Open Thread for Friday, April 28, 2017

Mug shots from crime story in The State. Note the way the "whites" of her eyes are totally dark. Is she a Fremen? If so, Fremen are scary.

Mug shots from crime story in The State. Note the way the “whites” of her eyes are totally dark. Is she a Fremen? If so, Fremen are scary.

Sorry I haven’t posted much. Here are a few topics:

  1. Congress passes spending deal to keep government open another week — Woo-hoo! Talk about leadership! These statesmen for the ages can’t get it together to actually DO anything (even stupid things, like repealing Obamacare), but they’ve gone all out and avoided shutting down the government for a whole week! If you see your congressman, be sure to pat him on his overburdened little head.
  2. Economic Growth, at 0.7%, Is Weakest in Three Years — That’s what The Wall Street Journal is leading with. But hey, those Trump tax cuts are going to fix it all up, right, WSJ?
  3. Trump Administration Wants North Korea At Negotiating Table On Nuclear Weapons — Beats the scary news from earlier in the week.
  4. SC needs money for roads, so senators pass tax cuts — Yeah, they did it while increasing the gas tax, but I just can’t stop focusing on the insanity of — when faced with a need for revenue, and you have a tax dedicated to that purpose, it’s lower than the national average, and you haven’t raised it in 30 years — refusing to raise it without cutting totally unrelated taxes? It’s just completely nuts. You say “Hello, good morning” to these guys, and their response is “Yes, let’s cut taxes!” And don’t even get me started on Henry McMaster’s role in all this…
  5. NSA halts warrantless collection of Americans’ emails that mention foreign targets — Why? Sounds like a potentially valuable intel source to me.

Too many microbrews are just TOO MUCH

beers-1283566_960_720

On the whole, I like the idea of microbrew beer. Anything that helps America break the hegemony of Bud Light seems to me a good thing in general.

But I have a complaint. Something crystallized for me last night. I was at an event at which several microbreweries were sharing their wares. And I started thinking a thought that had not fully formed for me before…

Whatever they call their specialized brews, and however they describe their qualities, these uberserious brewers tend to have one thing in common: The taste is just TOO MUCH. There’s a complete lack of nuance, subtlety or restraint.

They’re all so concerned with differentiating themselves from the popular American mass-produced beers, so worried about not being tasteless dishwater, that they go overboard with the flavoring. Too much hops. Too much maltiness. Too much everything. It’s as though a cook dumped every spice in his cabinet into a stew to keep it from being bland, and the result was disastrous.

The taste tends to stick with you the rest of the evening, whatever else you eat or drink.

I tasted a stout last night, grimaced and told the guy from the microbrewery that it tasted like an IPA. And by that I meant an American IPA, which is to say something overpowering. An India Pale Ale, properly understood, should be <em>refreshing</em>, like the Fuller’s Bengal Lancer IPA I had in England, inspired by the ales formulated in the 19th century specifically to refresh the troops in India. And it got the job done, going by my experience with it.

Last night, I tried a porter from the same brewery, and it tasted like the stout, which as I said tasted like an American IPA — a truckload of hops dumped in with other overbearing flavors. I put the small glass down as soon as I had walked out of sight.

Occasionally I really like something from a microbrewery, such as an ESB I had not long ago at Hunter-Gatherer. But too often they’re trying too hard to impress, and it’s just too much

Pssst, media types: Ixnay on the Umptray ailurefays…

Mind you, I'm not saying we need to run pictures like this and report, "Look what Trump built!" Not exactly, anyway...

Mind you, I’m not saying we need to run pictures like this and report, “Look what Trump built!” Not exactly, anyway…

When I see headlines like this (in The New Yorker), it makes me a little nervous:

HOW TRUMP GAVE UP ON HIS BORDER WALL

It worries me because touting Trump’s failures walks all over his poor little ego, and it seems likely that such bruising would cause him to redouble his efforts. And we do not want that…

Look what happened with the Trumpcare failure. At first, he seemed content to let the whole repealing-Obamacare thing slide. But after about the billionth headline noting how he’d failed on this central (to his base) promise, he started pushing on Congress to try again.

And now, if everyone makes a big deal about him stepping away from the stupid wall thing, it’s liable to get his back up, and we’ll be wasting time talking about that again.

I’m not saying lie or mislead — I don’t want the media to actually start making a truth-teller out of Trump by reporting “fake news.” We don’t need to run pictures of the Great Wall of China on front pages and tout what a great job Trump did building it.

I’m just saying, you know, that maybe we could not rub in the failures as much. If he’s content to let his most spectacularly dumb ideas die a quiet death, maybe that’s a good thing.

I mean, report it, but don’t go on and on about it. Go easy on the poor guy; he’s having a rough year.

I’m saying, must Kathleen Parker write columns headlined, “Dealmaker in Chief? More like the Backdown President.“?

Sigh… I suppose she must…

OK, so China has built a carrier. Do they know where it is?

