Category Archives: Confessional

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

writing

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

bob-dylan-square

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…

Q-tips, that most surreal of products

Hold stick near centre of its length. Moisten pointed end in mouth. Insert in tooth space, blunt end next to gum. Use gentle in-out motion.

Those instructions, found on a box of toothpicks, convinced the fictional Wonko the Sane that the world had gone mad — how else to explain the need for instructions on how to use a toothpick? So, in Douglas Adams’ So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish, Wonko built an inside-out house. When he was in it, he said he was “outside the asylum.” The rest of the world was “inside the asylum.”

I think Adams would have made his point better had he used the warning that appears on packages of Q-tips, in bold letters: “Do not insert swab into ear canal.” In other words, don’t do what people buy Q-tips to do.

So I was pleased to see this item in The Washington Post this morning: “The strange life of Q-tips, the most bizarre thing people buy.” Indeed.

I was somewhat surprised to learn that Q-tips were not initially designed or marketed specifically for the thing they are best suited to do — go into your ear canal. But no one, except apparently the manufacturer, pretends that they are not used for that.

The piece included dire warnings from physicians about never, ever sticking cotton swabs into your ears — not only to avoid injury to the eardrum, but because apparently earwax is a good and healthful thing.

I wouldn’t know. I’ve never, at any point in my life that I can recall, had earwax. I use cotton swabs every morning to dry out my ears after my shower — I can’t bear hearing and feeling water in my ears. In between those daily uses, I use them to deal with itching, also in my ears. They provide blessed relief. Sometimes at night, I can’t sleep for the itching, and have to go fetch a swab (we seldom buy the brand name, so it’s not technically a Q-tip) and give it a brief workout before I can go back to sleep.

The Post story says that’s a self-defeating cycle:

Using Q-tips leads to what dermatologists refer to as the itch-scratch cycle, a self-perpetuating addiction of sorts. The more you use them, the more your ears itch; and the more your ears itch, the more you use them….

Maybe. I think it has more to do with my allergies. The more they are acting up, the more my ears (and eyes, but you’ll be glad to know I don’t stick Q-tips into them) itch.

One of my earliest memories has to do with that problem. I was 3 or 4 years old. We were visiting my grandparents in Due West. My ears were driving me nuts. I couldn’t find where my grandparents kept their Q-tips, and I didn’t ask because I wasn’t allowed to use them on my own. I found a bobby pin on a dresser, and used that to address the itch. My ear started bleeding. I was a little scared, but my main concern was that I was really going to get in trouble. Even at that age, I didn’t want anyone to know that I’d done something that stupid. So I hid behind a door. This did not work. I was found, with blood coming out my ear, and yes, there were recriminations and a good deal of embarrassment.

But that’s never happened to me with Q-tips…

I can’t believe we’re voting next month (this just doesn’t feel right)

Democratic presidential hopeful, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., responds to a warm welcome from the audience as he approaches the microphone during a South Carolina victory party in Columbia, S.C. Saturday, Jan. 26, 2008. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

Dimly remembered: 8 years ago, there was actual excitement.

I started to say this in a comment earlier, but decided it was worth a post…

You know, this year doesn’t feel like either 2012 or 2008 — which are the only presidential years since I’ve been blogging (which affects my perception). By now, there should be a fever pitch of interest, on my part and on the parts of my readers. January 2008 was by far my biggest month for blog traffic when I was at the paper. January 2012 was huge on the blog’s post-MSM iteration.

But that absorbing interest just doesn’t seem to be there, on anyone’s part. After a high last summer with the Emanuel AME shootings and the flag coming down, my traffic has been ticking along at, if anything, a slower pace than usual. And it hasn’t picked up since Christmas, the way it usually would.

A huge part of this is me — I’m not feeling charged up, and my level and frequency of posting reflects that. But I sense that I’m not alone in feeling this way. I’m not picking up on any excitement on anyone’s part. (Please tell me if I’m wrong.) And it’s not just on the blog — I’m just not hearing all that much interest out on the street, either.

And I think a big part of is that the choices are so dispiriting.

There just doesn’t seem to be any likely good outcome from the GOP contest, which makes a sensible person want to go to sleep and leave instructions to be awakened when there’s a whole other slate of options to choose from.

