Author Archives: Brad Warthen

Open Thread for Thursday, June 30, 2016

Canadian PM Trudeau Tweeted out this selfie, which POTUS reTweeted...

Canadian PM Trudeau last night Tweeted out this selfie, which POTUS reTweeted. Anyone besides me think our modern leaders are lacking gravitas?

Well, we have one rather startling story to lead off with:

  1. Coastal Carolina wins College World Series — Wow. Not sure how this even happens. This seems to be one of those Milan, Indiana-type moments.
  2. Boris Johnson, ‘Brexit’ Leader, Won’t Run for Prime Minister — Another shocker. Makes me envy the Brits. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, right on the verge of getting his party’s nomination, Donald Trump said, “Never mind”?
  3. Who is Michael Gove? Britain’s real-life Frank Underwood — Actually, I think in the original British version, his name was Francis Urquhart.
  4. Connor Shaw released by Cleveland — How about that? Two sports stories in one day! Are y’all pumped or what?
  5. Pentagon lifts ban on transgender troops in military — Initial reports I saw on my phone said transgender folk will be allowed to serve “openly.” Made me wonder how they’d keep it a secret. Maybe they don’t have short-arm inspections in the Army any more…

Donnie Myers makes list of America’s 5 ‘deadliest prosecutors’

And it’s getting lede treatment by The Guardian, in keeping with that newspaper’s fascination with us barbarous Americans with our guns and capital punishment.

Excerpts:

The five are profiled in a new report from Harvard Law School’s Fair Punishment Project. Titled America’s Top Five Deadliest Prosecutors, the report highlights the lion-sized role in the modern death penalty of just four men and one woman. Donnie Myers

They are: Joe Freeman Britt of Robeson County, North Carolina; Donnie Myers of Lexington, South Carolina; Bob Macy of Oklahoma County; Lynne Abraham of Philadelphia County; and Johnny Holmes of Harris County, Texas….

Myers is the only one of the five who is still in office, with plans to retire at the end of the year. The lawyer, the one with the electric chair paperweight on his desk, did not respond to the Guardian’s questions about his inclusion in the top five club of deadliest prosecutors.

He achieved 39 death sentences in the course of his 38 years in practice but labored under a 46% rate of misconduct that was later discovered. Six of his death sentences were overturned due to problems in the way he had secured a capital sentence – often involving discriminatory exclusions of jurors based on race.

The report notes that Myers once rolled a baby’s crib draped in black cloth in front of a capital jury and, crying profusely, told them that a failure to return a death sentence would be like declaring “open season on babies in Lexington County”. In another death penalty case, he referred to the black defendant as “King Kong”, a “monster”, “caveman” and “beast of burden”….

Myers, of course, will be replaced by former deputy Rick Hubbard, after Hubbard’s victory in Tuesday’s primary.

Here’s part of what Cindi wrote about Hubbard in The State‘s endorsement of him:

Mr. Hubbard doesn’t speak ill of his former boss, but he does acknowledge that there have been problems in the office. He does note that he does not share Mr. Myers’ “old-school style of doing things.” And he makes a convincing case that he would represent a clean break….

Mr. Hubbard also seems to have the deepest appreciation of the three of the moral duty of a prosecutor to seek justice regardless of public opinion, and to seek justice even when that means losing a case. As he put it, “A prosecutor’s job is to do the right thing and to do it for the right reason.” After 40 years of a win-at-any-cost solicitor, the people in Lexington, Edgefield, McCormick and Saluda counties deserve a prosecutor who is deeply committed to putting justice first, always, and who has the experience and expertise to deliver that justice in a steady, reliable way….

Congratulations to Micah Caskey — now I’d like to see him adopt his opponent’s issue

A week ago today, I dropped by a gathering of supporters of Micah Caskey at The Whig. It was a small group, but diverse — the person who had invited me to it was Raia Hirsch, a Democrat previously seen working in Vincent Sheheen’s gubernatorial campaign. (She and Micah had been in Law School together.)Micah Caskey cropped

I chatted briefly with Micah at the event, and he seemed quite confident that he was going to win the runoff — even though his opponent, Tem Miles, had the public backing of their chief rival in the original primary on June 14, former Lexington County Councilman Bill Banning.

Well, he was right to be confident — he won walking away, with more than two-thirds of the vote (see below). This was no doubt due to hard work, a positive message, and of course the fact that he took out a campaign ad on bradwarthen.com — that’ll do it every time. :)

He was a strong candidate. I guess I should say is a strong candidate, since he has opposition in the fall. In this district, you’re usually pretty safe to bet on the Republican, although I haven’t met his opposition, which I need to do at some point. He faces Democrat Peggy Butler and Constitutional candidate Robert Lampley in November.

