Author Archives: Brad Warthen

Oh, come on! 1939 was the greatest year for film. Or maybe 1967. But 1955, or 1982? Don’t make me laugh!

Wuthering Heights

Wuthering Heights

Back in the olden days, we had to stockpile “evergreen” stories for that period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, when not all that much news happened, but the papers were humongous because of all the ROP ads.

The tradition of doing “best-of” retrospectives on the year are sort of related to that phenomenon. And even now in the post-print world, when editors are no longer haunted by the physical “hole to fill” problem, the tradition continues.

I referred to that earlier. But on Dec. 28 (sorry I’m just getting to it), The Washington Post ran a variation on the genre: They gathered seven “film buffs” on their staff and got them to make their arguments as to which was the greatest year for film.

Which was kind of silly, and sort of had the effect of giving ALL the kids trophies. This, for instance, is an artificially democratic statement: “Eventually we found the best year in movies — all seven of them.” Yeah. Because everyone’s opinion is equally valid, right? Bull. What a pat on the head — you all tried so-o-o hard

Basically, I think they tried a little too hard, and overcomplicated the subject. The proper question is sort of binary: Was 1939 the greatest year, or wasn’t it?

It was the moment of Peak Hollywood. The very idea of Hollywood has never had the grip on us it had then, before or after. We’re talking “Gone With the Wind.” “The Wizard of Oz.” “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” None of which require any elaboration. “Stagecoach,” which launched John Wayne. “Wuthering Heights” (not any old “Wuthering Heights,” the one with Olivier as Heathcliff).

No other year touches it.

And the feature in the Post sorta acknowledged that truth by letting the lucky writer who got to represent 1939 go first. But then, to try to justify considering the other, lame years, the writer treats us to this:

It’s hard to view “Gone with the Wind” these days as anything but massively problematic. Slavery is presented in soft-focus. Rhett Butler carrying a struggling Scarlett O’Hara up the stairwell, intended to make the audience swoon, is now as likely to make them vomit. If it was never screened in public again, then frankly, my dear, I wouldn’t give a — well, you know.

Really? We’re going to dismiss a representative — excuse me, the representative cultural artifact of 80 years ago by current political standards? Yeah, we know: Slavery was bad. It was, in fact, our nation’s Original Sin. And the bodice-ripping genre leaves much to be desired. But, you know, this is Gone with the frickin’ Wind! We’re supposed to be made uncomfortable by, say, the role Mammy played in Scarlett’s world — while at the same time being impressed by Hattie McDaniel’s performance. Which, by the way, earned her the first Oscar ever won by a black performer.

As for the rest, though… really?

But all of this is to set up arguments that the greatest film year was actually… get ready for this… one of the following:

Yep. And with good reason. Sometimes, you see, when everybody says something, they’re right.

But OK, I can get into the spirit of this thing. I can go beyond the pat answer. So I’ll offer my own nominee for dethroning 1939. But first… please note that my embrace of ’39 is not a generational thing, like my preference for the ’60s-’80s in music. I know y’all think I’m old, but 1939 is WAY before my time — my parents were very young kids at the time. It’s more their parents’ time.

And “Gone With the Wind” isn’t even close to making any list of my favorite movies — not Top Five, not Top Ten, not Top Twenty. I’m not even sure it would make a Top 100, if I were to take the time to draw that up. But I recognize epic film-making. I recognize cultural significance. I recognize values other than my own, as a guy living in 2019. It’s not about me and what I like. It’s about the history of film, seen as a whole.

But what other year comes close? Here, I am going to go with one from my own lifetime: 1967. If 1939 was the peak year of Hollywood’s Golden Age, 1967 was the year that the revolution arrived — all over the place, everywhere you looked, in every possible genre.

Consider:

  • The Graduate.” Here, we are talking about what I like. Any Top Five list of mine would include this, “The Godfather,” “Casablanca” and “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and the fifth will be negotiable. And among those, “The Graduate” is the most original, the most distinctive. Seriously, into what genre would you place it? “Satire” tends to be where most end up, but that’s still inadequate. Everybody was at peak in this, doing the most brilliant work of their lives — Mike Nichols, Buck Henry (especially as writer, but also as the desk clerk), Dustin Hoffman certainly (even if he’d done nothing more than come up with that beautifully weird little noise he made in Ben’s more stressful moments). Simon and Garfunkel at the very peak of their powers. And I believe Anne Bancroft IS Mrs. Robinson (and she scares me)! To say nothing of the Alfa Romeo! And… I’m not sure how to put this… Hollywood has caused us guys to fall in love with scores, hundreds, thousands of beautiful women over the decades, but Katharine Ross? She makes it work, just by looking the way she does and knowing what to do with it, in a minimalist way. If you say, “A guy falls in love with the daughter of the woman with whom he’s having a tawdry, soul-devouring affair,” you say “That’s sick!” and don’t believe it. But then you see Katharine Ross, and you can see how this would happen, to Benjamin or almost any other guy. Wanting to marry her is NOT a half-baked idea. It’s completely baked.
  • Cool Hand Luke.” OK, so I went a bit overboard on “The Graduate.” I’ll try to hold myself in on this one. But it’s another that shattered conventions, that holds up over time, and would definitely make my Top Twenty. “Taking it off, boss.” “Any man loses his spoon spends a night in the box.” “Gonna be some world-shakin’.” And after my lack of discipline re Katharine Ross, I’m not going to mention Lucilllle. Nor am I going to get all deep about Luke as a Christ figure, or anything like that. But if 1967 is the best year, this is one of the ones that puts it over the top.
  • Bonnie and Clyde.” There’s a lot in this one that kind of gives me the creeps, but wow. It’s original, it’s fresh, it’s groundbreaking, it smacks you in the face, and it works. And this film gave us Gene Hackman, which on its own would cover a multitude of sins.
  • The Dirty Dozen.” I almost didn’t include this. I loved it at the time (I was 13). But it doesn’t hold up. It inspired me to read the novel at 14 (which was a little young, on account of the dirty parts, which I practically memorized), and I was impressed then and remain impressed now at what a missed opportunity the film was. The novel was really a great story, well told, and the characters were 10 times as interesting as the ones on the screen… with the possible exception of Victor Franko — Cassavetes pretty much brought him to life. He must have read the book. But, all of that said… flaws and all, this is a landmark film of the action genre. It’s not for nothing that in “Sleepless in Seattle,” Tom Hanks holds it up as meaning to men what “An Affair to Remember” means to many women. And it’s hard to imagine it being made before 1967.
  • In the Heat of the Night.” I watched this again just this week on Amazon. You should go and do likewise. And always remember to call him MISTER Tibbs…
  • To Sir, with Love.” Poitier again. And speaking of him, I could as easily cite “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” — also 1967, and also something hard to imagine in any other year. But “Sir” is another personal fave. It is, without question, the absolute best of the whole “lovable teacher who wins the hearts of the snotty punks he teaches” genre. Streets ahead of the rest. OK, Lulu — hit it!
  • Blow-Up.” I’m cheating a bit here because it was technically released in the U.S. at the end of 1966, but I think of this as essentially a British/Italian film in sensibility, and it wasn’t released in those countries until ’67. It can be a bit of a hoot to watch now — see how cool this guy is; he has a phone in his car! — but talk about your cultural artifacts! Definitely a good candidate to put in a time capsule and tell people what the 60s were like. Or would have been like, were you an in-demand fashion photographer in Swingin’ London. Which is why Austin Powers takes the time to do an homage to it.

