Author Archives: Brad Warthen

The loss of perspective in presentation of the news

The Post's print edition had the Afghanistan story presented with proper perspective. But how many people still read the Post this way? I don't.

The Post’s print edition had the Afghanistan story presented with proper perspective. But how many people still read the Post this way? I don’t.

I could go on about this all day, for many thousands of words, and it would bore you to death, so I’m going to try and say it as quickly as I can.

Back when there was such a thing as newspapers (by which I mean healthy, adequately staffed newspapers in cities across the country), senior people with many years in the business would spend considerable time each day meeting to hash over what they had for the next day’s paper. They argued vociferously over the relative weight to be given to each story, to decide first whether it would made the front, and once there, would be accurately played to reflect its relative importance in relation to the other stories on the page. (There was never much time for the senior group to discuss relative play in the rest of the paper; such decisions were made at a lower level.)

During a certain part of my career — when I was the news editor in Wichita — I was in charge of this process. The assigning editors from each area (and I, in the case of national and international news) would present what was available that day and what was known about each story at that point, and then we’d discuss what to do with each — what would make the front, and how it would be played in relation to the other 1A stories. Then, since production of the front page was the most prominent of my many duties in that job, I would go out and implement the plan.

Our executive editor at that paper, Buzz Merritt, had very definite and detailed ideas about how things should be presented on the front page. I’ve written about this before. He had such an arcane set of rules we should follow that the designers who worked for me were frustrated and intimidated, always sure they’d do something wrong and draw his ire, and far too often, I just went ahead and handled front page and A section production myself. This was a personnel problem I never succeeded in solving at that paper — I did it because I understood what Buzz wanted, but others did not. (They tended to see his system as a set of unworkable principles about the length of the book of Leviticus.) So I found myself spending the rest of the night down in the guts of the machine doing the work, rather than supervising the process. It was a mess.

I don’t blame Buzz for this. I agreed with his views about what the front should be. And I labored mightily to explain it to my unconvinced subordinates. But for this discussion, I’ll just focus on one, simple concept, sort of the Great Commandment of Buzz: He insisted that a lede (here’s a brief explanation of what a lede story was, as he defined it) should communicate one thing very clearly to the reader, even the casual reader, whether consciously or not: Is my world safe?

So much of what we did centered on that. The lede was the most important thing happening in the world, although it might not be a particularly interesting story — in which case it would have a very small headline, and the reader could glance at the part of the page where, under Buzz’ rules, the lede always was, and know: My world is safe enough that I don’t even need to read the lede story unless I want to. I’ll move on to something that interests me more.

That’s a small thing, right? But it translates to a huge service provided to society — that the most reliable and comprehensive news source available to citizens every day (and that’s what the daily paper was, in communities across the country) gives everyone a sense of perspective on the world.

Nobody does that any more, at least not in a way that it provides a shared perspective for a significant portion of society to work from. Which is one of many reasons why we’ve gone from living in a world in which we could all agree on what reality was, and then argue over what to do about it, to a world in which there is little general agreement about the situation before us. So the tribes of liberals and conservatives and all the smaller tribes can’t (and won’t) talk with each other meaningfully about what do DO about reality, because they have different realities.

I’m not blaming anyone for this; everyone’s doing the best they can under the circumstances. And I have no prescriptions: I’m not at all sure that anything can be done about this loss, given the current state of technology and the media marketplace in which we now dwell. (I’m not going to try to explain why that is the case here because I’d never get up from my keyboard, although maybe I’ll elaborate some if y’all are interested in a discussion), but I’m just making the observation that we have this problem. And I’m thinking about it today because of a particularly clear example of it that stands before me.

Which is the actual point of this post.

At one point yesterday, the news broke that Joe Biden planned to withdraw entirely from Afghanistan, without conditions, by Sept. 11. And The Washington Post, which still has many senior, serious editors overlooking the process (for which we can thank Jeff Bezos I suppose), led their browser-based interface with a very large headline to that effect (sorry, I didn’t do a screenshot at the time that I can now show to you, and I can’t now because it no longer exists).

Anyway, that was the right call, for the moment. Not a hard one to make. That’s pretty much a consensus call: Were we back in the ’80s when I was handling the front page of the Wichita paper under the watchful eye of Buzz, I assure you that would have been the lead story on the front of just about every metropolitan-or-larger daily in the country — with some deviation from that norm in markets where there was a huge, overriding local story that day.

But then this morning I was looking at my Wall Street Journal app, and noticed something: They had the Afghanistan story prominently displayed, but it wasn’t the lede. They went with the pause on the Johnson & Johnson:

WSJ top stories

On the one hand this is significant because the WSJ‘s app, unlike a lot of apps, pretty much apes the makeup of a print page, and it doesn’t change during the day (they have a separate interface on the app for the latest news). Of course, the Journal — while it has become more and more conventional in its approach to news play in recent years, is still somewhat idiosyncratic, causing it to play business news (its old wheelhouse) bigger than other things. And Johnson & Johnson is, after all, a business.

So I went to look at a more conventional paper, the Post — which, if you’ll recall, was leading with Afghanistan yesterday when it first happened. Here’s what I found:

WP Top Stories

No mention of Afghanistan on the first screen — it’s all J&J and the Chauvin trial.

That’s the way things are done now. To see the way the Post would have done it in the old days, you look at the actual print product that was delivered this morning to the homes that still take it. It’s at the top of this post. Not only is Afghanistan the lede, but it’s a big lede — four columns, with only one other headline above the fold — a single-column hed on J&J.

Anyway, it’s like looking at an artifact from another time: The morning newspaper, putting the entire previous 24 hours into global, historical perspective. You can read it today, or look back at it 20 or 100 years from now, and it will clearly and unambiguously tell you what was most important among the things that happened on April 13 in the Year of Our Lord 2021.

Which is a fine, solid, reliable and helpful thing to have, if you want to be well-grounded in what was happening on Tuesday. But who will benefit from it? How many people will even see the print version? For that matter, I sincerely doubt that those people looking back 20 or 100 years from now will be looking at the print version, unless they possess the kind of esoteric, geeky understanding of the way newspapers worked a few years ago — and still do, on the print version, when they have the people to do it. That last point is a qualification that few papers can boast today. And even those that can do it, only do it on the print version.

But, I’ll end on a higher note: The New York Times found a way today to keep today’s proper lede at the top even on their iPad app — while still reflecting that in proper 21st-century fashion, time moves on quickly:

NYT top stories

Of course, they did it with a second-day hed. No ringing, historic “U.S. to exit Afghanistan by Sept. 11.” Assuming you know that already, they go with the analysis story: “Will Afghanistan Become a Terrorism Safe Haven Once Again?” They go on to, “What happens next?” So they’re readers, particularly the younger ones, don’t think they’re a bunch of old fuddy-duddies who don’t know how a smart phone works.

