Category Archives: History

Jack Van Loan unloads on Colin Kaepernick

Jack Van Loan, campaigning for his friend John McCain back in 2007.

Jack Van Loan, campaigning for his friend John McCain back in 2007.

Just a few minutes ago, I got a call out of the blue from a man I’m honored to call my friend, Jack Van Loan.

A lot of you know Jack as the long-time power broker of Five Points, who for many years ran the St. Patrick’s Day party there. Most of you who know him also know about the almost six years (“I was in for 70 months. Seven-zero — seventy months.”) that he spent as a prisoner of the North Vietnamese in the “Hanoi Hilton” with his good friend John McCain and other fellow heroes.

An excerpt from my column a number of years ago about his experience:

ON MAY 20, 1967, Air Force pilot Jack Van Loan was shot down over North Vietnam. His parachute carried him to Earth well enough, but he landed all wrong.
“I hit the ground, and I slid, and I hit a tree,” he said. This provided an opportunity for his captors at the prison known as the “Hanoi Hilton.”
“My knee was kind of screwed up and they … any time they found you with some problems, then they would, they would bear down on the problems,” he said. “I mean, they worked on my knee pretty good … and, you know, just torturing me.”…

Again, that experience lasted 70 months.

Tonight, Jack called me to ask me if I knew anyone with the San Francisco 49ers organization or anyone at all who could get a message to quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Well, I couldn’t help him there because you know me and football. I didn’t even know who Colin Kaepernick was — although when I looked him up, I remembered the controversy from last year.

I told him the best I could do for the moment was share his message on my blog.

His message is this: That he did not spend six years in that hell of a North Vietnamese prison so “some long-haired punk” could show his disdain for the flag of the United States of America. And if Kaepernick can’t bring himself to show basic respect to the country for which it stands, he should leave it.

Jack further promised “that there is no way I will spend one second watching” any game that Kaepernick plays in.

That shouldn’t be a hard promise to keep in the near future, since Kaepernick doesn’t have a team at the moment — some say because the quality of his play had declined; others say it’s the controversy.

But if he does play again, Jack’s going to be boycotting whatever team picks him up.

That probably won’t make Kaepernick lose sleep at night. The guy has other problems.

As for why Kaepernick did what he did… I’m not interested in getting into that in this post. I’m just here to testify to the pain and dismay those actions engendered in my friend Jack.

Yeah, I know all the arguments about how that flag stands for the right of people like Kaepernick to express their views. I’ve used those arguments myself. I’m just sharing how Col. Van Loan feels about that expression, and telling you that he’s earned the right to feel that way — he’s got rights, too, and has done a great deal to earn them.

And I’ll mention one more thing I discovered in trying to remind myself who Kaepernick was. He, a guy who spent six years playing professional football, has an extensive Wikipedia page devoted to him. Jack Van Loan spent six years of torment in the Hanoi Hilton, and has no Wikipedia page. There’s something wrong with that equation…

Thoughts about the ‘fashy’ haircut?

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One morning this week — probably Monday — I made my way to my usual table for breakfast, and just before sitting noticed the two young men at the table behind me.

I had noticed them before, for one reason only — their haircuts. One of them is more noticeable than the other, because his hair is blond, which makes the cut pop out more. His hair is always the same — cut almost down to the skin on the sides and back, longer but cut and shaped with obsessive care on the top, and plastered down. Not a hair is out of place.

Again, I successfully resisted the temptation to ask, “How often do you get your hair cut?” Because it always looks like he rose from the barber’s chair in the last five minutes, if not more recently. What kind of commitment to one’s appearance must that take?

As a guy who likes to get his hair cut really short so I don’t have to go back for a couple of months, maybe three — saving time and money — I idly wondered how much it would cost for me to maintain a look like that, all the time. And then I immediately thought, no one wants to see me with that haircut, ever, even for a moment — because I’d look like a colonel in the Waffen-SS. No, let’s be precise: I’d look kind of like Reinhard Heydrich, who may well be the scariest-looking man to have lived in the past century. Not an image I’m going for.

Sitting down to my breakfast, I immediately forgot about the guys behind me and their hair. For about one minute. Then, reading about what happened in Charlottesville, I ran across this:

Yes, there were swastika-tattooed, Ku Klux Klan-hooded 50-somethings on the streets of Charlottesville. The most chilling photos, however, show hordes of torch-bearing, fresh-faced, “fashy”-coiffed white men in their teens and 20s.

And immediately, without following the link, and in spite of my bottomless ignorance about current fashion, I knew exactly what sort of coif she meant. Here’s how the story at that link, from 2016, describes it:

We need to talk about a haircut. Also about identity, and hatred, and maybe about the total end of American civilization — but first about a haircut.

You have seen it. It is short on the sides and long on the top. It is clean and tidy, with a military sheen. It’s been popular among young people for several years. But now this haircut is making us ask ourselves, with seriousness that seems unthinkable in 2016: hipster or Nazi?

Young city-dwelling men leaving their SoulCycle classes in leftover “I’m With Her” T-shirts.

Young white-nationalism enthusiasts leaving a recent conference in Washington, D.C., where several of them performed a Nazi salute.

The same haircut. The exact same haircut….

By the way, about those two young fellows sitting behind me: I’m quite certain that they are not neo-Nazis, or white supremacists. Why? Because I keep seeing them at the Capital City Club, which was founded for reasons that are the precise opposite of white supremacy. If you want to be a white supremacist, there are other clubs you can join. I’m assuming they’re just go-getter young businessmen who want to look sharp.

John Dillinger, hipster?

John Dillinger, hipster?

And it’s a time-honored way of looking sharp. It was popular a century ago, and continued to be fashionable into the 1930s, based on old photos. You see that cut on everyone from actors on “Boardwalk Empire” (set right after the Great War) to John Dillinger. OK, maybe Dillinger’s another bad example. But the fact is, about 20 or 30 years before I was born, lots of guys wore their hair that way, and not all of them were fascists or gangsters.

I wonder if those two guys I keep seeing know some people are calling it a “fashy” cut, or that hipsters have for some time ironically called it a “Hitler Youth?

I suppose I could give them a heads-up (sorry), but I don’t think that’s the best way to start a conversation with someone you don’t know…

 

 

How far have we come in 70 years? Maybe not so far…

cadet

When I saw the above story, and especially the picture with it, I had to smile.

Look at that young woman! She has worked hard, and achieved a milestone toward a lifelong goal. She deserves the joy I see in her face. God bless her. I’d like to meet her and shake her hand, and thank her for her service, and her drive to excel in that service. For the rest of the day, I’d probably feel much better about Life, the Universe and Everything — and especially the human race, which as we know can be disappointing at times.

But when I read stories like this, this tiny, cynical voice tries to ruin it by saying something like “Another ‘first’ story. It’s 2017, and ‘first’ stories still get big play in The New York Times.”