I’ll stop there. I’m interested to see what year y’all would pick. I just hope it wouldn’t be a year as lame as 1982…

the_graduate

The Chuck and Nancy thing was an added weirdness bonus!

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We knew all along that it would be extremely weird to see the strangest president in our nation’s history by far using his first live address from the Oval Office to try to convince us there’s a crisis on our border, and that it’s worth shutting down the government in order to implement his own preferred remedy for said nonexistent crisis.

Especially since we’d been conditioned all our lives to expect such addresses to be about something, you know, important. Like escalating the war in Vietnam, or killing bin Laden.

But there was an added weirdness bonus to the evening — Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi doing a Siamese twins impersonation standing behind one small podium at the same time.

It was predicted that we’ll definitely see this odd visual on SNL this week, and there were some good shots on social media as well:

You know, we took a lot of criticism during the campaign for not separating James and Mandy more, but sheesh — at least they took turns at the microphone on their joint appearances….

How’re you doing on those resolutions?

I'm back to reading The Guns of August...

I’m back to reading The Guns of August…

Come on, be honest. Here, I’ll tell a story on myself to give you courage…

I got some Cromer’s peanut brittle in my Christmas stocking (yes, my wife and I do stockings for each other), and it was awesome. I have a diet-related resolution, but allowed an exemption for finishing the stuff in my stocking, which I’m making progress on. But the exemption didn’t cover this: Today I left the office and went and bought another bag of it at Cromer’s. Then, I opened the bag for dessert after eating lunch at my desk. The cellophane accidentally ripped in a way that made it hard to close the bag, so I ate it all.

Fortunately, none of my resolutions dealt specifically with peanut brittle. No, wait. I just remembered that peanuts are banned on a paleo diet, and going paleo was my diet-related resolution.

Oh, well. I won’t do that again. And I’m still going to try to go paleo, going forward. And mostly I’ve been doing well. I haven’t had grits once, and it’s been a whole week, so get outta my face.

Anyway, I’ve got another, more interesting resolution that I hope will lead to some fun posts this year: I’ve decided only to read books I haven’t read before.

That means no more going back and reading Master and Commander over and over. Or Red Storm Rising (actually, I just skim through it to read about the Air Force guy and the three Marines in Iceland), or The Dirty Dozen, or Stranger in a Strange Land, or The Ipcress File, or Dune, or any of the other dogeared things I will pick up and entertain myself with for a few moments, without expanding my mind one whit.

I’ve got a house full of books that I thought I wanted to read and asked loved ones to give me as gifts, and I’m going to start reading them. I’ve started by returning to Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August. I had bogged down at the start of the part when the Russians mobilized, which was just one cock-up after another (no wonder they had a revolution).

Then, I’ll return to Alexander Hamilton, which I put down right after the Revolutionary War. And while I’m on a Chernow kick, I’m going to dive into Grant. Or maybe I’ll allow myself some fiction between the two.

I’ll be sharing with you what I read.

Meanwhile, do any of y’all have any good resolutions? How are you coming with them?

Some of my many unread books.

Some of my many unread books.

‘I’m glad we found it out detective fashion…’

A little something for y’all who complain that there’s not enough sports on this blog…

No, no, no! Think about us swing voters, always…

Think SWING.

Think SWING.

I’m cleaning up my In box, and I run across one of these daily emails I get from David Leonhardt at the NYT, and he’s babbling incoherently:

Elizabeth Warren and Jay Inslee are running. Amy Klobuchar is “getting close to a decision.” Joe Biden, Sherrod Brown and a bunch of other potential Democratic presidential candidates may also announce their plans soon.

So how should a Democratic voter — or, for that matter, campaign aide or donor — choose among these candidates? I have two pieces of advice.

First, think for yourself. Don’t try to figure out what kind of candidate some other hypothetical voter — a swing voter, say — is likely to want. Think about which candidate excites you….

No, no, no, a thousand times no! Democrats going with what excites them is what gets you an Elizabeth Warren or a Bernie or somebody else that those of us in the middle would never choose to vote for. And refusing to back somebody that swing voters might like is what gave us Donald Trump.

This is a national crisis, and getting Trump out of office is far too important for anyone — Democrats, Republicans, Whigs or what have you — to go diving into their belly buttons and backing someone who tickles their personal fancies.

It’s time to think about the country. That, of course, means thinking about candidates that someone like me might get behind.

If you need any help or guidance with that, I’m right here…

Doonesbury addressed the problem satirically in 1974

A discussion we were having earlier about losing our confidence as a nation made me think of a series of Doonesbury strips from 1974.

Amazingly, I found the exact strips I was seeking on the web. I hope whoever holds the copyright will regard this as Fair Use (it certainly seems so to me).

The characters of the strip are having a costume party. Here’s the first strip:

best1

That was followed the next day by this:

best 2

You can see the same point elaborated upon by the third strip, below.

We were talking previously about how the main character in “The Newsroom,” which I had belatedly started watching, bemoaned the lost greatness of our country, saying in part, ““We built great, big things, made ungodly technological advances, explored the universe, cured diseases and we cultivated the world’s greatest artists AND the world’s greatest economy. We reached for the stars, acted like men. We aspired to intelligence, we didn’t belittle it. It didn’t make us feel inferior….””

And I wondered:

And why don’t we do stuff like that any more? Why did we lose our confidence? Was it just Vietnam, or what?

Well, it seems that way back in 1974, Trudeau was sort of saying, yeah, that was it. And saying it in a way that would probably please no one.

Think about what an edgy thing that was to do back in 1974, with the war still going on — but after the U.S. had disengaged militarily (No, Virginia, the war did not “end” when we stopped fighting it.)

No wonder so many papers ran it on the editorial page. There were no other comics like that. And few editorial cartoonists could match this kind of depth and subtlety.

And think about the irony in the message Trudeau was laying out — among the folks who loved his strip (as opposed to the legions who hated it — the real reason so many papers put it in editorial), it was axiomatic that the Vietnam War was an awful thing, that our having gotten involved there was a blot on the national reputation.

And yet here the cartoonist was mourning what we had lost when the enterprise failed. I thought these strips were great at the time, but I wonder now what others thought of them.

In any case, it’s impressive…

bummer

Lake Street Dive is in Columbia tonight, which is cool…

Hey, y’all — Lake Street Dive will be in Columbia tonight!

I just heard about it last night from one of my kids, who have heard me talk about enjoying some of their stuff on YouTube.

They’re playing at the Music Farm. Or Tin Roof. Or The Senate. Which is all right there together, so you should be able to find them if you go to that general area. Just park and wander about until you hear Rachael Price‘s distinctive voice. It’s nice. (It goes down smooth, you might say.) And they strike me as a good sort of band to experience in a small, intimate venue.

The tickets I’ve been able to find are between $24 and $47. Why the range? I have no idea, since they’re general admission. Something to do with markets and what they will bear when buying on the Web. Or something.

I’m not planning to go. I’ll spend $7 to go hear my son’s band at New Brookland, but that’s about it. If you want me to spend more than that to see someone I’m not related to, you’re going to have to bring John and George back to life and reunite the Beatles or something.

