There are some things that just have to be corrected — but never will be, because they were recorded as they are, and will be replayed as they are, as long as there are devices capable of playing them.
“Donovan in Concert” is a long-time favorite of mine. The singer-songwriter recorded it at the Anaheim Convention Center on September 23, 1967. It was released the following year, and some months after that, a teacher of mine — I want to say it was a social studies teacher, although is seems more like something an English teacher would do — wanted us to sit quietly and write creatively for an hour. Or maybe it was study for an hour. I don’t know. In any case, he wanted us to be in a contemplative state, and he played this album. I found it so conducive to the state of thoughtful attention that I ran out and bought it on vinyl.
A few years back, one of my daughters gave me an extended version on CD, and I transferred the sound files to my computer — and thenceforth my phone and tablet.
So I was listening to it today, and was once again really bothered by this spoken intro to the song “Widow with a Shawl (A Portrait).” If you want to go listen to it, it’s technically at the end of the preceding track, “Guinevere:”
This next song, you must imagine, takes place in the 18th century, in England somewhere. This song tells the story of a young lady who is lamenting her lover who has gone to sea. This is in the days of the sailing ships, and when they went to sea, they went away for a long time — 25 years, maybe 30 years. Well, this is a widow — she supposes she’s a widow — and she’s walking along the beach. And this is her song.
Now, I don’t know in which universe English sailing ships went away for 25-30 years, but it wasn’t this one. There was nowhere to go that took that long, even with lengthy stops to refurbish and repair the ship. The survivors of the first expedition to circumnavigate the globe, two centuries earlier, returned after three years. Yes, whalers sometimes deliberately stayed out for years, but by “years,” I mean two or three or four. And occasionally, exceptionally unlucky sailors would be on their way home after a couple of years out, and get pressed into a Royal Navy ship and go out for another year or two.
I suppose there would be cases of a ship that returned to its former port after 25 or 30 years — but it would have been captured by hostile forces, renamed, lived a whole separate life or two or three, been recaptured, and returned as an entirely different ship (having been refurbished multiple times in everything but the bare hull, and much of that repaired), with a different crew, having been through many other crews in the intervening years.
This widow is indeed a widow, and if she expects to have children, much less grandchildren, to comfort her in her old age, she need apply to the authorities to have her man declared dead, and start over. Her man reminds me of something the fictional Jack Aubrey said of Ulysses — he utterly dismissed his excuses for taking 10 years to get home from Troy to Ithaca. Men turned to swine, indeed — it was nothing more than malingering in port, and poor seamanship.
Now that that’s settled, there’s another error that’s been bothering me, although not as long.
In the double disc of live music by The Beatles on the BBC (the first one, not the one just released), a BBC host introduces a song by saying:
The Beatles… with Paul McCartney paying tribute to the Everlys with ‘Lucille.’
It is followed, of course, by Paul doing his best to impersonate Little Richard.
Why the Beatles didn’t stop right there to correct the guy, I don’t know. Why the people who packaged this album used that bit of introduction, I don’t know. But it really, really bugs me that every time someone plays the track, the guy will say that, and will stand uncorrected.
Paul McCartney is most definitely, most assuredly, not paying tribute to the Everlys.
OK, now I’ve done my bit to set those things straight. Makes be feel slightly better.
I find errors such as these inexcusable. Yes, I’m well acquainted with errors, and have made a few in my day, with some of them appearing in print. But that was in daily journalism, when there was barely time to write something in stream of consciousness, and no one had more than a very few minutes to check behind you. I am less patient with errors in monthly magazines, and not at all forgiving of them in books.
After 46 years, of course, the Donovan error is an artifact, and to change it would be to change who he was. One can accept it as valid evidence of the dizzy romanticism of Flower Power, which means it does communicate something that was true.
But I’m still glad I set it straight.
Everybody has one, unless they’re just unfashionably young. (Sorry, young people: At our age, all we Boomers have left is our collective snobbishness about being the cool generation.)
I was living in Guayaquil, Ecuador, where my Dad was doing quasi-diplomatic duty working with the Ecuadorean Navy. I attended Colegio Americano, which was out of town, on the opposite side of the city from our home. I rode to and from school each day on an ancient bus — very fat and rounded, looking like it could have dated to the 1930s. The bus was named “Don Enrique.” Buses had personalities there and then, and were all painted differently. Don Enrique was tan with brown trim. When it wasn’t taking us to school and home again, it worked as a public colectivo, carrying regular fares all around town. Don Enrique had no doors. It had two doorways — in the front and back, on the right-hand side — but they were always open. Young men were expected to jump on and off as the bus moved. It would stop for women, children and old men.
Perhaps I’m overdescribing. In any case, it took an hour to get home every day. I was one of the first picked up in the morning and the last left off, and there were a lot of stops.
My best friend, Tony Wessler, a fellow gringo whose father was a sergeant in the U.S. Air Force, lived about six blocks away from me. Tony and I had an awesome time living in Ecuador while we were in the 5th and 6th grades. It was a Huck Finn sort of existence. With one station, and that only broadcasting from about 4 p.m. to 10 p.m., there was nothing worth watching on TV — we kept ours stored down in the garage our whole time there, and never turned it on. We were always outdoors, roving, having adventures improvised from the landscape, architecture and materials at hand. We used to have titanic king-of-the-hill battles around construction sites, using scraps of bamboo (which was lashed together for scaffolding) as swords. We climbed up on the walls that ran between all houses there, running along them as though they were sidewalks, leapt from the walls to the iron bars covering windows (usually no more than a couple of feet, most houses having no yards), climbed the bars to the flat roofs, and darted across the roofs. It wasn’t faster to cross blocks rather than go around them, but it was more fun.
