session ended this week, South Carolina lawmakers approved a sweeping solar energy bill that will keep the state’s rooftop solar industry from collapsing and protect customers who seek to save money by installing sun panels on their homes.

The bill, the result of two years of negotiation between utilities and solar advocates, now needs only Gov. Henry McMaster’s signature to become law. McMaster spokesman Brian Symmes said the governor will sign the bill. The Senate voted for the bill Wednesday and the House approved it Thursday, the final day of the legislative session.

“We had a good deliberative process on some pretty groundbreaking clean energy legislation,’’ said Rebecca Haynes, deputy director of the Conservation Voters of South Carolina. “This saves the rooftop solar industry.’’

This week’s action is significant because it lifts restrictions that threatened to grind the state’s burgeoning rooftop solar industry to a halt. State law capped the amount of rooftop solar allowed in areas served by Dominion Energy and Duke Energy in South Carolina.

The Legislature’s action eliminates those caps, as well as restrictions on solar-leasing programs….

Well it’s about time. Congrats to Peter McCoy and everyone who supported it. Which was, um, everybody…

Your Virtual Front Page for Thursday, May 9, 2019

1200px-Moonbeam_UFO

First one of these in a while. Figured I’d acknowledge the end of the legislative session:

  1. SC Senate approves $115 million tax breaks to bring Carolina Panthers across border — Yeah, they actually did it. In Rock Hill did the Senate a stately pleasure-dome decree… Here’s how they voted in the Senate. Harpo opposed it to the last. Don’t tell me I never give you any sports news.
  2. Session ends without Senate action on education reform — But this is sort of dog-bites-man; we’ve known for some time. It’s only news at all because some folks may actually have thought that the May Day rally would change that.
  3. USC paid firm $137,000 to find its next president — then rejected all finalists — This is kinda old news now, but I include it because we haven’t had a discussion about it yet here: How about that fiasco?
  4. Trump picks former Boeing executive Patrick Shanahan for defense secretary — Well, ya know, he’s been acting since Mattis left, and nothing has blown up, so why not?
  5. How angry pilots got the Navy to stop dismissing UFO sightings — Of course, they’re aviators, not pilots, but set that aside. This is actually a couple of weeks old, but I wanted to bring it up. Aviators have been seeing white, Tic Tac-shaped vehicles that move like a bat out of you-know-where without any obvious means of propulsion. But while the Service has instituted new reporting procedures, there are no plans to release the reports to the public.
  6. Bezos company aims to take people to moon by 2024 — A nice companion piece for the UFO thing. That’s one small step for a billionaire…

There was something else I was going to put on this virtual page, but I’m forgetting what it was….

Oh, by the way, here’s Avery Wilks’ handwritten how-the-voted list on the football thing:

Unlike earlier princes, Baby Archie will always know his place

Shakespeare's earlier version of Game of Thrones.

Shakespeare’s earlier version of Game of Thrones.

I’ve lost track of how many of my ancestors were beheaded, or killed in battles fighting on the wrong side in the real-life Game of Thrones that was medieval Britain. One led a failed rebellion against Bloody Mary. Another, whose name I forget, fell alongside Richard III at Bosworth Field.

I’d search and tell you, but there’s a huge inadequacy in the Ancestry tree database: You can search by people’s names, but if there’s a way to search by cause or place of death, I haven’t found it.

I bore you yet again with my genealogy fetish because the birth of Prince Harry’s baby boy has got me to thinking about royal succession.

The morning Baby Sussex came into the world, I had started the day watching the tail end of the most recent episode of GoT on my Roku while working out on the elliptical. That wasn’t long enough, so I started watching something I recorded awhile back from PBS — Part 1 of Shakespeare’s Henry VI, the version that kicks off the second Hollow Crown series.

I saw the scene in which a group of lords display their allegiances by plucking either a white or red rose from the bushes in a garden in which they’re standing, then go off in a huff to start fighting the Wars of the Roses.

Henry V’s uninspiring offspring sits on the throne, but the Yorkists — also being Plantagenets — have a pretty strong claim to the crown, seeing as how Prince Hal’s Dad had taken it away from their line by force (see Richard II.

But you can make an argument either way, and they did. A lot of people died in the process, including some of my ancestors and almost certainly yours, too.

Today, it’s so simple. We know where Harry’s new son stands in the line of succession — he’s seventh. Nobody disputes this. It’s all so definite, so certain. You can look it up on Wikipedia.