But I know there are some of you who have disposable income and like to go out, so I thought I’d give you a heads-up.

Because as I say, I’ve enjoyed some of their stuff on YouTube, so I think it’s cool they’re coming to town. If I were a going-out kind of guy, I’d go hear them…

A good sort of band to experience in a small, intimate venue.

A good sort of band to experience in a small, intimate venue.

Apple, I’m doing the best I can to keep you going…

iPad

Yesterday, Apple sent markets into paroxysms by issuing a poor earnings report and blaming it on the Chinese economy.

And I’m sure slowing Chinese growth, complicated by Trump’s trade war, isn’t helping.

But there may be something else going on as well.

On a previous post, Doug dismissed my concerns about America no longer being a country that did big things by saying the private sector does big things, which of course pleases him because of his strained relationship with the concept of government.

But is that right? When’s the last big thing the private sector did? Smartphones, right?

Well, that was 12 years ago. Or at least, that was when the smartphone came into its own. I had a Blackberry, and before that a Palm Treo, and before that the primitive Palm Pilot (no wifi or cell connectivity, but you could dock it to sync with a PC). But the iPhone and its imitators are what made the magic happen.

In a piece in the NYT today headlined “Is This the End of the Age of Apple?,” technology writer Kara Swisher worries that the magic is gone, and the next thing is failing to pop up on the horizon:

The last big innovation explosion — the proliferation of the smartphone — is clearly ending. There is no question that Apple was the center of that, with its app-centric, photo-forward and feature-laden phone that gave everyone the first platform for what was to create so many products and so much wealth….

Now all of tech is seeking the next major platform and area of growth. Will it be virtual and augmented reality, or perhaps self-driving cars? Artificial intelligence, robotics, cryptocurrency or digital health? We are stumbling in the dark….

Her piece ends plaintively:

Where is that next spark that will light us all up?

I dunno. But as far as Apple is concerned, I’m doing my bit to at least keep them afloat. I got a new iPhone during the campaign. Not only was the battery, despite my plugging it in every time I was near an electrical outlet all day long, giving out, but my 5s just couldn’t keep up with the social media pace — not to mention that I kept running out of space for photos and video, which was completely unacceptable since I was churning out posts such as this and this all day, every day.

So on Oct. 3 I got an iPhone 8, which got me through that last month. In fact, it did a lot to make up for the inadequacies of my laptop and my old iPad, both of which were also on their last legs.

And now, I’m about to replace my 6-year-old iPad 4 with the new 6th generation that came out in 2018. I’m pretty excited about it. For a year or two now, it’s been freezing up on me — probably between five and 10 times a day during the campaign, which was more frustrating than I think you can imagine (which is why I turned more and more to my phone in those last weeks).

When I say “freeze up,” I mean the screen just… freezes. It won’t respond to touch. I can’t scroll, or go to the Home screen or anything. The Home button doesn’t do anything. It doesn’t respond to any sort of input short of a sledgehammer, which I haven’t tried in spite of the temptation. This lasts for anywhere between a minute and five minutes. Then, it either resumes working, or reboots and then resumes working — until the next freeze.

I don’t mean to badmouth my iPad. I love it, and it has served me well for a long time now — about twice as long as the useful life of a PC. But it’s time.

Hence my placing an order for a new one. So as I say, I’m trying to help Apple. But here’s the thing about that…

I’m not ordering anything new, in the sense of being a life-changing departure. I just want an iPad that functions the way my old one did when it was new. Well, that, and more storage — going from 32g to 128.

And basically, it was the same with my iPhone. I didn’t even want the size to change. In fact, I delayed getting a new phone until it became clear that Apple was not going to put out an updated version of the SE. But I stopped at the 8. I had zero interest in the supposedly (but not really) revolutionary X.

And I have no interest in an iPad Pro, or an iPad Air. You know why? Because they don’t really offer anything impressive that is also useful. Which is great for me, because the cost of a basic iPad with 128 gigs has dropped considerably as Apple has pushed those higher-priced models.

To me, the basic iPad is the pinnacle of its type of tech. It’s something I had been waiting for ever since 1994, when a guy who worked for the same company I did, Roger Fidler. Don’t believe me? Watch the video. I was on fire to have one from the moment I heard of the concept — just as I had been anxious to deliver the news electronically ever since my paper had gone from typewriters to a mainframe in 1980. I couldn’t wait until I had a tablet of my own, to replace newspapers, magazines and books. I knew that when I did, I’d carry it everywhere.

And now that I have one, that’s exactly what I do. The iPad is as much a part of me as most people’s wallets are. I had to wait more than 20 years, but I finally got me one.

But… that was the acme. All you can do for me now is make my tablet a little faster or expand the storage. I don’t need more functionality, beyond a new app now and then. The model I’ve ordered will work with an Apple Pencil, and my reaction to that is “meh.”

I don’t need any startling new developments. And Apple hasn’t offered any.

So… Ms. Swisher seems to have a point. The Age in which Apple drives revolutionary change may well be at an end…

Will we as a country ever do great things again?

Will McAvoy loses it after hearing the pat answers of the 'liberal' and 'conservative' on the panel.

Will McAvoy loses it after hearing more than enough of the pat answers of the ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ on the panel.

I really should have had more faith in Aaron Sorkin.

After all, there’s never been anything on television I like more than “The West Wing” (although I’ll note that “Band of Brothers” ties it).

But until this week, I had refused to watch “The Newsroom.” Long ago, when HBO first launched it, I read things about it that made me not want to see it, on the grounds that I thought it would just irritate me no end. But what I read was either a misrepresentation, or I misread it.

When my wife suggested, as I was clicking around in Amazon Prime, that we check it out, I trotted out the objections as I recalled them: First, it was about a TV news anchorman — and you know, I’m a print guy. I don’t even WATCH that TV stuff, network or cable. Next, he was an anchorman who one day loses it and launches into a rant that supposedly “tells the truth” for a change, and nothing is ever again the same for him or his network. That, of course, sounded an awful lot like “Network,” which I’ve always thought was overrated. (You probably have to have been around in 1976 to recall how “brilliant” it allegedly was.) I’ve never yet understood what Peter Finch’s character was “mad as hell” about, or why that supposedly connected with a wide audience. It was gibberish to me — sensationalistic gibberish. Unfocused emotionalism, signifying nothing.

Then there was my memory of the content of the rant on “The Newsroom” — which, as it turned out, was mistaken. As I told my wife, the “truth” he was sharing was paranoid nonsense like what we hear from Bernie Sanders and in slightly different form from Donald Trump, about how everything is fixed and the little guy stands no chance. My memory was clearly wrong. His “truth” was something else that tends to evoke a similarly dismissive reaction in me: a rant about how this is not the greatest country in the world, essentially a rejection of American exceptionalism. (There are a lot of things that prompt similar reactions in me, and sometimes I confuse them.)