As I think I mentioned earlier, I thought the district would have been well-served by either of these young attorneys. And there’s one thing that would make me feel even better about the prospect of Micah Caskey being my representative…

The best thing that Tem had going for him was that he had notions of reform that seemed to come straight out of the Power Failure project I conceived and directed at The State 25 years ago even though he’s too young to remember it. I had meant to encourage him further in that direction by dropping off a reprint of the series at Mr. Miles’ law office (I still have a few yellowing copies in a closet somewhere). I neglected to do that. I’ll still do so, if he’s interested.

But I’m also going to give one to the winner, next time I see him. It would be great to see him adopt the best part of his erstwhile opponent’s platform…

District 89

Game of Thrones recap: Finally, the Khaleesi gets off her duff

emilia-clarke-game-of-thrones-hbo

ALERT: SPOILERS THROUGHOUT!

Actually, there were a lot of “finally” moments in the finale, which is fitting:

  • Arya finally gets to employ her new skills in obtaining what she wants — revenge. That is to say, she had her “My name is Inigo Montoya” moment.
  • As a result, we don’t have to look at Walder Frey’s ugly, nasty, antisocial puss any more.
  • Jon Snow, the bastard who was never treated as a true Stark and who ended last season suffering the ultimate insult-to-injury treatment, finally comes into his own, winning the esteem and devotion of the entire north (if you don’t count Littlefinger, which I don’t).
  • Everyone acknowledges that, as chief Westerosi meteorologist Ned Stark told them so emphatically long ago, Winter is indeed Coming.
  • Tyrion Lannister, whose drinking problem arose largely from his never getting any respect back home, finally gets a promotion — and not a grudging, degrading one like he got that time he was the Hand of the King.
  • All that futzing around with the High Sparrow is at a cataclysmic end, and we know who’s in charge in King’s Landing. True, it’s the wrong Lannister — if the Iron Throne had to be occupied by one of that incestuous pair, we’d all be better off with Jaime (as was noted in commentary after the episode, now that all her children are dead, Cersei has no redeeming qualities at all) — but at least all that uncertainty is over.
  • Samwell Tarly, who has so wanted to become a maester, has that glorious moment beholding the ultimate dream library, which is his to dive into.

And as I said in the headline, the Mother of Dragons finally, finally stops with the big talk and the hemming and the hawing and the messing around with local politics over across the Narrow Sea, and heads toward what she has told us with unrelieved monotony for years is her destiny. Sheesh! About time. At last, the girl will put up or shut up.

Anyway, I found it all fairly satisfying, and now I can happily drop my HBO Now subscription, and not think about it any more until next year. Since, you know, Amazon Prime give me everything else HBO has to offer…

Below, you see Jon being acknowdged as King in the North. Yay. But it reminds me I’d like to see one more “finally” moment. I’d like to see someone finally pay the light bill in Westeros. Why does everything have to be so dark that I can’t tell what’s happening if I try to watch on my iPad in a room with any lights on at all?

Jon_Snow_is_declared_King_in_The_North_Season_6_Episode_10_Preview.

Ding-dong, Lee Bright is gone — but don’t ask me why

Bright FB

Pretty much everybody is celebrating the pending departure of Lee Bright from the S.C. Senate – the governor, the state Chamber’s political entity, and liberals everywhere. So many people had so many reasons to want him gone that I hadn’t even noticed how much the conservationists disliked them, as they reminded me last night in claiming credit for his defeat:

Dear Conservation Voter,

We just received the news – VICTORY!

CVSC endorsed candidate, Scott Talley, has defeated anti-conservation Senator Lee Bright with approximately 51.3% of the vote.

That’s right – “Mr. No” is gone. The worst Senator in South Carolina on conservation issues – and one of the worst in the country – has been defeated.

CVSC played a big part in Talley’s victory. We implemented our most ambitious election strategy in our history, knocking on over 21,000 doors, making over 7,500 phone calls, and sending 120,000 pieces of mail for Talley.

Our work paid off – we elected Scott Talley and defeated one of the worst legislators in the country on clean air and clean water issues.

CVSC has been an unstoppable force in this election. Almost every voter I spoke with had been contacted by CVSC in some way. I cannot thank them enough for helping get us across the finish line. I look forward to working with CVSC to protect the South Carolina we all love,” shared Senator-elect Talley at his victory party.

We had a plan to win and executed it with precision. I could not be prouder of our team and for all of you who supported our efforts. Since April, we have spoken with thousands of voters across the Upstate on the need to elect Scott Talley and were welcomed in almost every conversation we had with voters.

Our proven strategy of face-to-face contact with voters made the difference. We plan to use the skills we honed this election cycle to expand our efforts and incorporate them into our ongoing advocacy work.

This is how we will protect the South Carolina we love.

Please join me in congratulating our field team for a hard-fought race and congratulating Senator-elect Talley on his victory!

In Victory,

John F. Tynan, Political Director

By comparison, the state Chamber, response was understated. They just posted this oh-so-brief statement from Chamber chief Ted Pitts:

“The results are clear, the majority of the people two weeks ago and again tonight wanted new conservative leadership in Columbia.  The business community looks forward to working with Senator Scott Talley.”

