Category Archives: Feedback

The problem is pulling that one lever to vote straight ticket

2 thoughts

For some reason, when someone links to my blog, it sometimes shows up as a comment awaiting my approval. I don’t know why. Anyway, that happened today, and it led to a response from me, so I thought I’d share it.

I was being quoted in the context of a much longer post. Actually, I’m not sure why what I had said fit into this post — as the writer said, it was about conservative propaganda, and as he or she said, my point comes from the center — but it did, so I’m just going to address that portion of the post.

The writer was referring to this post from this past Election Day. It was one in which I (and others) objected to people who actually vote on Election Day “late voters.” I then went on to object to the term “ticket-splitting.” My point was that there should be no such term, that the practice should simply be called “voting.” As opposed to what people who pull the party lever and ignore the ballot itself, thereby abdicating their responsibility to think, to discern, to discriminate, to make decisions about each individual candidate, to vote.

Here’s the passage of mine that was selected for quotation:

You know what I call ticket-splitting? “Voting.” True voting, serious voting, responsible voting, nonfrivolous voting. I am deeply shocked by the very idea of surrendering to a party your sacred duty to pay attention, to think, to discern, to discriminate, to exercise your judgment in the consideration of each and every candidate on the ballot, and make separate decisions.

If you don’t go through that careful discernment, you aren’t a voter, you are an automaton — a tool of the false dichotomy presented by the parties, a willing participant in mindless tribalism.

Sure, you might carefully discern in each case and end up voting only for members of one party or the others. And that’s fine — kind of weird, given the unevenness of quality in both parties’ slates of candidates — but if that’s where you end up.

And here’s what the person quoting it had to say about it:

Kernel of truth:
Human beings are certainly tribal, just in general. The idea that political parties are becoming tribes is an obvious extension of this, especially bolstered by worrying observations like increasing polarization of political opinion in the U.S. and (very likely related) increasing physical separation (segregation) between red (suburbs/country) and blue (cities) tribes. You also don’t have to look very long or hard to find a person who has a basic, surface-level understanding of politics, who doesn’t have an elaborate, well-thought-out intellectual theory of politics guiding their positions (in fact, their positions might be a contradictory mish-mash of things) but know very well who they’re supporting in the next election.

Tribal chauvinism can be scary — the ability to ascribe Deep Differences between in-group and out-group justifies (and thus creates) violence. People instinctively wish to bridge gaps between groups. Doing so stems future violence and can even be an ego boost to the person capable of doing so — being able to see how both sides are just tribal takes the person able to see it out of the realm of primitive partiality into the era of enlightenment and clear sight free from petty bias.

Why is the use of “tribalism” messed up?
There are at least three things messed up about analyzing political disagreement as largely tribalism.

First thing: it disrupts public democratic discourse by giving people the ability to dismiss people’s positions as born from blind, unenlightened loyalty rather than being sincerely held. The ability to say, “Well, you WOULD say that because that’s your tribe’s Doctrine” is not a good way to engage with fellow citizens’ opinions.

Second thing: it elides the very real differences and very real societal implications that different positions have. Whether Muslims should be banned, in my opinion, really really isn’t a matter of, “Well, you say to-may-to, I say to-mah-to. Who’s to say what’s right, really?” The concept of political disagreement boiling down, ultimately, to tribalism spreads a weird moralized amorality throughout society, where the ability to see the value of both sides becomes valorized (morally lauded) much more than the ability to take a side decisively (such preference for one over the other is close-minded, unenlightened, tribal). I’m not saying being able to see the logic or reasoning behind the other side is bad — I will never ever turn my back on the importance of empathy. But if your idea of enlightenment extends to “seeing through the bullshit of each side impartially” and no further, not to being able to evaluate the merits and awfulness of various positions, choose a side, and fight for the more moral option, your ability to see free from bias serves you and no one else.

The example above finds it unusual that someone would uniformly choose politicians of one party after careful evaluation because the “quality” of candidates varies so much that there is likely to be overlap, which means that a straight ticket will probably select a bad quality candidate over a better quality candidate. However, this doesn’t really make sense to me as someone for whom political positions are the main criteria of “quality” in a candidate. The two parties agree on a lot, but on the issues they don’t agree on, it is very rare for me to agree more with the political positions of a Republican over even a very right-wing Democrat — my notion of “quality” does not suggest there is much overlap at all. It’s true that serious issues like corruption / criminal behavior might make me consider voting for the other candidate, or a very odd politician who runs on issues no other politician has a stance on might warrant a closer look. However, I think the view that political differences seem like the least relevant consideration only makes sense when you’re in the center.

In the place of political stances, there is an unspecific notion of “quality”, and as you can see in the post, the state of being indifferent to political differences is morally valorized.

Third thing: as someone who is not a centrist, I will tell you that you can have zero loyalty for a political party (in fact, actively have an antagonistic relationship with both), and still have a very clear preference for one party’s politics. Having a preference between two teams ≠ being guided by tribalist loyalties. It just means your politics are not located midway between the teams.

Instead of / when you encounter “tribalism” you should:
Recognize that the existence of tribalism as a psychological feature of humans doesn’t negate very real differences between political stances. Recognize that while it’s good deed to reduce partisan bias in the world, there are sometimes things much worse than being partisan, and sometimes doing the right thing means decisively taking a side and fighting for it, rather than saying “well, I can see the value of both sides”.

Yes, I know that a lot of people hate it when I say “I can see the value of both sides,” and they let me know it, but this was not a case in which I was saying that.

Pleased that this writer was approaching my point thoughtfully, but distressed that my actual point had been ignored for the sake of concentrating on a word (“tribalism”) that was neither here nor there, I responded:

I’m glad you found my blog worth quoting, and I appreciate your thoughtful approach.