On November 22, 1963, Tony obviously took the faster route of running through the streets.
Don Enrique had dropped him off at home as usual, then slowly wound around among the intervening six blocks, dropping off other kids. Then, I got off at the corner of Maracaibo y Seis de Mayo.
We lived in the top floor of a huge house. Our apartment had four bedrooms plus a servants’ wing (really, just a hallway leading to tiny room for the live-in maid, and the laundry room). The landlord, who lived downstairs, was a captain in the Ecuadorean Navy. A few months before, he had played a key role in a military junta’s takeover of the government, and now was a big shot in the administration — I want to say minister of agriculture or something. The coup had been planned, in part, in our apartment. The landlord asked my folks if he could borrow the apartment for a meeting. They went out and left me and my brother with the capitan‘s kids downstairs. The junta would take over the next day. The man he met with would be the head of the junta.
I keep digressing.
As I say, we lived upstairs. The only access to our apartment was a set of enclosed stairs at the side of the house, adjacent to the garage. It was sealed off with a sidewalk-level security door with an anchor design in wrought iron. The door was always locked, but could be opened by someone pressing a button upstairs. As usually, I pressed the buzzer, and the door at the top of the stairs opened at the same time that the security door unlocked.
Up the stairs, I saw my mother and — to my shock — Tony. His chest was heaving. I couldn’t understand how he was there ahead of me. What’s going on? I asked.
“The president’s been shot!” said Tony.
It hadn’t hit me yet. “The president of what?” I asked. After all, we had just had a coup. I figured it was some other local upheaval, or maybe something in a neighboring country.
“The president of the United States,” said my mother. And by this time, it was known that he was dead.
It’s kind of hard to explain the depth of shock that we felt. It was a little like taking a spacewalk and suddenly becoming untethered. We were in this faraway country on behalf of the U.S. government. Ultimately, up the chain of command, the president was the guy who had sent us there. We particularly had a sense of that because we saw the evidence of JFK initiatives all around us. Programs such as the Alianza para el Progreso testified to the effect that Kennedy was the last president I can remember who gave a damn about Latin America. We had a sense of being in a place that our country cared about; we didn’t feel so isolated.
And now, the president was dead.
By this time, I had become an admirer of Kennedy. Three years before, I had wanted Nixon to win. I had wanted him to win so badly that I hid behind a chair in our living room and sulked while my mother was watching coverage of Kennedy’s inauguration. I hadn’t liked his tough talk toward the Soviets during the debates. He sounded to me like a guy who would send my Dad to war. (And as it happens, years later, my Dad would be serving in the VC-infested Rung Sat Special Zone during the Tet Offensive — so, in an indirect sense, I wasn’t wrong.)
But by now, I had become enchanted by the Kennedy aura. I particularly loved the PT-109 story, and it seemed like I had to wait forever for the movie to get down to Guayaquil. I had a comic book about it and everything.
And now, the president who had survived that was dead.
The war story was probably enough for a kid my age. But I think I also had a sense of him as an upbeat, optimistic kind of guy who believed that, as a country, together, we could get things done. With great vigah.
And now what? Here we were, so far away, with no prospect of returning home to God knew what anytime soon. (We returned to the States in April 1965.) I had seen, up close and personal, how fragile a system of government could be. Was the United States falling apart in our absence?
The interest in Latin America that JFK manifested was returned. Everyone seemed shocked and saddened by his death. There was a sense of kinship (to the best of my ability to tell at that age) that seemed rooted in his special status as the only Catholic U.S. president ever, but probably also fed on the glamor of Jack and Jackie, and the sympathy for their two little children.
The first time I remember hearing the word “martyr,” it was in relation to Kennedy. I still don’t know exactly what cause he was supposed to be martyred to, but there was that aura about his death. In any case, the reverence toward his memory that I sensed in the people around me had that tinge about it.
When my school yearbook came out a short time later, there was a memorial page dedicated to the president. It consisted mostly of a large photo of the Kennedys emerging from a church after Mass, looking young and healthy and happy, with Jackie wearing a veil…
I find it highly ironic that this story comes out of Dallas this week:
DALLAS — Today’s kids can’t keep up with their parents. An analysis of studies on millions of children around the world finds they don’t run as fast or as far as their parents did when they were young.
On average, it takes children 90 seconds longer to run a mile than their parents did 30 years ago. Heart-related fitness has declined 5 percent per decade since 1975 for children ages 9 to 17.
The American Heart Association, whose conference featured the research on Tuesday, says it’s the first to show that children’s fitness has declined worldwide over the last three decades….
“Ironic” because I identify concern over the fitness of American youth with John F. Kennedy. He’s the one who made such a big deal about it in my own youth:
John F. Kennedy showed his commitment to improving the nation’s fitness even before he took the oath of office. After the election, he published “The Soft American” in Sports Illustrated. The article established four points as the basis of his proposed program, including a “White House Committee on Health and Fitness”; direct oversight by the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare; an annual Youth Fitness Congress to be attended by state governors; and the assertion that physical fitness was very much the business of the federal government…
We heard a lot about the President’s Council on Physical Fitness back in JFK’s day, and even years after his death. I always had a vague belief that JFK, for good or ill, was the reason I was dressing out every day for P.E. in school. I was doing my bit for a national strategic priority.
I’ve also, my entire life, associated the word “vigor” with Kennedy — possibly because I first heard it used (or at least, first heard it used frequently) in reference to him, and to his ambitions for the country.
It’s not a word we associate with American youth today. Or with the rest of us, for that matter. I don’t know about you, but I haven’t worked out in weeks. And I’m the worse for it…
The context is that I was responding to two previous comments — one by Rose praising the TV series “Band of Brothers,” and the other from Phillip about “anti-war” messages. This lies in the larger context of a long debate of several years’ standing, in which Phillip takes the position that all sane people oppose war, and I take the armchair-warrior position of “not always”…
“Band of Brothers” was the best thing ever made for television.