But every night for what — six months or so — we’ve gone to bed each night and waked up to see Trump leading the polls. Some days, we might think we see something else on the horizon — look, somebody else is catching up to him! But then that somebody else turns out to be Ben Carson, or Ted Cruz, and you just want to give up.

Then, on the Democratic side…

It looks like, when it’s all said and done, it will be Hillary. But by the time that happens, she will be so battered and shopworn that no one will feel any enthusiasm about that outcome. There will just be a sort of weary acceptance. In fact, it feels like we reached that point some time back. Years ago, even.

Sure, there have been moments of almost-hopefulness on that side, too:

  • Joe Biden might run! Oh, no… he won’t…
  • Look, someone’s catching up to her! Dang, it’s just Bernie Sanders…
  • Hey, she did great in that debate! Maybe it won’t be so bad if she’s the nominee… but then you are soon reminded of the things, big and small, that keep you from being enthusiastic, and make you feel like you’re being marched to the inevitable by a Vogon guard who is shouting “Resistance is useless!

You tell yourself, there are some decent options on the Republican side — Jeb Bush or Mario Rubio on their good days, maybe Chris Christie when he’s not blustering or John Kasich when he’s not being crabby.

But then you think, none of them seems likely to win here. And even if one of them is the eventual nominee, it seems increasingly likely that that will be decided quite some time after our primary.

And hey, you tell yourself: You may be tired of her, but don’t you like her views on foreign policy better than any Democrat since Joe Lieberman? (OK, maybe you don’t think that; but I do.) Isn’t this a chance to revive the Third Way, or at least to take a step in that direction? Wasn’t Bill Clinton a pretty sound policy guy, despite all the drama, and doesn’t she have a lot of the same characteristics?

But then you remember that with the Clintons there is always the endlessly wearying drama, the feelings of persecution, the scores to settle with the vast right-wing conspiracy, and you wonder, Am I really up for more of this?

Maybe I’m just blowing smoke here. Maybe I’m totally off-base. But this just all feels really low-energy for a month before the primaries. Maybe y’all disagree with that. Or maybe you have a better explanation for it.

Or maybe no one will comment on this, which seems to happen too often these days. Which means, maybe it’s me. Maybe I’m losing my touch…

Naaaahhh…

Anyone know how to do this in Windows 10?

This is what I want to see when I right-click on the "Notepad" tile.

This is what I want to see when I right-click on, say, the “Notepad” tile.

I got a new laptop right after Christmas — my old one was running slower and slower — and it’s great, but I’m still figuring out a few things on it.

That’s mainly because the new one runs on Window 10, but also because this is my first Asus machine, and it does some things slightly differently from a Dell or an HP.

Over the weekend, I finally figured out how to turn off the touchpad when a mouse is in use — those things drive me nuts; the heels of my hands are always touching them and causing my cursor to do something bizarre and occasionally causing me to lose everything I’ve typed (don’t ask me how). And sometimes, CTRL+Z doesn’t bring it all back, at which point the Urge to Kill arises…

Anyway, that’s fixed. And fixed better than on my old laptop. On that one, I just had to turn it off. On this one, in an emergency when my mouse stops working, the touchpad should reactivate. A bit redundant since this has a fancy-schmancy touch screen, but nice to know.

Here’s my latest question, and I’m tired of Googling for an answer, so I’ll see if any of y’all know…

I had the foresight to install Windows 10 on my old machine several weeks ago, to see if I could stand it (I’d heard so many horror stories about 8). If I could not stand it, I was going to order a machine with Windows 7 online (you can’t get them in stores anymore, and I was determined to buy at Best Buy this time, so I wouldn’t have to FedEx my laptop to the other side of the world when something goes wrong with it).

And after about three weeks with it, I decided this was a system I could work with. There were still some things that are ridiculously irritating, such as the fact that you can’t decide what will appear in the vertical list that pops up on the left-hand side of the screen when you hit the Windows Start key.

But you can work around that by putting them in the tiles over to the right. And I found that was just as good as having them in the list on the left, because you could right-click on the tile and see all recent files used in that application. Which is nice.

Trouble is, that doesn’t happen when I right-click on the tiles on my new machine. I just get three or four options such as “Unpin from Start.” I don’t know why it works on the old machine; I didn’t do anything to make it do that; it just does it.

I know there’s some really, really simple setting change that will fix this (maybe it’s just that I’ve used too few files for it to activate; I don’t know); I’ve just been unable to find it. And it occurs to me that maybe one of y’all will know the answer.