Which almost sounded like they didn’t have a dog in the fight, but they did.

But whether Bright’s demise should be credited to the Chamber, the CVSC, or the governor dropping a house on him, everyone in Munchkinland is pleased.

Meanwhile — and this was the real news of the night — three other incumbent senators lost their positions Tuesday night. The real shockers were Republicans Larry Martin and Mike Fair, but there was also Democratic Creighton Coleman, with whom I am not as familiar (a quick search shows that I’ve only ever mentioned him once on the blog, and that was only as one name in a list of lawmakers endorsing Vincent Sheheen in his bid for the gubernatorial nomination in 2010.

Fair was phlegmatic about his loss:

“It was a bad night for incumbents, but I don’t know why,” Fair said, before calling Timmons to congratulate him. “I got clobbered. It wasn’t even close. … With the margin of victory that big for Mr. Timmons, I think the constituency here has had enough of me.”

But does “a bad night for incumbents” really describe it? I think he comes closer with the “I don’t know why.”

We should resist the temptation to boil everything down to universal formulas that explain everything. I don’t think last night’s results lend themselves to the kind of simplistic analysis that we’ve seen applied to the Brexit result, trying to tie it all into the same anti-establishment sentiment that has aided Donald Trump and Bernie Sander on this side of the pond.

Think about it — if Tuesday’s results were due to anti-incumbent, anti-establishment impulses, how do we explain the ouster of Bright?

Lee Bright was the kind of candidate the pitchforks-and-torches crowd loves. Note his chosen tagline above: FIGHT THE ESTABLISHMENT. And the forces lined up against him were as Establishment as can be — yet the voters went along with getting rid of him. Seriously, pause and ponder that: Republican primary voters, who these days supposedly immediately rebel against anything the Establishment indicates it wants, meekly went along with the pooh-bahs in District 12 yesterday.

All of this leads up to my own anti-simplistic analysis — voters tend to vote as they do in particular races for reasons specific to those individual contests, which usually have little to do with sweeping movements. I tend to be dismissive of interpretations such as “Voters wanted Republicans to run the Congress,” or “Voters were in an anti-incumbent mood.” Such things can be factors, but usually their effect is exaggerated.

Bottom line, I suspect Mike Fair was ousted for the last explanation he offered: “I think the constituency here has had enough of me.” And since I don’t live in his district and haven’t made a study of it, I can’t begin to tell you why that is. Since Mr. Fair doesn’t know, how could I? Nor can I explain to you with any degree of confidence why Sen. Martin’s voters were tired of him, or recite the completely different reasons Sen. Coleman’s constituents dumped him.

Pundits like to give you those sweeping explanations because it makes them sound like they know more about what’s going on than they do. (This is related to why they try to shoehorn everything into simple dichotomies: left-right, Democrat-Republican, black-white, winner-loser and so forth.)

I’m not going to do that. To cite one of my favorite Twain quotes, “I was born modest; not all over, but in spots….”

But while I can’t blithely give the why, I can give you a simplistic assessment of what was good and bad news for South Carolina: Bright’s departure is wonderful news — if there was a wrong side to an issue, he embraced it. On the whole, losing Martin and Fair is bad for South Carolina — particularly Martin. Nothing against their opponents because I know nothing about them (maybe they’ll turn out great), but on the whole those two guys have been positive problem-solvers in the Senate.

Creighton Coleman? I have no idea. He just never made an impression one way or the other…

Open Thread for Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Gowdy report

Some possible topics:

  1. Did you go vote? — I ask because I actually forgot this morning, and had to run back out to my part of town after lunch. Got ‘er done, though. How did it go? I think I was No. 134 to vote at about 1:30 p.m.
  2. Benghazi report finds no new evidence of wrongdoing by Clinton — This morning, I was stupid enough to click on an “EXCLUSIVE” from Fox News that said “Clinton’s admin pushed video explanation for Benghazi despite eyewitness accounts, House GOP report says.” Not noticing the “admin,” I thought it was saying they caught her doing something misleading. But it was the same old stuff — Susan Rice made a fool of herself on the Sunday shows. If you’d like to know where Gowdy’s report did fault Clinton, read this.
  3. NASA Awaits a 3-Second Beep From Jupiter — A cool space story… I like space stuff. But I miss the manned missions. Remember, we were supposed to have sent men to Jupiter 15 years ago
  4. Attack On Istanbul’s International Airport Kills At Least 10 People — Oh, wait: We don’t care in the West since it happened in a Muslim country, right?
  5. Labour MPs prepare for leadership contest after Corbyn loses confidence vote — After a huge loss in the confidence vote, he said he won’t quit. I guess this is his Bernie Sanders impersonation. But I expect they’ll sort him out soon enough.
  6. Brexit vote: Bitter exchanges in EU parliament debate — There were good bits, though, as when “A central figure in the Leave campaign, UK Independence Party (UKIP) leader Nigel Farage, was booed, called a liar and accused of using ‘Nazi propaganda’.”

