Our very first (fill in the blank) president

The saddest thing I saw this morning was United States Marines saluting as Trump arrived at the White House. All these years they kept their honor clean. Now this...

The saddest thing I saw this morning was United States Marines saluting as Trump arrived at the White House. All these years they kept their honor clean. Now this. Not their fault, of course. They’re doing their duty as always. But as someone would say: Sad!

Initially, I saw this in the Post this morning:

John F. Kennedy was the first Catholic president; Ronald Reagan, the first actor and also the first to have divorced; Barack Obama, the first African American….

And was going to Tweet, “And today we swear in our very first idiot president.” But if I Tweeted it, it would also be seen by the politer souls of Facebook, and there could be hurt feelings. And Jesus told us that “whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.” Which should most certainly give us pause. And my wife, my conscience, really doesn’t like it when I call people idiots, however richly they have deserved the honor.

So I’m trying to dial that back. Today sorely tries that resolution, but I’m trying to keep it nonetheless. As I type this, I’m listening to some Donovan in the hope that will gentle me, or at least serve as a soporific, something to numb me (Season of the Witch, indeed! So strange..). We’ll see if it works. Laudanum would probably work better.

But back to that Post story about the precedents being set today. A few examples from the list of what Donald J. Trump is:

  • The first president to have never performed public service, either by holding public office or serving in the military….
  • At age 70, the oldest man to be inaugurated president. (Ronald Reagan was 69.)…
  • The first president to be the subject of a Comedy Central Roast….
  • The first president to have not disclosed his tax returns during the campaign since the tradition began in 1976….
  • The first president to have hosted a reality show.
  • And the first to still hold the title of executive producer of one….
  • The first president to appear on Howard Stern’s radio program. Repeatedly. And brag about his sex life and discuss women’s appearances….

I’ll stop there, as I may have exceeded the bounds of Fair Use already. But I should set straight one “first” that is not. The story notes that “He will not be the first to be married to a former model. Betty Ford also modeled. However, he will be the first to be married to a former model who posed topless.”

So we have that to celebrate.

For their part, the folks at The Wall Street Journal protested that “Mr. Trump isn’t wholly unique.” Perhaps not wholly. For instance, they note that “Mr. Trump likes to play golf, a pastime many past presidents relished.”

So there’s that, too, but it’s thin stuff. And in the end, in the Journal story as well, it’s the departure from all that this country has previously experienced that stands out. We were blessed for so long, and being flawed humans, we didn’t properly appreciate it…

Trump point

Open Thread for Thursday, January 19, 2017

"That block was already messed up."

“That block was already messed up.”

Just a few items to discuss on America’s last day as a respectable nation:

  1. President-Elect Says Nation Was Divided Long Before Election — You ever see “Rush Hour?” My favorite line is when the captain, chewing out Chris Tucker, yells, “You destroyed half a city block!” Tucker shrugs it off: “That block was already messed up.”
  2. Mexican drug lord ‘El Chapo’ is being extradited to the United States — What!?! I thought that at the very least, Trump would keep out a guy like that! So what did we elect him for? No, seriously: What did we elect him for?
  3. At least this time we don’t have to pretend the president is good — I’m sharing this Washington Post opinion piece because it’s written by Columbia’s own Barton Swaim, the former speechwriter to Mark Sanford. Most provocative line, which he attributes to a left-of-center friend: “the rhetoric of consensus is always coercive.” As a big believer in consensus, I’d like to discuss that with Barton.
  4. Steven Mnuchin, Treasury Nominee, Failed to Disclose $100 Million in Assets — As I said on Twitter this morning, if this guy’s so loaded, why doesn’t he go out and buy himself another vowel?

Where did Melchizedek come from?

Peter_Paul_Rubens_-_The_Meeting_of_Abraham_and_Melchizedek_-_WGA20435

“The Meeting of Abraham and Melchizedek,” by Sir Peter Paul Rubens

The first of yesterday’s Catholic scripture readings (which I have emailed to me daily, and actually remembered to read at breakfast yesterday) is this one:

Reading 1 Heb 7:1-3, 15-17

Melchizedek, king of Salem and priest of God Most High,
met Abraham as he returned from his defeat of the kings
and blessed him.

And Abraham apportioned to him a tenth of everything.
His name first means righteous king,
and he was also “king of Salem,” that is, king of peace.
Without father, mother, or ancestry,
without beginning of days or end of life,
thus made to resemble the Son of God, he remains a priest forever.

It is even more obvious if another priest is raised up
after the likeness of Melchizedek, who has become so,
not by a law expressed in a commandment concerning physical descent
but by the power of a life that cannot be destroyed.
For it is testified:

You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.

Which reminds me. I’ve always wondered: Where did Melchizedek come from? To refresh your memory, here’s where he made his initial appearance:

GN 14:18-20

In those days, Melchizedek, king of Salem, brought out bread and wine,
and being a priest of God Most High,
he blessed Abram with these words:
“Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
the creator of heaven and earth;
and blessed be God Most High,
who delivered your foes into your hand.”
Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.

OK, so… Abram, soon to be Abraham, pretty much invented monotheism, right? Or rather, to be more theologically correct, discovered it. Everybody else was worshiping idols, and then the one true God reached out to him, and all of Judaism and Christianity and Islam grew out of that original covenant.

I mean, he’s still trying to get this whole Most High God concept straight in his head, and bang! A priest of that same God shows up on his doorstep?

