Category Archives: Confessional

The WSJ’s pricing pushes me over to the NYT

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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…

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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?

Belated Top Five List: Best Christmas toys ever

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Technically, this list is not late, as this is the ninth day of Christmas. In any case, I didn’t see the inspiration for it until today. Also, it’s a slow news day.

My fellow former Cosmic Ha-Ha Dave Moniz posted the above photo on Facebook last week, with this caption:

Patrick and Monica somehow found this vintage “electric baseball” set. What a lovely Christmas gift. Unlike its first cousin, “electric football’ this actually works without little plastic men running in hideous circles or clumping in immovable scrums.

My first thought was, I’d like to try that game out. My second was, I hated to see him run down electric football, which frankly, I liked better than real football. Any of y’all remember those? You’d put your little plastic players on the line of scrimmage, with one of them holding the little felt football, and hit the switch, and the whole stadium started vibrating like mad, causing the men — whose bases were perched up on thin, flexible blades of clear plastic, would start moving independently, one hoped toward the goal line. But really, they went wherever they wanted — which quite frequently was backward.

It was a pretty wild toy, both in concept and execution.

Actually, here I am describing it like something from the distant past, and apparently they still sell these things! Which was a surprise to me. But if you’ve never seen one of these in action, here’s video of a fancy modern version.

Bottom line, I loved my electric football game.

Which got me to thinking: What would be my Top Five Toys Ever, with an emphasis on those received from Santa. Here’s a hastily assembled list, which I may amend as we proceed:

  1. My BB gun — To be specific like the kid in the movie, my Daisy Model 1894 authentic saddle gun. This was probably the greatest surprise of my childhood, as my mother had always assured me I would never get one because — and she actually used this line — I would put my eye out. This was a beautiful rifle, the metal parts a nicely blued steel, with the stock rendered in plastic that at least looked like wood from a distance. The moment I found it under the tree was special: Santa had laid out my new sleeping bag that I was expecting, and the rifle was slipped inside it. This, of course, proved the existence of Santa, because I got it when we were living in Guayaquil, Ecuador, and I don’t think there was a store on the entire continent of South America where my parents could have bought this. I had a lot of fun with it, and never did put my eye out.
  2. Any Official Boy Scout gear — All through my Cub and Boy Scout years, nothing could top any gift that had an official Scout logo on it. These were items that a guy had to have to make his way in the world, to Be Prepared (I had never heard of the Zombie Apocalypse, but I instinctively sensed that every boy should be prepared for it), and the Scout emblem, to my mind at least, spoke unfailingly of quality. I received a bunch of stuff from this category over the years. Some items that stand out are my official Cub Scout pocketknife, and my official Boy Scout mess kit and canteen (which I think I got the same Christmas as the BB gun and sleeping bag, so I cleaned up that year).
  3. Tabletop hockey — As I worked on the list, I thought of something I liked better than electric football. That was the non-electric hockey game my brother and I had — this kind, which had the metal rods that you’d move in and out to move the players across the “ice,” and which you would spin to make them shoot the puck. We had some pretty furious, active games with this, which we would play for hours. I still remember with shame how petulant I got the first time my brother — who is six years younger — beat me at this. But mostly, it was fun.
  4. Cowboy six-shooters — This is a whole category because I had a lot of them in the ’50s and ’60s, but I’m going to zero in on one particular product. Do you remember the Mattel Shootin’ Shell system? The Shootin’ Shell was a three-part piece of ammunition. It had a brass shell with a spring inside, a gray plastic slug that you’d push into the shell until it clicked, and a little round paper cap that you’d stick on the back of the brass shell. When the gun’s hammer hit the back of the shell, the shock would cause the spring to eject the little gray slug out the barrel of the gun, and the cap would go off to provide a semi-realistic sound. Here’s video. Anyway, at one point Mattel released a mechanical adversary with which to have gunfights. He was this villainous-looking little mannequin who, when you pulled a string, would start to draw. If he fired before you, you were “dead.” If you managed to draw, fire and hit him with your Shootin’ Shell slug before his arm got to a certain point, his arm would stop. No, I am not making this up. I was able to shoot from the hip and stop him. And yes, boys of my generation were really into violent toys…
  5. The see-through submarine — This was another one that we got when we lived in Ecuador, which speaks to extra exertions by my parents — they no doubt arranged to get these things from the Base Exchange up in the Panama Canal Zone, via the monthly C-47 that brought nonperishable groceries down to U.S. personnel. Anyway, this was an impressive toy. I had forgotten the name of it, but Google has identified it as the Remco Barracuda Atomic Sub. It was about three feet long, and had a motor that moved it on discreet wheels along the floor (water would have destroyed it), while it automatically fired torpedoes out of the bow. The coolest part, though, was that it had a transparent top deck that you could remove, and move around the little blue plastic crewmen inside. For whatever reason, I seem to recall you could also rearrange the bulkheads — which made it more like a Napoleonic-era warship than an actual sub. A friend of mine, also a Navy brat, had a huge toy aircraft carrier made by the same company. It had a pretty powerful catapult for launching aircraft, but that’s not what we used it for. This kid also had a construction set for building skyscrapers. We’d build a skyscraper, and then launch leftover plastic girders at the building from about six feet away to knock it down. A lot of trouble, but eminently worth the effort.

Honorable mention: Hot Wheels. These came along a little late for me, but I had an awesome time playing with my brother’s Hot Wheels — and my sons’, and my grandson’s (every time I go into Walmart today, I have to fight against the temptation to buy him another — they’re only 94 cents apiece, and they’re awesome!). I had grown up on Matchbox cars and thought they were pretty cool, but Hot Wheels just blew them away. Matchbox would later ape the fast-wheel technology, but they were just playing catch-up from then on.

Yep… guns and war toys and fast cars. But I was an actual kid, not a hypothetical one, and that’s what I liked, and I was lucky enough to come up before these things were thoroughly frowned upon. So there.

Now… what are the vintage toys that make you wax nostalgic?

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Some of the TV shows that keep me from reading books

"Vikings:" Meet Ragnar Lodbrok, my 38th-great grandfather -- maybe.

“Vikings:” Meet Ragnar Lodbrok, my 38th-great grandfather — maybe.

This started as a comment, but I’ve turned it into a separate post.