That’s it for now. I have to run go give platelets. Y’all should be going with me…

Drawing a connection between Trump and Tillman

My old colleague and friend Jeff Miller brought this to my attention, as he had not seen anyone draw a direct connection between Donald Trump and Ben Tillman, although he was “Surprised it took this long.”

The relevant passage:

As the civil-rights movement burgeoned, Wallace repositioned himself to lead the white resistance and famously declared, “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” Wallace, a political innovator of the first rank, pioneered the sublimation of racial rage into hatred of government, not just the federal imposition of black rights in a second Reconstruction, but government meddling generally. This anticipated the politics of Newt Gingrich, Paul Ryan, Ted Cruz, and the Tea Party because it connected Southern racial resentment to the anti-government libertarian economics of the business right. The explicit racism became latent and coded—a dog whistle. The stars of today’s Republican right are all practitioners of this art. But Trump went them one better.

“Trump doesn’t tweet dog whistles, he blasts foghorns,” wrote Washington Post op-ed columnist Eugene Robinson. In this, Trump echoes an earlier band of 20th-century Southern demagogues. Southern politicians such as Mississippi’s Theodore Bilbo, South Carolina’s “Pitchfork Ben” Tillman, and Georgia’s Eugene Talmadge were more blatant and direct than Wallace in demeaning blacks. And like Trump, they relished the fact that they were not about issues—for issues (other than race) mattered little in traditional Southern politics. Instead, they concentrated on providing a venomous, racist form of entertainment for the white working class—another parallel with Trump.

I have to disagree with the premise, though. I don’t think Trump is more overt than Wallace, or that he “blast foghorns” rather than “dog whistles.”

Mr. Articulate

Mr. Articulate?

The truth is that Trump is not articulate enough to blast any message clearly. He is well within the tradition of implying rather than directly stating, at least most of the time.

But that suggests to me one way in which Wallace was superior to Trump: He was far more articulate.

I watched a documentary recently about the annus horribilis 1968, and was struck by one thing: All of the candidates, including Wallace, had such a clear grasp of issues and expressed their views clearly as well.

Wallace was a hateful creep, but he was a hateful creep who could speak in complete sentences. He towers so far over Trump in that regard that it’s startling to go view those old clips, and compare them to the unintelligible mush that comes from Trump’s mouth.

Yeah, I know — you don’t think “erudition” when you hear “George Wallace.” But compared to Trump, he was the Algonquin Round Table

Members and associates of the Algonquin Round Table... Art Samuels, Charles MacArthur, Harpo Marx, Dorothy Parker and Alexander Woollcott

Members and associates of the Algonquin Round Table… Art Samuels, Charles MacArthur, Harpo Marx, Dorothy Parker and Alexander Woollcott

Open Thread for Monday, June 27, 2016

PM Cameron spoke out today against the huge upswing in xenophobic incidents since the Brexit vote.

PM Cameron spoke out today against the huge upswing in xenophobic incidents since the Brexit vote.

Kind of a slow news day, but let’s see what we can drum up:

  1. Don’t forget to vote tomorrow — If there are any primary runoffs in your precinct. I’ve got the solicitor runoff between Rick Hubbard and Candice Lively, and the contest between Micah Caskey and Tem Miles for Kenny Bingham’s House seat. If you want to see what’s on your local ballot, go here and enter your county, name and birth date.
  2. Inmate killed, another injured at Lee Correctional during incident — Sounds like more than an “incident” if an inmate was killed. I look forward to learning more. I’m also curious to know more about the dead man himself. His name was named Ae Kingratsaiphon. How did a guy with a name like that ending up doing a life sentence for murder in South Carolina?
  3. Justices throw out Texas abortion law — Kennedy joined the liberals to hand the “pro” side their biggest court win since 1992, in a 5-3 decision. NYT’s making a pretty huge deal about it.
  4. Graft Conviction Is Vacated for Former Virginia Governor — From what I’ve read in recent months, that sounds like it’s probably a good call.
  5. EU leaders reject informal talks with UK — I think this makes more sense than that petulant-sounding message we got the other day from E.U. leaders saying they wanted Britain to hurry up about it. This is a situation that benefits from a bit of a slowdown, I would think. But then, what do I know from European politics? Meanwhile, Britain’s credit rating has been downgraded. Nice going there, leavers.
  6. Labour MPs to hold no-confidence vote in Jeremy Corbyn — So there are some silver linings in this cloud. That’s encouraging, I think — if he’s replaced by someone a little less crazy. Yeah, it’s too much to hope for another Tony Blair, but a guy can dream, can’t he?

Your thoughts about a TIF for Finlay Park?