Actually, when I relented and watched the show, I saw that even that wasn’t as bad as I’d thought. Here’s what Jeff Daniels’ character Will McAvoy says after being badgered into reacting while sitting on a panel in front of a college audience:

And yeah, you… sorority girl. Just in case you accidentally wander into a voting booth one day, there’s some things you should know. One of them is: there’s absolutely no evidence to support the statement that we’re the greatest country in the world. We’re 7th in literacy, 27th in math, 22nd in science, 49th in life expectancy, 178th in infant mortality, 3rd in median household income, number 4 in labor force and number 4 in exports. We lead the world in only three categories: number of incarcerated citizens per capita, number of adults who believe angels are real and defense spending, where we spend more than the next 26 countries combined, 25 of whom are allies. Now, none of this is the fault of a 20-year-old college student, but you, nonetheless, are, without a doubt, a member of the worst period generation period ever period, so when you ask what makes us the greatest country in the world, I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about! Yosemite?!

Here’s the video. In the context, and in light of his irritation at the pat answers given by the stereotypical “liberal” and “conservative” on the panel with him (irritation with which I fully identified; he could have been me sitting there, losing patience with their stupid game — so by the time he erupts, I’m in his corner), it wasn’t as bad as I’d thought. I was willing to keep listening to him. And I was rewarded for that, because what followed redeemed what he’d said before, if it needed redeeming:

It sure used to be… We stood up for what was right. We fought for moral reason. We passed laws, struck down laws, for moral reason. We waged wars on poverty, not on poor people. We sacrificed, we cared about our neighbors, we put our money where our mouths were and we never beat our chest. We built great, big things, made ungodly technological advances, explored the universe, cured diseases and we cultivated the world’s greatest artists AND the world’s greatest economy. We reached for the stars, acted like men. We aspired to intelligence, we didn’t belittle it. It didn’t make us feel inferior. We didn’t identify ourselves by who we voted for in the last election and we didn’t scare so easy. We were able to be all these things and do all these things because we were informed… by great men, men who were revered. First step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one. America is not the greatest country in the world anymore.”

Right. Absolutely. That’s what I mean by American exceptionalism, and it describes the country I was born into and grew up in. And it evokes the sense of loss I have as I look around me today. (And the outrage I feel at the Trumpistas saying they would “make America great again,” when everything they want to do would accomplish the precise opposite.)

Anyway, I was hooked on the show right there. I’ve still only seen the first episode, but I look forward to watching more.

As I said above, I should have more faith in the creator of “The West Wing.” By the way, when I first heard about “The Newsroom,” I had not yet watched “The West Wing,” and in fact had avoided it for similar reasons. I had heard it was a liberal fantasy of what a presidency should be, and I don’t like that kind of stuff from either left or right. But again, I had been misled. And I’m beginning to think the reason why I keep getting misled about Sorkin is that he writes with an intelligence that other media have trouble describing, because their limited “left vs. right” vocabulary lacks the necessary words.

Having had them inadequately described to me, I simply wasn’t ready for shows that spoke so clearly to me, striking a chord that I’d not been told was there.

I may never like it as much as “West Wing,” but I’m pleased so far.

(Oh, and a brief digression that will only be of interest to fellow Sorkin fans: I think in this one, he managed to avoid a mistake he made in “West Wing.” Remember the pilot? Remember how Josh feels blindsided and gets upset because the White House is about to hire back a woman he used to be involved with? Well, the first episode of “The Newsroom” has the exact same plot point: the network boss has hired a woman with whom McAvoy has a past, and he is at first all bent out of shape about it. But this time, I think its going to work out. On “West Wing,” the woman in question, “Mandy,” was the one and only truly grating, irritating character on the show — and Sorkin wisely “ghosted” her before the season was over. She just disappeared, without explanation. This time, I think the character is going to work — I’ve even gotten to where I no longer expect her to mention “avian bird syndrome.” No need to send her to Mandyville — yet. Apparently, Sorkin learns from his mistakes.)

Anyway, to get to my point, more than 1,200 words in…

Let’s go back to that bit about how “We built great, big things, made ungodly technological advances, explored the universe, cured diseases and we cultivated the world’s greatest artists AND the world’s greatest economy. We reached for the stars, acted like men. We aspired to intelligence, we didn’t belittle it. It didn’t make us feel inferior….”

Good stuff.

And why don’t we do stuff like that any more? Why did we lose our confidence? Was it just Vietnam, or what? In any case, I’m ready for us to get it back.

As 2019 dawned, The New York Times ran a piece about 1919. An excerpt:

To promote the idea of interstate travel, a military convoy left Washington for California in July 1919. The New York Times called it “the largest aggregation of motor vehicles ever started on a trip of such length.”

But the convoy broke down repeatedly, and took 62 days to reach its destination. It averaged just six miles an hour, and almost didn’t make it out of Utah. As it turned out, there were almost no paved roads between Illinois and Nevada. Decades later, the officer who led the convoy, Dwight D. Eisenhower, would push for a national highway system as president. Even with a well-publicized divide between red and blue states, we can generally reach each other when we need to, and that is another unexpected result of a pivotal year….

No roads? No problem, to the man who whipped Hitler. We’ll build an interstate highway system. It may have taken him awhile, but he got to it eventually.

The first episode of “The Newsroom” is titled, “We Just Decided To.” I don’t know if it was intentional or not, but it takes us back to something Tom Hanks as Jim Lovell says in “Apollo 13” (one of the best movies ever about what’s special about this country):

From now on, we live in a world where man has walked on the moon. And it’s not a miracle, we just decided to go.

We just decided to go. And we went.

This week, the Chinese landed a robot on the other side of the moon. They might as well. We lost interest in the place after 1972 — 46 years ago. Yeah, I know, we have those pictures of Ultima Thule, and that’s cool and worth celebrating, truly. But such accomplishments are too few and far between these days.

We live in a time when the most ambitious proposal to “do something big” is to build a gigantic wall on our southern border. It’s big, all right — you’d be able to see it from space. But as a monument to xenophobia, it diminishes the country. It makes us less than we are. It’s about closing, not opening. It is a big, fat NAY to the universe. It is in fact a profoundly depressing thing to contemplate, seeing what we’ve descended to.

Yeah, Ultima Thule. That’s great and all. But I want more. I’ll close with the words with which Hanks closed “Apollo 13:”

I sometimes catch myself looking up at the Moon, remembering the changes of fortune in our long voyage, thinking of the thousands of people who worked to bring the three of us home. I look up at the Moon and wonder, when will we be going back, and who will that be?

'We just decided to go: Tom Hanks, as Jim Lovell, ponders the moon.

‘We just decided to go: Tom Hanks, as Jim Lovell, ponders the moon.

The young folks just love hearing Sen. Land talk about ‘likkah’

James speaking at the event John Land hosted for us in Manning.

James speaking at the event John Land hosted for us in Manning.

On the first day of the Leave No One Behind Tour, we had two reporters and a photographer on the bus with us.

One was Maayan Schechter of The State. Maayan wasn’t at the paper when John Land was in the Senate, but she knew his rep. And when we stopped in Manning for an event the senator had set up for us, she couldn’t resist asking him to talk about “liquor.”

She has not ceased being delighted by his willing response, as I learned when a “like” by Mandy Powers Norrell drew me to this Tweet, featuring video shot that day:

If you want to know more about the senator and likkah, you might want to watch this clip from several years back:

That, of course, was a tribute to this famous bit from Mississippi politician Noah S. “Soggy” Sweat, Jr. in 1952.

Sen. Land is a South Carolina treasure.

