Author Archives: Brad Warthen

Open Thread for Monday, August 10, 2020

Sister Nancy

Let’s get the week off to a start here:

  1. Let’s talk about which candidate might ‘hurt God’ — E.J. Dionne’s column this morning reminded me I wanted to share Sister Nancy Hendershot’s Facebook post (see above) offering calm witness about Joe Biden’s relationship with his face — in contrast to the buy who waves a Bible around like a weapon but doesn’t read it.
  2. Did y’all feel the earthquake? — Twitter tells me that Synithia Williams did. I did not. I was asleep at 8:07 a.m. Sunday. But my wife came and woke me up to tell me about it. She said she heard some rumbling upstairs like a heavy person was walking around, then she heard the wind chimes at our back door.  She later seemed a bit concerned that I slept through it. But hey, I used to live in the Andes, so I’m all like, Call that a quake? I was, however, impressed that it would be felt so far away from the epicenter…
  3. Jaime catching up to Lindsey — This is very encouraging, although I won’t feel like it’s real until Jaime gets several points ahead. Actually, I won’t feel like it’s real until Election Day. I’m avoiding getting excited about polls these days. Things are too squishy and vulnerable. I have practical experience in the last election reminding me about most white South Carolinians’ physical disability that prevents them pulling the lever for a Democrat, no matter how good the Democrat or embarrassing the Republican.
  4. In case you want to talk about football — I notice from Bryan’s Twitter feed that football fans are talking about college football being on the verge of being cancelled. Of course, if you’re me, you’ve kind of amazed that anyone was even considering it this  year. But, you know, football fans are as inscrutable to me as those white South Carolinians who can’t figure out how to vote for a Democrat (something that would absolutely amazed their grandfathers — so we know it’s not genetic).
  5. Linda Bell won’t back Henry’s foolishness any more — State epidemiologist Linda Bell has had enough of being used as a prop by the governor’s office, and says, “I will not ‘stand next to the governor’ anymore without speaking to what the science tells us is the right thing to do, particularly as his staff intend to portray that as my complicity with his position.”
  6. We’re not at 100,000 cases yet — But we should get there today. Meanwhile, of course, we’ve hit the 5 million mark nationally.

 

Isn’t this a procedural problem, rather than ‘bias?’

algorithm

So I listened to The Daily yesterday, which I nearly always enjoy, but it seemed a bit… off to me. But interesting.

It was a detailed telling of the story about the innocent man in the Detroit area who got arrested because facial recognition software misidentified him as having been the guy who had stolen some watches from a store.

I’ve heard about this guy several times over the last few months, and each time the story has been brought up, it has been in the context of demonstrating that the use of facial recognition by the cops is highly problematic — and unfair to minorities, since the algorithms used in this country are way better at recognizing white men.

But is that really the case? After having listened to the story, I’m thinking the problem here is not that it’s bad or unfair technology, but that the cops used it improperly. I mean, they really screwed up here. But that would seem to call for better procedure, not abandoning the tool.

No doubt about it, what happened to Robert Williams was a nightmare. And inexcusable.

Cops came out of nowhere to arrest this guy on the basis of nothing but an erroneous digital identification. The software was SO bad that when they had him in interrogation and showed him the photo that was supposedly him, he held it to his face and “What you think, all black men look alike?” And the cops, to their credit, saw that it wasn’t him, and let him go.

But this was after he had spent the night in jail. It was after he had been disrespected, and cuffed, in front of his children at his home. It was after a cop told his wife that “we assume you’re his baby mama…”

It was gross. It was all kinds of cringe-worthy, and this man will carry around the humiliation of the experience for life. And it all happened because they had zeroed in on this man based on nothing but the facial recognition that was based on

But here’s the thing. The podcast started out by saying “In what may be the first known case of its kind, a faulty facial recognition match led to a Michigan man’s arrest for a crime he did not commit.”

So, it’s only happened once? That we know of, of course…

There’s probably a reason it’s a rare occurrence. As the NYT’s Kashmir Hill explains, the police use the technology because they “feel that face recognition is just too valuable a tool in their tool set to solve crimes. And their defense is that they never arrest somebody based on facial recognition alone, that facial recognition is only what they call an investigative lead. It doesn’t supply probable cause for arrest.”

So… it’s like hearing a name from a snitch or something. Or getting an anonymous tip on the phone. It’s a reason to look at somebody, but not a reason to arrest him.

What happened here, it seems, is that the cops grossly violated the rules, and made a lazy, unjustified arrest of an innocent man. Which you don’t have to have facial recognition to do. You just have to be a bad cop. You don’t need special equipment, you can base a false arrest on all sorts of sloppy police work.

In Williams’ case, the cops didn’t even go see the suspect to see if he looked anything like the picture. They called him on the phone, and when he refused to come in (reasonably assuming it was a crank call), they sent a patrol car to arrest him.

Seems to me having the software as a tool could be very helpful, as long as it’s used as a lead, and not as cause for arrest. The way it was in this one case.

This podcast kept referring to the “bias” involved. But isn’t the problem less one of “bias,” and more one of not following rules? Wouldn’t adhering faithfully to those rules eliminate the problem with using this tool?

I suspect some of my libertarian friends will disagree. But I’d like to hear the reasons…

Like with those cop stories the other day, I urge everyone to listen to the podcast, or at least read the transcript, before commenting…

What on Earth does this have to do with being ‘Christian?’

really

I’m reacting here to one of the ads Google Adsense placed on my blog. While I saw it, I’m hoping none of you did. But whether you did or not, I can’t help saying something about it.

See the screengrab above.

Really?

What on Earth does what you are trying to sell me have to do with being “Christian?”

This must be some special sense of “Christian” that I’ve never encountered in church. Maybe it’s aimed at the sort of “Christian” I keep hearing about  who would vote for Donald Trump after hearing him brag about getting away with grabbing women by the p___y.

Read the copy. You see the part asking whether you’re “over 65?” And did you see the girl in the picture? It’s hard to tell with all that makeup on, but I strongly suspect she’s closer in age to my grandchildren than to my children. Much less to me.

What the what?

Yeah, a man over 65 can be attracted — physically, anyway — to such a girl, but what does that have to do with being “Christian?”

Oh, and aside from the age thing, what is it in Google’s algorithms that caused that ad to appear to me? What is wrong with me that caused that to happen?

