Category Archives: History

Finally taking the time to get into Hamilton


Roughly ten years ago, I was sitting at my desk in my office at The State, talking on the phone with Fritz Hollings. This was shortly after he had left office, and we frequently had occasion to talk. I don’t know what we were talking about, or who had called whom. It might have been about one of several op-ed pieces he wrote for us in that period — he was still having trouble letting go of policymaking. Maybe it was the conversation in which I called him to ask a favor — his good friend Joe Biden was going to be in town, and I wanted him to drop by the office if he had time so we could get acquainted, before he ran again for national office (Fritz came through on that).

Anyway, we got off the subject, whatever it was. Fritz had just read Ron Chernow’s book, Alexander Hamilton, and he started singing its praises, saying I must read it. I took his advice — almost. I put the book on my list for family members looking for gift ideas for my birthday or Christmas, and someone promptly gave it to me. And… it has sat on my shelf ever since, until this weekend.alexander-hamilton

I really, truly, meant to read it. I’d always been interested in the Founders. On my way to sort of inadvertently getting a second major in history, I concentrated to a certain extent on that period. And I came away convinced that had I been alive and in politics at the time, I’d have been a Federalist. That was the party Hamilton had founded, and I knew he was brilliant, and that he provided most of the arguments that sold the Constitution to the country among other startling achievements, but… I was less attracted to him than to the others, and I knew that as a result I had neglected him. Which is why I had dutifully put the book on my list. But still, I kept my distance. Maybe I had absorbed some of the propaganda put out about him by Jefferson’s Democratic-Republicans, but it seemed to me that there was a reason why Hamilton wasn’t ever president, and I thought that if I was a Federalist, I was more of an Adams Federalist than a Hamiltonian. I mean, the guy was so into money and all…

So there the book sat. And during the years that I failed to read it, a young man named Lin-Manuel Miranda picked it up, and it set his mind on fire. He was inspired to write a musical based on the book, and it became the biggest hit on Broadway in a generation.

So, I missed a big opportunity there.

I kept hearing about the play, and seeing video clips from it, and I thought it was really exciting that someone had made a hit out of one of the Founders (and, to my mind, the Founder least likely to inspire a hit musical), but I had some Clueless White Guy questions: What did hip-hop have to do with the guy who had founded banks and our whole financial system? And why were most of the actors on the stage black — or at least, seemingly nonAnglo-Saxon? I didn’t object to them being black — I just wondered why. It seemed that there was a point being made, but I didn’t understand what the point was. I wondered whether it had to do with Hamilton’s obscure origins. All I knew (thanks to Jefferson’s folks) was that Hamilton was a bastard out of the West Indies. Was Miranda saying that, coming out of the ethnic richness of the Caribbean, he was of mixed race, so it was fitting to have actors of color fill the stage?

Well, on Friday night, I saw “Hamilton’s America,” the fascinating documentary about the creation of this play, and suddenly I got it. I saw what people were so enchanted with. I understood why, when Manuel was reading Chernow’s book on vacation, he thought, “This is a rap!” And I was deeply impressed by how everyone involved in the production was thoroughly immersed in Hamilton and the other Founders and what they were all about, and why they are important today — and not just to pasty-faced people of English extraction.

I was really impressed by that part. Decades ago, when I did some community theater back in Tennessee, I met a lot of talented people. And I was shocked to find that people who were brilliant musicians — something I could never be — and really gifted amateur actors were nevertheless… how shall I put this… not well read. They might do a play based on history — say, “The Lion In Winter,” which I acted in — and they’d get their lines and the intonations perfectly, but they wouldn’t really know the history or the cultural context of what they were pretending to be.

In this documentary, not only Miranda was able to speak fluently and inspiringly about Hamilton and his world, but the other actors as well. They went on and on about it, and you could learn a lot by listening to them.

And as I listened, I — who was last attracted to musical theater when Andrew Lloyd Webber came out with “Evita” (another sort of history I sorta kinda concentrated on in college was Latin American) — started really, really getting into the music. And that’s really, really saying something, since the only rap numbers I’m familiar with and like are the ones from “Office Space.”

So here’s the irony: Hip-hop helped get those young actors into history. And now history is getting me into hip-hop. As I type this, I’m nodding my head to “I am not throwing away my… shot!