This doesn’t move me much either way, but I was just wondering whether any of y’all have strong opinions about this proposal floated by the Columbia mayor:

A multimillion-dollar renovation of Finlay Park and a pedestrian-friendly remodeling of parts of two major downtown streets might be within reach if local governments will agree to a controversial financing plan being floated by Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin.Steve Benjamin Twitter

Benjamin said last week that he’s working on a proposal to create a small taxing district that would capture property taxes on buildings along Assembly Street stretching north to Laurel Street, west to just behind the rundown park and south to Washington Street.

The largest source of income would come from a proposed $60 million to $70 million, 15-story apartment building called The Edge that a Chicago-based company wants to construct near the Richland County library, Benjamin said….

Mayor Steve may propose this at an August council meeting, so you’ve got time to either encourage him or head him off with a tidal wave of protest…

This was the only picture of Finlay Park that I could find in my archives -- it's from a rehearsal of "Pride and Prejudice" in 2012.

This was the only picture of Finlay Park that I could find in my archives — it’s from a rehearsal of “Pride and Prejudice” in 2012.

Boris, could you please first do something about the hair?

I said this on Twitter earlier today:

But that’s not exactly right.

Trump’s hair and Johnson’s do have things in common — they’re both light-colored, they’re both flamboyant and they’re both ridiculous.

Boris Johnson's actual Twitter profile photo.

Boris Johnson’s actual Twitter profile photo.

But there’s a huge, defining difference, which actually makes them opposites: Trump’s hair is ridiculous because it’s so obvious that he goes to far too much trouble to make it look like that. Johnson’s is distracting because he goes out of his way to look like he does nothing with it, that he has never in his life seen a comb or had anything to do with one.

In any case, both are distracting, and do not inspire the kind of confidence one would like to have in the head of a major country.

Boris’ hair in the actual, formal portrait photo at right, reminds me of my grandson — he resists anyone combing his hair, firmly declaring that he prefers that it remain “bumpy.” In a 4-year-old, this is endearing, and I have been known to compliment him on the bumpiness of his hair. In fact, I regularly reach out and muss it up for him.

But in a grown man who wishes to be taken seriously by other grown men, it is ridiculous.

Now is the time on bradwarthen.com when we all harrumph together over men among us with ridiculous hair.

Harrumph, harrumph, harrumph, harrumph, harrumph…

What sort of hair should a serious world leader have? The sort that we don’t notice. The sort that, if someone asks us to describe it when we’re not looking at it, we can’t. We shouldn’t even be able to swear whether he has hair or not, unless it’s right in front of us. It should be that understated and unobtrusive.

I’ll pause now for a moment while you all say, Hear, hear!

Hear, hear! Hear, hear! Hear, hear! Hear, hear!…

Wexit: George Will leaves Republican Party

Here’s how complicated the world is, how it resists pat explanations…

Every other pundit in the Anglosphere is writing about how Brexit is the result of the same political forces that gave us Trump. It’s widely accepted as axiomatic.

Meanwhile, George F. Will is writing about how wonderful, how salutary, Brexit is, calling it “Britain’s welcome revival of nationhood.”

And yet George Will has staged his own exit — from the Republican Party. Over Trump:

Conservative columnist George Will has left the Republican Party over its presumptive nomination of Donald Trump.George Will

Will, who writes a column for The Washington Post, spoke about his decision Friday at an event for the Federalist Society in Washington.

“This is not my party,” he told the audience, the news site PJ Media first reported.

Speaking with The Post, Will said that he changed his voter registration from “Republican” to “unaffiliated” several weeks ago, the day after House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) endorsed Trump.

Will did not say which presidential candidate he will be supporting instead….

He added that it was too late for the GOP to nominate someone other than Trump. Instead, he said, Republican voters should just “make sure he loses,” then “grit their teeth for four years and win the White House.”

Cranston, others are AMAZING in ‘All the Way’

I intend to drop my subscription to HBO Now, as an economizing measure, after the last episode of “Game of Thrones” this weekend. (I’m not giving up much; my Amazon Prime account gives me access to pretty much everything I value about HBO.)

Before doing that, I made a point last night to watch the new HBO movie, “All the Way,” starring Bryan Cranston as Lyndon Johnson.

I was blown away. Wow. I did not know Cranston could act like that. Sure, a lot of it was a brilliant makeup job, but that was just the start. And it wasn’t just the voice impersonation; plenty of people could do that. It was his physicality — the way he positioned and moved his body, the subtleties of his facial expressions, that made him seem to inhabit LBJ.

The constant Grimace of Anxiety

The constant Grimace of Anxiety

Just watching his mouth shape the words was hypnotic. As much as I liked “Breaking Bad,” it persuaded me that he had a limited set of expressions. In the early seasons, I got really tired of that grimace of extreme anxiety that he wore constantly — although, in retrospect, I suppose that was masterful, too, as it so effectively communicated his stress to me, which was part of what I didn’t like about it.

But to watch that jaw and lips and teeth become those of LBJ was astounding.

But the quality of this production extends far beyond Cranston. You’ll also be impressed by Bradley Whitford as Hubert Humphrey, and Melissa Leo as Lady Bird. Frank Langella as Sen. Richard Russell and Steven Root as J. Edgar Hoover are both wonderful as well, but then those guys always are.