I don’t know about you, but I find myself living in a particularly insane world these days…

Hey, Joe: ‘People like me’ like Karen Bass…

Joe poll

All year, various Democrats — I think I’ve told you how many lists I got on as a result of working on James and Mandy’s campaign in 2018 — have sent me “polls” that are, as you’d expect, intended to involve me in a task that ends with giving money.

But I occasionally pause in my mass extermination of emails and fill one out — mainly to see what sort of questions are being asked. I then I click away when I get to the donation part.

Today, I stopped on a particularly superfluous one that asked for “confirmation” on the question, “DO YOU APPROVE OF JOE BIDEN?” But I decided to click on it because it mentioned that the Democratic National Convention, such as it is this year, is two weeks off. So I thought it might ask me about the Veep decision.

And the last few days, I’ve been grabbing any choice that presents itself to share the idea that Joe needs to pick Karen Bass — and that he needs to, without any doubt:

  • Say no to Kamala Harris.
  • Say no to Elizabeth Warren.
  • Say no to Susan Rice.

Because all three of those are highly problematic. I’ve been particularly alarmed by the frequent mentions of Susan Rice — my least-favorite member of the Obama team — in recent days.

And it’s not that Karen Bass is the only possible person to choose. But she’d be excellent– something I’ve become even more persuaded of as I see the rather silly efforts to bring her down (not being on board with anti-Castroism when she was in high school? having said polite things to Scientologists in 2010? really? are those the best you’ve got?) — and I want her to get mentioned a lot as a way of countering the never-ending wave of buzz over the three really bad choices.

There are others out there — for instance, I was impressed by this piece headlined “The Case for Competence” that praised both Rep. Bass and Gina Raimondo. But Rep. Bass keeps making the short lists, and Gov. Raimondo does not, so I’m pushing the one with a chance.

It’s been encouraging to see her mentioned so frequently in recent days, even as I’ve cringed to see one or more of the The Problematic Three mentioned as well. I don’t want to jinx this, but… it sort of reminds me of the way voters finally coalesced around Biden himself after all those months of nonsensical pushing of other candidates (such as Harris, and Warren, and of course Bernie). I’m seeing something happen I’ve been waiting and hoping for.

I’ve got this feeling that Rep. Bass is the one Joe himself would pick if he just went with his own judgment. So any tiny thing I can do to increase buzz for her, I’m trying to do. Maybe it will make somebody else mention her positively, too. And then someone else. And maybe somewhere on that chain of reactions, Joe himself will see it and be encouraged, see that he’s not alone on this. If it can just slip through, amid all the nonsense pushing Harris, Warren and Rice.

It’s a long shot, but this year — especially after seeing Joe shut down the competition once South Carolina had its say — I’m being optimistic. Why can’t we have two candidates who inspire confidence? Why not?

Anyway, so I clicked on the “poll,” and started answering the questions. But I almost quit and walked away when I saw the second one, “Do you think Joe Biden cares about people like you?”

ARRRGGGHHH! Think about this: Look at me, and tell me — what is a person like me? What does he look like, or sound like, or act like?

And who cares? What does this similarity to me have to do with anything? What kind of a jerk would I be if I only liked candidates who I thought would be good for “people like me?” Would that mean I was by implication saying, “The hell with everybody else?” And isn’t that the essence of being a Trump voter?

But I calmed myself down, knowing that Joe himself did not write this (and that I firmly believe that Joe cares about people like everybody), and that this offensive nonsense question is standard fare in these kinds of things, and there’s nothing I can do about it.

Besides, maybe I’m looking at it wrong. Maybe “people like you” just means people who are like me in good ways, ways that matter. You know, people who have backed Joe from the start, because he is the kind of person who cares about everybody. People who see that he needs to pick somebody who’s a good fit, like Karen Bass.

People who want what’s best for Joe, and best for the whole country. Thoughtful, concerned people

Yeah, that’s the ticket…

I almost quit when I got to the second question,

I almost quit when I got to the second question,

A couple of interesting pieces about cops

cop1

I’ve almost cleared out all that email. I have five items left in my In box, and three of them were notes I sent myself to remind me to write about something. I’m going to go ahead and share two of them now…

In the last week or so, I’ve run across a couple of really interesting pieces about cops in America today.

Both are well-researched, and full of nuances. And you know I like me some nuances. It’s one reason I’m never terribly enthusiastic about protests in the street, even when I agree with the cause — to the extent that the “cause” can be boiled down to a yes-or-no question, which they almost never can, which is why you don’t see me march in the street, generally speaking. Whether you’re a protester or a counter-protester, it’s just not a medium for communicating nuances.

Anyway, the first piece was in The Washington Post last weekend. The headline says “The worst-case scenario,” which is kind of an exaggeration, like a sign at a protest or counter-protest, but the story goes far beyond that. But anyone must admit the scenario is not good, as the subhed elaborates: “Converging in a tense section of Huntsville: A white police officer fresh from de-escalation training, a troubled black woman with a gun, and a crowd with cellphones ready to record.”

Actually, if I remember correctly, a lot of people were recording; it’s just nothing went viral because the thing ended calmly, more or less. I’m not saying it ended great, because the factors contributing to the situation were pretty horrific, but thank God nobody got killed.

I’m debating with myself whether to try to describe the story that was told here in 4,500 words. I think I’ll let you read it if you’re interested, and then we can talk about it. Like a book club. I think it would be a better conversation if everybody knew what happened, and what was going on in everybody’s life. So that everyone can get over any tendency to think in either Donald Trump terms or “defund the police” terms. Because neither of those ways of looking at things come remotely close to describing these people’s lives, and the tragedies that led to this mess.

Anyway, the other story is from The New Yorker, headlined “How Police Unions Fight Reform.” The subhed is “Activists insist that police departments must change. For half a century, New York City’s P.B.A. has successfully resisted such demands.”

This should be the hypothetical place where Black Lives Matter people ought to be able to agree with law-and-order folk: Police unions get in the way of holding police forces accountable — at least in some parts of the country, especially in New York.

But of course the left and right have their own established positions on this. And in the interests of full disclosure, I’ll remind y’all that I don’t even believe public-employee unions should exist — there should not be power structures interfering with public servants’ accountability to the people.

But this piece (about 7,400 words) is another one that reminds us that reality resists fitting neatly into any of our own pat explanations for the world. For instance… police unions, historically, haven’t fit into the same framework as the rest of the American labor movement — for a number of reasons, a big one being that cops have so often been the people who cracked the skulls of union organizers back in the day.

