Author Archives: Brad Warthen

So, where do you stand on carrying the bat to first base?

bregman

Here’s a little thought experiment…

Earlier, some of you expressed disapproval of the crowd booing Trump at the World Series Sunday night, while others defended it.

Contemplating another Series controversy from last night’s game (and not the disagreement that led to the Nationals’ manager being ejected — it was quite a game), it occurs to me that it might be a sort of related issue.

I’d like to see y’all’s positions on the booing thing alongside your positions on whether it was OK for Alex Bregman and Juan Soto to carry their bats to first base after hitting home runs.

I have this theory that people who were disturbed by the booing would also disapprove of the bat-carrying, both being violations of certain standards of behavior. Likewise, anyone likely to approve of the “Lock him up” chant would be more inclined to let those young ballplayers strut a bit.

Me, I disapprove of both. I see both within a context of society fraying, becoming less civilized.

You?

soto

Ain’t got time to take a fast train

One of the people I worked with on last year’s campaign was a veteran politico who frequently complained about my former newspaper, saying it had become a “North Carolina paper.”

At first I wasn’t sure what she meant. But since then, while I don’t fully agree with that characterization, I do see what causes her to say that.

I thought of that this morning when I saw the story about the proposed high-speed train between between Charlotte and Atlanta. I sort of felt, “Why am I reading this?” I mean, it’s about something that will pass through a corner of South Carolina that is far from where I live.

Not that I mind stories about trains. As y’all know, I love public transportation, particularly of the rail type — although my true preference is for subways, with New York’s and London’s being my faves.

In fact, today Cindi Scoppe sent me the AP version of that story, wanting to make sure I didn’t miss it.

She may have been disappointed by my reaction:

Thanks, although I grow tired of hearing about trains that I will never ride. A route from Charlotte to Atlanta? What good does that do me? It’s perpendicular to anyplace I might want or need to go…

I want a train — fast, slow or in-between — that will take me from where I am to where I want to be. Preferably underground. Nothing of the kind seems on the horizon, though…

Ahhh, the Tube!

Ahhh, the Tube!

Is Donald Trump our ‘most honest president?’

"Believe me..."

“Believe me…”

Frank Bruni reminds me of this point I’ve been thinking about making for two or three years now, but I’ve just never gotten around to it.

We know that no one who has ever held the office of president — in our lifetimes, at the least — utters more falsehoods that this guy. Certainly, no one can boast more “Four Pinocchio” scores (OK, I tried to back that up with a link, and Google failed me. Oh, I saw that the Post had to come up with a new “Bottomless Pinocchio” just for him, and that in 2018 they broke his falsehoods into two categories to keep him from dominating the standings, but I didn’t find exactly what I was looking for. I think what I’m running into is the ancient horror journalists have of saying someone or something is the most anything ever — because someone might always come up with a worse example.).

He seems the personification of the old gag, “How can I tell when he’s lying? His mouth’s moving.”

The thing is, though, what if he’s not lying, technically? What if he actually believes all of these laughably false things that he asserts with such vehemence? The guy’s not terribly bright, and he’s such a narcissist that it’s possible that he convinces himself that any assertion that is helpful, or that he perceives as helpful, to Donald Trump is automatically true.

There’s plenty we can point to that supports this position on the matter. How else do you explain, just to grab a recent example, his repeated assertion that his July 25 phone call with the Ukrainian president was “perfect?” Or that the whistleblower (remember the whisteblower, that guy whose role in all this long ago became redundant in light of subsequent revelations, a fact that has not yet penetrated the Donald’s skull?) is peddling untruths. He continues to assert both of these things even though the rough transcript the White House itself released shows him to be obviously wrong on both counts. Not to mention all of the subsequent revelations that show that phone call to be just one piece of a large, consistent pattern.

Maybe you want to say he’s crazy rather than dumb. Either way, you can say his ability to discern the truth is severely limited.

So in that case, is he a liar? Don’t you have to mean to lie for it to count?

Anyway, I’m thinking about this again after reading the recent Frank Bruni column headlined “‘Human Scum,’ ‘Lynching’ and Trump’s Tortured English.” (Subhed: “The president needs a thesaurus and a therapist, though not necessarily in that order.”)

It’s another piece addressing a thing that probably explains as well as anything why people who work with words tend to see Trump as dumb, while it is less obvious to certain other people:

The other day he turned to the bounteous trove of the English language for a pejorative worthy of his critics’ awfulness, at least as he sees it. He decided on “human scum.”

He sought to capture the horror and injustice befalling him. What he came up with was “lynching.”

There’s being crude with language, there’s being loose with it, and then there’s being Trump, who uses words the way a toddler does marbles, grabbing the ones that are most bluntly colorful and tossing them into the air just because he can.

Trump is as inept at English as he is at governing. He’s oxymoronic: a nativist who can’t really speak his native tongue….

And so on. But the passage that prompts this post is this:

I’ve written before that Trump, “in terms of the transparency with which he shows us the most eccentric and ugliest parts of himself,” may inadvertently be “the most honest president in my lifetime.” His language is obviously central to that. It’s a glimpse into his fury and fears…

Which is slightly different from what I said above. Basically, Bruni is saying that no matter how untrue and badly chosen his words are, the emotion behind them reveals the true Trump.

My point is that maybe we can’t label Trump’s perpetual flow of falsehoods as lies, because he really doesn’t know any better.