And it had the kind of anti-war message in it that I appreciate [as opposed to the kind of anti-war message I hate, which I had described earlier as "one that beats you about the head and shoulders with the idea that war is futile and stupid and anyone who decides to involve a nation in war is evil and unjustified, and we should never, ever engage in it"]. It’s very similar to a powerful one in “Saving Private Ryan.”
There’s this great scene in which the actor portraying David Kenyon Webster — the writer, from Harvard — is riding past thousands of surrendering Germans being marched toward the rear (the opposite direction from which he and Easy Company are traveling) and he spots some senior German officers. He starts shouting at them (excuse the language):
Hey, you! That’s right, you stupid Kraut bastards! That’s right! Say hello to Ford, and General fuckin’ Motors! You stupid fascist pigs! Look at you! You have horses! What were you thinking? Dragging our asses half way around the world, interrupting our lives… For what, you ignorant, servile scum! What the fuck are we doing here?
To explain what I mean by this… I grew up with shows like “Combat,” which gave a sort of timeless sense of the war. Sgt. Saunders and his men were soldiers, had always been soldiers, and would always be soldiers. And they would always be making their way across France in a picaresque manner, doing what they were born to do.
Well, what Webster is shouting at those Germans is that NO, we were NOT born to do this. This is a huge interruption in the way life is supposed to be.
That lies at the core of Tom Hanks’ character in “Saving Private Ryan.” His men think HE was born to be a soldier, and can’t imagine him in any other role (as Reuben says, “Cap’n didn’t go to school, they assembled him at OCS outta spare body parts of dead GIs.”) — hence their intense curiosity about what he did before the war. And their stunned silence when they learn the reality:
I’m a schoolteacher. I teach English composition… in this little town called Adley, Pennsylvania. The last eleven years, I’ve been at Thomas Alva Edison High School. I was a coach of the baseball team in the springtime. Back home, I tell people what I do for a living and they think well, now that figures. But over here, it’s a big, a big mystery. So, I guess I’ve changed some. Sometimes I wonder if I’ve changed so much my wife is even going to recognize me, whenever it is that I get back to her. And how I’ll ever be able to tell her about days like today. Ah, Ryan. I don’t know anything about Ryan. I don’t care. The man means nothing to me. It’s just a name. But if… You know if going to Rumelle and finding him so that he can go home. If that earns me the right to get back to my wife, then that’s my mission.
There, you learn this this is NOT supposed to be where he is. This was not the way his life was supposed to go.
Now… on the other hand…
Dick Winters was a real-life guy who had no desire to be a warrior. After surviving D-Day (having led his men in an action that should have gotten him the Medal of Honor, but he “only” received a Distinguished Service Cross for it), he took a quiet moment to pray that “I would make it through D plus 1. I also promised that if some way I could get home again, I would find a nice peaceful town and spend the rest of my life in peace.”
That’s all he wanted.
And yet, by having been forced to be a soldier, he and everyone around him found that he was superbly suited to it. He was one of those rare men who thought quickly and clearly under fire, and communicated his calm and his self-assuredness to his men. He knew what to do, and how to give orders so that it got done. He had a gift.
And that gift actually was a thing of value — to his society, and to the world. And here’s where we separate. Here’s where we draw a line between being “anti-war” as an absolutist position — that war is always wrong and evil and has no redeeming qualities — and my position, which is that sometimes nations need people like Dick Winters to step forward and exercise those abilities that they have. In other words, the warrior is a valuable member of society like the butcher, the baker and the candlestick-maker (actually, nowadays, perhaps more valuable than the candlestick-maker).
Which seems like a good place to stop, a little more than an hour before 11 o’clock on Nov. 11.
TIME must have had a lot of fun putting this together.
Maybe you don’t think Twitter matters at all. Maybe you think I’ve been wasting my time posting those 10,000 Tweets. Well, you’re wrong.
But don’t listen to me. Just peruse this collection of moments — with separate lists of #Fails, #Feuds, #Scoops, #Stunts, #Backtracks, #Rants, #Raves, #LOLz, #Debuts and #GameChangers — when Twitter really did matter.
Yeah, a lot of those are just fun, but many are serious. No one can doubt any more the power of Twitter as a medium that means business.
You can’t deny the power when…
- The most powerful press lord on the planet turns to Twitter to fix a problem created by one of his newspapers.
- A man who literally has a billion real, live, analog human followers suddenly gains greater ability to speak simply and plainly to the whole planet — a power none of his predecessors had over the past 2,000 years.
- A suburbanite in Pakistan starts wondering what all the racket is out there in the middle of the night, and it turns out he’s live-Tweeting the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
- The world gets its first pictures of the Boston Marathon bombing.
- Facebook bigwig Mark Zuckerberg gives in to the inevitable, and uses Twitter.
- The president of a country (Ecuador) uses the short form to announce a national state of emergency.
- One titan of the information revolution eulogizes another, briefly and simply.
- Twitter becomes a key weapon in a successful revolution.
Yeah, it’s a little less earth-shaking when a Hollywood star finds a fresh way to make a public fool of himself. Yeah, Alec Baldwin, I’m talking about you.
But there’s no question that Twitter matters now. And you don’t even need 140 characters to say that, to mean it — or too prove it.
I liked this brief anecdote in an interview on NPR this morning with New York Times Tehran Bureau Chief Thomas Erdbrink.
Erdbrink was talking about covering the big demonstration Iranian hardliners had organized to celebrate this, the 34th anniversary of the takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran.