By the way, at one point another campaign aide and I had the same idea independently of each other, proving the old saw about great minds: We both thought it would be wonderful to get Land to play Henry in debate prep. Not just because of the accent, but because Land is so sharp that he’d really have given James a workout. We didn’t follow through on it, though. A shame. I’d love to have video of that. Imagine Land saying, “Ah like it, ah love it, ah want some mo’ OF it!

On the bus that same day. That's Maayan sitting next to the photog over on the right.

On the bus that same day. That’s Maayan sitting next to the photog over on the right.

Yikes! David Brooks is in a dark place as new year dawns

wolves

Another marketplace-of-ideas post, also from the NYT

David Brooks was in kind of a dark place on New Year’s Eve, when the paper published “2019: The Year of the Wolves.”

Yikes. It starts out with an anecdote from a Willa Cather novel about two Russian brothers who had to come live on the American prairie because back home, they had literally thrown a bride and groom to the wolves when a pack of the animals attacked a wedding party. (Which is about what it would have taken to make me do something as insane as go to live on the American prairie in the 19th century, but we can discuss that another time.)

That sets the tone for the way Brooks foresees 2019:

It will be a year of divided government and unprecedented partisan conflict. It will be a year in which Donald Trump is isolated and unrestrained as never before. And it will be in this atmosphere that indictments will fall, provoking not just a political crisis but a constitutional one.

There are now over a dozen investigations into Trump’s various scandals. If we lived in a healthy society, the ensuing indictments would be handled in a serious way — somber congressional hearings, dispassionate court proceedings. Everybody would step back and be sobered by the fact that our very system of law is at stake.

But we don’t live in a healthy society and we don’t have a healthy president….

All of which is true, but come on, dude, leave us a little room for some optimism as the new year begins…

Of course, one reason I keep backing away from political topics in the wake of the election is that I feel this pessimism, too, and it doesn’t suit me. I like hope, and don’t surrender it blithely.

This week, the Democrats take over the House. I know that for a lot of people — probably including some of the folks I worked alongside of in the campaign — this is in itself a cause for hope.

But for me, it’s a harbinger of bitter division that leads to no good outcome. Now that the Republicans have passed on their chance to stand up to Trumpism — which we really, really needed them to do — every move the Democrats make, however needed or well-advised (or otherwise), will be interpreted as something they’re doing just because they are Democrats.

And that will further harden the widely held attitude that it’s all about this party or that party holding a majority plus one. Which mitigates against any likelihood of pulling the country together so we can get through this.

Looking at the bright side, at least I learned from this column a new word: kakistocracy. You can go ahead and look it up if you like, but fair warning: Doing so won’t make you happy…

Kaplan says it’s time to get out of Afghanistan. But there’s a catch

Time to Get Out of Afganistan” over the byline of Robert Kaplan grabbed my eye this morning. Of course, it did so in part because I’m one of the dummies who confuses him with Robert Kagan. But it was still interesting.

It starts out this way:

Kaplan, not Kagan

Kaplan, not Kagan

The decision by President Trump to withdraw 7,000 of the roughly 14,000 American troops left in Afghanistan, possibly by summer, has raised new concerns about his impulsive behavior, especially given his nearly simultaneous decision to pull out all American forces from Syria against the advice of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. But the downsizing of the Afghan mission was probably inevitable. Indeed, it may soon be time for the United States to get out of the country altogether…

And then continues with words that sound like they should be read aloud by Peter Coyote, as I’ve been rewatching Ken Burns’ series on Vietnam during my morning workouts lately:

No other country in the world symbolizes the decline of the American empire as much as Afghanistan. There is virtually no possibility of a military victory over the Taliban and little chance of leaving behind a self-sustaining democracy — facts that Washington’s policy community has mostly been unable to accept….

Not only that, but he suggests that our efforts there, which provide a modicum of stability for the moment, are actually proving to be an advantage to the Chinese, Pakistanis, Indians and Iranians — allowing them to operate in the area with some safety at our expense — than they are to us and out interests.

But before we stark striking camp and heading for home, read what Kaplan writes further down:

An enterprising American diplomat, backed by a coherent administration, could try to organize an international peace conference involving Afghanistan and its neighbors, one focused on denying terrorist groups a base in South-Central Asia.

It is the kind of project that Henry Kissinger, Richard Holbrooke, James Baker III or George Shultz would have taken up in their day. But it is not something anyone can reasonably expect this administration, as chaotic, understaffed and incompetent as it is, to undertake, especially with the departure of Mr. Mattis….

Oh, well…

People are still putting out albums?

00602547143723-cover-zoom

An album that truly marked its territory in 1971.

As I’ve said, I tend to interact with my subscription to The New Yorker via the emails they send me. And today, I was puzzled to find this headline in my IN box: “Eight Albums That Defined 2018 for Me.” It was written by someone aptly named “Brianna Younger.” I don’t see how such a piece could have been written by a “Brianna Older.”

But even then, I have to wonder at the following:

  • “Albums?” People are still putting out albums in 2018? That’s so… ’70s. So vinyl (and yes, I know vinyl experienced a resurgence — like, a generation ago). It’s album-oriented rock on FM stations with DJs who sounded like they were on Quaaludes. Aren’t we several technological developments beyond “albums?” There were albums, then cassettes, then CDs, then stolen MP3s and iPods, then free access to all music ever recorded via YouTube, Pandora, Spotify, etc. And you say albums are still a thing? If so, in what sense — mere collections of recordings, or concept-based, like Sgt. Pepper and Aqualung?
  • Who can possibly name eight albums from this year, much less special ones? Personally, I can’t name one — and perusing the list in The New Yorker didn’t help. And before you scoff at the old guy, this is largely because media are so fragmented today. In, say, the ’60s, old people couldn’t miss the Beatles, the Rolling Stones or Herman’s Hermits. And young people couldn’t miss Frank Sinatra, Robert Goulet, or Engelbert Humperdinck. And no one could possibly miss Herb Alpert or Burt Bacharach. They were ubiquitous, layered thickly upon the limited spread of available media. That just isn’t the case today. Listeners can go off into their own private world and groove on their own private sounds that the person sitting next to them have never heard and never will hear. Our culture is not shared as it was.
  • In light of both of the two previous points, how can any albums, the eight in question or whichever ones you pick, define a year in this century? An album might have done that in the 70s, when they were as central to the mass culture as bell-bottoms and leisure suits. But this just seems the last sort of thing that could define the year. Albums just don’t do that in this decade.

Here are the eight albums in question:

  1. BbyMutha, “BbyShoe”
  2. Janelle Monáe, “Dirty Computer”
  3. Kendrick Lamar, “Black Panther: The Album”
  4. Noname, “Room 25”

Oops. That’s only four. Either there’s something wrong with my computer, or even Brianna could only come up with four. (Let me know if you can find the other four; I’m curious.) Whatever. The point is, I’ve heard of Janelle Monáe (the name has stuck because my mother and one of my daughters are named “Janelle”), and I saw “Black Panther.” Neither causes any particular music to come to mind. The others mean nothing to me.

Granted that “Black Panther” actually was a mass cultural phenomenon in the past year, I have to ask, in what sense do you feel these recordings were essential to an understanding of 2018? Forty years from now, to what extent will today’s young people — much less their children and grandchildren — be listening to this music, or seeing it as essential to this moment?