There are less impressive parts, of course. The actor who plays Strom Thurmond only has a line or two, but I still fault him for doing too little with it.

But the greatest letdown is Anthony Mackie as Martin Luther King. For one thing, he doesn’t seem old enough. Yeah, I know — MLK was only 35 at the time and Mackie is precisely that age. But King had a bearing that made him seem older than he was.

Perhaps I expect too much, but it seems that in everything I see — the disappointing “Selma” comes to mind — the actors portraying King fall far short of capturing him. Mr. Mackle simply lacks the gravitas — in the shape of his face, his voice, his manner. King had a presence that impressed. Why is there not an actor out there who can communicate it, or at least approximate it?

But let’s not linger on the shortcomings. “All the Way” is excellent, and if you have access, you should take the time to see it.

all-the-way-bryan-cranston

To give you chills on a summer’s day: Ralph Stanley singing ‘O Death’

My old friend Richard Crowson, a bluegrass musician who is a master at picking anything with strings on it — would likely disown me for admitting this, but I pretty much knew nothing about Ralph Stanley before he died this week.

To give you who are similarly ignorant a little schooling, I share this:

He was a short, gaunt man in a white cowboy hat and gray suit, his features seemingly chipped from granite with a stony gaze to match. When he sang “O Death” at Wolf Trap in 2006 as part of the Great High Mountain Tour, Stanley’s scratchy high tenor made the Grim Reaper sound like an acquaintance of long standing. This traditional lament had revived his career when he sang it in the Coen brothers’ 2000 movie “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” but Stanley’s ghostly vocal made clear that the song was older than that movie, older than the whole history of talking movies.

Even in the 21st century, there was an echo in his voice of 19th-century mining and lumbering (his father worked in an old-fashioned sawmill) and of the 17th-century songs that immigrants from the British Isles brought to the Appalachian Mountains. It was in the southwest corner of Virginia, in Dickerson County under the shadow of Clinch Mountain, that Ralph Stanley was born on Feb. 25, 1927. Together with his brother Carter, two years older, Ralph learned the eerie harmonies of a cappella Sacred Harp singing in church and the spry rhythms of old-time string-band music at dances.

“Three groups really shaped bluegrass music,” Ricky Skaggs told me in 1998. “Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys, the Stanley Brothers and Flatt & Scruggs. Everyone who came after them was just following in their footsteps. . . . Ralph’s still out there 150 dates a year; he’s the last of the giants still in action.”…

But he is in action no more. And this video sounded to me like a voice from Beyond when I listened to it over my coffee this morning.

What it does is profound. So I thought I’d share…

 

I didn’t know Bryan lived in Illinois

bumper sticker

Or Mike Cakora, either, for that matter.

Anyway, I thought they’d like this bumper sticker I saw when in line at Lizard’s Thicket today.closeup

Here’s a closeup in case you have trouble making it out. Hmmm… It’s still not that clear. OK… It said, “Better To Have A Gun And Not Need It Than To Need A Gun And Not Have It.”

This car also had a sticker — on the back window — that said “got ammo?” and another that said, “NO HILLARY 2016.”

I got caught taking the picture. Right after I took it I saw the driver’s arm come out of the window and give me a thumbs-up. I waved back in a noncommittal way.

Now, here’s where I test your assumptions. See if you can form in your mind a picture of this driver.

Think for a moment. Got it? Describe the driver.

Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. But it was an African-American woman. Either that or a slender, dark-skinned man with long, straightened hair.

So add that to your picture of the world.

Having voted to exit, Brits now wonder, ‘What is the E.U.?’

Forgive me for using your signature line, Dave Barry, but I am not making this up.

Since all those awful headlines about Brexit disturbed me so much, I was wondering whether the full impact was hitting some “Leave” voters and making them have second thoughts.

Well, yes. The Washington Post had this quote today:

“Even though I voted to leave, this morning I woke up and I just — the reality did actually hit me,” one woman told the news channel ITV News. “If I’d had the opportunity to vote again, it would be to stay.”

So it appears some Brits who voted on this perhaps didn’t consider what they were doing carefully enough beforehand.

Actually, it’s much, much worse than that.

Today, faced with all the madness in the wake of the vote, here were the most popular Google searches in Britain:

You know, the sort of search you might expect a voter to have started with months ago, if he or she intended to vote yesterday. Followed up by a whole lot of other questions.

Seriously. They did not have an effing clue.

I mean, here I was, feeling bad that I didn’t focus enough on the referendum to have fully made my mind up before yesterday, and yet I — a Yank who had no say in the matter — had been far more conscientious about the issue than these twits who got to vote on it.

Of course, the feckless Brits are not alone. Wonder how people in this country could vote for someone as clueness and ridiculous as Donald Trump? It’s because of stuff like this…

Why do Brexit fans wave Union Jack in celebration, when they just voted to do away with it?