Up until now, China just had this busted-a__ used one they got from the Russians.

Up until now, China just had this busted-a__ used one they got from the Russians.

I suspect they do. Unlike us, they don’t have so many that they can afford to mislay one.

Anyway, for China this is a big step, since they only had one carrier before, and it was second-hand:

BEIJING — China has launched its first aircraft carrier built entirely on its own, in a demonstration of the growing technical sophistication of its defense industries and determination to safeguard its maritime territorial claims and crucial trade routes.

The 50,000-ton carrier was towed from its dockyard just after 9 a.m. Wednesday following a ceremony in the northern port city of Dalian, where its predecessor, the Soviet-built Liaoning, underwent extensive refurbishing before being commissioned in 2012, the Ministry of National Defense said.

Development of the new carrier began in 2013 and construction in late 2015. It’s expected to be formally commissioned sometime before 2020, after sea trials and the arrival of its full air complement.

The carrier program is a key part of China’s naval expansion at a time when it is looking to beef-up its regional military influence to match its economic might. While China says it maintains a defensive military policy, its ambitions are rattling some neighbors who see Beijing as fueling already enflamed tensions in the region….

On the one hand, such a milestone is laughable. I mean, look at Japan: How many carriers did they lose in a single day, back in 1942? Here we are 75 years later, and China’s launching its first one? (Of course, building and deploying a state-of-the-art carrier is vastly more complex and expensive than it was back in the day.)

Also, think how enormous a challenge lies before a country that does not have generations of aviators who have landed on carriers, or a force of support personnel skilled at running the process of underway air operations.

On the other hand — China, with a demonstrated desire to throw its weight around in the region (and a carrier gives you a great deal of weight to throw), is committed to moving dramatically forward in its capacity to project naval power. It stands out in this regard globally. Britain, for instance, currently has zero operating carriers, although they have some new ones in the works. (Yes, that Britain — the one that used to rule the waves. Try to imagine the Brits in Nelson’s day without a single line-of-battle ship.)

So, you know… significant development here…

Bull Street Update: There’s baseball, and, um… there’s baseball…

Bull Street is coming along fine. It's got baseball...

Bull Street is coming along fine. It’s got baseball…

Having seen this story in The State today:

Most members of the Bull Street Commission, a seven-member board appointed by Columbia City Council, said Monday that they are satisfied with progress at the former State Hospital despite raised expectations of a sprawling retail complex that so far have not materialized.

“I still feel the project is coming along at a reasonable pace,” said member Rebecca Haynes, a former president of the Earlewood Community Citizens Organization. “I think it’s way too early in a 20-year project for anyone to start throwing stones.”…

… I was wondering what y’all thought about how the development is going.

All I’ve really seen so far is baseball, but then, I keep telling y’all to be patient on the Innovista concept, so do I have room to talk?

Anyway, if all you’ve got to show is baseball, is that so bad? It’s better than what they’ve got going at Williams-Brice, in my book…

... and also baseball.

… and also baseball.

Sneering at the masses, and how it helped lead to Trump

This guy's off the air now, but I think he did more than anyone to produce the phenomenon under discussion.

This guy’s off the air now, but I think he did more than anyone to produce the phenomenon under discussion.

Bryan, who is off somewhere in foreign parts today (California, I think), brings to my attention this piece from The Atlantic. Its headline is “How Late-Night Comedy Fueled the Rise of Trump,” with the subhed, “Sneering hosts have alienated conservatives and made liberals smug.”

Or at least, they were smug until Nov. 8.

The piece isn’t bad, although it gets sidetracked here and there, and reading it didn’t make me a whole lot smarter than I was after reading the hed and subhed — with which I agreed from the start.

Not that I didn’t learn anything new. For instance, I heard of this Samantha Bee person, and her salacious-sounding show “Full Frontal.” (Remember, folks, I don’t watch TV beyond Netflix, Amazon Prime and PBS.)

When I read the headline, I was picturing Jon Stewart — who, although he’s been replaced by Trevor Noah, still seems the perfect example to illustrate the point.

Here’s probably the best bit in the piece. It comes after the author has established, in fairness, that Donald J. Trump is any comedian’s dream, and richly deserves every bit of mockery aimed at him and more (which is obviously true):

So Trump has it coming, and so do the minions pouring out of his clown car, with their lies and their gleeful disregard for what Nick Carraway called “the fundamental decencies.” But somewhere along the way, the hosts of the late-night shows decided that they had carte blanche to insult not just the people within this administration, but also the ordinary citizens who support Trump, and even those who merely identify as conservatives. In March, Samantha Bee’s show issued a formal apology to a young man who had attended the Conservative Political Action Conference and whom the show had blasted for having “Nazi hair.” As it turned out, the young man was suffering from Stage 4 brain cancer—which a moment’s research on the producers’ part would have revealed: He had tweeted about his frightening diagnosis days before the conference. As part of its apology, the show contributed $1,000 to the GoFundMe campaign that is raising money for his medical expenses, so now we know the price of a cancer joke.