Which means that police unions are… culturally different. They have more of an insular nature, more of an attitude of “Nobody cares but our brothers in blue.”

Anyway, whatever you conclude from it, it’s an interesting piece. I recommend it, and the other one. And if anyone reads them both, I’d be interested in what you think…

cop2

Yeah, this headline and subhed are different from the ones I quoted above. That’s because this image is from my iPad app. If you click on the link above, you get the other versions…

There’s no solution for email that doesn’t involve huge amounts of wasted time, is there?

just email

Hey, 1997 is calling. It says it has 9,374 emails for you…

I had had it with email about 20 years ago. You?

The worst thing about it is that it keeps coming, and there’s nothing you can do about it other than waste time on it — a certain amount (way more than you want to spend) each day, or gargantuan amounts now and then.

I saw a headline recently in The Washington Post that said: “The three worst things about email, and how to fix them.

I should have known better by now than to click on it, but I looked, and the blasted thing was 2,700 words long. In the amount of time it would take me to read and absorb that, I could delete a thousand emails. Also, I skimmed enough to see there were no real “solutions.” There were apps you could buy, of course, and the phrase “and pay $100 per year for it” persuaded me of the rightness of merely skimming.

Anyway, it begins like this:

Apologies if you’ve been waiting for an email from me. My Gmail has 17,539 unread messages.

Raise your hand if you have even more….

What, I’m going to take email-handling advice from a guy who has 17,539 unread messages?

Of course, I’d have that many in my In box if I didn’t take fitful stabs each day at at least skimming the first page of headlines, to see it there was something I actually needed to look at.

As it was, I had somewhere close to 9,000 in the various compartments of my In box (I refer to the way Gmail presumes to sort that box into “Primary,” “Social” and “Promotions.”) I don’t know exactly, because I didn’t add it all up before I started attacking it.

How much time did I expend on it? Well, I only got in about 8,000 steps Saturday, and basically I got NO walking or working on the elliptical in Sunday — which means I only got in the normal 2,860 from walking around the house.

I probably won’t make my steps goal for this month now (although I’ll try in these last four days — I had been on target before those two wasted days).

I won’t even start listing the things I needed to do and could have done OTHER than stepping if I hadn’t wasted so much time on email.

What did I get for that? Well, I deleted or filed (and in RARE instances read) the 1,300 or so in the “Primary” part of the In box. That’s the hard part. This morning, when I should have been working, I cleared out the “Social” section — none of that really needs to be looked at, although I filed away items naming members of my family or friends, in case someone asks “Did you see what I posted on Facebook?”)

That left the 6,000 or 7,000 in “Promotions.” This is 99 percent garbage, and the rest mildly interesting stuff I might want to glance at if I have nothing else to do, which of course is never the case.

I work through it pretty quickly. I highlight a page of 100 messages, and run my eyes down the whole list to at least give myself a chance of spotting something important that got placed in that category by accident — by which I mean, through the stupidity of the software — before deleting it all. Then I go to the next page. Ten pages for each thousand…

If I spend an hour each evening this week on it, I’ll probably have it cleaned out by the weekend.

I don’t think there is a solution to this, other than getting someone else to do it. Back when I was editorial page editor, I had a secretary. But I never asked her to do it (although I thought about it, many times), for two reasons:

  1. No one else can spot those odd things you sometimes need or want to read — say, a cryptic note from a friend from 30 years ago, or a release from some source you would normally ignore that contains critical info about something you’ve been thinking about addressing in a column — unless he or she can read your mind and know everything and everyone you know.
  2. I couldn’t bring myself to inflict that on another human being.

Anyway, there’s just no solution, is there? You just have to throw away significant portions of your life on it, don’t you?

(Please, please, please tell me I’m wrong…)

About to delete everything on THIS page...

About to delete everything on THIS page…

McMaster’s outrageous kick in the face to public education

McMaster

I keep putting off writing about this because I haven’t had time to sit down and fully vent about it. But I might as well post something to get the conversation started.

This guy that you my fellow citizens elected governor had $48.5 million at his disposal in the governor’s discretionary education part of the money Washington sent South Carolina under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act passed at the start of the pandemic emergency in March.

He decided to send $32 million — just under two-thirds of it — to private schools!

In all these years that the worst kinds of Republicans in South Carolina have tried to find ways to shift public funds away from public education and use it to pay parents to abandon those schools, I’ve never seen anyone even suggest attempting to do anything as bald, as naked, as outrageous as this.

As the Post and Courier put it, in this one swoop, McMaster has accomplished “unilaterally what advocates have tried to push through the Legislature for 16 years.” “Advocates,” of course, being a polite way to refer to enemies of public education.

As bad as we thought Mark Sanford was, he never did anything like this. Then again, he never had the opportunity. Of course, I have to admit that Sanford being Sanford, he would have spent all his energy trying to prevent the federal money from coming to South Carolina to start with. There are different kinds of crazy.

This isn’t crazy, though. It’s just hostile — to the very idea of public schools, to the bottom-line concept that all of South Carolina’s children should have an opportunity to get ahead in the world — or at least to start catching up. And of course it’s an utter rejection of the idea that the state has an obligation to help them get that opportunity.

He can’t order South Carolinians to wear masks to save lives. That would be too bold. But he can do this.

Let’s replace Ben Tillman with a statue of John Laurens

Tillman

I had this idea weeks ago. I doubt it’s original, because it seems too obvious. Surely others have thought of it.

But after finally watching “Hamilton” all the way through for the first time on Disney+ (which I need to do a separate post on), and seeing more about taking down statues in Washington, I wanted to go ahead and get the idea out there, in case other folks haven’t thought of it.

Obviously, Ben Tillman has to come down. Not because of protests across the country at this moment (or at least not solely for that reason), but because he was always a horror, and there was never a time when he should have been up there, by the standards of any time. Of course, I’ll admit I’m prejudiced, from way back. The newspaper to which I devoted 22 years was founded to oppose Tillman; that’s what The State was all about. Our first editor (and in a sense my predecessor) gave his life in the cause of opposing the Tillmans. And while I don’t know all the whys and wherefores, I know my family opposed him at the time (although I can’t explain all the causes). He was my great-grandparents’ neighbor on Capitol Hill, and I hear they were appalled when he would tempt my grandmother, as a tiny girl, to come sit on his lap on his porch by offering her apples from his cellar. (Which may sound sort of innocent, but can chill your blood when you think about him.)