Don’t blame me. On this point, I was warped early on. In high school, I read The Autobiography of Malcolm X. And a lot of things about that book have stuck with me. Here’s one of them…

X tells this colorful sort of comic-opera story about himself that is much like the one Arlo Guthrie tells in “Alice’s Restaurant,” about how he got his draft notice, and upon arrival at the intake station went into an elaborate, over-the-top act to get a psychiatrist to rule him unfit for service.

This was 1943. X acts as crazy as he can while standing in line with the other draftees during the physical, and marvels at how long it takes them to pull him out of the queue. But eventually they do, and when he gets to the shrink’s office, he describes this scene:

firsts

Ignore the “not bad to look at” part. This was 1943, and even 20 years later when the book was written, we guys got to say stuff like that without being condemned for it.

Malcolm X in 1964

Malcolm X in 1964

No, my point is what X is saying about “first” stories. Reading this at 17, and rereading it today, I get the strong impression he held such stories in contempt. Part of this arises from the attitudes he would embrace through the Nation of Islam (views he would just be in the process of turning away from as the book was being written). He apparently held all involved in contempt — the white man for so grudgingly allowing black people such small achievements, and black folks for being so thrilled at such crumbs from the white man’s table.

I have never been a bitter cynic in the league of Malcolm X, and hope to God I never will be. I’m pleased for people who accomplish anything that improves their lives and inspires other people. But that anecdote has stuck with me over the years. And every time I see a story like this one today, that memory looms up.

About the time X was working with Alex Haley on that book, the white press joined the “Negro press” in celebrating such firsts. Which in and of itself was a fine thing, a form of progress, of the nation forming a consensus around its highest ideals.

But here it is 2017, and we’re still reading these stories? Almost a decade after the election of our “first black president,” this is still news?

To go back to where I started: I liked reading this story. I like reading about the achievement of a fellow human being named Simone Askew. This world needs more like her! But that part of me that was influenced by that book when I was younger (and far less accomplished) than she is makes me wonder whether it doesn’t take something away from her personal achievement to couch it in terms that Malcolm X scoffed at in 1943…

Remembering the night Nixon resigned

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Yeah, I’m a day late with this, but it was some hours-old Tweets I saw this morning that got me to thinking about it:

Then, later in the day, I wondered if I could see that front page again, and sure enough, Google delivered — although a small, low-res image. See the page above. (See how much wider newspaper pages were then?)

It was at the very start of my journalism career, when I was still in school. I worked nights at the long-extinct job of copy boy, although in deference to feminist sensibilities it was by that time called “copy clerk.” Basically, I was an errand boy, learning the business. And at that point in time — the waning days of hot type — the function was essential. In a time when everything was physical instead of digital, everything — news stories, pictures, proofs (and the coffee and meals that everyone in the newsroom had the power to send us for) — had to be carried to each stage of the process by hand. And it was a great way to learn the business. I knew some things that senior editors didn’t know about where things were and how they worked together (mostly, where to get the coffee).

And there were obstacles, and workarounds, that would confound anyone who started in the business just a little later. For instance, if you want to make a two-word headline stretch all the way across the page today, you just click and drag and it’s done. But back then a headline wasn’t ones and zeroes; it was a physical thing, set in heavy metal by a machine that could only make it so big. I think the biggest possible was either 72 points (an inch high) or 96.

So here’s what we did: The managing editor wrote “Nixon Resigns” on a scrap of paper and sent me to the composing room (on the next floor up) to get it set into type as big as we could. Then, we took a high-contrast proof (on slick paper instead of the usual cheap newsprint) of that metal-type hed and shot a picture of it on one of the cameras used to make press plates, which used page-sized negative film. Then we blew that image up to full-page width, and made a proof of that, which I then ran back downstairs to the M.E., so he could see how his headline would look.

This was not something you did every day. We were doing it that night because this was history. The editor was being creative.

When I brought the finished product to him, the M.E. looked upon his headline and pronounced it good.

By the way, here was the scene in the newsroom when Nixon was addressing the nation: A bunch of us crowded around the TV over the M.E.’s desk, and watched and listened. I forget the name of our Washington correspondent. Let’s say it was Clark Kent. Someone in the group wondered aloud where Clark was at that moment. Our gruff metro editor, Angus McEachran, snorted, “Watching it on TV, just like us!” There was some laughter.

Those who want to paint the newspaper business as already a fossil, left behind by TV, might point to that 1974 scene as proof.

But here’s the thing: When the show was over, all these people had to jump into action. I’d be running back and forth to the wire machines with the copy out of Washington. Editors would be editing that copy and putting it onto pages. Reporters would be calling Tennessee pols for reactions, and maybe even doing some man-on-the-street.

And the next morning, people would have a huge, in-depth package of stories about what had happened, explaining every detail and what it meant.

So what? you think. But you’re not thinking hard enough. That morning, that would be the ONLY source of reporting and commentary available to that reader. Maybe they saw the speech the night before, but that was over. There was no 24/7 TV coverage, babbling on endlessly. (And no DVR or even VHS so you could have recorded it and watched again. You saw it when you saw it, and that was it.) There was no Web, no social media. Other newspapers were not available to anyone unless they came in the mail a day or two later. The only source they had that morning for all the details and perspective on this historic event was their local newspaper. Other sources — weekly magazines that came in the mail and such — would be available later. But the newspaper was it on that morning, the one source of information about this huge thing that had happened.

So we had an important role to play for our readers, and I felt important playing the bit part I did. I got some extra copies of that headline proof and took them home. I got together with my soon-to-be wife and some friends and showed these proofs off. I felt like a big shot…

Managing Editor Bill Sorrels, at the desk where he was sitting when I brought him the headline proof.

Managing Editor Bill Sorrels, at the desk where he was sitting when I brought him the headline proof.

What do you MEAN, ‘I am proud of the Confederacy?’

A moment in our history that makes ME proud: Leaders stand with Nikki Haley as she calls for the flag to come down.

A moment in our history that makes ME proud: Leaders stand with Nikki Haley as she calls for the flag to come down.

First, let’s give Catherine Templeton credit for doing one right thing.

Or rather, for not doing one horrible thing. It would have been truly horrible to, like Sheri Few, play to the Trumpian faction in her party by denouncing the removal of the Confederate battle flag from the State House grounds.

But she didn’t do that. So, kudos there, as far as it goes.

But then she felt compelled to qualify that by saying, “I am proud of the Confederacy.” She elaborated on the point:

But I am South Carolina born and raised, and I am proud of our history. We are standing on the shoulders of giants, and I don’t apologize for that….

I am proud to be from South Carolina. I am proud of the Confederacy….

I’d like for her to have elaborated a bit more. I’d like for her to have spelled out what it is about the Confederacy that makes her proud.

Templeton

Templeton

I want to know because being proud of the Confederacy — an insurrection against the United States, based in the rebelling states’ wish to continue the institution of slavery (and they were quite specific about that, whatever neoConfederate revisionists may say) — and being proud of South Carolina are not the same thing. What is it about the Confederacy, as opposed to South Carolina, that gives her a warm feeling? Is it just that she has an affinity for, say, a slower, more traditional, politer, more agrarian way of life than the mercantilist, impatient, abrupt way that Yankees chose to live in their big cities?