Either way, Trump comes across as less dishonest than a mere examination of facts would suggest.

What do y’all think?

 

Apparently, the GOP will have a ‘war room’ after all

war room

I’ve seen and heard it mentioned frequently that the White House has no impeachment “war room,” just Trump himself careening wildly from tweet to outburst, without any rhyme, reason or strategy.

That may be, but the Republican Party itself is apparently creating one. Note the job posting I found on Daybook, above. Here’s the description:

The Republican National Committee is seeking applicants for entry- and junior-level positions in the War Room. The War Room is the nerve center of the communications department, and its purpose is to keep our staff and others outside of the organization informed of all political news. War Room staff are responsible to be the ears and eyes of the communications department, coordinating and organizing to keep the RNC informed.

Responsibilities Include:

• Media monitoring, tracking, and alerting news, video, and live events of significance

• Creating and distributing multiple daily products that are disseminated outside of the building, including media matrices, television & network reporter roundups, and travel coverage of notable political figures and governmental officials

• Coordinating with the organization’s research and press teams to quickly flag and engage in rapid response to relevant news and stories

• Manage and update the organization’s video collection

• Monitoring and editing video and audio to assist the communications department in their messaging

Qualifications:

• Undergraduate degree required, with a major in communications, political science, journalism or a related field a plus

• An expressed desire or proven experience working to further conservative causes, candidates, and policies

• Familiarity and experience with social media and relevant monitoring platforms, including Twitter, Facebook, Tweetdeck, and YouTube

• Strong research and analytical skills, including the ability to quickly and accurately identify politically relevant content and news

• A strong interest and familiarity with the current media and political environment, including political and policy issues

• The ability to quickly and efficiently handle time-sensitive requests from the organization’s communications team and work with tight deadlines

• Above average time management skills

• Excellent oral and written communication skills

Desirable Experience:

• Experience working on a campaign’s or party’s research team.

• Work experience in political communications or research, including on Capitol Hill, in journalism, the law, public relations, marketing, or at a trade association.

• Prior experience with TV Eyes, IQ, Snapstream, Camtasia, Hypercam 3, iShowU, MPEG Streamclip or other video clipping and editing software.

Personally, I wish no one had political “war rooms” — or at least, if they’re going to have them, that they would call them something else. Back when Bill Clinton had one (during the 1992 campaign), I found it quite offensive — only people who had never been to actual war, and had no respect for it, could call it that. And I think the mentality that made them call it that went a long way toward pushing us down the slope to today’s poisonous partisanship.

Of course, if the “war room” comes up with strategies better than the idiotic, desperate invasion and occupation of the SCIF yesterday, I suppose it would be worth it to the Republicans. One has to wonder how long trying to distract everyone from the substance of the charges against the president is going to work for them, even among the base…

Graham does the impossible: He further abases himself

Graham

I was sure that, in his extravagant demonstrations of sycophancy toward You-Know-Who, our senior senator had thoroughly plumbed the depths.

Lindsey Graham, I thought, could sink no lower.

Well, I was certainly wrong. He said this in response to Trump’s assertion that he was being subjected to a “lynching”:

“I think it’s pretty well accurate—this is a shame, this is a joke,” Graham told a gaggle of reporters on Monday morning. “This is a lynching in every sense. This is un-American.”

Later, he added that it was “literally a political lynching.” Yes, “literally.”

There’s a hierarchy, or perhaps I should say, a “lowerarchy,” to these lynching comments.

To begin with, on the most basic level, unless you’re talking about a mob taking a person out and murdering him, without any sort of legal due process, then you are engaging in gross hyperbole, and it is objectionable.

This applies to when Joe Biden said it back in day — specifically, back in the day when Lindsey Graham was all for impeachment, and saw it as his constitutional duty to pursue that course. He said the Clinton impeachment could be seen by some as a “political lynching.” Specifically, he said in 1998:

Even if the president should be impeached, history is going to question whether or not this was just a partisan lynching or whether or not it was something that in fact met the standard, the very high bar, that was set by the founders as to what constituted an impeachable offense.

He shouldn’t have said that. That metaphor was completely wrong to use. It was, as I said, gross hyperbole, and Biden was right to apologize for it, or as the BBC reported, apologise for it.

That was bad. Of course, what Trump did was considerably worse, a fact that all the Republicans who so gleefully cited the old Biden quote last night conveniently ignored.

Here’s his Tweet on the subject:

In case the reasons why it was worse escape you as well, let’s consider some of the reasons:

  • Donald Trump is president of the United States. Yes, I know we no longer expect dignity in that office, but I thought I’d mention it.
  • He was talking about himself, not speaking in defense of another. In other words, engaging in self-pity, because as you know, in Trump’s world, there’s only one person who matters.
  • He was saying the impeachment process actually is a “lynching,” leaving no doubt. Biden wasn’t directly saying that’s what the Clinton impeachment was; he was just warning that someone in the future might choose to see it that way. (A more subtle difference than the others, but a difference.)
  • Trump’s point is that impeachment is somehow extralegal, rather than what it is — the House performing its constitutional duty with full due process, just as Graham did in the Clinton instance. Biden simply questioned whether the “high bar” set by the Framers was being met.
  • And this is the biggie: Biden apologized. Don’t hold your breath waiting for Trump to do that.

So yeah: What Trump did, what he continues to do since he has not withdrawn the remark, was and is quite a bit worse.