Anyway, that’s settled. He’s got to go. We just need to get the Legislature to act on it.1920px-Lt._Col._John_Laurens_crop

But what do we replace him with? I think my idea offers additional incentive that should make us hasten to remove Pitchfork Ben.

Replace him with John Laurens. A South Carolinian through and through, and a hero who gave his life to help found this country.

And he was a hero in more ways than one, espousing ideas that were far ahead of his time, especially in South Carolina. Does that mean he was “woke” by 2020 standards? Probably not. But wow, it took guts for this son of a slave trader to take the public positions he did back in the 1770s and 80s:

As the British stepped up operations in the South, Laurens promoted the idea of arming slaves and granting them freedom in return for their service. He had written, “We Americans at least in the Southern Colonies, cannot contend with a good Grace, for Liberty, until we shall have enfranchised our Slaves.” Laurens was set apart from other leaders in Revolutionary-era South Carolina by his belief that black and white people shared a similar nature and could aspire to freedom in a republican society.[1]

In early 1778, Laurens proposed to his father, who was then the President of the Continental Congress, to use forty slaves he stood to inherit as part of a brigade. Henry Laurens granted the request, but with reservations that caused postponement of the project.

Congress approved the concept of a regiment of slaves in March 1779, and sent Laurens south to recruit a regiment of 3,000 black soldiers; however, the plan was opposed, and Laurens was ultimately unsuccessful. Having won election to the South Carolina House of Representatives, Laurens introduced his black regiment plan in 1779, again in 1780, and a third time in 1782, meeting overwhelming rejection each time. Governor John Rutledge and General Christopher Gadsden were among the opponents….

In other words, he stood against the overwhelming political sentiment in this state, on the state’s most explosive issue ever.

I also liked this observation from a history professor in Tennessee:

Laurens speaks more clearly to us today than other men of the American Revolution whose names are far more familiar. Unlike all other southern political leaders of the time, he believed that blacks shared a similar nature with whites, which included a natural right to liberty. “We have sunk the Africans & their descendants below the Standard of Humanity,” he wrote, “and almost render’d them incapable of that Blessing which equal Heaven bestow’d upon us all.” Whereas other men considered property the basis of liberty, Laurens believed liberty that rested on the sweat of slaves was not deserving of the name. To that extent, at least, his beliefs make him our contemporary, a man worthy of more attention than the footnote he has been in most accounts of the American Revolution….

So in other words this privileged white man of the South Carolina ruling class was saying, in the 18th century, that black lives matter. Which in his day and place, was an extremely radical position.

Maybe there are other good ideas for replacing Tillman. Truth is, almost anyone or anything would be better than Tillman. I was just trying to think of one who embodied something in our history we should be celebrating, for a change…

I thought Athena was the goddess of wisdom

Athena, right, with Heracles.

Athena, right, with Heracles.

Anyone else getting tired of news out of Portland? I am. I’m also concerned about it, frankly. I think this might be the place where Trump hopes to provoke a confrontation that could help him in promoting division ahead of the election (and hoping this time it works out better than the Lafayette Square fiasco). He keeps sending in federal officers girded for war, and more protesters keep gathering to confront them, and it’s hard to say what’s going to happen.

What better place to awaken paranoia about the left — in Portlandia, in the land of the 9th Circuit, a place that his base doesn’t consider to be “real America?”

So I worry. I don’t want to see Trump get his way by having a greater conflagration develop.

But it’s interesting to see the tactics the protesters adopt. Like the Moms. And, of course, like “Naked Athena,” who seems to have upstaged the Moms with the oldest trick in the book for grabbing attention. Men’s attention, anyway.

Here’s the thing, though: All the news stories I see about her keep referring to Athena as the “goddess of war.”

Well, OK, she wore a helmet and all, and war is listed among the concepts with which she is associated. But I always though of her as primarily representing wisdom. I mean, I thought that was the point of the way she came into being, springing fully-formed from Zeus’s brow. It suggested she was a cerebral being. It associated her more with the intellectual than the physical.

Which, I’ll admit, is not what “Naked Athena” was doing, so maybe that’s why those reporting looked for another way to describe her.

But I’m not wrong about Athena, or about her Roman wannabe, Minerva. Wikipedia plainly states that she was the “goddess associated with wisdom, handicraft, and warfare.” I had forgotten the handicraft part, but in any case it’s wisdom first, warfare last. Perhaps because the Greeks had Ares and were therefore covered on the belligerence front.

That’s one of many nice things about the Interwebs — I don’t have to remember back to my two years of Latin in high school. I can look it up. So can — ahem — others who write about the ancients.

Anyway, I wonder a bit at this insistence on the war thing. Is seizing upon that third attribute a feminist thing, insisting that women are warriors, too? Or… and this is the thing that worries me… is it more akin to Elizabeth Warren rattling on all the time about “fighting?” In other words, is it about buying into the attitude that the confrontations in Portland (of all places) — or engaging in politics in general — constitute “war?”

I hope not, because that means siding with the guy who’s sending in forces dressed and equipped for war.

Anyway, that’s the kind of stuff I thought about when I read about “Naked Athena.” I probably would have had other thoughts had there been pictures, but fortunately, there were not…

‘Trump plays tic-tac-toe with Jared, who lets Trump win…’

As you can see, the TV in my home office is an old SD model. But the resolution is usually better than THIS. Weird...

As you can see, the TV in my home office is an old SD model. But the resolution is usually better than THIS. Weird…

Lately, what with the weather, I’ve been doing more of my steps on the elliptical in my home office — indoors, with the A/C. And that means watching the Roku more.

So, of course, I’ve been rewatching “The West Wing” yet again. And of course, suffering the pangs of watching a show about a White House full of competent, decent, intelligent people who care deeply about serving their country — while I live (for the moment) in Trump World.

Anyway, the synopsis of this episode really jumped out at me. Boy, would that need rewriting to be current and relevant.

In case you can’t read it on that low-res screen, it says, “Bartlett engages both Sam and Toby in intricate chess matches that mirror the wily game of brinksmanship that Bartlett is playing with the Chinese.”