How about it?

Y’all are all getting ads like this too, right? I said, RIGHT?

The ad at right, generated by Google Adsense to appear in the right-hand rail of the blog for my viewing pleasure, is weird on a number of levels.testosterone

  • What’s the connection between hot women and low testosterone? Is the theory that guys who have need of the product will look at the picture and think, “I feel nothing, so I must have low T”? I would think that most heterosexual males would be persuaded, by looking at a picture like that, that one thing they do not need is more testosterone. I mean, seriously, did Ulysses think he had low T as he was tied to the mast, his naked ears tortured by the sirens sweetly singing?
  • Who are the ad wizards who wrote that copy? You’re saying this is “What Happens When You Take a Testosterone Supplement?” Well, then, no thanks! I don’t want to look like that! (I mean, it might be gratifying to see Bruce/Caitlin Jenner turn green with envy… but not that gratifying.)
  • Finally… why am I seeing this? I promise you that I have not searched for “What do I do about low testosterone?” or “Large-busted young women who wear T shirts that are way too small.” Hey, maybe that’s the problem! Maybe Google assumes that if you’re NOT searching for such pictures, you must have low T….

But of course, it’s not just me, is it? All of you fellas are getting the same ad, right? I said, right?

I don’t know. I just think it’s weird. And what about all those ads about meeting Asian women? Is that just because I’ve written about going to Thailand?…

Now THAT’S what I call extra lemon! Good job, Lizard’s Thicket!

lemon

OK, first, I know I shouldn’t be drinking a jumbo (why do they have to call it “jumbo?” I ask for a large; they repeat it back to me as “jumbo”) sweet tea, in light of my current dietary goals.

But set that aside, and allow me to give some props to the Lizard’s Thicket on Elmwood, for going above and beyond.

I didn’t used to drink much sweet tea, because it was frankly too sweet for me. Then I discovered a couple of years back that I could tolerate any amount of sugar as long as there was enough lemon in it. And that, in fact, super-sweet tea with plenty of lemon was really good stuff.

So — and yes, this is how bad habits start — I started ordering sweet tea “with extra lemon” instead of my usual water or unsweetened tea.

But some restaurants have an odd idea of “extra lemon.” Sometimes I’ll get only a couple of slices — whereas “extra” is at least three, right? That’s how many I get when it’s self-serve — I don’t want to be greedy; I just want to offset the sweetness.

But today, the Lizard’s Thicket on Elmwood gave me tea with seven slices of lemon in it! More than twice as many as I would dare to grab for myself!

Now that’s what I call service. And since I didn’t realize it until after I got back to the office and therefore didn’t get to thank them, I’m posting this…

Sorry, governor: It wasn’t me; it was Facebook

One of the things I hate about Facebook is the way it will randomly grab an image from my blog to go with a post that has no image.

People think I spend a lot of time on Facebook every day. I don’t. When I post something on my blog, the headline and link automatically post to Twitter. All of those Tweets — plus all of the Tweets I compose directly in Twitter itself — automatically post to Facebook. It’s not me; it’s the algorithms.photo (14)

If there was a picture in the post, that also shows up in the Facebook post (which up to a point is cool — I wish Twitter would do that, too).

But when there isn’t a picture in the post, Facebook goes and finds one. As often as not, it grabs one of the scores of header images that are generated randomly from my image library to display at the top of each page on the blog.

This makes for some picture appearing with posts that are wildly unconnected to the subject matter. Which is frustrating.

I particularly hate what it did last night — pairing the header image below, from Nikki Haley’s campaign appearance with Sarah Palin in 2010, with the headline “These are some bad guys. Some really, truly bad guys,” and the link to my post about ISIL.

Please allow me to apologize to Gov. Haley (and to ex-Gov. Palin, although you couldn’t really see her). I know I’ve been critical at times in the past, but I did NOT mean to say that about you.

And I wish to set the record straight with everyone else. I was not saying that about our governor.

The only good news in all this is that to the best of my knowledge, you could only see the governor in the phone version of Facebook (the iPhone app version, anyway). The iPad version and the browser version randomly cropped the image so that you couldn’t see anything but some of the granite steps. Which looks stupid, but at least doesn’t seem to say something I don’t mean to say.

Facebook can be such a pain…

cropped-HaleyPalinheader