Over the weekend, I confessed that I just haven’t been reading books the way I once did. One of the reasons, I’m humiliated to admit, is that there is so much compelling television these days. Some of the TV shows that have distracted me over the last year or so:

  • Boardwalk Empire – I’ve finished the first season and am taking a break before plunging into the second. I really like the way this is actually based on historical figures. And I never realized before what a slimeball Warren Harding was.
  • Vikings — I’m in the second season. This is tied to my genealogy obsession. Ragnar Lodbrok, the star character, is a direct ancestor of mine — if he existed. His sons are considered historical, and I’m apparently descended from one, Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye. But whether they were all brothers and Ragnar was their father seems less certain — he’s a figure in Norse folklore. Sigurd’s mom, Aslaug, may also be a fable.
  • The Last Kingdom — This is related, although fictional. It’s sort of a real-life alternative to Game of Thrones. It’s about the Viking conquest of all of England except Alfred the Great’s Wessex — the titular Last Kingdom. The hero is fictional, but historical figures a prominent characters, such as the aforementioned Alfred and Ubbe, the brother of Sigurd.
  • The Crown — We’ve watched all of that; look forward to another series. My hero is the stuffy Tommy, the senior aide who tries to keep everybody straight and make sure these silly royals do their ruddy duty — except Her Majesty, of course, who always tries to do what’s right.
  • Orphan Black — Taking a break from it after watching the first season. It was getting a little intense.
  • Mr. Robot — I’ve seen all of what’s available on Amazon for free, waiting for more. Rather silly in a political sense — full of anarchist ravings — but engaging. A plus is that the star is Rami Malek, who was so weirdly good as “Snafu” in “The Pacific.”
  • Fortitude — This offbeat murder mystery started off pretty good, but got downright weird. Oh, and don’t make the mistake of thinking you know who the hero is.
  • Okkupert, or Occupied — Speaking of series set in Norway, this one is actually in Norwegian. It was an engaging what-if about what happens after a relatively bloodless invasion of Norway by Russia.
  • River — This is a really good weird one. It’s about a British detective (actually, he’s a cop in Britain, but for some reason is originally Scandinavian) who talks to dead people — in the most calm, matter-of-fact way. But they’re not always terribly informative; he still has to figure out who killed them.
  • Longmire — Why’d they have to get an Australian actor to play a modern Western sheriff? I don’t know, but it works.
  • The Walking Dead — I haven’t watched the latest season to appear on Netflix, which means I’m two years behind the people who watch it the old-fashioned way, as it appears on broadcast TV.
  • The Night Manager — I’m a HUGE fan of the novel and ran out and BOUGHT the series as soon as it appeared — only to have it show up on Amazon Prime for free, so I feel stupid. It was good, although there were changes. One GOOD change was changing the hero’s case officer to a pregnant woman, which really worked. The BAD change was the ending, in which… well, I won’t give it away.
  • House of Cards — I have NOT been able to get into the most recent season. I watched one episode and turned away.
  • Grantchester, Endeavour, Lewis, Midsomer Murders, Foyle’s War — Just to toss some of my fave British murder mysteries into one item. I’m sure I’m forgetting some.
  • Poldark — Watched the first season, but just haven’t gotten into the second. This guy just keeps having the same tiresome problems.
  • The Man in the High Castle — I haven’t even made it through three episodes of the FIRST season. I was expecting something awesome like Len Deighton’s SS-GB (another book I’ve read obsessively over the years), but no dice.
  • The Wire — Loved it, but it kind of slowed down for me after about three seasons. The first two were awesome, though.
  • Wolf Hall — This may not count; it may have been more than a year ago. I should watch it again, though, because since then I’ve discovered that a bunch of the characters are apparently related to me. And let me say in my defense that I read both of Hilary Mantel’s books before watching this.
  • The Tudors — I try and try to get into this and fail. I like that the first character addressed by name in the very first episode is an ancestor of mine (diplomat Richard Pace), and I love Maria Doyle Kennedy (a Commitmentette!), but the soft-core porn approach is rather silly. And am I really supposed to believe that everyone in the court was in their 20s and looked like models?

OK, I’m tired of making this list, so I’m not going to get into “The Americans,” “Justified” and others. Additional shows keep popping into my head. Suffice it to say that I find TV very distracting these days…

"The Wire"

“The Wire”

What am I, if I’m not a reader of books?

A few of the books I have either bought for myself, or received as gifts (most of those being ones I ASKED for), but have not finished reading.

A few of the books I have either bought for myself, or received as gifts (most of those being ones I ASKED for), but have not finished reading.

Back when we were first married, my wife gave me a coffee mug that I deeply appreciated, to the extent that I never drank out of it, wanting to preserve it. It had a picture on it of a young boy sitting with his back against a tree and his nose in a book, with the caption, “The sky above and a book to love.”

That really described me as a kid, which I was touched by because she hadn’t known me then — she could just tell. That’s who I was.

But lately… I feel like I’m less myself.

Recently, I Tweeted out (with unintentional irony) an essay in the WSJ about how we all need badly to turn back to reading books:

We need to read and to be readers now more than ever.

We overschedule our days and complain constantly about being too busy. We shop endlessly for stuff we don’t need and then feel oppressed by the clutter that surrounds us. We rarely sleep well or enough. We compare our bodies to the artificial ones we see in magazines and our lives to the exaggerated ones we see on television. We watch cooking shows and then eat fast food. We worry ourselves sick and join gyms we don’t visit. We keep up with hundreds of acquaintances but rarely see our best friends. We bombard ourselves with video clips and emails and instant messages. We even interrupt our interruptions….

Books are uniquely suited to helping us change our relationship to the rhythms and habits of daily life in this world of endless connectivity. We can’t interrupt books; we can only interrupt ourselves while reading them. They are the expression of an individual or a group of individuals, not of a hive mind or collective consciousness. They speak to us, thoughtfully, one at a time. They demand our attention. And they demand that we briefly put aside our own beliefs and prejudices and listen to someone else’s. You can rant against a book, scribble in the margin or even chuck it out the window. Still, you won’t change the words on the page….

This brought to the fore one of the many perpetual guilt trips I live with: All the wonderful books I already possess — as a result of telling people I wanted them as gifts, and my loved ones acting upon that stated desire — and have not read.

Recently, I confessed that I still hadn’t read Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow — although I’d had it ever since Fritz Hollings insisted I must read it 12 years ago, and I put it on my wish list and received it soon after, and put it on the shelf.

Well, I’ve started it now, and have been reading it for several weeks, and it has all the ingredients of the kind of book I love — I keep stopping to read aloud good bits to my wife — and I’m all the way up to… Chapter 5. Hamilton has just joined Washington’s staff in the midst of the revolution.

Obviously, as fascinating as it is, I can put it down.

Awhile back — more than 18 months ago, I see — I confessed to y’all that while the First World War is one of those areas I really, really feel that I should learn more about, and I had started on it several months earlier and written about how awesome it was (especially that first chapter, which sets the scene), I still hadn’t finished The Guns of August.

