Category Archives: Feedback

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…

woah

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.

Twitter more racially diverse than rest of Web (and, I’m guessing, way more so than this blog)

BeeHl7OCUAItUfm

This, from the WSJ, sort of surprised me:

For most of its rather short life, Twitter rarely mentioned that its user base is more racially diverse than U.S. Internet users as a whole. Now, as a newly minted public company needing to generate revenue, it is moving to capitalize on its demographics.

In November, Twitter hired marketing veteran Nuria Santamaria to a new position as multicultural strategist, leading its effort to target black, Hispanic and Asian-American users.

Together, those groups account for 41% of Twitter’s 54 million U.S. users, compared with 34% of the users of rival Facebook and 33% of all U.S. Internet users, according to Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project….

I don’t know why. Maybe it’s racist of me to have assumed that Twitter was way white. I think it probably had something to do with it being a geeky medium, and I think of geeks as white, the fictional Rajesh Koothrappali notwithstanding.

Facebook, as it turns out, is every bit as white bread as I thought it was. Twitter, less so.

These are not vast differences, but it seems meaningful that the Twitterverse is 50 percent blacker than the U.S. population as a whole. I don’t know what it means, but it seems it means something.

Lest you throw stones at me for being taken by surprise, I’ll have you know that many of my friends/followers/contacts are non-white. Although…

And I’ve sort of wondered about this…

I find myself associating more with nonwhite friends and acquaintances in real life than in the Twitterverse, or elsewhere on the Web. Look at my church (especially the Mass I attend, which is in Spanish), or the membership of the Capital City Club, etc.

In fact, and I hope I’m not insulting anyone here, I kinda think of most of y’all as white. Based on the regulars I actually have met — Kathryn, Doug, Silence, Bryan, Karen, Phillip, Bud, Mark, KP, etc. — that seems overwhelmingly the case. Of course, that’s totally anecdotal, but I tend to pick up on a pretty white vibe in most of our conversations.

This blog seems to lack crossover appeal. Unlike Twitter. I knew Twitter was cool, but I didn’t realize it could be quantified to this extent….

Request line: Here’s that Pinson thread Silence wanted

Nothing I’ve posted the last couple of days has engaged y’all’s interest much. So I suppose I’ll take requests.

On the last post, Silence asked: “Can we [have] Pinson thread? Or top headlines, or something?

It took me a moment to realize what he meant. Google was no help. But then I realized I had read the name “Pinson” this morning, and here’s that story:

Jonathan Pinson and a Florida business associate, both facing federal corruption charges, courted Mayor Steve Benjamin and two others on City Council about more Columbia development projects, according to interviews and documents obtained by The State newspaper.

Federal prosecutors have tied only Pinson’s Village at River’s Edge to their ongoing investigation. But the newspaper’s inquires show that Pinson and admitted kickback payer Richard Zahn of Florida have been much more active in Columbia than had been known publicly.

The corruption case against Pinson, a close friend and business partner of Benjamin, enters a critical stage Wednesday with a hearing in Charleston. U.S. District Judge David Norton will determine whether months of the FBI’s secretly taped telephone conversations from the investigation can be played at trial or ruled inadmissible….

No one on City Council has been charged with a crime….

About the only thing I can think of to say about the story (and this reflects my habits of thought as an editor) is that it takes its sweet time naming the other council members who had traveled to Florida and heard the pitch from these guys Pinson and Zahn. Even though the mayor is named twice in the first three grafs, you don’t read the names of Tameika Isaac Devine and Brian DeQuincey Newman until the jump page.

But I don’t see enough information here to base a conclusion on. It appears that this Pinson guy is, as Gil Walker said, something of a “big talker.” And that Benjamin, Devine and Newman all paid him and Zahn more attention than I’m entirely comfortable with. But I don’t see anything that negates the council members’ claim that these meetings, like “many they participate in, were in response to requests from people interested in doing business with the city.”

And apparently, the feds haven’t seen anything like that either.