But not the worst. That distinction is reserved for Lindsey Graham. The senator has no excuse, because he is not an ignorant, babbling idiot. He is an attorney, and given his personal experience something of an expert on impeachment. HE KNOWS BETTER.

And yet he didn’t merely say, “Oh, give Trump a break; he’s in a fragile emotional state and, as I pointed out several years back, he’s a jackass.”

No, he went beyond Trump. He said, “This is a lynching in every sense.”

“Every” sense, of course, includes the literal sense. And in case you think our senator misspoke and did not mean that, he later said it was “literally a political lynching.”

So, you see, WAY worse.

So know you have it. Bad, worse, worst.

I hope you find the distinctions helpful.

Literal lynching.

Literal lynching.

‘A bairn… is a youthie body, a lad or lass.’

bairn

This was a fun result I got from Wikipedia the other day. I was watching a TV show set in the north of England, and a character referred to a child as a “bairn.” Since I had thought that word was strictly Scottish, I decided to look it up, and I got the above result.

I had no idea that Wikipedia had pages written in different dialects of English. I love it!

In any case, it answered my question: “Tha term is ailsae uised doon tha northeast coast o Ingland, in Northumberland an tha east o Yorkshire…”

The show I was watching was set in Northumberland.

So there you have it. If ye still dinnae ken what a bairn is, then I cannae help ye…

The greater wonder is that there are people who don’t see it, or don’t care, or both

EHVaX2jX4AAf6-m

Just this morning I got around to reading Frank Bruni’s Sunday column, which begins:

The wonder of the Trump administration — the jaw-dropping, brain-exploding phantasmagoria of it — is that it doesn’t bury its rottenness under layers of counterfeit virtue or use a honeyed voice to mask the vinegar inside. The rottenness is out in the open. The sourness is right there on the surface for all to see.

It’s at the president’s rallies, where he plays a bigot for laughs, a bully for applause.

It’s in the ballrooms and beds at Mar-a-Loco, where he mingles official government business with free marketing for his gilded club.

It’s in the transcript of his phone call with the president of Ukraine, for whom the quid, the pro and the Biden-ravaging quo couldn’t have been clearer.

It’s at the microphone in the White House briefing room, where his acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, showed up on Thursday, announced that President Trump would host the next G7 meeting at one of his own golf resorts, and conceded that, yes, aid to Ukraine had been tied to that country’s indulgence of the president’s political obsessions….

Yeah, it’s pretty amazing, all right — in that we’ve never in American history seen anything like this.

But you know what is a greater wonder? The fact that there are all these people out there — Republican officeholders, and the “base” that terrifies them — who don’t see it, or claim not to see it, no matter how many times Trump slaps them in the face with it, compelling him to look.

People still defend him, in spite of all.

That’s the wonder of it…

Doesn't it make you proud to have a South Carolinian acting as White House chief of staff? For the moment, I mean?...

Doesn’t it make you proud to have a South Carolinian acting as White House chief of staff? For the moment, I mean?…

Top Five Posters from the Bedrooms of my Youth

Great Escape

We had a very brief discussion on a previous post in which some members of our commentariat speculated on what kinds of posters other members had on their bedroom walls when they were kids.

I decided to share what I put on the walls of some of my many bedrooms (as a Navy brat, I moved around a lot).

And the Web being what it is, I was able to find actual images of five of them. So we’ll just call those the Top Five — especially since I can only remember six, and I can’t find the Eric Clapton poster I had on my dorm wall at Memphis State, or even remember what it looked like.

The first two of these were on my walls in Tampa and Honolulu in high school, the next two from college, and the final one high school (I think):

  1. Steve McQueen from the set of “The Great Escape” — That’s the one above, or close to it. I think maybe the poster I had included more of the frame, showing the sidecar. I found that image on the Web, but the file was of poor quality. Note that this is not an actual still from the movie, because he was nowhere near the Stalag in the motorcycle scenes. Of the posters on this list, it’s the first one I acquired (when I was in either the 10th or 11th grade, so sometime between 1968 and 1970), and easily my favorite. Which stands to reason since, when I was a kid, this was my definitely my favorite movie. Back when it came out in 1963, the scene where he jumped the barbed wire was the coolest thing I’d ever seen in a movie. Tame stuff today, but back then it was really something.
  2. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid — See below. The very last frame of the movie, with our antiheroes coming out, blazing away, to their certain death. When I was in high school, I found that moment way existential. I thought no one could be more alive than Sundance was a moment before that, when he was out there in the plaza alone with two six-guns, spinning left, right and all around, firing at the adversaries who surrounded him, giving Butch covering fire. (From 00:56 to 01:24 in this clip.) Yeah, I was a dumb kid. My romanticization of that moment is all the evidence you need that teenage boys are candidates for protective restraint.
  3. George Harrison poster from “All Things Must Pass” album — It came with the boxed-set album, which I loved, so of course I put it on my wall at Memphis State. This was George in his Garden Gnome phase, post-Beatles. That video that I embedded the other day, “It’s Johnny’s Birthday?” That was from the bonus third LP in the set.
  4. The Hawaii State Flag — This was quite small, like a foot by a foot-and-a-half (or a bit less) and made of nylon. Not strictly a poster, but it’s the only thing I remember having on the cinder-block wall of my dorm room in the Honeycombs that one semester I went to USC, the fall of 1971. It was sort of a homesickness thing, because I was missing Honolulu, where I had graduated from high school the previous spring. There was an Englishman on my floor, a student from Manchester. One day when my door was open, he was passing in the hall and stuck his head in to ask why I had a Union Jack over my bed. I explained what it was, and he nodded and said, “Oh, yes. Sandwich Islands, Captain Cook and all that. Quite.” And he walked away on down the hall. I thought that was cool.
  5. Bobby Kennedy in a flight jacket. This is an unusual-shaped and -sized poster — a full-length photo, almost life-sized, of RFK in a Navy flight jacket standing casually with a couple of dogs. I don’t remember where I got this, and I have no specific memory of where I hung it, although I vaguely recall it hanging somewhere. But I can tell you exactly why I liked it. There were two reasons. First, the jacket he’s wearing is exactly like my Dad’s. My Dad wasn’t an aviator, but some pilots he had worked with had given it to him as a gift, and he had given to me, and I thought it was way cool. Second, I had never given RFK much thought when he was alive. But I got really interested in him when I wrote a research paper about him for a high school civics class in the spring of 1971. And I can still remember how differently I perceived time back then: I thought of his life as being way in the past at that point — even though only three years had passed since his assassination. That’s a long time when you’re 17.