I’m impressed, but not a bit surprised. The New York Times is the most conservative major newspaper in America. This may confuse some people, but remember I’m a geek. I’m not talking ideology. I’m saying that for my entire career, the Times has been the most reliably Old School paper around, the very epitome of the kind of steady, reliable approach to presenting news that Buzz embraced, and aspired for the Wichita paper to achieve. I know this because every night when I was agonizing over my front page out in Kansas, I would see the advisory the Times put on the wire stating what they were planning for their front. If it was close to the calls I was making at that point, I’d feel some reassurance. If it wasn’t, I’d take a harder look at my own plan. It might stay the same — they were serving a different readership — but I’d think harder about it anyway, because they were that good at news play. That was something I had never fully realized until I had that job, and a boss like Buzz, and spent that much time looking at what everybody else was doing night after night — and thought hard about it.

And the NYT is still that good at front-page play. Here’s the top of their print version this morning, which is perfect, because this was indeed a banner-headline-lede day:

NYT front

Note that the NYT hed is even more historic in the feel of its headline than the Post‘s print version. But both papers served history well, within the bounds of their own respective design styles.

For the dwindling number of people who see the print version, that is.

Why does any of this nit-picking by the old editor matter? Well, you know how I keep agonizing over the Rabbit Hole thing — which I finally decided recently explains the Trump phenomenon (by which I mean the fact that unbelievably large numbers of American adults are fully ready and willing to believe some really crazy s__t these days), as well as the decade or so of increasingly wild partisanship that preceded 2016. (If you don’t know what I’m referring to, look back at posts I’ve labeled in recent months with the Rabbit Hole designation, starting with this one.)

But it’s not just about the way various social media — Facebook, YouTube and many others — cater to readers in a way that leads them farther and farther down often bizarre ideological dead ends. (You liked that? Well then you’ll love this, the algorithm says to the user, over and over, in order to keep you on the site.)

Even the most reliable, staid, responsible print media outlets, the ones we should rely on the most if we’re thoughtful, responsible consumers of news, now present that news in a way that creates separate realities. One of us sees an app or a browser page at one moment, and one thing is the most important in the world, and another thoughtful person checks the same site five minutes later and gets a different take on the world.

And nobody’s doing anything wrong. In fact, editors would be grossly neglectful of their duty to their readers if they didn’t take advantage of this wonderful technology that allows us to update everything over and over throughout the day. I used to daydream in the ’80s and early ’90s about how wonderful it would be if, the moment I hit send on a story I had finished editing, it went straight to the reader. Well, now it does, and that’s great.

But it leaves us all living in a very fragmented, nerve-wracking news environment. Few of us ever experience that moment that used to be common to the American reader — when they opened their papers in the morning (or better yet, when the afternoon when those papers still existed) and saw the world laid out before them in a way that said, OK, here’s what you need to know most urgently about today’s real world, and here are some other things that will interest you as well, presented in order of significance.

(And before someone gives me one of those populist rants like “You mean, what you danged liberal editors say is important,” allow me to tell that person that he doesn’t know what he’s ranting about. I’m not offering an opinion on today’s news. I might do that in a separate post, since this is an opinion blog. It’s important whether you like it or hate it, whether you hold this ideological position or that one.)

By the way, doing it right meant playing all the news right. To keep this absurdly long post as short as possible, I just concentrated on the lede, and I chose to do it on a day when there would have been broad consensus among professionals as to what the lede was (on lighter-news days, you’d have seen more variation from paper to paper).

But to give you the broader picture, handled the way it should be by Old School standards, below is the entire NYT front page of today. They did a great job all the way down the budget; Buzz would approve…

We’ll all be better off as a society when someone figures out a way to give you the best virtues of the old way combined with the fantastic advantages provided by new technology (both carefully discerned perspective and immediacy, to oversimplify a bit). Unfortunately, almost no one is doing a great job of that so far…

Full nyt

 

Fund-raisers are really… quite emotional… aren’t they?

At some point, I should probably unsubscribe from all these Democratic Party fund-raising emails that, since I was on James’ campaign, do more to clog up my Inbox than anything. But I continue to be mildly fascinated by the various strategies they employ to try to get me stirred up enough to open up my wallet.

They seldom try to do this with reason. Talking me into a rational decision to invest in their causes isn’t really part of the playbook. They’re more about stirring emotion — elation over good news, sorrow over bad news, outrage over anything done or said by their various stock villains (Mitch McConnell, that insane woman from Georgia, You Know Who)….

And sometimes, they weep. I’m referring to the headline on the email pictured below: “tears in our eyes.”

They’re sort of like what Reisman said about Col. Breed. They’re really — quite emotional, aren’t they?

Come on, people. Your cause is just — what the Republicans are trying to do, in the way of suppressing the vote, is a bad thing. But hold off on the waterworks, please. You don’t want me looking at you like this, do you?

tears

Open Thread for Monday, April 12, 2021

Remember Nikki being so happy to have Sarah Palin's endorsement? Just thought I'd mention that...

Remember Nikki being so happy a while back to have Sarah Palin’s endorsement? Just thought I’d mention that…

Just a few random things…

  1. SC attorney tells court how he ‘misread the case’ and got Michael Slager 20 years — A couple points to make. Counselor, it wasn’t you. It was your client. You see, he shot a defenseless, fleeing man in the back five times. Tried to shoot him eight times, but missed three times. Killed him, as you would expect would happen. Why would we ever want this guy out? I just can’t believe time in our overloaded criminal justice system is being wasted on this nonsense. It’s an outrage. If I were a Black Lives Matter protester — I’m not, but if I were — I’d look at this and see one thing: Part of the system saying to another part of the system, “Whoa! I know we didn’t mean to give this white cop 20 years! All he did was shoot a black fella!” And the other part of the system deigning to listen to it.
  2. Minnesota Officer Who Shot Daunte Wright Meant to Fire Taser, Chief Says — Oh, come on! This had to happen in Minnesota? Right now? Let’s talk about something else: I used to work with a guy in Wichita. He was an editor on the sports desk. He’d be minding his own business trying to get the paper out, like all of us, and something would go wrong, and he would cry out, with pain, but also with the comic sense of a guy doing standup in the Catskills, “Do I need THIS?!?!?” He did this a lot, usually late in the night when things were quieter, after the daytime people had gone home. And it would crack me up. You had to be there. Anyway, right now I’m hearing America say, “Do I need THIS?!?!?” Only it’s not funny, at all. It’s horrible. Because, to answer the question, we most assuredly do not need this.
  3. The term ‘vaccine passports’ pushes every button on the political right — I heard this on the radio today. “The term ‘vaccine passports’ pushes every button on the political right,” a source explains. Sheesh. As I said on Twitter today while listening to this, “too bad we don’t have an anti-lunacy vaccine…” Sheesh again. These people.
  4. SC’s Nikki Haley says she won’t run for president in 2024 if Trump seeks reelection — I see Maayan Schechter wrote this. I need to ask her: How do you get your fingers to type “Nikki Haley,” and soon after type “run for president,” without your fingers having a seizure? I’ve seen quite a few reporters do it, and I always wonder. Anyway, I don’t care whether she runs or not, for at least three reasons: 1) She’s Nikki Haley, and I know Nikki Haley. I have a pretty good grasp of her lack of qualifications. 2) Even if she were qualified, I’d cross her off my list the moment I saw she would decide based on what Donald Trump would do. 3) We have a president. A really good one. A qualified one. Why on Earth would I, or any sane person, be interested in anyone else?
  5. Prince Philip: William and Harry pay tribute to grandfather — Glad to see Harry could make time for it. No, really, I am. Good to see family and duty outweigh all that other stuff for a moment.