Today, we’d have to say something more like, “Trump plays tic-tac-toe with Jared, who lets Trump win to boost his confidence before he goes to the Chinese to beg them to help him get re-elected.”

Or maybe you can think of better words.

Oh, and before someone says “Aw, ‘The West Wing’ is fiction,” I’ll say that it’s fiction based on the reality that we knew, no matter which party held the White House, for all of our lives before 2016. I was reminded of that when I (re)watched a subsequent special episode in which presidents and their aides — from both parties — shared the kinds of observations about working in the West Wing in reality that the show worked so diligently, and brilliantly, to mirror…

Open Thread for Thursday, July 16, 2020

This may be my thinnest excuse for a picture ever: This post mentions Marian Wright Edelman, and this is the library named for her in Bennettsville. I took it during the campaign. It works, don't you think?

This may be my thinnest excuse for a picture ever: This post mentions Marian Wright Edelman, and this is the library named for her in Bennettsville. I took it during the campaign. It works, don’t you think?

Some possible topics:

  1. SC parents torn over sending children to school this fall amid coronavirus pandemic — Yes, they are torn, and for good reasons. Pediatricians back up the idea that school is good for kids, but how on Earth do we send them back safely? Wouldn’t it be awesome if we had elected leaders we could actually trust to provide wise guidance on this, people we’d trust to care more about the kids than their own political position?
  2. Georgia’s Governor Issues Order Rescinding Local Mask Mandates — OK, so a lot of us are kind of frustrated with Henry these days (see, for instance, previous item), but at least he’s not as bad as this idiot. Not yet, anyway. Check out the picture on that link, showing this doofus meeting with his hero, Donaeld the Unready. He has a mask dangling from his ear, but has apparently taken it off his face in deference to his master. Wow. I’m really, really hoping Henry won’t stoop this low, especially since Alan Wilson has given him some cover on the issue.
  3. 15 women accuse then-Redskins employees of sexual harassment — Hey, these guys just can’t seem to catch a break, can they? I mean, they change the name after refusing to all those years, and before people are done patting them on the back (and before they even think of a new name), there’s this. Not that I’m saying they deserve a break. I’d have to care more about what football teams do before taking a stance like that. I’m just saying they can’t seem to stay out of trouble. And I’m holding myself back from suggesting that hey, maybe this has something to do with the NFL being what it is.
  4. Coronavirus trace found in Charleston County dog, Clemson reports — The dog was euthanized, but don’t tell Trump — he might think that could be another miracle “cure.”
  5. We Interrupt This Gloom to Offer … Hope — I offer this mainly for the headline. It’s a Nicholas Kristof column. Also, it quotes Marian Wright Edelman. She’s from Bennettsville, so you know she’s smart. So, be hopeful…

Open Thread for Wednesday, July 15, 2020

REAL ID

I got up at 6:30 this morning to get a head start so I could go all the way to Lexington and get my real ID. I should probably do a post about that. Anyway, despite getting a head start on the day (hard for me these days), I didn’t get done nearly what I wanted to today.

But here’s an Open Thread:

  1. Did you get a Real ID yet? — More to the point, have you done it during COVID? It was interesting. On the one hand, they really had it organized. My wife and I got in and got the job done in record time. And all the members of the public had on masks. However… not quite all of the DMV workers did. I mean ON. Some had their noses uncovered, and one lady we had to deal with for several minutes, passing papers back and forth, had her mask draped under her chin. So there was that. Oh, and I got my Real ID picture done with my Santa Claus beard. Not sure that’s going to help me much when getting on an airplane after this is over and I start shaving again. Guess I should keep using the passport. Anyway, I don’t suppose I need to do a separate post on this now.
  2. ‘Irresponsible and dangerous.’ SC teachers push back on governor’s plan to reopen schools — Hey, don’t look at me. I tried hard to get y’all to elect somebody else. But seriously, folks, this looks more like a mess each day.
  3. Trump replaces campaign manager — Well, that took several minutes longer than we thought it would. Or maybe several minutes less. I don’t know. I just mean it’s no surprise with a guy who is loyal to no one. Somebody else be snarky about it… You know, once they start coming after the Brads, you could be next…
  4. Walmart Will Require Shoppers To Wear Masks — For months now, I’ve had to go to Walmart and I see the signs that say something about requesting people wear masks, or suggesting it, or whatever, and I’ve bristled at the wussiness of it. I mean, y’all are Walmart! TELL THEM. And now they have.
  5. Twitter accounts of prominent figures, including Biden, Musk and Obama, compromised — We’ve got a LONG way to go in figuring out how to live with so much of our lives being virtual. It’s so convenient. And there are so many jackasses out there trying to take advantage of us.

That’s enough for now. I need to go take a shower…

An unused station at the DMV.

An unused station at the DMV this morning.

I think I like Karen Bass. As always, I’d like to know more

Karen Bass

As y’all know, I’m a huge Joe Biden fan. From the beginning, he was the one guy the country most needed to win the Democratic nomination for president, and he did it, and I couldn’t be more pleased.

Of course, that doesn’t mean I agree with everything he does. I’ve never in my life encountered a candidate like that. There are people I think are awesome, like Joe Riley. But there have been times when I didn’t agree with the Charleston mayor, either. If you’re honest, if you really think about all the issues, perfect agreement is impossible.

I’m not going to offer a list of things where I think Joe’s wrong right now (maybe later), but I say all that to mention one that is relevant to this post: I wish he hadn’t promised several months ago that his running mate would be female.

And no, it’s not just because that mean ol’ white guy Brad hates Identity Politics, although yeah, I’d prefer that someone who would be president would always promise to choose the best candidate, period, without regard to demographics. But here’s the real reason in this case:

We just had a small army of Democrats run for president. Quick, how many was it? Wikipedia says 29 “major” candidates sought the nomination, with as many as 25 running campaigns at any one time. I paid close attention. And at no time did I see or hear anything that in any way challenged what we knew at the start: Joe Biden was far and away the one candidate best prepared and suited for the presidency. He was ready for the job. Finally, an overwhelming proportion of the electorate agreed.

So while I watched to see if anyone presented evidence or arguments that challenged that fact — and no one did — my mind ran on a second track: As long as we’re looking so closely at all these other folks, which one would make a good running mate?