Actually, I changed my mind in mid-list. I ditched this Dylan poster, which was on my dorm room wall at Memphis State, because it never meant that much to me and I wanted to include the Hawaiian flag.

How about your poster memories?

butch-cassidy-and-the-sundance-kid-newman-and-redford-nomad-art-and-design

There was yet another LOOOONG debate last night…

oct 15 debate

I’ll share two or three thoughts, and then some Tweets, just to get things started:

  • Most of the night I waited for Syria — or anything having to do with the rest of the world — to be mentioned and discussed. I tried to be patient, knowing these are Democrats and their fave mode is to pretend the rest of the world doesn’t exist. Finally, it came up, and I was pleased with most comments, except Tulsi’s ranting about regime change — as though THAT were the problem with abandoning the Kurds. I liked that my man Joe spoke most on the topic, followed by Pete Buttigieg. Joe spoke about it almost, but of course not quite, as much as Elizabeth Warren spoke about income inequality. Of course, Joe happens to understand better than any other what the presidency is mainly about.
  • A lot of people interpreted the fact that so many were jumping on Elizabeth Warren as being entirely due to her emergence as a front-runner, if not the front-runner. And I’m sure that’s a big part of it. But I think another factor contributed, and I think it’s odd that I haven’t heard it mentioned. I think a lot of them see it as less OK to give Joe a hard time, seeing as how he and his son are the targets of Trump’s mulilateral abuses of power. This makes Joe an even more sympathetic character than usual, so they laid off him.
  • 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.

That’s enough points for now. I’ve got work to do. Here are my Tweets from last night and this morning:

As you can see, I dialed back the Tweeting last night. Just wasn’t inspired all that much, and I’ve heard so much of this stuff so many times already. Of those things I Tweeted about, I’d most like to chat further on ones about Facebook (someone on the stage, I forget who, made the point I’d made about lots of little Facebooks right after I posted it), and the thing about Trump’s Twitter. I’m still thinking I may have misunderstood what Kamala wanted…

Oh, and further discussion of Bernie’s fantasy version of Medicare might be in order. Bernie should have read this in the Post the other day… Dang. I can’t find it. Well, maybe later. Anyway, it was a column by a 64-year-old who seems to have just discovered that Medicare isn’t free, and it doesn’t pay for everything. Like, duh. These kids today and their inflated expectations…

Jack Van Loan, a hero and a friend

Jack Van Loan, seated, at the dedication of his statue in Five Points in 2016.

Jack Van Loan, seated, at the dedication of his statue in Five Points in 2016.

I first heard the sad news last night, after my daughter saw a mention on social media, from a mutual acquaintance. Now, The State has confirmed it: My friend Jack Van Loan passed away over the weekend.

I guess I should have seen this coming. Early last year, sometime before I joined the Smith campaign, I’d had a conversation in which Jack, who normally identified as Republican, told me how he was fully on board in supporting James for governor. But then, months later when I called to ask him to participate in a presser we were doing with other veterans, I learned that his health wasn’t up to it.

So I knew the years were catching up on him.

I’m just so sorry to see it. I’m going to note his passing by rerunning this column from January 2008, about his and his friend John McCain’s experiences at the Hanoi Hilton. I wrote about Jack on other occasions as well, such as this piece showing him playing a king-making role in local politics as the unofficial “mayor of Five Points,” but I think Jack would most want to be remembered for this one. It’s the thing that looms largest in my memory of him, anyway:

What it was really like at the ‘Hanoi Hilton’