On the one hand, it seems hugely ironic that it’s all so cut-and-dried, now that it doesn’t matter at all who the monarch is. There’s no power in the throne at all.

Of course, on the other hand, I suppose that’s why there’s no controversy about it. Who cares? Why fight about it?

I suppose if the king or queen suddenly had virtually absolute power again, the succession would suddenly become all fuzzy, or at least disputed.

In that alternative universe, 30 years from now young Archie — yes, that’s what his parents have decided to name the new royal — might be drawing his sword against King George, claiming that the crown should have passed to Harry’s line after the untimely death of King William.

I expect that Lord Jughead and Sir Moose would back his claim. But he could not rely on Sir Reggie, Earl of Mantle, who would likely play both sides.

And whether he ended up with Lady Betty or Countess Veronica would depend entirely on which could cement the more important diplomatic alliance…

archies-archonis-story_647_020916061213

You know nothing about tactics, Jon Snow

Um... are we sure this is the best way to use our cavalry?

Um… are we sure this is the best way to use our cavalry?

Dang, y’all — I wrote this the other day (after “The Long Night” and before the new episode that aired Sunday night) and thought I had posted it, but I hadn’t. I still think it’s a fun topic, so here you go.)

SPOILER ALERT!

Whoa! Was that the most intense episode in 8 years or what?

As storytelling, I thought it was wonderful. The show-runners have really hit their stride. And I hope I won’t upset George R.R. Martin fans too much when I tell the truth: The show has gotten much more enjoyable since it got out ahead of his books.

For the first few seasons, I had the complaint I so often have had about the best shows in this Golden Age of television — whether it’s “The Sopranos,” “Breaking Bad,” or GoT, I’ve had trouble finding characters to like and/or root for. (Although none of them were as bad in this respect as the execrable “House of Cards.”) There was nobody to care about in Breaking Bad (except maybe Hank toward the end), and the other shows were almost as bad. Everything was dark, and there was no one to admire.

On GoT, if you started to care at all about a character, he or she would soon be dead.

But it started changing over the last couple of years. And in the episode before the Battle of Winterfell, there were so many tender moments with characters you now care about — Tyrion, Jon, Dany, Sam, Arya, the Hound, Theon, etc., even Jaime — that it got downright mushy at times. Consider, for instance, the scene in which Lady Brienne is knighted — what she always wanted!

But this was a good thing, not cheesy. It was good that, with the Dead marching inexorably down from the ruined Wall, we all stopped to reflect on what was at stake — characters we cared about!

And the battle itself last week was one of the most suspenseful things I’ve ever seen. Yeah, you kind of knew some of the living had to survive this because somebody’s got to go after Cersei in the rest of the season. But the action kept making you think, well, maybe not

But all that said, it’s a miracle it came out the way it did: Because Jon, Danny, Grey Worm and the other commanders had no idea what they were doing.

When the Dothraki got all excited over the Red Woman lighting up their weapons and charged off to their deaths as the opening move in the battle, did you go, uh, wait a minute?

The folks at The Washington Post did, and they asked military historian and GoT fan Jesse Tumblin what he thought, and Tumblin was less than charitable. After bemoaning the way artillery (the trebuchets) was wasted, he said:

Then there’s the issue of the Dothraki, who are “really fast and effective cavalry,” but they’re essentially sent to their slaughter.

“They’re the most mobile part of the coalition of living forces, and almost all conventional military thought would suggest that you would want to hold your cavalry in reserve for flanking maneuvers,” Tumblin said.

Instead, they put them right in harm’s way, leading a frontal charge on an enemy that’s many times the size of the living….

That’s not all:

  • Grey Worm’s infantry should have been behind the flaming trench, not in front of it. Then they’d have had an advantage over their more numerous foe as the wights were forced to go through a narrow choke point.
  • The dragons were held in reserve too long.
  • In Bran, they have the most effective intel instrument in the history of Westeros (does your whole strategy depend on killing the Night King? Bran can tell you where he is!) and they don’t use him at all, leaving him in a vulnerable position with poor Theon.

Tumblin said one thing was accurate, although ugly — the way the nonwhite soldiers (the Dothraki, the Unsullied) were sacrificed while the Westerosi were in the safest positions. There’s a long history of “colonial troops” being used that way.

Of course, in the end, we the living won, thanks to little Sis.

