I started putting this Open Thread together on Saturday at a Barnes & Noble in Memphis where I had gone to do some work while my wife was otherwise engaged. (Actually, she was at a soup kitchen downtown where her brother and sister-in-law volunteer, helping them out. I felt bad about not being with them, but I did get some work done.)
Anyway, when I realized they were back at the house, I dropped the blog post (I had only started it because I’d run out of work things I could do without reaching clients on the phone) and went and joined them.
It was an eclectic Thread I had in mind, just based on stuff I’d found interesting in that day’s Washington Post. Here you go:
We need a major redesign of life — This is a provocative piece about how our expectations of life are built around the assumption that people wouldn’t live much past 65, if that. “Long lives are not the problem. The problem is living in cultures designed for lives half as long as the ones we have.” What sense does it make, for instance, for people to retire in their 60s or even 50s if they’re going to live to 100? It’s interesting even though I look askance at some of the findings such as: “To thrive in an age of rapid knowledge transfer, children not only need reading, math and computer literacy, but they also need to learn to think creatively and not hold on to ‘facts’ too tightly.” Really? I think one of the problems we have today is that too many have abandoned belief in facts altogether. But maybe that was just awkwardly worded. Of course, if you mean people need to be flexible and learn new facts as they arise, I’m with you…
Whaddya mean, I’m funny? — This was a nice little profile on Joe Pesci, whom I’ve enjoyed in so many movies in the past. Remember John Travolta’s line in “Get Shorty” about wanting to get into movies, and someone says, but you’re a loan shark, and he replies that “I was never that into it…”? Well, it turns out Joe Pesci was never that into acting — which is why Martin Scorsese had such a hard time talking him into coming out of retirement. Ironic, given how good at it he is. Anyway, I haven’t had the time to watch “The Irishman” yet, but this further whetted my appetite.
Facing impeachment, the president strives to look hard at work — This was mildly interesting, although not as much so as the other pieces. Basically, it answers the question (which frankly had not occurred to me), Why is this man popping up in Afghanistan and going to see the Queen? Basically, it says Trump is taking a page from Bill Clinton’s playbook: “Then-President Bill Clinton survived his 1998 impeachment in part because the economy was roaring and because he appeared to many voters to be relentlessly focused on doing the business of the American people.”
So which is it, Charlie or Charley? — This rather stupid topic does not come from The Washington Post, so don’t blame them. Being a lifelong editor, things like this really bother me, whereas probably no one else cares. While I was at that Barnes & Noble, I was listening to some Spotify to drown out the noises of the cafe. And I happened to look at that screen as this number came on (see picture below), and I immediately wondered, “So which is it? Charley Musselwhite or Charlie Musselwhite?” I decided the album cover, which says “Charley,” was more likely to be right than the Spotify text — but then, Wikipedia has “Charlie!” Does Musselwhite himself even care? Probably less than I do. I need to relax; after all, it’s not his official given name, right? It’s not like they spelled his surname “Musclewhite” or something. Oh, and don’t even get me started on “Charly,” which should have been called “Flowers for Algernon,” which by the way was an awesome book.
As a postscript… I went looking for a photo for this post among what I shot in Memphis over the last few days, and settled on the above shot of an aisle in a Kroger. All the years I lived in Tennessee, it was illegal to sell wine in grocery stores. Since that changed (and this is the first time I’ve been back since that happened), the grocers have been making up for lost time. The picture doesn’t even show the whole aisle. There’s about six feet more of wine shelves behind me…
… and he is wroth, very sore, at his Chosen People — The way our first Transactional President thinks, he has done things to pander to supporters of Israel, so Jews should be slavishly loyal to him. You know, like the evangelicals. Every day, we learn more about the depths of this man’s ignorance. As one pro-Israel Jew put it, “In reality, what matters most to us are the exact values that the president is spending his term trashing. We care about equality and justice, and we embrace the notion that this is a nation of immigrants and opportunity for all.”
While I was gone, there was of course the Democratic debates, which were tiresome and off-putting. I can’t wait to see this nomination process come to an (successful, I hope) end.