Well, I still haven’t. I bogged down somewhere around the time that it shifted to the Eastern front (although I read enough of that to conclude that Tsar Nicholas’ government was too incompetent to run a lemonade stand, much less such a vast country).

When I mentioned that and several other things I needed to read more about at the time, some of y’all very kindly suggested some books to check out. And I was grateful, but at the back of my mind was this awful, nagging doubt that I’ll have the discipline to get around to reading them. The shelves of unread books that I really, really wanted and already possessed groaned with the combined weight of the books themselves… and my guilt.

And I was right. I still haven’t read them.

Sitting around my house and on my iPad, begun but not finished, are the Hamilton book and The Guns of August; The Art of Betrayal: The Secret History of M16 — Life and Death In the British Secret Service, by Gordon Corera; The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal, 1870-1914, by David McCullough; The War for All the Oceans: From Nelson at the Nile to Napoleon at Waterloo, by Roy Adkins; Trotsky: Downfall Of A Revolutionary, by Bertrand M. Patenaude; A Tale of Two Cities; The Grapes of Wrath; and Moby Dick. That’s just off the top of my head. I’m sure there are more.

All of them, with the possible exception of the Trotsky book (I’ve officially given up on that one), started with great promise.

It’s not that I don’t read. I read — or at least skim and dig into the stories that interest me — at least three newspapers a day, plus all the many items that social media draw me to. I suspect I read more news and commentary each day than at any time during my long newspaper career — because so much is immediately available.

And it’s not that I don’t read books. I obsessively reread Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin novels, and occasionally some of my favorites by Nick Hornby, John le Carre (his early stuff, from The Night Manager back), Martin Cruz Smith and, yes, Tom Clancy. I can pass a pleasant moment with them and put them down, because I know that happens next. Ditto with faddish stuff from my youth, such as Dune and Stranger in a Strange Land.

And I occasionally finish a new book, the most recent being, let’s see… Ardennes 1944: The Battle of the Bulge, by Anthony Beevor. Months and months ago, I now realize.

Why can’t I seem to commit to a new book, and see it through? I suspect it’s because of a number of factors, starting with all that time spent with ephemeral stuff via iPad.

It’s other things, too. I’ve gotten so obsessed with genealogy that I actually spend huge amounts of time on the weekends building my family tree. Several months ago, I had fewer than 1,000 people on it, now I’ve more than 2,600. And just this weekend, I’ve made some surprising discoveries: For instance, one of my apparent ancestors — who rebelled against King John and was declared an outlaw — may have been one of the inspirations for the Robin Hood legend. Really. So I find it hard to tear myself away from that stuff. I’ve learned a lot about dim corners of history I did not know before, just reading context on ancestors. But that reading, so far, has seldom gone deeper than Wikipedia.

The most humiliating reason of all is that, well, there is so much compelling television these days, sucking up my leisure hours. That is something I thought I would never write, especially as a reason for neglecting books, my lifelong love. But while broadcast television (with the exception of ETV and PBS) is a more wasteful wasteland than ever (with some exceptions — I enjoy “Bluebloods,” and don’t forget “The West Wing” was on broadcast), Netflix and Amazon Prime have almost enough offerings to occupy my evenings completely. And I just can’t seem to get around to canceling HBO NOW, despite my best intentions.

Still, I’m almost sure I watch less than most people. Nielsen reported a few months ago that the average adult American consumes media — using tablets, smartphones, personal computers, multimedia devices, video games, radios, DVDs, DVRs and TVs — a total of 10 hours and 39 minutes each day.

Read that figure again, and think about it. It’s not a typo.

This is embarrassing. It’s actually worse than that. It’s an identity crisis. Who AM I, if I’m not reading books? Maybe the Internet has retrained my brain, making it less patient. For whatever reason, an occasional long-form magazine piece, in The New Yorker or some similar venue, is about as long as I go. And most of what I read is no longer than a newspaper column.

I don’t know what’s happened to me. But it’s disorienting. And I need to do something about it…

Some of the books I've lazily read and reread over the years, rather than read something new.

Some of the books I’ve lazily read and reread over the years, rather than read something new.

‘No! The Writing Room is over THERE!…’

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I haven’t posted today in part because I accepted Steven Millies’ invitation to go speak to his poli sci class at USC Aiken, and I just got back.

Before I tell you about the class, I want to share this door I found in the Humanities building while looking for Dr. Millies’ class. You’ll see that it leads, according to the formal signage at top, to the Writing Room.

But no! When you look a bit closer (below), things are not what they seem. I don’t know why the wording of the less-formal sign struck me as so funny, but it did. The disagreement was just so stark — This is the Writing Room… NO! This is emphatically NOT the Writing Room. The Writing Room is over THERE, dummy!… The first sentence alone would have been funny. But the second sentence, with the little arrow, is what made it wonderful. I almost picture Marty Feldman pointing and saying, “There wolf! There Writing Room!…

Anyway, I offered to speak to Steven’s class during a conversation after the Bernardin Lecture the other night (he and I serve on the lectureship’s committee), when he told me his American Government class was talking about media this week. He took me up on it.

And I had a blast, especially since I didn’t have to prepare a lecture. I just showed up and answered questions. Sometimes, with undergraduates or younger students, it’s hard to get questions, or at least hard to get relevant ones. This class did great. I hope I did all right for them.

But I seriously, seriously doubt they enjoyed it as much as I did. It’s hard to explain, but standing in front of a room taking and answering questions gets me really jacked up. I don’t know what it is. I’m not crazy about giving a speech, because it’s so… one-way. I stand up there giving a prepared talk, and I look at all those people staring at me, and I wonder, Is this interesting them at all? Is this what they were looking for when they invited me?

And I’m never sure, unless they laugh at a joke or something. So when I’m asked to speak, I always ask whether it’s OK to keep the talk short and move on as soon as possible to Q&A. Then I come alive — and sometimes even the audience seems to enjoy it.

After the class, I ran out to my car, all wired up, to make an important phone call I had scheduled for that time, and I really hope I didn’t… overflow too much on the person I was calling. I may have. I looked when we were done, and the call had lasted 41 minutes. Later, driving back to Columbia, I returned a call from earlier from a reporter at The New York Times wanting to talk about something having to do with SC politics, and I may have overdone that a bit, too. To my great surprise, shortly after that call, I was already back in West Columbia…

So basically, I guess, I’ve been blogging all over people today… just not in writing.

Anyway, I’ll give y’all an Open Thread in the next hour or so. I hope y’all appreciate it more than y’all usually do on a Friday afternoon, harrumph…

room

I don’t have the luxury of making a gesture with my vote

I was glad he was going to lose, but wanted to make a statement about Nixon.