It was hardly the first time Full Frontal had gone, guns blazing, after the sick or the meek. During the campaign, Bee dispatched a correspondent to go shoot fish in a barrel at something called the Western Conservative Summit, which the reporter described as “an annual Denver gathering popular with hard-right Christian conservatives.” He interviewed an earnest young boy who talked about going to church on Sundays and Bible study on Wednesdays, and about his hope to start a group called Children for Trump. For this, the boy—who spoke with the unguarded openness of a child who has assumed goodwill on the part of an adult—was described as “Jerry Falwell in blond, larval form.” Trump and Bee are on different sides politically, but culturally they are drinking from the same cup, one filled with the poisonous nectar of reality TV and its baseless values, which have now moved to the very center of our national discourse. Trump and Bee share a penchant for verbal cruelty and a willingness to mock the defenseless. Both consider self-restraint, once the hallmark of the admirable, to be for chumps….

She returns to that incident at the end:

… I’ve also thought a good deal about the boy on Samantha Bee’s program. I thought about the moment her producer approached the child’s mother to sign a release so that the woman’s young son could be humiliated on television. Was it a satisfying moment, or was it accompanied by a small glint of recognition that embarrassing children is a crappy way to make a living? I thought about the boy waiting eagerly to see himself on television, feeling a surge of pride that he’d talked about church and Bible study. And I thought about the moment when he realized that it had all been a trick—that the grown-up who had seemed so nice had only wanted to hurt him.

My God, I thought. What have we become?

Indeed.

But there’s something to her thesis beyond citing pain inflicted upon victims with whom even the most indoctrinated liberals might sympathize. She touches on the broader point when she says “the tone of these shows [is] one imbued with the conviction that they and their fans are intellectually and morally superior to those who espouse any of the beliefs of the political right.”

And then she wonders whether that tone is largely responsible for Trump supporters’ dismissal of “the media,” by which she means in this context HBO, Comedy Central, TBS, ABC, CBS, and NBC — the very networks that present the comedy shows. The point being that folks who feel so insulted by the late-night comedy tend to associate it with the news programming on the same networks, and dismiss it all.

You say “media” to me, and I think of the news that I consume — from leading print outlets to NPR. Others don’t see it that way, I’ve long been forced to realize. They think of television, and sometimes — perhaps most of the time — they have trouble distinguishing between the “news” presented by celebrities one hour from the entertainment presented by other celebrities in a different time slot.

Which is understandable, if regrettable…

I'd say the King of the Sneerers now is probably this guy.

I’d say the King of the Sneerers now is probably this guy.

Yes, the entire U.S. Senate going to the White House for a briefing on North Korea does worry me

Yikes.

Just got an email from Norm Ivey asking, “I trust your judgement on this stuff. Does this news worry you?

You bet it does. It’s from Reuters (which is to say, actual news, not fake):

Entire U.S. Senate to go to White House for North Korea briefing

Top Trump administration officials will hold a rare briefing on Wednesday at the White House for the entire U.S. Senate on the situation in North Korea, senior Senate aides said on Monday.download (1)

All 100 senators have been asked to the White House for the briefing by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the aides said.

While top administration officials routinely travel to Capitol Hill to address members of Congress on foreign policy and national security matters, it is unusual for the entire 100-member Senate to go to such an event at the White House, and for those four top officials to be involved….

Yeah. No kidding…

Can anyone tell what Google’s problem with me is?

download

I got this email four days ago, but didn’t see it until today. The headline was, “Google AdSense: Action required to comply with AdSense program policies.”

OK, so I opened it, intending to deal with whatever the problem might be.

Trouble is, based on this, I have no idea what the problem is:

Hello,

This is a warning message to alert you that there is action required to bring your AdSense account into compliance with our AdSense program policies. We’ve provided additional details below, along with the actions to be taken on your part.

Affected website: bradwarthen.com

Example page where violation occurred: http://www.bradwarthen.com/category/sex/

Action required: Please make changes immediately to your site to follow AdSense program policies.

Current account status: Active

Violation explanation

As stated in our program policies, sites displaying Google ads should provide substantial and useful information to the user. Users should be able to easily navigate through the site to find what products, goods, or services are promised. Examples of misguided navigation include, but are not limited to:

  • False claims of downloadable or streaming content
  • Linking to content that does not exist
  • Redirecting users to irrelevant and/or misleading webpages
  • Text on a page unrelated to the topic and/or business model of the website.

For more information, please review Google’s Webmaster quality guidelines and the AdSense program policies.

How to resolve:

  • If you received a notification in regard to page content, we request that you immediately remove Google ads from the violating pages. If you are unable to, or unsure of how to remove the ads from these pages, or would like to continue monetizing the page with Google ads, please modify or remove the violating content to meet our AdSense policies.
  • If you received a notification in regards to the way ads are implemented on your site, please make the necessary changes to your implementation.

