Bananas, bananas, bananas…

You lie!

You lie!

Yeah, that headline is a reference to a Woody Allen movie. (I’d link to a gif of the actual line, but I can’t find it. Here’s a poster.) It seemed to fit, although I can’t swear it’s appropriate. I haven’t made up my mind yet on the whole, If the person is scandalous, must the person’s works be avoided like the plague thing. Maybe they must. I don’t know. Maybe we can have a side debate about that.

But here’s the point of the post: I took the above and below images in the produce department at Walmart a couple of months back, and just ran across them again.

They lie.

None of the bananas in the images are anywhere near “ready to eat now.” Look at the ones they say that about. See all that green near the stem. You can’t even peel them without either using a knife or unnecessarily crushing the fruit beneath. They’re just not ready.

They will continue to contain a certain chemical (I don’t know what that chemical is, but it tastes wretched) that makes them taste “green” and makes them hard to digest for several days, maybe even a week. Wait not only until they are no longer green, but until you get some small black flecks on the yellow. Then, they will be fine — still fresh and firm, and sweet, and without that chemical taste that is every bit as offensive as, I don’t know, artificial sweetener.

I’ve known this for most of my life — certainly ever since I lived in Ecuador as a kid, and pushcarts came around my neighborhood selling a wide variety of bananas — verdes, marduros, guineos, and such. Actually, I may be remembering or spelling some of those wrong. It’s been a long time. More than 50 years later, things get fuzzy. So it was kind of a relief to visit Thailand several years ago, and see fresh fruit regularly brought to the table, and never, ever was there a banana with a hint of green on it. Because in the tropics, people know bananas.

But a lot of people don’t know these things, I find. And weirdly, some people — some even in my own family — actually like those green things. I can’t explain it.

Here’s a theory, though: You know how some people inherit a trait that makes them hate the taste of cilantro, while the rest of us find it completely unobjectionable?

Maybe it’s like that. Maybe the people who don’t want to retch at the taste, the unnatural smell of green bananas are just genetically different. Maybe they don’t taste that horrible chemical, whatever it is. So they don’t back away in revulsion from a banana that makes a crisp “snap” sound when you slice it (as though it were celery or something), the way the rest of us do. They are clearly wrong, but perhaps it isn’t their fault.

What do you think? Does my explanation work? (By the way, I tried Googling this, but didn’t find an adequate explanation.)

banana 2

 

“12 lashes, well laid on,” and other news — lots of it

full page, May 21, 1913

The full page from which the items below are excerpted.

Newspapers used to be fascinating.

No, this isn’t a post about how “newspapers were better back in my day.” We’re talking about way before my day. As in my great-grandfather’s day.

If you’re an Ancestry member, you’re familiar with the “hints” they frequently offer. To explain to the rest of you, the app is constantly offering little bits of documentation of the lives of the people on your tree. It might be something highly informative, such as an obituary (the “survived by” part is very helpful in establishing relationships) or a death certificate, or a photo you didn’t have. Some are less so — a mention in a city directory, which tells you little more than that someone lived in a certain city at a certain time.

But the most fun “hints” are pages from old newspapers. I don’t know how much you’ve delved into papers from a century or more ago, but they offer fascinating glimpses into the details of life in those times and places. They accomplish this by telling you every tiny, pettifogging detail of what was going on in that community — about a group of young men who have formed a baseball team, or an odd incident in which a mentally disturbed person did something odd in public, or who attended a wedding, or simply spent the weekend with someone in town.

As a newspaperman, I try to imagine what that was like. These smaller papers (such as, say, The News of Frederick, Md., which inspired this post) likely had tiny newsrooms. An editor, and maybe a cub reporter or two to help. But these people people did yeoman’s work in recording what was happening around them. And everything went into the paper. A single inside page of one of these papers will keep you engaged for quite a while. There is an ocean of type on a single page, sometimes more than you’d find in an entire edition of a modern paper. I get the sense that these people sat there writing these things all day and all night, like a benzedrine-fueled Jack Kerouac typing on a roll of butcher paper.

And one thing Ancestry does not do is tell you where on that page your ancestor appears. So you have to hunt. Which is fun.

Today, I was offered two such hints about my great-grandfather, Alfred Crittenton Warthen of Kensington, Md. This is great, because I know so little about him. He died when my Dad was 8 years old, and he remembers almost nothing about his grandfather.

A.C. Warthen

A.C. Warthen

On the first page, I found him right away, because it contained his obituary, so he was in the headline. This was in 1937, and obviously something of value for the tree.

With the second, he was mentioned in the last line of a tiny item about work he was doing to remodel several rooms in the Montgomery County courthouse in Rockville. He charged $2,700. This was literally the last item I read on the page, of course. I had supposed I would find him among the guests at the wedding of Miss Amy Magdelene Derr, who married the Reverend Elmer F. Rice. Or perhaps he’d be in the “PURELY PERSONAL” column, under the subhed “Pleasant Paragraphs About Those Who Come and Go.”

Nope.

But while searching, I got to reading about John W. Munday, by his own account a recent resident of an asylum in Pennsylvania, who “created a sensation” by driving into town “with $5 and $10 bills twisted in and around his ears and in his hair.” The floor of his buggy “was carpeted with greenbacks.” He was arrested on the charge of “being disorderly in the public square.” Fortunately, we are informed, “The county physician will inquire into his mental condition.”

But I was especially struck by the item immediately below that one. Here it is:

12 lashes

First, did you know that that was a punishment being legally meted out in 1913? I did not. And while I’m not necessarily advocating its return, it’s hard to imagine a more appropriate punishment for such a crime. It certainly fits this outrage better than, say, drunkenness aboard one of Jack Aubrey’s ships. And it seems to have worked, at least for the moment. As we see, he was “very meek” after the whipping. Although a Royal Navy bosun’s mate from Aubrey’s day might have questioned whether the lashes were truly “well laid on,” since “no blood was drawn.”

Turning to a lighter matter, there was a lengthy story about the fact that regular Tuesday and Friday night dances were to “commence in earnest” at the Braddock Heights pavilion. These events were apparently organized or sponsored by “the railroad,” although which railroad is not specified. I suppose everyone knew, and that this was somehow a normally thing for railroads to do back in that day.

But the best part was that most of the story was dedicated to the scandalous goings-on among some young people at such events, and how the manager appointed by the railroad would try to keep a lid on it. An excerpt:

turkey trot

Those wacky kids. They just don’t seem to realize what a watchful eye the manager has.

Best and Worst Comics (in The State, currently)

Not great, but not bad, either, considering this is 2021.

Not great, but not bad, either, considering this is 2021.

I hated having to add those qualifiers — (in The State, currently) — because it’s sort of lame limiting oneself to the comics in one paper at a given moment.

You find yourself leaving out legendarily good and bad comics from over the years — from “Calvin and Hobbes,” which is unquestionably the best strip in history, down to lame ones such as … I don’t know… “Snuffy Smith,” or “Kathy.” Or “the Yellow Kid,” for that matter.

Also, y’all know I believe strongly in the Nick Hornby Top Five principle, and if I limit myself to what’s in The State now, it’s hard to come up with that many, for best or worst.

But here’s the thing: These are the only comics I’ve regularly seen, for decades. I subscribe to several newspapers, but since I read them through the apps, I never see the comics — if they have comics.

So for those reasons, while I’ve wanted to compile such a list, or pair of lists, for years, I’ve repeatedly put it off. But now, I see The State is about to revamp the comics, so it’s now or never. (“The State is refreshing our comics and puzzles offerings beginning Monday,” an email ominously announced Friday.) If I’m going to pass judgment on the ones we know, it must be done now.

So, let’s start with the “best,” which is a short list, and a sad one. This is a dying art form (a subset of a dying industry), and has been for some time. At the end of 2020, there was a good piece in The Washington Post about “1995, the year that comics changed forever.” It was accompanied by another headlined, “‘Calvin and Hobbes’ said goodbye 25 years ago. Here’s why Bill Watterson’s masterwork enchants us still.” I recommend them both.

There has been nothing nearly as good on comics pages since that fateful year a quarter-century ago. The first story I mention above reminds us that Watterson ended “Calvin & Hobbes,” Gary Larson stopped doing “The Far Side,” and Berkeley Breathed, the creator of “Bloom County,” abandoned his Sunday-only “Bloom County” spinoff, “Outland” — all in that same year, 1995.