Beyond that, I guess I’m waiting for some further, clarifying information before I draw any conclusions.

Enough with the pop-ups!

popup

I’ve been pretty patient about this. Exceedingly patient, considering that I no longer get paid a dime out of The State‘s ad revenues.

But I’ve just gotta say that it’s getting more and more unpleasant to use thestate.com, with the constant intrusive pop-ups. (Not that I’m going to stop going there, because in spite of all, where else am I going to get that much local content?)

The kind that gets me the most is when I merely click in the search box — before I’ve had a chance to enter my search term, or hit ENTER, or anything, just click in the box — and BAM! There’s a popup jumping into my face.

It’s one thing when it’s something local, and relevant. Hey, local merchants gotta eat. But when it’s something as generic and seamy and irrelevant as the set of links above, I get annoyed.

Now, all of that said — one of y’all (Dave Crockett) recently reported getting a pop-up, or rollover, or something, while on my blog.

Has this happened to anyone else?

A conversation about Iran nuke negotiations

I recently resumed having my Tweets automatically posted to Facebook, to broaden the conversation, and was quickly reminded of two reasons why I don’t like that:

  1. I lose control of how it posts. For instance, Facebook randomly grabs a header image that has nothing to do with the post, instead of the image that I deliberately included as part of the post. Which is maddening.
  2. My friends and readers launch conversations about the posts over there, instead of here on the blog. Which is even more maddening, because the whole reason I let the items post on FB is to bring more people here.

Anyway, here’s a conversation from today on FB. It all started with an editorial from this morning’s Wall Street Journal praising France for hitting the brakes on a pending deal with Iran:

Walk for Life: One more thing I’d like y’all to try…

Well, I figure that most of y’all who are going to give before the event Saturday morning have already given.

And I thank you for your generosity. We’re now at $3,556, which is very good. Of course, I went wild a couple of days ago and raised the goal to $5,000, but as someone said on Twitter this morning, “If people aren’t laughing at your goals, your goals aren’t big enough.”

Before we give up on that, I’d like y’all to do one more thing for me — how about reaching out to some of your friends and family (as Doug and Bryan have already done so very successfully), and see if they’d like to give as well.

I did that night before last, and got a gratifying response. I even heard from our Tokyo correspondent, Hunter Brumfield, who contributed, and then wrote on our team page:

My wife Eiko also went through this so I know what you and Juanita have faced, Brad. We are in remission also, fortunately, after 5 years post-treatment. Early detection is SO important!

I’m so glad Eiko is doing well. Hunter, too, apparently. I also heard from Jeff Miller in Washington, who gave in memory of his mother-in-law, Stella Schwartz. And others. Very gratifying.

Anyway, what I did was send to Hunter and lots of other friends the following email. Feel free to borrow from it, and ask your friends and relatives to chip in to the bradwarthen.com team:

Dear Friend,

First, the bad news: As you can tell from that greeting, this is a form letter that I’m sending to lots of friends in addition to you.

Now, the good news: This is a form letter that I’m sending to lots of friends in addition to you. Which means I’m not just picking on you personally, and trying to put you on the spot.

I’ve organized a team through my blog to walk in Palmetto Health Foundation’s Walk for Life this coming Saturday. We’ve set (OK, I’ve set) an ambitious goal for the team. We’re trying to raise $5,000 to fight breast cancer. We’ve already raised $3,256. I’m asking you to help put us over the top.

All you have to do is go to this page, and click on the pink “Give Now” button over on the right-hand side, and follow the instructions. It’s easy, and relatively painless.

Some of my blog readers have had great success with personal campaigns among their contacts. Doug Ross has raised more than $1,100 for our team by offering to do such things as wear a funny hat. Bryan Caskey has raised more than $1,600 by sending a clever email to his friends.

I may resort to those tactics myself. But first, I thought I’d get serious and tell you why I support the Walk for Life, and look forward to it each year.