Not only that, but this priest already has the whole routine down. Rituals were already established. Like an Army padre on the battlefield, he had brought the bread and wine with him. And most amazingly, he got Abraham to tithe! That’s a trick a lot of modern priests wish they could master, and here this guy gets the world’s first believer to go along with the program right off the bat!

After all that, it’s a wonder Father Melchizedek didn’t, before moving on, start regular bingo nights to raise money for a new roof for the parish school.

OK, I need to stop before I get blasphemous. But I’m sincere about this: How does the guy who started a religion meet up with a priest — whose existence suggests the prior development of rituals and procedures and perhaps an administrative hierarchy — of that same religion?

He was indeed “without father, mother, or ancestry.” Like Minerva, he came springing forth fully formed from the brow of this new faith.

Unbelievers among you will say, “Stop trying to find logic in a made-up story.” But here’s the thing: If you’re going to make it up, why gratuitously introduce an element that makes everybody say, “What?!?!” If you’re going to write a fairy tale, have it make sense so as to facilitate belief. Fiction writers introduce characters for a reason. What was the function of Melchizedek, other than to make us scratch our heads?

And yes, I know that the church has — starting with the epistle quoted above — developed the idea of Melchizedek as a prototype of the Christ, as the eternal priest-king. But that’s retroactive. What’s the original explanation? What’s Melchizedek’s back-story?

No, the story of Melchizedek is so weird and inexplicable that it smacks of reality, however much might have been lost over the centuries before it was written down. It lacks the orderliness of fiction. Reality is bizarre and too often inexplicable. Doubt me? OK, who would write a work of fiction that had Donald Trump being elected president of the United States, and expect anybody to read it? Case closed, ya heathens.

I will now pass around the collection plate…

Open Thread for Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Yo, Mr. President: Commuting Manning's sentence is a BFD -- and not in a good way.

Yo, Mr. President: Commuting Manning’s sentence is a BFD — and not in a good way.

Have we done one of these this year? Well if we have, we haven’t done it enough:

  1. President Obama Commutes Chelsea Manning’s Prison Sentence — Well, I suppose that’s all right. What would be outrageous and utterly unthinkable would be if he commuted the sentence of Bradley Manning, because that little slimeball betrayed his country big-time, and is lucky he wasn’t shot. Just to be clear about it. And let me say now that if the president is even thinking about dismissing charges against Edward Snowden, I may have to take back every good thing I’ve said about POTUS. That would be completely beyond the pale.
  2. Dollar Tumbles on Trump Comments — Welcome to the big leagues, Mr. Trump. Well, I don’t exactly mean welcome. That’s just what the worldwise major-leaguers say to the bushers when they do something stupid, right? If only we could send him down to single-A ball soon after the season starts Friday.
  3. British Leader Commits to a Clean Break From the E.U. — I’ve been seeing stories about this since early in the morning, starting with The Guardian, and I keep thinking, Isn’t this what we thought she’d say? Isn’t that what the referendum decided? I mean, I see that she says that in the future, British courts would hold sway, not E.U. courts. And I’m like, duh! They’re be NO point to a Brexit without that particular point of sovereignty. That’s minimal!
  4. Leatherman wants ‘dark-money’ groups to have to disclose donors — I’m all for that, and I’ve yet to hear a good argument against it.
  5. White Knoll standout, USC baseball commitment dies — A very sad story about a local kid who had his whole life ahead of him. I want to know more about what happened; I hope subsequent stories tell us.
Something I received just now from Lindsey Graham...

Something I received just now from Lindsey Graham…

“The Last Man to Walk on the Moon”

The news was buried deep inside the paper.

The news was buried deep inside the paper.

To someone who grew up in the ’60s, that headline (“The Last Man to Walk on the Moon”) sounds like the title of a dystopian science fiction novel — set in some future several centuries hence in which we’ve rendered the moon even less habitable than it is now, perhaps with radioactivity from the Second Great Interplanetary War.

Cernan on the moon.

Cernan on the moon.

But neither Heinlein nor Herbert nor Asimov nor Bradbury nor the rest could have imagined a future in which, in the near year 2017, we’d be looking back to the last trip to the moon as a thing that happened more than 40 years ago. (OK, maybe one of them did imagine something like that and I missed it. But it would have been a betrayal of the genre. In their stories, bad things might happen out there, but at least we would be there.)

When I was a kid, going to the moon was this super-exciting thing we were going to do in the future, as a necessary step before venturing to Mars and beyond. And now, it’s so far in the past it’s shocking.

Over the weekend, something caused me to think of “the Space Age,” and I was saddened to think of it as a thing in the now-distant past. We had thought we were on the leading edge of something that would last for the rest of human existence. Space travel would soon be like air travel — “2001” told us so!

Instead, after a few flights to the moon, we went backward. We pulled back to boring orbital flight, never again to leave our own backyard. And then we went back further, to where we no longer have the capability to send a man into orbit — astronauts have to catch a ride with the Russians. You know, the people we beat in the Space Race.

Astronauts are now like hobos, riding the rails when they get the chance.

Perhaps we Americans, we humans for that matter, are like the English after Spain discovered the New World — they waited well over a century before sending people to live there. (But if that’s the case, who is Spain, or Portugal?) So maybe someday, long after my generation is gone…

Anyway, those are the kinds of thought I have upon reading this, buried deep inside the paper today:

Astronaut Gene Cernan traced his only child’s initials in the dust of the lunar surface. Then he climbed into the lunar module for the ride home, becoming the last person to walk on the moon….

