Category Archives: Confessional

Anybody else tired of ‘Christmas’ yet?

"I say humbug to you, sir! We haven't even had Thanksgiving yet!"

“I say humbug to you, sir! We haven’t even had Thanksgiving yet!”

… ‘Cause I am.

I am not a Scrooge. I have been fully conditioned to say that, by a lifetime of seeing Scrooge — before the ghosts — as a bad guy, who was redeemed by getting into the Christmas Spirit.

But you’ll note, if you go back and read the story, that he got into the Christmas Spirit on Christmas Day — that is, on the first of the 12 days of actual Christmas.

If Scrooge had gone into Walmart on the day after Halloween, hoping to pick up some Brach’s Mellowcreme Pumpkins on sale, only to find all the Halloween stuff replaced by Christmas-themed merchandise — which actually happened to yours truly — I’d have called him a hero for crying “Humbug!”

And that’s what he’d have been: A hero. A man fighting a lonely fight against the cheapening and dilution of what was once a perfectly lovely holiday. Not the holiest day in the liturgical calendar, but a nice one nonetheless.

What put me in this Scroogesque mood? I made the mistake of listening to commercial radio for a few minutes this morning, and every ad I heard was Christmas-themed. And this is 13 days before the start of Advent, which is the whole season that occurs BEFORE Christmas arrives.

So I have my legitimate grievance…

It’s gonna take me some time to get interested in stuff again

The BBC's all about Brexit today. Meh...

The BBC’s all about Brexit today. Meh…

I’ve got a lot going on right now. I’ve got something to finish for the campaign, which I hope to mostly knock out tomorrow. I’m picking up a few ADCO projects that have lain fallow while I was on the campaign. I’m going to be spending a bunch of time with the grandchildren the next few days — which is great, since I saw them so little during the campaign.

But I don’t think any of those are the real reasons I haven’t posted but about three times since the campaign ended.

I’m just finding it hard to get interested in the news and issues that are out there. After the intensity of the campaign, none of these things really grab me, and I’m not at all motivated to comment on them.

I spent a few minutes looking for topics today, and my reaction to everything I found was, basically, meh

Brexit? That’s the big news today, and I am unmoved. Look, Britain has been pretty much shafted ever since that vote, and what does anyone expect from Theresa May? She inherited a no-win situation. I have no advice for her or anyone else involved in that mess.

Election results other than ours? The most “dramatic” result is that Democrats won the House and Republicans kept the Senate. And you know me: I’ve never been able to care much which party has a majority in Congress. The parties don’t even seem to care. If the Dems re-elect Nancy Pelosi, you’ll know they don’t care at all. I care about South Carolina. And nothing good is happening here, unless you’re looking forward to being entertained by having Dick Harpootlian in the Senate. I’m not, particularly.

The nuclear fiasco? I was kind of bored with that before the campaign. I was interested in seeing S.C. start dealing with the mess with new leadership, starting with a governor who wasn’t sitting on six figures in donations from the big utilities. We might have had some hope for a new direction on energy. Now, fuggedaboudit.

Donald Trump? I’ve spent the last four months and more ignoring his existence — talking about national politics was Henry’s thing, not ours. I generally blew off idiotic press questions that had nothing to do with being governor (“What is the impact of Trump on SC politics?” “What do you think about Brett Kavanaugh?” “Do you favor or oppose abolishing ICE?”), and I liked it. My head was in a good place. I don’t even want to start pretending I care about that stuff now.

For the last few months, my energies went into trying to do something about the problems our state faces. Now, it’s hard to get motivated about merely commenting on things. Even pop culture. Lately during my morning workouts on the elliptical, I’ve been watching “Designated Survivor” on my Roku, and let’s face it — it’s not that good a show. I’ve tried getting back into “Babylon Berlin,” but that takes an emotional investment, or a certain indifference to human suffering…

So… it’s going to take some time before I find topics I’m itching to blog about. Bear with me…

I've been watching this lately. And let's face it; it's not that good a show.

I’ve been watching this lately. And let’s face it; it’s not that good a show.

Anybody have any ideas on how I can sell ads and be totally ethical?

Tony Mizzell in 2010: At the end of the interview, he gave me a check...

Tony Mizzell in 2010: At the end of the interview, he gave me a check…

The weirdness has been there from the moment I sold my first blog ad, back in 2010.

It was to Tony Mizzell, city county candidate.

For a guy who had spent his whole, long professional life totally insulated from the advertising department, it was… an unsettling experience.

My first ad. From the start, it was weird...

My first ad. From the start, it was weird…

I had set up an interview with the candidate. Here’s my post about that. He had also agreed to buy an ad. The weirdness happened the moment he and I were done with the interview. He said something like, “Oh, yeah, I owe you something!” And he gave me a check. Right there. At the end of an interview.

This was a perfectly natural transaction for Tony. He worked at Chernoff Newman, and dealt with digital advertising for them. In fact, he gave me a bit of code to attach to the ad so he could track its performance (he was pleased, as I recall).

But some element of that awkwardness, that ethical seaminess, has been present in practically every sales pitch I’ve ever made. And I don’t know what to do about it.

I’ve tried, three times, to get other people to sell ads for me so they can be the Advertising Department and I can be the Editorial Department, and never the twain would meet, as God intended. But it’s never worked out. Partly this is because I’ve never worked with anyone who was used to the world of political advertising. And let’s face it, while I have and have had some wonderful nonpolitical advertisers (Palmetto Citizens Federal Credit Union, AT&T, Yesterday’s prominent among them), politicians and advocacy groups are the most fertile field for selling ads for this venue.

And of course, ethically speaking, they’re the worst ads for me to try to sell.

But it keeps falling back on me. And it creeps me out to do it. So my ads are few and far between. I was grateful to have Micah Caskey’s business again this time around, which ended up leading indirectly to a last-minute primary ad from Paula Rawl Calhoon. I enjoyed having them there, and I just today took them down, having procrastinated for a week. I miss them already. Their presence made the blog look more colorful. And more prosperous.