But can they afford to make such mistakes against Cersei’s mercenaries? I think not. We’ll see…

Yeah, that was kind of what I was on about…

CIA photograph of Soviet medium-range ballistic missile in Red Square, Moscow, some time between 1959 and 1968. Imagine a giant pencil instead.

CIA photograph of Soviet medium-range ballistic missile in Red Square, Moscow, some time between 1959 and 1968: It really DOES look like a giant pencil, doesn’t it? A freshly sharpened one.

Just noticed that a piece in the Charleston paper over the weekend made reference to something I wrote last week.

The Post and Courier piece was headlined “Where does South Carolina’s teacher labor movement go after 10,000 person march?” (They left the hyphen out of “10,000-person,” not I. Y’all know I love hyphens. And commas.)

“May Day? Really? Are we thinking of the State House grounds as Red Square?” opined Brad Warthen, a former editor at The State who worked as a spokesman for Democrat James Smith’s failed gubernatorial campaign in 2018.

As for the choice of date for the first protest action, Walker said her group chose it to stand in solidarity with North Carolina teachers, who were marching on their Statehouse the same day. She said she hadn’t heard of May Day or its socialist connotations before critics brought it up online…

Yeah, exactly. They chose it “to stand in solidarity” with workers elsewhere. Kind of what I was on about.

Before someone gets worked up: No, I don’t think the teachers are commies. Apparently, this one doesn’t even know about commies.

I’m all for the teachers. I’m all for public education. Always have been, the record will show.

I’m just saying what I said: That this is not a way to win friends and influence people — at least, not the people who make policy in this GOP-dominated state. While few enough among them remember the Cold War, one assumes it lurks somewhere in their collective unconscious (as much as they might deny, upon questioning, possessing a collective anything).

And especially not when the Republican speaker of the House has stuck his neck out trying to accomplish some of the things you say you want.

That’s all I have to say… except that I wish they’d quoted the part about the giant pencils. That was the good bit. The part they quoted was just the setup for the good bit. Ask Norm. He appreciated it, even within the context of taking me to task

That was a big crowd. Not the biggest, but pretty big…

I shot this at 10:43 a.m. If you have a pic of when the crowd was bigger, please share.

I shot this at 10:43 a.m. If you have a pic of when the crowd was bigger, please share.

Apparently, some people weren’t paying attention to what I told them yesterday. Tsk, tsk…

But seriously, folks… I want to thank Norm, and Phillip, and everyone else who cared enough about our schools to turn out for the demonstration today… even though I doubt it will help, and it could even hurt. My view of all this is that what’s going to happen on education is going to happen regardless of demonstrations.

The good news is that lawmakers this year have made more of a good-faith effort to help public schools than I’ve seen in 20 years.

The bad news is that they didn’t get it done this year. Which worries me, because there was so much momentum for it — even Henry, of all people, got on board — and I worry whether the mo will still be there in January.

We’ll see.

But hey, it was a big crowd today. Of course, we all try to mentally compare that to THE big crowd, King Day at the Dome in 2000. And I went hunting for that image, and found it. So here you go…

King Day 2000

Should teachers walk out tomorrow? (No, they should not.)

From the Facebook page of SC for Ed...

From the Facebook page of SC for Ed…

I’m inclined not to offer any arguments on this point and let Cindi do my talking:

Yup. The more of them who show up at the State House when they should be working, the less favorably lawmakers will view their wishes.

Walking out is a bad idea to begin with. Making the State House the end point of your walk is even less wise.

There are all sorts of reasons. Here are two or three:

  • We don’t have public employee unions in South Carolina. Never mind whether you or I think that’s a good thing; the point is that our Legislature thinks it is a good thing. So probably the worst thing you can do, if you’re trying to get something out of the Legislature, is to act like a union, with a walkout.
  • As the editorial Cindi links to asserts, the assertion that teacher “grievances” have “fallen on deaf ears” rings extremely hollow when the lawmakers you are griping about are about to give you all a 4 percent raise.
  • May Day? Really? Are we thinking of the State House grounds as Red Square? Will Scud missiles (or perhaps giant pencils) roll down Gervais Street on trailers?

Is that all that should happen? No. This was supposedly the year for education reform, and thanks to the Senate being the Senate, that didn’t happen. The House did its job, thanks to the leadership of Speaker Jay Lucas and the good-faith work of a consensus of the body, ranging from my old boss Mandy Powers Norrell to my own rep, Micah Caskey.

But I can’t imagine how a mass abandonment of duty on the part of teachers helps us get to where we need to be.