Talk of that was swept away over the weekend by violence in Texas and Ohio, and threatened violence here at home.
To plunge in:
Mass murder in Texas and Ohio — Again, the horror sweeps the nation. And again, our political system will prove itself completely incapable of reducing the risk of such incidents in the future. The utter futility is reflective of the soul-sickness in our country. It’s related to why Trump is president. It’s related to why I can hardly bear to watch these debates. There’s so much foolishness, and so little rational action. American government, and American politics, is stricken with an impotence, accompanied by pointless sound and fury. It didn’t used to be like this — and I know that sets off some of you, who simply don’t recall when the nation actually used to rise up and deal with problems when they confronted us. You’re wrong, but I’ve learned I won’t convince you of that. Anyway… will we ever snap out of this, and what will it take?
Threatened violence, and real racial hatred, here at home — There’s the public conversation, which talks about what this former Cardinal Newman student did and threatened to do, and what the school and law enforcement did and didn’t do about it — a circumscribed conversation, limited in the MSM by the longstanding prohibition against identifying minors. Then there’s the sort of sub rosa conversation, in which everyone knows who he is and who his family is, and lots of talk reflects the reverberations of all that. Setting the gossip aside, let me raise a question that addresses the heart of this: I’ve seen a suggestion that what this boy was doing was simply trying to win a competition among his peers to see who could be the most outrageous. Which is more shocking: The threatened violence, or the fact that our society is so sick that children could conceive of such a competition?
You know what? That’s all I’m going to post for now. Somehow I find myself not as interested in utterly unnecessary, manufactured trade wars with China or whatever. But y’all can bring up whatever you like.
Where I was last week. It was crowded this day, but mostly pleasant the rest of the time.
“I’ve called you all hear today to announce…” Oops! wrong photo…
Some things I’ve been meaning to post about the last few days, but have been too busy:
Mark Sanford considers presidential run against Trump — Yikes. Beyond that, this one actually has me speechless. Of all the people out there in the GOP who probably SHOULD run — John Kasich, anyone? — this is what we get. He may run against him, and he may even do it for the right reasons (and not just, you know, for revenge). But he’s still, well, Mark Sanford….
What’s up with ‘Prime Day,’ anyway? — Did any of y’all participate in this attempt to have a Black Friday in July? Did you get a good deal, or do you just feel manipulated and maybe even duped?
Trump’s racist Tweets — Were they racist, or just nativist… or xenophobic? Or is that a distinction without a difference? In any case, they were stupid, crude and beyond the bounds of decent society — in other words, par for the Trump course. What bugs me is that, by attacking AOC et al., he’s distracted from the previous story I really wanted to talk about, which is…
What Is Nancy Pelosi Thinking? — I thought this was a pretty stupid headline on a usually smart podcast — “The Argument” at the NYT. It refers to her coming down on the young folks who call themselves “the Squad.” Well, I’ll tell you what she’s thinking: Shes thinking she likes having a Democratic majority. You know what gave her a Democratic majority? Moderate Democrats beating Republican incumbents in purple districts. AOC didn’t do squat to help in this goal — she beat a Democratic incumbent — and daily she does all she can to endanger those essential moderates in the next election. At any other time, I would say freshmen should be seen and not heard, and not even seen much for that matter. At this moment, it goes double. Anyway, that’s what the speaker’s thinking…
How Nikki went to the UN, and Henry got to be governor — You already pretty much know the story: Trump owed McMaster something fierce, for being the first statewide elected official in the country to endorse his presidential bid. And Henry wanted to be governor. So Trump made Nikki Haley, a person with no known qualifications for the job, the nation’s ambassador to the U.N. Anyway, it’s spelled out in narrative form in that book you keep hearing about.
‘I don’t care if they have to stay in these facilities for 400 days’— Jaime Harrison, who’s running against him, brought my attention to this quote from Lindsey Graham about not caring if detainees at the border have to stay locked up. It’s a bit more nuanced than that — he was talking about a subset of men he claims are criminals. But that’s usually Trump’s excuse, too. We know for whom the dog whistle blows. It’s not for people who do nuance.