By BRAD WARTHEN
Editorial Page Editor
ON MAY 20, 1967, Air Force pilot Jack Van Loan was shot down over North Vietnam. His parachute carried him to Earth well enough, but he landed all wrong.
“I hit the ground, and I slid, and I hit a tree,” he said. This provided an opportunity for his captors at the prison known as the “Hanoi Hilton.”
“My knee was kind of screwed up and they … any time they found you with some problems, then they would, they would bear down on the problems,” he said. “I mean, they worked on my knee pretty good … and, you know, just torturing me.”
In October of Jack’s first year in Hanoi, a new prisoner came in, a naval aviator named John McCain. He was in really bad shape. He had ejected over Hanoi, and had landed in a lake right in the middle of the city. He suffered two broken arms and a broken leg ejecting. He nearly drowned in the lake before a mob pulled him out, and then set upon him. They spat on him, kicked him and stripped his clothes off. Then they crushed his shoulder with a rifle butt, and bayoneted him in his left foot and his groin.
That gave the enemy something to “bear down on.” Lt. Cmdr. McCain would be strung up tight by his unhealed arms, hog-tied and left that way for the night.
“John was no different than anyone else, except that he was so badly hurt,” said Jack. “He was really badly, badly hurt.”
Jack and I got to talking about all this when he called me Wednesday morning, outraged over a story that had appeared in that morning’s paper, headlined “McCain’s war record attacked.” A flier put out by an anti-McCain group was claiming the candidate had given up military information in return for medical treatment as a POW in Vietnam.
This was the kind of thing the McCain campaign had been watching out for. The Arizona senator came into South Carolina off a New Hampshire win back in 2000, but lost to George W. Bush after voters received anonymous phone calls telling particularly nasty lies about his private life. So the campaign has been on hair-trigger alert in these last days before the 2008 primary on Saturday.
Jack, a retired colonel whom I’ve had the privilege of knowing for more than a decade, believes his old comrade would make the best president “because of all the stressful situations that he’s been under, and the way he’s responded.” But he had called me about something more important than that. It was a matter of honor.
Jack was incredulous: “To say that John would ask for medical treatment in return for military information is just preposterous. He turned down an opportunity to go home early, and that was right in front of all of us.”
“I mean, he was yelling it. I couldn’t repeat the language he used, and I wouldn’t repeat the language he used, but boy, it was really something. I turned to my cellmate … who heard it all also loud and clear; I said, ‘My God, they’re gonna kill him for that.’”
The North Vietnamese by this time had stopped the torture — even taken McCain to the hospital, which almost certainly saved his life — and now they wanted just one thing: They wanted him to agree to go home, ahead of other prisoners. They saw in him an opportunity for a propaganda coup, because of something they’d figured out about him.
“They found out rather quick that John’s father was (Admiral) John Sidney McCain II,” who was soon to be named commander of all U.S. forces in the Pacific, Jack said. “And they came in and said, ‘Your father big man, and blah-blah-blah,’ and John gave ’em name, rank and serial number and date of birth.”
But McCain refused to accept early release, and Jack says he never acknowledged that his Dad was CINCPAC.
Jack tries hard to help people who weren’t there understand what it was like. He gave a speech right after he finally was freed and went home. His father, a community college president in Oregon and “a consummate public speaker,” told him “That was the best talk I’ve ever heard you give.”
But, his father added: “‘They didn’t believe you.’
“It just stopped me cold. ‘What do you mean, they didn’t believe me?’ He said, ‘They didn’t understand what you were talking about; you’ve got to learn to relate to them.’”
“And I’ve worked hard on that,” he told me. “But it’s hard as hell…. You might be talking to an audience of two or three hundred people; there might be one or two guys that spent a night in a drunk tank. Trying to tell ‘em what solitary confinement is all about, most people … they don’t even relate to it.”
Jack went home in the second large group of POWs to be freed in connection with the Paris Peace Talks, on March 4, 1973. “I was in for 70 months. Seven-zero — seventy months.” Doctors told him that if he lived long enough, he’d have trouble with that knee. He eventually got orthoscopic surgery right here in Columbia, where he is an active community leader — the current president of the Columbia Rotary.
John McCain, who to this day is unable to raise his hands above his head — an aide has to comb his hair for him before campaign appearances — was released in the third group. He could have gone home long, long before that, but he wasn’t going to let his country or his comrades down.
The reason Jack called me Wednesday was to make sure I knew that.

Jack Van Loan, campaigning for his friend John McCain back in 2007.

Jack Van Loan, campaigning for his friend John McCain back in 2007.

Top Five History-Based Holiday Ideas

big shoe

The controversy over Columbus Day got me to thinking of history-based holidays we could have, if only we thought a little harder. They’re not in order of preference, but in calendar order:

  1. Rubicon Day — OK, so this didn’t happen in America. But Julius Caesar’s decision to cross that creek with his troops had a huge effect on something that matters to Americans. It ended the last republic we would see for 1,000 years. But I’m also thinking we could have some fun with it. We could have toga parties each Jan. 10, and go around saying “iacta alea est” to each other. Maybe not your idea of a good time, but maybe we could make a drinking game out of it.
  2. British Invasion Day — No, it’s not about 1814. It’s about 1964, and this holiday would be pure fun. We’d celebrate it on February 9, the day the Beatles first appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” We’d all play music by the Beatles, the Stones, Herman’s Hermits, the Animals, Freddie and the Dreamers, Peter and Gordon, and so forth. We’d have theme parties in which we’d all dress like the invaders, and go around saying “gear” and “fab.” And if you said bad things about the holiday, we’d all say you were “dead grotty.”
  3. Lincoln’s Birthday, Feb. 12 — Yes, bring it back, and repeal this “President’s Day” nonsense, in order to drive home the fact that he was our greatest president, and is largely responsible for America being America, having thrown off its original sin via that war that we fight on until the slave states’ unconditional surrender — and making sure it didn’t end until the 13th Amendment was passed, so that all that bloodshed served a purpose. Sorry about the run-on sentence…
  4. Smallpox Day — This is sort of related to the idea of “Indigenous People’s Day,” but I actually have three reasons to mark the day. First, it seems to me that the most horrific public health disaster in human history (way bigger than the Black Death) was back in the 16th century when 95 percent of the native population was wiped out by European diseases for which they had no resistance — usually before the victims had even encountered the Europeans. Something so awful should be remembered. My second reason is celebratory — celebrating the fact that we’ve been so successful at wiping out the disease that a rite of passage of my childhood, the “vaccination” (that’s what we called it; we didn’t know what it was for), is unknown to today’s children. Third, as a warning — that it could come back some day, and we need to fully prepared to wipe it out again if it does. This would be on May 17, the birthday of Edward Jenner.
  5. Independence Day, July 2 — So that we’d be celebrating the actual day that Congress voted to declare independence, not the day that the document’s final edits were approved. This is personal, because John Adams is my fave Founder, and this was day that HE thought should be celebrated, after his weeks of hard work arguing the Congress into taking this momentous step — debate during which Thomas Jefferson, who gets the glory, sat there like a bump on a log. Harrumph…
One idea for celebrating Rubicon Day.