It’s one of the tragedies of the genre that they quit the way they did — although maybe that’s why we remember their work so fondly. They deliberately quit before sliding into the habitual monotony of cranking out repetitive garbage decade after decade — which regularly happened, because once a strip was established, it didn’t have to maintain any standards. Newspaper readers, back when such existed, were creatures of habit who would howl if their familiar strips disappeared.

We all would have been right to howl, though, in 1995. We’ve had an occasional chuckle since then, but not the everyday brilliance to which we were once accustomed.

Here are the best that are left, in this one paper. While they are nothing like the great stuff we once knew, these two rise far above the best:

  1. “Overboard.” It was launched in 1990, and we started running it in The State almost right away. I remember Jim Foster, then the features editor, bringing proofs of it for me to see. I was delighted — while they weren’t “Calvin and Hobbes,” they were really good. I have tried many times to Google my favorite from that era, without luck. It went like this: Two of the pirates are standing by their ship’s rail. I think one is drinking coffee. Otherwise, they’re doing nothing, which is fairly standard with these guys. Another pirate comes and stands on the rail, preparing to swim. He asks the first two whether those are shark fins or dolphin fins down there. One of them says, “Dolphin,” and the swimmer dives in. The pirate who said “dolphin” turns to the other and says, “Like we’re ichthyologists or something….” Now I’m not saying this strip is still as good as it was. (OK, so maybe you needed to see it.) But it still stands out, even though it has resorted to one of the oldest shifts in the book: moving largely from the pirates to concentrating on personified dogs, cats, mice and sharks. But it’s still mildly amusing, and that’s remarkable these days.
  2. “Dilbert.” A lot of people adored this when it came out. I thought that reaction was a bit much. I saw it as good, but even within the limited class of workplace satire, I didn’t like it as much as, say, Mike Judge’s “Office Space.” (Which was brilliant.) But as I say, it was good, and it has stayed almost as good as it started out being. Which is always remarkable, and rare, which is why Watterson quit at the peak of his game — he wanted Calvin and his tiger to be remembered at that level. Scott Adams soldiered on, and hasn’t fallen completely on his face yet, except in the area of political commentary. So he deserves credit for that. By the way, I thought I saw some significant changes in the title character’s arc this past year: Did you notice that during the COVID crisis, the formerly deadpan Dilbert started occasionally getting really frazzled and upset? Like, freaking out? Maybe it’s just my imagination. But I need to say this for Adams: He and Chip Dunham of Overboard did more with the pandemic than any other strip that I paid attention to.

There are miles between those and any others. I still look at “Peanuts” every day, out of respect. Even though they’re all reruns, I’m a traditionalist, and Charles M. Schulz was doing fine work back when no one else was. Looking around further on that page, I can remember when “Zits” was occasionally amusing, but that was a long time ago.

It’s been a quite some time since “Doonesbury” has appeared in the daily comics. (Based on the Sunday version, we’re not missing much. It lost the raw freshness that made it something special in the early days, decades and decades ago.)

Now, for the worst. This is tough, and the competition is fierce. Two lie far below the others, and I’m likely to pick either as worst depending on my mood. But at the moment, I say:

  1. “Funky Winkerbean.” This was always, always awful, even in its original iteration. Remember when it was a high school “comedy,” a sort of lame forerunner of an actual good strip, “Kudzu?” (Remember that? We lost it in 2007, upon the untimely death of Doug Marlette.) “Funky” was never funny, but it seemed to be making an honest, though inept, attempt to be. It was bad, but in a perfectly ordinary way — not so it would stand out. It could have continued in that vein indefinitely, and I’d be ignoring it now, because it would blend into the herd. But Tom Batiuk wasn’t satisfied. He jumped not only a shark, but an ocean of them. The strip has gone through two inexplicable major changes, with the characters aging. And call me mad for saying it, but I think this was a failed attempt at seriousness. When I read it now, there is often a smirking, smug stab at something that I think is intended to be seen as… meaningful or something. Only it isn’t. Wikipedia respectfully describes the current state this way: “Since the 1992 reboot and especially since the 2007 time jump, the strip has been recast as a serialized drama, though most strips still feature some humor, often based on wordplay.” Yes. I’ve seen some of those puns. The fact that Batiuk has gone to so much effort to take the strip from bad to much worse, and done it in such an odd way, is what earns him the bottom ranking. The other “worst” strip just didn’t try that hard, ever, in my lifetime.
  2. “Mary Worth.” For decades, I have mocked this one as the worst, but frankly, it doesn’t deserve the distinction, because it has never made the kind of effort that Batiuk has invested. How to describe “Mary?” It’s like someone took the worst soap opera on TV, and determined to strip it of anything — sex, or whatever — that might seem even slightly interesting to anyone on the planet. (You know how in soap operas — at least, on the ones my grandmother used to watch — two characters would sit and talk about nothing over sherry, and the conversation would go on for weeks? This is like that, only without the sherry.) This all took shape well before I was born (the strip began in 1938), and it has just lain there and stagnated ever since. Anyway, it feels like I’ve been making sarcastic remarks about this strip for my whole life. About 10 or 15 years ago, I think someone at Free Times heard one of those remarks and misinterpreted it, think that I was saying I liked Mary Worth. I gathered this from a couple of remarks I heard from different people at that paper, who seemed very amused that That old guy Brad actually likes “Mary Worth.” At least, I think that was what was happening. Each time it did, I would challenge the person speaking, and that person would just smile and change the subject. Anyway, it occurs to me that this is by far the funniest, and possibly most interesting, thing that has ever happened in connection with this “comic” strip.

OK, I’m tired now, and frankly, the comics pages are so sad that it’s not really worth it to pick on any others, as lame as “Garfield” and “Dennis the Menace” and “Hi and Lois” and “Sally Forth” (not to be confused with the softcore pornographic classic by the same title, which at least on its own terms was interesting) are. I just don’t have the heart.

The comics were once a wonderful thing, back when newspapers were thriving. We live in a different time now…

comics 2comics 3

 

 

 

 

 

What an odd thing to say at this moment in history

The fuss over her tweets seems rather silly.

The fuss over her tweets seems rather silly.

The headline attracted me: “Why should Neera Tanden have to be confirmed by the Senate, anyway?

I’m not particularly interested in the case of Ms. Tanden, or the job she has been nominated to fill (it has to do with money, right?). But I was interested to see what sort of argument would be presented, and whether it had any merit.

After all, a case can be made that this or that office shouldn’t require the Senate’s advice and consent. As this author points out, the president’s chief of staff doesn’t have to be confirmed, so why should a functionary such as this one? And of course, it’s absurd how long it takes a new president to get his team in place. If there are legitimate ways to accelerate the process, let’s discuss them. As this author says, “Posts can go unfilled for months or even years. This keeps a president from doing what he was elected to do.”

(“This author,” by the way, is one Henry Olsen, with whom I was not familiar — even though he is apparently something of a regular in the Post. I guess his past headlines haven’t awakened my curiosity.)

Anyway, he was cooking along fairly well, even though he was edging close to problematic territory in the fourth graf, which begins, “These concerns were justified in 1789.” He’s talking about the reasons why the Framers included advice and consent in the Constitution, and apparently he is attracted to the seductive, modernist (excuse me for using such a harsh, condemnatory term) idea that what was a good idea then isn’t necessary now. But while I harrumphed a bit, I kept going to let the gentleman make his case.

Then I got to this:

It’s ludicrous to think this could happen today. Presidents arise from an extensive democratic process that makes them directly responsible to the people. They build political coalitions from diverse groups that seek to use public power to advance their agendas. These factors constrain the president far more than Senate confirmation. These considerations, along with the 22nd Amendment, which limits presidents to no more than two full terms, means there is little reason to fear that a president can turn the office into a personal fief wielding power without constraint.

Yikes! Trump has only been out of office, what, five minutes? Where has this guy been the last four years? We just lived through a period during which the nightmare foreseen by Hamilton, et al., came to life, to an extent he and the others probably couldn’t imagine in 1789. And everyone knows this! If there is any upside to Trump’s time in office, it’s that he got so many people to go back and read the Federalist Papers, because they realized we had before us such a lurid example of what those guys were on about.

What an extremely odd time to say such a thing!

Look, I don’t care whether this woman becomes head of the OMB or not. Personally, if Joe wants her, I’m inclined to give her the job, and the fuss over her past tweets seems pretty silly, but it’s not an important issue the way, say, Merrick Garland’s nomination as attorney general is.