It will be interesting to see who walks out, and who doesn’t. This walkout is the work of the upstart SC for Ed organization, which has been trying to take the role of representing teachers away from the more established groups, such as the S.C. Education Association. SCEA president has expressed some doubts about the event.

But whoever they are, I don’t see the event furthering stated goals…

I keep having these campaign flashbacks

now

Yesterday, I was in Rock Hill on a video shoot for a client of ADCO.

When we had some time to break for lunch, Brian and I asked about where we might go eat where yours truly could find something I’m not allergic to. My best way of describing that sort of venue is “a meat and two veg place” — as opposed to a pizza place or a sandwich place, which have nothing on their menus for me. Basically, I need to go to a place that serves food like Mama used to make.

So we were sent to an old-school, down-home joint in an unremarkable strip shopping center.  It seemed that Fate was against our ever getting there, as Google Maps steered us completely wrong for awhile.

But Fate was just messing with us, just putting off the big reveal.

Earlier in the day, as we were pulling into town, I had thought to myself, “I know I was here during the campaign, but when, and what sort of event was it?” I couldn’t remember.

Now at lunchtime, as we finally turned into the shopping center parking lot and rolled past the Earth Fare that is sort of the anchor tenant, the lights came on and I said, “Oh. I know where we are.”

After we ordered our food (for me, a hamburger steak with fries and some speckled butter beans — with me, the plainer the fare the better), I stepped into the private meeting room toward the back and took the above picture.

Then I sent it to James and Mandy along with the picture below, saying, “Having lunch at The Little Cafe in Rock Hill, and having flashbacks.”

The below picture was taken at 9:22 a.m. on Oct. 31, the second day of the Saga of the “Bus,” the “Leave No One Behind Tour.”

We zipped in and out of these places so fast that they’re hard to recall now — until Fate decides to mess with me, dropping me into a place apparently at random and then saying, “Remember this?”

then

David Brooks is exactly right today about Joe

his Joeness

In today’s column, David Brooks gets Joe Biden exactly right.

The headline is “Your Average American Joe.

The subhed is, “Biden is not an individualist.”

Absolutely. And amen to that.

An excerpt from the end:

… The character issue will play out in all sorts of subterranean and powerful ways this election. We have lost our love for ourselves as a people, a faith in our basic goodness, and this loss of faith has been a shock. A lot of voters want to raise their children in an atmosphere marked by decency and compassion, not narcissistic savagery. Values are central to this race.

Here is what is subtly different about Biden. He’s not an individualist. He is a member. He belongs to his family; his hometown, Scranton; his Democratic Party; his Senate; his nation, and is inexplicable without those roots. He used the word “we” 16 times in his short video announcing his candidacy.

Some candidates will run promising transformational change. Biden offers a restoration of the values that bind us as a collective.

Yes! I could have done without the word “collective;” as it brings to mind the AOCs and Bernies of the world, and that’s definitely not who Joe is. I’d have gone with “a community,” or “a people.”

But otherwise, very nicely done.

We communitarian types may not have a party, but we have a candidate…

I support every 2020 hopeful you can find in this photo

Obama_and_Biden_await_updates_on_bin_Laden

Yesterday, Bud said “This year there is an embarrassment of riches among the Dems,” just before listing 18 people running for president.

I’m glad he’s pumped about it, and that’s certainly a bunch of names, but the fact is that until Joe Biden entered his name today, there wasn’t anyone who was even close to being ready for the job.

There is no one else who has been anywhere near the presidency or who has held any kind of position that prepares one for the presidency the way 36 years in the U.S. Senate and eight years at the right hand of our nation’s last sane, decent president do.

When I got to thinking about how to graphically demonstrated that fact, I thought of this picture.

I’m not saying Joe Biden went out and got bin Laden personally. I’m not saying he’s doing anything special in that picture. I’m saying that he happens to be in the room because of who he is, because of what he’s done, because of his experience and personal leadership qualities. His life experiences brought him to that room at that moment.

And those experiences — combined with his basic human decency, which is a quality more needed at this moment than at any other in our history — make him qualified to be president of the United States.

He’s not qualified because he’s in the picture. He’s qualified because of who he had to be and what he had to do to get there.

And yeah, Hillary Clinton was qualified, too. She was a pretty good secretary of state — not to mention the eight years she spent at the center of presidential power before that.

But she was a terrible candidate, badly lacking in the ability to relate to voters.

I think Joe will be different in that regard, if he’s not brought down by a million cuts by all the Lilliputians out there.