At some point, I — and a lot of other people — decided that would be Amy Klobuchar. I don’t remember when I first decided that, but here’s something I wrote back in October:

Oh, and I came close to a decision last night. I think I’d like to see Amy Klobuchar as Joe’s running mate, assuming everything goes right and Democrats decide they actually want to beat Trump. It would probably be Mayor Pete if he weren’t so young and inexperienced, and if he didn’t keep reminding us of it (But that happened five minutes ago, and as I may have mentioned previously, I wasn’t born yet…). I don’t see Sen. Klobuchar as quite ready to be president yet, but she comes close, and would be a good understudy….

From that point on, I became more and more certain of that. I had a feeling that Joe Biden did, too, to the extent that he had time to think about it.

In fact, I keep telling myself that the reason Joe announced that his running mate would be a woman, he thought it would be Amy Klobuchar. Which is one reason why I didn’t go around loudly complaining when he did it. Because I couldn’t think of anyone of any gender who would be better, or as good.

But here’s the thing: That wasn’t a done deal. And as things have turned out, she’s not the one. But Joe is stuck with his promise. He can’t go, “OK, who else looked good in that process? What about Cory Booker? How about Pete Buttigieg?” Which is a shame, because looking back, perhaps those were the best options after Sen. Klobuchar.

So now we’re in kind of a fix, because his running mate is going to be someone from one of two categories:

  1. Unfamiliar candidates who have not been vetted enough to inspire confidence. As y’all know, I’ve written a lot over the years about the importance of experience. It’s certainly one of Joe Biden’s top strengths. But as I’ve also explained, it’s not just about how experience prepares the candidate for the job. There’s also the fact that people who are experienced in public life have been out there performing in those jobs long enough for us to assess how we think they might perform in the future in public office. So even people with great resumes could fall down if we the voters haven’t been in a position to form impressions of their performance over time.
  2. Candidates who have been more or less thoroughly vetted and found wanting. That would include, say, Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris. I’m not going to go into a lot of detail about why I’ve written them off in this post because this post is going to be long enough without that. We can argue about their relative merits another day, if necessary. But I had enough information about Warren eight years ago, when I wrote this. Nothing I’ve seen from her since then has changed that assessment. I went into the season with an open mind on the lesser-known Harris, but was disappointed in debate after debate. And other voters seemed to agree with me, which is why she didn’t even last until the first primaries. She was vetted, and did not hold up.

This is not a good situation. The only hope is that Biden will choose someone from the first category — and that person will hold up well under the tidal wave of examination that will wash over her when the time comes. Which would be astounding, the odds seem so strongly against it happening. But the country needs it to happen.

So I’ve found myself looking hard at previously unknown (to me, at least) potential candidates whose names pop up. Some of the best I’ve seen, making me momentarily hopeful, have been:

  • Val Demings — The former police chief of Orlando, and member of Congress since 2017. I like what I’ve seen, but I just haven’t seen enough. I like her 27 years of working in the vineyards of law enforcement — but hey, if the mere accident of being from Minnesota excludes Klobuchar, how well will a career cop do with the Democratic electorate in its current mood? And I really want to see more experience on the federal level.
  • Tammy Duckworth — I like all sorts of things about her. Of course, there’s the fact that she’s only in her first term in the Senate, but she did serve a couple of hitches in the House before that. But I really want to see a lot more than I’ve seen. So I’ll keep watching her. Tucker Carlson seems to be an ass (I say “seems” because I’ve never watched him, but only heard about him), but handing him the George Washington thing was a political misstep that is worrisome. We don’t need someone who will hand the opposition clubs to beat Biden about the head and shoulders with. But, as I say, I continue to watch her.

Which brings me to someone I’ve heard less about, and I wish it were more.

A couple of weeks ago, my wife casually mentioned having read about a woman who sounded good. She told me it was an African-American woman about our age, and she’d heard really good things about her. But she couldn’t remember her name. My reaction? Well, the fact that you can’t remember her name is a problem. Again, the point I make so often — we’re talking about a person who could become president of the United States. It needs to be someone we’ve been watching for years.

But it won’t be, will it? So, I get interested in any lesser-known person who sounds good, because that’s the situation we’re in.

I was pleased to read George Will’s column the other day headlined, “The woman Biden should pick to lead us to calmer days.” It was about U.S. Rep. Karen Bass from California. I mentioned the piece to my wife, who said, “Yes, that’s the woman I was talking about before.” Well OK, then.

Here are some of the things I liked:

  • First, that headline. “Calmer days” are exactly what this country needs. When I’m in a hyperbolic mood (which happens), I tend to think that my fondest wish for a future with Joe Biden as president would be that I would then live in a country in which I could completely ignore the White House for days and even weeks at a time, while feeling that my country was OK. I’d really like to stop thinking about the POTUS for awhile, at the same time knowing there’s someone qualified, decent and normal in charge. And a qualified, decent and normal person is in the backup position.
  • Second, she’s in her fifth term. While I may not have been in a position to vet her during that time, she’s held up under the examination of her constituents, over and over. Five terms isn’t what you’d call a long time in Congress, but it beats the other candidates I’ve been looking at.
  • Her elective service isn’t limited to Congress. She also cut an impressive swath on the state level: “Elected to the state assembly in 2004, in three terms Bass became majority whip, then majority leader, then speaker.” That doesn’t happen to people with sub-par leadership skills.
  • She’s from a district that has probably seen as much racial unrest in the streets as any in the country — the site of the Watts riots, and the Rodney King situation that “engulfed a swath of Los Angeles, killing 63 and injuring 2,383.” She brings history and understanding to this moment.
  • Our own Jim Clyburn, who helped us get to Joe Biden being the nominee, has good things to say about her, based on Will’s interview with her.

Well, I could go on and on, but there are a lot of things I liked. And I really didn’t see anything I didn’t like. Which is unusual, when you’re talking about the acerbic George Will. (Oh, and if someone jumps in with a “who cares what George Will thinks?,” I’ll address that. But once again, this piece, at more than 1,700 words, is already too long.)

That doesn’t mean I won’t find something that worries me. But hey, as long as it’s not disqualifying, that would be reassuring. As I said at the top, there’s nobody I don’t disagree with about something — especially if I know enough to consider the person as a backup president.

Maybe y’all can help get me started. I want to know a lot more about her…

NBC News report on Lexington Medical Center

Remember those pictures I posted from when I was a stroke patient at Lexington Medical Center, with the empty emergency room and everything so orderly?