But dang, if you’re going to argue that people nominated for this position shouldn’t have to undergo confirmation, then do it in a way that doesn’t make us think you spent the last four years in a cave!

I’ve got to go back and read that bit again: “Presidents arise from an extensive democratic process that makes them directly responsible to the people.”

Oh, let’s take a look at what those “people” — 74 million of whom voted for the guy again — are up to now… Have you seen this video from the CPAC gathering? Oh yeah, these people are gonna keep this guy accountable…

The kids aren’t getting smarter — or any more responsible

queue

A friend sent me this picture a little while ago. I immediately asked whether she was still there, and could get me another shot without that car in the way.

She said it wasn’t hers; she had gotten it from a Tweet:

I checked with the guy who posted it, and he said he took the picture at about 3:30 p.m. today.

That’s the same spot pictured in this previous post, at 5:48 p.m. on Sept. 9.

The earlier shot was less… impressive, if that’s the word you want to use.

It almost seems irrelevant to ask, but how many masks do you see? No, I don’t see any, either.

What does one say about this kind of indiscriminate, homicidal behavior?

I dunno. Here’s what Chris Trainor of The State had to say:

Oh, one more thing: I don’t think they’re waiting to get into Subway. It’s about the bar next door. But that’s just a guess on my part, based on what I was told the last time. I asked Lee Snelgrove, and he didn’t know — he was just riding by…

A real DNC Membership Card? Thanks! But no thanks…

Y’all know I’m a fan of Jaime Harrison, but I’m going to have to turn down his latest offer, which came today via email.

The message was headlined, “Brad’s 2021 DNC Membership Card,” and sure enough, down in the body of the email, there it was:

unnamed

Note that even though it had to be a bogus, random bunch of characters, I smudged out the supposed “ID” number. I’ve never given a penny to the DNC, but I was worried they might actually have me on file (else why do I get these emails?) from having given to Jaime, or Joe Biden. Or maybe from that $5 I gave ex-astronaut Mike Kelly at the last minute last year. Or the very first contribution I made to anyone — that was Mandy Powers Norrell.

Because, you know, that’s something I started doing last year — giving (very small amounts) to candidates I like. And since I started doing it in 2020, the year that there wasn’t a single Republican I would vote for who had opposition, I only gave to Democrats.

But a membership card? Save that for the people who want one.

The email claims there have been 102,753 such people so far. Well, good for them. Obviously, you don’t need me…

I guess actual humans never even glance at these things before they go out

jamessmith

Why isn’t this site performing better, Jessica?

I get a LOT of unsolicited emails from people offering to help this blog perform better.

Usually, they start with some nonsense about how the sender has been looking at my site, and finds it utterly fascinating, but could help me make it better for a very reasonable price. Then, it always, always, fails to give me any reason to believe that the sender has ever so much as glanced at the blog.

Sometimes I get one for some other site to which I have a connection. Today, I got this one:

Hello Jamessmith.com Team,
 
I would like to have a discussion with you regarding the web promotion strategy for your website Jamessmith.com. We wish to work out a proposal to strengthen the online presence of your website, via a strategically planned web promotion campaign. In today’s online era, you should be focusing on the new revolutionary ways of generating traffic (and subsequently, leads).
 
We are curious to know if you are aware that a few issues bugging your website and sorting out these will help you get the best returns out of your website.
 
1. Your website seems to be attracting traffic, but this traffic is almost stagnant and limited, which affects potential sales as you move forward.
2. Your website doesn’t feature in Google’s first search page for some of the major keywords in your niche, which affects visibility and your business.
3. Your website has been diagnosed with On-Page and On-Site issues, which affects the ranking.
4. Your backlinks profile is not efficient enough to help your search engine visibility.
5. Your website is currently not being properly promoted online according to Google’s new guidelines (after latest Google Panda & Penguin update), which is affecting your marketing strategy and goals.
6. Your presence in the social media platform is minimal. This is depriving you of a huge market of prospective referral clients.
7. Your website may be penalized by Google.
8. Social media profiles are not updated regularly.
9. A low number of internal and external quality links present on your website.
10. Not updating fresh contents for your website and blogs as per the latest Google guideline (Penguin & Panda).
And many more…
 
We are expert in running a promotional online marketing campaign for websites. We have a host of ethical services and techniques, which you can utilize to improve your website’s performance. 
 
Also, let me update you that our service prices are very affordable and cost-effective which will come up within your budget. 
 
We are also doing website designing and redesigning at affordable cost and fast delivery within 2 weeks. As we are familiar with search engine guidelines, so the website will be search engine friendly and technically sound. Also, we are giving 3 months of free website maintenance service.
If there is/are any bad reviews regarding you/your website, our ORM campaign will help you to push down the bad reviews from 1st page to 3rd page within 45 days of the campaign.
 
If my proposal sounds interesting for your business goal, feel free to email me, or can provide me with your phone number, Whatsapp number or Skype Id and the best time to call you.
I would be very glad to hear back from you.
 
Best Regards,
Jessica
Search Engine Consultant

These things crack me up. I mean, look at all those specific suggestions, meant to give me the impression that ol’ Jessica has been burning the midnight oil studying jamessmith.com with great zeal and intensity. She knows all about it! And she’s an expert! She’s going to fix it!

Of course, if an actual human being with a modicum of experience on this planet — or on the Web, for that matter — had looked at the site for 30 seconds, she would have concluded that:

  • This site is defunct, and has long stopped performing its original function. The homepage is a shell from which all links lead to empty pages without content. Which disappoints me because sometimes I’d like to refer back to those releases I put up during the campaign, but they’re gone.
  • This is not a site aimed at “sales.” It’s a political campaign site.
  • The campaign was in 2018. That datum might not be on that page, but a few seconds on Google would tell you right away. Which is a step any human wanting to know anything about this would take, long before sending anyone a 456-word email in an effort to make a “sale.”
  • “Your presence in the social media platform is minimal.” Say what?!?!? Assuming that this is 2018 — which is what you seem to be assuming — I’m pumping out social media like a madman! Social media is one of several full-time jobs I’m killing myself doing, day and night! Oh, wait… I had a little flashback there. You almost made me forget for a second that this is 2021….

And so forth…

Pretty much every bullet point can be dismissed with, “Yeah, that might be interesting if this were October 2018…”

OK, I know you’ll say, “Then why don’t you take down the whole site?” Well, first of all, I don’t have that job any more. I’m not even sure I have the access.

I don’t know why that shell is still operating. I don’t much care. It’s not bothering anybody. Maybe I’ll ask James next time I run into him (which doesn’t happen often, because pandemic). Or maybe I won’t. This isn’t a question likely to stay in my head long. For that matter, I have no particular reason to think he even knows that homepage is still up.

I have sympathy for Jessica, assuming there is a Jessica. Back during my newspaper career, I thought that having to sell something to people would be the hardest thing in the world (the people in advertising always had my pity). I had it slightly wrong. The hardest thing in the world is selling by way of cold calls. Mind you, this isn’t the worst kind of cold-calling — that would involve actually talking to busy people, in person or on the phone. But it’s still a thankless task.

Sympathy aside, though, this is ridiculous…

One last gift — six of them, in fact — from our old friend Burl

Arthur meets his destiny.

Arthur meets his destiny in “Excalibur.”

My eye fell across my blogroll — way down there on the right-hand rail, below the little box that shows my most recent Tweets — and I was thinking, “Probably time to go through that and see if anything should be removed, or added.” I do that about every five years, whether I need to or not.blogroll

There I saw the link to my high school friend Burl Burlingame‘s “Honolulu Agonizer,” and I felt a pang of loss. As you know, we lost him suddenly almost two years ago. I also knew that in the last few years before his death, he had sort of lost interest in his blog, and had seldom posted.

I went to see, thinking I’d probably leave the link up anyway, assuming the blog was still there. That blog helped me reconnect with Burl after 38 years or so. I had been so glad to find it, and to get to correspond with him and reflect the more or less parallel tracks our lives had followed, as newspapermen and then bloggers. You’ll see the Agonizer mentioned in what I think was the first post on my blog in which I mentioned Burl. That was in 2009. From then on, he joined our conversation here periodically.

So I looked at his old blog, and found myself delighted.

In the last couple of months before he died, Burl had inadvertently given us a parting gift — he had posted some of his movie reviews, and other pieces he’d written, from over the years. I guess they were favorites of his, but I can’t ask him, so I don’t know. Maybe something had just come up that made him think of something he’d written long before, and since he’d looked it up, he posted it.