Then, he told this anecdote:
As I was driving to the demonstration this morning, the taxi driver who I’ve known for quite a while as being a very quiet man who never debates politics, he was very upset this morning. He said I don’t understand our country anymore. On one hand, we are talking to the United States. On the other hand we are shouting death to America. To me as a simple man, he said of himself, it is clear that this will not lead to anything. He kind of said that he was very quickly losing his faith in President Rouhani and his ability to make the real big changes that he wanted, at least…
Hey, you don’t have to be “a simple man” to be perplexed by the madness of the situation.
In my last post, I lauded the simple humanity of Sen. John Courson reaching out, in an entirely personal way, to his Democratic friends as well as his Republican friends, and I associated it with the very UnParty (or maybe AllParty) makeup of his district.
I love this anecdote about a similar human touch in a hyperpartisan back in the days of Tammany Hall. It’s from a reminiscence by Elliot Rosenberg about his Uncle Lewis. The piece is headlined “When All Politics Was Personal,” and here’s my favorite part:
For much of that era, spanning Presidents Wilson through Eisenhower and Mayors John F. Hylan through Robert F. Wagner Jr. , Uncle Louis earned the title Banner Captain of the Democratic Party’s Banner District. That meant the party’s old Fourth Assembly District clubhouse swept more votes into the Democratic column than any other, and Uncle Louis wielded the best broom of all, 99% of votes cast, give or take a percentage point.
“The Republican captain in my precinct was a good friend. So I’d tell a few of my people to slip him their votes,” Uncle Louis said. “After all, the fellow was a family man. His wife and kids had to eat, too.”…
What this guy did — make sure everyone pulled the Democratic lever, regardless of the candidate — is anathema to me. And with those kinds of margins, it cost him nothing to throw his GOP friend a bone. And in saying he could do that, he was boasting of his own power. But still — in these days when Democratic operatives may have no Republican friends, and vice versa, it’s sort of hard to imagine the gesture.
“His wife and kids had to eat, too.” I love that.
Remember that picture I posted the other day of the protester from 1963?
Well, I posted it on Pinterest, too, and today I got a message from that social media service headlined, “Pins you’ll love!”
Pinterest thinks it knows me. It’s decided that what I want to see is natty young black men in skinny retro ties.
People worry about increasingly intuitive algorithms knowing too much about them. I look at the way those programs actually work, and have to smile. They have a tendency, shall we say, to leap to thinly supported conclusions.
You especially get wild results when the principal medium of expression is photographs, which are so subject to misinterpretation. I’m a word guy; I was interested in the words on the protester’s sign. All Pinterest saw was the picture….
This morning, Celeste Headlee Tweeted:
She was referring to this Reuters story about what a mess Social Security and Medicare were at first:
Social Security, that now beloved centerpiece of the nation’s social safety net, offers a case in point. Created in 1935, the program took 40 years just to include all working Americans in its basic coverage. When the old-age insurance program launched in 1937, barely more than half the labor force participated….
Social Security’s first baby steps proved especially uncertain. Of course, opponents denounced the pension plan as the leading wedge of a socialist revolution….
But it was not just dissident conservatives who issued ideological censure. Even friendly critics disparaged the program for its incompetent personnel, confusing procedures and widespread abuses. One watchdog group particularly disapproved the rapid hiring of thousands of untrained, ill-qualified workers to staff the program….
Similar uncertainty marred the introduction of Medicare. When the health insurance program went on the books in 1965, the federal government already possessed a Social Security administration to run it with three decades of experience in the business of social insurance.
Still, the complexity of the new program made its rollout a lengthy, contentious process. Federal officials had to negotiate with a wide variety of providers (nursing homes, hospitals, insurance companies), deal with a largely uncooperative American Medical Association, and coordinate with 50 state governments….
And so forth. Yet somehow, the nation survived it all…
I’ve hit on these themes before, as did Massimo Faggioli when he delivered the annual Joseph Cardinal Bernardin Lecture at USC earlier this month.
But I thought this piece, which The State picked up over the weekend, further makes the case that the ideas of Columbia native Bernardin may today be more influential than ever in Rome. An excerpt:
(RNS) The election of Pope Francis in March heralded a season of surprises for the Catholic Church, but perhaps none so unexpected – and unsettling for conservatives – as the re-emergence of the late Chicago Cardinal Joseph Bernardin as a model for the American Catholic future.
While there is no indication that Francis knows the writings of Bernardin, who died in 1996, many say the pope’s remarks repeatedly evoke Bernardin’s signature teachings on the “consistent ethic of life” – the view that church doctrine champions the poor and vulnerable from womb to tomb – and on finding “common ground” to heal divisions in the church.
Ironically, the re-emergence of Bernardin — a man who was admired by a young Chicago organizer named Barack Obama — is exposing the very rifts he sought to bridge, especially among conservatives who thought his broad view of Catholicism was buried with him in Mount Carmel Cemetery outside Chicago….
I just posted something bemoaning the fact that the concept of a “loyal opposition” is fading away, reminiscing about how things were different in the Good Old Days.
Which, I know, irritates some of y’all.
So, as compensation, I’ll write about a good piece I read this morning by Michael Barone that points out that the era of “we’re all Americans and we’re all in this together” that I recall was largely a historical anomaly, a product of the shared experiences of Depression, world war and postwar expansion, combined with a very unified, common (as opposed to fragmented) mass media culture.
Which I realize is true.
The headline — “Washington Is Partisan — Get Used to It” — is a little misleading. The actual text doesn’t shout “Get over it!” at us UnPartisans the way the hed does.
But it does effectively make the point that there’s nothing new about American’s being bitterly divided.