Twelve years ago, my wife, Juanita, was diagnosed with breast cancer. It had already spread to her liver when it was found. We found this out in a quick series of shocks: First the lump, then the exploratory surgery that found that the nodes were involved, then the biopsy that found multiple tumors in her liver. Stage four cancer. It is a brutal understatement to say that her survival chances weren’t good.

We lived the next few months in a fog of anxiety mixed with urgent determination to do whatever we could. There were the biopsies, and one bad report after another. Then a massive round of chemo. Then the surgery. Then a brief period of recovery, followed by another devastating round of chemo. Followed, after another brief time for recovery, by radiation. Then, the beginning a routine of milder chemo treatments every three weeks for the next eight years.

One night, early in the process, I was watching television, and for a moment, had stopped thinking about this horrible thing. My wife, who had been on the Internet where she spent so much of her time during that period, walked in and said she had good news — she had found a site that said she might live for five years if everything went right. That, she said, was easily the most optimistic assessment she had found. I was devastated. That might, in fact, have been my low point. I had not actually internalized, in a quantitative sense, how bad things were until that moment. And my shock was exacerbated by guilt, for having for a moment forgotten about this thing hanging over us. Watching stupid television.

We got through this time through the prayers and concern of many, through determination, through the skillful guidance of the folks at S.C. Oncology Associates, with the helping hands of friends (all sorts of folks brought us dinners during that period, including Samuel Tenenbaum, the head of the Palmetto Health Foundation, so I owe him).

Since that diagnosis, a lot has happened to us in our personal lives. Our children, three of whom still lived at home in 2001, have gone through all sorts of passages — graduations, and weddings for two of them. Most wonderfully, four more grandchildren have come into our lives.

Juanita was first told she was definitely in remission early in 2002. In 2010, our oncologist said he thought it safe to take her off chemo altogether.

For the past five years, she has spent most of her waking hours taking care of our youngest grandchildren. She is their Nonni, and it would be impossible to overestimate how much she means to them. She is an irreplaceable part of their world, as she is of mine, and our children’s.

We owe so much to all the dedicated people fighting cancer every day, in research labs and on the front lines with patients.

So help me pay a little of it back. Again, all you have to do is go to this page, and click on the pink “Give Now” button over on the right-hand side, and follow the instructions.

Thanks so much.

– Brad

Discuss: Bud’s list of ‘Worst Presidential Moments’

clinton lie

I was impressed by this list that Bud posted in a previous thread, and thought I’d toss it out for broader discussion:

Worst Presidential Moments (in no particular order)
1. Hoover watching passively as the great depression unfolds
2. Buchannan presiding passively over the last days before the Civil War
3. Clinton claiming he did not have sex with that woman
4. Bush Sr. promising no new taxes
5. LBJ suggesting American boys would not fight for Asian boys
6. Carters hostage crisis
7. Reagan’s Iran/Contra debacle
8. Nixon proclaiming he is not a crook
9. Bush Jr. inexplicably continuing to read to second graders while the WTC is attacked
10. Bush Jr. ignoring the presidential daily briefing about 9-11
11. Bush Jr. lying about WMD in Iraq
12. Bush Jr. proclaiming Mission Accomplished
13. Bush Jr. failing to help Katrina victims
14. Bush Jr. presiding over banking collapse
15. Andrew Jackson defying supreme court sends Indians on long, deadly march to OK
16. Harding Teapot dome fiasco
17. Grants patronage fiasco
18. James Madison presiding over failed invasion of Canada
19. Theodore Roosevelts Philipine debacle
20. FDRs failed attempt to expand the supreme court
21. Reagan’s Lebanon debacle
22. Ford’s misguided pardon of Nixon
23. Adam’s alien and sedition calamity
24. Andrew Jackson’s misguided banking policies
25. FDRs internment of Japanese Americans

Here’s partial feedback from me…

First, 11 and 12 didn’t happen. So they can’t make any list I would compile. I might accept, as a substitute for 11, something like, “W. placing way too much emphasis on WMD (which he and everyone else believed were there) in the run-up to the invasion, thereby setting the nation up for a huge setback on the slim chance we were all wrong about their presence.”