The thing about being a old newspaperman is, the stuff you wrote back before everything was archived electronically can feel sort of dreamlike, lost in the mists of time: Did I really write that? What did I say exactly? So if you go back and dig it up, perhaps as a tattered, brownish clipping from a moldering cardboard box in the garage, it’s natural to decide to put it out in the sun here in the Brave New World, and let others look it over. Make it clickable, so to speak.

(After a couple of my kids learned that I reviewed the original “Star Wars” for my paper, they told me they wanted to read it. They asked me years ago. I’m pretty sure it’s in a box somewhere in the garage, or the attic, and I’d love to share it with them. But I don’t know where to start…)

I think Burl may have physically retyped these from paper versions, because I’ve run across a word or two that he missed in his haste, and I doubt they were originally published that way. In any case, I appreciate him taking the trouble.

There are only six pieces, but I enjoyed them. And you should know that one of them was termed, by a writer for Vogue and The New Yorker, as “The Greatest Movie Review Ever Written.

As to my favorite, it’s a tough call between his reviews of “Excalibur” and “The Final Countdown.” But so that they might be shared with y’all as well, here’s the full list, as he reposted them, the most recent on top, blog-style:

  1. “Memphis Belle,” originally published Nov. 9, 1990. I really enjoyed this film. Burl says it wasn’t a great one (and it wasn’t), but finds good things to say about it anyway. It was highly Hollywoodized, but as Burl says, “It doesn’t matter if it’s true or not. It matters what the soldier believes.” Its topic, the first B-17 crew to hit 25 missions and get to go home, is treated neither as nightmarishly as in Heller’s Catch-22 (in which the number of required missions kept rising just before Yossarian got there) nor as realistically as my uncle’s real-life experience — Uncle Jack was in such a hurry to hit his own personal 25 that he flew with any crew that had an opening and would take him up. So it was less of a team thing for him. He got shot down three times. The last time was behind German lines. He was MIA when my cousin Mary Jane was born. But the Underground got him back, and he got to go home, where he resolved never to fly again. But back to the movie, which was fun. Burl had some real-life perspective to bring to the subject — not only was he a professional expert on airplanes of the period (when we visited his museum in 2015, they were restoring a B-17), but his father was a fighter pilot in the Eighth Air Force. At the end he mentions the plane sitting out rotting in the weather in Memphis. Memphis was where I went from Hawaii, where Burl and I graduated from high school. I lived in a dorm on Central Avenue. If I drove west on Central toward downtown, I’d pass that plane, sitting on a pedestal outside the Tennessee National Guard Armory. I knew it was called the Memphis Belle, but I didn’t know much else about it until much later.
  2. “Excalibur,” originally published April 14, 1981. This one must have been a cover story for the features section or something. It weighs in at 1,741 words! For those to whom that has no meaning, the review below of “The Final Countdown” is 498 words long. Here, Burl spends 420 words before even mentioning the movie. You might think that’s a lot of throat-clearing, but I think it’s my favorite part (of course, I’m a digression kind of guy) — it tells of the development of Arthurian legend, starting with several paragraphs of bio on Thomas Malory. So no, not just a movie review. For a newspaper piece about a popular movie, it takes an enthusiastic whack at the Matter of Britain. (Not a deep dive, but a plunge nevertheless.) Makes me think all reviews should be this long, at least. Read it and learn about one of the trippiest films of the early 80s, plus other stuff.
  3. “It’s Annoying Being White,” an essay written for Martin Luther King Day, 1993. This piece is very Burl. You had to know him, or at least have a similar background: “Being a kid of the ’60s. I thought this would all be over with by now. Harmony would break out between cultures by the ’90s. We’d be the ‘golden race’ that James Michener predicted, a blend of skin colors and ethnic cultures. I grew up in the world’s most integrated neighborhoods, U.S. military bases, where failure to recognize an individual except by rank was discouraged. Instead, things are more fractionated than ever…” Very much like my own perspective, only I was even more deluded: Being a military brat of the ’60s, I thought it was over already. Not necessarily because of the Civil Rights Act, or the fact that the military had been integrated in the dark ages, in 1948. It was because of all the comedy I saw on TV: Flip Wilson, Richard Pryor, Godfrey Cambridge. I thought, If people are joking about it on prime time, this stuff must all be behind us now. Imagine my shock as I grew older, and came to understand the complexity of comedy better.
  4. “Let There Be Rock-AC/DC,” originally published Sept. 16, 1980. This one interested me less than the others because I’m no AC/DC fan. But it’s always instructive to see what Burl has to say about anything having to do with pop music. Burl had been playing in bands himself since high school. At our senior class talent show, he and another guy performed together — the other guy on guitar, Burl on one of his many harmonicas he carried around with him (years before we’d heard of Elwood Blues). Lacking a talent, I performed with several friends in a slapstick routine called “The Flying Marcellos.” As a family of horrifically idiotic Italian acrobats, we were a huge hit, but I know I’d be embarrassed to see it today (fortunately, back then one’s friends didn’t perpetuate your every idiocy for you with their phones). He’d played with different bands ever since. His oeuvre was… broad. In later years, he was in a heavy-metal ukulele band called Mötley Üke. I am not making this up. And Burl always had interesting observations to make, whatever the topic.
  5. “The Final Countdown,” Aug. 5, 1980. I love that he included this, because — since Burl is an internationally known expert on the Pearl Harbor attack as well as a talented reviewer, his perspective on this is particularly valuable. I thoroughly enjoyed this film, even though it may have the most disappointing ending in the history of Hollywood (something I confirmed by watching it again last night on Prime) — the big finish that the whole movie has prepped you for just gets snatched away. I don’t know whether that was for budget reasons (the promised ending would have been extremely expensive to stage in 1980) or because it would have changed history to the point that there would have to be multiple sequels, and Hollywood didn’t think “franchise” that way back then, or what. I just know it was a monumental letdown. But what led up to that was a lot of fun. Anyway, never mind what I think; read what Burl thought…
  6. “Cannonball Run II,” July 10, 1984. Why include this? Because this was the piece that earned Burl  the “Greatest Movie Review Ever Written” title. Crappy movie, but it inspired greatness.

After those six items Burl posted in those last couple of months, the most recent thing you see is a review of “Dunkirk” from 2017, posted when it was first published.

Anyway, enjoy them. I’m pretty sure Burl would have wanted you to. I certainly did.

With Burl on Ford Island, 2015...

With Burl on Ford Island, 2015…

Rep. Russell Ott, pro-life Democrat

Russell Ott statement

Russell Ott’s statement about his vote on S.1.

As we spoke on the phone today, I kept hearing bubbling, crackling sounds in the background, like something wildly boiling over. I asked Rep. Russell Ott what was going on.

Oh, he said, that was people applauding during the signing ceremony for S.1, the abortion bill that The State describes thusly:

S. 1 requires doctors to perform an ultrasound to detect a heartbeat before performing any abortion. If a heartbeat is detected, the doctor would be prohibited from performing an abortion unless the pregnancy threatens the woman’s life or could cause severe harm to her health, if the fetus has a detectable anomaly that is not compatible with life or in cases where the woman reports being the victim of rape or incest. If a woman reports to a doctor that she was the victim of rape or incest, the doctor would then be required to report the crime to the local sheriff with or without the woman’s consent.,,,

Apparently, Henry just couldn’t wait to sign that one.

As it happened, this was what I had called to talk to Russell about. He thought he had found a quiet place where we could speak. But for him, there is no quiet place on this issue.

Russell Ott

Russell Ott

Back in December when he was re-elected as assistant leader of the Democrats in the South Carolina House, he had looked forward to working on sentencing reform, hate crime legislation, rolling out the COVID-19 vaccine, and trying to get relief and support to small business owners.

“At the end of the day, that is what it means to be a Democrat,” he told the Times and Democrat. “To look out for the working families, to make sure they have everything they need, and our support as much as possible.”

Some days, it’s easier to be a Democrat than at other times.

It turns out that once the legislative session began, the party that actually runs the State House had another priority in mind, one that led Rep. Ott to put this on Twitter yesterday:

That led to a lot of warm responses from his fellow Democrats, such as “Disappointed is a gross understatement,” and “Yeah you should definitely be primaried. Shame on you.” Someone called him “American Taliban.” So far, there are 25 replies. Of course, that’s not so bad when you consider that at the same time, there are 131 “likes.”

