We have really nice people in Columbia, just FYI…

screen

This was nice.

I was reading along through the Opinion section of The New York Times this morning when I found this piece headlined, “What It’s Like to Wear a Mask in the South.” So of course I had to read it. I mean, when the NYT makes the effort to offer something from a Southern perspective, you’ve gotta check it out.

It was written by Margaret Renkl, who “is a contributing opinion writer who covers flora, fauna, politics and culture in the American South.” She’s apparently from Nashville.

I was reading along and thinking, “I wonder if our friend, regular contributor David Carlton, knows her.” Because, you know, writers and college profs sometimes cross paths within the context of a community.

But then, I forgot about that when Ms. Renkl turned her column over to blurbs from other people around the South, and suddenly, there was an old friend from right here in Columbia. It was Allison Askins, who in a previous life was one of our two religion writers at The State. (Yes, there was a time when The State had not one full-time religion writer, but two. We were rather proud of that.)

Allison’s was the very first blurb. Here’s what she wrote:

“I have been making masks for two groups our church is providing them for — an organization that aids the homeless and the Department of Juvenile Justice. I try as I am sewing to be intentional about the act, thinking about who might wear it, hoping they are protected in some way by it and lifting up a prayer for their life, that it might somehow turn for the better in spite of this experience. I find it so sad to think that there are people who maybe are not wearing them simply because they do not know how to get them, can’t afford them or maybe really do not know they need to. It is these among us who I believe most deserve our mercy and our love.”

I just wanted to pass that on because Allison is a very nice and thoughtful person, and I thought, you know, it’s always a good time to stop and take note of the nice and thoughtful people here among us.

Not a thing you expect to see happen in Columbia

A police car burns in downtown Columbia.

A police car burns in downtown Columbia.

Two weeks ago, my church started having live masses again. I continued to watch them online, but they were happening. Now, they’ve been stopped again — by a curfew, in response to violence.

I didn’t post about this yesterday, because I was hoping to know a lot more if I waited. I still can’t say I know a lot. Local media seem to be trying hard, but there are more questions than answers.

So I’m still where I was when I saw the first reports of violence and gunshots near the police station downtown. My reaction then was, Hold on. Something is really, really off here. Things like this don’t happen in Columbia.

And they don’t. Normally, public demonstrations — particularly those having to do with issues touching on racial tension — are very much in the dignified, MLK tradition of civil witness. I’ve certainly been to plenty of them, with regard to the flag and other matters. And there are certain things you expect — things that make you proud to live in a community such as this one.

Columbia has a long tradition of this. In the early and mid-’60s, both black and white leaders in the community looked around the country, and they began talking to each other to try to get us through desegregation without the strife seen elsewhere. This was harder than it looks from today’s perspective. There was no venue for such conversations — black and white folks coming together as equals — to take place. Then-president Tom Jones offered to let them meet on campus at USC. These conversations led, among other things, to a relatively peaceful desegregation of downtown businesses.

Out of those conversations grew the Greater Columbia Community Relations Council, whose board I felt honored to serve on for several years (until just a few months ago). We didn’t accomplish anything so dramatic during my time, but the spirit that those meetings in the ’60s represented — let’s get together and figure out how to solve this — seemed reflected in how we talked about difficult issues in Columbia.

Even when horrible, evil things happened in South Carolina — such as the murders of those nine good people in Charleston in 2015 — I remember seeing comments from people wondering why South Carolina didn’t explode violently the way other places had with less provocation. Instead, leaders came together to mourn, and then to take action, together, to get rid of the flag. Yep, all they did was something that should have been done decades earlier — which means that yes, we still have plenty to be ashamed of in South Carolina — but they did it.

So when I saw that there would be a demonstration in Columbia about the death of George Floyd, I figured it would be a demonstration that would show other places how this kind of thing is done — sober witness, a sharing of grief, an airing of frustration that would demand respect.

And, from what I have heard, that’s what happened. There was such a demonstration at the State House.

But then later, several blocks away, all hell broke loose. Violence. Police cars — and a U.S. flag — set on fire. Rocks thrown. Shots fired. Fifteen cops injured. It’s probably happened before, but I can’t remember when one cop has been injured in a riot in Columbia. Certainly nothing like this.

I’m not seeing these comments in the paper this morning, but yesterday I kept hearing from family members (as y’all know, I’m not much of a TV news watcher) that local leaders such as Mayor Steve Benjamin and Sheriff Leon Lott were saying (if you can help me with a link, it would be appreciated) the violence was the work of people from out of town.

In other words, their reaction sounds like it was the same as mine: Things like this don’t happen in Columbia.

Mind you, these are leaders who themselves had expressed their outrage at what happened to George Floyd. But they weren’t going to let people tear this town apart with pointless violence.

In Columbia, people protest. But they do it in a civilized manner, as we saw at the State House.

This was something else. And thus far, local officials are reacting appropriately to calm things down: Honoring those who express their grief and concerns in a rational manner. Stopping those who do things that don’t help any cause.

There’s a lot more to be done, locally and especially nationally. There are a lot of conversations to be had, and action to be taken. But for a community that’s unaccustomed to this kind of violence, we seem to be responding to it pretty well so far…

I’m really enjoying rereading this — and no wonder, I now see

Rose 1

As I’ve mentioned, I’ve had this fatigue thing going on since my stroke. So maybe once a day — twice on a bad day — I’ve left the desk here in my home office to go lie back in the recliner in the same room and take a snooze. Which usually, but not always, refreshes me wonderfully and enables me to get back to work.

On one of these days, I looked across at the bookshelf several feet from the chair, and noticed a book I’d read several times, but not in quite a few years — Rose, by Martin Cruz Smith.

Ever read it? You should. If you don’t read another novel, read this. It’s not what Smith is best known for, but as much as I love his Arkady Renko novels — especially the first three — this may be my favorite.

And I’m rereading it now, and loving it.

No wonder.

I discovered how long it had been since I’d read it when I looked at the quote from a review on the back. See it below? When I saw it, it kind of blew me away: It’s from Patrick O’Brian, author of the Aubrey/Maturin novels, or the “Master and Commander” books, as some might call them. I had never noticed the review before. Why? Because apparently, it’s been so long since I’d read this book that the last time I saw it I had never heard of O’Brian — who now may be my favorite novelist. Y’all know how much I read and reread his novels.

I think I started reading about Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin more than 15 years ago. So it’s been awhile, Rose.

Of course O’Brian loved this book. Because in their own, very different and individualized ways, he and Smith were both masters of the same thing: They were capable, to an extent I’ve never seen anywhere else, to take their readers to an alien place and time and make them feel like they are really there.

That’s how Mike Fitts first told me I would enjoy O’Brian’s novels (something for which I will always be grateful). It’s a little hard to explain to the uninitiated why these books are so wonderful, but Mike got there by telling me that these books were about a Royal Navy captain during the Napoleonic Wars, and they recreated that world with such living, breathing detail that you feel like you’re really there.

This is absolutely true. And it’s also what Martin Cruz Smith is famous for. He earned this reputation with his breakthrough, landmark novel Gorky Park. It was stunning, and if you haven’t read it, go do so right now. It was a story about a Moscow murder detective, written in the middle of the Cold War, told from that man’s perspective, and it magically makes the reader think he is actually in that world. I was stunned, years later, when I read that Smith had never been to Russia before writing the book. (Did I dream that? I had trouble confirming it on the Web just now.) It seemed impossible.

That’s his famous one, but Smith has done it time and again, particularly with his other Arkady Renko books.

But with Rose, he takes the reader to a very different place and time from any Renko ever visited. Specifically, the dark and dirty coal-mining and manufacturing town of Wigan in Lancashire in 1872.

Here’s how Wikipedia summarizes the premise:

Jonathan Blair, a mining engineer, returns from Africa’s Gold Coast and, on finding his native England utterly depressing, falls into melancholy and alcoholism. Blair wishes desperately to return to Africa, so, in exchange, he agrees to investigate the disappearance of a local curate engaged to marry the daughter of Blair’s patron….

Which doesn’t even begin to tell you anything about Blair, or what he finds in Wigan. But I assure you, you feel that you are really in the place and time among people who are of the place time. And these people are worth getting to know.

I won’t say anything more, except to note that when O’Brian mentions “the last, most satisfying page,” he knows what he’s on about. I can’t wait to get back to it myself. And I know that in the days I get to it, I’ll go back and read that page several more time, to experience the satisfaction.