I was glad he was going to lose, but wanted to make a statement about Nixon.

In my morning reading today, I ran across two things that impressed me. Both were from Republicans trying to explain just what a nightmare Trump is. Bret Stephens, deputy editorial page editor of The Wall Street Journal, had another strong column headlined “My Former Republican Party.” An excerpt:

Foreign policy: In 1947 Harry Truman asked Arthur Vandenberg, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to support his efforts to shore up the governments in Greece and Turkey against Soviet aggression. Vandenberg agreed, marking his—and the GOP’s—turn from isolationism to internationalism.

Since then, six Republican presidents have never wavered in their view that a robust system of treaty alliances such as NATO are critical for defending the international liberal order, or that the U.S. should dissuade faraway allies such as South Korea and Saudi Arabia from seeking nuclear weapons, or that states such as Russia should be kept out of regions such as the Middle East.

Where, amid Mr. Trump’s routine denunciations of our allegedly freeloading allies, or Newt Gingrich’s public doubts about defending NATO member Estonia against Russian aggression, or the alt-right’s attacks on “globalism,” or Sean Hannity’s newfound championship of WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange, is that Republican Party today?…

Then there was the piece from Jennifer Rubin, The Washington Post‘s duty conservative, headlined “The Republicans who want to beat Trump by as much as possible.” An excerpt:

Trump and the mind-set of slavish Republicans who follow him deserve repudiation. Some Republicans think the party can be disinfected after the Trump experience and some want to start all over. (“These are generational problems. So maybe over time, over a number of decades, these changes can be made, but the reality is the conservative movement doesn’t have time for that,” said McMullin in defense of the latter approach. “And if the Republican Party can’t make the changes, as wasn’t able to do after 2012, the conservative movement will need a new political vehicle.”)

Either way, McMullin and others who want wholesale change on the right are rooting for Trump’s annihilation and his flacks’ and bully boys’ humiliation. The bigger the margin by which he loses, the more preposterous Trump’s claim that the election is fixed. Indeed, it’s more important for Republicans — if they want to get back their party — to vote against Trump than it is for Democrats. “By taking the leap to Clinton, these Republicans have set an example for all Americans to shed the home-team culture and put country before party,” Stubbs said. Maybe if they can recover some self-respect and devotion to principle by repudiating Trump, they will be prepared to create something superior to replace the GOP.

Absolutely. Republicans who care at all about their party and what it supposedly stands for have far more reason to want to see Trump utterly crushed than Democrats do. If you’re a partisan Democrat, you’re happy for Hillary to just squeak by, giving you more of an excuse to spend the next four years raising money to help you stop those horrid Republicans.

That is, if you’re the blinder sort of partisan Democrat. But whatever your party affiliation or lack thereof, if you understand the situation and care about the country we share, you want to see Trumpism crushed so that it slinks away and is never heard from again.

Which is why I, as a voter who cares, have no choice but to vote for Hillary Clinton. The same goes for you, if you can see it. She’s the only person on the planet who can defeat him, and just squeaking by won’t be enough.

We’ve had some terrific arguments here on the blog about that. And I still run into otherwise reasonable people who think an adequate response to Trump is to vote for neither of them. But that is NOT an adequate response.

Yeah, I understand the concept of using your vote to make a gesture, independent of any consideration of whether the candidate you vote for can win. I’ve done it myself — but only in rare circumstances when I had the luxury to do so. Or thought I did, anyway.

In 1972, my first election, I stood in the booth for awhile, undecided still. But in the end, I decided this: I voted for McGovern. I voted for him purely as a protest. I did it even though I thought he’d be a disaster as president. If the election had been close, if there’d been any chance of my vote deciding the outcome, I’d have voted for Nixon, because I trusted him more to have the judgment and abilities to run the country. But there was NO danger of McGovern winning, and even though I saw Nixon as more competent, I had a big problem with what I was sensing (but did not yet fully know) about Watergate.

So it was a protest vote, pure and simple.

I did the same thing in 1996, although the positions of the parties were reversed (which matters not at all to me, but I realize does to some people). On a personal level, I preferred Dole to Clinton. I thought Dole was the better man. But the abysmal campaign he had run had utterly persuaded me that he would be a disaster as president. He simply lacked the political skills to be effective. Had the election been so close that my vote could conceivably decide it, I’d have voted for Clinton, as the more competent leader between the two. But I had a lot of problems with Clinton by this time, and there was no way my vote would make a difference — South Carolina would go for Dole, and the country would go for Clinton; that was clear by the end. So I expressed my distaste for Clinton by casting my vote for Dole.

Another pure protest, without any intended practical effect.

Silly, really, in both cases. What good is a protest if no one even knows you’re making it? And no one did know (apart from a few intimates), until now. In each case, I was just making a gesture, for my own, private satisfaction. It was childish, in a way — I’m so mad at you I’m going to vote for this guy I don’t even think should win!

In both cases, I thought I had that luxury. This year, I absolutely don’t.

Oh, I could make a private gesture expressing my dissatisfaction with both candidates by, I don’t know, voting for Evan McMullin, or someone else who doesn’t have a chance.

But I can’t. Either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton is going to be president, and it is my duty as a citizen to do whatever I can to affect which way it goes. And whatever else I think or feel about Hillary Clinton (I’m not going to waste time here going through a list of her shortcomings, because they are beside the point in light of Trump), she is a person with the skills, experience and understanding to do the job. Donald Trump absolutely does not possess those qualities, and is a walking, talking negation of what this country stands for.

Yeah, she’s probably going to beat him, but that’s by no means certain. (Remember, as Trump keeps reminding us, Brexit was supposed to lose.) And that’s not enough. Trump must lose badly (or “bigly,” if you prefer), as Ms. Rubin suggests.

So I really don’t have the luxury this time to make a gesture with my vote. It matters too much this time.

How could a guy who ran such an awful campaign run the government?

How could a guy who ran such an awful campaign run the government?

Shakespeare, he’s in the alley, but Dylan’s got a Nobel Prize

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Dylan at the Civil Rights March on Washington, August 28, 1963.

Finally, the Nobel Prize for Literature goes to a writer whose work I both know and appreciate:

Bob Dylan was named the surprise winner of the Nobel prize for literature in Stockholm today “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition”.

Speaking to reporters after the announcement, the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, Sara Danius, said she hoped the Academy would not be criticised for its choice.

“The times they are a’changing, perhaps,” she said, comparing the songs of the American songwriter, who had yet to be informed of his win, to the works of Homer and Sappho.