Maybe that part still looks that way; I don’t know. They seem to be using only a portion of the hospital for COVID patients. But the surge has them overwhelmed enough for NBC to use my neighborhood hospital to show what it’s like here in the third-worst outbreak in the world.

When I went in on April 11 and asked them for a COVID test, they said no, we’re going to treat you for a stroke, because that’s what you have. Also, they said, if I were tested I’d have to go to the special COVID part of the hospital. Which probably wasn’t so bad back then, compared to now, but I passed on it anyway. I found the stroke floor quite fine, and they did a great job of taking care of me.

So I hate to see them having to deal with all this now…

Things were kind of peaceful when I was there, on April 11.

Things were kind of peaceful when I was there, on April 11.

Open Thread for Thursday, July 9, 2020

Can you make it out? Should I have lightened it up some?

Can you make it out? Should I have lightened it up some?

Just a few things y’all might want to comment upon:

  1. We’re Number Three! We’re Number Three! — Assuming y’all already saw that South Carolina is the third-worst place in the world for most new coronavirus cases per million. We were beaten by Arizona and Florida; Bahrain came in behind us.
  2. SC passes the 50,000-case mark — We’re just crowning ourselves with notoriety, aren’t we? Today’s total was 1,723, God help us. And did you see that “Fauci says states with major outbreaks should ‘seriously look at shutting down’ again.” Ya think?
  3. Supreme Court Rules Trump Cannot Block Release of Financial Records — Sorta kinda. And we won’t see them before the election. Kind of unbelievable, isn’t it, that the guy’s running for re-election, and we’ve never seen them?
  4. Trudeau: Canada handled coronavirus better than many countries, ‘including our neighbor’ — I hope he doesn’t think that’s some sort of accomplishment…
  5. Union County sheriff charged with sending obscene photo in lewd message — I just include this so I can ask, how can anyone be that stupid? Even if, say, you’d had a lot to drink or something? Wouldn’t you be prevented by the thought, This is probably not a good move for a sheriff? Or at least, wouldn’t you go, Hmmm, this is lewd enough. I guess I could leave out the picture
From the WashPost. Note the chart at left.

From the WashPost. Note the chart at left.

OK, so I’ve done ONE thing in the orange zone…

This morning, Mandy shared this “very helpful chart.” The guy she retweeted had said no one will catch his family “engaging in anything in the yellow or above.”

Yeah, well, I can’t quite claim that.

If y’all recall, I went and got a haircut a couple of weeks back. I investigated before going and thought it was a safe bet under the circumstances, but I think it will be awhile before I do so again. I’m thinking about ordering a barber’s clipper set from Amazon, and learning to cut my Dad’s hair as well as my own.

Anyway, I thought y’all might find it interesting, so I pass it on.

There’s one thing you’re not seeing, of course. It’s at the bottom. You just can’t see it because it’s in the infrared zone: “Attending a Trump rally.”

COVID-19_Risk_Chart_Full

 

How about if today, we celebrate liberal values?

Mount_Rushmore_National_Memorial

We need to again be a country that can celebrate these guy’s contributions to the American idea, and at the same time be fully outraged at what happened to George Floyd, which grossly violated that idea. In that space where those reactions coexist lies our hope as a nation.

We could celebrate what I have always thought, without question, was the whole idea about America.

It’s not about the majesty of purple mountains or the amber color of grain. And most of all, it’s not about a people — people this color or that color or speaking this or that language.

It’s about the ideas, and their growth toward perfection over time. It’s a majestic story. And it starts not with freedom, not exactly. It starts with liberality. With tolerance, with plurality, with openness to each other, and a fierce sense of fairness toward everyone, particularly those who don’t look or talk or even think the way we do.

And that is in profound trouble in this country.

The most dramatic example of that is embodied by Donald Trump, although he is not the cause of the problem. The problem is that there were enough people who would vote for such a person — a person who deliberately appealed to the very worst, illiberal impulses — for him to win an Electoral College victory.

The problem is, if the left in this country were clearly articulating the liberal alternative, as it has done within living memory, it would have pulled along enough people from the center to utterly repudiate Trumpism in 2016. But that’s not the case. Unfortunately, there is a good deal of illiberality on the left, and that prevents us from having a clear, American liberal alternative.

The news on this front isn’t all bad, of course. The best thing that has happened in our politics in recent years was the Democratic Party’s decision to nominate Joe Biden for president. Joe is the perfect representative — and about the only one who sought the office this year — of the kind of liberal values that have been the glory of this country from the start. If he wins the election — better yet, if he utterly crushes Trumpism in November — it make be the first step in saving this country from recent trends. And that would be wonderful — for America, for the rest of the world, and for the ideas that are the only positive way forward, and the only things worth celebrating on this holiday.

If you read this blog regularly, y’all know that I gravitate toward the opinions of “Never Trump” conservatives. They come closer to expressing what is really wrong with Trumpism, from my point of view. So I was motivated to write this piece when I saw a column today from Bret Stephens at the NYT, headlined “Reading Orwell for the Fourth of July.” After dismissing Trump as an “instinctual fascist” who is fortunately really bad at it, he writes:

The more serious problem today comes from the left: from liberal elites who, when tested, lack the courage of their liberal convictions; from so-called progressives whose core convictions were never liberal to begin with; from administrative types at nonprofits and corporations who, with only vague convictions of their own, don’t want to be on the wrong side of a P.R. headache.

This has been the great cultural story of the last few years. It is typified by incidents such as The New Yorker’s David Remnick thinking it would be a good idea to interview Steve Bannon for the magazine’s annual festival — until a Twitter mob and some members of his own staff decided otherwise. Or by The Washington Post devoting 3,000 words to destroying the life of a private person of no particular note because in 2018 she wore blackface, with ironic intent, at a Halloween party. Or by big corporations pulling ads from Facebook while demanding the company do more to censor forms of speech they deem impermissible.

These stories matter because an idea is at risk. That’s the idea that people who cannot speak freely will not be able to think clearly, and that no society can long flourish when contrarians are treated as heretics.

Frankly, I disagree with Stephens that the illiberal impulse on the left is worse than the one on the right. (Having a wannabe fascist as president of the United States is a national emergency, no matter how incompetent he is.) But I agree that it’s bad, because it distracts the left from the ideas that would save our country.

We are doomed if the largely maskless crowd who applauded Trump’s speech at Mount Rushmore last night have their way. We are also doomed if the people who have tried to pull down, damage or deface statues of all four men depicted on the mountain have their way.