 

So I reached out to him in a text, noting that the reasons he cites as to why he’s a Democrat are the reasons I support Dems such as James Smith and Joe Biden. But abortion is one of the main things that keeps me from being a Democrat myself, so I could sympathize. So I wanted to chat with him before putting his statement on the blog.

He called and we spoke. I noted that it seemed he was having a rough day. He said he’d “probably had some easier ones, but it’s OK.”

He’s not bothered too much by the Twitter stuff. “Twitter’s not even real, Brad. You know that.”

“Come into my district,” he said. “People are not upset.”

Not that he dismisses the concerns of those commenting on Twitter. He respects their views. He respects everyone’s views, as he indicated in his statement. Having gotten into the habit in recent days, he asked me what mine were. I told him that might take years to relate (as y’all know), but I got to talking a bit about some of my problems talking with people who agree with me on so many things, but not on this. And while I’m not a party member, I touched on the problems I’ve had as a Catholic, in light of the fact that about half of my coreligionists voted for Trump over this very issue — setting aside everything else it meant to be pro-life.

He’s a Methodist, but he seemed to understand. Similarly, he wishes some of his more critical fellow Democrats would look at the big picture of what it means, and has long meant, to be a Democrat.

“I put up the amendment that led to the flag coming down” at the critical moment of the House debate in 2015. He’s fought for public education. He’s pushed for expanding Medicaid. “And I certainly have been applauded for that.” But for the moment, at least on Twitter, “That was all gone.”

“But that’s OK,” he says. “There’s a lot of people out there that acknowledge like I do that this is not an easy issue.”

A lot of Democrats maintain their position is not only the right one, but not to be questioned. Ditto among the Republicans, as we know. “Let’s not ignore the hypocrisy on the other side,” he emphasized. As he said in his statement, he’s a Democrat because he cares about babies after they’re born, as well.

“I’m the representative of people who sent me here to … address each issue, as they come,” he said. “I know that the opinion that I hold is not unique. A lot of people that vote Democrat a majority of the time agree with this.”

But that’s because they’re not the professional Democrats, the ones on Twitter. While many of those are fine people, ones Russell gets along with most of the time, sometimes they can be kind of like the Republicans: “Both parties weaponize this issue, and I just reject that position… If that’s the way that person feels, then fine… But if you believe that’s a human being, it’s a baby…” You have to do what you think is right.

“We shouldn’t have a litmus test in this party.”

Russell isn’t alone, of course. I just reached out to him because of the statement he had posted. Democratic Rep. Lucas Atkinson voted with him. I should probably reach out to him, too. I don’t know him and he doesn’t know me, but I found out the other day that we’re related. He’s… hang on; let me go look at the tree… my 3rd cousin, once removed.

But they’re a small group.

There’s nothing new about pro-life Democrats in South Carolina, though. Remember Vincent Sheehen, Democratic nominee for governor in 2010 and 2014? Pro-life Catholic, and one of the smartest and best people in the Senate? Yeah, he got dumped by the voters for the sin of being a Democrat — fer bein’ one a them libruls, you know.

When I brought up Sheheen, Russell pointed out how close Vincent came to being governor in 2010. He said it seems like more Democrats in the state would look and notice how well a pro-life Democrat did. And also note the fact that Jaime Harrison ran as a conventional, pro-choice Democrat, and was easily defeated in spite of having raised more money than any Senate candidate in American history.

But never mind political calculation. Russell voted the way he thought was right. And he expects others to do the same, whether they agree with him or not…

Nikki’s strange perspective on history, and everything else

Nikki oped

I was attracted to reading this by the grammatical error in the headline: “The Media Tries to Divide Republicans.” My plan was to mock it on Twitter.Fz9ZWKUO_400x400 (1)

Of course, it should have said, “the media try,” what with “media” being the plural of “medium.” Duh.

The author continued the error in the piece, with maddening frequency: “But the liberal media doesn’t care about that. It wants to stoke a nonstop Republican civil war… If the media gets its way…” Ow, my head…

Yeah, I know some editors, even at some leading newspapers, have given up on using that word correctly. They’ve just gone along with the stupid, rather than correcting such things. (Sort of the way the Republican Party went along with Trumpism — and the Tea Party and Freedom Caucus. They found it easier.) But the problem may also be related to the fact that, as I found upon calling it up, this piece was written by our own Nikki Haley. Knowing Nikki, I sort of doubt that Latin was her favorite subject in school.

Here’s the lede of the piece:

Where does the Republican Party go from here? The party that abolished slavery, won the right to vote for women, and beat Soviet communism must continue to be strong and principled to move America forward…

Yeah, the GOP was at its founding the anti-slavery party, and for about a generation there all the “woke” people were in that party — Thaddeus Stevens and the rest.

Was enfranchising women a Republican issue? Maybe. (The Fact Checker gave that claim a Geppetto Checkmark!) Not really my period. I should study it more. I do know Republican women like to say that, while you don’t hear it much from the men. I’ll let you figure out why. (Nikki dwells in that little-visited part of the political spectrum where the GOP intersects with the left’s Identity Politics.)

But “beat Soviet communism?” Say what? I was here at the time, and I seem to recall Democrats very much being a part of the liberal consensus that opposed that system most vigorously. Yeah, they got a little ambivalent about that commitment over Vietnam — seeing how our involvement there arose from the zeal of Democrats to contain Leninism. But to so casually wave away the roles of Truman, Kennedy and Johnson in standing up to the Kremlin seems a bit much.

But Nikki tends to grab things on the superficial level, and she grew up in a party in which “Reagan won the Cold War, all by himself” is something not to be questioned. And Nikki doesn’t really go looking for things to question, anyway.

I wanted to stop there, but since I’m posting about the piece, I went ahead and read the rest.

It gets worse.

People feel strongly about Mr. Trump, but we can acknowledge reality. People on the left, if they’re honest, can find Trump accomplishments they like—a coronavirus vaccine in record time, Middle East peace, more accountability from China…..

Did you know we had accomplished Middle East peace? Wow! I didn’t. Did anyone tell the Israelis, or the Palestinians? Is that a fully accepted fact in Gaza? And what’s this bit about “accountability from China?” Does she mean those capricious tariffs? And didn’t Trump do an awesome job on coronavirus? Oh, boy…

But let’s give Nikki some props. The piece has good bits:

If we can’t make judgments beyond whether someone is Republican or Democrat, then America can’t face its biggest challenges. We separate into two camps that always hate each other. We become estranged from family and friends over politics….

Amen, Nikki.

But then she goes back to the nonsense: “Mr. Trump’s legal team failed to prove mass election fraud in court. But election security is still urgently needed.” Really? WHY? What, precisely, is the problem you’re trying to address, beyond voters choosing Democrats? I refer you to the first part of your sentence: Do you have access to evidence Rudy couldn’t find?

Then there’s, “I will gladly defend the bulk of the Trump record and his determination to shake up the corrupt status quo in Washington.” WHAT?!? The guy who openly used his position to advance the fortunes of his businesses, and who kept appointing and elevating and praising and pardoning people who had NO notion of ethics at all? The guy who arrived in the “swamp” and spent four years making it deeper and slimier and adding more alligators? THAT fighter of corruption?

I’ve quoted liberally — someone explain what that word means before Nikki faints — because of the WSJ paywall. But here’s the point, boiled down: Nikki is desperately trying to be the candidate of people who want to see the GOP face up to the horrific mess that was Trump. (Right after that last quote above, she says “I will never defend the indefensible.”)

But she wants to do it while keeping support of the people who will defend the indefensible forever, as long as it was committed by you-know-who. She thinks she’s found a secret formula that will make everybody support her. She thinks she’s being frightfully clever.

This is going to make her sound like she’s babbling nonsense. Because she is. Expect her to continue to do so, as she pursues an absurd ambition…

Our cameras turn to the world of sports…

Remember when I urged you all to vote for Joe, and promised that things would return to a nice, boring normality if he won?

Well, Happy days are here again. These are my favorite things on Twitter so far today:

Oh, and don’t miss the blistering response:

These are the kinds of burning issues I enjoy….

Open Thread for Tuesday, February 16, 2021

sunny

Looking out the window of my home office: Where’s the snow?