One idea for celebrating Rubicon Day.

Of course Columbus discovered America — a fact which, in itself, makes him neither a hero nor a devil

Look, people… If it makes you happy, Columbus was wrong, the Bugs Bunny version notwithstanding.

Yeah, the Earth was round, as every educated person of his day knew. Only low-information types thought otherwise. But the scholars of the day also knew how big the Earth was, and why Columbus’ idea of sailing west to get to the East Indies was a pipe dream.

But because he was dumb enough to insist on proving his point, he accidentally discovered the New World — and almost no other development in human history has had such wide-reaching consequences, for good or ill.

Consequently, I consider efforts to downplay his “discovery” of the New World a bit on the silly side. Such as this reference in an interesting piece by the NYT’s Brent Staples:

It also tied Italian-Americans closely to the paternalistic assertion, still heard today, that Columbus “discovered” a continent that was already inhabited by Native Americans….

Allow me to make a “paternalistic assertion.” Yep, he did discover America. And everything that has happened since arises from that fact.

A digression…

Right now, I’m reading the book Guns, Germs and Steel, and it’s fascinating. Basically, it attempts to determine the underlying factors that caused certain parts of the world to be “discovered,” and ultimately dominated by, people from other parts of the world.

The whole book aims to answer a question posed to the author by a New Guinean politician named Yali back in the ’70s. When Europeans “discovered” New Guinea a couple of centuries back, the people there were technologically still in the Stone Age. The local people were blown away by the physical artifacts of a modern society — ranging from steel axes to soft drinks — which they referred to collectively as “cargo.” Yali asked the author:

“Why is it that you white people developed so much cargo and brought it to New Guinea, but we black people had little cargo of our own?”

Jared Diamond’s attempts to answer the question are deeply fascinating.

The book spends considerable time on one incident in particular, back in 1532. You may know the story of how Spanish explorer Francisco Pizarro took the Incan emperor prisoner, accepted a ransom from the Incas of a vast amount of gold, and then killed the emperor anyway. Aside from dwelling on some “woke” aspect of this encounter, such as the obvious fact that these Spaniards were a__holes, Diamond asked why it happened this way. In other words, why didn’t Incan emperor Atahuallpa go to Spain, take King Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, prisoner and hold him for ransom? A variation of Yali’s question.

And no, the answer isn’t that Atahuallpa was a nicer guy, or for that matter that American Indians were on the whole nicer than white guys (although again, Pizarro and crew didn’t exactly create a great first impression for the rest of us white guys).

Nor is Diamond satisfied with, the Spaniards had guns and steel swords and horses. The book aims to understand why people from Europe had guns and steel swords and horses. For that, he goes back to when homo sapiens first spread out over the Earth, and in certain places gave up hunting and gathering for farming, and different kinds of farming in different places, and the effects that had on the development of technology an complex political structures, and so on.

I highly recommend the book.

But my point is that, whether you personally see it as a good thing or a bad thing, Columbus’ discovery of America was definitely a thing, and one of the most consequential pivot points of history. If you want to explore just how consequential, I recommend another book, which I’ve recommended before: 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created, by Charles C. Mann.

What happened on Oct. 12, 1492, was monumental, and certainly worth marking with a special observance. It changed the world as almost nothing else that has ever happened did. Where people get all bollixed up is when they try to assign moral value to the event.

I don’t know why people do that. Discovering America doesn’t make Columbus a good guy. It doesn’t really make him a bad guy, either. Some other stuff he did after he got here makes him look pretty bad — especially to someone with a 2019 worldview. But like him or hate him, the thing he did, what he stumbled onto, has enormous global significance. He did something amazing, but it doesn’t make him a hero. Or the devil.

The arrival of Europeans, with their relative immunity to certain diseases like smallpox, had horrific consequences for the native population of this hemisphere. What happened was so horrible that it staggers the imagination: 95 percent of the population died out.

But just as discovering America doesn’t make Columbus a hero (to me at least he was not), he can’t really be blamed for everything that happened to the people who lived here, however badly he may have treated the natives he encountered. (Which was pretty damned badly.) He didn’t say, “Hey, let’s go to China (where he thought he was headed) and infect the local people so they all die out.” In fact, most of the people of this hemisphere died over the next few decades long before they came into contact with whites — the germs spread across these continents much faster than people did. People of European descent didn’t even realize on what scale this happened until quite recently (and to learn more about that, read Mann’s prequel, 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus.)