But you didn’t address my point.

No one’s trying to paper over differences, or call genuine disagreement “tribalism.”

I’m attacking the indefensible practice of party-line voting. I’m talking about people paying ZERO attention to the relative qualities of individual candidates, and simply pulling the party lever, choosing the very worst candidates that party is offering along with the very best. I’m referring a gross form of intellectual laziness, which I would think — given your thoughtful approach — you would abhor.

A person who pulls that lever abdicates the profound responsibility, as a voter, to think, to discern, to honestly compare each candidate to his or her opponent(s).

Sure, I can see how you can be a Democrat and vote for Democrats most of the time because you more often agree with Democrats. But it would be absurd to say, to assume, to believe, that ALL Democrats are automatically better than ALL Republicans, and vote accordingly, without taking a moment to test your proposition with each candidate on the ballot. In other words, without thinking.

If you’re really, really into being a Democrat (and of course it works the same way with Republicans; I’m just choosing the side you’re more likely to go with), then you will usually vote for the Democrat. In a particular election, you might even end up voting for every Democrat, without engaging in intellectual dishonesty. It seems to me unlikely, but then I can’t imagine agreeing with either party — or any party in the world — on everything. But a person who truly leans that way might legitimately do that.

But if he or she has not thought through every choice on the ballot before arriving at that 100 percent, we have an abdication of responsibility.

And then — you ever notice how irritating it can be when you want to change what you wrote in a comment, but there’s no edit feature (yes, I’m trying to be funny)? Well, those of you who complain about it so much can feel a little Schadenfreude at my having experienced it myself today. So looking back and seeing I had expressed something poorly, I had to add, immediately:

Rather than “I’m attacking the indefensible practice of party-line voting,” I meant to say, “I’m attacking the indefensible practice of party-lever voting.” As I go on to say, it’s OK if you end up voting for every candidate of one party or the other — as strange as voting that way seems to me.

The irresponsible thing, the indefensible thing, is doing so without having considered the individual candidates and their relative qualities in each contest on the ballot.

Great images of Lynn’s Mama back during the war

Says Lynn: "Here is my mother (2nd from right) dressed in a way that would have suited General Patton."

Says Lynn: “Here is my mother (2nd from right) dressed in a way that would have suited General Patton.”

This is certainly the most awesome thing you’ll see on this blog this week.

Back on Friday when I took note of the 72nd anniversary of the start of the Battle of the Bulge, mentioning my late father-in-law’s experience then and there (being deployed on the front line at the very center of the overwhelming German assault, he would be captured and spend the rest of the war in a POW camp), Lynn mentioned her mother’s experience thusly:

My mother was a nurse with the 95th General Hospital during the Battle of the Bulge, and was a member of Veterans of the B of the B until her death. She had some very sad stories, among them soldiers with terrible injuries from frostbite, along with the other wounds of war. She managed to be personally chewed out by Patton twice. Once was for not wearing a helmet, apparently a common event. The other was for being among the unit officers after they managed to get lost behind German lines for three days. I can’t imagine that anyone trusted my mother with a map. Very bright woman, hopeless with a map.

We were all glad that she shared that, and I asked her for pictures. Today, she obliged. Here’s her narration, slightly edited:

Lt. Tommie Dukes

Lt. Tommie Dukes

Just caught up with the blog and saw your request for photos. I have a few photos of my mother during the war… One [right] is a regular portrait photo that I’m pretty sure was made soon after she became an Army nurse. [Below] is one of my personal favorites — Mama and two of her friends on the Champs-Élysées the day of the parade for the liberation of Paris. A French shopkeeper came out and suggested that she might want to try on some frivolous things after all her time in uniform, and this is the result. As you can see, it is in uniform, plus. She had leave, but wasn’t actually supposed to be in Paris. She and her two friends couldn’t stand not being in the city for the big event and hitched a ride from the hospital. They tried to be inconspicuous, but a French general saw them and pushed them into the parade, so they ended up marching down the Champs-Élysées in front of the tanks.

What great stories, and even greater pictures!

Y’all know how I feel I was born in the wrong time, having missed the titanic events that shaped the world I grew up in. So now I’m jealous of Lynn’s Mom, who was There When It All Happened. (And yes, ere my antiwar friends tell me that these fun pictures are not what the war was about, I know that. I just wish I’d had the chance to Do My Bit when it truly mattered — I feel like a freeloader not having done so.)

Envious as I am, I wish I could have met her and thanked her for her service…



Here’s what I mean when I say I’m a ‘centrist’

I’m trying to blog smarter by converting long comments into separate posts. Here’s the latest.

In this case, I had — in the interest of using words economically — referred to myself as a “centrist,” as I frequently do. Both Bud and Harry Harris took exception to the reference.

I replied

Dang, dang, dang! I wrote this somewhat involved, extremely insightful comment a little while ago on my iPad, and lost wifi in the middle of saving it. Let me see if I can reconstruct…

Of course I’m a centrist, to the point that the term has meaning (more on that in a second). I’m an adherent of the postwar governing consensus, the area that Clinton and Blair tried to get us back to in the 90s. I disagree with those who would pull us way from it.

That said, “left,” “right” and “center” are fairly silly terms. I really don’t HAVE a comfortable place on the artificial left-right continuum, and trying to place me, or anyone who THINKS about issues rather than buying them off the shelf prepackaged, on that line can present problems. But since I’m not “left” or “right,” “center” is a convenient term to use.

It’s also convenient because I am for CORE values, not those on the fringes. Here’s what I mean by that…

Government is about solving problems together, or at least efficiently providing those basic functions that we have general agreement government should handle. So I’m interested in areas where the parties overlap, not the areas where they pull away from consensus. We need to identify and build upon those areas where we can work together. And if we get good enough at that, maybe we can branch out to some of the tough subjects.