It’s shaping up to be a busy news day. And there’s other stuff…
McMaster forces vote on USC president while students are away — An illustration of the “When the mice are away, the cats will play” principle. Really? It’s come to this? The duly constituted authorities are so afraid of the kids in their charge that they can only act when school is not in session? What a weird, screwed-up world we are living in. And an odd calculation on McMaster’s part.
President Trump cannot block his critics on Twitter, federal appeals court rules — This is fascinating, and here are my three reactions: 1) What a snowflake! The most powerful man in the world feels the need to block the people who disagree with him, and does it in a way that people can see it? 2) It’s always fun to see him lose another court battle. 3) I find the ruling disturbing. Trump’s feed is his feed. It is not a government program. It’s where he expresses his stupid self, and he should be able to edit it as he chooses. This seems a weird, contrary application of the First Amendment. It’s like saying newspapers have to run every letter to the editor that they get — which in the old days was physically impossible, but that’s not the point. The point is that editors, under the First Amendment, are empowered to decide what is published under their auspices. We edited in a way radically different from Trump — giving priority to letters that disagreed with us — but it was our choice to make.
The Meaning of Marianne Williamson — In case you caught her act in the debate and are still going, “What the…?,” I pass this Ross Douthat column along. I like that it includes the term, Great Awokening, which cracked me up a bit, and that the blurb or subhed or whatever says, “There’s more in heaven and earth than what’s dreamed of by normal politicians.” Increasingly, we live in a world that rivals the ’60s for weirdness. We need a Tom Wolfe or Joan Didion to chronicle it for us.
Actually, I think I’ll stop with those three. The first two alone are plenty, and would have been separate posts if I weren’t so busy today…
4. Oh, another thing I forgot to mention: Was I supposed to know who this Epstein guy was before the sex scandal stuff? From the coverage, I get the impression I was supposed to know of him. But I didn’t…
5. Which reminds me: Speaking of billionaires or whatever, what’s with this Tom Steyer guy running for president? I’ll ask him the same thing I wondered when De Blasio got into it: Did you think the world was waiting just for you? You’re no Sexy Sadie…
Oped: Trump-Haley in 2020 — OK, when you stop screaming after reading that headline, consider that the piece begins with these words: “I’m proud to have founded the Democrats for Trump movement in 2016.” Yikes, who knew there was such a thing? Kind of starts this guy, Andrew Stein, in a bit of a credibility hole, doesn’t it? Also, Bill Kristol asserts that the guy “pled guilty to lying in a financial fraud.” Oh, and he looks the part.
OK, I’m envious of Jeff Bezos — No, not because he’s a gazillionaire, although that’s a nice bonus, but because of the way he is able to order his working day. His goal “Make three good decisions a day and no meetings before 10 a.m.” Sounds like the perfect job description to me. I’d be glad to do it for 1 percent of what he makes.
Stonewall and the Myth of Self-Deliverance — Probably the most interesting opinion piece I read over the weekend. I liked it, but what I liked best wasn’t the main point. (His main point was that oppressed groups seldom end the oppression on their own.) I liked a secondary, perhaps you would even say implied, point: That demonstrations are not the best way to effect social and political change. Bit of a hobby-horse of mine, as y’all know. I need to make a point to check out more by this guy, Kwame Anthony Appiah. He’s sufficiently iconoclastic that there’s no telling where he might go, so I might end up hating his stuff. But I doubt he’d be boring.
Iran Threatens to Exceed Nuclear Deal’s Limits on Uranium Enrichment — We’re in a fix, aren’t we? POTUS has alienated our allies on the nuclear deal, which they have scrambled to try to save. Now, he wants them to back him on on the latest Iranian provocations. Would you, in their place? Meanwhile, Iran seems poised to tell us all to go to hell…
I didn’t have any pictures to go with any of these topics. So here’s one of the back of my truck…
I thought I’d point to several things that have been interesting in the last few days:
Harpo gonna do some world-shakin’! — Dick Harpootlian had a huge impact on what happened at the State House this year, for a rookie. Of course, it helps if you’re a rookie who already had a larger-than-life profile, and who really doesn’t mind getting people stirred up. But I bet the Democrat wasn’t fully prepared for the letter to the editor that said he’s a lot like Trump in these regards.