It’s pretty great…

Rose 2

Here’s why I don’t do more Virtual Front Pages now

Actually, I almost forgot: I'm kind of interested in THIS. Maybe I'll post about it later.

Actually, I almost forgot: I’m kind of interested in THIS. Maybe I’ll post about it later.

… or Open Threads, for that matter.

I tried to do one yesterday, but I just could not bring myself to be interested in anything that was in the news.

So instead, here’s a brief list of the kinds of stories I’m NOT interested in right now, so maybe you’ll understand:

  1. The latest idiocy from Trump — You know — not wearing a mask, firing yet another inspector general, pushing through an embarrassingly unfit nominee to head up U.S. intelligence, “Obamagate,” insulting various women’s appearance on Twitter. It gets tiresome.
  2. Joe Biden’s running mate choice — In particular, all the opinion pieces saying he’s GOT TO pick some lefty, or pretty much anyone except Amy Klobuchar. When the truth is, Klobuchar is the one truly suitable candidate whose name is being mentioned. That’s been the case for a long time now. I just want to get to the election, and get a new president. The prelims are boring me.
  3. Features on how to cope with the stress of quarantine — Because, as I’ve explained, I have trouble identifying with all that because I find this state of affairs to be just fine — personally. I feel terrible about people who are truly suffering — those who have the disease, and the loved ones of those who’ve died, the people who have lost jobs that aren’t coming back, and the people of Hong Kong who are seeing their hopes of freedom dim. But please, enough about how tedious this is and how we can find creative ways to distract ourselves. Oh, I’ve also had enough reporting on the idiots who are resuming gathering in crowds as though this were over.

You get the idea. There’s a sameness out there that is stultifying. And I just haven’t been inclined to post about it. Which is why you get posts like the long one obsessing about a small news item from 1911. I just find those things more interesting. Sorry.

Oh, wait: Just remembered that I’m kind of interested in the subject reflected in the picture I just put at the top of the post. Maybe I’ll post about that later. If it happens

It’s a wonder we have any trees left at all

boxes

It’s been perfectly fine with me to order even more stuff from Amazon during the pandemic, rather than going out to stores. I’m far from alone in this, of course. Completely sensible, and defensible.

Except for one thing: The packaging.

Today, we broke up some boxes as we prepared to put out the recycling. They come on Tuesday, normally, although we’re not entirely sure they will this time, on account of the holiday.

What you see above, in the midst of being dismantled, is the packaging for one item we ordered from Amazon — a new lightweight vacuum cleaner. We hadn’t bought one in quite a few years, and the old one had worn out. So, you know, defensible.

Except for the blasted packaging.

The machine was in the broken-down white “Shark” box at right, wedged into place by the shaped-cardboard thingies sitting atop it.

That box was in the one to its left, which was only slightly larger.

That one was in the huge box at far left, with additional packaging to hold it in place.

Not so defensible, I suppose. It’s a wonder, after all this pulp, that we have any trees left…

Answer the readers’ questions, please! Or mine, anyway…

As a cranky old editor, I often have a problem reading news stories. It’s not the poor writing I sometimes encounter, or occasional typos, or the “bias” so many laypeople think they see. It’s this:

Too often, they fail to answer the most basic questions.

This started bugging me big-time shortly after I made the move from news to editorial, at the start of 1994. Time and again, there would be ONE QUESTION that I had when approaching a news item, a question that was essential to my forming an opinion on the matter. And not only would that one question not be answered in the story, but too often there would be no evidence that it even occurred to the reporter to ask the question. Worse, it didn’t occur to his or her editor to insist that it be asked. There would be no, “answer was unavailable,” or “so-and-so did not respond to questions” or anything like that.

I decided something about the news trade from that. I decided that the problem with news is the opposite of the one that people who complain about “bias” think they see. The problem was that, since the reporter and editor are so dedicated to not having an opinion on the matter, the questions that immediately occur to a person who is trying to make up his or her mind don’t even occur to them. Their brains just don’t go there. They’re like, “I got who, what, where, when and how, so I’m done.”

Too often, there’d be no attempt to determine who was responsible for a thing, or what the law required, or why a certain thing came up at a certain time.

This was maddening to me, and not just because it meant I’d have to do the work they’d failed to do. It was maddening because, well, why do we have a First Amendment? We have it so that we’ll have an informed electorate. And they’re not going to be very informed if they don’t know what to think about a news development because basic questions aren’t answered.

I knew news writers couldn’t care less whether people up in editorial didn’t have enough information. But it seemed they could care, at least a little, about arming readers with sufficient information before they went to vote.

(And I would, after a moment’s irritation, dismiss the whole thing from my mind — which is why I don’t recall a single specific example illustrating all this. I just remember my frustration. There was nothing to be done, because it would have been uncool to raise hell with news about it. Believe me, I tried once or twice, and it didn’t go well.)

Of course, sometimes my irritation isn’t so high-minded. Sometimes, I’m just ticked because my basic curiosity isn’t being satisfied. It’s more like, here’s a matter of something that didn’t matter to me at all as a voter, but I just wanted to know, and didn’t understand why I wasn’t being told…

Y’all know I don’t read sports news, unless something just grabs me. The other day, something in The Washington Post grabbed me. I saw that a professional baseball player’s wife had died of a heart attack. First, I thought, That poor woman! Her poor husband and family!… And I was about to keep scrolling down to the National and World parts of my iPad app (which for some reason the Post positions below sports), when I had a question, which I clicked on the story to answer.

What do you think it was? What would it be naturally? Well, of course, I wondered, How old — or rather how young — was she? Professional baseball players’ wives don’t die of heart attacks normally, and why? Because they’re young! As a 66-year-old who recently had a stroke, I was more curious than I would normally be, thinking, Even people that young are having heart attacks? And it was natural to wonder, well, how young?

But the story didn’t tell me. And I suppose that’s understandable under the circumstances, since the news broke on Instagram, rather than coming from a press briefing where there was the opportunity to ask questions. But still. For me, it was a case of, Here we go again…

Yes, I know. A decent human being would only care about the human tragedy, and wouldn’t get bugged about the details. But I am a longtime newspaper editor, so don’t expect normal behavior.

And I have this tendency, as an old guy, to think, These lazy reporters today… After all, beyond this one incident, I’ve noticed a trend in recent years to not bother with people’s ages even in hard news stories. That used to be an inviolable rule that, at least in hard news, you always gave a person’s age right away. The very first reference to a significant figure in a story would say something like, “John Smith, 25, was being sought by police for…”

But I’m not being fair to the kids. I’m just hypercritical. I was hypercritical back when I supervised reporters, and got worse when I moved to editorial, because I naturally wanted to know even more, so that I could opine. And then I just wanted to know because I wanted to know.

And sometimes I find evidence that I’m wrong to think reporters of yore were more thorough.

Lately, I’ve been looking at some fairly old journalism, from way before my time. Ancestry has started uploading newspaper stories as “hints” attached to certain individuals, particularly if they lived in the right markets. For instance, I recently received about 50 or so hints about my paternal grandparents from The Washington Post because they lived in the Washington suburb of Kensington, Md. Most of the items about my grandmother were social, such as an item noting that she had recently returned from a trip to South Carolina and was staying with friends until her mother returned and opened the house (because, of course, a young lady would not go stay at the house alone).

Most of the items mentioning my grandfather, who was once recruited by the Senators organization, were about baseball. They would usually mention that he had been captain of his team at Washington and Lee. And every time he turned around, he was attending a meeting to form a new team, and there’d be a news item about it, naming who was there and sometimes disclosing what positions they would play (he would usually pitch or play infield).

Of course, we know people back then were really into baseball, but still… you’ve got to be impressed by such depth of coverage — reporters digging up such hyperlocal minutiae going on in their communities (these guys weren’t even playing — they were just talking about starting a team!), and publishing it in those extremely dense, gray pages. I always have been. I mean, wow. This is driven home by the fact that Ancestry posts the entire page, which includes several times as many words as a typical newspaper page today, and you have to sift through the whole page to find the mention of your ancestor (which is why I still haven’t gone through most of the hints about my grandparents).

But sometimes they don’t seem so thorough.