Then, I think there are some items that just don’t belong on the list next to other, truly horrific things. Compare No. 9 to No. 15. It’s highly debatable whether No. 9 was even a little bit bad (at worst, a momentary lapse in having one’s “game face” on), much less a “worst presidential moment.” While No. 15 was a great evil — I’d call it a manifestation of our nation’s original sin if slavery weren’t there staring us in the face.

What do y’all think?

Do y’all like this design better?

Some of y’all were complaining about the formatting on comments on the new blog design — that the comments were so narrow, and got narrower as you replied.

Being the sensitive guy that I am, I gently urged y’all to suck it up and get used to it for now, because there were many things about the new design that I liked — and which some of y’all liked, too — and I was not inclined to start over from scratch without giving this more of a chance.

But Chip Oglesby, who hosts my site now, saw the complaints and offered to address them. So he came up with a new theme. It’s in place now. I’m still tinkering with it, and there are some small things I liked about the old theme better, but… you’ll find that the comments aren’t so narrow.

So let us know what y’all think…

New blog civility standard

As most of y’all know, I have a double standard in trying to foster civility on this blog — I allow people who use their real names on their comments greater leeway in their comments. Although there are things that go too far even to allow named commenters to say.

The overall goal is to create a welcoming space where we can have lively discussions of public affairs, without the ad hominem attacks that discourage many thoughtful people from participating in blogs.

Several of my real-name commenters complained that I wasn’t being strict enough with the anonymous folks — allowing them to bait everyone and get discussions off course. I’ll accept service on that. (My only defense, or explanation, is that in deleting all the way worse comments from those same anonymous folks, I sort of get desensitized, so that something that seems over the boundaries to you seems mild by comparison to me. Also, all those years of getting nasty comments aimed at me via mail, phone and other means sort of built up my calluses to where it’s a little harder to offend me than it is many other folks.)

Michael Rodgers suggested a new standard:

If you wish to continue to have anonymous commenters, I suggest you actually implement your policy by requiring the following two things from every anonymous commenter:

(1) Every comment must be on topic.
(2) No comment may be about other people’s personal or professional life, except if such comment is respectful and on point.

That sounded worth trying to me. (But I should add, Michael, that in a perfect world I wouldn’t allow anonymity at all, but I reluctantly concluded years ago that I’d be eliminating a lot of thoughtful, good-faith commenters if I didn’t.)

Then, Kathryn Fenner added a codicil:

How about no personal remarks of any kind towards identified people by unidentified people? Seems fair to me.

So I’ve decided to try those suggestions, and see how it works out.

Everyone should consider this their official notice. I realize that not everyone will see it, as people engage the blog different ways. But for a time, I will also email anyone who inadvertently runs afoul of the new policy — assuming I have a valid email address for that person.

Yours in fostering constructive conversations…

Silence, where’re you at?

Just noticed something.

Silence has been, well, silent lately. Which is weird.

I got to thinking about this when I was looking at a post from back in April, and he was all over the place. Given his usual frequency, this is sort of like Doug or Bud or Kathryn going AWOL. (Bud once did, for awhile, but came back.)

He last posted on August 8, and here it is October.

There was nothing extraordinary about the message. He didn’t say, “See y’all later, I’m going on a super-secret double-naught spy mission that I can’t talk about.” Which, come to think of it, is actually something that Silence might do.

So, to use the vernacular, where’re you at, Silence?

Michael Rodgers’ letter to the editor

Since I am no longer paid to do so, I seldom read letters to the editor any more. So I appreciate that our own Michael Rodgers took time to call attention to his letter in The State yesterday, so that I might share it. Here it is:

Modernize our S.C. government

Cindi Scoppe’s Thursday column, “Why Haley won some, lost some budget vetoes,” correctly declares that Gov. Nikki Haley’s request to change budget numbers would upend what a governor is. However, with the way our state government functions, Gov. Haley’s request is actually a clever response. In effect, she is asking for one seat at the table with the six-member legislative conference committee.