Want to See My Genes? Get a Warrant— First, I don’t agree with that sentiment. But I’m pondering a larger piece on the use of genetic genealogy to fight crime, and I’m offering this piece as an appetizer to get the conversation started.
Anybody know of a good Davy Crockett biography? — I rewatched the 1960 version of “The Alamo” in recent days, and also not long ago rewatched portions of the latter-day one with Billy Bob Thornton as the King of the Wild Frontier. And I’m burning to understand What Davy was doing down there? I mean, I know he had time on his hands and was up for something new after losing his re-election to Congress, but nothing I’ve seen fully explains his motivation in going there, staying there, and dying there…
Belgian monks resurrect 220-year-old beer after finding recipe — Some news we can all agree is good. Actually, the recipe is from the 12th century. They haven’t produced it in 220 years because the monastery was burned down by French revolutionaries. Further evidence supporting my firm belief that on the whole, the French revolutionaries were a bunch of a__holes. And don’t even get me started on that Buonaparte…
Hitchens on what was wrong with ‘Master and Commander’ — This piece is more than 15 years old and Christopher Hitchens is dead. But I just ran across it (trying to remember, upon writing the item above, how O’Brian spelled “Bonaparte”) and thought I’d share it, for Bryan and Mike and anyone else interested.
Democrats’ Impeachment Divide Tests Pelosi— Oh, come on, people. Just get behind Joe and fix the problem in 2020. Yes, he should be impeached. He richly deserves it. But will it solve the problems posed by Trumpism? No, it will not.
‘I Don’t Want an Exciting President’ — An opinion piece by Michelle Goldberg, and as usual, I disagree. She counsels Democrats against choosing Joe just because they think he can win. She says they should follow their passion. I give this for their passion. If they’re excited about someone other than Joe, they should take a sedative. Enthusiasm of the masses, devoid of thought, is not the way out of this problem. It’s how we got Trump to start with. Anyway (he says, shifting gears suddenly), Joe’s the only candidate worth getting excited about. So there.
I’m Jon Snow, and I know nothing about what happens after the fifth episode of Season 7!
Y’all can talk about what you want, but as for the suggested topics from me, I’m going less for today’s headlines, to talk about things I find more interesting:
Don’t tell me what happens on Game of Thrones! — A couple of weeks ago, I signed back up for HBO Now after a two- or three-year hiatus, so I could watch Season 7 of GoT before the first episode of Season 8 came out. I didn’t quite get there, having only finished the 5th episode from 7 just last night. Jon Snow, the Hound and some others have just set out north of the Wall. But of course, today, everybody’s trying to tell me about the episode released last night. Why are they doing that? If you wanted to see it, you watched it — or, you’re saving it, and you don’t want people telling you about it. Right?
Is America Hopelessly Polarized, or Just Allergic to Politics? — This is interesting. This study found that yes, increasing numbers of Americans don’t want their kids to marry someone of that other party, but it also measured their strong wish to just not hear about it, no matter what you think. In fact, lots of folks “aren’t happy with an in-law from the opposing party discussing politics, but many are just as unhappy with an in-law from their own party who insists on political conversation.” So just shut up, already…
Trump and the Annihilation of Shame — Actually, this Bret Stephens column isn’t so much about Trump as about someone who was his opposite. It’s inspired by the passing of Charles Van Doren, a man who did something shameful and actually had the decency to be ashamed of it. How quaint, right? Loser! Sad…
Keep the Aspidistra Flying — That’s the original title of a story by George Orwell, which Hollywood for some reason changed to “A Merry War,” which makes zero sense — it has nothing whatsoever to do with what happens in the film. Anyway, I’m sharing this bit of arcana because my wife and I stumbled over it on Amazon and watched it, which is one reason I’m still behind on Game of Thrones. Anyway, it’s about a guy who is a whiz at writing advertising copy who chucks it all to become a poet — but in the end chucks that to go back to earning a living. I sort of enjoyed it. It was instructive.