Of course, people can play games with the word “discovered.” They can say, those Asian people who crossed the land bridge 15,000 years ago “discovered” America, or even say the first Europeans to discover America were actually the Vikings. Or St. Brendan the Navigator. But none of those events opened this side of the world to the other side, mainly because the world wasn’t technologically prepared to bring that about.

So, as a historic event with repercussions for the entire planet, the moment that America got discovered — in the sense of the planet learning of its existence and being affected by it — well, that happened 527 years ago this week.

Feel about it any way you like, but that’s the way things unfolded….

Landing_of_Columbus_(2)

Temple Ligon still pushing The Bridge

It’s really something when someone has a idea he really believes in, and never, ever gives up.

Remember Temple Ligon’s plan to build a convention center on a bridge across the Congaree? He’ll be talking about The Bridge again tonight, more than 30 years after he first proposed it:

Tomorrow night, Friday, beginning at 6:00 pm at the Columbia Empowerment Center on Lady Street, we’ll have a lecture on The Bridge. What began as a response to the city’s request for proposals in the spring of 1987 is now part of a major real estate development proposal that includes a five-star hotel, a Jasper Johns museum, a performing arts compound inspired by Washington’s Kennedy Center, a suggested home for the South Carolina Athletic Hall of Fame, and other features. Property taxes taken from the private development, mostly condominiums, out of what is now thin air over the Congaree River, can be collected as part of a tax increment bond financing development district to help build the cultural amenities. Low culture, you might say, can be exercised to support high culture. The Koger Center, an awful ballet theater and a terrible opera house – I was on the board of the Palmetto Opera for six years – stays where it is as a perfectly adequate symphony hall with a band shell that works. Still, renovation of the Koger Center is in the budget.Temple Ligon

Back in 1987, while the city was wondering what to do with a homeboy proposal of world’s first triumphal bridge in the modern era, the major hotel developer, Belz Hotels of Memphis, saw Columbia as an opportunity to build a Peabody and parade it’s ducks in the same class as the Peabody in Memphis and the Peabody in Orlando, both high-end properties. Belz committed in writing to Columbia City Council, Richland County Council, Lexington County Council, and West Columbia City Council. Copies of the Belz commitment will be available. Also available will be the blue ribbon committee report from the managing partner of South Carolina’s largest law firm, Nelson Mullins, which essentially said, “Build the Bridge.

In other words, The Bridge was wildly popular and eminently practical and thoroughly doable. It just didn’t have the initial support of the Honorable T. Patton Adams and later the support of the Honorable Robert D. Coble.

Even the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce was firmly on board. The membership was invited to vote their preference, which was reported as 65% for The Bridge, although the chamber director confided in me it was actually 75%.

So we almost had a done deal. As it turned out, we got a satisfactory convention center with good attendance and plans for expansion.

Fine. But who cares?

Now let’s get on with making a city. But who cares?

Everybody cares.

The Washington Post says it’s going to be okay. Whew…

all right

The news out of the capital is pretty dire, sometimes almost apocalyptic. Wars and rumors of war, the possible collapse of the Republic, and so forth.

The Washington Post‘s semi-new tagline, Democracy Dies in Darkness, expresses a grim determination that seems suited to the times.

But the Post has it’s softer, more soothing, side as well.

I was searching for the latest on Turkey’s assault on our erstwhile ally, when I clicked and, instead of an update from Syria, got the above screen.

Whew. I feel so much better…

It’s Johnny’s Birthday

Once again, it is John Lennon’s birthday.

I always remember it, and not the other Beatles’ birthdays, not merely because it comes six days after my own. It’s because of Nueve de Octubre, and that looms large because when I was a schoolboy in Ecuador, we always got a whole week off for it — while only getting a day and a half for Christmas.

At the time, I thought that it was Ecuadorean Independence Day. I mean, it would have to be at least that, right — who would take off a whole week for anything less?1024px-Escudo_de_Guayas.svg

But it turns out that it’s only when the province of Guayas, which contained the city of Guayaquil — where I lived — declared its independence from Spain. Not the whole country.

Bonus fact ripped from today’s headlines: Guayaquil is now effectively the capital of Ecuador, since unrest in Quito caused el presidente to have to relocate the seat of government.

Now you know.

Let’s close with one of John’s better songs…

ANOTHER timely job opportunity

As you know, I’ve been really enjoying the timelyripped from today’s headlines! — job opportunities I keep reading about in the emails I get from Daybook.com.

Check out today’s:

NBA job

Wow, they got that notice out fast.

After the recent appeals for people to work for AOC, Bernie and JUUL and now this, I expect soon to see the following employment opportunities crop up:

  • Rudy Minder — Main job duty is to pull back on the choke leash each time Giuliani tries to go on TV.
  • West Wing Naysayer — Entry-level White House position that does nothing but say “no” to all congressional requests or subpoenas for documents or testimony by executive branch personnel. Low base pay, but plenty of overtime.
  • Global Newsbreaker — State Department official charged with finding a nice way to break it to allies that we’re suddenly pulling the rug out from under them. For instance, finding a better way to say, “Thanks for years of fighting ISIS for us, but now we’re going to let Turkey come in and wipe you out.” Extraordinary communication skills a must.
  • Cancel culture consultant — No, we don’t expect you to be able to help. There’s nothing you can do when the mob turns on you. This person’s job is just to tell you when it’s time to throw away your phone and move to that cabin you’ve been preparing up in the mountains.