“Those steps up that ladder, they were tough to make,” Cernan recalled in a 2007 oral history. “I didn’t want to go up. I wanted to stay a while.”

His family said his devotion to lunar exploration never waned, even in the final year of his life. Cernan died Monday at age 82 at a Houston hospital following ongoing heath issues, family spokeswoman Melissa Wren told The Associated Press….

On Dec. 14, 1972, Cernan became the last of only a dozen men to walk on the moon. Cernan called it “perhaps the brightest moment of my life. … It’s like you would want to freeze that moment and take it home with you. But you can’t.”…

When he took those steps up that ladder to leave the moon and never return, so did his nation, his species.

And he was not happy about that.

Now, all our space heroes are dying of old age.

In the ’60s, during the Space Age, we were fired up with energy to meet the challenge that an inspirational president had set for us. I still get goosebumps:

We choose to go to the Moon!… We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things,[7] not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win

Now, this week, as Astronaut Cernan was breathing his last, our nation prepared to inaugurate… President Trump, whose great aspiration for our country is to build a wall to keep the Mexicans out.

How far we have fallen from the moon, from the stars…

And now, we have China threatening ‘a large-scale war’

China's one and only aircraft carrier, which they bought used./U.S. Navy

China’s one and only aircraft carrier, which they bought used./U.S. Navy

Or rather, we have state-controlled media doing so, which is a signal I think we have to take seriously:

The US risks a “large-scale war” with China if it attempts to blockade islands in the South China Sea, Chinese state media has said, adding that if recent statements become policy when Donald Trump takes over as president “the two sides had better prepare for a military clash”.

China has controversially built fortifications and artificial islands across the South China Sea. Rex Tillerson, Trump’s nominee for secretary of state, said China’s “access to those islands … is not going to be allowed”.

China claims nearly the entire area, with rival claims by five south-east Asian neighbours and Taiwan.

Tillerson did not specify how the US would block access but experts agreed it could only be done by a significant show of military force. Tillerson likened China’s island building to “Russia’s taking of Crimea”.

“Tillerson had better bone up on nuclear power strategies if he wants to force a big nuclear power to withdraw from its own territories,” said an editorial in the Global Times, a Communist-party controlled newspaper….

I’m not disagreeing with anything Tillerson said, mind you — and it’s not all that different from the policy followed by the Obama administration — but the current situation is fraught.

On a previous post about Nikki Haley, Phillip Bush said:

That’s going to be a tough job, representing the views of the United States to the United Nations and the world when your own Administration is going to be one squabbling, Tweeting, contradictory, capricious, incoherent mess, especially on foreign policy. Her greatest challenge will come not from fellow delegates at the UN or on the Security Council, but trying to sort out and gracefully convey the day-to-day contradictions emanating from the government she is appointed to represent….

Yep.

One of the main narratives of this week has been that Trump’s nominees are not toeing the Trump line, particularly on foreign policy. Which in one way is encouraging (the nominees’ take is usually far wiser and better-informed), but in another way can lead to chaotic, incoherent policy, an unstable situation in which an unstable personality (hint, hint) can trigger an international crisis, perhaps even war, with a phone call — or a Tweet.

I have little doubt that Nikki Haley will conduct herself “gracefully,” but I do worry quite a bit about a diplomatic novice representing us on the Security Council without expert supervision and direction. That said, in a crisis, Nikki would be the least of my worries. And of course, the new POTUS would be my greatest.

What if, sometime after next Friday, Chinese state media issues a blustering threat like that, and includes some less-than-flattering reflections on Trump himself? How do you suppose he’ll react? And who will be able to contain him? And will they be in time?

Did y’all watch Nikki’s State of the State? Thoughts?

15977395_10154298333428226_5727442610324759310_n

File photo from the governor’s Facebook page.

CAVEAT: When I wrote this post I had missed something important in the governor’s speech, something that had come during the part I missed. It has bearing on the points I make in the post, and here it is.

I had a Community Relations Council meeting last night, so I only heard the very last part of Nikki Haley’s last State of the State on the radio driving home.

It sounded fine, as fond farewells go. I was a little disappointed by one thing. I heard her talking in a roundabout, indirect way about getting the Confederate flag down:

But above all, I will remember how the good people of South Carolina responded to those tragedies, with love and generosity and compassion, and what that has meant for our state.

I spoke earlier of my dear desire to see the image of South Carolina changed for the better. Standing here tonight, I can say with every confidence that it has happened, that that desire has been fulfilled.

But not because of me. The people of South Carolina accomplished the highest aspiration I had for our state all on their own.

They did it by showing the entire world what love and acceptance looks like. They did it by displaying for all to see the power of faith, of kindness, and of forgiveness. They did it by stepping up to every challenge, through every tragedy, every time.

But I wish she’d spoken about it more directly. When I got a copy of her speech later, I found that it only contained the word “flag” once, and that was in reference to the Clemson flag she and her daughter had hoisted over the State House earlier this week. (NOTE: This counts officially as a sports reference, and fulfills the weekly quota! So if y’all want to talk about that football game the other night, here’s a place for you to do it.)

Which disappointed me. Why? Because I think getting that other flag down was her defining moment, the one when she became the leader of South Carolina, and led us to where our lawmakers had refused for too long to go.

Did you see Obama’s farewell speech the other night? He mentioned getting bin Laden, didn’t he? Of course he did. That’s when he made his bones as commander-in-chief. Well, the flag was when Nikki made hers, only as leader of a mature, rational state where people may not forget, but they forgive, and care about each other.