So I’m looking around for new customers, when I can force myself to think about it. I was hoping Nathan Ballentine would run for John Courson’s seat, because, well, Nathan’s advertised with me before, and that makes the conversation easier. But he probably made a good move staying out of it, given the composition of that district.

So now what do I do? I decided to try Dick Harpootlian, even though he probably won’t have a lot of motivation to spend money until he has serious opposition. Dick being Dick, I thought I’d strike a somewhat facetious tone. Here’s the Direct Message I sent via Twitter:

Hey, Dick, what happened to your opponent? In any case, I’d like to talk about your campaign sometime…. Oh, and on a COMPLETELY UNRELATED matter, you should take out a campaign ad on my blog. I can send details. Yeah, I no longer have that wonderful wall of separation between editorial and advertising… It’s all me…

What do you think? Too much? Too little? Yeah, it would be great to separate the “I’d like to talk to you about your campaign” conversation from the “let me sell you an ad” conversation, and I do that when it’s workable, but this is a special election, and the time window is very limited.

Also, I don’t think Dick’s the kind of guy who’s going to feel woozy at the idea of a guy wanting to make money from what he does.

Trouble is, I am that sort of guy. I was shielded from such considerations all my life until recently. And it still feels unnatural. Notice how I didn’t really bother giving a pious Miranda-like pronouncement that whether you buy an ad or not will not be used against you in the court of my opinion. Sometimes I do it; sometimes I don’t. When I do, it sounds a bit priggish. And I’ve noticed that I don’t even try to sell ads to candidates I’ve been super-critical of. Of course, I don’t really try to sell ads to MOST candidates, whether I’ve been critical of them or not. I have such an aversion to the whole process.

If any of y’all have any ideas about how to go about it better, I’m all ears…

So... I made a half-hearted stab (my usual approach) at selling an ad to THIS guy...

So… I made a half-hearted, conflicted stab (my usual approach) at selling an ad to THIS guy…

Coincidence of the day: ‘Lovergirl’

Teena

Yeah, I know it’s probably not really a coincidence, but simply a matter of my brain being alert to something it would otherwise have ignored, but it impressed me when it happened.

Last night, I was catching up on this week’s New York Times crosswords. I zipped through Monday’s and Tuesday’s over dinner, and was doing well on Wednesday’s when I got stuck. So I cheated. I do that sometimes when I know there’s no way I know the answer, and that one word is creating a logjam that’s preventing me from getting several others. I’m not proud of it, but I’d rather do that than not finish the puzzle.

The clue was “_____ Marie, singer of the 1985 hit ‘Lovergirl’.” Five letters. I had no idea. I remember a lot of songs from that year — sort of a big year in the MTV era, as I recall. But not that one. So I Googled “Lovergirl” and found “Teena.” Yeah, I wasn’t going to get that one.Lovergirl

I bragged to my wife about how quickly I’d done the crosswords, but of course confessed that I’d cheated on that one. I said I didn’t recall her. My wife suggested that maybe she was a country singer, which would explain my not remembering. I said maybe so…

This morning, driving in, Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean.” (I suppose when I had last been in the car, I had gotten tired of some topic on NPR and switched to a commercial station.) Anyway, I got to noticing the rhythm of it, and tried to decide whether that was a human drummer or a drum machine. I decided I couldn’t tell.

Later, while I was eating breakfast, a speaker in the ceiling at Cap City was softly churning out pop music, and the room was quiet, and I heard an intro that caused my brain to go “another ’80s tune,” although I didn’t recognize it. But the genre was unmistakable. As I listened again just now, it seemed to me that someone was trying to sound like Prince.

A moment later, my iPad froze up in the middle of trying to read something, as it does sometimes, and I looked up in irritation, and heard, “I just want to be your lovergirl…”

WHAT!?!?!?

I queried SoundHound, and sure enough, it was “Teena.” I still didn’t recognize the song. As I listened, it sounded a bit more familiar, but there must have been a hundred unremarkable songs that sounded like that in the ’80s.

Anyway, it’s probably not weird, but it felt weird…

Yeah, I know this isn’t the most compelling topic, but it’s what I was thinking about just now, and it involved pop music, although not very good pop music, I admit…

I’ll post something more substantial soon….

This test says I’m a racist — but a moderate one, let me add!

trap

Y’all know I’m a sucker for a written test, even if, as I take it, I can hear the voice of Admiral Ackbar crying, “It’s a trap!”

Which was sort of the case with this one as it proceeded. Even as I thought I could see the trap taking shape and closing on me, hubris kept me going, hoping I’d ace it anyway.

I didn’t.

I was attracted to the test by this item on the radio this morning. It was a story about all the Starbucks stores that are closed for racial-sensitivity training as I type this. Then came the hook:

How to evaluate your own bias:

The Takeaway invites you to participate in an assessment of your own implicit biases. Click here to access Harvard University’s “Project Implicit.” If this is the first time you’re attempting the test, you’ll have to continue as a guest. Select your country and language, then press “GO!” At the bottom of the next page, click “I wish to proceed.” Then select “Race IAT” — or other implicit association test of your choice — from the following page, and continue to follow the prompts from there to take the test. It should last about 10 minutes.

I went for it, of course. The result? It said “Your data suggest a moderate automatic preference for European Americans over African Americans.

Which kinda ticked me off, even though I saw it coming. What caused this conclusion of my racism?

I’ll tell you, but I ask you to go take the test before reading my explanation. No, really, I mean it now! Go take it before you read past this…

SPOILER ALERT!

The test starts off by lulling you. It asks you questions you’d have to be a major, racist jerk — and a particularly dumb one at that — to answer “wrongly.” Questions like whether you prefer white people to black people, and to what degree.

Then there’s another batch of obvious-pitfall questions, about whether you think poor people are that way because they’re lazy and shiftless.