Enough for now. I’m tired.

Prince Phillip

‘Any a you sumbitches calls me grandpa…’

grandpa

My wife cut my hair last night, and we decided on something new — instead of using a No. 7 guard on the top and a 4 on the sides, we went with 4 all over. A lot of white hair fell, I can tell you. This is probably the shortest my hair has ever been, at least since the Beatles came to America in 1964.

Afterwards, regarding myself in the mirror before showering, I thought I looked familiar.sam as sgt maj

Oh, yeah… Sam Elliott in “We Were Soldiers.” Except his hair was a bit longer than mine — the damn’ hippy…

By the way, unlike the sergeant major, I have no problem with being referred to as a grandfather. And I won’t kill anybody over it. I actually think being a grandfather is pretty great. That was just the first quote that came to mind. It’s at 1:20 on the clip below.

Just don’t try to tell me what a nice day we’re having.

Anybody notice that that bit of dialogue seems ripped off from “Stripes?” Never mind. If the sergeant major ever actually said it, he did it long before “Stripes.” And he had every right to. I wouldn’t have argued with him…

The day the Pope came to visit us

Our then-pastor, Leigh Lehocky, welcomes Pope John Paul II to St. Peter's on Sept. 11, 1987.

Our then-pastor, Leigh Lehocky, welcomes Pope John Paul II to St. Peter’s on Sept. 11, 1987. Sadly, I missed this part.

In a comment on a previous post, Doug T. asked me to address the death of Jim Holderman. I did, but it’s one of those things that I know so much about that it’s hard to tell whether what I said would make sense to someone who didn’t live through the same things. So I emailed Doug to ask whether I had adequately addressed his question.

Doug wrote back and mused further on the subject, at one point saying, “Remember when Holderman brought the Pope to Columbia?  A really big deal…” He also mentioned something about all the hype about how Columbia would be immobilized, and how that scared people away (Doug included), so that there was just a pitiful few lining his motorcade route…

And I replied as follows…

Oh yeah, I definitely remember the Pope’s visit.

I learned about it the day I came to Columbia to interview for the job of governmental affairs editor at The State. It was like the beginning of July 1987. I’m thinking Tom McLean told me about it over breakfast, which was how I started the long day of interviews.

I also learned that in the next few months Billy Graham would be having a Crusade here. I thought, “Seems like God’s trying to tell me something. Maybe I ought to come here, too.”

Sorry about scaring everybody away like that. I kind of thought my fellow editors were overblowing that, but I was the new guy, and widely regarded as the “Knight Ridder spy,” so who was going to listen to me?

We planned for it like the Normandy invasion. It was the first time I ever used a mobile phone. It was a huge bag phone. I was asked to take it home with me, sometime before the day the Pope came, and try it out. While stopped at the traffic light at Huger and Blossom, I called home and said, “Guess what I’m doing! I’m calling you from the car!”

We got the phones because we assumed our reporters at the Horseshoe and even at the stadium — which was right next to the newspaper building — would be immobilized by the crowds, and this would be the only way we could communicate.

So, you know, we kind of overprepared.

We editors thought we couldn’t leave the building, so I wasn’t able to be there when the Pope visited my church, St. Peters.

Some of us did go up on the roof — only time I was ever up there — and watch the Popemobile approaching the stadium. Couldn’t see much, but that was exciting…

I guess, now that I’ve typed all that, I should post it on the blog…

The huge plaque just inside the front door of St. Peter's -- a few feet from where Msgr. Lehocky welcomed the pontiff.

The huge plaque just inside the front door of St. Peter’s — a few feet from where Msgr. Lehocky welcomed the pontiff.

Evidently, everything is now perfect in South Carolina!

henry 2

Henry on the border.

Obviously. You just have to think it through.

At first, I was a bit taken aback when I saw this:

All I could think at first was, “Huh. I didn’t realize that was in any way the governor’s responsibility.”

In fact, I’m pretty sure it’s not. Nor should it be. Unless I’m looking at the map wrong. I mean, I’m about as sure as I can be that South Carolina doesn’t even come close to bordering on Mexico, so… how does it get to be a state issue? Well, it doesn’t. It isn’t.

Of course, this brings up a festering question: What in the world are South Carolina National Guard troops doing down there, anyway? Were they federalized for this purpose? I vaguely remember something like this happening in the course of one of the many insane nightmares of the past four years, but I guess I had blocked it out. It’s rather startling, in an unpleasant way, to be told they’re still there…

But then I got to thinking further about it, and it suddenly hit me that this was very good news!

Think about it: If Henry’s got time to do this, taking a vacation from his duties and all, it means everything that is actually his job has been taken care of. South Carolina is now perfect. COVID is gone. Everyone has healthcare coverage. Our schools are the best in the country. Racism, which seemed to be making a big comeback, is flat gone. Malfunction Junction? Fixed, without running an Interstate through my front yard.

And Yankees have stopped coming down and overcrowding all our beaches. This must be. Otherwise, everybody in South Carolina would be rising up and saying, “Henry! What the hell are you doing down there? Get back here and fix this mess!”

Awesome! As y’all know, I was for the other guy in 2018. But how was I to know that Henry would SC perfect, in less than three years? I’m just blown away.

And remember, you read the good news here first…

Henry on the border

Wait! Is that… is that the Wall? Is Henry posing at the Wall itself? My, my…

 

 

Very quick Open Thread for Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Who knew the era of the Mercury Program was such a bummer? I was there, and didn't notice.

Who knew the era of the Mercury Program was such a bummer? I was there, and didn’t notice.