Yeah, I get that she wanted her speech to be sweetness and light, and didn’t want to say anything that stirred ill feeling — and there are those who resent taking down the flag, although they’ve mostly been fairly quiet. And it seems safe to assume there’s a bit of a correlation between those folks and the set that voted for her soon-to-be boss.

But that was her proudest moment. I think it’s easy for people to downplay her role, but I’m telling you, I’ve known too many governors who didn’t want to touch that flag, or even talk about it. And I’ve known others who started to do something, but backed away, or accepted a “compromise” that settled nothing — because they saw that as the best they could get out of our Legislature. And maybe they were right, at the time.

But the thing that Nikki did was recognize the moment when it came, and seize it without hesitation. (That’s a huge part of leadership — recognizing when people are ready to be led. One of the secrets of Lincoln’s extraordinary achievements was his uncanny ability to see exactly when he could lead the country to do things it had always refused to do before.)

It was a moment in which the whole state was in shock and morning. And there were those who protested that this wasn’t the time to act, before the dead had even been buried. But sometimes that exactly when one must act, because later would be much too late.

When she stood up and said, essentially, Let’s not let this summer pass without getting that flag down for good — no fooling around, no compromises, that made all the difference. It made what had been impossible possible, and made it happen.

So if she’d wanted to speak to that directly, I’d have applauded. Because I’m proud of her for that.

She didn’t have to brag or anything. She could have stuck to her theme of “I didn’t do it; y’all did.” And that’s true, in the sense that our state was ready to be led there. But without someone strenuously pushing it through the Legislature, it wouldn’t have happened.

I’ll close with that video my son did after the first anti-flag rally after the shootings, the one I did the voiceover on. It testifies to a mood sweeping through our state. But I still said, it took what Nikki did to translate that into action…

Tim Scott’s celebrated one-word burn

I read about this in The State this morning, but it really didn’t make any sense without the original Tweet:

Tim Scott is the first black Republican U.S. senator from the South since Reconstruction and the only black Republican in the Senate at the moment. He also has announced he will vote for Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions to become the next attorney general.IPwQ2WC9

Given the allegations of racism that have followed Sessions since he was denied a federal judgeship in 1986, Scott’s decision to support him has been met with plenty of criticism.

And lots of that criticism has come online, especially on Twitter, where Scott has 162,000 followers. But one tweet in particular annoyed Scott. User @Simonalisa blasted Scott and former Sessions aide William Smith by referring to them using a racial slur….

“So I thought it was a good time to tell people what I thought.”…

The original Tweet and the account that produced it had been deleted, but I found a reTweet that reproduced it:

OK, now I get it.

Well played, senator.

I miss Garrison Keillor

garrison_keillor_96

Saturday, the radio in our kitchen was on at 6 p.m., and when “Prairie Home Companion” came on… we turned it off.

Instead of turning it up, which is what we usually would have done, ever since we started listening to it out in Kansas in the ’80s.

It’s just not the same without Garrison Keillor. That deep, mellifluous, soothing voice, speaking of things that prompted nostalgia and peaceful reflection on the human condition, was what the show was about. I appreciated that the new guy made a joke in the first show about his high, piping voice, but you know, after a bit it’s not funny. I’ve lost my reason to listen.

Keillor is still writing. But frankly, I’ve never liked his writing quite as much on a page or screen — I prefer to hear him say it. Also, his unspoken stuff tends to be more political, and he’s such a doctrinaire liberal that a lot of stuff he says is a bit off-putting to me.

But… I find that if I can imagine him reading it, I’m fine with it. And this latest piece in The Washington Post yesterday made it very easy to hear the voice. It was gentle, it was kind, it was reassuring, unassuming and forgiving. And when you write in a voice like that, I can handle pretty much anything you have to say. An excerpt:

Face it, Southerners are nicer people

I’ve been down in South Carolina and Georgia, an old Northern liberal in red states, enjoying a climate like April in January and the hospitality of gracious, soft-spoken people, many of whom voted for He Who Does Not Need Intelligence, but they didn’t bring it up, so neither did I.

I walked into Jestine’s Kitchen in Charleston, and a waitress said, “Is there just one of you, sweetheart?” and her voice was like jasmine and teaberry. There was just one of me, though I wished there were two and she was the other one. She showed me to a table — “Have a seat, sweetheart, I’ll be right with you.” Liberal waitpersons up north would no more call you “sweetheart” than they would kiss you on the lips, and if you called one of them “sweetheart” she might hand you your hat. I ordered the fried chicken with collard greens and mashed potatoes and gravy and read a front-page story in the Charleston Post and Courier about a Republican state legislator charged with a felony for allegedly beating his wife in front of their weeping children, and then the waitress brought the food and I dug in and it was luminous, redemptive, all that chicken and gravy could be. If this is what Makes America Great Again, I am all for it….

I thought to myself, “A person could live in a town like this.” I’ve spent time with people whose politics agreed with mine and who were cold fish indeed and now that I’m elderly and have time on my hands, maybe I’d enjoy hanging out with amiable sweet-talking right-wingers. I’m just saying….

Indeed. And I miss hanging out with him on Saturday evenings…

(It’s fun when Yankees find us so captivating. Reminds me of the one year I lived above the Mason-Dixon line growing up. I attended second grade in Woodbury, NJ. I read more fluently than most 2nd-graders, and once a teacher heard me read aloud, she started lending me to other classes to read to the kids. I was happy to oblige. They thought my accent was so charming. They looked upon me as a pint-sized Ashley Wilkes, and that kind of thing can make a certain sort of Yankee lady just swoon.)