Then comes the trick part. From the beginning, I’m screwed because you’re supposed to respond as quickly as you can. That always messes me up. I like being rushed even less than other people do; in fact it’s a major personal peeve. My hand/eye coordination is about as quick as that of the average giant sloth, and I know it, and I get rattled.

But I can, eventually, sorta kinda get into the rhythm of the thing.

Anyway, in this part of the test, you’re supposed to, as quickly as possible, either hit the e key with your left hand or the i key with your right.

And here’s where it gets REALLY tricky: You’re not supposed to respond according to what you think, but according to how you have been told in advance to respond. And the way you have been told to respond is in a completed irrational, arbitrary manner.

In this portion of the test, the e and the i correspond to “good” and “bad” (or was it the other way around?). Onto your screen will flash two kinds of input — one of a set of photos of faces, and the other and set of words that are obviously expressing either positive associations (such as “happy”) or negative ones (such as “dirty”).

In the first half of this portion, you are instructed to click one of the letters for both black faces and positive words, and the other letter for white faces and negative words. This was kind of silly and irrational, and I hit the wrong key a couple of times, but I muddled through, and thought I was getting a little faster toward the end.

Then, once you’re warmed up, it reverses on you. You are instructed to hit one key for both black faces and negative words, and the other for white faces and positive words. This was both stupid and offensive, but I followed the instructions, and started doing it a bit faster as I went.

And as I did so, I suspected I was getting myself in trouble by getting better at following the instructions.

Sure enough, I was labeled moderately racist for getting a little faster in that last part — because, in the assumptions of the test creators, supposedly it was easier for my brain to associate the positive words with white faces, and negative ones with black ones. And that, they say, is why I did it more quickly.

Obviously, I believe that if it had been the other way around, with white folks associated with good words first, and bad words second, I would still have been faster on the last part. And then I would have been seen as having a moderate preference for black people, which I think would also have been kind of a bogus result.

But I don’t know that. And I kind of doubt that it would be valid to take it again. So I’ll just share with you what it said about me. The result is what it is…

The life of a gentleman is (or was) the life for me…

0ff7fd27d27343059e080fb5aa92836b--mr-darcy-colin-firth

To live any other way would be… insupportable…

Kay Packett, who has been known to comment here in the past, confessed on Facebook that “I want to live in an English novel, where, when anything goes wrong, someone immediately makes tea. I don’t even like tea.”

I responded immediately:

I’ll drink anything you like, as long as I’m a country gentleman with a competent man of business to deal with the running of the estate. I’ll be happy to serve as an MP as long I don’t have to think too hard, just vote the High Tory line. Will I have a membership at White’s, for when I’m in Town? If so, I’m in… Yeah, I’ve thought this out…

And I have thought it out; that’s the pathetic part. All that stuff was right there at my fingertips when the question arose.

And just so you don’t think I want to be a leech on society, I would also be happy to serve as a post captain in the Royal Navy during the same period (Regency era), commanding a frigate, with plenty of independent cruises and therefore opportunities for prize money…

1480530742_658279_1480530991_noticia_normal

Help! Help! I’m backsliding!

Sometime last summer, I once again started working out on the elliptical trainer in my home office, initially doing about 20 minutes a day.

Then, at the end of August, I discovered that there was an app on my iPhone that had been counting my steps every day for the past two years. I looked, and decided that following Doug Ross’ example of walking 10,000 steps a day was entirely feasible. I started doing it immediately.

Over the months, I built up and up. My morning elliptical workouts went from 20 to 25 to 30 to 35 to 40 to 45 and most recently to 50 minutes (which means I get in more than 6,000 steps before even leaving the house), with an occasional full hour on the weekends. I started adding a walk around downtown in the middle of the afternoon, and another 3,000-5,000 around my neighborhood in the evenings.

My steps-per-day averages climbed:

  1. August (before I started counting) — 5,737 steps
  2. September — 10,510
  3. October — 11,308
  4. November — 11,892
  5. December — 12,988
  6. January — 12,476
  7. February — 15,536
  8. March — 15,294
  9. April — 16,346

For the first eight days of May, I was averaging easily over 17,000. And I was feeling great. In all these months, I had not once felt sick. Various viruses, sore throats, ear infections and the like swept through our family without touching me. I carried on, going from strength to strength.

I felt an abiding sense of achievement.

Then came last Monday.

It was the day I put out my signs for James and Micah. My wife said if I was going to call attention to our yard with political signs, I should mow the grass — or at least mow the weird assortment of green weeds that substitute for grass in our yard. I agreed. And such was my feeling of well-being that I mowed the front yard on a week night. You don’t know what a huge deal that is for me. Normally, mowing our hilly, just-under-an acre property is an ordeal that ruins my whole Saturday, after dreading it all week. But last Tuesday — after having done my allotment of walking for the day, I mowed all the parts of the yard that could be seen from the street like it was nothing.

There was one incident, of which I didn’t think much at the time….

I had had a horrible time starting the mower. This was the first time this year, and nothing would happen when I pulled the cord. I pulled again and again. Nothing. There’s no little bulb to push to prime the engine, so I tried detaching and reattaching the spark plug. Nothing.

Finally, I just started pulling again and again, getting a rhythm going, and on about the 16th pull, it coughed. So I accelerated the rhythm, and finally it started. It wasn’t running great, but it was running.

So, when it came time to empty the bag to dump onto the compost, I was reluctant to stop the engine. So I bent down to detach the bag, and… got a huge cloud of dust, clippings and other debris that hit me in the face just as I was inhaling, going up my nose, into my mouth, down my throat and into my bronchi.

But I continued the mission, and afterwards tried cleaning my breathing passages out with a saline rinse. No big deal, right? Take a shower and forget about it.

Yesterday's pitiful performance.

Yesterday’s pitiful performance.

But over the next few days, I started losing my voice, especially in the evening. I started coughing at bedtime, and had trouble sleeping, despite all the drugs I could think of. I kept up my routine — in fact, on Tuesday I achieved an all-time personal high of 22,158 steps — 8.9 miles!