Been super-busy lately what with Lent, Easter, and basketball — not to mention work — but here are some items I’ve meant to do separate posts about:

  1. America Has a Ruling Class — And that’s a good thing, if I remember correctly from reading this way last week. An excerpt: “There are good reasons to be skeptical of career politicians and entrenched elites. Even when they don’t have all the answers, outsiders can draw attention to unrecognized problems. That skepticism becomes dangerous, though, when it pits an unconventional affect and good intentions against the practical demands of governing. The defining task of politics isn’t to speak truth to power. It’s to use power to achieve shared goals.” Yep. And thank God Joe Biden is now our president. It’s worth a read.
  2. When the Pandemic’s End Means the Return of Anxiety — Yep. I happily — but briefly — hugged some of my grandchildren on Easter. But beyond that, I can do without a return to “normal,” and all that hurrying about, going places, having to eat out (which to me is a burden), go to social events, and such. I haven’t had time to put the post together, but maybe this NYT item can kick off a conversation. Oh, dang. It’s WSJ. Huge firewall. OK, I may have to post about it later, but it’s much on my mind now.
  3. The Right Stuff Grounded After One Season on Disney+ — Hey, I’m surprised it made it this far. I am a fanatic for Wolfe’s book, and for the original movie, which utterly stunned me by so effectively putting on film something that was mostly about Wolfe’s narration style. By contrast, I don’t think anybody affiliated with this depressing TV series — which doesn’t even have Chuck Yeager in it! — ever so much as glanced at the book. Watch this, and you won’t ever get the sense that we were once an amazing country that did amazing things. You’ll just be bummed out. Who knew the Mercury program was such a downer?
  4. The woman being blamed for blocking the Suez Canal — Look, I’ve read the Aubrey-Maturin books, so I know that every British sailor during the Napoleonic Wars knew there was nothing more unlucky than having a woman on board a ship, except maybe leaving port on a Friday. Might as well have a Jonah aboard. Oh, it’s OK to bring along the gunner’s wife maybe, as long as she doesn’t look like Mrs. Horner in The Far Side of the World. And here the Egyptians went and put a woman in command of a ship! (And she even looks kind of like a Mrs. Horner, to me — see below.) What did they expect? How powerful is the bad luck generated by such a mistake? I’ll tell you: This woman commands a completely different ship, and it was hundreds of miles away from the Ever Given at the time, and this bad thing still happened. So now you know why it happened. So, lesson learned.

That last one will probably get me in enough trouble, so I’ll just stop now….

The captain being blamed -- even though she wasn't there.

The captain being blamed — even though she wasn’t there.

Happy Easter! And wow, did you see that ballgame?

You see what following sports does to you? Makes you into a heathen, talking about last night’s game in the same breath as greeting people on the holiest day of the year.

Jimmy

“I’ll make it,” said Jimmy. And he meant it…

But that was quite a game. It had to be, for me, of all people, to be excited enough to want to keep talking about it. On Easter.

And I do.

If you missed it, let me set up the video above. As it starts, they’re in overtime, with a few seconds left. You see UCLA make a great play to tie it up. There are three seconds left. And then…

Watch it several times if you like. I have.

It reminded Coach Norman Dale of something. It reminded me of the same thing.

It will go down in history as Suggs’ Last Shot…

I am a basketball PROGNOSTICATOR! Sort of…

final

I just looked at my NCAA bracket for the first time since I filled it out, to see how I was doing.

It had been an afterthought, and I had no money riding on it, so who cared, right? I did it too late to get into any pool. The first games were underway (although I had no idea what the scores were yet), so I just sort of did it for my own minor entertainment. My daughter had done one and urged me to, so I thought, Why not?

Then I forgot where I had put it. It took a few minutes to find it just now. And I saw that WOW, I was doing pretty great! I had Gonzaga and Baylor in the final — which seems a pretty likely event at this point — and Gonzaga winning. Which also seems, right now, to be the likeliest outcome, although anything can happen.

I felt smart, in a “proper man,” sort of way, as Roy and Moss were trying to feel when they went about saying, “Did you see that ludicrous display last night?

Almost as smart as that time back in the 80s — no, wait; it must have been ’91 — when Charlie Pope persuaded me to fill out a bracket, because he wanted my dollar. I’m not saying Charlie was in charge of this unsavory gambling enterprise; I forget which of the Five Families was running it. But he was the guy bugging me. I kept refusing, saying (truthfully) that I knew zip about college basketball. I had sort of followed it back in college (when my alma mater came in second in the NCAA, behind UCLA), but not since.

But finally, to make him stop bothering me, I filled out a bracket and kicked in a buck. I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t even know those little numbers next to the teams were telling me where they were seeded. But I had to have some kind of basis for a decision, so, in the minute or so I took to fill it out, I gave the advantage to whichever team possessed one or more of the following characteristics:

  • The school had been a big deal in basketball 20 years earlier, when I had sort of followed it.
  • It was a Catholic school. Like Georgetown, for instance. Or Gonzaga.
  • The school was in some way connected to me during my life experiences. Like my alma mater, Memphis State (or whatever they were calling it these days). Or the two big teams in Kansas, about which my colleagues were always raving when I worked in Wichita.

That was my system. I picked Duke to win. Some sports fans smiled indulgently at me for that.

And I won. This was a very frustrating outcome for poor Charlie. I knew he reviewed the brackets every day to see how each person was doing, and I made a point of asking him how I was doing every day, and enjoyed his grouchy “You’re still in the lead.” This was a completely unjust outcome in his book, since he knew that I was an idiot in these matters.

I guess I won between 20 and 30 bucks. But that wasn’t the point — I was just so glad to be right. My system had worked!

And now I’ve got a good chance of being sort of right again.

Just don’t, you know, ask me who else I had in the Final Four. I think one of them was knocked out in the first round, which is one reason I hadn’t looked back at the bracket since then…

Pay no attention to my FULL bracket, or to the man behind the curtain!

Pay no attention to my FULL bracket, or to the man behind the curtain!

Stop me before I bite again! Today’s top posted ‘job’…

dog trainer

Another opportunity from Daybook. I was looking to see if the Gaetz internship was still there, and this was on top instead.

Now there’s a job I’d like to have, if I were qualified. But my record on getting dogs to do what I want them to do is… spotty.

And there are challenges. If I had that job presently, the only way I could do a positive self-evaluation would be to say, “I successfully trained Major to bite someone other than Secret Service agents.” Or maybe, “So far, thanks to my intensive training program, Major has not yet actually killed anyone.” Which leaves something to be desired, and would probably not go over terribly well with my superiors.

But I hope they find someone good. They should be able to, at that pay level…

One more thing: If you click on that job, and scroll all the way to the bottom, you find this key bit of information:

APRIL FOOLS!

 

Spy Wednesday question: Who was Judas? Why did he do it?

Harvey Keitel as the Judas-haired betrayer in 'The Last Temptation of Christ'

Harvey Keitel as Judas in ‘The Last Temptation of Christ’

Just thought I’d share this essay I ran across in America magazine. It was written in 2006, sort of pegged to the then-recent emergence of “The Gospel of Judas,” but the Jesuit publication posted it again on the day of Holy Week when Judas is said to have made the decision to betray Jesus.

I throw it out there so I can see what y’all think. For 2,000 years, people have been projecting all sorts of interpretations upon the man and his actions, from the mundane to a figure who was used as an excuse for Christian anti-semitism.

Judas gets pegged with being motivated by greed, which is problematic, since he’d abandoned whatever material comfort he had ever possessed to follow Jesus around for three years. Anyway, he refused to keep the money. Sometimes the theory is politics — such as saying his last name, Iscariot, is derived from sicarii, or dagger wielders, a band of religious terrorists of the time. But as the writer of this essay — Father James Martin, editor-at-large of the magazine — notes, that movement hadn’t taken off until years after Judas’ betrayal and suicide.