This is turnabout as fair play, because the Legislature gets two seats at the five-member executive committee called the Budget and Control Board.

Obviously, having an executive legislate is as wrong as having legislators execute. By separating the powers, we can modernize our state government. The Legislature should set the mission (general tasks) and the scope (total budget not to be exceeded), let the governor and her agency heads execute, and vet the results by having oversight hearings. Thus the Legislature will give the executive branch the flexibility needed to accomplish legislative goals more efficiently.

Michael Rodgers
Columbia

And here’s my favorite excerpt from the column to which he was responding:

USED WELL, THE line-item veto is a powerful weapon to fight budgetary logrolling. In fact, used well, it can empower legislators as much as it empowers governors.

Although House members can reject individual spending items when the House debates the budget and senators can reject individual items when the Senate debates the budget, the final version of the budget often bears little resemblance to those early plans. It is the work of a conference committee of three representatives and three senators, and it is presented to the House and Senate as a package: Lawmakers can accept the entire thing, or they can reject the entire thing. They can’t amend it.

The governor can amend it by deletion — within reason. She can’t strike words out of provisos to change their meaning, and she can’t change the numbers, as she now says she should be able to do, but which would upend the whole idea of what a veto actually is. And what a governor is.

But she can eliminate entire spending items and provisos, which set forth the rules for some of the spending. And by doing that, she gives legislators the opportunity to consider those items individually, without having to worry that voting against them would result in a government shutdown.

This doesn’t automatically bust up the vote-trading coalitions — you patronize my museum, and I’ll love your parade — and in fact it can strengthen them if a governor goes after too many parochial projects, as then-Gov. Mark Sanford discovered. And rediscovered. And never quite learned. But sometimes it shines enough of a spotlight on ill-considered expenditures to force legislators to back down…

An example of an op-ed rebuttal: Answering Glenn McConnell in 2007

During the discussion on a previous post, I noted that “I have been known, on one or two occasions, to allow a source space for a full op-ed piece, even when the piece is almost 100 percent nonsense… and run a piece of my own, right across from it, demolishing it. That way the reader/voter has a chance to see that party’s full case, as well as the arguments against it.”

Bud, quite reasonably, asked, “An example would be good. Sometimes people think they demolish something but it turns out not to be the case. Let the bloggers be the judge.”

Fine. Except I could only think of a couple of cases (as I said, there were “one or two”), but I couldn’t immediately lay my hands on either one of them.

I’ve now located one of my examples. It’s not a perfect one. In this case, for instance, I didn’t rebut the op-ed piece until days later — either because I didn’t have column space until then, or because something that happened later in the week got my dander up, and caused me to recall the previous piece. I don’t know; it’s been almost five years now.

Anyway, the piece that (eventually) set me off was by Glenn McConnell, and I ran it in The State on Friday, Oct. 19, 2007. Here it is:

By Glenn F. McConnell Guest Columnist

South Carolina can only have an orderly, predictable and consistent growth rate in state spending by constitutionally mandating it. It cannot be accomplished on a reliable basis by hanging onto slim majorities in the Legislature and having the right governor. The political pressures are too great unless there is a constitutional bridle on the process.

That is the reason I created a task force to consider a constitutional amendment that would cap the growth in spending by the state. The first meeting of the Senate study committee on constitutionally capping state government spending is scheduled for 1 p.m. Wednesday in Room 105 of the Gressette Senate office building in Columbia.

There will always be more needs than revenue no matter what the economic times and the amount of available new funds. Government must, therefore, temper its conduct to spend so that over the highs and lows in revenue forecasts, the necessary revenue will be there to fund essential needs without the pressure for new taxes.

When government is flush with money, the spending goes up to fund many new initiatives — some good, some questionable and some not good. In other words, projects get funded not so much out of merit but merely because the money was available. Some one-time expenditures also occur the same way. In the face of a bountiful taxpayer buffet, government cannot control its appetite, so its stomach must be stapled.