Politicians in Washington during the Midcentury Moment actually did gather at five o’clock to sip bourbon and branch water in Capitol hideaways and then roll out bipartisan compromises on the floor the next day. Genuine friendships and constant communication were established across party lines, despite great enmities—remember that this was also the era of Joe McCarthy….
America’s Midcentury Moment was just that—and American politics has returned to its combative, partisan, divisive default mode. In the 1790s, Americans were divided over a world-wide war between commercial Britain and revolutionary France. Political strife was bitter. In the antebellum years, Americans were deeply split over issues from the Bank of the United States to slavery in the territories. For three generations after the Civil War, Americans North and South lived almost entirely apart from each other.
The Midcentury Moment emerged as the result of three unexpected developments, two of them unwelcome—depression, war, postwar prosperity—and was communicated through the language of an unusually vivid and unusually universal popular culture. Absent these things—and it’s hard to see how they could return—our politicians aren’t likely to all get along.
I urge you to go read the whole thing, if you can get past the paywall (they allow some pieces to be free; I can’t tell whether this is one, since I subscribe).
I’ve always known that growing up under the leadership of the WWII generation gave me a view of the possibilities of consensus government that would have seemed unlikely to an American in, say, the 1850s. (And given my communitarian proclivities, I’ve always felt deprived that I didn’t get to live through the time of the purest manifestation of that national consensus, in the 1940s.)
But allow me to argue that the kind of politics we experienced in the 1950s through, to some extent, the early ’90s (after which that generation gave way to the far more bitterly divided youngsters who didn’t remember WWII) should be the norm, not the exception. Even if it isn’t.
To begin with, we’re not living in a time defined by such conflicts as those Barone describes in those earlier period. We’re not batted about by two other superpowers as during the Napoleonic wars (and the conflict of that period was also sectional, with the commercial interests of the north aligning more with commercial Britain, and the Jeffersonians in the South leaning toward France — just to oversimplify).
We are not torn apart by slavery, or by the deep bitterness of Reconstruction.
Our differences are rather tame by comparison. What is the great national trauma that should be dividing us so? I suppose some would say it’s overspending. Which, I’m sorry, is kind of… disappointing… as a cause for Americans to refuse to play well with others.
Others would say (if they’re not afraid of being hooted out of the room as was Jimmy Carter) that it’s our national economic malaise. Which is real enough; I can certainly attest to that. But again, it seems inadequate as a reason for us to be at each other’s throats politically.
I say that because it’s not in any of our interests to be this dysfunctional. OK, so people hold certain political ideologies passionately (which makes no sense to me, as the dominant ideologies make no sense to me, but I accept that other people feel differently, just as I have to accept that most of my neighbors love football to an alarming degree).
But no matter your ideology, it’s not in your interests to have a political system in which nothing can get done. Whether you want to balance the budget or enlarge the welfare state or project American influence or withdraw to within our borders, you can’t get anything done in a system that can’t, for instance, pass a continuing budget resolution without the government shutting down.
It’s just, frankly, crazy to prefer to achieve none of your goals if you can’t have things completely your way.
Maybe Barone’s right to suggest that there are natural forces that drive us apart that are as much part of the natural political order as entropy is of the physical. Under that theory, only powerful unifying forces such as the three he cites (Depression, WWII followed by expansion, a commonly shared mass media culture) can overcome that tendency, and then only temporarily.
But we are supposed to be thinking creatures. We should be able to overcome that, if only to serve our common and individual self-interests.
It should embarrass us if we can’t.
He does that frequently when I’m around, which causes me to think he does it to flatter me. But he always does it relevantly. For those who don’t know what “Power Failure” was, a brief description that I put together recently:
South Carolina is different. It took me about three years of close observation to understand how it was different. I realized it toward the end of the incredible summer of 1990, when one-tenth of the Legislature was indicted, the head of the highway patrol resigned under pressure after helping the head of the local FBI office (which was investigating the Legislature) with a DUI, the president of the University of South Carolina resigned after a series of scandals, and… well, there were two or three other major stories of malfunction and corruption in state government, all at the same time. Under my direction, The State’s political reporters stayed ahead of all the competition that summer, and broke at least one story that even the feds didn’t know about. All this fed into my determination to explain just why our state government was so fouled up. There were reasons, and they were reasons that were peculiar to South Carolina, but they were invisible to most citizens.
I proposed to The State’s senior management that they let me undertake a special project that would let the voters in on the secret. They agreed, and turned the resources of the newsroom over to me to use as I needed them for the “Power Failure” project. Over the course of a year, 17 multi-page installments and more than 100 stories, we explained why ours was the state government that answered to no one. And we set out a blueprint for fixing it.
That helped lead, the following year, to a major government restructuring, creating a cabinet system and giving the governor actual control over a significant portion of the executive branch. It didn’t go nearly far enough. Only about a third of the government, measured by share of the budget, answers to the elected chief executive. But it was a start…
As it happens, I had occasion today to look back at a reprint of the series, and I continue to be struck by how relevant it remains.
The series was about much more than the fact that the state’s executive branch was governed by a bewildering array of boards and commissions that answered to no one. It was about more than making the governor accountable. It went into problems with local government, the judiciary, and other aspects of government at all levels.
The sad thing is that while that reprint is old and yellowed, being 21 years old, so much of what it described remains unchanged.
I was reminded of that in this morning’s paper. We see that a Nikki Haley ally is planning to run against Glenn McConnell for lieutenant governor next year. This is portrayed as a sort of dress-rehearsal for 2018, when the governor and lieutenant governor will run together on a single ticket. That is a tiny, tiny movement toward the “Power Failure” recommendation that we stop electing all these constitutional officers separately from the governor.