After reading such a serious examination as Fr. Martin’s, I’m a little embarrassed to say this — it seems both irreverent and anti-intellectual — but I’ve always found the “Jesus Christ Superstar” version persuasive. At least, it connects on an emotional level. The Judas of the rock opera sees himself as Jesus’ best friend, one who truly believes in the values his master espouses but is uncomfortable both with all “this talk of God,” and the likelihood that Jesus is getting them all into big trouble. Why not help the authorities take him off the street and let everything cool down? Then, of course, he’s devastated when his actions lead to the crucifixion. At the outset, Judas presents his case this way:

I remember when this whole thing began.
No talk of God then, we called you a man.
And believe me, my admiration for you hasn’t died.
But every word you say today
Gets twisted ’round some other way.
And they’ll hurt you if they think you’ve lied.
Nazareth, your famous son should have stayed a great unknown
Like his father carving wood He’d have made good.
Tables, chairs, and oaken chests would have suited Jesus best.
He’d have caused nobody harm; no one alarm.

Listen, Jesus, do you care for your race?
Don’t you see we must keep in our place?
We are occupied; have you forgotten how put down we are?

I am frightened by the crowd.
For we are getting much too loud.
And they’ll crush us if we go too far.

Of course, that’s not far off from what Fr. Martin presents as a serious, plausible set of assumptions:

Perhaps the most plausible explanation for Judas’s action was articulated several decades ago by the late William Barclay, author of the widely used multivolume Daily Study Bible. Barclay posited that the most compelling explanation is that in handing Jesus over to the Romans, Judas was trying to force Jesus’ hand, to get him to act in a decisive way. Perhaps, he suggested, Judas expected the arrest would prompt Jesus to reveal himself as the long-awaited messiah by overthrowing the Roman occupiers. Barclay noted that none of the other traditional interpretations explain why Judas would have been so shattered after the crucifixion that he committed suicide. In other words, only if Judas had expected a measure of good to come from his actions would suicide make any sense.

This is in fact the view which best suits all the facts, Barclay concluded.

Anyway, I’m curious what you think.

Yeah, I realize some of my unbelieving friends will think this is a silly question. Some of you may even be of the persuasion that sees Jesus, much less Judas, as a fictional character. Which strikes me as extremely unlikely. Even if I didn’t believe, my understanding of history and how it unfolds would cause me to acknowledge that something happened there in Jerusalem during the time Pontius Pilate was procurator and Caiaphas was high priest. Something that started small, but gradually led to a movement that ended up taking over the Western world. And the broad outlines of the Jesus story seem a reasonable way that movement would have started.

Of course, even if you acknowledge that, you could say that Judas and the role he played were inventions by the followers of this new sect. Fr. Martin deals with that this way:

But a wholesale invention is probably unlikely. By most accounts, Mark wrote his Gospel around 70 A.D., only 40 years after the death of Jesus. Luke and Matthew wrote some 10 to 20 years after Mark. The early Christian community, therefore, would have still counted among its members people who were friends of Jesus, who were eyewitnesses to the passion events, or who knew the sequence of events from the previous generation. All these would presumably have criticized any wild liberties taken with the story. Rather, as Father Harrington says, Judas’s betrayal of Jesus was a known and most embarrassing fact. In other words, the ignominy of having Jesus betrayed by one of the apostles is something that the Gospel writers would most likely have wanted to avoid, not invent.

And even if I were an atheist, if there were a modern-day-style biography of Judas available — something as painstakingly detailed as Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton, or McCullough’s John Adams — I’d run out and get a copy and read it eagerly. So I could, you know, better understand the people and events that had pushed the world in the direction it took over the millennia.

But people didn’t process information that way 2,000 years ago. The things we don’t know even about Roman emperors would be embarrassing to any modern biographer, historian or journalist. And the people who set down the Gospels and other books of the New Testament were infinitely more interested in relating Jesus’ teachings than they were the backstory of the man who betrayed him. To them, writing at least 40 years after the events, Judas was just this bad guy who did this bad thing. Or good thing, as the “Gospel of Judas” would have it.

But what sort of man was he, and why did he do it?

Tomorrow I’ll think about something else. But this is Spy Wednesday.

Gaetz offers another exciting opportunity to some lucky young person

daybook

You know that Daybook outfit that advertises political/government jobs? It’s a mailing list I suppose I got on as a result of working for James. Anyway, I occasionally see an interesting opportunity and share it with you.

Check out the top one on today’s email.

This blog is all about public service, so here’s some additional info for any bright, ambitious young person considering this position:

What we know: Rep. Matt Gaetz is under federal investigation, accused of having sex with a minor

WASHINGTON – Rep. Matt Gaetz, a firebrand Florida Republican and close ally of former President Donald Trump, is under investigation over allegations that he had sex with an underage girl, according to media reports Tuesday.

The revelation that the Justice Department is investigating Gaetz for potential violations of sex trafficking laws swiftly roiled national politics. Gaetz was accused of having a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl and paying for her travel, The New York Times first reported.

The third-term congressman denied wrongdoing,  insinuating that he and his family have been under the threat of extortion from a former Justice official….

If you want more, just Google his name. This is pretty much what you’ll find.

Want even more? Here’s what the posting of the position says about the duties:

In the District office, interns may be asked to do a variety of things, including day-to-day office work such as answering phones, writing letters and assisting with media clips. In addition, interns may be assigned to assist in various constituent case work or work on District-based projects of importance.

If you go for an interview, make a point of asking what else “a variety of things” might include, and whether it involves interstate travel…

 

 

I just now started wearing a mask on walks. Guess why…

Why weren't we wearing these EVERY spring?

Why weren’t we wearing these EVERY spring? This is me out walking today…

All this past year, I felt free to walk around the neighborhood without a mask on. I was careful everywhere else, but I never got close to anybody — except that one time, on account of the snake.

And I thought that was fine. Until now. Of course, I’ve had both of my shots now, but so what?

This is about the pollen.

I’m sure all my neighbors think I’m trying to show I’m more COVID-careful than anyone around, but no. I’ve been doing enough sneezing lately, and finally it just occurred to me: Why haven’t we always worn these in the spring? Or at least, why haven’t I, with all my allergies?

I’ll bet this one neighbor below supports this new practice, no matter why I’m doing it. I don’t know these folks, but I like them. My kind of people. They were also among the first in the neighborhood to put up signs for Joe and Jaime last year (that picture I linked to was after they’d put up Jaime, and before Joe — a lot of people had trouble finding Joe signs for awhile). They’ve had this one up several months…

wear a mask

Lindsey tries to outstupid ‘Trumpo’

Graham on TV

I’ve mentioned this before — the “Trumpo” flag I saw at a flea market at the beach a couple of years back. You know, Donald “Bonespur” Trump depicted as Rambo.

Probably one of the funniest — certainly stupidest — things I saw during the Trump years. And as we all know, there was a lot of competition.