“Of course he [deserves] it – he’s just got it,” she said. “He’s a great poet in the English-speaking tradition. And he is a wonderful sampler, a very original sampler. He embodies the tradition and for 54 years now he has been at it, reinventing himself constantly, creating a new identity.”

Danius said the choice of Dylan may appear surprising, “but if you look far back, … you discover Homer and Sappho. They wrote poetic texts that were meant to be listened to, performed, often together with instruments, and it’s the same way for Bob Dylan. We still read Homer and Sappho, and we enjoy it. Same thing with Bob Dylan – he can be read and should be read. And he is a great poet in the grand English tradition.”…

Trying to remember the last time this happened for me, I looked back at the list of past winners.

Let’s see: There was V.S. Naipaul in 2001 — I’ve been meaning to read something by him, but haven’t gotten to it….

Ah, William Golding in 1983! Pass me the conch, and I’ll tell you what I know about him.

I’ve read one book by Gabriel García Márquez (1982). Didn’t like it. Even though I thought it would be awesome, being about Simón Bolívar, whom I had been taught to revere in history classes in Ecuador. Instead, it was just… unpleasant… wearying.

1976 — Surely I’ve read something by Saul Bellow… nope. But I have read Bernard Malamud and Chaim Potok, in my defense.

1969-1971 — A three-year streak! I mean, I’ve read “Waiting for Godot,” The Gulag Archipelago and at least one poem by Neruda.

Steinbeck in 1962! Now we’re talking…

1957 — I’ve read The Stranger by Camus. Didn’t like it.

We’ll stop with Hemingway — the one person on this list I have really read avidly — in 1954. That covers my lifetime.

As far as my being able to relate, Dylan blows all but Hemingway away. (And yes, I’m embarrassed to admit this way that no one will say to me, “you’re very well-read, it’s well known.” But this is a blog where we tell truths, is it not?)

This is amazing. Something is happening, and I don’t know what it is. No, wait: I do. Boomers are finally truly in charge. Yay, us! It’s gear, it’s fab, it’s boss, it’s tuff, it’s righteous. Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend a hand, etc….

Please don’t send in the clowns

Do you like clowns? Have you ever liked clowns? If so, why?

My earliest memory of clowns is this: I can distinctly remember being surprised, and filled with doubt, when an adult explained to me that they were humans in disguise. I had assumed, based on the evidence, that they were some separate species — like aliens, or some particularly bizarre-looking animal. Hey, I was a little kid. Until somebody told me they were people, I saw no reason to think so.

I wouldn’t say I have a complex about clowns, but I’ve never really warmed up to them, even after learning they were just people. And I find myself wondering how this clowning thing got started, and who it was who decided that they were a nonthreatening form of entertainment for children — something that seems highly unlikely.

A piece in The Guardian today gives a little history:

Nobody laughs at clowns anymore.

Maybe antiquated proto-clowns did make people smile. But the legendary Chinese jester Yu Sze and the imperial Roman stupidus would be unrecognizable to us today.

The first clown who fits our description – painted face, frilly collar – was Joseph Grimaldi, who entertained Londoners in the 19th century but had a decidedly dark side. “I am Grim-all-day,” he told people.

A young Charles Dickens ghost-wrote Grimaldi’s memoirs, a saga of abuse, addiction and agony. “A tale of unmitigated suffering, even when that suffering be mental, possesses but few attractions for the reader; but when, as in this case, a large portion of it is physical,” Dickens wrote, it “grows absolutely distasteful”.

Dickens recognized, even with the very first modern clown, that what fascinates us is not the exaggerated painted face, or the dull face of a man underneath. It’s the tension between the two. The dissonance between what is and what appears to be.

That conflict plucks at some ancient strand of human genetic code….

That’s in a piece that starts with the recent sightings in the Greenville area of threatening clowns.

It’s all very well and good for a newspaper in London to be bemused by these sightings — they’ve got a whole ocean between them and the threat.

Not that I’m worried, you understand. But I am kind of creeped out…

killer-klowns1

Today’s mystery earworm: ‘Misty’

This one had me going for more than an hour this morning, and I feel great relief that I finally got to the bottom of it.

I heard the song as a jazz instrumental on the Muzak system at the Cap City Club at breakfast this morning, during a lull in the conversations going on around me. I knew it was an old standard (meaning, from before my time), one that was as familiar as my own heartbeat, but could… not… place it!

Trying to sing along in my mind, I thought the lyric at one point said something about “puppy on a string.”

But that couldn’t be right, could it? Obviously, it would have to be the cliche, “puppet on a string.” Unless, of course, it was a play on the cliche, but I doubted it was. So I started searching on my phone for songs with lyrics containing the phrase, and had trouble getting past the song of that name. Actually, there’s more than one song by that name, although I don’t think I ever heard this one, I’m happy to say.

Then I decided that the last words in the verse were “so much in love.” (Those words turned out to be “holding your hand,” but my words would have worked there just as well, evoking much the same feeling.)

Of course, that produced this. Great pop song, but definitely not what I was seeking.mv5bmtizmtmzotg5n15bml5banbnxkftztcwotc0nzyymq-_v1_uy268_cr40182268_al_

So I gave up trying to figure it out detective-fashion (Tom Sawyer would be ashamed of me) and decided to close my office door and hum it into the SoundHound app on my phone. Since I couldn’t remember the crucial first three notes (“Look at me” in the lyrics), SoundHound wasn’t at all sure what I was humming, but it suggested that maybe, just maybe, I was trying to hum “Misty.”

YES! Finally, I can turn to other things and get on with my day.

Oh, and by the way, the lyric I remembered as “puppy on a string” was “kitten up a tree.” But you can see the association, right? Please say “yes.” Anyway, “puppy” was definitely closer than “puppet.”

That was a toughie…

OK, WHAT was the point of this reading yesterday?

Following up on Friday’s Faith and Family post…

I frequently have ideas for blog posts during Mass on Sunday, and then I promptly go home and take a nap or something and then get busy with other stuff on Monday and forget about it.

Which I shouldn’t do because, you know, He’s not the kind you have to wind up on Sunday.

Jeremiah makes a deal.

Jeremiah makes a deal.

Anyway, yesterday I wasn’t at my own church — it was an Episcopal Church — but the readings are the same as ours, so I assumed the same question would have occurred to me. Unfortunately, the homilist chose the Gospel reading as his text — which was fine, except that the Gospel was a pretty straightforward cautionary tale, the one about the beggar Lazarus and the rich man who die and go to separate places, and didn’t need much explication to my mind.