Maybe Lloyd Webber should be in the hymnal — This is another episode of me not thinking about what I should be thinking about in church. Yesterday was Passion Sunday — Palm Sunday to you prods — and we sang a couple of hymns suitable to the liturgy. But as we held our palm fronds and heard the Gospel reading about the triumphant entry into Jerusalem, I kept thinking it would be great if we were singing “Heysanna, Hosanna” from “Jesus Christ Superstar.” It’s a great song, and really captures the moment: “If every tongue were still the noise would still continue; the rocks and stones themselves would start to SING…” I like the way that note on “SING” rings out…
That’s about it for now. What do YOU want to talk about?
A scene from ‘A Merry War,’ a title that makes no sense.
I’m super busy with catching up on work, but I wanted to give y’all something new to chew on.
If you are old enough, you will remember something on television called a “variety show,” and you will also remember that periodically someone would come on such a show whose claim to fame was the ability to keep a number of plates spinning simultaneously atop spindly sticks. (And yes, young people, we actually watched this, because the Beatles might come on next — also, there was no Netflix.) Well, me pausing in catching up on work to post this is like that — another plate set to spinning.
2020 presidential candidate to make commencement address at SC university — I just include this as an example of the newfangled type of headline that doesn’t tell you anything more than it has to to get you to click. Here’s the Old School version: “Cory Booker to speak at S.C. State graduation on May 10.” (I even padded it, as the usefulness of “Cory” and “on” are debatable.) Note how I told you everything you might conceivably want to know, in less space. Now you don’t have to click. You can thank me later.
Madman Theory? THIS guy could do Madman Theory. And I don’t mean Elvis.
How long has it been since I’ve done one of these? Near as I can tell, I haven’t done one since July 23 — and I led that one with one of our campaign talking points (might as well kill two birds). After that, I decided I was going to have to bow out of blogging for the duration. It was just too awkward.
It wasn’t James’ fault. Whenever I said “If I were blogging, I’d write about this” in his presence, he’d say, “Aw, man, I hate for you to give up your blog.” But I had to, once I fully realized anything I said would reflect on him and Mandy. I couldn’t do that to them; they deserved better. Also, there was no time.
They Vowed to Fix the Subway. On-Time Rates Are Still Terrible. — Also from NYT. Many of y’all probably don’t care, but like Frank Horrigan in “In the Line of Fire,” I love me some public transportation. Especially the systems in NYC, London and Bangkok. And Disney World, of course. I hate to see subways having trouble.
Striptease and half naked football players part of Clemson event for female fans, video shows — Because y’all always say I don’t give you enough sports news. Does this count? Speaking of which, I just finished (during my early-morning workouts) rewatching Ken Burns’ “Baseball” series, this time complete with the updates that take it through the early 2000s. They have the Red Sox breaking the Bambino Curse, but it doesn’t get as far as the Cubbies breaking their even longer one. Great stuff, though…
Happy real Independence Day — I say that because I’m more of a John Adams guy than a Thomas Jefferson guy. (So I’d be a Federalist if, you know, the party still existed.) And July 2 was the day the vote for independence happened. And if Adams had had his way, we’d have Monday off instead of Wednesday. So, yay, Adams!
Trump Criticizes NATO Allies for Not Increasing Defense Budgets— Hey, I’m with him on that one, but after needlessly trying to start trade wars with them and otherwise insult our allies, this is probably not the right time to double-down on this one. I mean, if you care at all about anything positive happening, which of course he doesn’t…
Thoughts on the last GOP gubernatorial debate? — Again, personal commitments kept me from catching all of it (7-8 hasn’t been a great time for me to drop everything lately), but my general impression is that while Henry often made sense, with the GOP electorate as it is currently constituted, Warren probably gained ground on him. What did you think?