Farage

I keep seeing images of Nigel Farage and other fans of Brexit celebrating their win by waving the Union Jack.

Which is really ironic, and seems to indicate a lack of thinking things through on their part. Which, under the circumstances, isn’t terribly surprising.

Already, Scotland — which voted strongly to remain in the E.U. — is girding itself for another vote for independence, and this time it seems likely that they’ll succeed in seceding.

As I Tweeted in the midst of it all last night:

And that, of course, would mean the end of the Union Jack. Right? I mean, how could you keep the St. Andrew’s Cross after that?

Flag of England

Flag of England

For those who haven’t paid attention the last few centuries, the Union Jack represents the union of England and Scotland, hence the combination of the St. George’s and St. Andrew’s crosses.

True, I’m no expert on heraldry or anything. Maybe an independent Scotland would still be part of the Queen’s realm, and she could still fly the Union flag when she’s in residence at her palace.

But still… that’s a rather empty sort of union these days, isn’t it?

Here’s the flag they should be waving, since this is what they voted for. Not quite as satisfying to look at, is it?

Union Jack

Forboding headlines from our Mother Country

I went to bed last night fairly certain that Britain would soon be out of the E.U., after a couple of hours of being buffeted back and forth by SkyNews — Newcastle says leave, Liverpool says stay, Edinburgh stay, Manchester stay, Birmingham leave — and watching the numbers creep, like a tide going out, from slightly in favor of remain to increasingly for leave.

But I wasn’t quite prepared for the barrage of dismal tidings when I first looked at my phone this morning:

Brexit 1

Merkel

brexit 3

Brexit 2

And then, a bit later:

stocks

What a barrage. And as if that weren’t enough, in case we were still unsure this was bad news, we had Donald Trump assuring us that Brexit was “a great thing.”

I started imagining what the map of Britain would look like in the future. England and Wales and maybe, way off to the upper left, Northern Ireland…

I found myself almost immediately wondering how much worse it could get. We know Boris Johnson is poised to take Cameron’s place. But… what if the Tories lose control, and there’s an election that puts that leftist lunatic Jeremy Corbyn in No. 10?

Open Thread for Thursday, June 23, 2016

BrexitArialW

As we wait for the votes to come in across the pond:

  1. EU referendum vote – long queues and bad weather — Apparently, we won’t learn what happened until sometime overnight. But you’ll be excited to know that I made up my mind that were I eligible to vote, I’d vote to remain. How did I decide? I Googled to see what my main man Tony Blair would do. So, that’s settled.
  2. Democrats end sit-in after chaotic 26 hours in House — Meanwhile the GOP got ticked off and went home. What was accomplished? Well, nothing, really, except for energizing the Democratic base, which eats up this sort of thing.
  3. Deadlocked justices block Obama on immigration — Notice how, while the Congress dithers and engages in symbolic actions, the judiciary actually goes out and does stuff? Not sure this is what the Framers had in mind, but this is how it works.
  4. Four more S.C. residents contract Zika virus — All were travel-related, but this is still just getting too close to home.
  5. Baltimore Officer Who Drove Freddie Gray Is Acquitted — As with Ferguson, we have another case in which what thousands of protesters just knew to be the case could not be demonstrated satisfactorily in the criminal justice system. Some dissidents will no doubt think this proves the system is rigged. To me, it demonstrates that people frequently take to the streets based on insufficient evidence.

General, you might want to spread your troops out a bit

ClevNgYWYAAMQks

Ran across this photo when the U.S. Army Tweeted it out in celebration of National Selfie Day — which apparently is a thing — earlier this week.

It shows Gen. Robert B. Abrams, commander of U.S. Army Forces Command at Fort Bragg, posing with some of his troops.

All I could think was that in a combat situation — and the way they’re decked out it certainly looks like a combat situation — a formation like this would be suicidal. One mortar round, and that’s it.

I’d just feel a lot better if they were spread out in a proper skirmish line.

Beyond that, it just looks ridiculous… it sort of cracked me up.

Cindi Scoppe’s Gonzales Award acceptance speech

Sorry about the quality of the photo. The light wasn't ideal...

Sorry about the quality of the photo. The light wasn’t ideal…

Yesterday, as I mentioned, was my day for awards ceremonies. The best, for me, was the one at The State at which Associate Editor Cindi Scoppe received the paper’s Gonzales Award (named for the paper’s first editor, who was shot and killed on Main Street by the lieutenant governor in 1903).

It was the second time she had received the award, having gotten it in 1999 as well.

Bud Ferillo, Bob McAlister and I had written letters supporting her nomination, which is why we were there.

The work for which Cindi was honored took place during her first months alone, as the last remaining member of the editorial department. (There were once nine of us.) I addressed the significance of that in my letter supporting her:

When it comes to cold, dispassionate, hard-eyed assessment of South Carolina government and politics, no one touches Cindi Scoppe. Not in 2014, and not in 2015, either.