For instance, I recently added an item about my great-grandfather Alfred Crittenton Warthen, father of the baseball player. It’s from the Frederick, Maryland, Evening Post on July 3, 1911. It’s way down on a page topped by a picture from the coronation of King George V (you see him and Queen Mary in their carriage), which contains news about a Boston rector who had traced the royal family to the lineage of David in Judea (which I suppose explains the picture). The page includes stories revealing that immigrants in quarantine in New York eat with their fingers rather than knives and forks, and one about an Englishwoman who was “Relieved from Hysteria Very Speedily” by visiting Coney Island. No, really. It was in the paper.

But eventually, I found this:

bells

And while it was a small item, I found it very interesting. Editorially, of course, I was ambivalent. As someone who hates noise, I’m obliged to feel some sympathy for Mr. Potts. At the same time, I have to think he’s a bit of a nutter.

I didn’t let myself be bothered by the fact that there should be a period after the second mention of Kensington, or a comma in the next line between “Town Council” and “Potts.” Such things happen.

But beyond those things, I had all sorts of questions, and no way to answer them:

  • I see Potts is “a resident of Kensington,” but is he a member of council? Or could mere residents present an ordinance in a way that council was required to spend time taking it up? I could see if he, as an observer, brought it up in a Q and A session, but an actual ordinance?
  • Why were Dr. Eugene Jones and my great-grandfather present? Had the fact that such an “ordinance” would come up been publicized, or even passed on first reading? Or did they attend meetings all the time, and just happened to be there? My great-grandfather was in the construction business. Did that bring him there? Was he there to get a permit or a code variance or something?
  • If they were there just because of this item, were they representing someone? Had the local ministerial alliance or someone like that asked them to be there? And was my ancestor someone who was often asked to speak out on local issues — or often did so, whether asked or not?
  • Did they object “so vigorously” on religious grounds — how dare this heathen seek to silence church bells? — or were they just irritated by the fact that the council was spending time on something so frivolous? Or somewhere in between? (I’m hampered by not knowing much about A.C. He died when my father — the last living member of his generation — was very young, and Dad only recalls seeing him once.)
  • The writer possibly didn’t bother to dig further into the matter because it was “said” that public sentiment was very much against it, and it was going nowhere. He was just reporting a local curiosity.
  • Was there a crowd at the meeting, given that public sentiment? Was there drama, and noise (which would have been hard on Potts, poor fella)? Or did the folks who opposed it trust A.C. and Dr. Jones to deal with the matter?

Today, of course, this item might have gone viral on the Web. Our president would probably have, at the very least, put out a Tweet defending church bells, and QAnon would say Potts was an agent for Hillary Clinton.

But as things are, I am just left to wonder…

One of only four pictures I have of A.C. Warthen. He's shown with my grandfather and my Dad's much-older brother Gerald.

One of only four pictures I have of A.C. Warthen. He’s shown with my grandfather and my Dad’s much-older brother Gerald — A.C.’s first grandchild.

The word I couldn’t remember for days

I had no trouble remembering "Acme," although I initially thought of "Ajax." Don't know why...

I had no trouble remembering “Acme,” although I initially thought of “Ajax.” Don’t know why…

I’m embarrassed to confess this weakness. After all, words are my thing. Something I’m good at. I’m not much of a basketball player or a musician, and for that matter there are plenty of wordsmiths who put me in the shade, who utterly dazzle. And not just Shakespeare or Twain, although I find it hard to believe they were merely human.

But years and decades and more of everyday use have shown I’m better at words than, I don’t know, 90-plus percent of the population. However badly this blog post is written, I know that is generally the case. It’s been tested too many times.

It’s not much, but it’s something. And it bothers me. So I hesitate to share it, but I’ve got this journalistic urge to document this thing frankly, so…

Anyway, it’s a thing I hate to see slip away at all. I’ve noticed my writing isn’t all that great since the stroke, especially on “fatigue” days (hence my self-conscious apology above for this post), but that’s a subtle, subjective thing that comes and goes. Not too worried about it, yet.

Not being able to think of a particular word is more definite. Feels more like a landmark — look what you’ve come to, dummy.

Usually, it’s not so bad. For instance, a couple of weeks ago, I was talking with someone at ADCO about a press release I was putting together, and I couldn’t think of the word the folks at ADCO use for that blurb at the end telling about the company. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the structure of press releases, but at the end you’ll have a line that says, “About Acme Corporation,” and it will be followed by a paragraph of basic stuff you’d want the recipient to know about the company but didn’t mention in the main body of the release. (Like, “Acme is a worldwide leader in producing a stunningly diverse assortment of products that are not normally associated with killing or capturing roadrunners, but can be used for that purpose.”)

I thought of it as a “footer,” which is more of a newspaper word, one applied to those italic things at the end of a story that say things like, Staff writers Joe Blow and Susie Q also contributed to this report.

I confessed my problem, using the word “footer” to explain, and after a second Lora said, “boilerplate?”

YES! Boilerplate. Why was that hard?

Anyway, I’ve had a number of “boilerplate” moments lately. And I think they’re because of the stroke, but I don’t know that.

And occasionally, they’re way simpler, far less esoteric. For instance… there was this theme music to a movie that I had heard a couple of times recently, and something on the radio reminded me of it — something extremely repetitive, I suppose — and I wanted to mention to my wife that it had recently occurred to me that this song was the MOST mindlessly repetitive in human history.

And for a second I couldn’t think of the name of the song, which didn’t bother me. What got me was that I couldn’t think of the name of the movie. And this was bad not just because it’s an EXTREMELY popular movie that is currently back in the news, or because I’m kind of a movie buff. It’s because I knew the words were extremely simple. I knew exactly what they referred to, since they combine to form the nickname of a real-life institution that looms large in naval culture — at least, in a certain part of the Navy. (Not the part I grew up in, thank goodness — more Bob Amundson’s part.) I could remember scenes in which the name was used in dialogue in the movie, and how important it was to those scenes. I could see the captain telling the two heroes that he was sending them there, even though he didn’t want to…

Yes, I was trying to think of “Top Gun” (and that maddening song, “Danger Zone.” Really. Go read the lyrics, all the way through. Listen to the last half of it.). It came to me within, I suppose, a minute. But it was an excessively long minute.

A minute, however, is better than several days.

Twice this morning, I tried to think of a word that I’ve been trying to retrieve for, I don’t know, two or three days. I didn’t especially need it. It wasn’t important to anything I wanted to say. But it really bugged me that I couldn’t think of it.

At one point today, I was responding to a comment in which someone described his post-stroke symptoms, and it motivated me to mention how fortunate I was that most of mine had gone away. I no longer have a problem looking down. Of course, I still have this fatigue thing. And there’s the forgetting-words thing. And then I tried to trick myself by just going ahead and typing the word I’d been having trouble with… and it didn’t work. I had to admit, “Like… dang. There’s a word I haven’t been able to think of for days, and I thought if I just snuck up on it, it would come. It didn’t…”

At that point, I went out to my wife who was reading on the deck. I told her I couldn’t remember this word. It wasn’t something common like “top gun,” but it was common enough in political speech that I should have no trouble with it. Or at least it had been, within our lifetimes.

I said it was a word feminists had popularized in the ’70s — a time when we were both in college, and then I was starting my career as a journalist, and this word was huge back then. It had been colored by that use to the point that people started using it only in that sense, rather than in a broader way.

The word referred to being too loyal, or attached to, some group to which one belonged. To one’s country, or something else with which one identifies. It was about thinking too highly of that identity, and having a tendency to look down upon people who didn’t share it.

I said it had come to be sort of synonymous with “sexist” because of the way it was used in that period. People might use it this way: They might say, “(blank) pig” instead of “sexist pig.”

I also said, erroneously, that I thought it was very close to some other, far more common, word, only being different by a letter or two. (There were two other things I was thinking but didn’t share with her. I thought it was from French, which was more or less correct. I was also thinking it started with a J, which was wrong. I kept straining to see the word, and I was seeing something that looked kind of like “jeune.” I don’t speak French, but I knew that meant “young.” I also knew it wasn’t the word, but I erroneously thought it was close. Maybe I was reaching for “jejune,” but I don’t know why because I’ve never used that one.)

My wife couldn’t think of it, either. I went back in, still trying to come up with it. I had thought about Googling for it, but I knew that would be tricky. Finally, I Googled “word that people use to mean sexist.” The first link I got was a page that offered offered 25 synonyms including “bigoted,” “discriminatory,” “dogmatic” (dogmatic? really?), “intolerant” “intransigent,” “one-sided,” “opinionated,” “racist,” “xenophobic”…

Completely useless. I’ve always wondered why some people find a thesaurus helpful. I never have. But then, I usually use fairly common words, and I think of them myself (I’ve always sort of thought that if I couldn’t, they were too obscure to use)…

I scrolled down on the page, though, and saw a separate list of words associated with “bigot,” and there the stupid word was: chauvinist.