Meanwhile, the bill to replace the Budget and Control Board with a Department of Administration answering to the governor hovers out there, and maybe, maybe it will actually be enacted in the next legislative session. Nikki Haley has been pushing hard for that since entering office. Rival Vincent Sheheen has been pushing for it longer than that, and he still is doing so. From a Sheheen op-ed last week:
BY VINCENT SHEHEEN
Posted: Thursday, October 3, 2013 12:01 a.m.
Post & Courier·
- It’s time to take another giant step in reforming South Carolina’s state government to improve accountability for the hardworking people of our state.
Over the last few years, South Carolina has gone backwards in so many areas — we’re now one of the toughest places in the nation to earn a living and achieve the American dream, while our government has failed on its most basic functions. But one of the places where we are moving forward is in modernizing our state government in an effort to improve accountability.
Last year, I introduced S. 22, a restructuring bill to overhaul and reform South Carolina’s legislative and executive branches. I worked across the aisle to ensure the bill speedily passed the Senate with overwhelming bipartisan support. Then it was altered and passed late in the session by the House of Representatives.
A conference committee has been appointed to hammer out the differences in anticipation of the upcoming session. So now we have an exciting opportunity to reconcile the two versions and make history for our state….
Actually, you should probably go read the whole thing, at the Post and Courier.
The reprint is old and yellowed, but we’re still struggling along with the same problems. Still, let’s celebrate what we can. I for one am thankful that both Haley and Sheheen back reform, and that maybe this one change is about to happen. Beyond that, there’s a lot more work to do.
AT&T U-verse offered free Showtime this past weekend, which means I got to see the first episode of the new season of “Homeland.” (SPOILER ALERT: Carrie’s off her meds again. But that probably won’t come as a shock to anyone.)
Anyway, it also meant I got to see “Lincoln” for the second time, and it was just as great as when I saw it in the theater.
But I was a bit puzzled by the synopsis, pictured above, that was provided on my guide.
Fascinating. The whole country seceded? And there were two confederacies, not just one? (Two separate confederacies, just in case you missed the “two” part.) And he “joined the Union” in order to deal with it? What, was he not a part of it before?
You just learn something new every day.
Just thought I’d post portions of a conversation I jumped into over on Facebook.
First, Bill Connor posted:
In watching the fight to defund Obamacare, I have this to say. I am a Christian first, as I believe the Bible is the inspired word. Therefore, it is Truth. That said, the Bible is not silent about the role of government and it’s sphere of authority. Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2 give the mandate for governmental authority. That mandate is for the “sword” of protection. Protection from external enemies, and protection from lawlessness (law enforcement, Courts) from within the nation. The government is about force in protection. The Church is given the mandate to care for those in need. The Church does not possess the power of the sword, as “Charity” means love. God wants men to give freely and without coercion when it comes to taking care of the less fortunate in society. When Government exceeds its sphere and gets involved with church functions (as in Obamacare, among other things like welfare, etc.) it destroys the idea of Charity. Forcing someone with the sword to give to another is not a Christian ideal. Our founders believed in the Biblical spheres of authority for Church and State and the Constitution makes this law. The Constitution enumerates powers to Government, and those powers do not include Church type functions. Government is to be restrained by the Constitution to the “Sword” functions. Otherwise, Government essentially takes over the Church and all else and attempts to become “god”. That is a reason while I believe the Biblical position to to oppose Obamacare. We care about those in need. However, we are to give to those truly in need through Charity (Love). We did not give the government the power
After a bunch of other people had had a say, I posted:
Bill, in a representative democracy, we vote to elect people to decide what government does. When enough people are elected to decide to undertake something like universal health care, then that’s what we do. If enough people are elected who don’t want to do that, we don’t do that. That’s how the system is supposed to work. It’s really a stretch to make like the government is something outside ourselves coercing us to do something. We, the people, acting through our elected representatives, have decided to do this with the money that we will all pay into it. Does that mean all Americans wanted to do this? No. There probably hasn’t ever been a single action by the government of the United States that all Americans favored. We’re all in the minority on something. But what we do is accept that fact, and work to have our preferred candidates win the next election. In the meantime, we accept the lawful actions of those who have already been elected. We certainly don’t declare lawful actions illegitimate. Nor do we claim, with very thin evidence, that it’s contrary to the Bible. On that last point, I’m not seeing anywhere in the Bible where it says we can’t pool our resources as a people and provide health care for all, and I’d be shocked to find it. Near as I can tell, in terms of saying what the civil government should do, the Bible is pretty silent on something like Obamacare. That leaves the decision up to us and our elected representatives.
Then Bill responded:
Brad, first I appreciate you posting thoughtful note, even though I disagree. Daniel spelled out my opinion exactly. The reason we have the Constitution is to protect certain rights from the whim of the majority. In this case, we had a very quick period of time in which Democrats controlled the House and POTUS. The founders intended to restrain gov’t to its legitimate functions (drawn from the Biblical worldview) and Obamacare exceeds those Constitutional and Biblical limitations.
The another reader (Ltc Robert Clarke) responded:
Brad is right in that the law was passed following our system….but since not a single person in the opposition party supported it, it is bound to face stiff resistance. The people house holds the pursestrings and they should be able to cut the $ off? If you are going to do something this big, best to do it as a bipartisan effort.
And finally, I said this:
Yes, that is best. But when is the last chance we had in this country to do that? Both parties operate on the strategy of getting 50 percent plus one, and then doing whatever they like — which sets off the other party in paroxysms of desperation, because both parties look upon the other, and all its works, as completely lacking in legitimacy. Both parties need to chill, and accept the fact that sometimes people they disagree with are going to win an argument, and just try to win themselves next time around. It’s really getting overexcited to see Obamacare as some sort of Gotterdammerung, the end of all that is good and holy and American and Constitutional. It’s just not. It’s a fairly ugly, pieced-together mish-mash that IS so ugly because there is such opposition to taking the simple approach that Britain and Canada have taken. This is the kind of mess that our hyper-polarized politics produce. It may be too much of a cobbled-together mess to work. But we’ll find out when it’s implemented. It’s going to work, or it’s not going to work. Or it will work in some ways, but not in others. But we won’t know until it’s been in place for awhile.