Speaking of competition, though, Lindsey Graham has made a brave effort to conjure an image every bit as dumb and ludicrous:

Here, for instance, is Senator Lindsey Graham speaking, this past Sunday, on Fox News: “I own an AR-15. If there’s a natural disaster in South Carolina where the cops can’t protect my neighborhood, my house will be the last one that the gang will come to, because I can defend myself.”

Here’s the video, if that quote’s not enough for you.

The picture Lindsey is trying to put in your head is pretty similar to the Trump flag.

But as stupid as that is, it doesn’t quite work, does it? The picture in my head is somewhere between this picture from St. Louis, and Elmer Fudd, on the hunt for that cwazy wabbit.

I can’t decide which part of that McCloskey guy made him more menacing — the bare feet, or the pink shirt. He was really ready to do battle, wasn’t he?

Henry didn’t want to go ‘too far’

OK, this kind of rocked me:

I already said this on Twitter, but now I’ll say it here:

Perhaps it’s rude of me to interrupt Henry when he’s congratulating himself, but 8,053 South Carolinians have died, at the very least. It’s not unreasonable to suggest that had we gone a bit closer to what he calls “too far,” some of them would have lived…

DHEC graphic

Top Five Fictional Detectives

detectives

– “Who is your favourite person from history?”
– “Sherlock Holmes.”
– “Well, he’s fictional.”
– “Whoa! I think you’d better check your facts there. Fictional? Who took care of the business with the giant dog that was eating everybody? It wasn’t Watson. Don’t tell me, I suppose he was fictional too? Maybe there was no giant dog….”

— The IT Crowd

I was kind of excited, initially, about the interactive feature I found Sunday on my Washington Post app.

The headline was “Pick the best fictional detective,” and it was presented in an interactive graphic meant to evoke the NCAA tournament “brackets” the everyone (even I, despite my lack of enthusiasm for sports) filled out mere days ago.

So, you know, if you enjoy both mysteries and sports, it was extra fun. A cool idea.

But this is no proper way to figure out even who you, yourself, think are the best detectives, much less who the best actually are. (For instance, say two of your five best detectives face each other in the first round — that means one of your top five gumshoes won’t even make the top 32, assuming you’re starting with 64. That’s not right. No way it’s right. It’s a false system of selection. With basketball, it works. Not with detectives.) Another problem is that too few of my fave detectives were even on the bracket in the first round.

The only professional, scientific way to determine the top dicks is to draft an actual Top Five list, and then argue about it with everybody. Stands to reason. The immemorial custom of the blog, and so forth…

Coming up, I was never a big fan of mysteries. I wasn’t an Agatha Christie enthusiast. Nor was I into Conan Doyle, even though I always enjoyed the Basil Rathbone movies. I just wasn’t that much of an admirer of formulaic fiction. Just as I’m not big into blues, or reggae. To me, the songs just sound too much alike. One is fine, but not a whole album. I mean, you know, a blues progression is a blues progression.

Even with Edgar Allen Poe — I preferred the horror stories to “The Purloined Letter.” I got into Poe when I was about 10, and we 5th-graders shared the stories to chill each other’s blood. And “she was buried alive!” does that way better than “the letter was in plain sight!”

But then, things happened. I started reading books that broke the mold, such as Martin Cruz Smith’s wonderfully original thriller Gorky Park and Len Deighton’s alternative history novel SS-GB. And you know what a le Carre fan I am. Well, his first books about George Smiley cast him as a Christiesque amateur solver of mysteries.

And then, along came streaming, and my wife and I got hooked on a range of British murder mysteries and police procedurals. And entirely new forms, such as Nordic noir, and, believe it or not, Welsh noir.

Anyway, here’s the list. I’m sure I’m leaving out somebody awesome, but let’s get the party started:

  1. Arkady Renko — The only Russian in the bunch — almost the only non-Brit, come to think of it — he just blew the doors off the genre when he arrived in Gorky Park, and kept it up over the next few novels. I love a book that puts you in an unfamiliar place and makes it real, and that novel made you feel you were actually in the middle of the Soviet criminal-justice system in the middle of the Cold War — even though Martin Cruz Smith had never been there (just as Patrick O’Brien had never been aboard a Royal Navy frigate during the Napoleonic Wars, but he could absolutely put a reader there). I also think highly of Renko’s American counterpart in the novel, William Kirwill, but it would be cheating to put him on the list, too. Just please don’t picture William Hurt from the movie when you think of Renko. That was a horrendous instance of miscasting. For Renko, you need a Daniel Day-Lewis, to invoke my last Top Five list. He would have been perfect, when he was about 35. Kirwill, however, was perfectly cast — when I was reading the book long before the movie, I was sort of picturing Brian Dennehy.
  2. Sergeant Gerry Boyle — OK, I don’t understand the Irish Garda system all that well, so I’m not sure that Boyle technically is a “detective.” But he’s a good copper, anyway. And again, I’ve got my last Top Five list on my mind, because this was the wonderful, deeply flawed character brought to life by  Brendan Gleeson in “The Guard.” The other night, I watched a few minutes of “48 Hours” — which frankly is about as much of the film as I ever could stand. Anyway, you know the rumpled, interesting character Nick Nolte is trying to play? Gleeson does it right in “The Guard.”
  3. Detective Chief Inspector Gill Murray — The cop show we’re currently obsessed with is “Scott & Bailey,” but I couldn’t choose between Rachel and Janet. Of the two, of course, Janet is the grownup (usually), but I still didn’t want to choose. Anyway, even though she sort of gets third-place billing and isn’t even in the 5th season, Gill is far and away the best cop on the show. Possibly because the actress, Amelia Bullmore, actually wrote some of the episodes, but her character just gets smarter and smarter.
  4. Christopher Foyle — This is the star of “Foyle’s War,” a cool series in so many ways. It’s historical. It’s about WWII. It’s about how life on the home front was affected, and not in the usual way, like folks saving tin cans or whatever. Also, it’s got Honeysuckle Weeks in it, and the fact that Foyle has her as his driver should qualify him alone, if only on the basis of her awesome name.
  5. George Gently — OK, I really debated whether to put this one in the Top Five, but I’m doing it out of frustration as much as anything. It really ticked me off that Prime let us watch the first season “free,” and then cut us off. I hate that. And I’m anxious to see the rest. But he also makes the list because he’s probably the best of a type that you see so much in these productions: the world-weary old hand, filled with almost as much irony and cynicism as investigative skill — of which he has plenty. I just think he does this better than Morse, or Lewis in his modern-day iteration, or Tom Barnaby, or Foyle, or any of those guys. I also think Lee Ingleby — whom Aubrey fans will remember as Hollom in “Master and Commander” — does a great job as his troublesome young assistant.