At stake is the need to at least control the rate of growth in the recurring base. So I have introduced a constitutional amendment to cap the rate of spending of our state government. Government would be limited to growth at an amount that would not exceed the rate of population growth plus the growth in personal income. Basically, government should not grow any bigger than it needs to be or any faster than people’s ability to pay for it.

I have been an ardent supporter of both Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan, and I believe that government is best which governs least. I also believe that as much money as possible is best left in the hands of people if we are to economically advance. If people keep more, they have greater opportunities to invest and spend so our economy will expand. It is a matter of fairness.

If there are surpluses in Columbia, these should not expand the obligation to fund a growing government but instead should be used to reduce long-term debt and obligations, fund capital projects to avoid issuing costly bonds, cover one-time costs, save and carry forward for a rainy day, and/or fund tax refunds and tax cuts.

The constitutional amendment would foster growth in the private sector, challenge legislators to prioritize spending better, seek better efficiencies in the operation of government and privatize operations where it is in the state’s best interest. This will present new opportunities to create rainy-day funds, to create a more debt-free South Carolina and to replenish trust funds that too often have been tapped in lean times to fuel the insatiable appetite of government created by overspending in good times.

Finally, we all must realize that our state government, just as much as any business, has to be competitive in order to attract and retain jobs. We need to provide essential services, but we need to do it in a way that ensures excellence, efficiency and long-term cost control. Throwing dollars at an agency does not ensure that it will be better. Limiting the growth in spending ensures that the challenge for each budgeting year is to do more with what we have available rather than to spend more to get the job done.

Working together, we can give the people of South Carolina an opportunity to vote on whether they want this limitation on the growth of spending. As I said, the limitation, if adopted, would ensure our future is not one of ups and downs based on political fortunes but instead one of predictability and orderliness in the growth of South Carolina.

Mr. McConnell, a Charleston attorney and businessman, is president pro tempore of the Senate and chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee.

As I said, that ran on Friday, so I’m beginning to see what probably happened. I generally wrote my Sunday columns on Fridays. I would have read the senator’s piece — most likely for the first time — on the page proof Thursday afternoon, so it would have been quite fresh in my mind. I might have even ripped out a few grafs of my response right then, and polished them somewhat the next morning.

You’ll note, though, that my column wasn’t just a response to McConnell. I didn’t even get to him until about halfway through. This column was of a certain type, the type that puts me in mind of a line Mark Twain wrote: “And now that my temper is up, I may as well go on and abuse every body I can think of.” I always liked that line because it describes a mood that is very familiar to me.

Here’s my column that ran on Sunday, Oct. 21, 2007:
IN SOUTH CAROLINA, WE KEEP TALKING ABOUT THE WRONG THINGS

By Brad Warthen Editorial Page Editor

We always seem to be having the wrong conversations in South Carolina. Sometimes, we don’t even talk at all about the things that cry out for focused, urgent debate.

Look at this joke of a commission that was assigned to examine whether the city of Columbia should ditch its ineffective, unaccountable, “don’t ask me” form of government. It was supposed to report something two years ago. And here we are, still waiting, with a city that can’t even close its books at the end of the year. Whether its that fiscal fiasco, or the failure to justify what it did with millions in special tax revenues, or the rehiring of a cop who was said to be found drunk, naked and armed in public, there is no one who works directly for the voters who has control over those things.

But as bad as it is to have no one to blame, there is no one to look to for a vision of positive action. A city that says it wants to leap forward into the knowledge economy with Innovista really, really needs somebody accountable driving the process.

Columbia needed a strong-mayor form of government yesterday, and what have we done? Sat around two years waiting for a panel that didn’t want to reach that conclusion to start with to come back and tell us so.

It’s worse on the state level.

What does South Carolina need? It needs to get up and off its duff and start catching up with the rest of the country. There are many elements involved in doing that, but one that everybody knows must be included is bringing up the level of educational achievement throughout our population.