But each night I felt worse, and Friday evening I was really dragging when I tried to walk the neighborhood. I just barely went 12,000 that day. On Saturday, I had to finish a big project on my deck in the hot sun, and only got in 11,277. Pitiful.

On Sunday, despite all my busy running around and cooking out for Mother’s Day, I only got in 8,479. Yeah. Below the minimum.

And this morning, I felt like total crud, Ferris. Puny, weak, achy. And when, at the start of my morning workout, I had that thought I often have in the morning, “Why not quit!,” I did. I hadn’t done that in I don’t know how many months.

And I still feel pretty cruddy, just kind of low-grade out of sorts. Achy, in all the muscles I used on that deck-reinforcement project Saturday. And I’m wondering if I’ll even get in 10,000 today, or tomorrow for that matter. At 11:38 a.m., I’ve only done 1,768 steps.

So… this is when all of y’all tell me to get off my dead ass and on my dyin’ feet, to drop certain appendages and grab my socks, to acknowledge that the going is tough but, being tough myself, this is the time to keep going…

Although I really don’t feel like it…

What does it say about me that I didn’t know what ‘idiot’ meant?

idiot word cloud

I love discovering things about words. I love it the way… well, probably the way some of y’all like football. I get a rush out of it, and I can’t stop talking about it.

The discovery I made this morning is a big one, full of meaning, a discovery that sends tentacles of understanding into a lot of things that matter to me. It ranks up there among my most exciting word finds ever, right alongside when I learned the word “esoteric” in high school. (For years I had wanted a word for that concept, and I finally had one. I confess I overused it for some time after that.)

This morning, I learned what “idiot” means. Or rather, what it meant originally, which for me tends to be the same thing.

I can’t believe I didn’t know this before. I feel like such an… well, you know….

I learned it from TV, of all places. At the very end of the fourth and last installment of the documentary mini-series “Bobby Kennedy for President,” which I was watching while working out on the elliptical this morning. At the very end, Kennedy aide William J. Arnone says:

One thing that Robert Kennedy taught me, Robert Kennedy would say, ‘The word, “idiot” in Greek, you know what it means? “One who is not involved in politics.”‘ But he instilled in me that you must be involved in politics. Must, must, must. You cannot be on the sidelines.

I thought, wow — that’s just too good to be true. But it isn’t. That’s what it meant to the ancient Athenians. A person who wrapped himself in the personal, the private, and turned his back on politics and the community was called an “idiot.” Here’s what Wikipedia says:

Idiot is a word derived from the Greek ἰδιώτηςidiōtēs (“person lacking professional skill”, “a private citizen”, “individual”), from ἴδιοςidios (“private”, “one’s own”).[1] In ancient Greece, people who were not capable of engaging in the public sphere were considered “idiotes”, in contrast to the public citizen, or “polites”[2]. In Latin the word idiota (“ordinary person, layman”) preceded the Late Latin meaning “uneducated or ignorant person”.[3] Its modern meaning and form dates back to Middle English around the year 1300, from the Old French idiote (“uneducated or ignorant person”). The related word idiocy dates to 1487 and may have been analogously modeled on the words prophet[4] and prophecy.[5][6] The word has cognates in many other languages.

An idiot in Athenian democracy was someone who was characterized by self-centeredness and concerned almost exclusively with private—as opposed to public—affairs.[7] Idiocy was the natural state of ignorance into which all persons were born and its opposite, citizenship, was effected through formalized education.[7] In Athenian democracy, idiots were born and citizens were made through education (although citizenship was also largely hereditary). “Idiot” originally referred to a “layman, person lacking professional skill”. Declining to take part in public life, such as democratic government of the polis (city state), was considered dishonorable. “Idiots” were seen as having bad judgment in public and political matters. Over time, the term “idiot” shifted away from its original connotation of selfishness and came to refer to individuals with overall bad judgment–individuals who are “stupid“. According to the Bauer-Danker Lexicon, the noun ίδιωτής in ancient Greek meant “civilian” (ref Josephus Bell 2 178), “private citizen” (ref sb 3924 9 25), “private soldier as opposed to officer,” (Polybius 1.69), “relatively unskilled, not clever,” (Herodotus 2,81 and 7 199).[8] The military connotation in Bauer’s definition stems from the fact that ancient Greek armies in the time of total war mobilized all male citizens (to the age of 50) to fight, and many of these citizens tended to fight poorly and ignorantly.

Wow. My whole life, I have tried to learn and become one of the polites, and to urge others to do the same — with mixed success on both counts. Often I’ve done so overtly, such as when I set out my dichotomy about the contrast between people who see themselves as consumers and those who see themselves as citizens. Sometimes it’s less overt, but I’m always arguing that one of the first things a person must learn as a member of a community is how we are all inescapably connected. (Not that we should be, but that we are. And politics is what we do in light of that fact.) To me, becoming a fully realized, worthwhile human being is to a great extent about understanding and embracing that connection, becoming a fully mature member of a community and seeking ways to make community interactions more positively effective.

All this time, all these words, and I didn’t know until today that a person who pursued the opposite of that was, from the dawn of Western civilization, called an “idiot.” Right up until the late 19th century, when it started to mean a person of very low intelligence.

By the way, in researching this, I found this piece, which led this way:

In a recent Quinnipiac University poll, respondents were asked what word immediately came to mind when they thought of Donald Trump: The No. 1 response was “idiot.” This was followed by “incompetent,” “liar,” “leader,” “unqualified,” and finally, in sixth place, “president.” Superlatives like “great” and a few unprintable descriptives came further down on the list. But let us focus on the first.

Contemporary uses of the word “idiot” usually highlight a subject’s lack of intelligence, ignorance, foolishness or buffoonery. The word’s etymological roots, however, going back to ancient Greece, suggest that, in the case of the president, it may be even more apropos than it might first seem….