I didn’t want to get into arguing about whether our Founders intended the Constitution to be “Biblical.” I preferred to stick to this not being the end of the world, or even of the country.
When SC Shakespeare Company did “Pride and Prejudice” last year, we had a couple of diction coaches helping us with Received Pronunciation. Which was probably reasonably faithful to the way Austen’s characters would have spoken.
But when this company or any other wants to be true to the original productions of Shakespeare, how on Earth are they supposed to know how it should sound?
These guys say they know. And the folks who run The Globe apparently believe them. Whether they’re right or not, it’s an interesting piece.
Turns out that English accents sounded vaguely Scottish — or some other Gaelic variant. In any case, it doesn’t sound English to this modern ear.
John Boehner and Eric Cantor have both joined Nancy Pelosi in lining up behind the president’s proposal to take limited military action in Syria.
There are reports that John McCain and Lindsey Graham are doing so as well, despite all the reservations they expressed the last couple of days.
That’s important, even impressive, given the problems Congress has had lining up behind anything in recent years.
But it doesn’t answer the big questions. A big reason why Congress has been so much more feckless than usual lately is that the leadership lining up behind a plan is not the same as Congress doing so.
One of the causes of the president’s highly disturbing indecision on this issue is attributable to the fact that his party has been drifting toward what has been its comfort zone since 1975 — reflexive opposition to any sort of military action.
But the real indecision is expected on the Republican side, where pre-1941 isolationism has been gaining a strong foothold in recent years.
In that vein, the WSJ had an interesting column today headlined, “The Robert Taft Republicans Return.” As Bret Stephens wrote,
Such faux-constitutional assertions—based on the notion that only direct attacks to the homeland constitute an actionable threat to national security—would have astonished Ronald Reagan, who invaded Grenada in 1983 without consulting a single member of Congress. It would have amazed George H.W. Bush, who gave Congress five hours notice before invading Panama. And it would have flabbergasted the Republican caucus of, say, 2002, which understood it was better to take care of threats over there rather than wait for them to arrive right here.
Then again, the views of Messrs. Paul, Lee and Amash would have sat well with Sen. Robert Taft of Ohio (1889-1953), son of a president, a man of unimpeachable integrity, high principles, probing intelligence—and unfailing bad judgment.
A history lesson: In April 1939, the man known as Mr. Republican charged that “every member of the government . . . is ballyhooing the foreign situation, trying to stir up prejudice against this country or that, and at all costs take the minds of the people off their trouble at home.” By “this country or that,” Taft meant Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. The invasion of Poland was four months away.
Another history lesson: After World War II, Republicans under the leadership of Sen. Arthur Vandenberg joined Democrats to support the Truman Doctrine, the creation of NATO, and the Marshall Plan. But not Robert Taft. He opposed NATO as a threat to U.S. sovereignty, a provocation to Russia, and an undue burden on the federal fisc.
“Can we afford this new project of foreign assistance?” he asked in 1949. “I am as much against Communist aggression as anyone. . . but we can’t let them scare us into bankruptcy and the surrender of all liberty, or let them determine our foreign policies.” Substitute “Islamist” for “Communist” in that sentence, and you have a Rand Paul speech…
That would seem to be the question separating left and right today as they look back on the March on Washington 50 years ago.
For some days now, writers in The Wall Street Journal have been trying to head off what they expected Barack Obama and other Democrats to say today. For instance, John McWhorter wrote this morning:
On the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, we will hear a good deal about how life in this country for black Americans has not changed as much as Martin Luther King Jr. might have wished….
It is easy to forget what an awesome moral landmark it was for an oppressed group to force the larger society to outlaw barriers to its success. But the victory of the 1964 and 1965 laws had an even greater impact than prohibiting segregation and racial discrimination in voter registration: It changed the culture. Personal racist sentiment rapidly became socially proscribed. The Norman Lear sitcoms of the early 1970s, in which bigoted whites were regularly held up to ridicule, would have been unthinkable just 10 years before….
(I)n recent years, the black middle class has flourished. Housing segregation for blacks is the lowest it has been since the 1920s. And a black president has been elected twice. Yet the fury persists, since what actually rankles these critics is the threat to what they feel is their very identity: underdogs with a bone to pick.
This is not where the March on Washington was pointing us. There is work left, but we are free at last. No, we aren’t living in a “post-racial” America, but that fantasy will never be realized. What we black Americans are free to do, in a permanently imperfect world, is shape our own destiny together.
As folks on the right predicted, the president today spoke of how far we have yet to go:
Taking the lectern, the nation’s first African American president paid homage to King’s legacy, saying that “because they kept marching, America changed.” But Obama warned that the struggle for equality is not yet complete, adding that “the arc of the moral universe may bend toward justice, but it doesn’t bend on its own.”
“To secure the gains this country has made requires constant vigilance, not complacency,” Obama said. He cited as setbacks the Supreme Court’s decision in June to strike key provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act and the high rates of African American incarceration…
There is justice on both sides of the argument.
A couple of days ago, in his “Best of the Web” feature at WSJ.com, James Taranto mocked Bloomberg’s Margaret Carlson for writing, after she saw “The Butler:”
“I wish Chief Justice John Roberts and four of his Supreme Court colleagues would see ['The Butler'], too. Maybe it will help them understand how wrong they got it when they recently decided that we are so far past Jim Crow that we can dispense with a central provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.”