There are all sorts of obvious reforms that should be enacted immediately to improve our public schools. Just to name one that no one can mount a credible argument against, and which the Legislature could enact at any time it chooses, we need to eliminate waste and channel expertise by drastically reducing the number of school districts in the state.

So each time the Legislature meets, it debates how to get that done, right? No way. For the last several years, every time any suggestion of any kind for improving our public schools has come up, the General Assembly has been paralyzed by a minority of lawmakers who say no, instead of fixing the public schools, let’s take funding away from them and give it to private schools — you know, the only kind of schools that we can’t possibly hold accountable.

As long as we’re talking about money, take a look at what the most powerful man in the Legislature, Sen. Glenn McConnell, had to say on our op-ed page Friday (to read the full piece, follow the link at the end of this column):

South Carolina can only have an orderly, predictable and consistent growth rate in state spending by constitutionally mandating it. It cannot be accomplished on a reliable basis by hanging onto slim majorities in the Legislature and having the right governor. The political pressures are too great unless there is a constitutional bridle on the process.

The people of South Carolina elect 170 people to the Legislature. In this most legislative of states, those 170 people have complete power to do whatever they want with regard to taxing and spending, with one caveat — they are already prevented by the constitution from spending more than they take in.

But they could raise taxes, right? Only in theory. The State House is filled with people who’d rather be poked in the eye with a sharp stick than ever raise our taxes, whether it would be a good idea to do so or not.

All of this is true, and of all those 170 people, there is no one with more power to affect the general course of legislation than Glenn McConnell.

And yet he tells us that it’s impossible for him and his colleagues to prevent spending from getting out of hand.

What’s he saying here? He’s saying that he’s afraid that the people of South Carolina may someday elect a majority of legislators who think they need to spend more than Glenn McConnell thinks we ought to spend. Therefore, we should take away the Legislature’s power to make that most fundamental of legislative decisions. We should rig the rules so that spending never exceeds an amount that he and those who agree with him prefer, even if most South Carolinians (and that, by the way, is what “political pressures” means — the will of the voters) disagree.

Is there a problem with how the Legislature spends our money? You betcha. We don’t spend nearly enough on state troopers, prisons, roads or mental health services. And we spend too much on festivals and museums and various other sorts of folderol that help lawmakers get re-elected, but do little for the state overall.

So let’s talk about that. Let’s have a conversation about the fact that South Carolinians aren’t as safe or healthy or well-educated as folks in other parts of the country because lawmakers choose to spend on the wrong things.

But that’s not the kind of conversation we have at our State House. Instead, the people with the bulliest pulpits, from the governor to the most powerful man in the Senate, want most of all to make sure lawmakers spend less than they otherwise might, whether they spend wisely or not.

The McConnell proposal would make sure that approach always wins all future arguments.

For Sen. McConnell, this thing we call representative democracy is just a little too risky. Elections might produce people who disagree with him. And he’s just not willing to put up with that.

As you can see, that was a very South Carolina column. Everything addressed in it, everything that was getting my temper up, was something that one could just as well be said today. Because in South Carolina, very little that ought to change ever changes.

Good thing the Fenners keep their home tidy

Kathryn Fenner shares this ABCColumbia clip, in which her husband was quoted as an expert on what to do about the computer virus that caused yesterday’s stir.

I was particularly struck by the dramatic, under-the-coffee table shot of Dr. Stephen sitting on the sofa with his laptop.

Good thing the Fenners keep the underside of that table as neat and tidy as the rest of their home. I didn’t see any chewed gum stuck under there, or anything like that…

Silence makes a funny with PhotoShop

… or some comparable application, using my original photo.

I’m still catching up with email from before the weekend. Our own Silence sent me the above picture, under the headline, “cause of the Cayce plastic fire.”

His message read:

It’s a trap!
That blast came from the Death Star! That thing’s operational!

‘Dewey Defeats Truman,’ 2012 style

Bud brought our attention to this on an earlier comment:

Everyone knows the famous photo of the Chicago Tribune’s front page declaring, in error, “Dewey Defeats Truman” in 1948. (The newspaper fell victim to its early deadlines and made a guess at the presidential election result at press time, damning itself to history.)