What I had hoped somebody would explain to me was the first reading, the Old Testament one, which went like this:

No, wait! It wasn’t the same reading! We Catholics had an entirely different one, I find — and one that makes perfect sense to me in the context of the day’s theme (the Gospel readings were the same, and apparently the 2nd Reading, too, although I confess Paul’s letters tend to go in one ear and out the other — too much throat-clearing). You can find it here; it’s from Amos Chapter 6.

Here’s the Episcopal one, the one that confused me:

Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord in the tenth year of King Zedekiah of Judah, which was the eighteenth year of Nebuchadrezzar. At that time the army of the king of Babylon was besieging Jerusalem, and the prophet Jeremiah was confined in the court of the guard that was in the palace of the king of Judah, where King Zedekiah of Judah had confined him.

Jeremiah said, The word of the Lord came to me: Hanamel son of your uncle Shallum is going to come to you and say, “Buy my field that is at Anathoth, for the right of redemption by purchase is yours.” Then my cousin Hanamel came to me in the court of the guard, in accordance with the word of the Lord, and said to me, “Buy my field that is at Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, for the right of possession and redemption is yours; buy it for yourself.” Then I knew that this was the word of theLord.

And I bought the field at Anathoth from my cousin Hanamel, and weighed out the money to him, seventeen shekels of silver. I signed the deed, sealed it, got witnesses, and weighed the money on scales. Then I took the sealed deed of purchase, containing the terms and conditions, and the open copy; and I gave the deed of purchase to Baruch son of Neriah son of Mahseiah, in the presence of my cousin Hanamel, in the presence of the witnesses who signed the deed of purchase, and in the presence of all the Judeans who were sitting in the court of the guard. In their presence I charged Baruch, saying, Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Take these deeds, both this sealed deed of purchase and this open deed, and put them in an earthenware jar, in order that they may last for a long time. For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.

That’s from Jeremiah; the Amos reading is offered as an alternative.

Anyway, can someone explain to me why we were reading that Jeremiah passage? Why is it in the lectionary at all? What’s the moral of the story? Where’s the editorial point, to put it in my vernacular? God tells Jeremiah to do a real estate deal, and he does, and then goes into more detail about it than I’d want even if I were a real estate attorney?

Huh?

Here’s my wild guess as to what the point is: I think it’s sort of, even when you’re in a time of great social upheaval (Nebuchadrezzar bearing down on Jerusalem), you should carry on with life and its dealings. If that’s true, then it’s related to one of my favorite OT passages, also from Jeremiah, on carrying on normal life even while in exile:

Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I exiled from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their fruits. 6Take wives and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, so that they may bear sons and daughters. Increase there; do not decrease. 7Seek the welfare of the city to which I have exiled you; pray for it to the LORD, for upon its welfare your own depends.b

(And yeah, I love that one in part because the last bit is way communitarian.) But if that is the point, it’s made really awkwardly and obscurely. Other thoughts?

The way I used to write was positively Warthenesque

write-2008

I’ve commented on this before, and I find myself wondering whether others experience it.

For my entire writing life, whenever I’ve looked back at something I wrote two or three years earlier, it’s always so much better than what I was writing at the time I looked.

For instance, today I was looking for a good link to go with another post, and somehow ran across this, in which I found a slightly different way to express my oft-expressed frustration with the artificially binary aspect of our politics. The immediate subject was Barack Obama:

Most political commentators, trapped in the extremely limiting notion that the politicians they write and speak about must either be of the left or right, can’t make him out. But he keeps making perfect sense to me. Perhaps I should send a memo out to the MSM letting them know that there’s a third way they can think of a politician (actual, there’s an infinite number of ways, but let’s not blow their little minds; one step at a time). There’s left (as “left” is popularly and imperfectly described) and right (as “right” is popularly and imperfectly described), and then there’s Brad Warthen. As in, “The candidate’s recent statements have been Warthenesque,” or “That was a distinctly Braddish move he made last week.”

It would open up whole new vistas for our national political conversation. Certainly a broader landscape than what we’re used to, with its limited expectations…

Yes! I liked that. And not just because it involved placing yours truly at the center of the political universe. No, it’s not Hemingway and still less Shakespeare (and frankly, now that I’m sharing it with you I’m not enjoying it nearly as much as when I ran across it an hour ago). But it was a nice, breezy, fun little bite that had a flair to it, and it made me smile a bit. Nothing special, just another way of expressing the UnParty idea. Another way of saying that for many of us in this country — I am but one of millions in this regard — the way the media write and talk about politics makes us feel left out. If only our ways of thinking were taken into account…

My staff photo from 1987: Back then I could WRITE...

My staff photo from 1987: Back then I could WRITE…

And I thought, for the millionth time, why don’t I write like that now?

But that’s always the way. I wrote that in 2011, and sometime in 2011 I no doubt looked back at something from 2005, when I first started blogging, and thought That’s the real stuff! Why don’t I have stuff like that now?

And in 2005, I was mooning over the first columns I wrote for The State’s editorial page in 1994 and thinking that was what punditry was all about; what had happened to me?

And in the early ’90s I probably ran across a box of old columns from when I was still at The Jackson Sun ten years earlier and thinking, that’s when I had the real fire…

I can’t wait until the year 2020, when this pooge I’m writing now will look like pure gold…

A little Ragnar to balance out Adaline: That’s fair, right?

I didn’t watch “The Age of Adaline,” but since the Amazon Prime account is in my name (it was a Christmas gift), Jeff Bezos et al. asked me to rate it.51jk64xwsjl-_ss300_

So I asked my wife, and she suggested 4 stars. I considered protesting — you’re sure that’s not overly generous? In my book, 4 stars is semi-awesome, like “Vertigo” or “Conan the Barbarian” or “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” (the movie version — the Alec Guinness TV version is 5 stars).

After all, I only gave the first season of “Vikingsthree stars.

I don’t really know anything about “The Age of Adaline,” but the image with it scares me a bit. Starry-eyed young woman in extreme closeup with handsome young man with neatly trimmed beard? It’s got Hallmark-channel romance written all over it. Even with the sci-fi premise, do I want Amazon throwing a whole lot of these at me?51yatcl-w3l-_ss300_

But I want my wife to find movies she wants to see, too — I’m not a selfish monster, or at least not that much of a selfish monster — so I went ahead and gave it 4 stars.

Then, I went back and upgraded “Vikings” to 4 stars, too. Just to balance things out, make sure Amazon suggests stuff I like as well. “Vikings” has young men with beards, too, but the beards are wild and weird and blood-encrusted and tied into bunches for scaring those wimpy Saxons. Proper beards.

So more Ages of Adalines will come our way, but there will be leavening — with battleaxes!