Is she proud at how many victories the Confederacy won on the battlefield before Gettysburg and Grant turned the tide — is it a purely martial pride in the fighting ability of Southern manhood? If so, how does one separate that pride from the cause? (And don’t try to distract me by pointing out that many individual soldiers owned no slaves and thought they were protecting their homes from “Northern aggression.” When I say “the cause” in speaking of the “Confederacy,” I mean the reason the Confederacy came into being, the frank reason for secession.)

And once you say you’re proud not only of South Carolina but of the Confederacy — the low point in the South Carolina story — it causes me to wonder what else it is about “our history” that makes you proud. Are you proud of the role South Carolina played in the Revolution? Are you proud of John Laurens, the Founder from SC who was a courageous critic of slavery? Do you take pride in the wit of James L. Petigru, who of secession said “South Carolina is too small for a republic and too large for an insane asylum”? Does your pride turn to science? Does your chest swell at Charles H. Townes invention of the laser? If so, I share your pride.

On the other hand, are you proud of Ben Tillman, Cole Blease and Cotton Ed Smith? I am not.

Here’s a Rorschach test for you: Are you proud of Strom Thurmond? And if so, which version: The Dixiecrat who famously filibustered civil rights? Or Ol’ Strom who later devoted himself to constituent service regardless of the color of the constituent?

Are you proud of his son Paul, who so eloquently explained why the flag had to come down?

Be specific, please.

For my part, I’m deeply proud of my state and its leadership for taking down the flag, and for the reasons and way they did it. Is Catherine Templeton? Or does she merely not want to “second-guess” them for “what the people in the Statehouse did when I wasn’t there?” Because to me, she really seemed to be damning them with faint praise.

Editing the Declaration of Independence

I spent part of the long holiday weekend rewatching an episode or two of HBO’s John Adams.

Of course, being me, I love the scene that depicts the editing of the Declaration of Independence.

If you’ll recall, Adams, Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson were appointed as a committee to draft the Declaration. Then, Adams had talked Jefferson into doing the actual writing, citing his skill with the written word and the fact that Adams himself was far too busy (aside from sitting on various committee, Adams was bearing the greatest share of the burden of arguing for independence, while Jefferson never opened his mouth during the debate).

In this scene, Adams and Ben Franklin are getting their first look at what Jefferson has written, and reacting to it, and offering changes. Having been in this situation myself so many thousands of times with writers who sometimes regarded their words as perfect, I enjoyed watching the dynamics.

First observation: Adams starts out by praising Jefferson’s work to the skies — a fitting approach given the document he’s editing, but one that is wildly at odds with my own approach. As Dave Moniz used to say when he worked for me, the highest praise I ever offered of writers’ work was “pretty good.” Maybe I should have tried this approach; it seems to have led to a good result.

Then there is Jefferson’s unnerving passivity through most of the process — an almost autistic lack of emotion. I’ve had writers fly off the handle at my changes, or be philosophically diplomatic about it. But never anyone with this staring, shrugging apathy. Change to “self-evident?” Yeah, whatevs…

Even when Adams says some of it might not be the way he would have said it, but he will still defend every word, Jefferson has no gratitude, but shrugs, “Well, it’s what I believe…”

Nevertheless, Jefferson proves he’s not an automaton when Franklin (being a newspaper editor himself, Ben had a knack for this) finally gets a rise out of him, and Jefferson says, still in that cold-fish voice, “Every single word was precisely chosen. I assure you of that, Dr. Franklin.” To which Franklin, unfazed, essentially says yeah, that may be the case, but you don’t get the final word; we’ve got to get this thing through Congress.

Adams was (in an unaccustomed role for him) cheerleading the document, while Franklin was determined to edit it. Normally, I’m an Adams fan, but in this case, it’s Ben I identified with. You can’t let writers get an exaggerated sense of their own importance. What do they think they are, editors?

Anyway, this is my belated Independence Day post…

franklin-jefferson-adams-writing-the-declarationcropped1

Norman: Let’s keep S.C. RED, for all you comrades out there

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Bryan Caskey brought this to my attention. Apparently, Ralph Norman tweeted it out early on the day of the special election, with the message, “The polls just opened in SC and will stay open until 7 tonight. This is a very tight race so make sure you vote!”

Bryan’s reaction:

Vote for this guy….because he’s a Republican. Apparently, that’s it.

Yup, that’s about the size of it. Actually… that overstates it. He’s not even being that explanatory. He’s just using a euphemism for being a Republican. And an unfortunate one, for a guy who’s anxious to be seen as a “conservative.”

I mean, if he gets on the Foreign Affairs Committee, is his mantra going to be, “Keep China Red?”

We’ll close with an appropriate tune, sung by the malchicks aboard Red October:

D-Day plus 73 years

Troops approaching Omaha Beach in a Higgins boat on June 6, 1944. National Archives Image.

Troops approaching Omaha Beach in a Higgins boat on June 6, 1944. National Archives Image.

In combat, you have to learn to rely on the guy next to you. Sometimes, blogging is (slightly) like that — minus the danger.

I was worried that I wouldn’t have time today to write about D-Day, so Bryan Caskey did so on his blog and said I could refer y’all to it.

Thanks, Bryan! An excerpt from his post:

73 years ago, over 150,000 Allied troops landed on the shores of France, intent on reclaiming Europe from the German army that had overrun and occupied Europe. It was a calculated gamble, and the outcome was far from certain. In the early morning hours of darkness before the sun rose, thousands of men dropped from the sky in connection with the landings.

Of the over 150,000 Allied troops that landed that day, 4 received the Medal of Honor for their actions on that day. One of those men was Teddy Roosevelt’s son.

When the first waves hit the shore at Omaha Beach, they were immediately met with withering fire from fortified German positions. Omaha Beach is a curved beach, like a crescent moon, and it has high bluffs overlooking the shore. Accordingly, it was the most easily defended by the Germans….

All I’ll add for the moment is this story today about Andrew Higgins, whose little boats made down in New Orleans won the war — along with the M-1 Garand, the Jeep, the C-47 and all sorts of other legendary hardware:

D-Day’s hero: Andrew Higgins loved bourbon, cursed a lot and built the boats that won WWII

Andrew Jackson Higgins, the man Dwight D. Eisenhower once credited with winning World War II, was a wild and wily genius.

At the New Orleans plant where his company built the boats that brought troops ashore at Normandy on June 6, 1944, Higgins hung a sign that said, “Anybody caught stealing tools out of this yard won’t get fired — he’ll go to the hospital.”

Whatever Higgins did, he did it a lot. “His profanity,” Life magazine said, was “famous for its opulence and volume.” So was his thirst for Old Taylor bourbon, though he curtailed his intake by limiting his sips to a specific location.

“I only drink,” he told Life magazine, “while I’m working.”

That Higgins was able to accomplish what he did — provide U.S. forces with the means to swiftly attack beaches, including on D-Day — despite his personal shortcomings is a testament, historians say, to his relentless talent and creativity as an entrepreneur….