You do not need to contact us if you make changes. Please be aware that if additional violations are accrued, ad serving may be disabled to the website listed above. You should immediately take time to review your pages with Google ads to ensure that they comply with our policies.

Additionally, please be aware that the URL above is just an example and that the same violations may exist on other pages of this website or other sites that you own. To reduce the likelihood of future warnings from us, we suggest that you review all your sites for compliance. Here are some useful resources you might be interested in.

For more information regarding our policy warning notifications, visit our Help Center.

We thank you in advance for your cooperation.

Sincerely,

The Google AdSense Team

Of course, of course, of COURSE it’s from a “noreply” address, so I can’t ask questions.

And of course, when you click on the Help Center link, you get more words, and links to other words, none of which start out, “Our problem with your post is…”

They did allow me to vent a bit. When I clicked the “no” button at the bottom asking whether the article was helpful, I got a box to type in, under the invitation, “How can we improve it?” I wrote:

You can give me someone to talk to. The warning I received was completely unintelligible. I cannot begin to intuit what the problem is. If you have a problem with something on my blog, come out and tell me exactly what the problem is. From what you sent, I don’t have a clue….

But maybe I’m being obtuse. Can y’all see what it is, and tell me how to fix it?

The only thing I see on that post that might conceivably be troubling would be a copyright issue. But I’m pretty sure that my use of the photo from “Breaking Bad” and the Jimmy Carter one from Playboy, I’m in Fair Use territory. And I don’t think that’s what they’re talking about.

So what do you think it is?

‘Electrocution chair?’ Is that like a ‘Holocaust center?’

Kemmler_exécuté_par_l'électricité

Speaking of words, has anyone noticed an uptick of mispronunciations and bizarre word choices lately on broadcast media?

I’m not even talking about Donald Trump, who is so justly famous for such. I’m talking about normal people.

I should have been keeping a list of the mispronunciations, but at the moment I’m only thinking of one: My wife heard someone say “pre-VALE-unt” on the Tube the other day, instead of, you know, prevalent. (I called just now to ask her for another, and she offered “contri-BUTE,” as opposed to contribute. And yes, the Brits might say, “CON-tribute,” but as my wife noted, these were Americans speaking.)

As for word choice, my current fave is from Friday’s installment of “The Takeaway.” A perfectly lucid, intelligent-sounding young woman with Arkansas Public Media was being interviewed about the crowd of people that state is trying to execute. She was asked (at about 2:29 on the recording) whether, when it runs out of approved poisons for lethal injection, the state would have any alternative methods of administering death. She replied, informatively:

The alternative on the books is electrocution chair…

Electrocution chair? Is that something they have at “Holocaust centers?”

She was probably just nervous being interviewed on national radio. Either that, or — she sounded really, really young — she has been blessed by never having heard of that fixture of more barbaric times, the electric chair. (She may have even realized she wasn’t on solid ground, based on the questioning way her voice went up at the end of the phrase, as though she were asking, “Is that a thing?”)

Ultimately, I suspect all of this is a result of far too many people trying to say far too many things on far too many outlets in much too quick a hurry.

But maybe there’s another explanation…

Ah, for the days of the September Gale

I was riding down on the elevator this morning with a gentleman who regularly breaks his fast at the same place I do.

He was wearing his usual LBJ-style Stetson and some Clemson suspenders, having retired quite a few years back from the extension service.

As we stepped onto the elevator, as people tend to do, we started talking about the weather. (Yes, I know — we should all try harder than that.) Mindful of my audience, I expressed the wish that recently planted fields not be washed away, and mentioned how much nicer it would be if instead of getting our rain all at once, we could have a nice, steady drizzle for a number of days (my wife, the gardener, once told me that was better for crops).

He remarked that the weather used to be kinder that way, long ago. Then he said:

“When I was a boy, 75 years ago, we never heard of hurricanes. We called them…” and he paused to reach back for the term… “September Gales.”

That certainly sounds like a gentler, less menacing time.

I didn’t realize that term was a thing until I looked it up. Turns out it inspired a poem in The New Yorker, back in September 1960:

September gale

No, I wasn’t making a point about anything. Just sharing…

David Brooks on the Crisis of Western Civ

The_Parthenon_in_Athens

Before the weekend’s over, I want to call your attention to David Brooks’ excellent piece from Friday, headlined “The Crisis of Western Civ.”

It’s good not because it says anything particularly original, but because it says things I knew (and most of us should know), but which it wouldn’t have occurred to me to come out and explain.

Anyone steeped in the ideas that have shaped our civilization over the centuries knows:

This Western civ narrative came with certain values — about the importance of reasoned discourse, the importance of property rights, the need for a public square that was religiously informed but not theocratically dominated. It set a standard for what great statesmanship looked like. It gave diverse people a sense of shared mission and a common vocabulary, set a framework within which political argument could happen and most important provided a set of common goals…

But then two things happened.

First, the people who should be the guardians and propagators of these liberal values — academics — ceased to believe in them.