If only I had the patience to be an artist…

I posted this on Twitter this morning:

Since my Tweets automatically post to Facebook also, Kathryn responded there with this:

14212745_10210381105507657_4764071999734381166_n

… explaining that it was “A painting I have.”

I responded that the painter and I had the same impulse — but mine was easier to indulge. Kathryn responded, “True, but she got paid for hers….”

Ah, true enough. But there’s something lacking in me that prevents me from engaging in such fruitful work. Things don’t interest me long enough.

I see something like that, and for a moment I’m fascinated. In fact, I was being quite rude taking the picture at all. I was interviewing Micah Caskey, checking in to see how his election campaign is coming (I’ll write a short post about that later) … when I said, “Excuse me,” and took this picture.

But then, I’m satisfied to capture it and move on.

I sort of have the same problem with other things.

Take the Power Failure project I conceived and directed at The State back when I was in the newsroom. Just putting the plan together took a couple of months of work. I had to get the full project in my head, as one holistic thing, before I could start. Then, I closed myself in an office and spent a day writing the “budget” — newspaper term for a list of stories — all at once. In that budget I gave short synopses of a planned 92 stories spread over 17 installments.

Then, in the initial installment, I set out all the major points that would be made in the other 16. And then it was VERY hard for me to do the second installment. Because once I had it all in my head, and had explained the basic concepts, I was ready to move on to something else. I had lost interest, and doing the hard work of fleshing out all those other installments just seemed overwhelmingly tedious to me. I’d said it. Why say it again?

Anyway, the thought of turning that iPhone shot into a painting feels the same way.

I like to see something interesting, point it out, and move on. Which is why I was suited to newspaper work. Or blogging, I guess.

OK, I’m bored with this now (and you were several minutes ago). Let’s move on…

Sometimes ‘realism’ is taken to unreal lengths

With all the talk about guns in the wake of the Orlando massacre, we got to talking on an earlier thread about the role of firearms in American history, which started me (as a child of the ’50s, who felt naked without a toy six-gun on my hip) to start riffing on that peculiarly American art form, the Western, and how it has evolved.

So I thought I’d expand on the subject in a separate post…

I, and others my age, grew up on unrealistic westerns in which every man went around with a gun in a holster, except for wusses such as shopkeepers or bankers. I’m pretty sure that is an exaggeration, and I suspect that people who went obviously armed were probably looked at askance by the townspeople, although it may have seemed marginally less bizarre than it would today on Gervais Street.

Just as gunfights were nothing like the ritualized affairs we know from movies, with two men approaching down the dusty street, pausing with their hands hovering over their holsters, scrupulously waiting for the other guy to go for his gun before drawing.

Gunfights such as the one at the OK Corral were wild, confused affairs more akin to what happened at that video game storethe other day…

Modern westerns, of course, go for realism.

SPOILER ALERT!

I’m belatedly watching “Deadwood.” I’m not binge-watching because, as one whose ancestors stuck to Civilization — by which I mean the East Coast — I can only take so much profanity, filth, crudeness, naked avarice and utter disregard for common decency at a time. (As much as it would scandalize my 6-year-old self, I have come to suspect as an adult that had I lived back then, I likely would have been a “dude.” Which wasn’t as cool back then as it sounds today.) Thirty seconds with the “Deadwood” character Al Swearengen (based on a real guy) can make you want to write off the human race as beyond redemption. At the very least, it should persuade a discriminating person to give the Wild West a wide berth.

I would not want to live in the same territory as this guy.

I would not want to live in the same territory as this guy.

Anyway, I’m in the first season, and in the last episode the death of Wild Bill Hickok was depicted — VERY realistically, with him being shot in the back without warning while playing poker.

Such realism is preferable, I suppose. And the clean-cut, 1950s-style western was ridiculous (compare above the guy who played Hickok on TV when I was a little kid and it was my favorite show, the version from Deadwood and the real guy).

Although enough of “Deadwood” and you can start to long, at least a little, for the Disneyland version, with the good guys in spotless white hats.

Or at least for characters you give a damn doggone about. So far the only relatively likeable person on this series is Calamity Jane, and you don’t want your kids in the room when she’s talking.

Bottom line, I’m sure something like everything you see on “Deadwood” actually happened at one time or other in the Old West. But not distilled to this extent, not as unrelenting with the soul-wearing nastiness. Just like, unlike on cop shows, real cops can easily go their whole careers without discharging a firearm in the line of duty.

Surely they had to let up and give it a rest sometime — go through a day with a killing, or maybe speak two sentences in a row without an F-bomb, just to give their profanity mills a rest.

Or else it seems that after a couple of days, they’d get exhausted with it all and skeddadle back East. I know I would have.

Quick: Whose catchphrase was, “Hey, Wild Bill! Wait for me!” The answer is below…

OK, it’s time to start the ‘Vision Quest’ regimen

I experienced a shock yesterday. I stepped on my bathroom scale, and it read 187.0.

Yeah, I was fully dressed, including a sport coat, wallet, keys, iPhone and very heavy shoes. But still. Almost 190 pounds? I’ve never come close to that before, and I’ve been weighed at doctor’s offices while similarly burdened many times.

That weight will seem like nothing to you if you’re built for it — saying if you’re a tall, big-boned guy like Doug.

But I’m not. Look at me. I’m a skinny guy. I’ve always been a skinny guy.

This is unfair. I did not earn these additional pounds, most of which are gathered around my middle, making it very difficult for me to perform such everyday tasks as, say, wearing pants.

I put on about 10 of them when I took two courses of prednisone trying to get rid of poison ivy earlier in the spring. Then, for the first time in years (and I suspect there’s a connection here), I started having trouble with my asthma. I’ve had to switch medications, and haven’t fully stabilized yet — which means I haven’t been working out.

If the added weight IS contributing to my breathing trouble, that’s a vicious cycle. I really need the exercise to drop the pounds; changing diet alone won’t do it.

Shute, the undefeated state champ at 168.

Shute, the undefeated state champ at 168.

But I’ve been doing better with my breathing the last couple of days, and so it may be time to begin the push toward a normal weight. Full paleo, of course, and at least 40 minutes a day on the elliptical — that should do it.

The goal, as always with me, will be to get under 168 so I can wrestle Shute, should the opportunity arise. “Vision Quest” speaks to me, as a former (undistinguished) high school wrestler.

If you see someone sprinting across the Gervais Street bridge in a rubber suit with Red Ryder’s “Lunatic Fringe” playing in the background, that will be me. (Actually, I think it was John Waite’s “Change” in that scene — see 1:22 on the clip — but people remember the other song better, so…)

1-lAHHlTuhDZVm5fhGhvmCYg

As if a DST Monday weren’t bad enough

As y’all know, I hate Daylight Savings Time. Hate it.