I sorta kinda almost have a connection to the Higgins Boats — or I thought I did, but now I doubt it. From 1965-67, I lived on an old derelict Navy base down in New Orleans — or technically, across the river in Algiers. I lived there when I was 11-13 years old. Most of the base was shut down — my friends and I almost got caught by the Shore Patrol once when we broke into and explored one of the many abandoned WWII-era buildings.

Many years later, I read the account of a WWII Navy veteran who said he was sent to Algiers to learn to be a coxswain on a Higgins boat in preparation for the invasion of Japan. So I thought, So that’s what that base was for! But I can’t seem to find any references to that on the web. And come to think of it, a place located on the Mississippi River (the levee was a block from my home, and I regularly climbed it to catch catfish) wouldn’t be a great place to train guys how to navigate a boat through surf.

Anyway, to this day I regard the landings in Normandy on June 6, 1944, to be one of the most impressive things every attempted and achieved in one day in human history. So much could have gone wrong. Actually, so much DID go wrong — the bombers that were supposed to soften up the defenses missed their targets, paratroopers were dropped everywhere except where they were supposed to be, and no one seemed to know what a Norman hedgerow was like until our soldiers had to dig the Germans out from behind them.

But they got it done anyway. Astounding…

In the past, even the great were satisfied with so much less

That's the Little White House itself in the background. The building in the foreground contains servant's quarters.

That cottage in the background is the Little White House. The building in the foreground contains servant’s quarters.

That headline sounds a bit like the kind of judgmental cliche you hear from your cranky old grandpa, like, “Why back in my day, we didn’t have your fancy-schmancy devices, and we liked it!”

But actually, this is about a realization I’ve come to over time regarding the way things were in a time before my time, based on physical evidence I’ve encountered.

Over the weekend, my wife and I drove our twin granddaughters to their summer camp in Warm Springs, Ga. That place name is redolent with history, so we weren’t going to go all that way without seeing the “Little White House,” where FDR stayed when he went there for the waters, and where he set up institutions for helping people with all sorts of handicaps.wheelchair

I highly recommend going to see it, and the nice little museum the state of Georgia has put next to it, with all sorts of artifacts such as a couple of FDR’s modified cars, a special wheelchair to use at the pool, hats, canes, cigarette holders, and lots of stories not only about the Roosevelts, but of regular folks who lived through those extraordinary times.

Of course I went into grandfather mode, pointing out things that I hoped would help our little girls understand that time. At one point, I called them over to a photograph of Roosevelt seated at a dinner next to a young boy (possibly another polio victim) and flashing him that great FDR grin. And I told the girls this was what FDR did for the whole country — he rose above all the setbacks and suffering of his own life, and put extraordinary energy into keeping everyone else’s spirits up. (If only I had a small fraction of that strength of character!)

Another exhibit helped me drive that point home — a small kitchen set up with period appliances (I explained to them what an icebox was), including a modest little radio that was playing one of the president’s Fireside Chats.

Anyway, once again, I recommend it.

But I wanted to share an impression I personally gained from what I saw. It was in the truly tiny “Little White House” itself. I couldn’t help thinking, This was the favored retreat of this great, patrician man who held the fate of the world in his hands? Few upper-middle-class types today, much less someone with the stature of a Roosevelt (were there any such people today) would be satisfied with this as a second home, based on what I see down on our coast.

The point was driven home when I saw the room, and the bed, in which he died. The room could barely contain the tiny single bed in which he lay. There was hardly enough space to walk past it. The bed itself reminds me of the twin beds that my brother and I slept in when I was about 8.

And this was not an anomaly. Since Hobcaw Barony is a client of ADCO’s, I’ve had occasion to visit Bernard Baruch’s house there, preserved much as it was when he lived there. It has its nods to grandeur, to be sure, some of the rooms containing some very fine things. But I was struck by the smallness, the dumpiness even, of the beds and rooms where FDR and Winston Churchill slept when they were visiting the great man.

Yes, these were vacation homes, and those who owned and visited them were no doubt deliberately embracing a certain ethic of “roughing it.”

But it still strikes me as amazing, when I consider the kinds of accommodations that so many people expect as the norm today.

And it made me think even better of the people who went before us, and shaped the world in which we live…

FDR's bed

‘Trump the Thucydidean’ — OK, yeah; I hear it…

Occasionally, I get a little glimpse into what Trump voters object to when they behold the folk they see as out-of-touch elites — particularly those whom their spiritual godfather George Wallace called “pointy-headed intellectuals.”

An interesting discussion came on “On Point” this morning, just as I was arriving at the office. I’m sorry I didn’t have time to listen to the whole thing. One of the guests was Graham Allison titled “Destined for War: Can America and China Escape Thucydides’s Trap?” It’s about what may be the inevitable coming clash between these two behemoths, and you can hardly find a topic more important than that. Here’s an excerpt from a 2015 magazine article in which the author set out the concept:

When Barack Obama meets this week with Xi Jinping during the Chinese president’s first state visit to America, one item probably won’t be on their agenda: the possibility that the United States and China could find themselves at war in the next decade. In policy circles, this appears as unlikely as it would be unwise.

Thucydides

Thucydides

And yet 100 years on, World War I offers a sobering reminder of man’s capacity for folly. When we say that war is “inconceivable,” is this a statement about what is possible in the world—or only about what our limited minds can conceive? In 1914, few could imagine slaughter on a scale that demanded a new category: world war. When war ended four years later, Europe lay in ruins: the kaiser gone, the Austro-Hungarian Empire dissolved, the Russian tsar overthrown by the Bolsheviks, France bled for a generation, and England shorn of its youth and treasure. A millennium in which Europe had been the political center of the world came to a crashing halt.

The defining question about global order for this generation is whether China and the United States can escape Thucydides’s Trap. The Greek historian’s metaphor reminds us of the attendant dangers when a rising power rivals a ruling power—as Athens challenged Sparta in ancient Greece, or as Germany did Britain a century ago. Most such contests have ended badly, often for both nations, a team of mine at the Harvard Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs has concluded after analyzing the historical record. In 12 of 16 cases over the past 500 years, the result was war. When the parties avoided war, it required huge, painful adjustments in attitudes and actions on the part not just of the challenger but also the challenged….

It’s one of those Big Ideas that explain the importance of so many others. It explains why President Obama, and Hillary Clinton before she went all Bernie, rightly saw the Trans-Pacific Partnership as so important — you know, the thing Trump killed without a thought the moment he took office.

Still, knowing all that, when I heard the author mention how “Thucydidean” Trump was being, I thought, “OK, now I hear it. I see what all the anti-intellectuals are on about…”

No, guys, THIS is a witch hunt!

Illustration of a Salem witch trial.

Illustration of a Salem witch trial.