Then, when the barbarians attacked, there was no one ready to stand up and defend the foundations of our civilization:

The first consequence has been the rise of the illiberals, authoritarians who not only don’t believe in the democratic values of the Western civilization narrative, but don’t even pretend to believe in them, as former dictators did. Over the past few years especially, we have entered the age of strong men. We are leaving the age of Obama, Cameron and Merkel and entering the age of Putin, Erdogan, el­Sisi, Xi Jinping, Kim Jong­un and Donald Trump….

More and more governments, including the Trump administration, begin to look like premodern mafia states, run by family-­based commercial clans. Meanwhile, institutionalized, party­-based authoritarian regimes, like in China or Russia, are turning into premodern cults of personality/Maximum Leader regimes, which are far more unstable and dangerous….

He saves his last shot for the feckless guardians of our intellectual traditions, who have abandoned the citadel walls:

These days, the whole idea of Western civ is assumed to be reactionary and oppressive. All I can say is, if you think that was reactionary and oppressive, wait until you get a load of the world that comes after it.

Probably his best insight is that bit about how formerly liberal states “begin to look like premodern mafia states, run by family-­based commercial clans.” Because they’re run by people for whom the main purpose of power is to do something as staggeringly trivial as, for instance, promote one’s clothing line.

Speaking of mafias, did you ever read The Godfather? The book, I mean. Have you read anything else by Mario Puzo, something not as directly related to the Mafia, such as The Fourth K? If you have, you may have noticed that the theme that obsessed the writer was the conflict between the personal and the core principles of Western civilization, such as the choice of whether to look out for oneself and one’s family at the expense of larger things, such as the rule of law.

That’s what we’re seeing now. And the personal, the petty, the selfish approach is winning. The larger ideas we’ve been developing over the past centuries are being swept away…

This is what I mean about the degradation of the presidency

This was my initial reaction to the news about Donald Trump’s dinner party at the White House:

But then I thought, that’s not really fair to the Joker, et al. In their universe, they were the crème de la crème of Gotham criminal society, tops in their field, the elite.

These folks are anything but that. It’s more like Trump assembled this group in an attempt to look classy by comparison. And it almost worked.

The Batman analogy having failed, I’m at a loss. And I’m not going to let myself go down this road, no matter the temptation:

But folks, I will say that, for those of you who still don’t understand, this is the problem with Donald Trump being president — his desecration of the office. All other problems — the cluelessness, the lying, the utter disregard for ethics, the open hostility to wisdom and experience, the stunning carelessness with policy — spring from that source. It’s the shameful American love affair with anti-intellectualism made flesh.

A dinner table at the White House should have the wit of the Algonquin Round Table, tempered by the nobility of purpose of the original King Arthur version.

Instead, look what we’ve got. This is the level the presidency has sunk to.

Evenings at the White House should look like this:

Dinner for Nobel laureates, 29 April 1962.

Dinner for Nobel laureates, 29 April 1962.

Not like this:

21visitors-master768

An asteroid didn’t destroy Earth today. So we’ve got that going for us. Which is nice…

Some NASA images of the rock that's missing us today...

Some NASA images of the rock that’s missing us today…

I read this today in The Washington Post:

A very large, very peanut-shaped asteroid whizzed past Earth on Wednesday, about 1.1 million miles away. For perspective, that’s about 4.6 times the distance to the moon. That’s razor-edge close compared with the vastness of space, but in our human-relative universe it’s waaaayyy out there….

Since I was sitting there at breakfast reading about it, I sort of knew already that the planet hadn’t been destroyed. But I read on with great satisfaction nevertheless:

Let us, for a moment, consider a scenario in which a 0.8-mile-wide asteroid strikes Earth.

First, the magic number for total apocalypse is 60 miles. That’s how big an asteroid would need to be to wipe out human life.

This asteroid is far from that number, but if it hits, let’s say, Washington, D.C., it’s large enough to destroy everything and everyone from New York City to Raleigh, N.C. (I apologize to the people of Raleigh for dragging you into Washington’s apocalypse.) The thermal radiation radius would be much larger….

I guess that would teach North Carolina not to pass dumb ol’ bathroom bills, huh? I mean, this would be is almost as bad as not getting to host NCAA games.

Now, if you want to see a good guess about what the impact of a 60-miler would look like, check the following video. Then go on and have a nice day…

This Centrist Project sounds intriguing

This morning I received this release, which I find intriguing, as you would expect:

Centrist Project Launches Independent Candidate Recruitment Campaign for 2018 Election

San Francisco, CA – With strong funding, leadership, and grassroots momentum, the Centrist Project announced today a new “#HackTheSenate” campaign to reform America’s dysfunctional political system. The Centrist Project is recruiting independent candidates to run for U.S. Senate and state legislatures in 2018. Voters have already begun pledging their support and crowdfunding contributions online.