Wishing Bryan and Kathryn joy of their birthday

not-quite-famous

I already knew thanks to Facebook that today was the birthday of two blog stars, Bryan Caskey and Kathryn Fenner.

Then Bryan told us it’s Alexander Hamilton’s special day, as well. (We know what his birthday was; it’s the year that’s in doubt.) You know, the Broadway star.

I thought I’d do a post about ALL the distinguished people born on this day, but when I Googled it, I got this ridiculous site that listed Hamilton, and a bunch of people I’ve never heard of. See the sample above. I had been hoping for famous people. Was that list put together by a bot from Teen Beat?

Wikipedia took the question more seriously, and yielded up:

Now, see, that’s some distinguished company! A Roman emperor — well, you can’t say fairer than that! And I honor DeVoto as editor of Mark Twain’s papers. And who is cooler than Clarence Clemons?

In any case, happy birthday to all, especially Kathryn and Bryan. I give you joy.

Oh, and a special blog welcome to Colton, Bud’s 6th grandchild!

That's me on the left, Doug on the right, and our birthday kids in the middle, at the 2013 Walk for Life. They were younger then...

That’s me on the left, Doug on the right, and our birthday kids in the middle, at the 2013 Walk for Life. They were younger then…

All the President-Elect’s Men

Remember the last scene of “All the President’s Men?” If you don’t, you can watch it above.

Pretty powerful. On a television on a desk in the newsroom of The Washington Post, Richard Nixon is seen triumphant, being inaugurated for the second time as president. In the background, across the newsroom, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein (OK — Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman, really) are not watching the event, because they’re too busy pounding out one of the stories that will bring Nixon down.

We experienced a moment like that tonight. In a prelude to the inauguration of Donald Trump next week, President Barack Obama was delivering a particularly graceful valedictory address — our last worthy, fit president reminding us of the values that America is supposed to be about. The feeling of the passing of American greatness was palpable. We had a good run there, for 44 presidents. Or 43, if you leave out James Buchanan.

Half of Twitter — including me (you can go peruse my Tweets) — was writing about that. The other half was writing about this, which corresponds to the counterpoint of Woodstein hammering away at the story that will doom the new president. Check this out:

Or this version:

Or, if you’re into the salacious, this:

Wow. I mean, just… wow.

This is early. The picture is incomplete. There’s always the chance that, as Trump claims, this is “FAKE NEWS – A TOTAL POLITICAL WITCH HUNT!” After all, there’s a lot of that going around lately.

But I have never, ever heard of allegations like this, however flimsy, being made about anyone about to become president of the United States. That alone makes this unprecedented.

The report alleges that, while Trump turned down some sweet deals offered by the Russians, “he and his inner circle have accepted a regular flow of intelligence from the Kremlin, including on his Democratic and other political rivals.” Yeah, and “FSB has compromised Trump through his activities in Moscow sufficiently to be able to blackmail him.”

Who knows at this point what’s true? For their part, though, our top intelligence chiefs found it worthy of passing on to the current and future presidents last week.

Here’s a caveat in The Guardian‘s story:

Despite glowing references from US and foreign officials who have worked with the source, there are some errors in the reports. One describes the Moscow suburb of Barvikha as “reserved for the residences of the top leadership and their close associates”, but although it is a very expensive neighbourhood, there are no restrictions on who can own property there. The document also misspells the name of a Russian banking corporation…

Must give us pause. But speaking of misspellings, The Guardian mentioned “Senator Lyndsey Graham” in the same story.

I don’t know where this is going to go. But it feels like one of those moments. You know, like in the movie…

hqdefault

Well, that didn’t take long: Roof sentenced to death

Well, that didn’t take long, in the end:

So after all the buildup to the trial, and the lengthy trial itself, the jury made short work of the matter. It took less than three hours for them to decide.

We’ve known he did it since the day after the massacre itself. Now we’re done with the formalities, except for one.

What to say? Well, I don’t believe in the death penalty, but if you’re going to have one, this is what it’s for.

If I have any further objection, it is this: I wish he was receiving this sentence purely for the nine horrific murders he committed rather than for “hate crimes.” It worries me to see the United States of America put someone to death for his attitudes, however abominable they are. It almost belittles the enormity of what he did, by shifting part of our emphasis from the killing of innocents to punishing political views. (This is one of my few areas of agreement with libertarians.)

But when his execution comes, I guess it’s sort of moot what we call the crime. Once he’s dead, that’s it. He won’t do that any more.

This was a weird day in the courtroom, with Roof’s bizarre address to the jury that dramatically demonstrated why it’s a terrible idea to represent yourself. After supposedly taking over his defense because he didn’t want evidence introduced that point to insanity, he said, “Um, I think it’s safe to say that no one in their right mind wants to go into a church and kill people.”

His soliloquy included other weirdness, such as:

“Wouldn’t it be fair to say that the prosecution hates me?” Roof said, noting that prosecutors were seeking the death penalty.

Roof told the jury they might think, ” ‘Of course they hate you; everyone hates you. They have good reason to hate you.’ I don’t deny it.”…

We’ll never really known what made this guy tick. And perhaps that’s a blessing…

Of course, we don’t know the Russians DIDN’T win it for Trump, either — and that’s the genius in what they did

As serious people do everything they can to persuade Donald Trump and his followers that they must take the Russian attack on the bedrock of our democracy seriously, they keep stressing, in the most soothing tones they can muster:

We’re not saying the Russians threw the election to Trump. We’re saying they tried to, and that’s something that must be taken seriously, however you voted…

I’ve done the same thing here, repeatedly, although with no discernible effect.