CNN’s erroneous report this morning that the U.S. Supreme Court had struck down President Obama’s healthcare reform — live on air for 7 minutes, with a lower-third caption — has spawned its own “Dewey Defeats Truman,” courtesy of Gary He, a product director at Insider Images (and Photoshop,of course)…

I thought I’d just make it easier for y’all to see.

So that you might fully savor the visual reference, here’s a link to the original.

Actually, there were a number of originals shot from slightly different angles, and/or split-seconds apart.

Of course, this iconic image has been spoofed before

Being too ‘smart’ to see your own errors

Bart brings my attention to this thought-provoking piece:

Jonah Lehrer’s new post at The New Yorker details some worrying research on cognition and thinking through biases, indicating that “intelligence seems to make [such] things worse.” This is because, as Richard West and colleagues concluded in their study, “people who were aware of their own biases were not better able to overcome them.” Being smarter does not make you better at transcending unjustified views and bad beliefs, all of which naturally then play into your life. Smarter people are better able to narrate themselves, internally, out of inconsistencies, blunders and obvious failures at rationality, whereas they would probably be highly critical of others who demonstrated similar blunders.

I am reminded of Michael Shermer’s view, when he’s asked why smart people believe weird things, like creationism, ghosts and (as with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) fairies: “Smart people are very good at rationalizing things they came to believe for non-smart reasons.” If you’ve ever argued with a smart person about an obviously flawed belief, like ghosts or astrology, you’ll recognise this: their justifications often involve obfuscation, deep conjecture into areas you probably haven’t considered (and that probably aren’t) relevant, and are all tied together neatly and eloquently because she’s a smart person…

Interesting proposition.

Here’s how I responded to it…

Well, I think there is little doubt that smart people are better at rationalizing a bad position.

I’ll also agree with the proposition that it is harder to argue a smart person out of a position if he is wrong. But only because it is harder to argue a smart person out of a position whether he is wrong OR right.

I’m going to strain your credulity by using myself as an example, even though that requires you, solely for the sake of argument, to consider me to be a smart person (but hey, I consider this to be a community of smart people — dumb people would be watching TV rather than debating ideas in writing, right?).

People — smart people — on my blog get frustrated sometimes with their inability to talk me out of a position. It’s not that I’m incapable of changing my mind on something. I sometimes do so quite abruptly. But usually not on the kinds of things we talk about on the blog. That’s because I have spent SO much time over the years honing my positions on those issues. And much of that time has been spent thinking about, and one by one knocking down, the arguments that might be offered in an effort to change my mind.

It’s not that I’m smarter than any of y’all. It’s that it was my job, every day for many years, to write my opinions for publication. When you do that, you take much greater care than most people do with their opinions. (I was very surprised to realize, over time, how much more carefully considered my positions on issues were after a couple of years on the editorial board. Before that, my opinions were private, and therefore largely untested. After I joined the board, every opinion I had went through the wringer before and after being expressed, and I took greater care accordingly.) You obsess about everything that could be wrong in your position, and raise every possible objection that you can think of that the hundreds of thousands of folks out there likely to read your opinion — including people more knowledgeable than you about the particular subject under discussion — might raise to knock it down. You work through each and every one of them before you finish writing and editing your opinion piece. Add to that the fact that it won’t get into the paper until it’s been read, and potentially challenged, by other people who do the same thing for a living, and go through the same daily exercises.

It makes for positions that, once fully formed, are hard to shake — whether they are wrong or right. I also believe that the process helps one be right, but whether wrong or right, shaking it takes some doing.

So basically, I admit that I could be wrong. It’s just that the process I went through in arriving at my wrong answer was sufficiently rigorous that even if you’re smarter than I am, you probably aren’t willing to invest the time it would take to dismantle the constructs upon which my position rests.

But I do hope you’ll keep trying. I like to think there’s hope for me…