As Taranto notes, that is a bogus statement on several levels, the greatest of which being that depictions of life on a cotton farm in the 1930s are hardly a guide to the racial landscape of the country today. Another is that doing away with pre-clearance requirement applying to parts of the country that today have greater minority voter participation than parts that are not subject to such requirements somehow dispenses with “a central provision” of the Voting Rights Act.
Every “central provision” in the act is still in force. Complaints of violations of the Act can still be brought. All that goes away is the assumption, codified into law, that people who live in certain geographic locations — this county, but not the one next to it — are guilty of discrimination until proven innocent.
It’s bogus when she says it, and it was bogus when the president cited it as evidence that we have not come far enough. On the contrary, the justices did away with the requirement precisely because we have come so far.
I particularly like Mr. McWhorter’s assertion that the victories of the civil rights movement “changed the culture.” About 20 years ago, historian Walter Edgar and I went out to lunch together, and while standing in line, we witnessed a fairly routine, friendly exchange between a white cashier and a black customer. After we left, Walter started talking about how we took such interactions for granted, when they would have been almost unimaginable at a time within living memory.
I thought back to that just the other day, when I witnessed a white man giving way, in a courtly manner, to a couple of black ladies in a public place. There was nothing unusual about it, and that’s the miracle. Within my lifetime, that likely would not have happened.
Now, on the other hand…
The president rightly cites such disturbing vital signs as the high rates of black incarceration, the high black unemployment rate, and other signs of a demographic group lagging behind, even as legal barriers have disappeared and everyday cultural habits have changed radically.
That is the bitter legacy of the century between the Emancipation Proclamation and Dr. King’s speech.
The huge, continuing argument in our politics will continue to be over what we should do about it.
The film students who made the above mock ad which shows a C-Class Mercedes-Benz deliberately running over Adolph Hitler as a boy — thereby satirically touting the car’s supposed ability to “detect dangers before they come up” — really got the folks at Daimler stirred up. They made the students go way overboard in labeling the video as “unauthorized,” and probably helped it go viral.
The ad supposedly asks this question:
If you were a car, and you could travel back in time and kill Hitler when he was a boy, would you do it?
Well, if you were a Volkswagen, the answer would probably be no, since you’d be murdering your own father, and you’d probably cease to exist. A C-Class Mercedes-Benz, however, would suffer no such temporal paradox, and that’s the vehicle of young Adolf’s destruction in this well-made though extremely odd commercial parody, created as a thesis by some German film students…
That report said the students “wanted to explore the morality of technology by asking what would happen if machines had souls.” And indeed, that’s one of the odd things about the piece — the car seems to have traveled back in time and deliberately killed Hitler, not a human driver.
But set all the weirdness aside, and let’s answer the moral question raised: If a car, or a driver, or any entity, could go back in time and kill the boy Hitler, should he, she or it do so.
Just to get the conversation going, I’m going to say “no.” If you could change history by going back in time — a point sci-fi authorities might differ on — then is killing this boy the best way to prevent what subsequently happened? For this to be a moral act, you’d have to be sure that it would work. And it would do nothing to stop the First World War from happening. It would do nothing to correct the mismanagement of the peace. It wouldn’t prevent the Weimar Republic from failing. It wouldn’t prevent the street brawls between competing groups of extremist thugs, although maybe some group other than the Nazis would have come out on top. In short, it would not change the conditions that not only shaped Hitler, but which enabled him to rise to power. How do you know that someone else, something else, just as bad would not arise?
I’m afraid there’s no substitute for waiting until a guy turns out bad before going after him. Bret Stephens over at the WSJ says what we need to do now is kill Bashar Assad and everyone close to him — because of what he’s done in using chemical weapons. And weirdly, he’s sort of echoing this mock ad by saying we should also kill “everyone else in the Assad family with a claim on political power.” Might that include his 11-year-old son? I hope not, but I sort of gather that it would…
I thought aviation and history buffs would take an interest in this:
Introducing the Curtiss-Wright Hangar ProjectHistoric site set for revitalization(COLUMBIA, SC) August 20, 2013 – The Curtiss-Wright Hangar, an incredible piece of Columbia’s aviation and architectural history, will be preserved and restored. The namesake legacy will live on 84 years after its original construction to be completely renovated as a special event venue, family restaurant, and intimate South Carolina Aerospace Museum. The Curtiss-Wright Hangar is designated on the National Register of Historic Places.The Curtiss-Wright Hangar history is plentiful. Opening in 1929, the hangar was the first building constructed at Owens Field by a Company formed between Glenn Curtiss and the Wright Brothers. Thirty-five of these vintage hangars were built all across the country by the Curtiss-Wright Company and at best guess less than six still exist, but only this one remains in its original form. The Curtiss-Wright Hangar was Columbia’s first terminal serving passengers and airmail service. Famed aviator Amelia Earhart’s signature is still listed in Columbia airport’s logbook at 11:30 a.m., November 16, 1931 and President Franklin Roosevelt flew into the airport in the late 1930’s. The vintage B-25 bomber that is still in the hangar will remain as a centerpiece for the restaurant and museum.The developers our asking for the publics support for this historic project from the community, businesses, and aviation supporter’s worldwide and have created a crowd funding site at http://www.rockethub.com/
projects/29493-curtiss-wright- hangar-project#description-tab .For additional information on the Curtiss-Wright Hangar Project please visit http://columbia-hangar.com or to follow the project’s progress please follow us at https://www.facebook.com/ TheCurtissWrightHangar.###
And maybe Burl, an acknowledged expert in these things, can offer some advice to the organizers…