If you don’t think that’s a fair question, allow me to cite eight albums from a year in which albums mattered, in which they truly served as a broadly-perceived soundtrack for the time, and even could have been said to “define” the time, and echo in our memory of that year on mass media to this day.

It may be a bit unfair, but I’m going to pick my eight from 1971…

…Sorry, I can’t narrow it down to eight. Let’s do 10 that still loom large in our culture:

  • The Who – Who’s Next. This one may be the one with the most singles that you still frequently hear on the radio. “Baba O’Riley.” “Behind Blue Eyes.” “Won’t Get Fooled Again.”
  • Al Green – Gets Next to You. All I have to say is, “Tired of Being Alone.
  • Joni Mitchell — Blue. The best-remembered cut was probably “California,” but the album overall was a cultural touchstone.
  • Marvin Gaye — What’s Going On. Which was, of course, about what was going on. So, definitive of a time.
  • Rod Stewart — Every Picture Tells a Story. Anything you connect with “early Rod Stewart” (not counting Jeff Beck days) is on this one. Let’s just skim the second side: “Maggie May.” “Mandolin Wind.” “(I Know) I’m Losing You.” “(Find a) Reason to Believe.” All that’s missing is “Handbags and Gladrags.”
  • The Rolling Stones — Sticky Fingers. Arguably their best, although “Let if Bleed” and “Exile on Main Street” are right up there. Let’s go with a non-hit from this one: “Moonlight Mile,” which weirdly invoked Huckleberry Finn and Jim for me. It made me feel like I was rolling down a river at a leisurely raft pace. Listen to that rhythm and tell me I’m not right. You don’t have to listen to the words. If that doesn’t do it for you, go lose yourself in “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking.” Mr. Bobby Keys on sax!
  • Carole King — Tapestry. Like, a lifetime of stellar songwriting distilled into one shot and dropped upon an unsuspecting public. Let’s go with “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.
  • Jethro Tull — Aqualung. “Sit-ting on a park bench… DAH, dah-dah…” (Remember Jack Donaghy and Pete Hornberger 39 years later conveniently forgetting the second line, thank goodness?) Still, my favorite cut from the album is “Wind-Up.” It was in ’71, and still is today. He’s not the kind you have to wind up on Sundays.
  • John Lennon — Imagine. The title cut is hauntingly beautiful, even though I hate the lyrics. I prefer “Jealous Guy” and “Oh Yoko!” Even though Yoko isn’t one of my fave people, for obvious reasons.
  • Janis Joplin — Pearl. She died in October of the previous year and this was released posthumously in January, but it’s such a part of the year’s soundtrack that it shouts “1971.” Let’s pause and give a listen to “A Woman Left Lonely.”

Notice that I’m completely ignoring James Taylor, David Bowie, and my main man Leon Russell, and many others doing ground-breaking work at the time.

To use an expression that entered the culture sometime between then and now, at this point I will drop the mic.

I wanted to LIVE in this picture with Carole. Could have done without the cat, though...

I wanted to LIVE in this picture with Carole. Could have done without the cat, though…

An evening’s entertainment, for JUST $175,000…

You get a ride! On an airplane!

You get a ride! On an airplane!

I don’t know how I get on an email list such as this one. I suspect my friends, knowing what I think of football, are having me on. Or something:

Hi Brad​,

The College National Football Championship is one of the most sought after events of the season for NCAA Football Fans. This year the top teams will battle it out for the 2018 title at Levi’s Stadium in San Francisco. Teams are determined on December 29th, leaving just a few days for fans to make their travel plans before the January 7th game.

Unfortunately for those last minute planners, hotels are already nearly filled with top conferences competing for the most premium rooms in the city. Thanks to SuiteHop’s VIP National Championship Package, a hotel room isn’t necessary!

The premiere marketplace for luxury suites at sporting events, SuiteHop has teamed up with Bg Game Air, Tailgate Guys, and Buster to create an all-inclusive, jet set package for National Championship Attendees.

For just $175,000 a group of 20 guests can fly private from anywhere in the US and arrive at the game just in time for a luxury catered tailgate. Before kick off, VIP guests will head through the gates to their private and all-inclusive owners club suite. This is the ultimate way to attend a game! Win or lose, you’ll enjoy VIP transportation back to the airport and be back home the very same day.

Full details about the package are available online at: https://www.suitehop.com/national-championship-vip-package

I’d love to chat with you more about the package and learn if this is the type of thing you might be interested in covering for BradWarthen.com​….

For just $175,000. “Just.” Really?

What’s in that VIP suite? 72 willing virgins? The Fountain of Youth? A map to El Dorado? After that list of what I get for my $172,000, I expect it to continue, “But wait! That’s not all! You also get this set of Ginsu knives! And a Lamborghini!”

I mean, how does a fan even know whether he wants to go? We don’t know who’s playing yet, do we? (Or do we? I don’t know how these things work.)

I’m just trying to imagine who out there would read this and think, “What a DEAL! I gotta get in on this!”…

Yet, limited as my imagination is, somehow I know they’re out there…

You get to tailgate! With a tent!

You get to tailgate! With a tent!

Why do people expect history to be so simple?

The Post and Courier this week reports on the latest Winthrop Poll, which finds that South Carolinians “remain divided” over what Civil War monuments and Confederate symbols “even mean.”

“Even” as though knowing what they “mean” is a simple matter. That point is mentioned in the lede, but the story doesn’t get back to it until the last graf:

While half of all respondents said they view the Confederate battle flag as a symbol of Southern pride, a sharp racial divide still exists. The Winthrop poll found 55 percent of whites view it as Southern pride but 64 percent of African Americans view it as a symbol of racial conflict….

Well, I’ve got news for you: Everybody’s right. It is a symbol of “Southern pride.” It is also a symbol of racial conflict. The two things are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they are inextricably linked. As I wrote in 2015, just before the flag came down from the State House grounds:

And what did the flag mean? We know. Oh, news reports will affect that priggish, pedantic neutrality peculiar to the trade: “Some people see the flag as meaning this; some see it as meaning that.” But we know, don’t we? It is a way white South Carolinians — some of us, anyway — have had of saying that, despite Appomattox and the civil rights movement: We can do this. We don’t care about you or how you feel about it.

It was a way of telling the world whose state this is

There you have it: both pride and racial conflict.

Oh, and was I saying there was no such thing as a different sort of pride, that in the martial manliness of one’s ancestors? No. That’s all mixed up in there, too. Not that that makes it innocent. Pride is, with good reason, listed as first and most serious of the Seven Deadly Sins. So, you know, not necessarily something to puff your chest out about.

The fact that people do feel so proud of or validated by their ancestors puzzles me. I don’t feel better or worse about myself because I’m descended from Charlemagne (as is, statistically, every person of European ancestry on the planet). I do get a kick out of tracing how I’m descended from him (several ways, in fact, which is also unremarkable), generation by generation. It’s a puzzle, and fun to solve. But am I a better person for being directly descended from him, or from Henry II, or William the Conqueror? Of course not. In fact, while I may not be quite as hostile to monarchy as Mark Twain, I believe there is at least some historical basis for Huck Finn’s assertion that “all kings is mostly rapscallions, as fur as I can make out.”