Warning: This is another family tree post! Although it’s about my wife’s tree, not mine…

Yesterday, our self-absorbed president Tweeted:

Back here in South Carolina, Rep. Rick Quinn said:

Indicted Republican lawmaker Rep. Rick Quinn, R-Lexington, vowed Tuesday to fight charges against him, deemed the allegations “very weak” and said special prosecutor David Pascoe, a Democrat, is on “a partisan witch hunt.”…

No, guys. Neither of these is a witch hunt. I’ll tell you about a witch hunt.

It involves my wife’s great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandmother, Elspeth Craich.  She was born in Scotland in 1631, and died there sometime after 1656.

We know she lived at least that long, because in that year, when she was 25, she was detained as “a confessing witch.” But the Culross Council failed to bring her to trial, and the charges were consequently dismissed. I’m still not sure why. I doubt that she put a spell on them or anything.

This is on my mind because this very week, I found more about her case from this site:

“23 June 1656.

“In presence of the said bailleis and counsell, compeared personallie Master Robert Edmonstoun, minister at Culrois, and declared the last weik befor the last wek, he being in Edinburgh anent the adhering to the call of Master Matthew Fleyming to the work of the ministrie of this congregatione, and having maid diligent tryall at the clerk of the criminail court and others what course might be taken with Elspethe Craiche, presentlie lying within the tolbuthe of Culrois as ane witche voluntarlie confesst be herself, he declared that except murder or malison could be provin against such persons, thair was no putting of thame to deathe; yet the said Maister Robert being most desyrous that one of the foresaid number of the counsell sould goe over to Edinburgh, and tak over the said Elspethe her declaration and confessions, and to cause pen ane petitione in relatione therof, and the said mater being taken to consideratione, and being ryplie advysit therwith, the saids bailleis and counsell be pluralitie of voices have electit and chosen William Drys-daill to goe over to Edinburgh against Twysday come eight dayes, being the first day of July, being ane criminall court day, to present the supplication befor the judges there for granting of ane commission to put the said witche to the knowledge of ane assyse, and to report his diligence theranent.”

“30 June 1656.

“The qlk day, in presence of the said bailleis and counsell, conforme to the commissione grantit to him the last counsell day anent the petitioning for ane commissione to put Elspethe Craiche, witche, to the knowledge of an assyse, maid report, that he being unsatisfied with the clerk of the criminall court his answer to him anent the procuring of the said commission, he therefter went to the right Honorable Generali George Monk; who having related to him the poore condition of this burghe, how that they war not abill to transport the said witche over to Edinburgh, and to be at the great expense that they behovit to be at in attending upone her there, the said Generali desyred the said William to draw up ane petitione, and present the samyne befor the counsell of estait upone Twysday next; who accordinglie drew up ane supplicatione at Alexr. Bruce his directione, and left the samyne with George Mitchell, to be written over be him; and becaus the said Wm. had brought over the said Elspethe her confessions, the samyne was appoyntit to be send over, to the effect bothe they and the supplication may be presentit befor the said counsell of estait against the morrow.”

It would appear that the application of the Culross minister and magistrates had been ineffectual to procure any assistance from the Council of State in Edinburgh towards either getting Elspeth Craich tried and condemned in Culross, or transporting her for that purpose to Edinburgh. Cromwell’s government was not favourable to religious persecution of any kind, whether as regards heresy or sorcery. The following entry is almost ludicrous, from the woe-begone demonstration made therein by the town council, who have no other resource left than to get rid of their expensive prisoner as speedily as possible. It is satisfactory to find that the poor woman had at least been tolerably well supplied with meat and drink, whatever other sufferings she may have undergone :—

“25 August 1656.

“The said day the saids bailleis and counsell, taking to consideratione the great trouble that hath been susteaned be the inhabitants of this burgh in watching of Eppie Craich, witch, within thaire tolbuthe this quarter of this year bygane, and the great expens that this burgh is at for the present in susteanyng and interteanyng her in bread and drink and vther necessaris, and finding it to be expedient to dismis hir furthe of the [tom away] upone her finding of cautione to present her to prissone whenever [torn away] sail be requyred, under the pane of 500 merkis: Thairfor, in presence [tom away] the said Elspethe Craiche . . . to be dismist . . . tolbuthe, and befor that tyme … to be presentit befor the kirk-sessione of Culrois.” [The latter part of this entry is in a sadly dilapidated state in the minute-book.]

Well, I’m glad to know that during her ordeal, she was at least “tolerably well supplied with meat and drink.” In fact, she seems to have been eating and drinking so much that the local authorities couldn’t afford to hold her any longer.

Did she beat the rap because of Cromwell's policies?

Did she beat the rap because of Cromwell’s policies?

But was it that, or did she get off because of the politics of the moment, as “Cromwell’s government was not favourable to religious persecution of any kind, whether as regards heresy or sorcery?” (Which surprises me a bit, what little I know of Cromwell.)

Doug would probably say it’s because of the expense, because he says it’s always about the money. And they certainly mention it a lot.

But her acquittal must remain a mystery, the latter part of the record being “in a sadly dilapidated state in the minute-book.”

It may have simply been that, according to Matthew Fleyming, “except murder or malison could be provin against such persons, thair was no putting of thame to deathe.” And if you can’t burn a witch, what’s the point, right?

Anyway, that is a witch hunt, although an unsuccessful one — even though she was “ane witche voluntarlie confesst be herself,” which you would think would have made the hunt a lot easier.

That’s all. My mind’s just been on “witch hunts” this week…

Hey, Burl: Look what they’ve done with the old hangar

hangar

When Burl and Mary Burlingame were visiting last summer, I took them by the old Curtiss-Wright Hangar at Owens Field. Burl being a professional aviation historian, I thought he’d take an interest in the hangar’s rusty glory, having stood there since 1929. It wasn’t quite as impressive as what he showed us in Hawaii, but it was something.

But today, on the way to watch grandchildren play soccer, I noticed that the hangar had all new windows, and a new paint job, and (I think) a new roof.

Soon it will be a brewery, and we can all go and enjoy it up close and personal — although we might have to wait awhile before Burl is back this way so he can go with us…

The way it looked back when Burl saw it.

The way it looked back when Burl saw it. (This is the opposite side.)

First ‘Drunk History,’ now Trump History…

Yeah, he looked pretty ancient in 1845, the year he died. Imagine how grim he looked when the Civil War was ticking him off 16 years later.

Yeah, he looked pretty ancient in 1845, the year he died. Imagine how grim he looked when the Civil War was ticking him off 16 years later.

Or perhaps I should say, first there was the miracle of Frederick Douglass, who’s doing a terrific job getting noticed out there, and now there’s Old Hickory:

Donald Trump expressed confusion in an interview published on Monday as to why the civil war had taken place. He also claimed that President Andrew Jackson, who died 16 years before the war started, “was really angry” about the conflict.

Trump also said Jackson, a slaveholder and war hero who led a relocation and extermination campaign against Native Americans, “had a big heart”.

The president made his remarks in an interview with the Washington Examiner to mark his 100th day in office, which fell on Saturday. “It’s a very intensive process,” Trump told his interviewer of the presidency. “Really intense. I get up to bed late and I get up early.”