For that reason, I generally don’t like dealing with Culture War stuff, and get upset when it looks like an election is going to be about such things. Bud says, for instance, he assumes I “still advocate” for traditional marriage. I wasn’t aware I HAD been advocating on that subject. At all. He also mentioned Blue Laws. At one point some years back I made a gentle, passing reference to the fact that opposition to blue laws is one of the sillier overinterpretations of the 1st Amendment’s Establishment clause. Having a sensible agreement to have a day without commerce and hustle-bustle is hardly thrusting a particular form of religion on anyone. It’s just a gesture to basic human sanity. And I say that whenever Doug and Bud bring it up, which they do a LOT, because such a sensible suggestion is DEEPLY offensive to their libertarian reflexes. But I can’t recall advocating or campaigning for such. The most I’ve said is that it’s a shame to see such a life-calming custom go away.

Seriously, when I start campaigning for something, everyone can tell. (See: Confederate flag.)

But back to my point — I don’t see it as productive to invest a lot of political capital in those things, because the fights over them drive us apart and make it harder to agree on the things that should be easy.

The problem these days is that the parties and associated interest groups have polarized us so much that the area of consensus has gotten smaller and smaller.

Bud thinks this is a GREAT year. Well, in a couple of ways it is, but not the ways he thinks.

First, among thoughtful, informed participants and observers, there’s a greater willingness to step out from the stupid left-right, Democratic-Republican dichotomy and consider candidates on their merits. Once people do that, you see the Bushes (whom Bud despises so much), Graham, Sasse, Romney, et al., distancing themselves from Trump or opposing him outright. The latest encouraging manifestation of that is Meg Whitman declaring for Hillary, and the formation of a PAC to encourage Republicans to vote for the lesser of two weevils.

Sure, there are still plenty of Republicans out there who think this is a normal, left-v.-right election and anyone who would support anyone but Trump is a liberal Democrat and therefore the enemy. But I prefer to celebrate the people out there who GET IT.

Also, with Trump as their standard-bearer the GOP has so abandoned the flag-and-country ground that the Democrats were able to co-opt it and position themselves as the party of traditional patriotism last week. In other words, the Dems celebrated the things that used to unite us all, rather than just concentrating on differences (the usual Identity Politics and class warfare stuff).

Of course, this deeply offended the centrifugal forces of our politics, who want to see us fly apart. For instance, Gen. Allen’s speech offended both the military-hating portions of the left and the Democrat-hating elements on the right.

But these are positive developments, to a “centrist” like me…


Response to Post series from James Flowers

I got this comment over the weekend from James Flowers, Leon Lott’s opponent for the Democratic nomination for Richland County sheriff:

Brad Warthen. You should have reached out to me before writing this article so that you would have actual facts instead of what is written in this article by the civil attorney. First of all, as a SLED agent we investigate CRIMINAL actions. This was a CIVIL deposition. My only purpose is to gather the facts and provide them to the James FlowersSolicitor. What you obviously don’t know is that the Solicitor’s office, the FBI, and the US Attorney’s office reviewed my report and had ZERO issues with the work. The Solicitor’s office made the determination that there was no criminal action on the part of the law enforcement officers not Me or SLED. Also, when 3 certified law enforcement officers that are serving 2 valid warrants have any sort of weapon pointed at them, they should by all means respond with deadly force. A real law enforcement leader stands behind and supports law enforcement officers 100% when they are right. Even if he has to be arrogant to do it. This article is nothing more than a hit piece orchestrated by an overzealous civil attorney who has a different legal standard than law enforcement does in reviewing shootings. I also noticed that you didn’t mention the unflattering second article about your friend Lott. So please do some due diligence prior to your next blog. Thank you. James Flowers.

As it happens, the last person to get on my case for not having contacted him before posting something was… Leon Lott. And he kind of had a point, from his perspective, since the point of the post he called about was to wonder aloud why the sheriff hadn’t done a certain thing. Turns out that he had an answer to the question that he wanted to share.

I will always, always be on the defensive when people say I should have contacted them before posting something. But here’s the thing, folks: This is  a commentary blog, not a primary news source. I read things, and I react to them. And invite you to react to my reactions. On the rare occasions that I have time to go out and cover an event myself, I do so. Look back — you’ll see that’s my M.O. It’s not optimal; I wish I could afford to blog full-time. But WYSIWYG.

As it is, I don’t find time to comment on as many things as I’d like to — not even close to it. I’m very straightforward with you about the basis of my comments, so you can look at what I’m looking at and challenge my conclusions. And your comments, like Mr. Flowers’, get posted as well.

In this case, I spent way more time than I usually spend on a single post because it took so long for me to read that 7,000-word Washington Post article on which it was based. As I said, I’d read that one story and the fourth piece from the series by Radley Balko (more accurately, I skimmed the fourth piece). Now that Mr. Flowers has said Lott looks bad in the second installment of the series, I’ll go read that, and share what I find. I probably won’t have time to read the third piece today, but if you get there ahead of me, please share what you find.

Oh, and I don’t plan to call Leon before sharing what I find in that second installment. The story says what it says, and that’s what I’ll be reacting to — as per usual.

Although if I can find the time later, this subject is interesting enough that I might go above and beyond (in other words, take the kind of time I did back when I got paid to do this) and give both Lott and Flowers a call. But it remains to be seen whether that will be possible between now and next Tuesday’s primary.

Maybe some of my colleagues out there in the community who still get paid to do such reporting will get to it ahead of me. Let’s hope so.