And of course, the original sense of the word speaks to the objection I have to Trump. He is a man who spent the first 70 years of his life pursuing his own private interests and satisfying his own appetites. Almost everything about the ways he violates presidential, political and moral norms arises from that utter inexperience in, and disdain for, civic life. He has shown a sort of idiot savant (to use the word a different way) flair for a certain kind of politics, but it arises from a lifetime of avid self-promotion, and therefore arises from his pursuit of private rather than public benefit. (In Star Wars terms, you might say the Dark Side of politics is strong with this one.)

This is fascinating. So much more can be said about it, but I’ll stop now and share this much with you…

Memphis knows how to throw a party (or something) for St. Pat

catechismNo doubt some will cite this as evidence that my Ménière’s has reached the point at which I need a hearing aid.

But in my defense, my wife was out in the hallway when she said this, and I was in the bathroom with the exhaust fan running — although the door, I admit, was open.

Anyway, she had come upstairs to tell me that her youngest brother was on his way to the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Memphis (my wife’s family, the Phelans, are real Irish Catholics, not pretenders like me), and that he had told her something alarming about that parade.

She said the people on the floats throw catechisms to the crowd.

At least, I thought that’s what she said. I considered it a bit odd — most such parades aren’t that, shall we say, holy — but nevertheless arguably appropriate, since St. Patrick converted the heathen Irish to Christianity.

Then my wife said something odder. She said she thought that sounded “dangerous.” I reflected that maybe so, if they were hardbacks. But they could throw paperbacks, and maybe there are some abridged, pocket-sized versions…

Then she said other things that made me wonder. I asked her to repeat the first thing she’d said.cabbage

This time, I thought she said they were throwing “catechists,” and that did sound dangerous. If you go throwing people, religious education teachers, off of floats, someone could get hurt.

But something about this version sounded even more suspicious, so I finally asked her directly whether she had indeed said they were throwing catechisms or catechists.

She roared with laughter at this point (which frankly I don’t think is the kindest way to deal with my affliction). She had been saying, “cabbages.” They were throwing cabbages from the floats.

Yeah, OK. That could be dangerous.

You can stop laughing now…

Look out! What's that they're throwing? The St. Patrick's Day parade on Beale Street.

Look out! What’s that they’re throwing? The St. Patrick’s Day parade on Beale Street.

I thought Miami was in the Super Bowl. I read the signs wrong…

Dolphins car

I saw this car in traffic this morning, and I though, Aha! Miami is in the Super Bowl! Now I won’t sound completely ignorant if someone brings up the subject!dolphin flag

Like Tom Sawyer, I was proud I had found it out detective fashion; I wouldn’t give shucks for any other way — such, as, for instance, lifting a finger to look it up, which would have been against my principles.

Smugly, I made note to keep my eyes and ears open to see if I could passively learn who the other team was. (There’s pretty much always at least one other team involved in these things, you see.)

And then Bryan had to blow me out of the water with this comment.

Huh. The Eagles and the Patriots. OK. I stand corrected.

But… but… why was this guy flying the Dolphins flags, other than the fact that they went with the color of his car? Is it not customary among football fans to fly such flags on a day when their team is going to play, or in the days leading up to it?

The folkways of you people confuse me…

Oh, the words I’ve wasted!

Hannah presents her young son Samuel to the priest Eli. By Gerbrand van den Eeckhout

Hannah presents her young son Samuel to the priest Eli. By Gerbrand van den Eeckhout

Today’s first reading on the Catholic liturgical calendar is from 1 Samuel, chapter 3. It gets me every time I read this part at the end:

Samuel grew up, and the LORD was with him,
not permitting any word of his to be without effect.
Thus all Israel from Dan to Beersheba
came to know that Samuel was an accredited prophet of the LORD.

Imagine that. If I were offered a super power, I might choose that one — that no word of mine would be without effect. Good effect, worthwhile effect. Effect that is pleasing to God.

But as it happens, I’ve wasted thousands upon thousands. And although one gets to utter many, many words in a lifetime on this Earth, the supply is not infinite.

I hang my head at the thought of all those wasted ones…

I just realized I have a mental block on ONE word…

words

About a month or so ago, my wife was riding with me in my pickup truck, and for whatever reason started writing down words that can be derived from “petroleum.” When we got to where we were going, she clipped the pen to the folded sheet of paper she’d been writing on, and left them on the floor of the truck, right behind the manual gearshift.

Periodically, as I’ve gotten into or out of the car, I’ve glanced down at the paper, and thought of another word, and taken a second to add it to the list. The column on the right-hand side are my additions.

I hadn’t added any new ones for a couple of weeks, and then yesterday, it suddenly hit me: I was missing a biggie — a nice, fat, five-letter word that for some time has been more on our minds than a sane person would want it to be.

I guess I’ve just had a sort of mental block, an urge to will that word away.

Can you see what it is?

Merry Christmas, Baby: Now, SPIT!

dna kitOK, so maybe it wasn’t the most romantic gift idea ever. And maybe it was more a present for me than for her.

But I had to give it a shot.

I called my wife a little while ago on this Cyber Monday and mentioned that she hadn’t told me what she wanted for Christmas. She replied that I hadn’t told her what I wanted for Christmas.

After a little back-and-forth about that, I said, Not that this is a related question or anything, but have you ever… thought about having your DNA done?

“I knew it!” she said. She, too, had seen the ads that said there was a special deal ending today: $59 for an Ancestry DNA kit, instead of the usual $99. “You want me to spit into a tube!”

See, I’ve been working pretty hard on her family tree as well as my own. And I’ve had some real success. For instance, one of her great-grandfathers had been kind of a dead end for her, as he died young far from his family. But I’ve managed not only to find his parents, but to carry his line back another five generations before that, back to Germany (we knew the name as Smith, but it was originally Schmidt).

Which is pretty cool, right? And with the data that a DNA analysis would provide, the sky would be the limit! Right?

What an exciting present! At least, I thought so.