And I and others will keep on saying it, because it’s true: We don’t know, we can’t know, whether Russian meddling actually threw the election to Trump.

Of course, there’s an unstated second side to that coin. If we don’t know Putin decided the election, we don’t know that he didn’t, either.

And that’s the side of the coin that I think everyone sort of instinctively understands, and which therefore makes this conversation so difficult.

Here’s the problem: It was a close election, so close that Hillary Clinton lost the Electoral College while winning the popular vote. That means any one of a number of factors could, by itself, account for the losing margin.

In other words, it’s not only possible but perhaps likely that all of the following elements had to be present to get Trump to an Electoral College win:

  • Let’s start with the biggie: The fact that the Democrats nominated the most hated major-party nominee in modern history, except for Donald Trump himself. This is the major factor that, while it couldn’t give him the win (since he was despised even more), it kept him in the game from the start. All other factors after this are minor, but remember: the whole thing was so close that it’s possible that every minor factor had to be present as well.
  • Clinton’s private server. Assuming this had to be present, she doomed herself years ago.
  • Her fainting spell. Here the Russians were, working like crazy to spread rumors about her health, and a moment of human weakness hands them this beautifully wrapped gift.
  • Comey’s on-again, off-again investigations. I’m not saying he was trying to sabotage the election, but if he had been, his timing couldn’t have been better.
  • The anti-qualifications madness sweeping through the electorate across the political spectrum. This populist surge produced both Trump and Bernie. In this election, solid credentials were a handicap. And poor Hillary had a great resume, as resumes have historically been judged.
  • The Russian operation, which gave us a drip-drip-drip of embarrassments (none of which would have amounted to anything alone) with the hacked emails, and a really masterful disinformation campaign as Russians blended into the crowd of alt-right rumormongers.

Could Trump still have won if you took away the Russian efforts — or the FBI investigations, or Hillary’s pneumonia, or any other factor? Well, we don’t know. We can’t know — an individual decision to vote a certain way is composed of all sorts of factors. I can’t give you a breakdown, with percentages, weighting every factor that goes into my own voting decisions — even though I’ve had all that practice over the years explaining endorsements. So I certainly couldn’t do it in assessing the decisions of millions of voters out there. And there’s no way to correlate the effect of any single factor meaningfully with the actual vote totals in the states Trump won.

So we don’t know, do we? The Russians think they know, which is why our intelligence establishment detected them high-fiving each other over Trump’s victory. But they can’t know, either. They certainly didn’t know they’d accomplished their goal before the vote, because they were geared up to sow doubts about the legitimacy of what they expected to be a Clinton victory.

It’s safe to say Trump wouldn’t have won if those other factors hadn’t been present. But I don’t see how we will ever know whether Russian meddling put him over the top.

And as much as anything, that is the most brilliant stroke by the Russians. The effect of what they did can’t be measured. Consequently, they have us doubting ourselves, flinging accusations about motives and completely divided in our perception of reality. We’ll probably be fighting over this for as long as this election is remembered.

I’ve mentioned this before, but I will again, for Bryan’s sake if no one else’s: In the Patrick O’Brian novels he and I enjoy so much, a favorite toast for Royal Navy officers in the early 19th century was “Confusion to Bonaparte,” or just, “Confusion to Boney.”

The ideal codename for the Russian operation messing with our election would be “Confusion to America.” Because there’s no doubt that they have achieved that

"Confusion to Boney!"

“Confusion to Boney!”

The election stats that I apparently never wrote about

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Click on the image to download the spreadsheet.

I think I’m losing my mind (and yeah, I know; some of you will present evidence that this happened a LONG time ago).

Let me apologize in advance if I wrote this post before. I thought I had, but I can’t seem to find it. So here goes, perhaps again…

About a week after the election, Cindi Scoppe wrote about the terrible won-loss record of the candidates that The State had endorsed in 2016:

Two-thirds of the candidates our editorial board endorsed in last week’s election lost. We have never seen numbers like that since I joined the board in 1997 — and as far as I can tell for decades before that. Normally, it’s more like 25 percent….

Of course, all that means was that two candidates lost, as the paper had only endorsed in three races in the general, instead of the usual 10 or 20 that we’d back in the days when we had the staff to do it.

But taken as a percentage (which is a pretty meaningless thing to do with a sample of three), I’m sure it was a bitter pill. I wondered why Cindi hadn’t offered the running total from over the years to show just how much of an anomaly that was. Apparently, she just didn’t have the numbers at hand. But I did, at least through 2008, my last election at the paper. And it just took a few minutes to update the table with results from 2010, 2012, 2014 and 2016.

Why did I have those numbers? Because in 2004, I got fed up. We’d hear from bitter candidates who did not get our nod who claimed that they didn’t want it anyway, because our endorsement was “the kiss of death.” Well, I knew this wasn’t true, not by a long shot. (I also knew by their behavior that these very people were usually quite eager to get our endorsement, until they didn’t. Then it was sour-grapes time.) But I didn’t know how wrong they were. I didn’t have numbers.

Then there was the other problem: Democrats regularly claimed that we only endorsed Republicans, and vice versa. I knew that was untrue, too (any casual, unbiased observer knew better than that). But again, I couldn’t quantify it.