Anyway, I welcome Mr. Flowers to the conversation.

On the binary paradigm in U.S. politics, with a digression on ‘false equivalence’

Here’s another case in which I got carried away with a comment response, and decided to turn it into a separate post.

This morning, Phillip observed:

Also, important to remember that parties have been born, fragmented, and died during the course of American history. The fact that we’ve had “Democratic” and “Republican” parties as the two main parties (even as each one’s identity has changed radically over time in many ways) since 1856 has made us forget that a little bit. Perhaps we are seeing the real fragmentation of the Republican party, an upheaval in the two-party system unknown for a century and a half.

Some of this may be attributed to the unusual nature of Trump as a candidate himself, but the wave he sits astride will not vanish with his probable defeat this November. The GOP will not go all kumbaya after this election, whether Trump loses narrowly or loses by a “yuge” margin.

It was a trenchant, relevant comment of the sort we expect from Phillip, and it got me going along these lines…

We’ve had these two parties for so long not because of anything special about these two particular parties and their respective, shifting platforms.

It’s about having two parties, period.

It’s about the binary paradigm. It’s about the fact that we decided some time ago that we had to have a dichotomy. Left and right. Winner and loser. Up and down. Black and white. American League (boo!) and National League. You get two choices, and that’s it. There are only two teams on a football field — there are no players out there wearing a third uniform, or no uniform at all — so why should politics be any different? Isn’t football the perfect analogy for life? (I may never fully extricate my tongue from my cheek after typing that.)

We’ve decided there have to be two parties. It doesn’t much matter how those two parties define themselves, or what they are called. We’re used to Democrat and Republican, so we stick with that. It’s convenient. We don’t care enough about the particulars of parties to try to start new ones, and besides, starting new parties means you might temporarily have three or four before they are winnowed back to two, and that’s contrary to the whole idea of the game.

Worse — and this is particularly maddening to someone who engages in ideas in the public sphere and despises both options — if you reject one option, tout le monde automatically places you in the opposite category. Because you’re not allowed other options.yinyang

And to digress – yes, my horror of being accused of adhering to Option B when I criticize Option A leads me often to make a point of noting that the same problem, or a problem of equal magnitude, exists with Option B. Hence the “false equivalence” that drives some of you to distraction. Except that it’s not false. I really mean it. It’s just that bringing up the fact may seem forced or out of place to you, no matter how elegantly I try to put it. You Option B folks wish I’d just point out the oh-so-obvious faults of Option A without gratuitously picking on your team. Sorry, but I’ve been conditioned to making a particular point of placing myself outside both camps to avoid confusion.

To digress from the digression: Interestingly, Option B in this analogy is pretty much always the Democrats. Y’all notice that? It’s usually, if not always, my more liberal interlocutors who complain of the “false equivalence.” A search for that phrase yields comments by Bud, Kathryn, PhillipSCL and Tim. Not a conservative in the bunch. OK, not all of those accusations of “false equivalence” are aimed at me, but usually they are. SCL provides a particularly good example:

Honestly, you are the king of false equivalence. Have you EVER written a piece, going back to your editor days, that you didn’t try to fit into that “both sides are at fault” template? I’m not a member of either party, but you’re wrong to say the blame for this one lies anywhere other than 100% with the SCGOP….

I wonder why that is — that it’s usually, if not always, liberals/Democrats. I have a couple of theories. The first is that, as holier-than-thou as the Republicans can be, it’s Democrats who are more fully convinced of their own virtue, and of the other sides’ failings. So they are outraged by observations that challenge that. Does that strike you as true? Perhaps not. Here’s my second theory: That Democrats/liberals agree with Republicans/conservatives in seeing the media as liberal, and it particularly irks Democrats when they see a media type going out of his way to lay Democrats’ sins alongside those of Republicans. They feel that he’s letting down the side, breaking an unspoken pact. No? Well, offer your own theory.

Or maybe it’s just that I seem to make more of a point of it when I’m describing Republicans’ failings and feel the need to stick in the Democrats’, as opposed to vice versa — being particularly sensitive to that “y’all are all liberals” meme. And therefore, the Democrats are more likely to notice it…

It was at this point that I decided to turn this into a separate post. Your thoughts?

Remembering the great, up in Boston


Doug Ross sent me this photo this morning with the message:


Here’s where I am at today. .my son’s train stop in Boston.

That’s a reference to our discussion of John Quincy Adams on a previous post.

I’ve never been to Boston, but if they refer to John Quincy as often as we Southerners do to Andy Jackson, maybe I should go to there, if just for a visit…

I’m on my quarterdeck attending to duty, I assure you, sir…


Bud, and then Bryan, raised the alarm yesterday over my absence. Bryan wrote:

No, I haven’t heard from him at all. I even asked him for a book recommendation on the Aubrey-Maturin series, and he never responded.

I hope he’s okay.

That sounds alarming, indeed. But come on, y’all know that I frequently fail to post on the weekend, and yesterday I had business in my hometown of Bennettsville and didn’t get back to the office until 4:30 or so — at which time I promptly gave y’all an Open Thread with more topics than ever before.

But yeah, there was a lot going on over the weekend in politics, so it seemed weird for me not to be commenting, but I assure you I was attending to duty, for the most part, and am now back aboard, pacing the quarterdeck and scanning the horizon for a suitable prize.

Oh, and as to Bryan’s question:

I’m picking out my beach reading in advance. I’m thinking about starting the Aubrey-Maturin series. (Yeah. I’ve never read those books. Hangs head in shame.)
Which three would you recommend starting with, and in which order?