HONORABLE MENTION (or, to be honest, the next five, because I couldn’t stop)

  • Gene Hunt — There are lot of reasons to say Gene is not a good detective, even the opposite of a good detective, and Sam Tyler mentions most of them at great length, and repetitively, on “Life on Mars.” That’s sort of Sam’s thing, other than being confused about whether he’s a time traveler or just a guy in a coma. But Gene has certain rudimentary, atavistic skills, such as fairly decent gut instinct. And awful as he is, fans of the show eventually get to enjoy Gene as a guilty pleasure. A very guilty pleasure, because he is awful. In fact, he’s so awful that I think it’s kind of a libel on the world of 1973 to say senior cops were like this and got away with it back then. But if you get picky, you won’t enjoy the show anyway. I should also add that this is kind of a Jayne Cobb thing. I call Jayne my favorite character on Firefly because as a grandfather I don’t want to admit it’s really Kaylee. In this case, for Kaylee, substitute Annie Cartwright. She does get to be a detective late in the series, but most of the time, she’s a WPC. I think this picture is of the moment when Sam asks her first name, and she says “Annie!” Which is when the viewer starts to love her.
  • John River — This is my first entrant from the world of Nordic noir. And the ways in which it qualifies as Nordic noir are confusing. It’s set in London. River is a London cop. But he’s played by a Swedish actor. Of course, what makes it noir is the tone. River, you see, talks with dead people, and they talk back. All the time. Which can be an advantage when you’re a cop, if not a fun one. Also playing a key role is Nicola Walker. She’s not a household name — I had to look it up right now — but when she pops up in any role she’s impressive. Here she is as a guest star — playing a pivotal role — on “Scott & Bailey.”
  • Jimmy Perez — This is the protagonist of “Shetland.” I went back and forth on whether to choose him or the semi-hero of the Welsh noir (it was actually originally in the Welsh language, but then released in English) “Hinterland,” Tom Mathias. Both are cops out in the boonies, trying to do a tough job under trying circumstances. Ultimately, I go with Jimmy because he’s more stable.
  • Jimmy McNulty or Bunk Moreland, you decide — I just had to get someone in from what may be the best American cop show of all time, “The Wire.” I thought I’d go with McNulty since he was kind of the star, and because his bend-the-rules detective work got the ball rolling in the first episode. But “McNutty,” as Bubbles, unquestionably the best fictional snitch ever, called him, was a screwup. So I’m offering his partner Bunk as an alternative. Of course, he could be a screwup, too. But they were great together.
  • Douglas Archer — Just to pull someone in from the weird world of alternative history. I initially read this as a Len Deighton (The Ipcress File) fan, but this kind of stands out from his other books. Archer of the Yard is a classic British detective, who in 1941 finds himself working for the SS because the Germans went ahead with their invasion of Britain, and it was successful. And because you still need to catch bad guys, right, even when you’re working for worse guys. This was a great tale — way better than weirdly similar stories like Fatherland (Detective Xavier March, a 1960s cop working in a Germany that did not lose the war, is a sort of combination of Archer and Arkady Renko). I’ve never seen the TV series, because it’s on the premium level of Hulu, and I’m just not going to pay for that. I’ll just say that the actor playing Archer doesn’t look right at all, based on photos I’ve seen.

Yeah, I know — all white guys, except for one lady-type person, and Bunk, who I know you’re already suspecting I snuck in for diversity’s sake. (But I didn’t. Bunk’s awesome.) Yeah, well…. I just couldn’t get into “Luther,” as great as Idris Elba is. Speaking of Bunk and Elba — the thing about “The Wire” is that the best characters were not the cops. In fact, by far the best character in the show was an armed robber. And Omar was not only black, but gay, if you’re keeping score. Unfortunately, this is a detectives list.

And I considered a bunch of women, and almost put Marcella on the list. She’s fascinating. But man, that series really took Nordic noir (although it was set in England) to some weird places, and we got to where we couldn’t watch anymore. And while I’m somewhat intrigued by Chloé Saint-Laurent on the French cop series “Profilage,” she’s technically not a detective, and I’ve only seen her in two episodes so far, so I don’t yet know how good she is.

And no, Jackie Brown, about whom I thought for a second, wasn’t a detective. If I were doing a Top Five Flight Attendants List, she’d be a great candidate. Along with Elaine Dickinson

Oh, but wait! Back to “The Wire”… “Beadie” Russell was awesome! And she sorta became a detective during the course of the series, right? There are just too many fictional detectives out there for me to know where to stop. If I did this again next week, my Top Five might be five completely different people…

Open Thread for Monday, March 29, 2021

real suez

Still from Suez Canal Authority’s YouTube video of the freed ship under way.

A few things to chew on:

  1. That lubberly ship is free — Nice going there, Egypt. Right now, I’m picturing being the captain of a ship that has already decided to go all the way around the Cape of Good Hope, and now has to decide whether to keep going or turn back. Of course, nowadays, it’s unlikely he’d be the one to decide. Anyway, I doubt anyone will seriously consider my solution for this problem: Stop building ships that carry 200,000 tons of cargo.
  2. Loony Georgian Lin Wood wants to be SC GOP chairman — Apparently, he decided that not enough attention was being paid to the allegation that, when he voted in his home state of Georgia, he was living over here in SC. Which, when you think about it, is a lot of selfless bother to go to to prove to the world that there was indeed voter fraud in Georgia in 2020.
  3. Chauvin trial gets underway — Not much to report yet, so again I’m thinking about how fascinating it is that this guy’s name is the one from which we derived the term for an “irrational belief in the superiority or dominance of one’s own group or people, who are seen as strong and virtuous, while others are considered weak or unworthy.” Probably not relevant to the court case, but that’s what the name always makes me think of.
  4. Reagan was shot 40 years ago tomorrow — This was brought to my attention by an interesting piece in the WSJ by the FBI agent who was first on the scene, and led the investigation. This got me to thinking about how all the culture warriors, on both sides, seem to know why that guy in Atlanta shot all those people a couple of weeks back. And yet the guy who shot Reagan was motivated by something no one would ever, ever have guessed: Jodie Foster. Check out the photo below, which ran with the WSJ piece.
  5. Remote Work Is Here to Stay. Manhattan May Never Be the Same. — Who cares about Manhattan? (Sometimes, the NYT can be so parochial.) It will never be the same anywhere. At least, that’s what one would hope. Which one? This one. I don’t know about you, but I don’t ever want to go to work in an office again, except my home office, of course. (There is one thing about this Manhattan angle that worries me, though — the potential threat to the New York subway system, which, as y’all know, I love…)
  6. But this poor guy thinks movie theaters are poised for a big comeback — No, I don’t think they’re going away entirely. But speaking as a guy who used to love going to the movies (I became the movie reviewer at my first paper purely for the chance to see new releases with the paper paying for the tickets), and has zero interest in taking out a loan to go watch a film while wedged in with a bunch of talkative, fidgeting strangers, I wouldn’t want to be in this guy’s business.
This was just before the Reagan shooting. Hinckley stands out because of his expression.

This was just before the Reagan shooting. Hinckley stands out from the crowd because of his expression.

Cancel Culture in Jeremiah’s day

Jeremiah, as Rembrandt saw him...

Jeremiah, as Rembrandt saw him…

It was late in the evening when I got around to today’s readings, which I’ve tried to make a point of studying each day during Lent.