“Both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders demonstrated that the current political environment is ripe for disruption,” said Nick Troiano, the Centrist Project’s new Executive Director, and former independent candidate for U.S. House. “But the system is still badly broken, as we can see from the vicious partisanship over such issues as health care reform and Supreme Court nominations.”centrist

The Centrist Project’s “fulcrum strategy” aims to elect a sufficient number of centrist, independent candidates to legislatures, including the U.S. Senate, to deny each of the traditional parties an outright majority. The Centrist Project will also work to persuade elected Democrats and Republicans to abandon their party affiliations. This new centrist core of independents will hold the balance of power and forge common ground solutions to address the country’s major challenges.

“The Centrist Project is a powerful and achievable ‘hack to the system’ that can truly transform American politics,” said Marc Merrill, a board member of the Centrist Project and co-founder/co-CEO of Riot Games, Inc. Magazine’s 2016 Company of the Year.

The Centrist Project has raised over $600,000 in seed funding to support its candidate recruitment activities, including from hundreds of grassroots members who are sending small dollar donations on a monthly basis.

For the U.S. Senate, the Centrist Project is targeting Utah as one of its potential states. Recent polling conducted for the organization by JMC Analytics (March 18-20) found that just 21% of Utah voters support the reelection of incumbent Senator Orrin Hatch (R) and that a named potential independent candidate, Evan McMullin, would lead him head-to-head, 33%-29%.

Joel Searby, who most recently managed Evan McMullin’s independent presidential campaign, is the group’s new Senior Strategist and leading candidate recruitment. Searby has begun traveling the country to brief former elected officials, CEOs, celebrities, and other prominent figures.

On the state legislative level, the Centrist Project has hired a campaign team in Colorado and is partnering with independent organizations in Alaska, Connecticut, Maine, New Mexico and Oregon.

###

The Centrist Project strategically recruits and supports centrist, independent candidates for office. For more information, visit www.CentristProject.org.

This group hits a lot of longtime UnParty themes. Peruse its website, and you’ll run across a lot of things you might suspect I wrote myself. Such as:

Government should be pragmatic. Solve problems. Rather than a rigid ideology, governance is a process. We ask: what’s the problem we’re trying to address, why isn’t the market fixing it, and what policy would produce a better outcome? What are the tradeoffs? Then, take appropriate action that makes us collectively better off than we are today.

I’m slightly disturbed, though, that this group that presumes to affect the national government doesn’t even mention international affairs, which of course is the main thing for which we have a national government. On its “principles” page, you find such headings as “Fiscal Responsibility” and “Economic Opportunity” and “Environmental Responsibilty.” I like the repeated use of the word “responsibility” (very Grownup Party), but I wonder that I find nothing even remotely like “Diplomacy,” “National Defense,” “Global Leadership,” or just “Foreign Affairs.”

In fact, one could be forgiven for thinking this is run by and for disaffected Democrats, who have such a habit of forgetting that international affairs are a thing.

Just a few basic lines about adhering to the post-1945 bipartisan consensus regarding America’s role in the world — which is as centrist a position as I can think of — would have been comforting.

But I am intrigued nonetheless…

What is the appeal of the Ivanka brand?

Ivanka

This is a follow on this previous post, in which I wrote about the bizarre personal-business hustling engaged in by the Trump family even as daughter and son-in-law are (even more bizarrely) engaged in high-level diplomacy and policymaking.

It leads me to this tangentially related thought:

You know what absolutely floors me? The fact that there’s a market for Ivanka Trump clothing, or whatever it is she sells. (Yep. Just checked. It’s clothing.)

What would motivate people to dig into their pockets and buy such things — and not other items that clothe one’s nakedness just as effectively? It’s a complete mystery to me. And yet they do. I heard on the radio this morning that her sales are up 166 percent since last year.

And I’m not really talking about Ivanka Trump in particular. What makes people want to buy, I don’t know, things branded with the names of Martha Stewart or whomever? What does the buyer think he (or, I suppose in these instances, more likely she) is getting by paying for that brand? What void is being filled by obtaining these products? How is one’s life made better?

Come on, it's Steve McQueen -- that's a special category.

Come on, it’s Steve McQueen!

I’ve tried to think of when I’ve bought or yearned for things for similar reasons, and I guess I have to go back to my childhood. I thought a toy sawed-off rifle like the one carried by Steve McQueen in “Wanted: Dead or Alive” was amazingly awesome, but come on — that was Steve McQueen. Anything associated with the King of Cool — such as the poster of him on a motorcycle from “The Great Escape” that adorned the wall of my room in my high school days — should be in a separate category.

In junior high, my friends and I were briefly interested in cheap plastic “spy” gadgets that bore the 007 logo were pretty great.

Also, I was attracted in part to my first set (half-set, actually) of golf clubs (also in high school) by the fact that they were Arnold Palmer brand. I liked Arnie. I wanted to play like Arnie (he always went straight at ’em).