Here’s my response — and I hope others among you will be interested as well, because I’m always glad to have someone else to discuss the books with:

Start from the beginning. They are chronological and sort of like one super-long novel, although O’Brian didn’t intend it when he started out:

  1. Master and Commander — Nothing at all like the movie, which was actually based very loosely on the 10th book, The Far Side of the World. It starts with Lt. Jack Aubrey being assigned to his first command, the 14-gun sloop Sophie, and meeting his soon-to-be best friend, Dr. Stephen Maturin. The actions that sloop engages in track closely with Cochrane’s with the Speedy, including the memorable fight against the Gamo, renamed in the book the Cacafuego. Which you’ll recognize as scatological if you talk foreign, which Maturin does and Aubrey doesn’t. (O’Brian would later say that if he had known the series would go on so long he would have started earlier, with Jack as a midshipman. It apparently didn’t occur to him to go back and write prequels after the series gained a following. He was scrupulously careful to keep to a realistic time frame from the first book to the final fall of Bonaparte.)
  2. Post Captain — This one is in parts weirdly like Jane Austen, in which our heroes, stuck on shore during the brief peace with France, try their hand at being country gentlemen and become romantically entangled with a family of young ladies reminiscent of the Bennets in Pride and Prejudice, but with interesting variations. But don’t worry, lads — there’s still a good bit of action here and there — and quite a lot of character development important to later books. This and the first book are the two longest, and if there’s one in the series that will seem perhaps a tad too long, it’s this one, but be patient — the pace quickens after this. And the good bits are very rewarding. Be advised that the relationships with the ladies severely test Jack’s and Stephen’s friendship. (A constant theme of the books is that Jack is far better off at sea, well out of the sight of land and away from such complications — while Stephen, ever the lubber, is least at home aboard ship.)
  3. HMS Surprise — For the first time Jack commands the frigate he will love the most for the rest of his career. You also learn more about Stephen’s secret life — he is something more than an accomplished physician and respected naturalist. This is one of my very favorites in the series, chock full o’ action and human drama from Port Mahon to Bombay.

So, there you have it. Get busy reading — quick’s the word and sharp’s the action.

I’ll expect a full report upon your return. Before you have your clerk write it out fair, have Stephen look it over — he’s a learned cove.

Hereof nor you nor any of you may fail as you will answer the contrary at your Peril…

Anyone having technical trouble on the blog?

Last night, I got this from Bryan:

I responded that it was OK at my end, although a bit slow.

Then, this morning, I saw that I got this from the entity that hosts my site:

This email is to inform you that we had to kill one
of your MySql queries because it had been running
for over 1 minute and it was impacting other users.

Kill one of my MySql series? What should I do? I suppose could kill one of theirs back (if I could find out where it lived), but then the cycle of revenge could be never-ending…

In any case, have any of y’all experienced technical difficulties here on the blog in the last 24 hours?

Fun to be on the page with Robert (and Cindi) again

better page

“They’re back and they’re bad!”

“When they get together, Trouble comes a-runnin’!”

“Confederate Agenda II: Just when you thought it was safe to read the paper again…”

I’m thinking taglines for a cheesy sequel buddy action flick after seeing the page today in The State with Robert Ariail paired with me once again — my column with his cartoon. A lot of friends have commented on that — favorably. Although when Mike Fitts said it was “Just like old times,” Neil White, being himself, responded that “they were celebrating Throwback Tuesday over there.”

“It’s Throwback Tuesday. Don’t turn that page!”

Anyway, it’s great to be back with Robert in print today, even though it’s only today. And to be back with Cindi Scoppe, of course. I’ve been working with her off and on since the weekend, strategizing about what I was going to write and the best time to run it, then working together through the editing process. And I was aware that she was writing two editorials that would run with my piece — this one congratulating the Senate, and this one exhorting the House to follow the Senate’s example — whereas Robert’s cartoon was more of a nice surprise.

Now that was even more like old times. I haven’t even seen my buddy Robert this week, but working on this with Cindi was a very pleasant return to the alternative universe where everything is as it should be.

I even called her to ask for a PDF of the page today, to have a souvenir of the occasion (nowadays, things don’t seem real without a digital version). An inferior JPG image is above. Click on it, and you get the PDF.

Doug reports from London: He didn’t have the time to wait in the queue…

Doug Tube

The queue at Oxford Circus, 6 p.m., Nov. 25, 2014. Photo by Doug Ross

Yes, that’s a paraphrase from a song written by Eric Clapton and George Harrison

Anyway, you remember our discussion of mass transit back at the end of October, when Doug Ross mentioned he would be in London for a week in November, and would report on whether he thought the London Underground was as awesome as I say it is?

Well, he checked in via text last week (sorry, I failed to pass it on, what with trying to get my work decks cleared for Thanksgiving).

He sent the above photo, with this caption:

This is the line to get to the steps to get to the entry to the tube at 6 p.m. in Oxford circus. When it is not crowded it’s fine. Otherwise it’s a nightmare.

So there you have it; the opposite position from my own.

I never ran into anything that bad in London. I was in some crowded trains, and waited on some crowded platforms. But I never had to wait up on street level to get into the Tube. Maybe that’s because I was there between Christmas and two days after New Years Day, so normal commuter traffic was lighter than usual. Or else Doug has just had phenomenally back luck.

I will quote this from Wikipedia: “At the end of the 2000s, Oxford Circus had the highest pedestrian volumes recorded anywhere in London.” So, you know, it might be a place to avoid if you haven’t got the time to wait in the queue.

But I’ve shared Doug’s report, in the interest of fairness. Perhaps he would like to elaborate…

FYI, Legislative Black Caucus DID have a white member


Members of the Legislative Black Caucus, circa 2009.

On a previous thread, we got into the whole why-can’t-there-be-whites-only-organizations-when-there-are-blacks-only-organizations thing (get enough white guys together, and this will eventually come up — you know how those people are), with the Legislative Black Caucus being mentioned, as per usual.