He’s a natural campaigner. And a decent human being.

But most of all, he’s the only person who is even remotely qualified. And the best person to replace the least qualified, least decent president in our history, by far.

Is Harpootlian the famous ‘person from Porlock?’

It's a stately dome. I don't know about the "pleasure" part, though...

It’s a stately dome. I don’t know about the “pleasure” part, though…

When I saw this this morning…

Panthers’ plans for SC headquarters include massive complex, hotel

The Carolina Panthers say that a complex that includes a medical facility, a hotel, entertainment venues and more are planned for the team’s York County site.

I got to thinking about Coleridge:

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round;
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery….

I guess that makes Dick Harpootlian the “person from Porlock,” since he’s the one trying to wake everyone from the dream…

Aw, lay off the kid with the funny name, will ya?

The State decided to run an “opinion” page today, which served the purpose of bringing to my attention this Doyle McManus column that The Los Angeles Times ran a week ago. An excerpt:

Pete Buttigieg, the 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Ind., could turn out to be the biggest, boldest surprise of the 2020 presidential campaign. But he’d better come up with some policies first.

Buttigieg was virtually unknown outside his home state until two months ago, but he has surged into third place in polls in Iowa and New Hampshire

There’s only one element missing from Buttigieg’s potentially meteoric campaign: positions on major issues.

That’s not an accident. He says voters aren’t looking for policy papers. They care about values and character, and knowing that a candidate cares about their lives….

Aw, lay off the kid, why don’t you?

I hold no particularly brief for Buttigieg. I’ve heard him on the radio and have found him surprisingly impressive, and I’m not at all shocked that he has risen in the polls in spite of his absurd youth and lack of relevant experience.

These pins are being offered by Annie Fogarty, @FoGaGarty.

These pins are being offered by one Annie Fogarty, @FoGaGarty.

But y’all know my candidate is announcing tomorrow.

Still, I don’t like to see anyone taken to task for failing to make specific campaign promises.

As I’ve said many times before, I don’t want candidates making campaign promises, any more than they absolutely have to to get elected — and unfortunately they do have to, since most voters aren’t like me. (The Smith/Norrell campaign had some policy proposals out there before I joined. I did not push to elaborate upon them.) No one knows what kinds of situations a candidate might face in office if elected. I prefer that they keep their options open so they are free to choose the wisest course under those unpredictable circumstances.

My favorite example of why campaign promises are a terrible idea is “Read my lips: no new taxes.” Once in office, Bush found himself in a situation in which he found it advisable to compromise with Congress on a budget deal that in fact raised some existing taxes. That sank him politically. But acquiescing in a tax increase wasn’t his sin. His sin was in making the stupid promise to begin with.

So how do I choose a candidate? By the quality of his or her character, of course — at this moment in our history, considering what it in the White House, being a decent, honest human being is more important than ever.

Just as important is what we’ve seen that person do in the past, preferably in public service. It’s not just that such experience helps you know how to do the job. It’s that, if you have a significant record of such service, it means we the people have had the opportunity to observe how you have performed, and decide whether what we have seen inspires confidence that you will deal appropriately with future challenges in office, whatever they may be.

So to the extent Buttigieg has a problem in my book, it’s that lack of experience — in office, and in life. He’s an attractive candidate, but would be more so with more of a track record.

Just don’t get on his case for not laying out a bunch of specific policy proposals. To the extent that there’s a problem with him, that’s not it.

Cindi Scoppe at Rotary today

cindi speak

Two different members of my old Rotary Club invited me to come back as their guests today, because Cindi Scoppe was the speaker.

So I went. And she did great.

She addressed the questions people like us hear the most from laypeople. I forget how she stated them (What? You think I should take notes?), but they’re the questions like, What’s happening to my newspaper? Will it be here in the future? What does this mean for democracy? And so forth.

Originally when she agreed to speak on this date, she was unemployed after being laid off by The State. But before today rolled ’round, she had started with the Charleston paper. So one thing she did today was explain why Charleston is in hiring mode — not only that, but expanding its staff — when The State has now thrown its entire editorial department overboard.

It’s a simple answer, which she stated simply: The Post and Courier belongs to a family-owned company that is highly diversified and isn’t dependent on newspaper income to keep going. And The State belongs to a publicly-traded corporation that has to produce for shareholders.