But since then, I can’t think of anything along those lines. Which means that to the extent that I understand the impulse to buy celebrity brands, I regard it as a mark of the immature mind.

And perhaps it’s very young people who are buying the Ivanka stuff. But I have a feeling that that’s not entirely the case.

Taking it from the general to the specific, of course, I suppose the appeal of her stuff in particular is related to whatever the Trump appeal is, which also remains unfathomable to me. I suppose there’s a certain desperate, sad sort who sees the Trumps as glamorous rather than tacky.

But my question is broader than that…

In the '60s, the head of an Arnold Palmer driver was considered fairly large, which seems ridiculous now...

In the ’60s, the head of an Arnold Palmer driver was considered fairly large, which seems ridiculous now…

O’Reilly sounds slimy. I’m glad he’s gone. But he’s not POTUS…

Yes, slimey TV personalities who abuse women SHOULD get canned...

Yes, slimey TV personalities who abuse women SHOULD get canned…

The world we live in gets stranger every day. For the last two days, I’ve been traveling and a bit out of the loop. So I sit at my laptop to catch up on the news before ending my day, and I see that the lead story on most of the news sites I follow is about a TV personality losing his job.

This is probably one of these things like NCAA tournament games coming to Columbia two years from now — people who follow 24/7 cable TV “news” are likely to see it as a far bigger deal than I do.

From what I’ve read, it seems to me no wonder that he’s being shown the door. But maybe people didn’t think it would happen. Or didn’t think it would happen at Fox (despite what happened to Roger Ailes). Or something. I don’t know. I’m a bit color-blind in the TV “news” celebrity range.

To the extent I have an opinion about it, I say way to go, Fox. If the allegations are true, sounds like he’s a major slimeball. But I have to say I’m more concerned about the fact that we have a president who has boasted of similar behavior.

And other stuff.

Check out this Jennifer Rubin column, appropriately headlined “Trump’s ethical squalor is worse than you thought.”

From his abuse of his access to secret intelligence to smear the former administration to the unbelievably tawdry, petty, tacky personal financial dealings of the Donald and his kin, we are seeing behavior we have never, ever seen on the part of anyone with so much power over our country and the world. As the conservative columnist writes:

President Trump’s ethical sloth and financial conflicts of interest are unique in American history. (The Harding and Grant administrations were rife with corruption, but the presidents did not personally profit. Richard Nixon abused power but did not use his office to fatten his coffers or receive help from a hostile foreign power to get elected.) But it keeps getting worse….

You would think, reading of his doings and the business dealings of daughter Ivanka, that these were dirt-poor people who had for the first time in their lives set eyes on a chance to pick up a dollar, and were so desperate to seize the opportunity while it lasts that they would never pause for a second to consider the ethical considerations. What do I mean? Cheesy stuff like this, which Ms. Rubin cites from The Associated Press:

On April 6, Ivanka Trump’s company won provisional approval from the Chinese government for three new trademarks, giving it monopoly rights to sell Ivanka brand jewelry, bags and spa services in the world’s second-largest economy. That night, the first daughter and her husband, Jared Kushner, sat next to the president of China and his wife for a steak and Dover sole dinner at Mar-a-Lago, her father’s Florida resort….

And yes, this is part of a pattern:

This is hardly an isolated event for Ivanka Trump. Recall that as she was working on a clothing deal with a Japanese apparel giant — whose parent company’s largest shareholder is wholly owned by the Japanese government — she was sitting in a transition meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Even aside from this, Jordan Libowitz, spokesman for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, observes: “This raises serious questions that we should not have to be asking. The White House is not a side gig.”…

Yeah, I know — this stuff (and Trump’s ongoing refusal to disclose his tax returns or truly wall himself off from his businesses) is going on every day, and doesn’t seem as fresh as the nasty doings of some guy on TV.

But, as I keep saying, we can’t allow ourselves for a moment to regard any of this as normal…

Open Thread for Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Turn her about, boys, and show 'em our stern chasers!

Turn her about, boys, and give ’em a good look at our stern chasers!

Busy day today folks, and tomorrow will be the same. Basically, we’re producing a video for the S.C. Association of Counties annual meeting. It’s their 50th anniversary, and we’re talking with folks about the highlights of that period from a county government perspective, which means we’re talking a lot about the Home Rule Act of 1975. This morning I interviewed Jean Toal, who was on that legislation’s conference committee as a freshman legislator. We had a couple of other interviews with key officials, both here in Colatown and up in Lancaster. More interviews tomorrow, ending with former Gov. Dick Riley up in Greenville.

So, fun stuff if you’re me and love to talk about Home Rule. (With Chief Justice Toal today, I even got to talk a bit about how Home Rule is subsidiarity in action, although that part won’t make the video.)