Which reminds me…

Last time we had such a discussion, I got an enlightening DM from Bakari Sellers. Our conversation follows:


Huh. “She paid her dues and asked.” Doesn’t sound like a terribly high bar.

By the way, here’s evidence, if you need it.

Cathy Harvin, for those who don’t recall, was elected to the SC House in 2005 in a special election to replace her late husband, Alex. She served for five years until her own death, at the age of 56, from breast cancer.

To my knowledge, the caucus does not currently have any white members.

Burl Burlingame’s awesome second career

Actually, it’s not so much a second career as it is a continuation and expansion of one that he had always pursued.

Even in high school, Burl Burlingame was a Renaissance Man. He was a photographer, a musician, an actor, a cartoonist, a writer, an editor and a publisher, putting out his own underground newspaper at Radford High School, from which he and I graduated in 1971.

He was also really into airplanes and their history.

So while he was spending 35 years working for newspapers, he had a parallel career as a military historian specializing in the Pacific. He published on the subject, and became the leading expert on Japanese midget submarines. While working at the paper, he was a volunteer at a local aviation museum there in Honolulu.

Who could have predicted, in 1971, that among his many enthusiasms, the one that would be employing him in 2014 was his passion for building model airplanes?

But that’s the way it worked out, as Burl is now curator of the Pacific Aviation Museum on Ford Island in the middle of Pearl Harbor.

(By contrast, I was spending my 35 years in newspapers working 12-hour days so I had no time or energy for a outside pursuits, becoming expert in every aspect of the trade, innovating at every opportunity, leading the way on new technology, pioneering in blogging, leading other journalists, climbing the ladder to senior management — which led to nothing in the end. So let that be an object lesson to you, children.)

Anyway, since Burl is a regular here, I thought y’all might be interested in these video features about what he does, which seems to me like too much fun to get paid for. Above is an overall feature about his job and how he does it, while the clip below is Burl’s bio.

Watch, and envy him…

Our own Burl wrote ‘The Greatest Movie Review Ever Written’

Saw this via social media (and in an email from Burl) while I was at the beach last week…

It’s apparently from a 2011 blog post by Adam Green, who describes himself thusly:

I am Vogue’s theater critic. I also write for The New Yorker, and I’m writing a book, too. So there you have it.   

Green wrote,

I first read this, xeroxed, in George Meyer’s legendary Army Man magazine, and it has stayed with me ever since. Its author, Burl Burlingame, still writes and reviews movies for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. Whatever else he has done, or will do, he will always be remembered for the phrase “gassy, recently embalmed appearance.”

And then he quoted the review in its entirety. It was of the otherwise forgettable “Cannonball Run II.”

A sample of Burl’s immortal prose:

A minimum effort from all concerned, “Cannonball Run II” is this summer’s effort by Burt Reynolds and Hal Needham to get the public to subsidize a month-long party for Burt and his pals. The home movies taken during the party are edited into something resembling a feature film, at least in length.tumblr_lu52uhRKBN1qz9lb6
     They’re asking $4 for admission, and that doesn’t include even one canape.
     Burt’s friends are musty, dusty attractions at the Hollywood Wax Museum. They include Dean Martin, whose skin has the texture and unhealthy pallor of a cantaloupe rind and who says things like “When I make a dry martini, I make a dry martini,”—a sure-fire Rat Pack knee-slapper—and Sammy Davis Jr., who looks like a cockroach. Director Needham also never bothered to make sure Davis’ glass eye was pointing in the proper direction. It rolls wildly, independent of the other orb.
     Other couch potatoes direct from “The Tonight Show” are the insufferable Charles Nelson Reilly; wheeze-monger Foster Brooks; Jim Nabors, who has swell-looking artificial teeth; and Don Knotts, who looks like a chimp recently released from Dachau….

I urge you to go read the whole thing, just to make sure you’re never tempted to call up this chestnut on Netflix or something. Oh, I’ll just go ahead and give you Burl’s ending:

     The movie is a genuine cultural artifact, a relic given to us by a band of entertainers from long ago, who live in self-imposed exile in the dusty, neon hellhole of Las Vegas.
     They seem to have no trouble amusing each other.
     It’s not contagious.

Images of Bob Coble welcoming the Somali Bantu


This morning, I ran into a friend while waiting for an elevator, and he, trying to raise his small-talk game above the talking-about-the-weather level, asked me one of my least-favorite polite questions:

Do you miss working at the newspaper?

He meant well. So, I believe, have most of the people who have asked me that question over the past five years. But I do have to wonder sometimes at the thought process that leads them to think that’s a polite question.

Think about it. It could elicit a response of:

  1. No, not at all. Which seems highly unlikely after having spent 35 years in the game. I could say it, but I would have to forgive anyone who heard it as false bravado. Or,
  2. Yes, with all my being, every minute of the day. Which would sound pretty pathetic, and just embarrass everyone within earshot.

So I generally just say something in-between. Such as, “I’ll tell you one thing I miss about it,” etc. I then mention some routine thing that is different about life on the outside, something that’s not particularly overburdened with emotional freight.

For instance, the other day, when I was reminded of former Mayor Bob Coble literally embracing the head of the first Bantu family to arrive in Columbia, was a day when I missed one thing in particular: Having access to The State‘s photo archives. As I mentioned here, I searched the web and came up dry. That wouldn’t have happened when I was at the paper.

So that’s one thing I miss.

Fortunately, a couple of folks came to my rescue on that one point. WIS veteran Jack Kuenzie sent me the image above, with the message:

Resolution is not great because I had to snag it off a computer screen. I seem to recall that photo being on the front page. Bob had it framed in his office.