I had resisted keeping track of such things in the past, for a couple of reasons. First, endorsements were arguments as to who should win, not predictions of who would win. A lot of people failed to understand that, and would demonstrate their lack of understanding by saying we got it “wrong” when our endorsee lost. No, we didn’t. We weren’t trying to make a prediction. And why would we have kept track of how many Dems or Repubs we backed, when we didn’t care about party?

But as I said, I was fed up, and I wanted to lay all the lies to rest permanently. So I dove into our musty archives for several hours, and came up with every general-election endorsement we had done starting with the 1994 election. Why that date? Because that was my first election as a member of the editorial board, and since then we’d had 100 percent turnover on the board — so it was ridiculous to hold any of us responsible for editorial decisions made before that date.

And I stuck to general elections, to keep it simple. After all, that’s the only time one is choosing between Democrats and Republicans. And digging up the primary endorsements would have taken more than twice as much time. I’ll acknowledge this freely, though: Our won-loss numbers wouldn’t have been as good if I’d tried to include primaries, because we were staunch centrists, and primary voters tend to have more extreme tastes than we did.

What I found in 2004 was that since 1994, about 75 percent of “our” candidates had won, and we’d endorsed almost exactly as many Democrats are Republicans. I updated the numbers after the 2006 and 2008 elections.

Anyway, after Cindi’s column, I updated my spreadsheet with numbers from the years since I’d left the paper, including 2016, and here’s what I found:

The running percentage of “wins” had dropped slightly since 2008, with 72.26277372 percent of endorsees winning since 1994. Even though the paper had a big year in 2014, with eight out of 10 endorsees winning. (When I had first compiled the numbers in 2004, our batting average was .753.)

The partisan split became more nearly even. As of 2008, we were favoring Democrats slightly with 52.6 percent of endorsements going to them. Now, that’s down to 50.37 percent, about as dead-even as you can get: 68 Democrats, 67 Republicans and one independent since 1994. The paper has favored Republicans 13-8 since I left.

Anyway, since I’d gone to the trouble of running the numbers, I had meant to write a post about it. If I did before now, I can’t find it. So here you go…

Here’s the spreadsheet.

Graham to any Republican who discounts Russian actions: “You are a political hack.”

Some excerpts from Lindsey Graham’s appearance on “Meet the Press” on Sunday:

All I’m asking [President-elect Trump] is to acknowledge that Russia interfered [in our election] and push back. It could be Iran next time, it could be China. It was Democrats today, it could be Republicans in the next election….

Our lives are built around the idea that we’re free people, that we go to the ballot box, that we have political contests outside of foreign interference. You can’t go on with your life as a democracy when a foreign entity is trying to compromise the election process. So Mr. President-elect, it is very important that you show leadership here….

We should all – Republicans and Democrats – condemn Russia for what they did. To my Republican friends who are gleeful: you’re making a huge mistake. When WikiLeaks released information during the Bush years about the Iraq War that was embarrassing to the administration, that put our troops at risk, most Democrats condemned it, some celebrated it. Most Republicans are condemning what Russia did, and to those who are gleeful about it, you’re a political hack. You’re not a Republican, you’re not a patriot. If this is not about us, then I’ll never know what will be about us. Because when one party is compromised, all of us are compromised….

graham-still

What’s in a name: ‘Horse-Swapping Billy Smith’

My ancestor was sort of an Eastern version of a Pony Express rider.

My ancestor, I take it, was sort of an Eastern version of a Pony Express rider.

Made a lot of progress on the family tree over the weekend. I started on a trove of material on my son-in-law’s family that my daughter brought back from Tulsa over the holidays, and added more than 70 of his kin to the tree — thereby giving my twin granddaughters a nice start on knowing that side of their heritage.

I spent the rest of my time filling in recent gaps in my own side of the family. No delving back into the Middle Ages — no Strongbow or Ragnar or Charlemagne; I stuck to the realm of great and great-great grandparents. I even added a few people who are still alive (which I find are much harder to get basic information on than dead people — although Facebook has made it easier to find photos of them). Recently I’ve discovered that, since I now know a lot more about searching the Web for clues, I’m often able to quickly identify connections that eluded me in the past.

Also, I finally gave in and paid for a six-month membership to Ancestry.com, so I was pretty much drinking data from a firehose with regard to the last century or two. (I only signed up for the U.S. data, so I don’t get anything about ancestors before they crossed the Pond.)

Here’s my favorite discovery of the weekend: My great-great-great grandfather William Burns Smith, who was born in 1803 in North Carolina, and died in Marion County, SC, in 1897. He was my mother’s mother’s mother’s father’s father.

I had already known who he was, and he had already been on my tree. But over the weekend I discovered the fun part: He was known as “Horse-swapping Billy Smith.”

I love finding an ancestor with a catchy sobriquet, such as “Strongbow” or “Shaggy-Breeches.” This one came with a fun anecdote. Horse-Swapping Billy delivered the mail by horseback between Marion and Bennettsville (the town where I was born). The local postmaster was sufficiently impressed by the job he did that he bothered to record this story:

“There is another family of Smiths, below Marion, which I understand is in no way related to those hereinabove noticed – I refer to the late William B. Smith and his family. He, as it is said, came when young from North Carolina, and settled below Reedy Creek Baptist Church, on an apparently poor place; he was called “Horse-swapping Billy Smith” — he was a great horse trader, and in that respect his mantle has fallen upon his sons, Nat. P. and Henry…

William B. Smith, away back in the 50’s, carried the mail on horseback from Marion to Bennettsville, by way of Catfish, Reedy Creek, Harlleesville, Selkirk, Brownesville and Clio to Bennettsville, and back the same route, once a week — at which time the writer was postmaster at Reedy Creek; he went up one day and came back the next; sometimes one of his boys, James or Nat, would carry it.