Just a normal, quiet day — the kind I was looking forward to when I voted last year. Which is nice. But here’s some stuff to talk about…

  1. What? It’s Mardi Gras already? — So tomorrow’s Ash Wednesday. What to give up? Or maybe I should say, what else should we give up?
  2. Cayce could be among SC’s first cities to designate a COVID-19 Memorial Day — Good idea, Mayor Elise.
  3. So… what did Nikki say again? — Over the weekend, Nikki Haley said of Trump, “We need to acknowledge he let us down.” Um… who was actually counting on him for something? You know what? These politicos who have ambitions far, FAR above their abilities would do better to try speaking to the whole country, not to deluded minorities. OK, I take it back… This is what Republicans who seek to lead should be saying. Instead of kowtowing to the crazies — as those 43 senators did on Saturday, they should be exerting leadership by explaining to the base the many ways it is wrong. And I suppose this gentle, Golly, maybe we were wrong approach is the way to go about it. But it still sounds bizarre…
  4. Bitcoin Trades Above $50,000 for First Time — I don’t even know what that means. I just started subscribing again to The Wall Street Journal, which is leading with this at the moment. I enjoy reading the normal parts of the paper (politics, book reviews, opinion), but the stuff that the paper is historically known for is still unintelligible to me. Those words are nonsensical. So… a Bitcoin costs $50,000? I guess I’ll never buy one. Not that I intended to, anyway. I mean, stories about money bore me to tears, and this isn’t even about real money….
  5. At least 12 dead in 4 states as power outages, record cold strike South — That’s terrible, and I’m not complaining or anything, but why aren’t we getting any of this? Someone ADCO works with in Texas has no power. My wife’s relatives keep posting pictures of iced-over foliage in Memphis, where the snow has fallen repeatedly. And last night, we had a thunderstorm and the temperature went… up to 58. Are we on the same continent?

That’s enough for now. I’m going to go take a walk, since the sun’s shining. Let me know what other topics y’all are seeing….

I got my first vaccine shot, and so far it’s working just fine

This was the third queue, the one just before the shots. We were spaced out by this point.

This was the third queue, the one just before the shots. We were spaced out by this point.

On Friday, I did my duty and got a shot of the vaccine against coronavirus. I’m proud to be able to say that, because I’ve not been able to get flu shots in the past, but this time I did my bit toward producing herd immunity, and getting us past this thing.

Those 43 senators may not have done their duty, but I’ve mine. It’s OK; don’t thank me. I was glad to do it.

As I said, I did it on Friday, and I intended to write about it on Friday; I really did. But I wasn’t up to it. It made me sick. That is, it made me feel sick, and I spent much of the afternoon snoozing on the recliner in my home office. But this, you see, is good news. I read up on it, as I started feeling crappy, and that means the vaccine has produced a strong reaction in my immune system. So if you got the shot, but didn’t feel bad, you have a puny immune system compared to mine. That’s OK; it’s not your fault.

I had been told by some that they didn’t even feel the shot. Oh, I felt it. It wasn’t the most painful shot I’ve ever received — that title goes to the series of typhoid fever inoculations I received in 1962, which made my scrawny little arm feel like it was going to fall off — but I felt it. Especially last night, when no matter what position I got into, it ached just enough to keep me awake. But acetaminophen took care of that.

So, for you greenhorns who haven’t experienced this, here’s what it was like…

First, it was very different from when I took my parents to get their first shots back in January (the get their second ones this week). That was a quiet, peaceful, solitary experience. I took them to get the Moderna vaccine at a Publix I hadn’t realized existed (it’s on Broad River Road) before I made the appointments. If you’d been someone in the store to get groceries that day, you might not have realized the shots were being given there. There was a young woman behind a table just to the left of the entrance. No one else was there, except the person scheduled ahead of us and maybe the person before that, who was still doing the 15-minute wait afterward.

So, even though I was getting the Pfizer instead of Moderna, I figured the experience would be kind of like that. It most assuredly was not. This was closer to lining up for a physical at the recruiting station in the second week of December, 1941. Only most of the people were more… mature… than your usual recruit. And we mostly kept our clothes on, I guess because there were ladies present and all.

The shock came before I even got into the building — Lexington Medical Park 1, to be specific. I was so proud because my appointment was at 11:10, and I’d arrived by 11, meaning I was that rare thing for me, early. But first I had to creep around behind slow people trying to find a parking space, which would have been OK except then I had to stop behind a mass of people waiting outside the building, in the light rain. That was the first of three queues. It was about 39 degrees and wet, as I recall.

We were not, to say the least, six feet apart. We were practically climbing on each others’ backs trying to get under the large canopy over the entrance to escape the rain. But we all had masks on, so there’s that.

This queue — or perhaps I should say, this disorderly mass of people — was for waiting to have one’s temperature checked, and getting a green sticker to attest to it, before entering. The harried young woman in charge kept clicking the thing at several of our foreheads, and then saying, “OK, you five go on in.” Then, when I had been clicked, for some reason she said, “OK, you eight go in.” So we did.

Another lovely young woman (I keep meaning to write a post about this amazing thing I discovered when I was a stroke patient at this very hospital — that pretty much all young women wearing face masks are beautiful, especially if they work in hospitals) had those who had been admitted line up again, around the circular wall of the foyer. Then, since there were too many of us, she had a second, concentric arc form inside the first one, and told the man at the head of ours to follow the last guy in the previous one, once he passed.

At this point we started trying to space out a little. As you’d expect from a bunch of people who were going to this much trouble to get the vaccine.

Then, we got to the entrance of a hallway, and another lovely young woman directed us one at a time to one of several tables set up in that area, leading toward another door at the far end, leading in turn to the enormous room where the shots would be given. At each table was a woman with a computer.

So I went to mine, and gave her my particulars, and she asked me when my appointment was. I said it was supposed to have been at 11:10, as I glanced at my phone to see it was now 11:16. I threw on a sliver of that morally superior, chuff tone you get from people who are habitually early, but not much, because I truly hate that tone.

Speaking of moral superiority, I was still congratulating myself on having filled out the online questionnaire ahead of time when she told me I was done and to go ahead and get in the next line. OK. As I moved down the hall to the next queue, I passed another of the tables, where the worker was asking this other person about allergies, which had not happened with me. Which was weird. There had been several questions about allergies on the questionnaire, and while I was pretty sure that I was OK with this vaccine, at least one of my answers should have been a red flag to at least keep a close eye on this guy: My “yes” to the question of whether I’d ever had a serious allergic reaction to a vaccination.

That was the typhus shot I got when I was about 10 years old and living in Guayaquil, Ecuador. The substance was grown in egg. I have an extreme allergy to eggs. The State Department nurse knew this, but said I had to have a shot because regulations. So she gave me half of a child’s dose, as a compromise. I was headed into anaphylaxis before I got down one floor on the elevator to leave the building. I can’t tell you much about the next few days except it was about the sickest I ever was in my life.

This is why I don’t get flu shots. For some ungodly reason, they make that with egg, too.

But I’d done my research and felt pretty good about this vaccine, and my allergist had given me the “go” sign. But in case I was wrong, I felt like that they should know before they had a freaky situation on their hands. So I thought about that as I stood in the third and final queue — the one in the picture above. And when I sat down to get the shot, and things proceeded apace, and the lady was actually wielding the syringe near my arm, I mentioned it, saying something like, I think I’m OK on this, but so you know, I’m one of those people who has had a severe reaction to an inoculation.

And she said fine, that meant I’d have to wait 30 minutes instead of 15. Which I was fully prepared to do. So at 11:23 she stuck it in, and a modest amount of pain was produced, and I went over to my little isolated chair in the waiting area, and opened my iPad to resume reading the papers. Just before leaving the house, I had started reading a George Will column headlined, “Will Senate Republicans allow their louts to rule the party?” And now I finished it. (We know the answer to that question now, don’t we?)

We were all seated, by the way, in front of a projector screen on which a children’s movie was being projected. You couldn’t really see the picture because of the lighting (see the photo below), or hear any of the dialogue. But at one point I barely heard a song I had heard my grandchildren sing many, many times, and I knew it was “Frozen.” The day before, when my wife had gotten her shot, it had been Disney’s “Alice in Wonderland.” Which, for a crowd of people who are mostly over 65, is also an odd choice. Actually, come to think of it, assuming it makes sense to play a movie for people who will only be there for a few minutes of it is kind of odd, too, but that’s the modern waiting room.

Anyway, a good job was done, mostly, by the hospital, and I appreciate it. I don’t know why there was such a mob, compared to my parents’ experience. Are there that many more people over 65 than over 70? Or has Joe managed to step things up the last few weeks? I don’t know, but the hospital was handling it pretty well.