YES! No J, but definitely French! And definitely the word I’d been looking for.

I went and told my wife. She objected that it wasn’t used to mean “sexist,” and that the common usage she remembered was quite correct: Back in the ’70s, a lot of people said “male chauvinist.”

Yes, I agreed, that was correct, because it explained the type of chauvinism being described. But I’m sure that during that period, chauvinism got to be so tied up with the male variety in a lot of people’s heads that it became common to use it for “sexist.” And when I tried to proved it by Googling “chauvinist pig” and telling it to leave out “male,” I got 284,000 responses. Millions would be better, but I think it backs up my memory.

Which is good. Because a memory that can’t remember “chauvinist” is a memory worth worrying about, if you value words.

 

 

I could be wrong about that, of course, but I’m not wrong about “top gun”…

Turn the danged lights down!

dilated

Had an appointment with an ophthalmologist today to check my eyes out after the weird thing they did when I had that stroke.

Not to go through all the details again, but basically, for two days, I could not look down. Yeah, I told you it was weird. But I’ve been mostly fine since then.

I checked out OK, but of course we had to do the dilate-your-eyes thing. So today has been sort of unreal. Good thing it was cloudy.

By the way, I cropped that selfie above (sorry about the poor quality) to zero in on the eyes.

Uncropped, you can see that after these months of working from home and not getting haircuts, I’ve got a little bit of a Gandalf thing going on.

You shall not pass!

uncropped

A header from another time

another time

Just noticed this at the top of the blog.

Obviously a header image from another time.

At least, I HOPE the beach doesn’t look like this. This was taken several years ago in front of the Conch Cafe, located where Surfside Beach and Garden City come together.

And then there’s that ad — does Sting have Alzheimer’s? (No, he doesn’t. I can’t click on those ads — Google Adsense would have a fit — but I looked it up.)

 

Magazine kills two pieces that criticized Dolan for flattering Trump

email promo

We live in a time when major institutions are failing us left and right. And as you know, with my communitarian leanings, that concerns me greatly.

But at the moment, I’m concerned about the Roman Catholic Church in America. I don’t write about that all that much for a couple of reasons. First, I don’t want to be misunderstood, and so much that I might comment on is apparently very difficult for nonCatholics to fully understand, for a lot of reasons. (And no, I’m not saying nonCatholics are dumb. I’m saying the way these things get framed by nonCatholic media make conversations difficult and often counterproductive.) So my concerns could be seen as meaning something they do not.

Secondly, I just don’t feel educated enough myself to comment coherently and intelligently. I just don’t know enough about the clash of ideas in and around the Church. I lack the expertise — or at least, the confidence — of, say, a Ross Douthat. I think I disagree with Douthat about a lot of things, but I don’t feel equal to contesting him. (His columns about Church matters start in a place where people who have read a lot of books I haven’t read dwell, and take off into real esoterica from that point.)

I think I agree far more often with my friend Steven Millies. I know Steven from having served with him for years on the committee that has run the Cardinal Joseph Bernardin lectureship at USC. We got to be friends, serving on some panels together, and usually sat together during the dinners the committee had on lecture nights, so we could catch up. Steven is an academic, and is now the director of the Bernardin Center at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.

Anyway, awhile back Steven started writing regularly for U.S. Catholic. I signed up for the magazine’s regular email alerts, which caused me to read some of their content, although I was mostly looking for stuff by Steven. I never really formed a full impression of the journal itself, and I only learned in the last couple of days that it was published by the Claretians — something that means little to me, but might mean a good deal to Douthat and Steven.

This past week, Steven wrote a piece that National Catholic Reporter has since characterized as “critical of New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s flattering comments about President Donald Trump.” I didn’t know about Dolan’s comments, so when I saw the link to the piece in an email from U.S. Catholic, and then saw it was by Steven, I read the column with particular interest.

I noticed that the magazine was also promoting a piece by another writer addressing the same comments by Dolan (and others), headlined, “President Trump cannot have the Catholic endorsement,” followed by the blurb, “Politics is the duty of the laity—not the clergy.” I didn’t read that, I now regret — just Steven’s piece, headlined “Cardinal Dolan’s public flattery of Trump forgets a few things.” An excerpt:

I wonder whether the U.S. Catholic bishops have crossed a sort of Rubicon recently.

When their Roman predecessor, the general Julius Caesar, brought his army illegally over the Rubicon River, he set in motion the events that ended the Republic and saw him presented with a crown. “The die is cast,” he is reputed to have said as he marched his army toward Rome: there was no going back. What he had done could not be undone and it would change the shape of history.

I do not think that New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan is in any danger of being crowned emperor (or, anything else). But I do believe that his public flattery of President Donald Trump from the pulpit of St. Patrick’s Cathedral and on Fox News may prove to be a moment from which American Catholicism cannot turn back….

When I finished, I wrote to Steven to compliment the piece, but also (I confess as an unreconstructed editor) to quibble about something he said in passing about Caesar — something irrelevant to his point. But mostly, I wrote to praise him. As I told him at the time:

I had not heard about what Dolan did until I read this. It is highly disturbing. It really should not be this easy to buy the political influence of our church. Of course, Democrats have done all they can to help this happen. It’s a failure of all sorts of institutions. But of them all, I care about the failure in the Church most…

Steven acknowledged the minor Caesar problem. I looked later (in part checking to see how he had changed it), and… the piece was gone. I clicked on my original link, and all I got was what you see in the image below.

I checked with Steven, and that’s when I learned that his piece had been, as National Catholic Reporter would later say, “unpublished.” So had the other piece by political scientist Stephen Schneck.

At first, Steven asked me to hold off on writing about it, hoping that U.S. Catholic would simply change its mind. That didn’t happen, and when the story broke in National Catholic Reporter, he told me “the lid is off.” An excerpt from NCR:

U.S. Catholic magazine, a storied national outlet published by the Claretian Missionaries, has quietly unpublished from its website two recent articles that were critical of New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s flattering comments about President Donald Trump.

Users who click the separate links to the articles, originally published around April 29 and April 30, are now greeted with a note that reads “You are not authorized to access this page.”…

Now, I should say this before someone else does: I’ve looked at what Dolan said publicly, and on its own, I don’t find it that shocking. What he said during Mass, with the president watching, was mostly relatively neutral. If you want to give the cardinal a break, you might say it was the usual thing you might offer an elected leader: Hey, we are encouraged to pray for our leaders, and we do, and that includes you, and we thank you for being with us.

You know, the kind of thing a smart religious leader might say when he’d like to see some stimulus money go to Catholic schools.

But it’s more cringe-inducing to see him schmoozing with “Fox and Friends” about his awesome interactions with the president, and to hear him tell them, “I’m in admiration of his leadership.”

It’s bad enough that Trump got as many Catholic votes as he did in 2016. The last thing we need is to see a cardinal even imply that Trump being elected was a good thing. We should expect more from our faith leaders than craftiness with regard to school funding. We have a right to expect something higher than Trumpian transactionalism.

Perhaps it’s too much to hope that our leaders will point to the obvious: That nominating certain judges does not make you pro-life — at least, not according to any definition that native Columbian Cardinal Bernardin would have recognized.

As Steven noted:

Dolan forgot other things, too. He forgot children separated from their parents at our border, being kept in cages and sleeping on cold, concrete floors. He forgot the physical and sexual abuse that many of those children have suffered because of the Administration’s disinterest in policing the foster care system they made necessary. He forgot the racist and xenophobic language that Trump deploys routinely to do the other thing that Dolan forgot: Trump’s main preoccupation is not to build up the political community toward the common good, but to divide us so he can conquer.

What’s regrettable is that those of us who attended the same Catholic schools that Dolan may have been trying to save do remember those things. And, we see why it is problematic for a Catholic bishop to forget them. Being formed in our faith, we see the ugly transaction at work here….

Yes, we do. And we have every reason to be disturbed when someone in a lofty position in our church admires that sort of leadership.