His remarks about Jackson and the civil war appeared to arise from a discussion of a painting of the seventh president that Trump moved into the Oval Office after his inauguration. Trump has called Jackson “an amazing figure in American history – very unique so many ways” and said that he identifies with his populist forebear…

Yes, he certainly does sound, um, “very unique” (why look up to someone who’s only a little bit unique?) and… completely “amazing.” And what, precisely, did this dead man think about the war?

“He was really angry that he saw what was happening with regard to the civil war. He said, ‘There’s no reason for this.’ People don’t realize, you know, the civil war – if you think about it, why? People don’t ask that question, but why was there a civil war? Why could that one not have been worked out?”…

I’m going to make up some history myself, and invoke the clause that the terrific Alexander Hamilton slipped into the Constitution that says that no one who knows nothing about anything can serve as president of the United States. It’s in there, trust me….

I’ve called this guy an “ignoramus” a number of times, but I had no idea just how deep the chasm of ignorance went. It just keeps getting worse, doesn’t it?

How long is a generation? Longer than I thought…

Coronation of Charlemagne

Coronation of Charlemagne

We hear a lot of silly generalizations about demographic cohorts that we refer to as “generations,” which become particularly absurd when you look at how they are defined. For instance, the only really cool generation, the Baby Boom, supposedly includes people born in 1964.

Which is ridiculous. How can you possibly be a Boomer if you can’t remember JFK’s assassination, the arrival of the Beatles or the introduction of the Ford Mustang? It’s obvious; you can’t — if the Baby Boom has any cultural meaning.

But there’s another problem: Even with that overbroad definition, the “generation” only lasts from 1946 to 1964 — 18 years.

That’s not a generation.

So what is a generation? Not having made a study of it, I’ve tended to think it was in the 20- to 25-year range.

That made particularly good sense to me, since my wife and I had our first and second children at ages 23 and 25. Yes, I’m aware that most people of our generation were a bit slower than that, but I figured that in earlier times, people married and had kids even earlier than we did, so historically, 20 to 25 years made sense.

But today, it struck me to use my family tree to find out how it works in reality — and I was surprised at the result.

I decided to go back as far as I reliably could — to Charlemagne, from whom I (and every other person of mostly European descent) am directly descended. He was, calculated the way I first discovered the connection, my 38th-great grandfather (I’ve since discovered quite a few paths back to Charlemagne, which is a mathematical certainty when you go back that far).

So that means he’s exactly 40 generations back.

Charlemagne was born in 742. I was born in 1953. I subtract one from the other and get 1,211 years. Divide that by 40, and the average generation is 30.275 years.

Even going back through the Middle Ages, when life was supposedly so nasty, brutish and short! And maybe it was, for poor people. And no doubt, most of my ancestors in the 8th century were peasants. Unfortunately, I can’t trace back to them; the records don’t exist.

So I’m stuck with 30 and a quarter years. And it would seem reasonable that the more recent generations were even longer.

And they were, slightly. Let’s go back just 10 generations, to about the time my ancestors were moving to this country. Let’s consider some of my 8th-great grandfathers:

  • Walter Chiles II, born March 20, 1630 in Middlesex, England. (Died in Jamestown, Va.)
  • Capt. Luke Gardiner, born Jan. 11, 1622 in Oxfordshire, England. (Died in Maryland.)
  • Sir Ambrose Crowley III, born Feb. 1, 1658, in Staffordshire, England. (Died in England, but his daughter emigrated.)
  • Richard Pace II, born about 1636, Charles City, Virginia. (Grandson of the famous Richard Pace who saved Jamestown.)

The average length of a generation going back to them is, respectively, 32.3, 33.1, 29.5 and 31.7 years.

So, an average of 31.65 years per generation.

Yes, these are all great-grandfathers; the mothers were usually younger, which might reduce the average if there were more female links in the chains (I later checked, and found those were mostly male connections). I just went with male ancestors for the one-to-one comparison. (Also, when you go back that far, there tends to be a bit more information available about them.)

It just seems to defy reason. Yeah, my notions may seem skewed by having had a child at 23, but our youngest was born when we were 35 — and by the time she started school, when we went to PTA meetings all the other parents seemed way younger than we were. Which argued that most of them didn’t have their kids at 35.

Anyway, that’s what I find. As Bryan likes to say, your mileage may vary…

Talkin' about my generation -- the only cool one, of course.

Talkin’ about my generation — the only cool one, of course.

Defining the Presidency Down (what would Moynihan say?)

Yes, I realize this is likely to feel like déjà vu — this is about much the same point as this post yesterday.

But I was conversing via email with someone about that, and he shared this, so I’m going to share it with you.

Why return to the same topic? Because it’s an important one, making points that I think a lot of folks still haven’t absorbed.

Ever since Election Day — or maybe even since Trump captured the nomination — I’ve had this conversation over and over with some of you, and with others… Someone will say, “What are you so upset about? Why don’t you wait until Trump does something truly horrible, and react to that?” Which I answer with what seems to me excruciatingly obvious: He’s doing it already, every single day — with every crude lie he Tweets, with every embarrassing moment with a foreign leader, practically with every breath he takes. By being our president, he’s taking the greatest country on Earth and making it smaller, cruder, stupider, tackier — demeaning the treasure that our forebears bequeathed us.

It’s not something I can kick back and regard as normal. In fact, that would be inexcusable.

Anyway, like the one I cited yesterday, this piece captures that pretty well:

is probably too much to expect President Donald Trump to have read “Defining Deviancy Down,” the 1993 essay by the late New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Much noted at the time, and remarkably prescient, Moynihan’s essay warned that Americans were seeing a decay in social behavior (for example, the rise in gun violence), and were becoming inured to it. To accept such deviant behavior as normal—to “normalize” it, to use a word lately in fashion—was bound to render America a less civilized society, Moynihan wrote.

Moynihan

Daniel Patrick Moynihan

He was, of course, correct: In the quarter century since, we have accustomed ourselves to the ongoing coarsening of our society, from small things like the vitriol of Americans writing on social media and in the comments sections of news articles, to big things like our increasingly ugly political debates.

Early on in the presidential primary season, Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart cited Moynihan in declaring that candidate Trump’s embrace of “nativist, racist, misogynistic slop” was defining deviancy down in the presidential campaign—mainstreaming coarse rhetoric and prejudicial views. Today, with President Trump continuing to exhibit deeply unpresidential behavior in the White House, he isn’t just defining deviancy down for political campaigns; whether intentionally or not, he is defining the presidency itself down.

Moynihan would have turned 90 this month. Decades ago, I had the honor of serving as one of his top aides. He was in many ways Trump’s polar opposite—a self-made statesman, sociologist, political scientist and lifelong student of history, someone who had seemingly read every book in the Library of Congress. The man had a core set of principles. He insisted on factual accuracy, believed that “governing requires knowledge,” and, famously, often said, “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts.” He required his staff to double- and triple-check factual assertions, and was known to include footnoted citations in his speeches and sometimes even his letters….