Here are some other things y’all might want to talk about:

  1. Despite talk of a military strike, Trump’s ‘armada’ sailed away from North Korea — And so we have the Trump corollary to the Nelson dictum: Never mind maneuvers, always go straight away from ’em!
  2. British prime minister makes stunning call for early elections amid Brexit fallout — Another side topic Justice Toal and I briefly touched on had to do with the virtues of a parliamentary system. And here we see one advantage, from the perspective of those who like to see government do stuff — a leader can consolidate power by calling an election more or less at will. Here’s an explainer from the Beeb for you Yanks…
  3. Columbia, Colonial Life Arena to host NCAA men’s tournament — But… but… I thought we just had that. What? You mean, in 2019? Come on, people — shouldn’t we be talking about baseball now?
  4. Mark Sanford gets an earful on health care, affair — It seems these townhall meetings just are not getting any more pleasant.
  5. Netflix’s biggest competitor? Sleep — Yeah, that’s about right — at my house anyway. Along about 10:45 tonight, I’ll be asking myself, One more episode of “30 Rock” or get 8 hours?
Whaddya think, Lemon? One more episode, or a good night's sleep?

Whaddya think, Lemon? One more episode, or a good night’s sleep?

Now even the Easter Bunny is normalizing Trump

The night infiltration course. See the earthen berm in the background? See that line of little bumps right below? Those are the soldiers, staying as low as possible under the MG fire. What I saw looked way sharper than this; it was hard to line up my camera lens with the night-vision device.

The night infiltration course. See the earthen berm in the background? See that line of little bumps right below? Those are the soldiers, staying as low as possible under the MG fire. What I saw looked way sharper than this; it was hard to line up my camera lens with the night-vision device.

Last Tuesday night, Bryan Caskey and I were observers at Fort Jackson when some recruits went through the night infiltration course.

It was fascinating, and we both appreciated the opportunity. Basically, here’s what happened: We were bused out to the course right after dark. The course consisted of 100 yards or so of soft sand. At one end is a trench and a tall earthen berm. At the other are two towers, with machine guns mounted atop them. At the appointed time, soldiers slithered up out of the trench and made their way on their bellies and elbows through the sand toward the towers. The machine guns fired over their heads, with tracers so we could track the rounds. We civilians (several dozen of us) stood 15 or 20 yards behind the towers with foam plugs in our ears and — here’s the cool part — watched through night vision goggles.

Earlier, before we boarded the buses, we received a briefing from Maj. Gen. “Pete” Johnson. He gave a great, highly informative talk that even civilians could understand. But after he was finished, Bryan turned to me and sought my reaction to one tiny, relatively insignificant part of the speech. He asked me whether it seemed weird to me to hear a serving United States Army general officer, in uniform, make a passing reference to “President Trump.”

Yes, I said, it did. The general, of course, has no more say in the matter than I do. But it is disturbing to reflect that we have this wonderful, professional army, with fine officers and brave recruits ready to sacrifice for their country, and the supreme commander who gets to tell them all what to do is You Know Who. There’s no way that gets to feeling normal. One hopes.

But over the weekend I experienced a bigger shock. It was one thing to see Henry McMaster, and other Republicans who should know better, stand next to Trump back during the campaign.

But to see the Easter Bunny himself, a revered mythical figure, standing next to the Trumps at the annual White House Easter Egg Roll — that just takes the weirdness to a whole other level.

That just makes it all a little too real…

That's the Bunny on the right -- the one with the shocked expression.

That’s the Bunny on the right — the one with the shocked expression.

What? Where did the Surfside Pier go?

Pier 1

The only thing I saw over the last few days that was newsworthy was that a huge part of the Surfside Beach pier was missing.

It was the first time I’d been there since Hurricane Matthew, and it was weird to see people playing in the surf out past the end of the pier.

Apparently, local folks have been having trouble figuring out whether and/or how to rebuild it, and it probably won’t be up and operating until next year sometime, at best.

It’s amazing anyone would even consider not rebuilding. But then, I remember when the pier played a more central role in the town’s life. When I was a kid, and even later when my older kids were young, that was the place to go. There was the pier, and the bingo hall, and the arcade, and the little family-scale amusement park, all right there together. Back in the days before cable TV, there wasn’t anything to do in the evening in Surfside besides going to the pier — unless you wanted to go down to Murrells Inlet and wait an hour to be seated for dinner.

Here’s what it looked like back then. I wish this had been taken from a different angle, so you could see the arcade and amusement park better — as opposed to the parking lot (which used to be free, by the way) — but you can see it would be the focal point of a sleepy, family beach town.

Then, sometime in the 80s as I recall, someone got the idea of replacing everything but the pier itself with a high-rise hotel. There went the center of Surfside life. Sometime after that (I’m thinking after Hugo repairs), someone got the idea of charging people a dollar or two just to walk on the pier.

Still, I hope they get it together and rebuild. The pier may not be what it was, but I still can’t imagine Surfside without it.

You know what it looks kind of like from this angle? One of those Imperial Walkers from "The Empire Strikes Back." To me, anyway...

You know what it looks kind of like from this angle? One of those AT-AT Imperial Walkers from “The Empire Strikes Back.” To me, anyway…