Then, Bob’s son Daniel Coble sent me an image of the very picture I had been thinking of, which you see below. Daniel wrote:

Brad, I saw you posted about the immigrant children the other day and mentioned the Bantus. Here’s the picture of them together. Sorry I don’t have the article to go with it

So thanks, Jack Daniel! I mean, thanks Jack, and thanks, Daniel!


Doug Ross claims title of ‘highest commenter’ on blog

Photo by Doug Ross

Photo by Doug Ross

Yesterday, our own Doug Ross texted me the above photo, saying:

Fyi, my last post on your blog came from the top of a mountain in squaw valley… 8900 feet… which makes me your highest commenter

It is the official position of this blog to assume he meant “highest” in terms of physical altitude — even though he is a libertarian, vacationing out West, where smoking dope is legal…

When he gets back, we’ll have to ask him whether there are plans to change the name of the valley…

On being accused of being ‘pro-government’ on every issue

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

— John Donne

I still don’t understand what about the previous Bowe Bergdahl discussion prompted this (which is one reason why I’m moving the discussion to a separate thread), but Bud wrote:

Brad you’re actually pretty easy to predict. If it involves more government intervention you’re for it. Issues traditionally on the right that involved more government intervention: Iraq, military spending, abortion, marijuana laws, Sunday blue laws, gay marriage. Brad supports? Check, check, check, check. Liberal issues with more government involvement: healthcare, foreign aid, gun control, public education. Brad? check x 4.

Kathryn Fenner weighed in enthusiastically: “Nailed it.”

My response…

Yes, I believe that as a society we can work together to address challenges that face us. I do not believe that we are islands, on our own in the void.

You interpret that as being pro-government (because any arrangement between people to work together, whether formal or informal, can be said to be government), and say it like it’s a bad thing. Government is civilization’s prerequisite.

But saying I’m pro-government suggests the straw men of libertarians, who go on about “statism” and “collectivism.” They misrepresent a belief that we can come together as free people and build a decent civilization together as being Stalinist. That’s at the extreme. At the least, though, being pro-government to them means you’re pro-BIG government, as though size were particularly relevant.

I want government to be no bigger, and no smaller, than it needs to be in order to accomplish the legitimate tasks of enabling us to address common issues. And I’ve long been an advocate of subsidiarity, something that doesn’t come up here a lot because most of y’all don’t seem to want to get into the theoretical weeds quite that far. But put simply, it means governmental functions — and functions of other organizations and institutions as well — should be performed at the lowest, smallest, most local level that is competent to perform them adequately. That means, for instance, that whenever possible, I want to push functions down from the federal to the state level (think education) and from the state to the local (think all those MANY things that state legislators oversee in SC that should be local).

The purpose of the larger levels are to perform the things that the smaller ones can’t, effectively. The federal level needs to handle relations with foreign countries, from diplomacy to trade to war, regulate interstate commerce (mostly to keep it free and flowing, unlike under the Articles of Confederation) and do a very few other things. One of those things, I’ve come to believe, should be setting up one gigantic, universal health insurance pool, because the economies to be gained far exceed what any state or locality could manage.

Oh, dang. You went and got me started. How did we get from Bergdahl onto this subject anyway?

One more point: What Bud is addressing is one of the reasons why I will never feel comfortable in either the “liberal” or “conservative” camps, as they are popularly defined and organized. I agree with one side on more or less as many issues on which I agree with the other. On some, I agree with neither. That’s because I think about each issue. And my agreement or disagreement with each camp turns on a lot of points other than the relative involvement of “government.”

But it’s true that you will find consistency, for the most part, in my opposition to the propositions of libertarians. I say “for the most part” because there are areas of disagreement. I agree on the importance of the basic freedoms we enjoy as Americans, and in cases in which they are truly threatened, I will stand as staunchly as anyone in their defense. I just think libertarians tend to see threats where they don’t exist. But I’m with them on issues here and there: For instance, I see “hate crime” laws as fundamentally unAmerican, and a violation of the first and most important human right, the right of freedom of conscience, which is enshrined in various forms (speech, press, religion, assembly) in the First Amendment.

But I regard their hand-wringing over Edward Snowden’s revelations as absurd. You can no doubt think of many other areas of strong disagreement.

So I’m neither a liberal or a conservative. Or perhaps I’m a “liberal-conservative” or a “conservative-liberal.” I would say you could call me a “Democratic-Republican,” except that back when there actually was such a party, I probably would have been a Federalist…

What would it take to get 481 comments today?

OK, this sort of blew my mind…

I knew that back in the days when I didn’t moderate comments, we used to hit some pretty big numbers, with some threads drawing 200 or even 300 comments.

But I had no idea about this one…

This morning, I had to delete and report a spam comment — actually one linking to a pornographic site, which I think would usually get filtered out automatically — and saw that it was on a post headlined “The Monitor Group.” Having no memory of such a post, I went back to look it up. And it was a rather dull, short and dry one from 2006, sort of peripherally about the tuition tax credit issue. I could see why I had forgotten it. We had a lot of hot discussions on that issue, but this one didn’t stand out.

There was only one remarkable thing about it — it had drawn 481 comments. Whoa…


Most of them seemed to be actual comments, too. I figured the later ones would all be spam, but actually they were largely a back-and-forth between Lee Muller and Randy Ewart. Remember them, long-time bloggers?

Anyway, that inspired me to add a widget to the sidebar at right, showing this blog’s most-commented posts of all time. Some of them I remember as being hot topics. Some, not so much:

The burning question for me is, what would it take to get 481 comments today? I realize I’m asking y’all on a Friday, when you tend to check out, but I’m asking it anyway, because this is when the subject came up.