And the demonic DST gods know that I hate it, and they take it out on me. For instance, in recent years, it has started at randomly chosen, earlier and earlier dates. This enables them to do things like this to me:

On Sunday, my wife, who is from Memphis, flew there to visit her brothers and their families. I needed to get her to the airport by 6 a.m. Which I am more than happy to do. But the DST demons saw that, and immediately decided that would be the night when we lost an hour — because that’s the one weekend I would feel it the most.

Fine. No problem. I can take it as well as dish it out. I went back home from the airport and, after tossing and turning for about an hour and a half, went back to sleep and slept past 11:30. (We had gone to Mass the evening before; it’s not like I was going all heathen or anything.)

Then this morning, at 5:28 a.m. — which in a rational universe (a universe in which everyone understands that noon is at the height of the sun) is actually 4:28 a.m. — my phone goes “DING!” So I pick it up, expecting to be told something important, and I get this:

DST

Really? You had to wake me up to make sure I knew I could have another cup of coffee if I wanted it?

Yeah, I know — I could turn off the notifications for that particular news app. But I turn them on so that I can get timely notification of actual news events. Not so that I can be waked up and told stuff that could most definitely wait until later!

As it happens, I already knew that it was OK to have that second or third cup of coffee. And thanks to this, I needed it today…

Where I saw my first (and last) cockfight

cockfighting

 

This news today…

Cockfighting could be a felony in home of fighting Gamecocks

In a state where the flagship university’s mascot is a fighting gamecock, some legislators are trying to toughen the penalties for cockfighting, something that’s illegal in all 50 states.

But South Carolina is among nine states where the crime is only a misdemeanor, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Legislation considered Wednesday by a Senate panel would make second and subsequent convictions a felony, punishable by up to a $3,000 fine and five years in prison.

Animal-rights activists say cockfighting is cruel, a haven for gambling and drug use and desensitizes children who might watch it to violence. But game fowl breeders contend cockfighting is a centuries-old tradition that’s no more cruel than hunting sports, and that breeding the birds is a source of pride….

… reminded me of a old grainy photo I recently ran across while digitizing family pictures.

It’s not much to look at, not least because of its Polaroid-level quality. My mother was taking pictures around our house (actually, the spacious upstairs part of a duplex) where we lived in Guayaquil, Ecuador, from 1962-65. By the notes she wrote on the backs, she sent them to relatives in the States to show them where we lived.

This shot was apparently sort of an afterthought. It shows a scruffy vacant lot that could be seen, if you looked diagonally across a side street, from the back terraza of the apartment. On the back, she wrote:

This is an ugly vacant lot across from porch “B”. The trash man comes every day & if he has a lot of paper he burns it there.

You can barely see one of the dry mountains in the distance.

Not much to see, but whenever I read about the cockfighting issue in the paper, I think of that lot.

It was the only undeveloped lot within blocks of us, and therefore something of a magnet for my buddy Tony Wessler (an Air Force brat who lived about six blocks away) and me. We lived a fairly adventurous, Huck Finn life outdoors, since there was no television to speak of. There was little of nature there, as the houses didn’t have yards — just courtyards surrounding by walls that were only a yard or so from the houses. Tony and I would cross blocks by running along those walls and, where feasible, climbing from the walls to the flat concrete rooftops and running over the actual houses.

See that house to the left of the vacant lot? We almost got caught on that one. The roof was divided for some reason by a cement wall about three-feet high. Vaulting it, I banged my knee right on the funny bone and collapsed on the roof. The resident heard us and called out, “Who is that?” Fortunately, we managed to get over to the next roof before he caught us.

Anyway, unpaved ground was a rarity, and we liked this bit of it.

One day on that lot, we saw a tight circle of men gathered in excitement around some activity in the dusty middle. These were working-class men, not the sort who lived in this relatively affluent part of town. Maybe one was that trash man my mother mentioned. Others could have been the pushcart vendors who worked our neighborhood, calling out the varieties of bananas and other produce they sold.

We could barely make out what had them so excited, but we caught brief glimpses of the two gamecocks going at it while the men yelled, gesticulated and placed their bets.

We wanted to get a better look, but couldn’t.

I suppose this “desensitized” me as a child, because I don’t look back in horror. And the idea of chickens fighting doesn’t appall me the way, say, dogfighting does. Maybe because I have some empathy for those guys who didn’t have a whole lot of entertainment in their lives. Or maybe because daily, coming down Sunset between home and downtown, I find myself caught behind those miserable, smelly trucks carrying hundreds of filthy-looking white chickens on their way to the slaughter. Talk about desensitizing… giving a chicken a fighting chance seems less cruel by comparison.

And before you ask, no, I don’t eat chicken. I’m allergic to it. This horror is the fault of the rest of y’all, he said smugly…

Thoughts on the Democratic debate I didn’t watch

After a few minutes last night, I just gave up:

As y’all know, I long, long ago got sick of the Republicans and their fetish about who the real “conservative” is, to the point that I once lampooned it thusly:

As I’ve said from Day One I’m a conservative a true conservative my daddy was a conservative daddy my mama was a conservative mama I’m a bidnessman meet a payroll don’t take bailouts lazy shiftless welfare takers the key is to starve ‘em before they reproduce 100 percent rating from conservative conservatives of America my dog is a conservative dog I don’t have a cat because cats are effete I eat conservative I sleep conservative I excrete conservative I got conservative principles a conservative house and conservative clothes take back our government from the socialists even though we don’t really want it because who needs government anyway they don’t have government in Somalia and they’re doing alright aren’t they National Rifle Association Charlton Heston is my president and Ronald Reagan is my God I will have no gods before him I go Arizona-style all the way that’s the way I roll I will keep their cold dead government hands off your Medicare so help me Ronald Reagan…

But at least there are a lot of people here in South Carolina who actually want to know whether a candidate is a doctrinaire “conservative,” even if practically no one uses the word properly.

Whereas in South Carolina, being a “progressive” and $2 will get you a cup of coffee. Actually, that’s not quite right. In South Carolina, they might take the coffee back from you if you own up to being a “progressive,” even if you’ve already paid the $2.

But it wasn’t just that they were obsessing about the irrelevant. When my wife reminded me that a debate was about to come on, I groaned. I’ve just about had enough of this stuff. And I’m having trouble remembering the last time one of these debates told me something about one of these candidates, of either party, that I didn’t already know.

I did read about it this morning — The Washington Post had at least five stories on the subject — and learned that, as I suspected, I didn’t miss much.

Anyway, let me step aside, and allow any stalwart souls out there who actually watched the thing share what you got out of it…