Queens, too, as I was reminded when I went to see “The Favourite” at the Nickelodeon over the weekend. (Or at least, it was true of those around the queen.) As Huck explained, “Take them all around, they’re a mighty ornery lot. It’s the way they’re raised.” Or perhaps more relevantly, as Hank Morgan said, “Yes, Guenever was beautiful, it is true, but take her all around she was pretty slack.” (One of my favorite Twain lines ever, a perfect example of his way of dragging down romantic pretension with modern matter-of-factness.)

Nor, of course, do I feel bad about myself to be distantly related to such people. I don’t feel responsible for who they were or what they did in the slightest.

Anyway, back to the Confederacy and how we remember it…

That these symbols are about black and white, in the skin color sense, is undeniable. But it’s an error to view them as black or white in the sense of being all this or all that. The world is a more complicated place.

And yet, even smart people are pulled toward trying to make everything all one way or the other.

General Stan McChrystal seems to think so. He thinks you’ve got to go all one way or all the other, as he wrote in The Washington Post recently. His column started this way:

Lee mugFrom my earliest days, Robert E. Lee felt close at hand. I attended Washington-Lee High School in Arlington, Va., and began my soldier’s life at Lee’s alma mater, the U.S. Military Academy. Today, if Lee still lived in his childhood home in Alexandria, Va., we would be neighbors. So it felt appropriate, when I was a young Army lieutenant, that my wife bought me an inexpensive painting of the famed Southern warrior. And from the wall of the many quarters we occupied over 34 years, Lee’s portrait was literally watching over me. Through the lens of military history and our seemingly parallel lives, he was my hero — brilliant, valiant and loyal….

And then, two grafs later, he says:

In the summer of 2017, my wife, Annie, urged me to take down the picture. Disgusted by the images of hate and white supremacy that had descended on Charlottesville in the form of angry, torch-bearing men, she felt that Lee’s picture risked offending guests to our home by sending an unintended message of agreement with the protesters who had sought to preserve a statue of the Marble Man. Initially, I argued that Lee was an example of apolitical loyalty and stoic adherence to duty. But as days passed, I reflected on the way that Lee’s legacy looked to people who hadn’t grown up with my perspective or my privilege. So, on an otherwise unremarkable Sunday morning, I took the painting off the wall and sent it on its way to a local landfill for its final burial. Hardly a hero’s end….

Hardly, indeed.

What do I think? I think if one entertains frequently, one should not have a portrait of Lee hanging where guests would see it, because while a picture is worth a thousand words, they may be different words to different people, and your intent in displaying the image could be wildly misunderstood. And most of us prefer not to be misunderstood.

But consigning it to the trash seems a bit extreme. And I’m not sure what it accomplished. His guests wouldn’t know he had had a portrait of Lee but had thrown it away — unless he told them, which seems a rather priggish, preening, self-congratulatory thing to do. Otherwise, it’s a personal act, and personal statement. And one would think that the respect for Lee that McChrystal had harbored all his life up to that point would keep him from doing such a thing.

I actually have a similar anecdote to tell. Our editorial board room — at least, that’s what we called it back when there was an editorial board — was decorated with past leaders of The State, all from pre-Knight Ridder days, when it was a family owned paper. One of those gents from bygone days wore a small Confederate Flag pin on his lapel.

Occasionally, I would call guests’ attention to it. I wasn’t too worried about them thinking we were neo-Confederates ourselves, given our unmistakable position regarding that flag. I just appreciated the irony, and invited them to do so as well. Eventually, one of our publishers decided to remove it. And I thought that was fine, too. Whether it was there or not did not affect me or who I was or what I thought. But I’m fairly sure he didn’t throw it in the trash. I think it ended up in an unused office, leaning against a wall among unneeded furniture. I don’t know what happened to it since then.

Anyway, I don’t understand why McChrystal thought it had to be one way or the other: Lee all good or Lee all bad. Seems to me it would be more accurate, and more nourishing to the mind, to regard him as one of the most remarkable and fascinating people in our history.

But there it is, that compulsion to see things as all one way or the other.

Let me drag in one more thing — something of a digression — and then I’ll be done.

The same newspaper ran a different item that touched upon this same phenomenon.

It was headlined (at least, in the iPad version I read — other versions treated it more as a subhed) “The Confederacy was built on slavery. How can so many Southern whites still believe otherwise?

It was a long-form magazine piece that involved the reporter following a committed neo-Confederate named Frank Earnest (a name that on its own had to make him an irresistible subject to the reporter and his editors) over the course of a year.

This sort of describes the relationship of the writer and his subject during that year:

As we got better acquainted that week, he explained to me why he thought the Civil War happened, beginning with his core belief that slavery wasn’t the main reason for the conflict. Instead, he argued, secession was a constitutionally permissible response to years of unfair tariffs and taxes imposed on the South by a tyrannical federal government.

Frank considers most journalists to be misguided liberals, and he said he wouldn’t be surprised if I harbored anti-Confederate sentiments. I told him, politely, that the narrative he believes in is an ancient load of bull — that it was promoted by the Confederacy’s adult offspring, the architects of Jim Crow, to burnish their fathers’ legacy and help foster the rebirth of legalized white supremacism in late-19th-century Dixie. Frank said nah, that’s not true. So I said I’d let him tell me his side of the story. I said, “You can explain to me why I’m wrong.”…

Frank tried, and of course failed. His problem is that the facts are not on his side. Just a quick glance through South Carolina’s official declaration of the causes for secession will tell anyone with an open mind that. You don’t have to read it all. Just count the number of times “slave” appears in the document. I’ll go ahead and tell you: 18 times. It was kind of, you know, on their minds.

You may find the piece interesting, particularly as it deals with some of our struggles here in SC over the flag.

But speaking of flags, there was one disturbing thing about the piece. The writer repeatedly referred to the “Stars and Bars” when he apparently meant what we commonly call the battle flag or naval jack, the one dominated by the St. Andrew’s Cross.

One of the most maddening things about debating with neo-Confederates is that they suppose we are ignorant about the “War of Northern Aggression.” In their view, we believe it was about slavery because we just don’t know the facts. They’re wrong, of course, but it would be nice if people who presume to write long pieces in major national publications about how wrong the poor benighted Southerners are would get basic facts right.

I thought about writing to the guy to point out his error, but I knew I’d come across as one of those obsessed neo-Confeds myself unless I did a lot of explaining, and I didn’t feel like it, so I didn’t. And I didn’t need to — someone, possibly Frank Earnest himself — set him straight, so the piece is now accompanied with this editor’s note:

Correction: In an earlier version of this story, the term Stars and Bars was used to refer to the most commonly acknowledged Confederate flag. In fact, Stars and Bars refers to a different Confederate flag.

Duh. Meanwhile, Frank Earnest is more sure than ever that them libs who run down the Confederacy just don’t know the facts. Sheesh…

The flag commonly known as the "Stars and Bars."

The flag commonly known as the “Stars and Bars.”

Your Virtual Front Page for Monday, December 17, 2018

Lamar Alexander, back when we were all young.

Lamar Alexander, back when we were all young.

I’m thinking about changing the emphasis of this blog, at least for a time. As I’ve told you, I’m just not interested much in politics now that the  campaign is over. But I know that’s me, and the experiences I’ve recently been through, and I expect the effect will wear off.