And so forth…

Bill WHO? Sometimes Google mystifies me

without c

I was reading a Bret Stephens piece from over the weekend, about what he sees as lessons from the Clinton impeachment, which was accompanied by this file photo of Bill in 1998.

I was struck by how young he looked. And I was wondering how young he was, and went to Google it.

And I ran across something odd.

I typed “bill” followed by a space, and above were the results I got. Which mystified me. I wasn’t totally stunned that Bill Cosby came first. Even though he has been more thoroughly shamed and degraded by his actions in the public eye, he is someone who once enjoyed great fame and acclamation.

But I figured Clinton would surely come next. But instead, of the next four “Bills,” only one was someone I had even heard of — Bill Gates. I would have to click to learn who Bill Nunn, Bill Goldberg and Bill Burr are or were. Which I didn’t do.

Instead, I added a “c,” and sure enough there was Bill Clinton — although still second to Cosby. See below. (And no, I have no idea who the two Callahans or Cowher are.)

Usually, I can intuit why Google offers me certain results — they reflect what is in the news, or other things I’ve recently searched for.

But sometimes it stumps me. This is one of those times.

Any idea why those bills — Nunn, Goldberg and Burr — come up before “Clinton?”

with c

Remembering my fave ‘Downton Abbey’ trailer

Recently, it has seemed as though I can’t watch a vid on YouTube without first having to see at least part of a trailer for the “Downton Abbey” movie.

At least, it was that way for awhile.

Anyway, today something made me remember my favorite “Downton Abbey” trailer of all time — the one SNL did imagining how the show would be promoted if it appeared on the now-defunct Spike TV. A sample from the voiceover:

It’s about a bunch of honkeys who live in a church — or maybe a museum — either way, they don’t got WiFi…. There’s a MILF and a dad, and they’ve got three daughters named ‘Hot,’ ‘Way Hot’ and…’The Other One.’ And they all hang out with this old lady that looks like a chicken.”

Yeah, it’s lowbrow humor, and not overly respectful of the best character of all, the Dowager Countess. But it cracked me up at the time. And back then, I actually watched “Downton”… (I stopped doing so when they killed off a main character in a way that I thought was particularly emotionally manipulative.)

‘Where are all the birds?’

'We're after eatin' all of dem," he said, without missing a beat.

‘We’re after eatin’ all of dem,” he said, without missing a beat.

We were on a carriage ride through the beautiful Killarney National Park on March 19, and our driver was a guy who had no problem playing to tourists’ expectations. He was a burly guy in a cloth cap whose previously broken nose made him look like an ex-boxer — an Irishman who embraced all stereotypes, cracking a steady stream of jokes that prominently featured Guinness, leprechauns and Irish whiskey.

And he did it in such a natural, unstudied way, and seemed to be enjoying himself so, that it was for me a highlight of our trip to Ireland.

As we rode through the park admiring the scenery, the medieval ruins, the miniature deer and other attractions, one of the ladies in our carriages noticed something I had not. She asked the driver, “Where are all the birds?”

He didn’t miss a beat. Looking over his shoulder with a smile, he said “We’re after eatin’ all of dem.”

As I tweeted at the time, I hadn’t kissed the Blarney Stone, but someone had…

My wife later said she would have liked a serious answer to the question. Me, I was delighted because I’m pretty sure that’s the only time during our almost two weeks in the country that I heard someone use that famous Irish construction of “after” followed by a gerund. Word guy that I am, it made my day.

So much for the anecdotal lede.

For those of you still after wanting a serious answer to the question, I’ll be after giving it to ye, soon as I finish me Guinness…

OK, here you go…

It was in The New York Times today, an opinion piece headlined “Three Billion Canaries in the Coal Mine:”

A new study in the journal Science reports that nearly 3 billion North American birds have disappeared since 1970. That’s 29 percent of all birds on this continent. The data are both incontrovertible and shocking. “We were stunned by the result,” Cornell University’s Kenneth V. Rosenberg, the study’s lead author, told The Times.

This is not a report that projects future losses on the basis of current trends. It is not an update on the state of rare birds already in trouble. This study enumerates actual losses of familiar species — ordinary backyard birds like sparrows and swifts, swallows and blue jays. The anecdotal evidence from my own yard, it turns out, is everywhere.

You may have heard of the proverbial canary in the coal mine — caged birds whose sensitivity to lethal gasses served as an early-warning system to coal miners; if the canary died, they knew it was time to flee. This is what ornithologists John W. Fitzpatrick and Peter P. Marra meant when they wrote, in an opinion piece for The Times, that “Birds are indicator species, serving as acutely sensitive barometers of environmental health, and their mass declines signal that the earth’s biological systems are in trouble.”

Unlike the miners of old, we have nowhere safe to flee….

It’s an ominously interesting piece, so I thought I’d bring it to your attention.

And now this picture I took last year of a dead bird on a street in my neighborhood comes in handy:

I was struck by the beauty of this dead bird. Can anyone identify it for me?

I was struck by the beauty of this dead bird. Can anyone identify it for me?