And it’s further disturbing to see anyone who points that out silenced — especially in a way that gives us no reasoning. If I had done something like that as editorial page editor, you’d have seen a public airing of all the issues involved. It would have been the subject of, at least, a column in the paper, and plenty of public discussion on my blog.

To see those pieces “disappeared” without explanation is very unsettling.

The good news is that NCR has not only reported on this, but published the two pieces. So everyone can read them and decide what they think about them. Here’s Steven’s, and here is the piece by Schneck.

That much I’m glad to see.

U.S. Catholic

You anxious to ‘get back out there?’ I ask because I’m not.

Maybe I'm kind of like the guy in the Hardy novel...

Maybe I’m kind of like the guy in the Hardy novel…

Sounds like a stupid question, doesn’t it? It seems like everything I read and hear is based on the assumption that we’re all anxious as all get-out to, well, get out again.

Even the sensible folk who tell us it’s too early — and it is — seem to assume that we all want to get back to our usual routines as soon as possible. Hence all the news stories and features about folks who want to get back to their gym, or get sports started back up, get the kids back to school or see our streets busy again, or whatever.

Not because they’re worried about the economy or people’s jobs — although they may be concerned about those things as well, and understandably — but because they and other normal people want to be normal again.

I don’t claim that I was ever normal, of course, but I thought I’d speak up as a guy who’s in no hurry at all, just to see if anyone else is as messed up as I am.

I’m anxious to do one thing — be able to see and hug and spend time with my grandchildren. I miss that a great deal, and only a return to normal will fix it. But the rest? I can wait.

I realize that several factors contribute to making me this way, and some of them are what some might call privilege-related. Not from being a white guy or anything obvious like that, but from the fact that due to what I do in my post-newspaper career, my ability to bring in the same amount of income as before the pandemic is more or less unaffected. It would be way different if I were, say, a waiter. Or, for that matter, if I had any of those newspaper-editor jobs I had over the years, especially given the technology we had then.

That’s huge. But there are other factors as well, and here are a few of them:

  • I’m an introvert. Like seriously, extremely. I’ve been tested. I’ve never felt that deprived by a lack of physical contact with most of the human race. Being alone in the company of words feels fine to me. Occasional quick Facetime meetings, with phone and text and email, more than meet the need for the interactions that are needed to get work done. I spend essentially zero time getting to work and getting home — since I do all my work at home. This is more than awesome to me. The time I spend, for instance, not shaving is greatly appreciated.
  • I had a stroke, right in the middle of all this. I told you about that. I tell everybody, in case someone missed it. It’s helpful. I say “I had a stroke,” and people are willing to tolerate all sorts of things, maybe even my lack of interest in getting back out there. I recovered from the overt symptom (my strange inability to look down) almost immediately, but I do have days when I’m weirdly tired — actually, sort of every day, but some days are worse than others. Everyone has been enormously patient with me as I deal with this, but it would be harder for them to do that, and life would be a LOT harder for me, if we all felt the expectation to get up early and shower and shave and drive through the traffic and get breakfast and figure out lunch and meet with people and stop at the store on the way home … I get really tired just thinking about it. I found the PERFECT time to have a stroke, I figure. I’ve never been known as a great time manager, but sometimes I’m smart like that.
  • All of that last bullet said, you should go back to the first one and remember that stroke or no stroke, I like almost everything about working like this better than doing it the usual way. Things get boiled down to essentials and you just do the work. The stroke thing has just heightened that. (I’m not doing quite as much as I was, due to the stroke, but I’m building back up and I think I’ll soon be there. And doing it this way helps enormously in meeting that goal.)
  • There’s just my wife and me, and other than my stroke, we’re both doing pretty well, and we get along great. Like the guy in the Thomas Hardy novel said, I like knowing that whenever I look up, she’ll be there, and vice versa. I’d honestly rather be stuck on a desert island with her than with anyone else, and this is a reasonable rehearsal for that. (Don’t ask her if she feels the same; I’ll be happier assuming that she does. But not shocked if she doesn’t. The fact is that she is very tolerant of me, so hanging with her remains very pleasant — for me. And for her, I very much hope.) Having to spend all my time with her is a huge plus. If we could get back to normal with our kids and grandkids, things would be perfect.
  • Maybe this, and all the rest, boils down to that first bullet, but I have never, at any point in life, been someone who is looking for the world to entertain him. (As a newspaper editor, I was always flummoxed by conversations about the Weekend section and when it should be published and what it should contain — I could not imagine being a person who needed a published guide to tell me what to go do. My life was full.) As you know, I can take sports or leave them alone. Yes, if I’m going to miss a sport it’s baseball, but I figure it will get rolling again at some point, and whenever it does will be soon enough. I’ve always found books, TV and movies to be more diversion than I have time for in my life. I would have to have the rest of my life off from all work and spend 18 hours a day reading (which would be awesome) to make even a significant dent in the books I want to read and have not yet — even if I denied myself the pleasure of rereading the books I already love, which to me is one of life’s best things. Why, if I had enough time, maybe I’d even write a book myself in addition to reading them — but I’d need much more time than this pandemic is thus far giving me.
  • I live at a perfect time for all this. Not only is the kind of work I do easier with today’s technology, but the ways I like to spend any free time I have — books, movies, etc. — are all easily within reach. Ebooks, streaming and whatnot. This would not have been the case, to this extent, even a very few years ago.

I could go on, but that’s probably enough to give you the idea.

Do I feel guilty not being in a hurry to get back to “normal?” Yes, if you talk about the pain suffered by people who really, truly hurting financially or otherwise. I am extremely mindful of how lucky I am in this regard. And if we need to get back to it in order to help those folks, then let’s do it.

But I thought I’d be honest about the fact that from my perspective, I’m enjoying this while it lasts. I figured I ought to admit it. The Bobs will understand, won’t they?

Toilet paper: The surest sign that we’re back to ‘normal’

The toilet paper aisle at Walmart in early March.

The toilet paper aisle at Walmart in early March. And pretty much every day since.

Right now, there is a lot of debate going on about when we should return to “normal” as a society. This debate takes two forms. One is the usual stupidness that is the particular genius of Donald J. Trump. You know how that goes: If you’re a sensible person, you want to continue the social distancing. If you voted for Donald Trump and would do so again, or want people to think so, you might tend to scream until people let you resume doing stupid things.

There’s another debate going on, but it’s harder to hear because the first one is so loud. In this one, more or less reasonable people try to figure out how to determine when it is safe to go to work, to go shopping, to get a haircut, etc., the way we used to. This debate has a reasonable basis, because we know those things will happen someday. Even the Spanish Flu ended. So how will we know when that day has arrived, or for that matter, when it would be safe to step carefully in that direction?

Well, I’m going to tell you right now that the day has not arrived, and it’s not even close.

I could use all sorts of standards for this. I could say, the day will not be here until we’ve gone several days without a single new case of COVID-19 in South Carolina.

But there’s an easier standard than that, and I think it’s perfect in every way. You don’t have to monitor the entities keeping count of the sick, or pay attention to the frequent briefings involving governors or you-know-who.

If you or someone in your family is making periodic, careful trips to buy groceries — and I think most of us are covered by that, or else we’d starve — you’ll know when it happens.

I’m talking about the day that you go to Food Lion, Walmart, CVS or wherever, and the toilet paper shelves are full. Like, the way they were six months ago full. And they continue to be that way. Then they take down the signs that beg you to take only one package.

All sorts of factors go into this, and a lot of it has to do with something like crowdsourcing. When the A-holes who bought all the toilet paper to begin with stop buying it, and the rest of us stop making a practice of buying ONE package when we see one, it will indicate that everyone is pretty sure we’re safe. It will also indicate that our commercial distribution systems have caught up and are again able to do something that — compared to all the way more complicated things our modern economy does all the time — ought to be pretty simple: keep the supply of a basic, simple commodity that doesn’t rot or otherwise lose value while sitting on a shelf flowing.

When we can manage all that, we’re ready. The public is ready. The economy is ready. We’re clear.

Until then, we need to maintain our distance. It doesn’t matter how badly you need a haircut — if we can’t keep toilet paper on the shelves, we’re still too messed up. Use a comb, creatively.

Anyway, there’s your standard.

Doug and I were 60 percent in agreement!

Have I told you guys how great you look in garnet?

Have I told you guys how great you look in garnet?

This is to make up for that long post that no one but me could have found interesting. (And I wouldn’t have, either, if it had been about someone else!)