The writer remembers on one occasion, the old gentleman went up; his horse sickened and died at Bennettsville, and the next day Mr. Smith came back, walking and carrying the mail bags on his shoulders, and went on to Marion that evening. I suppose he was then fifty years of age, and the distance traveled on his zig-zag route was at least sixty miles. One of the men of the present day, much younger than Mr. Smith, would not think of such a trip. Mr. Smith had much of the “get up” in him, and whatever he undertook to do, he did it, and if he failed it was no fault of his; he was accustomed to labor and hardship, hence it did not hurt him….

I love it! There was no keeping Horse-Swapping Billy down! He was just full of the “get up!” And it he failed at anything, don’t blame him, because you know he gave it 110 percent!

My frustration, though, is that the chronicler doesn’t bother to explain fully why he was known as “Horse-Swapping Billy.” In what way was he “a great horse-trader?” Did he have a side business in horse-trading, or was he into it as a hobby? Or was it a broader metaphor, as in he was a guy good at making deals, whether they literally had to do with horses or not? Or, like the Pony Express riders of about that time, did he swap horses at various points on his mail route? If so, he should have made a swap before he got to Bennettsville that one time.

It’s a small thing to give me such delight, but it’s stuff like this that keeps me going with this hobby…

When I discovered this, I called my uncle (who lives in Bennettsville) to share, but to my disappointment he already knew about Horse-Swapping Billy. But we got onto other family matters, and he told me that he’d always heard that the Browns way back on his mother’s side of the family were at some point connected to the Browns on his father’s side.

And… here’s the good part… ultimately they’re supposedly all related to the legendary “Cut-Face” Brown.

I spent an hour or so digging around, but didn’t arrive. I’ll look again when I have time. I’ve just got to find out how I’m related to a guy with a name like that

Just to get us in the right mood for the snow…

I’ve got to stop by the Food Lion to make some routine purchases for the weekend, and I’m already dreading having to fight the “Oh, my God; we’re all gonna die!” crowd stocking up on bread and such because the world will be coming to an end with a few flakes of snow.

So I rewatched the video above, to get me into a mood for laughing at the situation…

Apple stiffs America, kowtows to the Chinese

apple_logo_png_06

Remember how Apple told the U.S. government to take a hike when it made a perfectly legitimate request for help in a terrorism investigation?

By contrast, here’s how the company reacts when China asks it to help oppress the Chinese people:

BEIJING — Apple has removed the New York Times app from its digital store in China, acting on what it says were orders from the Chinese government.

The New York Times, which offers content in both English and Chinese, is one of a growing number of foreign news organizations whose content is blocked in China, although some people here use special software to bypass the censorship system.

The Times said the app was removed from Apple stores on Dec. 23, apparently under regulations issued in June preventing mobile apps from engaging in activities that endanger national security or disrupt social order.

That occurred as New York Times reporter David Barboza was in the final stages of reporting a story about billions of dollars in hidden perks and subsidies the Chinese government provides to the world’s largest iPhone factory, run by Apple’s partner Foxconn. That story went online on Dec. 29….

Will Graham and McCain stand alone against Trump on intel?

Donald Trump’s insistence on doubting intel indicating that the Russians tried to tip the election in his favor is a remarkable instance of his flaws coming together over one issue.

Combine his lack of faith in people who obviously know more than he does (a large set) with his inferiority complex (in this case, his touchiness over the suggestion that anything other than his own wonderfulness won the election for him), and you have a guy willing to sacrifice the nation’s intelligence-gathering apparatus for the sake of his own fragile ego. This, of course, takes petty self-absorption to a level previously unseen in U.S. history.

Which is, you know, a pretty good illustration of why it was utterly insane for anyone to consider for a moment voting for him to be president of the United States. But that’s water under the bridge, right? This is the irrational world in which we now live.

I was a bit encouraged when I saw this headline leading The Washington Post this morning: “Trump’s criticism of intelligence on Russia is dividing Hill GOP.” An excerpt:

McCain will hold a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Thursday on “foreign cyber threats” that is expected to center on Russia. Intelligence officials — including Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr., Defense Undersecretary for Intelligence Marcel J. Lettre II and U.S. Cyber Command and National Security Agency Director Michael S. Rogers — will testify, and some Republicans are hoping they will present evidence that Russia meddled in the elections.

“The point of this hearing is to have the intelligence community reinforce, from their point of view, that the Russians did this,” Graham said. “You seem to have two choices now — some guy living in an embassy, on the run from the law for rape, who has a history of undermining American democracy and releasing classified information to put our troops at risk, or the 17 intelligence agencies sworn to defend us. I’m going with them.”

Graham was referring to Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder accused of helping Russia leak emails hacked from the Democratic National Committee….

Unfortunately, it’s not much of a split, going by this story. So far, it looks a bit like another case of John McCain and our own Lindsey Graham standing on the side of reason and national security, and too many others cowering, unwilling to tell the incoming emperor the obvious: that he has no clothes, and that it’s not a good look for him.

Sure, McConnell has spoken up in the past, and Marco Rubio might get on board with McCain and Graham. And Paul Ryan, bless him, had the presence of mind to call that Assange creep a “sycophant for Russia.”

But only time will tell whether the GOP Congress will live up to its obligation to check and balance the absurdities of our president-elect…