So I’m going to be blogging more about nonpolitical stuff. As you can see from today’s posts so far. But y’all may still want a place to come and talk politics. So I’ll keep including such in my Virtual Front Pages and Open Threads, so that even if I have nothing to say about it, y’all can talk amongst yourselves. So here goes…

  1. Stocks Fall Sharply as Investors Fret Over Growth Outlook (WSJ) — See? I like y’all so much, I’ll even include some financial news, which interests me even less than politics. You can thank me later.
  2. Sen. Lamar Alexander announces he won’t seek another term in 2020 (WashPost) — This is very sad news. Lamar has always been one of the best. And I don’t just say that because he’s the first candidate for statewide office I ever covered (when he was running for governor, in 1978).
  3. Amazon faces boycott ahead of holidays as public discontent grows (The Guardian) — I have to wonder just how effective this can be, since this is the first I’ve heard of it — and it’s in a Brit publication, not anything in this country.
  4. Jesuit order names priests ‘credibly accused’ of sexually abusing children since the 1950s (WP) — The horrorshow continues. A similar report is due from our own diocese soon.
  5. Deer poacher sentenced to watch Bambi in prison (BBC) — Weird news out of America, via Britain.

Lamar-Hand-Shaking_Display

Nobody’s as hip as the Salvation Army

hip

Reece Williams, a client of ADCO, has been a board member of the local Salvation Army for more than 40 years.

Reece was in the news recently for a generous gift he gave the Army — there’s a great story behind it; you should check it out. When we met at Sylvan’s for the TV shoot, he brought along this ad to share with me.

Near as I can tell, it’s from a campaign to promote the New York Salvation Army, back in the late ’80s. Before the Web, so it’s hard to find. Here’s one image of it, and here’s a news story about the campaign.

I thought it was pretty cool. Thought y’all might like it, too…

Let’s go back to the moon, people

BuzzhHeader

I missed this piece in The Washington Post last week. It’s a good one, in which a couple of rocket scientists advocate that we go back to the moon to establish a base, something that is completely within our power and would imbue NASA, and the nation, with a sense of purpose they — we — have lacked for a long time.

An excerpt:

This plan, which we call Moon Direct, doesn’t take rocket scientists to comprehend (although we both hold that title). And we could accomplish it in just three discrete phases: First, we deliver cargo to the lunar surface and initiate robotic construction. Second, we land crews on the base, complete construction and develop local resources. And third, we establish long-term habitation and exploration.

SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy booster, which can launch 60 tons to Earth orbit and 10 tons to the moon, could easily handle the first phase. And NASA’s Space Launch System, still in development, might eventually be used along with heavy lift rockets such as Blue Origin’s New Glenn and the United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan. (Blue Origin’s founder, Jeffrey P. Bezos, owns The Post.) Rather than spend a fortune and take years to build a Gateway for obscure reasons, we could immediately go straight to the surface of the moon and set up shop.

The key to crew operations, the second phase of building our moon base, is a spacecraft we call the Lunar Excursion Vehicle, which would operate outside our atmosphere and therefore need no heavy heat shields or Earth landing systems. The LEV would fly from Earth’s orbit to the lunar surface and back again. New York to Paris, Paris to New York. Nothing could be simpler. All we would need to do is get to the airport — in this case, low Earth orbit — where the LEV would be “parked” for refueling and used again and again, just like a passenger airplane….

I’m all for it. Ground Control to Major Tom — let’s go!

Yikes! Help her! She’s stranded in a snake-infested swamp!

swamp

There are outdoors people, and then there are normal, sane people. I won’t take sides in the matter — must preserve my journalistic detachment. But the existence of the two groups is undeniable, and may explain much of the strife in this world.

This photo from Congaree National Park was posted on Facebook by Discover South Carolina with the caption, “Name a cooler way to spend a weekend. We’ll wait.”

Really?!!?!

I look at it, and I’m all like, Damsel in distress! How did she get there? Where’s her boat? How will she ever get out of this hopeless predicament? How did she get in it to begin with? Was someone standing up in a canoe while affixing the hammock to those trees? Look at her foot! It’s dangling inches from the snake- and alligator-infested water! Help her! Help her now!

Which is, I’m guessing, not the reaction they were looking for.

And yet, there are probably people on this planet who look at that picture and see an idyll. I don’t know what’s wrong with them. As a father and grandfather of a total of seven young women and girls, I want to deliver this young woman from her plight (at least, I’m assuming that’s a young woman; she’s so far away — out of reach of help, alas! — to be sure). And to the extent that I can identify with her rather than seeing her as an object of paternal concern, I want to panic.

You realize, of course, that were this a still from a film, within a few frames something would emerge from that dark water and take her leg off at the knee, or pull her under.

Sheesh. I don’t need this stress on a Monday…

Hey, guys! A frozen moment from the campaign…

cropped-backstage-florence

Don’t know if you’ve seen the above image, one of the headers I recently added to the randomized rotation.

It wouldn’t mean a thing to you, but it made me smile when I saw it pop up just now.

There you have four of the main political operatives of the Smith/Norrell campaign, at a tense moment: They’re watching the first debate, in Florence on Oct. 17. We’re in our green room backstage. There’s nothing they can do at this point but watch and listen intently. There they are:

  • Phil Chambers, the bright young guy we had stolen away from the state party about halfway through my time on the campaign — he had set up all the logistics for the debate, to the smallest detail. (He’s the guy who, a week after the election, was out west working toward 2020.)
  • Kendall Corley, our political director. He and I shared an office at headquarters, but he wasn’t there all that much — mainly out in the field — and when he was in the office he spent all his time making phone calls or poring over maps, talking about how to deploy resources. But right now, he could do nothing.
  • Scott Harriford, deputy political director and James’ “body man” — the driver, the guy who experienced everything James did, going everywhere he went, taking care of details, shooting photos and video and texting them back to me. The first campaign staffer hired, he’d been doing all that since June 2017. But right now he could only watch.
  • Scott Hogan, the campaign manager, a guy I learned a lot from. He joined the campaign almost a month after I did. He was the pro from Dover, and I didn’t know how he’d react to a nonprofessional like me, but we ended up having a great working relationship. Don’t know what he’s worrying about there, maybe one of my Tweets.

I’m at the center of the room, between them and the TV monitor. I’m the one guy with something to do at this moment, with far too much to do, cranking out dozens of Tweets and making adjustments to the press release that I’ll put out within a minute or two of the debate’s end, working simultaneously with laptop, iPad and phone. I’m as busy as Butch and Sundance in that last scene where they’re shooting it out with the Bolivian Army.

But still, I take a moment to stand up in front of my table (you can see it in the uncropped version below) and look back at my comrades arrayed behind me, and feeling the need to record the moment, snap a quick exposure before sitting back down to my work and resuming the furious typing.

And the picture makes me smile now. Don’t know why. Maybe because things are going so well at that moment. James is clearly winning the debate, but there’s still that tension because there are 13 minutes left in the debate (photo taken at 7:47), and Something Can Always Go Wrong.

Maybe it makes me feel like Faulkner’s 14-year-old Southern boy, and we’re in the moments before Pickett’s Charge, and It’s Still Possible to Win, despite the odds.

And maybe I miss the intensity, the exhaustion tempered by the sense of mission, the excitement of this one-time experience, the feeling of doing all we can and leaving it on the field.

I don’t know. But while it’s no great masterpiece of photographic composition, it made me smile…

uncropped Florence green room