This morning Phillip Bush said something way wrong on Twitter — that cool as it was, the theme from “Mission Impossible” wasn’t Lalo Schifrin’s best. That instead, it was the theme from “Mannix.”

Knowing I could not win an argument with Phillip about music, I tried anyway, saying, essentially, nuh-uh! I also mentioned “Peter Gunn,” to give my case force by mentioning a show that was on before I was old enough to stay up that late.

Obviously, I was doomed.

But then Bryan, whose brain has not been recently damaged by a stroke, said he agreed with me, then quickly changed the subject:

Related: Give me your top five movies that are primarily *about* music.

Nice one, Bryan.

Bryan, Phillip AND our own Doug Ross all offered their lists before I returned, as follows. Doug’s:

Bryan’s:

and Phillip’s:

No, I don’t know know to separate those. Anyway, I had nothing to add. But I thought Doug’s was the most creative, and immediately endorsed his last three picks, adding two from the other lists:


I think we were all too contemporary. I suspect we did injustice to the music of earlier generations. For instance, were we all wrong to have left out “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” which featured Jimmy Cagney dancing down stairs?

And wouldn’t our grandparents have scorned us for leaving out “The Jazz Singer?

I dunno. What do y’all think?

mugshot-james-cagney-dancing-robert-odierna-criminal-movie-reviews

James Cagney, dancing down stairs!

How to sell some plastic chairs during a pandemic

The six we ended up with.

The six we ended up with.

My mom wanted some plastic chairs. My brother and his family were coming through town, and she had discovered from past visits from grandchildren and great-grandchildren that she and my Dad didn’t have enough backyard furniture to accommodate such gatherings.

So I went to Lowe’s to get some. The stackable kind that are easy to deploy and to store. I was to get six. That was as far as my instructions extended.

I first tried late on Wednesday, arriving about 7:30. I found that the store had closed at 7 — quite a bit earlier than the 8:30 I had expected from my last such expedition. Employees on hand told me they’d be staying open until 9 again starting Friday. This prompted two thoughts: 1) Why would they be resuming normal hours then? and 2) What good did that do me?

I returned on Saturday, after having contemplated seeking such chairs at Walmart. But I didn’t. I went to Lowes. This proved to be a mistake. First, I tried to find them on my own, pushing about a large flatbed cart for most of the time. I did this for maybe half an hour before noticing some chairs LIKE what I sought in the area where they put online orders waiting to be picked up. I pointed to them and asked an employee where I might find more. He copied the info from the bar code and we started to look together. About 20 or 30 minutes later, we had hit every area that I had previously visited by myself. We consulted with a number of his fellow employees. With some, we entered into deals where my guy would help them find something if they’d help us find the chairs.

After we had exhausted all these possibilities, we were back where we had started, when I suggested something: Might they be outside, in front of the store? I seemed to remember having seen such chairs in such a position on a previous occasion. I was not alone — the employee stopped, looked and pointed at me in a way that said, “You, sir, are a genius.”

He was right, because I was right. There they were, no more than 100 feet away when we stepped out and looked. Loads of them, in all sorts of colors. The employee had to return to what he’d been doing before, but he left me with advice: I would need to decide which ones I wanted and go in and find someone to get them, because they were all chained together.

I took a lot of pictures, and texted them to my mom — mainly for color guidance. I knew from previous experience that she wouldn’t like the Adirondack-shaped one. I agree. They look great, but are never comfortable. And I counted out the rocking-chair style. That just left a few.

But I was unable to report on how sturdy or steady they were. Because I would have to bring out another employee to help with that, and I wanted to narrow things down first. Also, she was not pleased with the pricing — running between about $20 and $25 for likely models. She had hoped they’d be more like $15.

I said I’d go see what Walmart had, but I warned her not to expect $15 chairs.

I was wiped out at this point. I get that way since my stroke. I felt like I’d been wearing that mask for a year. I called my wife and said I’d be home soon if I didn’t get a LOT luckier at Walmart.

I was home about 15 minutes later.

Things had not started well at Walmart. I parked near the garden center entrance, and found it was locked from the outside. I uttered some choice words — actually just one (no sense getting creative when no one could hear me), but I said it several times. Then I walked around, and made my way back to that department, where I found the following:

  • There was a stack of chairs exactly like the most suitable ones at Lowe’s.
  • They were all one color. It was a nicer color than any at Lowe’s — a quiet neutral gray.
  • They all looked perfect, but I pulled one off the stack to check. It was, indeed, perfect.
  • They were way cleaner than the ones at Lowe’s, being inside.
  • You know how many there were? Six. Not five, not seven. Six.
  • The sign stated the price: $14.94 apiece. (The exact same model at Lowe’s was $22.98.)

There were no carts nearby, but I stopped an employee who had just unloaded a pallet on wheels. He said he didn’t see buggies, but maybe we could use his vehicle. Being careful not to say it with any sarcasm, I said that had been kind of what I was thinking when I stopped him. He wheeled the chairs to the self-serve area, peeled off a barcode and scanned it six times for me. He then wheeled them outside while I went to get my truck. I had meant to shop for some other stuff while there, but didn’t want to mess with the way things were going.

Driving the truck over, I looked in my wallet and found only two dollars. I was embarrassed to offer him so little for being so awesomely helpful, so I just thanked him profusely, and drove the chairs to my parents’ house. They were exactly what my Mom wanted.

I should have given him the two dollars, I decided later…

Why do things go like that sometimes, but too often they don’t?

The chairs at Lowe's.

The chairs at Lowe’s.

The official, properly considered, Robert Redford Top Five List

the natural

I hadn’t intended to do this. There’s something inherently uncool in doing such an obvious, vanilla, whitebread Top Five List. Barry would never stop giving me grief about it, if Barry actually existed. Actually, I suspect Jack Black would never let up, if he found out about it. So don’t tell him.

Actually, a cool list would be, say, a Jack Black list.

But no, this is about the ultimate whiteguy A-lister from a generation ago, or more. I mean, next we’ll be doing, I dunno, a Clark Gable list or something. Or so Barry would say.

But I have to do this to set things right. In a recent comment on this blog, reacting to a side conversation about a clip from “Three Days of the Condor” — really a Max Von Sydow conversation, not about Redford at all — Bryan Caskey snuck up while I wasn’t looking and posted this:

Top Five Robert Redford Movies
1. Jeremiah Johnson
2. The Sting
3. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
4. Sneakers
5. Spy Game

Ahhhhh! No way! Totally apart from the very worst thing about it — more on that in a moment — he put “The Sting” (a relatively desperate attempt by Hollywood to recapture the Newman/Redford magic of the previous) above “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid!” That should have cancelled the whole list outright, but there it is, still on this blog, and I feel responsible and must set the record straight.

So, here is the official bradwarthen.com Top Five List for Robert Redford.

But wait. I didn’t mention the worst thing: He left “The Natural” off his list altogether! We’re talking about a film that not only makes my Top Five list for all sports films, but is at the TOP of my Baseball Movies list! And he’s a sports guy and I’m not!

So anyway, here is the official bradwarthen.com Top Five List for Robert Redford:

  1. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid — I probably wouldn’t start the list with this — the second and third films are better — but this is a Robert Redford list, and without this film, we wouldn’t know who Robert Redford is. Also… it’s a unique Redford movie. It’s the only film he appeared in in which his character was cool. After that, he competed with himself to see how uncool he could make his characters. Including Roy Hobbs. Definitely including Jeremiah Johnson, the dullest Mountain Man in the Rockies. The Sundance Kid is one of the coolest characters ever in a Western. Watch, and see what Redford did with him — and then tell me one other character he did that with. You can’t. Newman’s characters were almost always cool. Redford’s never were.
  2. All the President’s Men — Every time I see this film, I’m blown away at how good it was. I don’t remember being that impressed with it when it was new, but it’s amazing. And it’s because of the little things. It has the most realistic depiction of the interview process that I’ve ever seen. The naturalistic awkwardness that Redford as Woodward and Hoffman as Bernstein experience as they try to get people to talk to them and put their story together is probably painful for laypeople to watch — but if you made your living doing that kind of thing, you’d recognize it, and be impressed. And you’ll also see why I preferred being an editor to going through the daily grind of being a reporter. It’s very, very real.
  3. The Natural — To Bryan’s credit, I was reminded of this film’s awesomeness when Bryan put this video on Twitter, with its invitation, “If you’re missing baseball, watch this.” You should definitely watch that compilation, and think about how much poorer it would be without the clips from “The Natural.” That film corrected a huge literary mistake, committed by Bernard Malamud. Malamud’s novel stripped all nobility from Roy Hobbs, and condemned him not only to lose in the end, but to deserve it. Totally depressing. It totally missed why Americans, back when they were real Americans, loved baseball. The film understood all of that, was unembarrassed about it, and crammed it all in with no apology.
  4. The Great Gatsby — If you try to look this up on IMDB now, they’ll show you the Leonardo DiCaprio version, which is just sad. There’s a certain amount of personal involvement here: This was the movie that inspired me to wear a white linen suit when I got married that same year. (Try even finding one of those.) But it’s great. No one can sound as plain and uncool as Redford calling people “old sport.” It’s pure mastery. And it has Sam Waterston — and Edward Herrmann in a cameo, playing the piano! Oh, and see if you can find the guy who played Hershel Greene in “The Walking Dead” — he’s in it! In a key role! (Talk about a guy with a cool Top Five list!)
  5. The Candidate — I was going to put Jeremiah Johnson here, but I didn’t, just to be cantankerous. Jeremiah’s good, but it’s maybe too popular among my more libertarian friends, who think that being a mountain man is a sensible way to live. So I thought I’d go with something that in its own way was kind of groundbreaking — the story of a political candidate who only ran because he was promised he would lose — and has Peter Boyle as a political operative.

Butch-Cassidy-Film-Still-2-800x640

Joe Biden should be on vacation until at least, I don’t know, Labor Day or something…

Here's what I think, Joe: You should take off until at LEAST Labor Day. OK?

Here’s what I think, Joe: You should take off until at LEAST Labor Day. OK?

This is one of those blog posts I’ve meant to write since not long after South Carolina set all that Democratic nomination nonsense straight at the end of February. Remember how stupid stuff was before that? The world was full of people who imagined there were reasons to suppose someone other than Joe Biden would/should be the Democratic nominee, and they wouldn’t shut up about it for, like, most of a year. It was tiresome.

Well, we fixed that, as soon as we got a chance. Finally, even Bernie Sanders got it. I think I heard recently that even Elizabeth Warren had endorsed Joe. So that’s good, I guess.

But now, there’s other stupid stuff going on, despite the fact that nothing is normal, and we’re all dealing with this coronavirus and stuff. Some of us have even had a freaking stroke, and are really not inclined to put up with stuff like this Tweet today:

A bit after sending that, she added … well, you see what she added: “Biden took four questions.”

Really? What is missing from your life that you think Joe Biden should be doing command performances for you on a regular basis?

More stupidness. So I replied with the only relevant question I could think of: “Why did he have a press conference? Dang. Guess I need to write that blog post about how Joe should be on vacation until about, say, Labor Day…”

This is that blog post. Dang…

What is it that you suppose Joe should be saying or doing right the f___ this minute? Huh? Look. Most of us know that deliverance for this country involves, demands, can’t be had without, replacing Donald John Trump with a normal, decent, qualified human being. And as I told you, over and over for months before we in SC got a chance to step in and do something, that there is no one on the planet more normal, decent and qualified than Joe Biden. That’s been the fact since this started.

Either you get that or you don’t. Those who don’t get it yet and need to by Election Day need to get that message THEN, in the context of what’s going on THEN, which is like light years away from NOW, and anything they hear NOW is likely to be long forgotten by then. These are not, in any case, people with long attention spans.

But even if they were, things are going to change, a LOT, between now and then. And however they change, Donald John Trump won’t be any better at being president then than he is now. Which, for people with longer attention spans, is and has always been the point. That point will not change if Joe Biden has a press conference today, or tomorrow, or anytime soon. If it seems to change, I assure you it will change back, long before Election Day.

Folks, think. If you’re capable of it.

Most of us don’t know whether life will have turned around back toward normal — not normal, but toward it — by a month from now. We don’t know. But if it does, it will still only be May. We won’t have a decision yet on whether there will even be a Democratic Convention at that point, much less how the election is going to come out.

There is nothing Joe needs to do, or define, or explain in that time. Nothing. Yeah, he needs to be raising money, but that doesn’t require press conferences.

Then the summer will come. And it will pass, no doubt with a lot of confused weirdness.

Then the fall will come, and the coronavirus will probably come back. We don’t know what that’s going to look like, but it isn’t going to be pretty, and Donald Trump will not have his normal world with a booming stock market breaking records (in a good way, anyway).

He’s going to really start freaking out then. That’s when Joe needs to be drawing the contrast between this and normal. That is what he’s running against, and that’s when he’s running.

Nothing we can do can make Election Day come one day earlier. It sure won’t come earlier by Joe Biden running around acting like this is a normal election year. Although it will at least feel longer that way.

And I don’t want it to feel longer.

There’s a lot more I could say, but this should get a conversation going…

 

(Almost an) Open Thread for Monday, April 27, 2020

Yeah, you know -- like the Spanish Flu, right?

Yeah, you know — like the Spanish Flu, right?

Thought I’d throw together one of these for you…

  • Graham expects recurrence of coronavirus cases in the fall — I only posted this for one reason: Doesn’t everyone expect this? I mean, I’ve been hearing this as long as I’ve been hearing about the “novel” coronavirus, so since… I don’t know… maybe January? I’ve heard, over and over, that we should get ready for a pattern like the Spanish Flu, where it landed for a while, went away, and then hit much harder in the fall of 2018. But since I don’t see a lot of headlines saying this, and sometimes I see things that seem to be obviously avoiding it, maybe it’s news to some people. So I include it here, in case…

And you know what? I’m tired now. And that one’s enough for a conversation. And I need to save energy for work, of which I need to do some today. If you have other subjects, bring them up…

My vacation from the coronavirus

As I sat in the empty waiting room, I shot this over my shoulder. You can see one of the first line of outposts, there to keep people with the virus out. Or so I assume.

As I sat in the empty waiting room on April 11, I shot this over my shoulder. You can see one of the first line of outposts, there to keep people with the virus out. Or so I assume. To that person’s left is a table, with another person seated at it.

Actually, I thought I was plunging head-first into the mysterious, much feared land of COVID-19. A day after the weirdness had started, I decided that I felt “off” enough that maybe I had it. There was no fever, and no dry cough or any of that. But my taste and smell (which are the same sense, of course) weren’t all they should be, so maybe I had it. And I just didn’t feel right. Anyway, my kids were insisting, from across town, that  I go in to be checked. And, as I said before, my primary care doc sided with them when I reached him that Saturday (the 11th, for those keeping score).

So I went in, thinking this would give me something interesting to write about. And things were different from the start. First, some people were camped out about 20 ft. from the entrance to the Emergency Room at Lexington Medical Center (see above). Like they were the expendable ones, there to make sure no one with the bug actually came in. I talked my way past them, before my wife went back to wait in the car. Inside, there were more people with masks on greeting me as soon as I went in. After a brief time with the triage nurse beyond the wall, I was sent back out to sit in the waiting area — alone. The pic below proves my tale.

Eventually, I was shown into the ER proper, and given a room. I knew I would be there for several hours, whatever happened. I’d been through this routine with others. Oddly, they didn’t test me for the virus. From the start, they were only interested in a symptom that I barely mentioned, because it was so odd to tell anyone about — the fact that I couldn’t look down. I could look at things at eye level, but my muscles simply could not make my eyes turn downward. My eyes would quiver with the effort, but I couldn’t do it. If I HAD to look at something lower down, my brain had to work it out again each time — I had to press my chin to my chest and look under the thing, then allow my eyes to drift upward. Which seemed like a lot of work, each time. Hardly worth it. I only bothered to do it a couple of times.

That’s what interested them. That’s why they did the CT scan, which produced nothing. I knew that if the CT produced nothing (and I wasn’t curious enough to ask what “something” might be), I’d have to get an MRI. Knew I’d be there that long. Anyway, about three or four hours into the ordeal, perhaps a bit more, the doctor in charge came to see me for the first time since the very beginning. I realized later that she was very conscious of having to break bad news to me, although it didn’t strike me at the time. She got right next to me and leaned in on the railing that kept me from falling out to that side. We were friends now. She was really close when she told me I’d had a stroke.