I like that this one cites Moynihan. I always liked that guy. Not that I ever met him or anything.

In fact, I only saw him once in person. (Warning! Brad’s about to reminisce again!) It was that time in 1998 that I mentioned recently, when I went to Washington to check on Strom Thurmond and see if he was still functioning, and also visited Mike McCurry at the White House. Anyway, as long as I was there, McCurry arranged for me to attend a ceremony in the East Room marking the 50th anniversary of NATO.

That afforded me an extra opportunity to observe Strom, as it happened. After everyone else was seated, President Clinton walked in with Strom beside him holding onto his arm. Bill walked the nation’s senior senator to his front-row seat and got him situated before heading up to the podium to speak. (We Southern boys are brought up to act that way with our elders, and I thought better of Bill for it.)

Anyway, after the event was over and most of the media folks were headed back to the West Wing, I stepped out of the door that opens into the covered portico on the northern side of the House. I stood at the top of the steps for a moment deciding whether to continue to the press room or go back in and chat with folks, and watched as cars picked up the dignitaries, there at my feet.

I nodded to Strom as he came out, and watched him negotiate the steps pretty well. But there was a guy in front of him having all sorts of trouble hobbling down to his car.

It was Moynihan. He was only 69. Strom was 95 at the time.

It’s a shame Moynihan didn’t take better care of himself. If he had lived to be 100 like Strom, he’d still have 10 years to go now, and we’d have the benefit of his perspective as the nation so dramatically defines its self-respect downward…

Can we make the presidency great again? Please?

jan14-2-img

An interesting conversation started in response to one of the items on yesterday’s Open Thread, and I’d like to continue it here.

The item was this:

The American presidency is shrinking before the world’s eyes

… Every new administration has a shakeout period. But this assumes an ability to learn from mistakes. And this would require admitting mistakes. The spectacle of an American president blaming a Fox News commentator for a major diplomatic incident was another milestone in the miniaturization of the presidency.

An interested foreigner (friend or foe) must be a student of Trump’s temperament, which is just as bad as advertised. He is inexperienced, uninformed, easily provoked and supremely confident in his own judgment. His advantage is the choice of some serious, experienced advisers, including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, national security adviser H.R. McMaster and deputy national security adviser Dina Powell. But success in their jobs depends on Trump’s listening skills.

Mere incompetence would be bad enough. But foreigners trying to understand the United States must now study (of all things) the intellectual influences of White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon….

It’s a wonder that the author, Michael Gerson, was able to type “the intellectual influences of… Stephen K. Bannon” without his fingers rebelling and refusing their duty.

In response, Bryan Caskey posed this question:

Yeah. It’s been going downhill for awhile. Raises the interesting question: When was the American Presidency at its apex in the world? Which President cast the longest shadow on the world stage?

Mark Stewart responded with his nominees, but I’d like to see some thoughts from others.

My own views…

Franklin Delano Roosevelt towers over all. I measure all by that. He’s the standard to rise to. (Yes, Lincoln was our greatest president, but not so much “on the world stage.” He was rather tied up here at home. And in his case, I can forgive that.)

Truman, Ike, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Reagan, Bush père and the others are measured by how well they navigated the world order that FDR left them.

The presidency began to diminish with the end of the Cold War. When people started talking about “peace dividends” and domestic agendas and saying obnoxious things like “It’s the economy, stupid” — that’s where the decline started.

Oh, and before you (especially you Democrats, but some of you populists and culture warriors on the right as well) get on a high horse defending domestic priorities, try doing this: Add up the domestic accomplishments of all of U.S. presidents from 1991 on, and I think you’ll find the result is a tiny fraction of what LBJ — or FDR — did domestically in a single year. (Say, 1964-65.)

Presidents and Congresses no longer do great things, globally or domestically. They just jockey for position in the next election.

OK, so that’s a bit broad and perhaps unfair. But compared to Roosevelt, Truman and Johnson, the pickings are pretty slim, and the ambitions for the country less impressive. I mean, look at THE big agenda item for Republicans now that they finally hold all the cards. What do they most want to do? Undo something that was done under the last administration, which by the way was the most ambitious thing Washington has tried to since the days when LBJ did bigger things than that before breakfast.

That, and build a big ol’ wall to keep them pesky Mexicans out.

In other words, low, petty, mean, small, crabby things that diminish us as a nation, that drag us down into being even less than we are in these uninspiring times.

And what’s the greatest ambition of the Democrats? To stop them from doing those things. Or maybe to try to stop them, and fail, and use it in the next election — which is as far as any of these people’s horizons extend.

What would it take actually to Make America Great Again, or at least have the office of president — and if we really want to aim high, Congress — be something we can respect?

And how on Earth do we get there from this profoundly low, demeaning spot in the road?

jfk010-785

I ask you, was Odoacer a real Roman? (Answer: No, and Trump’s not a real Republican)

Romulus Augustus resigns the Crown (from a 19th-century illustration).

Romulus Augustus resigns the Crown (from a 19th-century illustration).

Let’s elevate this discussion to the level of a separate post.

I regularly refer to “real Republicans,” a group to which Donald J. Trump — ideologically and otherwise — does not belong. This is an important distinction. To say he’s just another Republican — as plenty of Democrats and Republicans both would have it — is to normalize him.

A lot of Democrats insist that the thing that’s wrong with Trump is that he’s a Republican, end of story. This works for them because they demonize all Republicans, and it doesn’t matter how bad Trump is, he’s just another. Which means, they completely and utterly miss the unique threat that he poses to our system of government. They also miss the fact that unless Republican eventually rise up against him — something they’re unlikely to do soon, and even less likely if Democrats are calling him one of them, triggering the usual partisan defensive response — we’ll never be rid of him.

A lot of Republicans, including all the ones who know (or once knew) better, have dutifully lined up behind him, starting when he seized their presidential nomination. They’re now in they’re usual “R is always good” mode, any misgivings they may have had a year ago forgotten.

As usual, the two parties work together to support and reinforce each others’ partisan stances. The more Democrats push the line that Trump’s just another Republican, the more Republicans will embrace him and defend him. The more Republicans close ranks around him, the more certain Democrats are in seeing him as just another Republican.

And the more the rest of us see them falling into that pattern, the more disgusted we are with the mindlessness of parties. (Some of us, anyway. Many independents — the inattentive sorts whom both parties despise — are highly suggestible, and may lazily fall in with the usual binary formula that there are only two kinds of people in politics.)

In recent hours (and for some time before that), both Bud and Bill have been pushing the idea that my notions of what constitutes a “real Republican” are outdated and therefore wrong. Today, they say, Trump is a real Republican, and so is Tea Partier Mick Mulvaney.

Fellas, you seem to think I’m blind, but I’m not. I’ve watched as successive waves of barbarians (in the definition of the day) have washed over the GOP. I missed Goldwater because I was out of the country at the time, but no matter; he was a temporary phenomenon. Four years later Nixon had recaptured the party for the mainstream. But I remember when the Reaganites came in and took over for almost a generation, and the Bushes and the Doles got on board. Then, starting early in this century, things got crazy. There were so many bands of barbarians at the gate that it was hard to keep them straight. There was Mark Sanford and his Club for Growth hyperlibertarians, then the Tea Party with its snake flags, and Sarah Palin with whatever that was (probably just a subset of the Tea Party), and then Trump’s angry nativists.