From the book of Jeremiah:

I hear the whisperings of many:
“Terror on every side!
Denounce! let us denounce him!”
All those who were my friends
are on the watch for any misstep of mine.
“Perhaps he will be trapped; then we can prevail,
and take our vengeance on him.”

Apparently, Jeremiah had trouble with Cancel Culture even without Twitter. Ah, but beware, all ye trolls:

But the LORD is with me, like a mighty champion:
my persecutors will stumble, they will not triumph.
In their failure they will be put to utter shame,
to lasting, unforgettable confusion.

Just thought I’d share that with you, before the day ended…

This streaming thing is great, but not as great as it should be

There's Gene Hunt! I don't know who the woman is, though...

There’s Gene Hunt! I don’t know who the woman is, though…

What a fascinating modern age we live in.

Now, you can get almost music, movie or TV you want and experience it in seconds.

Except when you can’t.

And the times when you can’t sort of drive you nuts. Or they do me.

I mentioned one of the services I subscribe to, BritBox, in a comment on a previous post. One of the main reasons I signed up for for BritBox — which is only five or six bucks a month — was so I could watch the whole two seasons of “Life on Mars” again. Which, in the months since I signed up, I’ve already done twice. It’s also handy to have because my wife and I both enjoy British cop shows, like “Scott & Bailey” (which we’ve actually been watching on Prime, but never mind) and comedies like “Upstart Crow.”

Anyway, at some point in recent years I heard about the sequel series to “Life on Mars,” which was called “Ashes to Ashes.” Nothing I ever read about it made me want to see it very much — the plot sounds contrived in a particularly convoluted way. But then, if I’d read a description of “Life on Mars” before seeing it, I might not have known I’d enjoy it, either.

Anyway, “Ashes” has some key characters from “Mars,” such as Philip Glenister as Gene Hunt, Dean Andrews as Ray Carling, and Marshall Lancaster as Chris Skelton. It didn’t have the star from “Mars,” John Simm, but that’s fine. I’m more concerned that it doesn’t seem to have Liz White as Annie Cartwright. Her I miss.

But I’ve wanted to see it anyway, so periodically I go Googling for it. And the other day, I thought I’d hit the jackpot! Check it out: There it is, on BritBox! Sure, I’d searched for it there before without success, but there it was…

So I immediately went to the tube here in my home office, called up BritBox on the Roku, and… there it wasn’t. Every way I tried searching for it after logging into my account, on the Roku or my phone or my laptop — no, it does not come up.

Of course, I didn’t want to click on the “Try for free” button on that page, because they’d want me to create an account and I already had one. And for some reason, when I tried to “sign in” on that page, I couldn’t get in. I had to come in some other way (I forget how, but it probably involved opening a different tab).

I don’t understand it. If it used to be on BritBox, but isn’t any more, why does this page still come up?

OK, I see in the URL that this is https://www.britbox.co.uk/, whereas the login that works is on https://www.britbox.com/us/. But what difference should that make? Isn’t this the WORLDWIDE Web? Do ones and zeroes have to show a passport at national boundaries?

You wouldn’t think so. But I had a huge surprise when I was in Thailand. We were in Kanchanaburi, the home of the real-life bridge on the River Kwai, and I wanted to show my daughter the movie on Netflix, and… you couldn’t watch Netflix in Thailand. Yeah, I understand they have such oppressive barriers in Red China, but Thailand? Turns out Netflix wasn’t available just everywhere you have internet. (Although I think Thailand has it now.)

I dunno. I just want to watch the TV show. And no, I’m not going to shell out $259.99 for the DVDs to watch something in which I have a mild interest. I mean, who does that today anyway? This is 2021….

They got me sorted good and proper, but I still can't see the show...

They got me sorted good and proper, but I still can’t see the show…

Top Five Irish Actors

Lincoln

Best on the list — and I didn’t even have him pegged as Irish

I was thinking about doing a rant against Identity Politics, which I still might do if I find time today or tonight, because now that Trump’s gone, it seems to be all we can talk about (the argument over motivations in the Atlanta shooting, this business over who gets to play on girls’ teams in school, the unrelated battle over whether enough resources are committed to female sport on the college level, etc.) when there are far, far more important things we could be talking about (the deteriorating relations with China and Russia, the Biden administration’s upcoming $3 trillion spending plan — yes, that number is correct — and a host of other things that I won’t mention because this parenthetical, and the sentence of which it is a part, are both far too long now).

But that would take a long time, and I have less than zero time available for it. So I’ll go completely in the opposite direction. Earlier, I randomly ran across a picture of Maureen O’Sullivan as Jane in a Tarzan movie, and idly thought, “Whose Ma was she again?” (Mia Farrow’s, for the curious.) And I found on Wikipedia that she was listed No. 8 on a list in The Irish Times of “The 50 greatest Irish film actors of all time – in order.”

So of course I had to look at it, so I could disagree with it. And not just with the fact that it’s undisciplined to list 50 when the proper number is five.

Anyway, just choosing from this list of 50 (there could be others, but I’m not going to spend time thinking about it), here’s my five. I’ll start with my apologies for not putting Maureen O’Hara at No. 1 the way they did, or even on the list. I mean no disrespect to the lady. Here’s my list:

  1. Daniel Day-Lewis — First, I had no idea he was Irish. I thought he was a Brit. But he’s definitely the best. Interestingly, some of my favorite performances by him were as iconic American figures: Abraham Lincoln, the ultimate frontiersman Natty Bumpo, and violent nativist Bill the Butcher. They had him at No. 2, behind Ms. O’Hara, but he’s the best.
  2. Kenneth Branagh — Also would have pegged him as a Brit. He certainly impersonates one well. He can be overbearing, but the man can act. I agree with them that he was most impressive as Henry V. But they were wrong to put him way down at No. 20 on the list.
  3. Brendan Gleeson — He’s just magic in everything. If you haven’t seen it, try to find The Guard and stream it. He’s great. They had him at 18.
  4. Maria Doyle Kennedy — You may remember her as the hottest of the Commitmentettes. (Yes, I know Angeline Ball — in the center in that picture — was the prettiest, but I found Maria, whom you see on the right, more appealing.) They had her at 46, and she deserves much better. She’d probably have been higher, except that — and this bugs me — you so seldom see her. But occasionally she’ll crop up where you don’t expect her — as Catherine of Aragon in “The Tudors” or Siobhán Sadler in “Orphan Black.”
  5. Chris O’Dowd — OK, he’s no Daniel Day-Lewis, or even particularly great at all, but I’m a huge fan of “The IT Crowd,” and I don’t think it gets enough attention, so I’m promoting him from where they put him, at 39. Mind you, if Richard Ayoade were in any way Irish, I’d have included him on my list — there’s a guy you don’t see enough, even less than Maria.

Honorable mention, with their ranks on the Times’ list:

8. Maureen O’Sullivan

9. Michael Fassbender

11. Barry Fitzgerald

24. Colm Meaney

That’s it. Back to work…

My favorite Commitmentette.

My favorite Commitmentette.