Our Real Immigration Problem — Bret Stephens writes that we need more immigrants — a lot more — not fewer. This seems obvious to me, for the reasons he cites — our record low fertility rate, our aging population (in case this point isn’t as obvious to you as it is to me, think Who’s going to be out there working to pay for my Social Security?), the fact that there are now more jobs out there than we have people looking for jobs, that population is plunging in the heartland, and “Finally, immigrants — legal or otherwise — make better citizens than native-born Americans. More entrepreneurial. More church-going. Less likely to have kids out of wedlock. Far less likely to commit crime.” You should read this.
David Brooks: The Rise of the Amnesty Thugs — Its not just about families separated at the border, Brooks writes. “What’s most significant is this: The Trump administration immigration officials have become exactly the kind of monsters that conservatism has always warned against.”
There are more guns than people in the US, according to new study — This is according to something called the Small Arms Survey. The story says “With an estimated 120.5 guns for every 100 residents, the firearm ownership rate in the United States is twice that of the next-highest nation, Yemen, with just 52.8 guns per 100 residents. In raw number terms, the closest country to the United States is India, with 71.1 million firearms in circulation.”
The future is African — and the United States is not prepared — By the end of the century, 40 percent of the world’s population will live there. Something we should all probably be thinking about, but probably won’t. It’s hard enough to get anyone to think rationally about Europe — or even Canada, or Mexico — in Trump’s isolationist, nativist, xenophobic America.
Richland County gets sued over $1M payment to Seals — It’s one of those Average Joe lawsuits (although they generally involve an “average Joe” who has the resources to bring a lawsuit in order to make a point, which I could never do — of course, maybe Joe McCullough is doing it pro bono; the story doesn’t say). I assume he’s claiming standing as a taxpayer, or whatever. Anyway, they were certainly asking for it. How many more ways could they screw up?
Dan Johnson losing fundraising battle to challenger — Which, I’m afraid, isn’t the right metric for predicting the outcome of next week’s primary. It’s just a vibe thing, but I have this creepy feeling that Johnson’s going to get re-elected. Which of course is highly disturbing. I hope I’m wrong.
Kate Spade’s husband: Apparent suicide a ‘complete shock’ — OK, I don’t want to sound uncaring or anything — I feel for this woman’s loved ones, and for her — but I’m just curious. Did all of y’all know who she was? I don’t think I’d heard of her. The name rang no bells. I’m not sure whether my ignorance is a guy thing or a don’t-watch-TV thing.
Anybody still want to talk about the Roseanne Barr thing? — I don’t especially, but maybe y’all do. I never liked her. I saw her “humor” as being based in her consistent unpleasantness — one sour comment about life after another — and that sort of thing doesn’t appeal to me. So ABC has canceled a show I would never have watched anyway…
Candidates for SC governor are making promises they can’t keep — Yep. Catherine Templeton, Marguerite Willis and that John Warren guy seem to be the ones most confused about the governor’s powers, from what I’ve seen. You expect that sort of thing from people with zero political experience, but their depth of ignorance (or lying) on this point is remarkable.
Students performed sex acts in SC classroom, board says — This allegedly occurred during something called “power hour.” Nope, not making that up. Hey, my high school spanned the late ’60s and start of the licentious ’70s, and teachers wouldn’t even let us rehearse sex, much less perform it. Oh, and this supposedly occurred in the straitlaced Upstate, not the Lowcountry…
Since I’ve only had two comments on my last five posts (anybody out there?), I wonder whether it’s worth the trouble. Oh, well, I guess that means I can say whatever I want without anybody arguing with me…
Apparently, Al Amir is struggling — I’m sorry to hear that, because I like the place. Bryan and I ate there just a couple of weeks back. Maybe we should go again. The place used to be packed when it was down south of the State House; I guess it’s just a bit more out of the way now…
The Risky Business of Speaking for President Trump — Why is this interesting? Because the central character in this lengthy NYT Mag piece is South Carolina’s own Hogan Gidley. Y’all remember Hogan. You know, “Chuckles?“… Anyway, that’s him in the middle of the fancy graphic below, which I hope the NYT doesn’t mind me sharing on account of he’s our homeboy…