But in 2015, she did something else as well. She grew. She still did everything she had always done, the stuff no one else could do, but she added a couple of new ingredients: Heart and Soul.

There was a time when she didn’t have to do that sort of writing, and that comforted her. She liked being, in her own assessment, the board’s “Designated Mean Bitch.” When empathy and violins were called for, she was more than happy to let other associate editors “resonate” with the proper emotion for the moment – and some of them were really good at it. She would stick to the hard stuff.

But by mid-2015, there were no other associate editors. Warren Bolton – an ordained minister who could speak to the heart as well as anyone who had ever served on the board – left in the spring, and by June, Cindi was alone….

That sort of sets up what Cindi had to say in her acceptance speech. Here it is, shorn of some personal acknowledgments at the beginning:

The day after Dylann Roof slaughtered those nine innocents, Bertram Rantin stopped by my office to chat. I probably said I knew I needed to write something about the massacre but I had no idea what to say. Because what our community needed, what our state needed was not policy prescriptions but emotion and understanding. What was needed was RESONATING. And I don’t do resonating.

And Bertram said, you know, we used to have two people who could speak to this sort of situation. And isn’t it ironic that this would happen just weeks after we lost both Warren Bolton and Carolyn Click.

We talked some more about other things, and he left, but his words stayed in my head. And at some point, I realized that I had to step up to the task. I realized, as Brad wrote in his letter supporting my nomination, that I had to grow. I had to become a writer I had not been willing to.

Three thousand years ago, when God wondered aloud who he could send to speak to his people, the prophet Isaiah answered saying “Here am I, send me.” I think that’s one of the coolest passages in the Bible. Christians and Jews see that as a great act of faith. But it could also be seen as an act of dedication, of commitment to a cause, to a calling.

And don’t we all have a calling? Isn’t that what journalism is?

Shouldn’t we all be willing to ask, in the secularized iteration of Isaiah’s response: “If not me, who? If not now, when?”

Isn’t that the commitment that all of us need to give to our craft, to our community?

Now, except for Paul, there’s no one on the second floor who should be doing what I do routinely – advocating for policy positions. It’s probably not often that you should be writing about your personal experiences. Certainly not about how your faith informs your life decisions, or how it relates to public policy.

But what I had to do last year – after the massacre and a few months later, after the flood – is something every one of us can and should be willing to do every day: Look for where we can make a difference, fill roles we might not be comfortable filling, grow, if necessary, into the bigger demands of our jobs.

In his supporting letter, Bob McAlister said this about our jobs:

“I have spent my professional life in South Carolina’s political/media axis and have seen the media, especially newspapers, evolve. Of this I am certain: Our citizens have never needed good journalism more to help them wade through the complexities of life and the chaos of the Internet.”

As newspaper staffs grow smaller and the cacophony of self-interested voices grows louder and objective truth becomes increasingly optional, what each one of us does becomes exponentially more critical.

I would urge all of us to focus on the critical nature of what we would do: Not duplicating what others are doing, but providing our readers with important information they can’t get anywhere else. I urge you all to be truth-tellers, not just stenographers.

Today people in public life just make stuff up..

I can remember a time when it simply didn’t occur to journalists that we needed to verify basic facts from someone in a position of authority. Oh, we needed to watch for spin. We needed to make sure they weren’t manipulating numbers or not quite telling the whole story. But if a governor said half the job applicants at the Savannah River Site failed drug tests, it was safe to assume that was true. Not anymore.

Unfortunately, there’s no way we can fact-check every single thing that public figures say. We can’t even fact-check every single thing a governor says.

But at the very least, we can do this: When people say things we know are not accurate, and we report what they say, we can point out the facts. We can say this is what the law actually says. This is what was actually spent. Or this is what the audit actually recommended.

This isn’t being an editorial writer. This is being an authoritative voice. This is being a journalist. This is something I did as a reporter. It’s something y’all do sometimes as reporters. It’s something we all need to do more of. We need to help our readers understand what is true and what is not. We need to give our readers the facts and the context they need to make informed decisions. It doesn’t matter whether we agree with those choices or not; it matters that they are informed.

Of course, as Jeff will remind us, we need to write things that people will read. And this is the hardest part. It’s never been easy to get people to read the stuff they need to know, and now we have metrics that show, at least in the online world, how little they read it. So it’s very tempting to just give up and give people what they want. That’s the easy way to drive up our unique visitor numbers.

It is not the right way.

The right way is keep trying to figure out how to turn what people need into what they want.

It is a daily battle. It is a battle that I often lose.

But it is a battle that I absolutely must keep fighting.

It’s a battle that you absolutely must keep fighting.

We have big and difficult jobs, and they are getting bigger and more difficult every day. And we have to stretch and grow to fill those jobs.

We have a calling. We work for our community.

Not to entertain our community. To inform our community. To give our readers the tools they need to be active citizens.

It is not an overstatement to say that our system of self-governance depends on our willingness to fulfill our calling.

Amen to that.