She’s thinking about it. She’s probably also wondering what it is in my DNA that makes me this way…

DNA deal

Kyle Michel ponders All Souls’ Day

"All Souls Day" by Jakob Schikaneder, 1888

“All Souls Day” by Jakob Schikaneder, 1888

Earlier this week, the lady who schedules us lectors and eucharistic ministers sent out an email looking for volunteers for the Masses on All Saints Day. I wrote to her to say I could serve at the one at noon, but couldn’t do the evening Mass because of the debate.

But I had to ask her a dumb question, just to be sure: You’re talking about Wednesday, right?

As a convert, I still get confused by some stuff cradle Catholics take for granted, and the distinction between All Saints’ Day (yesterday) and All Souls’ Day (today) is one of those things.

But because we have so much to learn, we examine these things more closely. And an unexamined life, etc.

So I sort of enjoyed this email from Kyle Michel, who like me grew up Southern Baptist before marrying into a Catholic family:

All Souls Day has always been kinda intriguing to me. The idea of praying for all souls gone before you makes you wonder where the heck they’ve all gone. Maybe my Jewish friends are right – you’re here, you make your mark, you’re gone. Or, maybe there’s some kind of next stage – put whatever label you want on it. It would be hard to say that every person who has ever seen a ghost or had some paranormal experience was just imagining it. But everybody who ever died can’t be hanging around or the whole world would look like that Michael Jackson Thriller video. ​
I grew up Southern Baptist and we never had All Souls Day. According to the Baptists, there’s just no need – God’s already sorted them out, no need for further input. The Catholics have more of a Jesse Jackson approach – Keep Hope Alive! That Catholic approach seems a little better suited to a procrastinator like me – give it your best shot while you’re still breathing, but if you fall a little short, you’ve still got a chance.
Though, for Catholics, All Souls Day is still a little uncomfortable because you’re supposed to pray for all those in purgatory, which means you gotta make a call on who you think didn’t quite make it in – awkward!  At the funeral, everyone makes it in, right? Now, I gotta admit I think Uncle Freddie never made the cut!
Lucky for us, this year All Souls Day falls on First Thursday, so you can come down to Main Street and spend the evening thinking about all your dearly departed while walking among your not-yet-departed who probably still need a little prayer themselves.
If you’re out, stop by. We’ll be here at 1520 with our usual fare and selling the records of some of the souls we’re praying for – including a few of those “under-the-counter” ones that belonged to Uncle Freddie.

Kyle sends out these emails every First Thursday, inviting folks to drop by his law office on Main Street. He has the most awesome record collection I’ve ever seen outside of Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity, and he puts out some of his treasures out to sell from tables on the sidewalk.

You should check it out tonight. I can’t, because I’m doing another Catholic thing: I’m going to the annual Bernardin Lecture. Kristin Heyer of Boston College will speak on “Immigration Ethics in a New Era.”

John Ashbery: He was a poet, and I didn’t know it

Ashbery

The other day, I showed a screenshot from my NYT app in which everything visible on the page was about Hurricane Harvey. Well, that’s not the only thing the paper covers thoroughly.

A couple of days back, poet John Ashbery died, and the Times went pretty big with it — as you see, four separate headlines.

And this made me feel dumb, and out of it.

It got me to thinking: Aside from that anthology of Yeats (which I’ve had since college) that sits on a shelf in our upstairs bathroom, which I may glance at once or twice a year, when do I ever read poetry any more at all? (And let’s be really honest here: When I do pick up the Yeats book, I don’t read anything new — I turn either to “The Second Coming” or “An Irish Airman Foresees His Death.”)

Can I even name a living poet? I mean, I sort of think of Elvis Costello as a poet, and some people might cite rappers, but here I’m using a more restrictive definition: Can I name any living people who just write verse without being known for anything else, full-time poets like Yeats and Keats and Coleridge and e.e. cummings, or, I don’t know, Edwin Arlington Robinson (who I had to look up to add to the list, even though I do remember one of his poems)?

No, I cannot. As much as I was immersed in such in school, it’s like poetry was a thing that ceased to exist after graduation, as much a thing of the past as knights in armor. And I’m a guy who’s always made his living with words! If there’s a latter-day belle dame sans merci, or a goat-footed balloon man still out there whistling far and wee, I am unaware of it.

Apparently, this John Ashbery was a major deal. He won every poetry prize there was, and lived to be 90 without my being aware of him.

Were any of y’all as ignorant as I?

Here’s one of his poems:

This Room

The room I entered was a dream of this room.
Surely all those feet on the sofa were mine.
The oval portrait
of a dog was me at an early age.
Something shimmers, something is hushed up.
We had macaroni for lunch every day
except Sunday, when a small quail was induced
to be served to us. Why do I tell you these things?
You are not even here.

So now you can say you read some poetry today. How often can you say that?

Here’s what I mean by my essential Tory sensibility

I expect respect for fundamental institutions, such as the rule of law.

I expect respect for fundamental institutions, such as the rule of law.

I’m a conservative guy, on a fundamental level. I sometimes refer to my “Tory sensibility,” and I may be using the words incorrectly, not being a Brit, but at least I know what I mean. And in response to a comment by Doug back here, I tried to explain to others what I mean. And it got long enough that I decided it should be a separate post, because, you know, why waste all that typing?

When I say “conservative,” I mean it in a conservative sense, a traditional sense. No, I’m not trying to claim intellectual descent from Edmund Burke, because frankly I’ve never read Burke. In fact, the whole Burke thing confuses me: How could he be the father of conservatism, and be a Whig?

No, I’m more self-taught in this regard. And, quite frankly, even though I tend to pride myself on thinking things through rationally, this is a gut thing. (That’s what liberals think all conservatism is, don’t they — viscera over mind?) And in fact, it may not be self-taught as much as it relates to things I learned when I was so young I don’t remember learning them, things as basic as how you ought to treat other people (short version: with respect) and such.

And this gut thing of mine causes me to feel disgust at so many who insist that they are “conservative,” when they are institution-destroying radicals. I tried getting at this in early 2008, in a column headlined “Give me that old-time conservatism.” (That link was to The State‘s version, which I was pleased and surprised to find still up. Here’s the blog version, which includes links.)