And we got ‘er done. And today, I felt well enough to tell you about it…

Here's where we all waited after our shots -- most for 15 minutes, me for 30.

Here’s where we all waited after our shots — most for 15 minutes, me for 30.

The Republican Party condemns itself completely

I guess not. Because in that system, we don't say, "He's clearly guilty, so let's let him go."

I guess not. Because in that system, we don’t say, “He’s clearly guilty, so let’s let him go.”

Well, the thing that we knew would happen happened Saturday.

I guess those in charge of the proceedings figured there was no point in dragging it out. Trump’s guilt of an unforgivable act was completely and unquestionably proved. But they knew the Republicans — most of them — were determined to endorse his evil, and would do so no matter how much evidence was presented. For that matter, why was evidence necessary at all? All of them had been there when it happened. And of course, some of them were accomplices.

So that’s that.

A few things to point out, and I’ll leave it with y’all:

  • There’s no question what should happen now: Every one of these people who voted to acquit should resign immediately, admitting their betrayal of the country, and not one of them should ever be allowed to hold an office of public trust in the future. Of course, they won’t resign, and most will run again in the future, and considering the extent of the sickness in the places where they come from, many will be re-elected. So we’ll just have to deal with the insanity, for many years to come. So, for the rest of my life, this country won’t be the one I lived in before 2016. That’s just the way things are.
  • This was it, you see, the big moment for the GOP to redeem itself by putting Trumpism behind it. But instead, 86 percent of Republican senators decided, Hey, let’s do this some more! They have condemned themselves completely, and unforgivably.
  • Oh, wait, do you doubt Trump’s guilt? Then you’re nuts. Listen to the chief of the acquittal crowd, Mitch McConnell: He said the insurrectionists attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6 “because they had been fed wild falsehoods by the most powerful man on Earth, because he was angry he lost an election.” He said, “There’s no question — none — that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day… No question about it.” And he voted to acquit anyway. Why? I’d tell you, if I heard anything that remotely sounds like a reason.
  • OK, let’s quote something he did say: “This body is not invited to act as the nation’s overarching moral tribunal.” No, that is exactly what you were “invited” to do. In fact, it’s the least you could have done. It is exactly what duty required of you, when asked whether to condemn the actions of “the most powerful man on Earth,” who was “practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day.” Let’s quote what another idiot, Marjorie Taylor Greene, said: “The Trump loyal 75 million are watching.” Absolutely. They were watching as you gave your stamp of approval for all that they have wrought. It was clearly, unquestionably your duty to give them the opposite message.
  • Trump lost the vote by 57 to 43. That means he lost by an even larger percentage than he lost the popular vote. But it was almost a perfect match for the proportion by which he lost the electoral vote. And contrary to what he and his mindless followers believe, he was soundly beaten in the election. Unfortunately, 57 percent is not enough for conviction for impeachment. We could argue about whether it should be or not. But the rules are the rules — although you’ll never persuade the Trump crowd of that.
  • Nancy Pelosi called McConnell et al. “cowards” for not joining the 57 who did what was clearly the right thing. She’s right about some of them. Others are worse than cowards: They’re actually on Trump’s side. If you wanted to know what percentage were cowards, and what percentage were evil, stupid or insane (whichever you think applies best to Trumpism), we’d have to get everyone to forget this vote for a moment, and have an anonymous one — then compare the numbers.
  • What happens now? Well, the good man who is now our president will continue trying to lead the country the best he can — and he’s been doing really well up to now. He’ll have to do it even though millions of Americans are lunatics, and that 43 percent of what was once the “world’s greatest deliberative body” just loudly endorsed their lunacy.

Anyway, that should be enough to get everybody started…

 

More on the problem afflicting many fellow Catholics

America screenshot

Here I am again posting about my other recent obsession (as opposed to the one about what the web is doing to our brains and society): Trying to pull back some fellow Catholics from their recent political (and theological) madness.

Reading frequently on this topic, I realized recently that I’d find a lot of good stuff (such as Jeannie Gaffigan’s great column I wrote about before) in America magazine, the Jesuit publication. So I subscribed. And yesterday they alerted me to this piece, which I thought was good.

It’s headlined, “The same Catholics who condemn ‘relativism’ and a ‘culture of death’ have built a deadly, post-truth world.

True, sadly.

An excerpt that sums up the point:

To speak of the “culture of death” and “dictatorship of relativism” is to invoke a recognizable formula that neatly sums up a particular sense of Catholic countercultural identity that has increasingly allied itself socially and politically with evangelical Protestants and the Republican Party. In this usage, this combined mantra has become a truism at best and a slogan at worst, even beyond its Catholic usage. Worse still, it has become a performative contradiction and scandal that makes a mockery of the Gospel.

In its final days, the Trump administration went on a killing spree, executing federal prisoners at an unprecedented rate; the number of Americans killed by Covid-19 broke 400,000; and five people died in a violent failed insurrection at the Capitol. Add to this the ongoing refugee crisis, the existential threats of climate change, the rise of populist authoritarianism around the world and the struggle against anti-Black racism in America, and it is not hard to see that the culture of death is alive and well.

But those who are most prone to support capital punishment and refuse Covid-19 safety protocols, who explain away and excuse violent insurrection, reject refugees and migrants, and deny the reality of climate change and racial injustice, are precisely the ones who have decried the “culture of death.” The tragedy and the farce of this situation is perhaps only rivaled—or sharpened—by the graphic and horrific images of Blue Lives Matter flags flying in the same place where a Trump-supporting police officer was bludgeoned to death with a fire extinguisher. A culture of death, indeed. Lord have mercy….

It’s worth reading, if you have access (and they allow a certain number of freebies to nonsubscribers).

Oh, by the way, I post these items in the hope that some of my fellow Catholics will see them and engage. The rest of you are certainly welcome to join in — even those of you who use all such posts as another opportunity to express your distaste for us nasty papists. Whatever, knock yourselves out.

But my fellow papists out there — this is mainly for you, so I hope to hear from you…

The engaging uselessness of Pinterest

Pinterest thinks momentary flickers of interest define me.

Pinterest seems quite sure that momentary flickers of interest define me.

I never have time for this, but sometimes when I think I do — standing in line at the store or whatever — I’ll open the Pinterest app on my phone and see what it’s offering me now.

Pinterest is a contender for most useless social medium ever. It’s neck-and-neck with LinkedIn, only more fun.

I remember, years and years ago, when I first signed up for it, spending an hour or so scanning through the images being offered, telling myself I needed to do that in order to make the app “work.” I was letting it build a portrait of me and my interests, based on which images I “pinned,” or simply called up to look at better.

I found it an interesting, idle spectacle. Like watching spots of sunlight filter through the leaves of trees in a light breeze. Or watching whitecaps dance on the sea. Or maybe flames in a fireplace.

Actually, the flames make the best comparison, because you can change the patterns somewhat by poking at the logs. And that’s how Pinterest works.

If there’s a practical use for Pinterest, it escapes me. But I suppose it’s mostly harmless, although the mechanism I see in operation is the same as what has made other social media, and sites such as YouTube, such a threat to our reason and our society. As I’ve written here and here and here.

The algorithm is doing that same thing: Asking me to tell it — by “pinning,” or simply by spending time looking — what interests me. And then it says, “If you like that, you’ll love this.” And shows me more and more of the same thing.

Which can be sort of comical, because it leaps to such odd conclusions. Remember that post I wrote about posters I had on my bedroom walls as a kid? Probably not, since it only got two comments, one of them written by me. But I enjoyed writing it — actually, what I enjoyed more was searching the web for the actual images. And the one I played the biggest was the one of Steve McQueen riding a motorcycle on the set of “The Great Escape.” Which may have been my favorite poster. I know that that was my favorite movie when I was a kid.

Anyway, in searching for it, I must have looked on Pinterest. Anyway, it caused the algorithm to assume that I am obsessed with Steve McQueen, especially when he’s riding a motorcycle. I inadvertently reinforced the McQueen thing by pinning a pic or two from “Wanted: Dead or Alive,” which was a favorite show of mine when it was on, 1958-61.

Ever since then, any time I call up the Pinterest homepage, I’ll see five or 10 or more pics of McQueen in a minute of scrolling, often on a bike. They may go away if the app is momentarily distracted by some other assumed “obsession,” but they always come back eventually.

Hey, I like Steve McQueen. Just not that much.