Not that I want to pander or anything, but I do like a nice, lively — and civil — discussion.

Are we an uncompromising bunch here on the blog?

The last couple of days, Doug Ross and I have had a sidebar conversation growing out of the earlier thread about the importance of compromise.

Doug argued that we may all talk about compromise and how important it is to getting along with the people in our lives or in shaping public policy, but we don’t practice it all that much — which to him is not a bad thing. With “we” referring to regulars on this blog, including Doug and me.

Excerpts from a couple of his emails:

Who among your most regular commenters would you say ISN’T uncompromising? Including yourself. I think we’re all of a certain age and high level of certainty about our beliefs based on our experiences. …

Of this group, which do you think could be convinced to make even a moderate change in his/her views?

bud, Kathryn, Phillip, Bryan, Silence, Mark, Karen

Anyone past the age of 40 who hasn’t got a clear view of his beliefs, principles, and view of the world is probably pretty lost.

I know that I have made some large swings in my beliefs in the past 10-15 years – I was pro-choice and am now pro-life. I was against gay marriage but now am for it. I am definitely coming around on single payer.. it beats the current alternative since we can’t go back to the former.

My take on it is that we are each a function of our experiences. You would have a hard time convincing me that you would have the same view of the military had you grown up in my house or Phillip’s. You are what you know and what you’ve seen and done….

So… bud, Kathryn, Phillip, Bryan, Silence, Mark, Karen… were your ears burning? Since we were talking about you, I thought you might want to join in.

I said he probably had a point — although a couple of y’all (maybe Mark? maybe Karen?) are perhaps slightly more open to changing your minds than the rest. I think maybe the more “malleable” people are probably shyer about posting. They are the lurkers (and you know who you are — I can see several of you out there on Google Analytics as I type this). The more, shall we say, definite people are less bashful about making statements for all to read.

And I’ve said this before, but I really don’t think I’m that hard to convince with a good argument. People used to change my mind during our debates at The State — before we took a stand on them that is, during the decision-making stage.

And from time to time, I would change my own mind in the process of writing something. I would have a thesis, and as I worked on it and collected evidence I would find that my thesis just didn’t work, and that I wanted to say something different, often very different.

I once had a candidate endorsement on the page, and the page ready to go to press, when I changed my mind (because of a single phone conversation that I had in the early evening after I thought I was done with the next day’s pages), and pulled it and endorsed her opponent.

But the things we talk about on the blog are usually things that I’ve made my mind up about over a course of years and decades of testing them against contrary arguments. Which makes my positions hard to shake.

There are plenty of issues out there, though, that I haven’t made up my mind about. There’s the ballpark at Bull Street, for instance. Y’all haven’t seen me take a strong stance on that, have you?

My exchange with Barton Swaim of the SC Policy Council

This morning, I had this email from the SC Policy Council’s Barton Swaim about yesterday’s math problem:

“They have tightly contained the growth in funding sources that they control.”

So you think the legislature doesn’t control the federal portion of the budget? Or the fines/fees portion, which has consistently climbed upward?

So I responded:

The fines and fees, yes. But in making a philosophical argument about the “size of government,” you can’t hold legislators responsible for federal appropriations. Doesn’t make sense. If you want to talk about federal money, talk about Congress.

And he responded:

btsThey have to approve almost every federal dollar. With only a few exceptions, “no agency may receive or spend federal or other funds that are not authorized in the appropriations act” (state law, 2-65-20 [5]). The fact that lawmakers completely neglect oversight in this area – except to advocate for more federal money and change state laws per federal demands in order to draw it down – does not alter the fact that they do, in fact, have the power to control it. Indeed, they actively encourage more federal spending so that Washington can pay for basic state government services (roads, social services, etc.) and the legislature can blow more and more state money on bogus stuff like corporate welfare and tourism marketing….

Incidentally, I’m not a libertarian. I don’t even “lean libertarian,” as some people say.

And I responded:

You sound pretty libertarian to me. When the objection isn’t to raising taxes (or fees, if you like), but to spending at all, wherever the money comes from, that’s pretty much a blanket negation of the value of government.
And by “corporate welfare,” do you mean incentives for economic development? I’m sort of neutral on those. If they seem likely to pay in the long run, I’m for them. Otherwise, not.
And why wouldn’t we do tourism marketing, since tourism is such a big piece of our economy? I can see debating it, case by case, but dismissing the whole notion as “bogus” seems to be going too far.
Do you mind if I post our conversation on my blog?

And he responded:

No problem about posting the conversation, just take out … [which I did]….

In the cases of both tourism marketing and corporate welfare, there’s no way to prove that either “work.” With incentives (both tax favors for specific companies and outright cash for the same), the only way the state keeps track of their success is a series of press releases sent out by the governor and Commerce department boasting on the number of jobs “recruited.” Whether these jobs ever become actual jobs, nobody knows.

On tourism marketing, how would you know if it was working or not? An increase in tourism – which you would get in any case when the economy improves? Come on. When you see a commercial saying “Virginia is for lovers” or whatever, do you think, “You know, Virginia would be a nice place to take the family for a vacay”? Well I don’t. What I think is, “Looks like Virginia’s tourism department had some leftover money they needed to blow so they wouldn’t have any left over at the end of the fiscal year and they could as the House of Delegates for more.” Similarly, nobody needs to be told that South Carolina has nice beaches and that it’s less expensive to vacation here than Florida. They know that already. And if they don’t, they ain’t gonna be persuaded to change their summer plans after watching some hokey commercial.

I ended with:

Well, since I’m working in the marketing biz these days, don’t expect me to agree that it’s a waste of money. :)
Thanks for the exchange.