What returns me to the subject was that call from Jack Van Loan last night, and some of the comments from my blog friends. Doug wrote:

There are more and more players this season who are sitting for the anthem. Marshawn Lynch is probably the most visible right now. To me, it’s a relatively harmless (and probably useless) way for a person to express his displeasure with the events of the day. The best course would be to ignore them if you disagree rather than try to vilify them….

I responded more or less as follows…

It’s outrageous. It’s completely uncivilized behavior. I don’t care what your issue is, you don’t do something that amounts to a general “F___ You!” to the entire nation over that one issue. (OK, I did something inconsistent with my own sensibilities there — chalk it up to my strong feelings on the issue, and my wish to engage the interest of moderns.)

(To elaborate on that point, Doug responded facetiously to my reply by saying “I must have missed Rosa Parks’ pamphlet: ‘Top Ten Reasons I Should Sit In The Front of the Bus’.” Which offered me a perfect opportunity to explain further: What Rosa Parks did was moderate, measured, proportional and to the point. She’d had enough of being disrespected, so she didn’t move. What the football player did was as different from that as night from the day. He flipped off the whole country in order to make an unrelated point. And if you think it is relevant and proportional to the point — if you think the whole country is rotten (which is what disrespecting the flag says) because on rare occasions (proportionally) a cop engages in violence that may or may not be based in his own personal racial attitudes — then you’re not thinking clearly. It’s a matter of focus, a matter of specificity, a matter of clarity.)

This is where my essential, bedrock conservatism comes into play. Real conservatism, not the nihilistic garbage that so many loudly proclaim these days.

I don’t ask much from people in the way of acting civilized. I just expect them not to go out of their way to do things that amount to a slap in the face to their fellow citizens, things that flip off our essential institutions.

I don’t ask you to go to my church. But I expect some respect toward that fundamental institution, toward all such fundamental institutions. If I were an atheist, I’d be a devout one. When someone said a prayer in my presence, I’d respectfully bow my head and be silent until they were done. Because to do otherwise would be disrespectful to the person and his beliefs. It’s like when I was in Thailand, and this lady who had hosted and fed us for two days in her home invited us to kneel beside her at the little Buddhist altar in her home to pray for our safety on the rest of our journey (or so my daughter explained, this being all in Thai), I gladly knelt and bowed my head. If I’d known the Thai for “amen,” I’d have thrown one in. When in Rome.

I feel the same way about other institutions of our civilization (and whatever civilization I’m visiting) — the government, our courts, public schools, the Constitution, the Rule of Law, the military, the national anthem, the flag, and yes, motherhood, the girl next door and apple pie (even though I am allergic to apple pie, so that it benefits me on no way). And I expect a modicum of respect for these things from my fellow citizens. They don’t have to exert themselves; they just need to not go out of their way to insult these things.

And when they do, forgive me if I don’t pay attention to the issue they’re trying to dramatize. If you want to advocate an issue, use your words — don’t use unfocused gestures of insult toward the whole society. That is childish, and I would add, barbaric — senselessly destructive. And I’m not going to hear you.

Use your words.

And yes, motherhood and apple pie and the Girl Next Door (Frank Capra version). Welcome home, George Bailey!

And yes, motherhood and apple pie and the Girl Next Door (Frank Capra version here). Welcome home, George Bailey!

The WSJ’s pricing pushes me over to the NYT

WSJ front 2

When I was in college, one of my journalism professors told me that The Wall Street Journal was perhaps the best-written paper in the country. I didn’t discover how right he was until decades later.

As editorial page editor, I had print subscriptions to the Journal and The New York Times, plus The Economist, Foreign Affairs, The Post and Courier, The Greenville News, The Charlotte Observer and so forth. And I’d try to at least skim the Journal and the Times (as about the only person on the board who wrote about national and international issues, I felt the need to keep up).

But I really got into the Journal when The State made a deal to distribute that paper along our circulation routes. As part of that deal, we got a certain number of comp copies, so I arranged to have one delivered free to my house, brought by the same carrier who delivered The State. I wanted to get the Times at home, too, but the guy who contracts with them in this area refuses to deliver on my side of the river, or so I hear (Samuel Tenenbaum, who also lives in Lexington County, drives to the Publix in Lexington each morning to get his copy.)

I really got hooked on it. This was during the years that Murdoch was turning it into a national-international reporting powerhouse as well as just a financial paper. Every day I looked forward to the three pages of opinion, and on the weekends there was the wonderful Review section, always a feast for the mind.

The Journal wasn’t just a boon to me; my wife took the old copies with her when she tutored a Somali Bantu boy whose family our church was sponsoring, to help him with his English.

But after I got laid off, I had to make a decision whether to keep getting it and paying for it myself. And somehow, I managed to scrape along and keep doing it until sometime late last year, when my subscription ran out and they were not giving me a good-enough deal to keep it going.

To give some perspective: For the last two or three years, I’ve been subscribing to The Washington Post for $29 a year. Online only, but that’s fine — not only do they not circulate here, but I read all my papers on the iPad now. By contrast, I’ve been offered “deals” by WSJ for as much as $400-plus a year.

I chalk that up to the Journal continuing to be a paper that people pay for through their work expenses — or, if they pay for it themselves, they can afford it. I can’t.

To be fair, they kept offering me “professional courtesy” rates, usually about $99 for six months. And I’d think about it and shake my head — $99 for a year, maybe (which I think they offered me in years past). But not six months. Not when I’m getting the Post for $29 a year, and at a time when Jeff Bezos has been investing in the newsroom, and the paper’s political coverage is at least as good as it has ever been. Meanwhile, the WSJ has ditched the Arena section I use to enjoy on Fridays.

It was easy to pass up on these offers at first because, for some reason, the Journal was still letting me read the paper on my iPad app. Since that’s the way I prefer to read it anyway, no problem. But eventually — several weeks ago — they got wise and cut me off there, too.