Actually, though, I’m not seeing him much today. Today, the app thinks I’m crazy about flamenco dancers. That’s because lately I’ve been putting random black-and-white pictures on a wide variety of subjects into my “Images” folder. And taking a quick look at the app this morning, I saw this shot with a little girl in the background framing by a wide skirt being flourished by a dancer. I didn’t even notice what kind of dancer it was; I just liked the composition and sense of motion, and thought my daughter the dance teacher might like it.

So now it just knows I’m nuts about flamenco, and I’m getting flamenco dancers left, right and center — especially if they happen to have on polka-dot dresses. It even thinks I want to see a flamenco guitarist, and close-ups of castanets.

Steve McQueen is gone, for the moment.

I’m also getting a lot of pictures of Ernest Hemingway from his late, white-beard phase. This happened because one of my kids really liked cats, so I had pinned a shot of Hemingway with one of his famous Key West cats. Now he’s all over the place, with or without cats, because of that one picture. A little while ago it showed me one of him with a dog (see image below).

It’s fun to mess with the algorithms head like this, if you assume for a moment that it has a head. It takes practically nothing, the smallest gesture on my part, for it to make huge assumptions about what motivates and animates me. And it’s all so wonderfully superficial, because it’s just pictures — the content is so shallow! There’s virtually no text, and what little there is seems to play little role in the process.

The machine isn’t completely stupid. It’s right, for instance, to believe I like Calvin and Hobbes, and Norman Rockwell. And it has an inkling that it can always grab my attention with the kinds of pinup pictures that adorned the noses of warplanes in WWII. But that’s hardly a personality profile.

I’ve been fretting recently about what artificial intelligence is doing to our politics. But I find a few minutes with Pinterest reassuring. Look where it’s going now!, I tell myself. And for that moment, I’m less concerned about AI’s ability to take over the world. Yet, anyway…

EDITOR’S NOTE: Yeah, I know I wrote about this before, years ago. But thinking recently about what these algorithms were doing to our minds, I started playing with this medium again — just to watch the way it works — so I wrote about it again.

Pinterest 2

I think I can get a cheaper mask than that

bow tie and mask

I guess I ordered a bow tie from this company at some point in the past, way back when I wore ties — back when I went downtown to the office, and stuff like that. You know, when I wore something besides cargo pants and long-sleeved T-shirts.

Anyway, they send me email so seldom that it hasn’t occurred to me to unsubscribe, so I still get emails from them.

And now they’re pushing this.

Thanks but no thanks. I can get a serviceable — and possibly more functional, in medical terms — mask than that, cheaper. I can also get a cheaper tie. I can get a better-looking cheaper tie, if I ever need to buy a tie again.

But I appreciate that you made one evoking Mardi Gras beads and all.

I wonder if anyone is surging through a crowd trying to catch beads (during the parades put on by the early krewes, the ones that do theirs in the weeks before the day)…

I hope not…

Nope. I see they’ve all been cancelled. Good idea…

Thoughts on the impeachment trial?

storm

I find it hard to watch video shot by people who don’t have the sense to turn the phone sideways. You?

Honestly, I haven’t been following it that closely, because I know that no evidence offered, no matter how compelling, is likely to induce enough Republicans to do the right thing.

If they do, I’ll applaud. We’ll finally be fully waked up from the nightmare. Not holding my breath, though. Maybe I should…

But while this process is necessary — Congress has to go through this, in light of the circumstances — I find it depressing to reflect what a firm grip stupidity and shameless evil still have on half the Senate. So I keep it in the background.

That said, what little I’ve read indicates that the Democrats are going about it intelligently, and if the Senate consistently entirely of fair-minded people, conviction would be inevitable. So that’s something.

Beyond that… I just thought I’d put this up for any of y’all who want to comment. Now I’m going to go get some dinner. I’ll check back later…

pence

Minimum wage: Another issue on which I’ve never been able to take a position

There’s a very refreshing Fact Checker piece in the Post today. It’s about whether President Biden (I love typing that) accurately represented the proposal to raise the minimum wage to $15 when he said “the whole economy rises” if we do that.

They gave him two Pinocchios. I love it. Pinocchios

No, I don’t love that my guy said something that earned two Pinocchios. I love that we’re back to checking a president’s accuracy in speaking about a technical matter of policy, rather than wild, hostile lies arising from his own deeply disturbed, evil personal impulses.

It’s refreshing.

As to the issue… this is one of those issues that people get very excited about, on one side or the other, but I’ve never been able to make up my mind about it. That’s because both sides present pretty compelling arguments.

That, by the way, is what the Fact Checker gave Joe the two Pinocchios for — stressing the upside as though it were settled fact, when there is plenty of reason to believe otherwise. In Joe’s defense, there is a large body of studies and arguments from experts that supports what he says. (And that’s what you do when you’ve decided to pursue a course and you’re trying to get people to go along — you cite the evidence for it.) The problem is that there remains a large body that says the opposite. It’s about the conflicting conclusions drawn by different economists.

The Congressional Budget Office does a pretty good job of summing up the dilemma:

On one hand, the CBO estimated that raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025 would cost 1.4 million jobs and increase the deficit by $54 billion over 10 years.

But it also estimated the policy would lift 900,000 people out of poverty and raise income for 17 million people — about 1 in 10 workers. Another 10 million who have wages just above that amount could potentially see increases, as well, the CBO reported.

On the one hand, and on the other hand.

It’s a toughie. And I’ve never been able to join enthusiastically with those who take either position: Those who want to lift 900,000 out of poverty, or those who wouldn’t do it because it might put 1,400,000 people out of work completely.

So I don’t know.

You?

 

Open Thread for Thursday, February 4, 2021

Captain Tom

I don’t have time for it today, but dang it, I’m going to post something. And even though it seems my readers are only interested in arguing over whether schools completely reopen or D.C. becomes a state, I’m bringing up other stuff. Here you go:

  1. We lose Captain Tom — He made it through the Burma campaign in WWII, but this hero of the current global struggle against a deadly threat fell in battle this week. God Bless and keep you, Captain Tom.
  2. The Attention Economy — This is a different way of grabbing ahold of the problem I’ve been writing about lately, having to do with the way the internet has done nasty things to our brains for which evolution had not prepared us. It’s about Michael Goldhaber, who in the ’80s predicted “the complete dominance of the internet, increased shamelessness in politics, terrorists co-opting social media, the rise of reality television, personal websites, oversharing, personal essay, fandoms and online influencer culture — along with the near destruction of our ability to focus….” And other stuff.
  3. We don’t have enough Walmarts now — This may seem unlikely to you, but I assure you it is a problem now. Remember how, a month ago, they announced the one on Bush River would close (as of tomorrow)? Well, this has messed with my life. That was my Walmart, the one closest to me. And now the next closest one is already overcrowded. I think I’ve been to it four times  since the announcement of the closing (assuming the one they were closing would be even more poorly stocked than usual — which, by the way, is why I suspect it has been less successful), and on two of those occasions, back to back, they were completely out of shopping carts. I did not need this new hassle. I don’t like having to go out for supplies to start with, and now this…
  4. THEN WHY DID YOU VOTE FOR HER? — Sorry about the shouting. I’m just reacting to this NYT story that tells us of the discomfiture of people who voted for Marjorie Taylor Greene. We are told that “Now the revelation of past social media posts has unsettled some who backed her.” Really? REALLY? Sorry. I’m shouting again… Here’s the thing: Even after all these decades of closely following politics, I continue to be amazed and appalled by people who vote for candidates about whom they know basically nothing. It’s one of the greatest flaws in our system, and it keeps getting worse instead of better. By the way, I didn’t finish reading the whole piece. It quotes Real People at some length, you see, and stories that go on like that tend to depress me.
  5. So I guess I’m going to have to deal with this now — SC is now going to let people over 65 get the COVID vaccine. I’m still not through deal with this with my parents — they get their second shots on the 17th — and now you say I’ve got to go through it all again? Never mind the fact that I’ve never really gotten what you’d call 100 percent assurance that I’m not allergic to it. But I suppose I need to get started… although I have no idea how or where…
  6. Frank Bruni makes me almost interested in the Super Bowl — I’ve come to really enjoy Frank Bruni’s columns over the last year or so. So when he wrote something about the Super Bowl — which, as I understand, is coming up soon — I decided to read it anyway. And something surprising happened: He made me slightly interested in his wish that this person named Tom Brady should win. That’s remarkable, Frank, and I congratulate you.