The news didn’t really register. All I noticed was that, instead of letting me go, she was telling me I’d have to stay at least overnight. I asked a question or two about the stroke thing, as it seemed the thing to do (you mean a TIA? No, a real stroke; it’s definite — we can see it), but I don’t think if fully registered on me until I saw how others reacted to the news on social media. (People there were all like, “You had a what…?”)

So I asked whether they were going to, at the very least, test me for coronavirus since that’s what I’d come for — and she said, well, no. And she explained: Sure, they could test me, but here was the thing: If they tested me, they’d have to treat me differently. Completely differently. I’d get moved to another part of the hospital where everyone either had the virus, or was assumed to have it. As opposed to being in the normal part of the hospital on a floor with stroke patients, where everyone would assume I didn’t have it. Which would be better for me.

I agreed that would be better. But I didn’t let go of the idea. I asked if I could get a test whenever I left. She said sure, whatever.

Two days later, when I was finally about to go, I asked someone else for my test. He looked at me like I was nuts. They had been observing me and monitoring all my vital signs for three days. They knew I didn’t have it — or at least, that I wasn’t exhibiting symptoms. Which means they knew more about me than about 99.99 percent of the population. I thought it would be cool to know even more, but I took his point. I never got the test.

So, for three days (counting the ER day), I was in a place where officially, no one had the coronavirus, and no one was concerned about it.

Which was nice, I realized later.

Returning home a week ago today, I was sort of startled to notice that everyone was still going on about the virus. When I read my several newspapers each morning, it was all the same stories I’d been reading since I quit going to work back in March. You know the stories — about Trump’s lie-filled daily briefings, about how hard it was for certain people (not me) to deal with the tedium of isolation, what to binge-watch, yadda-yadda.

Now, those stories seem even more boring than they did before. Now, I have had a stroke, which is officially more interesting than not having a virus! That has had little effect on me, but it has had this effect: I’m no longer tolerant of the boring coronavirus stories. Does this mean I’m anxious to get out there and do something? No, far from it. I want to do nothing, each day. I’ve given in to the fact that for the first time in almost three years, I’ll fail to average more than 10,000 steps a day this month. And once I’d given in to that, I didn’t care to do anything else.

I do some work each day. There’s enough for me to do, and I know I’m lucky to have the work, so I feel I must justify myself to that extent. But I feel no urge to exercise, or to post on my blog, or to do anything, really. I’m reading a couple of books. I had recently watched, again, “In Harm’s Way” — the 1965 John Wayne picture, not one of the many, many other things with that title. Curious about the overuse of the title, I found that I could download the novel the film was based on for free from Kindle. So I’ve been reading that. Slowly. I’ve also been reading a novel I had put on my wish list years ago — I think I had read a favorable review in The Wall Street Journal when it was first published — and received as a gift sometime during the past year. It’s set in Spain in the 16th century, when ex-Moors who had been forced to “convert” to Christianity were still called “moriscos” — and mistrusted by the Old Christians. The protagonist is a judge/prosecutor investigating a series of deaths in rural Aragon. It’s pretty interesting — more so than the one about the Navy in 1941 — but nothing really grabs my interest right now.

Someone called asking me to do something for work, so I’m going to stop and go do that. Be back soon…

OK, done with that — huff, puff, etc.  Back now, and thinking I should say something about how fortunate I am. I mean, I have had a stroke, and that means I’ve survived something that could have been a whole lot worse than it was — especially since it was bilateral. I haven’t seen the actual MRI yet, but I’m told that is remarkable. And yet, I have nothing to show but a symptom that’s been almost completely gone since the morning of Sunday the 12th (I say “almost” because occasionally my eyes refuse to focus on something low in my field of vision). That, and the fact that my desire to do anything, even something that will burn basically zero calories, is gone. I want to rest all the time, even though I’ve done nothing to tire myself. The last few days, I’ve taken a walk each afternoon that gets in between three and four thousand steps, and that’s it.

In fact, it’s time to do that, so I’ll be back in awhile…

That walk around my large block — just under a mile — is done, but I’m not moved to tell you about it. My capacity for rest is in fact the only remotely interesting thing about me in this particular state of being…

I’ve possessed this gift since Sunday the 12th. I was awakened in the hospital by the arrival of food from my wife. The night before, the hospitalist hadn’t decided I was staying until late, and there was nothing available from the mess hall that I could eat, so my wife brought something to the sentries outside, and it got relayed in to me. This pattern continued with my move to the 8th floor. The staff seemed even to welcome it. They looked at what she’d sent Sunday morning and announced that there was enough for two meals, and that they would be happy to refrigerate the large serving of soup until lunchtime. I concurred, and ate my breakfast. Then I prepared to watch Easter Sunday Mass in Spanish on Facebook. That is, I sat the iPad on my lap and put the earbuds in my ears, and slept sitting up. (I would later be told that sometime around this time they ran tests on my carotid artery, but I have no memory of that).

Then, I caught a ride downstairs to get a very closely detailed scan of my heart — essentially the background for an even more-detailed look from another camera stuck down my throat the next morning (by this time my staying another day was meekly accepted) — after which I went back to sleep, then ate my soup, then took another nap. That’s the way I remember it, anyway.

I say I was in a place where no one cared about the coronavirus. It wasn’t ignored completely. The people doing all these tests wore masks. But it seemed so routine by this time. I was living in a land consisting almost entirely of young women, and they all seemed terribly attractive in part because of their faces being covered. I’d wonder if their faces were as beautiful as the rest of them, and decided again and again that they most likely were. I was, after all, in a magical place.

Anyway, the pattern continued. I again forgot my own mask when taken down for the camera-down-the-throat test. But everyone else wore one, and no one remarked on the fact that I didn’t. The young woman in charge of me was stunning — at least, her brow was and so were her ears, and I’m certain the rest was the same. We decided that even though I technically may be allergic to the anesthesia they were going to use for the test, we wouldn’t worry about it. And it was all fine. We were in the magical place.

After that, and after another nap, it was time to get serious about leaving. I asked each person I met when I could go. At first, it would be after the next doctor who saw me did so. Then, it was decided I’d have to see another doctor after that one — the doctor I’d thought was the last one came back, somewhat breathlessly, to tell me that. Fine. Then someone took out the IV feed I’d had in my left arm ever since the ER. That was removed and I put on my long-sleeved T shirt, and the nurse left and moments later, I realized that the reason why my shirt was warm and wet from my elbow to my wrist was because the IV was bleeding quite liberally and with no sense of propriety. So I strolled down the hall to the charge nurse’s desk and advised her regarding my condition, then strolled back to what would soon be my ex-room. Normally, this would have seemed an emergency. But in this place, we didn’t sweat things. I got the shirt off, she bandaged me a lot tighter, and we decided this sort of thing would happen regularly now that I was taking anti-coagulants every day and would for the rest of my life. A statin, too.

I was told a nurse would have to accompany me to the exit where my wife would pick me up — the opposite end of the hospital, as it turned out. I walked all the way — the nurse asked me if I wanted a wheelchair, but I said no. It would be several days before I got that much exercise again.

After I got home, I took another nap, I think. And ever since then, I’ve slept at will at least a couple times a day, and at least nine or ten hours a night.

Until yesterday — on Sunday, I actually had an hour or two in the afternoon when I tried to nap, but failed. But I was unperturbed at staying awake. It didn’t even bore me.

Anyway, I’ve been home a week at this hour late on Monday the 20th, and I’ve really never gotten over the feeling of being in a place where the coronavirus doesn’t matter as much as it did.

Which is an added benefit of having had a stroke — which seems to impress everyone — but having virtually no lingering effects of a stroke. Aside from being tired all the time. At some point, I’ll have to come to grips with that, I’m guessing.

But not yet. And I thank the Lord for these numerous blessings.

It’s late now, but I might just get in another brief nap…

See? The ER waiting room actually WAS deserted.

See? The ER waiting room actually WAS deserted.and

I had no idea the man possessed such talent

Moore (at left, at keyboard) et al., in 1963, during their "Beyond the Fringe" days...

Moore (at left, at keyboard) et al., in 1963, during their “Beyond the Fringe” days…

Phillip Bush — who we all know does possess such talent — brought this to my attention today. I had no idea Dudley Moore was so gifted. I know him mainly for his silly comedy work of the 1970s:

Wow.

In case you missed this obvious bit of mastery, Phillip helps you appreciate it better:

Yes, just what I was thinking, about three minutes into it.

Anyway, thought I’d share that with you. I’ll post something else soon. Might tell you something about my time in the hospital last week.