So, I started reading The Guardian in the mornings in place of the Journal. It’s free, although they keep asking me to be nice and pay. But they don’t do it the right way. I think The Guardian‘s a great read, but they pitch it as though I’d want to support their editorial view, and I can’t go there.

Then, last week, The New York Times came at me with a proposition I couldn’t refuse — I could get the whole paper online for $7.50 a month — or $12.20 a month if I wanted the crossword, and one additional subscription for a friend. Why was this a good deal? Well, I was already subscribing to the NYT crossword iPad app, and was paying $6.99 a month for that alone. (Which I thought was really exorbitant, since I get The New Yorker on my iPad for only $5.99 a month, but hey, I enjoy the crosswords — at least, I do on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays.)

So basically, I’d still get my crosswords, and then get the rest of the paper for only $5.51 — or $66.12 a year. With the offer expiring on Sunday, I pulled the trigger Saturday night.

Now, some of you will say — you won’t pay for The Guardian because of its editorial position, but you switch from The Wall Street Journal to The New York Times — the national icons of the right and left, respectively — as though they were interchangeable?

Yep. Because they’re both great, well-written and -edited papers that bring me the world, and offer me something I enjoy reading on every page. Including the editorial pages. I probably disagree with both papers’ editorial boards about equally. But the opinions, especially the op-eds, are lively and though-provoking. And I’m not one of these people who has to agree with a view to enjoy reading it — in fact, I don’t understand such people.

Anyway, it had gotten to where my favorite columnist in the WSJ was Bret Stephens — and he just moved over to the NYT. As I start reading the paper daily, I expect my favorites will be the ones who skew right — Stephens, David Brooks, Ross Douthat — even as my favorites in the WSJ were more to the left, on the rare days when such was to be had.

Anyway, y’all will likely see me citing stories in the Times as much as I used to from the Journal. (Y’all had probably long ago noticed that I point you to the Post a lot.) I’m sure y’all will give me a heads-up if you think I’m getting reprogrammed…

nyt

Of course, I don’t get them either, which is also bad

I didn't get why everybody was so mad in "Network," either.

I didn’t get why everybody was so mad in “Network,” either.

Just to examine the other side of the coin…

My last post quoted a Trump supporter on the subject of his detractors, saying “I just don’t get it.”

Well, far be it from me to let on to be wiser than others when I’m not. (As a Twain protagonist said, “I was born modest; not all over, but in spots.”)

The thing is, I don’t get Trump supporters. Oh, I can cite this or that overt reason that they give for holding the views they do. But I don’t have a good grip on what an editor I used to work with called “the emotional center.” And normally, I would.

After past elections, I’ve pretty much understood what happened, on most levels. Not this time. I read about people having (some of) the same reservations about Trump that I did, and voting for him anyway. And with some of those folks, I understand the underlying emotion — they really, really hated Hillary Clinton. I consider it rather intemperate and unwise to hate anybody that much, but I don’t doubt the force of that impulse.

But there’s something bigger than that going on, something at the root of the nihilism I kept writing about during the election (much to the irritation of some of you). Something that caused people to feel they wanted to blow it all up, regardless of the consequences. Something that made them want to give a grossly unqualified, deeply unfit man the most powerful job on the planet. Something they were just fed up about.

At this point, Doug is jumping up and down, saying, “I knew it! I kept saying you didn’t get it!” But I do get that the impulse was out there. What I don’t get — not being a cynic like Doug — is the rational basis for it.

I hear about “economic dislocation.” But that seems inadequate. I’m a white male who is as economically dislocated (the position I worked my whole life for, and performed very well, has ceased to exist) as anyone, and I strongly suspect that a lot of Trump voters, quite likely most of them, have higher current incomes than I have.

I see the anger is there, and I see it as key to what has happened (it certainly didn’t happen for calm, rational reasons). But I can’t connect to it.

And the feeling is familiar. I felt the same way back in the 1970s, when I saw “Network.”

To this day, I have no idea what Peter Finch’s character was on about when he kept babbling, “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!” (In the larger sense, I mean — the immediate cause was that he was getting fired.)

Mad as hell about what?, I kept wondering. It made no sense, yet in the film, he turned out to be perfectly in sync with America. The viewers loved it. And that’s the tough part, see. I understood that Howard Beale was unhinged. But why did it strike such a chord?

I thought people running to their windows and shouting about how mad they were about some nonspecific “this” was absurd. I still think that.

I’ve heard all sorts of explanations as to what the Trump voters were mad about beyond the economic stress thing. And I fully believe in some of them — such as the feeling of being ignored and mocked and insulted by coastal elites. That I can dig; it’s based in something real. I can also understand frustration with the mess the parties have made of our politics — but electing Trump always seemed to me the surest way to make things worse, not better. And even if you take every ostensible cause and double it, and add them all together, and throw in Doug’s powerful disgust at government in general, it just does not add up to a justification for what just happened, and keeps happening every day.

It just doesn’t.

And yeah, it may seem stupid for me to try to explain a visceral phenomenon in rational terms, but I do try. I just don’t arrive…

Valentine’s Day has to get better from this point on…

potted-tulips

Last night, I gave platelets, and the morning after I often feel a tad out of it — not quite the thing, you know?

And then the alarm woke me when I was deep, deep into a stress dream — one of those where you’re trying to get a big, complicated (in fact, truly impossible in this case) thing done, and worrying over how to do it, and because you were awakened in the wrong part of the cycle, you have trouble shaking the worried feeling, like part of your brain still believes that you have to solve this problem

OK, maybe you don’t do that, but I do.

When my wife got up, I told her a little about it, and she sort of chuckled at the sillier aspects, which helped put it in perspective a bit, but I still hadn’t shaken the feeling of needing to deal with it when I headed downtown to have breakfast, thinking coffee ought to sort me out…

Well into my second cup, something came to me. Moments later, I Tweeted this:

And I’d been so on top of this! I’d bought those potted tulips on Saturday, way earlier than I usually think about Valentine’s Day.

The day has to get better from this point on, right?