Oh, and there’s one other critical element: The owners of the Charleston paper have resolved to use their advantageous position to produce good journalism as a public service to South Carolina. She said one of the last things she did in the interview process for the job was meet with Pierre Manigault, the member of the family who currently runs the business. And she thought then that whether she got the job or not, she felt blessed to have met someone with that intention, and the means of carrying it out. Because there aren’t many people possessing those two characteristics these days.

By the way, a digression… I noted above that The State “has now thrown its entire editorial department overboard.” That brings me to a form of the question I’ve heard uncounted times over the past decade…

People have asked me over and over, after saying how much they miss me from the paper, and how the paper is shrinking away to nothing, the following version of question Cindi was answering: “Do you think The State will still exist in five years?”

Until recently, I’ve answered that this way: Do you think the paper you knew five years ago still exists today? Which is a pedantic way of saying hey, things have already changed radically, so decide for yourself at which point you think the thing you think of as “the newspaper” ceases to be what it has meant to you.

But we’ve crossed a threshold now. As of the day Cindi was let go, The State ceased to be the paper it had been, with ups and downs, ever since the Gonzales brothers started it, intending it to be a paper with statewide impact that stood for something. (At the time, that meant standing against Tillmanism — a cause for which N.G. Gonzales gave his life.)

Newspapers have always mattered to me, and to the country — whether the country appreciates them or not. But when I say “newspaper,” I don’t necessarily mean a thing that is printed on sheets made of dead trees. In fact, as early as about 1980 — at the time when we made the transition from typewriters to mainframe — I fantasized about a day when I could just hit a button and have the copy go instantly to the reader in electronic form, as easily as I sent it over to the copy desk. No more tedious 19th-century manufacturing and delivery process taking hours between me and the reader.

And now that’s not only possible, it happens many times every day. But in far too many communities, the newspaper — meant the way I mean it, as an identifiable entity that plays a significant role in a community (no matter how its delivered) — is a thing of the past.

A newspaper, as I mean it, is a thing with a mind, a soul, a voice, an identity, a consciousness. It has things to say, and says them. It provides a forum for discussing public issues in a civil and productive manner.

And once a newspaper ceases to have an editorial voice, it’s not a newspaper, as I think of the concept.

You may have noticed that since Cindi has been gone, some days The State publishes an “opinion page” and some days it doesn’t. But frankly, does it matter? Because when it does, there are no editorials — just syndicated copy you can read elsewhere, and some letters. There’s nothing where the paper says, “Here’s what we think,” and invites you to say what you think back.

I say this not to run down the hard work that the good folks who still work at The State do, from the young reporters who now cover state politics (with whom I interacted a lot during the campaign) to the few remaining veterans like John Monk (who introduced Cindi today), Sammy Fretwell and Jeff Wilkinson. They’re working harder than ever, and producing information of value, and may they long continue to do so.

And I’m perfectly aware that the world is full of people — including a lot of journalists — who saw no value in the editorial page, who interacted with it no more deeply than to say, “Did you see what those idiots said today?” If that.

But at least the idiots said something. They didn’t just regurgitate what happened. They thought about it to the best of their feeble ability to think, and shared what they thought, and stood behind it. And that means a lot to me. I decided long ago, even before I left the news division to work on the editorial page back in 1994, that I preferred learning things from sources that had something to say about the subject at hand. It didn’t matter so much what they said about it — I might think their editorial point was totally off the mark — but they engaged the news on a different level, a deeper level, and they invited my lazy brain to do the same. That was more valuable to me than “straight” reporting, which by its nature engages the news on a more superficial level.

Also, you should know, in The State’s defense, that when it abandoned its editorial role last fall, it just joined the trend. When The Post and Courier contacted me to arrange James Smith’s endorsement interview with their editorial board, I thought I might as well start reaching out to other papers and arranging such meetings with them, too. Work, work, work. But as I did so, I had a creeping feeling there wouldn’t be any more such meetings. And I was right. I called The Greenville News. They told me they not only didn’t do endorsements any more, they didn’t do other editorials, either. Ditto with the Spartanburg Herald-Journal. I didn’t contact any smaller papers, figuring if they were exceptions to the rule, they’d reach out to me. I had plenty of other work to do, and it was — to someone like me, being who I am and valuing what I value — a singularly depressing exercise.

End of digression.

Anyway, Cindi did a great job, and represented the profession — the much diminished profession — in a way that did credit to us all. Even if very few of us are still around and employed, I’m glad she’s one of the few. But y’all probably already knew that…

Cindi and me