Trump, of course, wants people to think that you have to choose one or the other — his way, or that of the statue-destroyers (the less-discriminating sort, that can’t tell the difference between a statue of Washington and one of Nathan Bedford Forrest).

But we don’t have to choose between those extremes. In fact, if America and the hope it offers to the world are to survive, we must not.

We have to be able to applaud people who find what happened to George Floyd an outrage, a violation of all we believe in, while at the same time condemning people who would attack a statue of Abraham Lincoln dedicated with the help of Frederick Douglass.

If we can’t do that, we’re sunk, and the Fourth of July is nothing more but an opportunity to sell hot dogs.

The problem, of course, is greater than overexcited demonstrators who go off-course. When the NYT itself recasts American history itself as being about nothing but slavery and oppression — as being about 1619 rather than 1776 — we’ve got a problem. When a crowd of indignant people from the newsroom — you know, people who are not supposed to have opinions — can topple the paper’s editorial page editor for running a piece with which they (and the editor) disagree, we are losing one of the great institutions that has stood for liberal values.

Another of those anti-Trump conservatives at the NYT (and when the paper stops running such people, the institution really will be dead) had a piece that offered an examination of similar concerns. With reference to the coronavirus, David Brooks wrote:

I had hopes that the crisis would bring us together, but it’s made everything harder and worse. And now I worry less about populism or radical wokeness than about a pervasive loss of national faith.

What’s lurking, I hope, somewhere deep down inside is our shared ferocious love for our common country and a vision for the role America could play as the great pluralist beacon of the 21st century…

I hope so. And that hope is what I’m embracing on this holiday. We’ve got to stop thinking people have to choose between Trumpian populism or popular “wokeness,” and get behind a way of thinking that respects an honest and open interchange of ideas.

So THAT’S why we took up agriculture…

picked vegetables

Just got back from a few days at the beach, and our little garden of raised beds had gone a little nuts in our absence — especially, I think you’ll note from the picture above, the okra.

Yeah, those will be too big to eat. But they’re impressive, aren’t they?

Remember my okra patch? I last wrote about it at the end of March, when I had just busted up the clay under the box — by hand, being the dedicated farmer I am.

Shortly after that, I had a stroke, and my wife finished filling the box with soil and actually planting the okra. (I think that was the excuse I used for neglecting the job. In any case, it worked.) Actually, planting the little plants that my son had given us, grown from seeds he had saved from past years.

So not long after my stroke, I had the pleasure of watching the little plants grow, as everything in our neighborhood came to life as spring progressed. And, on the walks I returned to as I recovered from the stroke, we had the pleasure of seeing the little rabbits come out all over the subdivision, including in our yard. They were a delight.

Then, our pleasures combined, as the rabbits started eating my okra plants.

But they were polite about it. They only ate the plants nearest the shrubbery where some of them lived. Note the picture below. The okra patch is the box in the foreground on the right-hand side. See how lush the left side of the box is, and how denuded the starboard side is? That’s where the rabbits have been at work.

And not only rabbits. A couple of times, we’ve noticed only the tops of some of those plants had been eaten — plants a couple of feet or more tall.

Deer, you see. We saw a couple of their hoofprints in the soil one morning.

But, as my wife says, isn’t it nice that we’ve been able to feed the animals as well as ourselves. And as I say, “Yeah, OK, uh-huh…”

But seriously, I’m just glad everything survived while we were gone, instead of shriveling up or something.

If you have a garden, how’s it going?

okra patch

Open Thread for Tuesday, June 30, 2020

starfish

This shouldn’t be too hard. I could mine stuff that’s happened since my last post. It’s been a busy few days. We brought my parents down to their house at the beach a couple of days ago, and before that I was busy trying to get work done so I could do this. We’ll be back soon. Want to be away well before the Fourth:

  1. Hey, at least Henry showed himself wearing a mask — This is about the governor you people elected actually appearing, briefly, wearing a mask at his Friday briefing. And I want to thank him for that. I’ve long said if he would do that, it would be at least half the battle — it would show seriousness. And I guess if you’re Henry, and you’ve tied yourself and your everlasting reputation to Donald Trump, it took guts to do it. Of course, he won’t do the other half. The headline in the P&C says, “McMaster urges South Carolinians to ‘follow the rules’ and wear masks, but won’t mandate it.” A better way to write that hed would have been, “McMaster urges South Carolinians to ‘follow the rules’ and wear masks, but won’t make it an actual, you know, RULE”…
  2. Way to go, Mr. Clyburn! — As long as I’m handing out plaudits on the mask issue (and I’m particularly touchy on this issue today, since I’m at a place filled from people all over this country, none of them wearing masks) I need to send a big cheer to Jim Clyburn. He won’t recognize committee members who are big-enough idiots to show up at a meeting without face coverings. If only he could permanently ban them from Congress for such behavior. Anyway, this is the best thing Jim has done since he saved my main man Joe — and therefore the country — back in February. Nothing’s as great as that, but this is pretty good…
  3. Rabid bobcat found in Lexington County — Good thing I’m not there today — although this was way far from my neighborhood. I mean, seriously — don’t we have enough problems right now without bobcats going rabid on us? This probably wouldn’t have happened if the bobcat had been wearing a mask, right? The good news is that no people were exposed. The bad news is that apparently, several dogs were.
  4. Trump Got Written Briefing in February on Possible Russian Bounties, Officials Say — OK, there’s where you went wrong. You put it in writing. You know he doesn’t read; it would cut into his busy TV-watching schedule. This allows him to use the classic, “I have plausible deniability because everybody knows I’m an idiot” defense. Well, not exactly a classic, since no previous president could have used it. But it’s what we’ve come to expect the last three years or so.
  5. Fauci Warns U.S. Could Hit 100,000 Daily Cases — Completely credible, given recent numbers here in SC. It’s little wonder, then, that…
  6. E.U. Formalizes Reopening, Barring Travelers From U.S. — They’re desperate for tourist revenue over in the Old Country, but not desperate enough to let us crazy yahoos in.
  7. The End of the Alan Brady Show — OK, I know it sort of demeans Carl Reiner to reduce him to that one small role on one TV show he created, but that’s how I was introduced to him as a kid, and if he had never played anyone else, he’d still have been a genius. You kids would know him as the old guy in “Ocean’s 11”