And yes, the people I call “real Republicans” have been embattled, often seeming to fight a rear-guard action. And yes again, with all these elements pushing and pulling at the party, it has changed to where a Prescott Bush or a Robert A. Taft would not recognize it.

But let me pose a question to you: Was Odoacer a real Roman? After all, he inherited control of Italy after he seized it from the last emperor, Romulus Augustus, in 476.

Odovacar_Ravenna_477No, he was not. Not only was he a barbarian (apparently — note the mustache on his coin), but the Western Roman Empire is seen as having ended the moment he took over. He ruled as King of Italy, rather than emperor of anything.

Similarly, if Trump and his core followers are the Republican Party now, then it’s time to call it something else, rather than confusing it with the party of John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Lamar Alexander, Mitch McConnell, Bob Dole, George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Jack Kemp, Richard Nixon, Dwight Eisenhower, Robert A. Taft, Teddy Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln.

And perhaps that’s where we are. But let’s be clear: With Donald Trump — as much a barbarian as any political figure this nation has produced — in the White House, the nation faces a crisis that should not for a moment be diminished by portraying it as just more of the same games between Republicans and Democrats.

That will get us nowhere.

As far as we know, the Palmetto tree hasn’t offended anyone

Blue Palmetto

We haven’t had a discussion about this, have we?

The Democrats in South Carolina are fixin’ (I’m trying to be folksy in keeping with the national party’s cornball televised response last night from the diner) to have their first Blue Palmetto Dinner in late April:

It is my great pleasure to announce the upcoming release of tickets to the inaugural Blue Palmetto Dinner, which will take place on the evening of Friday, April 28 in Columbia at the Medallion Conference Center, located at 7309 Garners Ferry Rd, Columbia, SC 29209.
The Blue Palmetto Dinner, with its name derived from the flag that unites us as South Carolinians, will showcase a party that fights for all of us. As our premier fundraising event of the year,  we encourage everyone to attend. 
Tickets will be made available on WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 22ND, at 10:00AM EST.
There will be special pricing and early notice given to our County Parties, and additional benefits will be made available for SCDP Members (Yellow Dog Democrats) and Committee of 100 Members. Finally, hotel blocks will be announced and made available in the coming days as well. 
The 2018 Elections are crucial for the direction of our party and the proceeds for our dinner will help us launch a coordinated field effort this year! We can’t afford to wait until next year to organize, recruit and prepare for these elections.
STAY TUNED for our official ticket release, and we look forward to seeing you in Columbia for the Blue Palmetto Dinner and SCDP Convention on April 28-29 at the Medallion Center. 
Sincerely,
Jaime Harrison
Chair, South Carolina Democratic Party

Of course, there’s nothing new about it but the name. Your Daddy — who was almost certainly a Democrat, if he was from around here — knew it as the Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner. (At least, it was known as that in most parts of the country. In SC, I see references without the “Day.”) So did everyone else, until last year, when Democrats decided the writer of the Declaration and the hero of New Orleans weren’t quite impeccable enough for their tastes. Because slavery. And the Trail of Tears.

I suppose they could have gone with a Roosevelt-Kennedy Dinner, but probably didn’t because Japanese Internment and Marilyn Monroe. Or something. The flesh being weak, sooner or later something bad is bound to come out about anybody who ever lived. I suppose they could have gone with Jesus, but there are doubts as to whether He actually voted Democratic.

And no, I’m not making light of slavery; I’m just saying that pretty much anybody who ever did anything really great probably did some stuff that we wouldn’t be proud of, if we chose to focus on that.

People are problematic.

So they went with a tree, one that near as we can tell never offended anybody. So they’re probably safe.

But time will tell.

SpaceX accomplishes what Bernie Sanders never could — it’s made me resent ‘billionayuhs’

SpaceX says its Falcon Heavy rocket, shown here in an artist's rendering, will be used in the mission to the moon.

SpaceX says its Falcon Heavy rocket, shown here in an artist’s rendering, will be used in the mission to the moon.

It’s hard to stir class resentment in me.

Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Karl Marx and Occupy Wall Street have all been trying like fun for the last century or two, but they don’t arrive. I don’t much care how much money other people have, or what they do with it, as long as they don’t expect me to count it, or be impressed by it, or even think about it — because I can’t imagine anything more boring.

But SpaceX has succeeded where all the populists and resentmentmongers have failed, with this simple announcement:

The private company SpaceX has announced that it plans to send two passengers on a mission beyond the moon in late 2018.

If the mission goes forward, it would be the “first time humans have traveled beyond low Earth orbit since the days of Apollo,” as NPR’s Nell Greenfieldboyce told our Newscast unit.

The two private citizens approached the company about the idea and have already paid a sizable deposit, CEO Elon Musk told reporters in a conference call. These private individuals will also bear the cost of the mission….

I am a child of the Space Age, and what could be better for a communitarian? Look at what we accomplished!

In those binary days of the Cold War, “we” meant Americans. Our ingenuity, our pooled resources (it was going to cost $24 billion to go to the moon!), our heroes, the best of the best of the pilots of our military, with our nerds using their American sliderules to make sure our guys got there and back! It was like everything that was great about the Free World — with the government and the whole aerospace industry pulling together because no one entity could do it alone — came together to make the impossible possible. Our boys might have been going up to do single combat with the godless commies in the heavens, as Tom Wolfe eulogized the effort, but they had millions of us behind them.

And what should have happened, as the Cold War faded, was that “we” should have been redefined to mean the whole human race. And that sort of started to happen, with the Apollo-Soyuz hookup in 1975 (three years after we’d quit going to the moon), continuing with the International Space Station and with American astronauts hitching rides with the Russians after we quit building spacecraft and became Space Slackers.

But now it’s not “we” anymore. It’s Bernie’s “billionayuhs.” They’re the only ones who get to boldly go where no man has gone before. Because the United States of America, the richest and most powerful country in the history of this planet, is no longer big enough, rich enough, brave enough, ambitious enough, dauntless enough to send anyone up there on behalf of us all, so that we can all feel part of the thrill of exploration.

We can’t afford it anymore, it seems, even pooling the resources and energies of the whole nation. The most we can manage is to catch rides for a pathetic merry-go-round ride in Earth orbit, basically not going anywhere that Yuri Gagarin didn’t go in 1961.

But a couple of rich guys can go, on a lark, past where any of our previous national efforts could go. Not to accomplish anything for science or humanity, but because they’d personally like to go, and can write checks big enough to make it happen.

So yeah, finally, I resent the rich guys.

But even more, I resent the rest of us for having given up on human exploration.

These guys hung their hides out over the edge for US, not to gratify personal whims.

These guys hung their hides out over the edge for US, not to gratify personal whims.