OK, OK, Lin-Manuel! You got me! I finally picked up the book yesterday, and started reading. Slow reader that I am (the book’s 800-plus pages of small type pushed me away as much as anything), I’m on the third chapter now, and wow! He was right: This is a rap. I’m still in young Alexander’s shockingly difficult childhood in the Indies, and there’s nobody who ever came from meaner streets than he did. What a story.

So I’m really into it now. Fritz was right. So was Lin, who gave me the swift kick I needed…

Again, Trump completely disqualifies himself

They set the precedent, and Trump could not care less...

They set the precedent, and Trump could not care less…

Sorry I haven’t had time to post today, ere now… Anyway, to business…

As bizarre and grotesquely inappropriate as some of the things Donald Trump said in the second debate were (“tremendous hate in her heart”), the most important and instructive was his threat to imprison his opponent if he wins the election.

Similarly, as agog as we may be from such outbursts as “Such a nasty woman!”,  the one thing we heard in the third and final (thank the Lord) debate last night that was easily the most important, and instructive, was that Trump will not agree to abide by the results of the election. Something that was not a slip of the tongue or a momentary lapse, as he doubled down on it today.

As I said via Twitter last night:

If there were referees in American politics, Trump would have been thrown out of the game for the offense in the second debate (actually, much sooner, but let’s stick with the debates). He completely and utterly disqualified himself.

And if the refs had been deaf and blind in that instance, they would have tossed him out for the offense last night. He showed in both instances that he has no idea at all what elections are about in this country.

The gift that America gave to the world was not merely the promise, but the fact, of the orderly and peaceful transfer of power from one person, party or faction to another. As I said above, the miracle of the election of 1800 — one that for sheer nastiness at least deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as this one — was that Jefferson took over from rival Adams, and everyone accepted it.

This miracle has been repeated every four years, with one exception: South Carolina, and a number of other Southern states, refused to accept the results of the election of 1860. Thanks to the preternatural wisdom, leadership and political skills of the man who won that election, and the blood of hundreds of thousands, the nation was saved. But that was the central crisis of our history, as Lincoln himself explained. It was the great test as to “whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.”

So we got through that and made it all the way to 2016, and Donald Trump — a man who does not have a clue what this nation is all about, and does not care. Trump, the nominee of the party of Lincoln. God help us.

When he is asked whether he will accept the results of the election if he loses, he thinks it is a question about him, and what he wants, and how he feels. Because in his universe, everything is all about him.

The nation, and the things that make it exceptional and wonderful, matter not at all…

The interesting debate we could have had, under other circumstances


Let’s set aside for a moment this contest of character and pretend we have the luxury of talking about ideas in this presidential election.

Were that the case, the most interesting moment in last night’s debate would have come at this point:

RADDATZ: … This question involves WikiLeaks release of purported excerpts of Secretary Clinton’s paid speeches, which she has refused to release, and one line in particular, in which you, Secretary Clinton, purportedly say you need both a public and private position on certain issues. So, Tu (ph), from Virginia asks, is it OK for politicians to be two-faced? Is it acceptable for a politician to have a private stance on issues? Secretary Clinton, your two minutes…

Let’s set aside the loaded wording of the question (“two-faced”), and look at the underlying issue, which speaks to the nature of leadership and the ways we communicate in a representative democracy.

Can an honest person have a public position that differs from what he thinks in his heart of hearts? Yes, he (or she) can. In fact, there are times when he or she must.

As a longtime editorial page editor, I’m quite familiar with this. Most of the time, our editorial position was consistent with my own personal position. But we operated by consensus — I was not the only member of the board — and what we ended up with was not always exactly what I thought. I deferred to my colleagues, at least to the extent of modifying the position so that we could get everybody on board. And once the decision was made, I did not publicly say things to contradict it, because that would have militated against our consensus. I had a duty as leader of the board not to undermine its positions — even on the extremely rare occasions when our official position was very different from my own, such as when we endorsed George W. Bush over John McCain in 2000.

But my care with my utterances in order to keep the board together was nothing compared to what a president faces.

The president of the United States daily, if not hourly, faces situations in which it would be grossly impolitic, unwise, and even harmful to the country to say precisely what he or she personally thinks or feels about a situation. A president must be diplomatic, not only with representatives of other nations, but with multiple contending and overlapping constituencies right here at home. This is why a president is surrounded by people who are talented at helping choose precisely the right words needed to help move things in a desired direction. It would be grossly irresponsible, indeed a dereliction of duty and perhaps a deadly danger to the country, for a president simply to spout off from the gut without pausing to temper the message (see “Trump, Donald”).

People who don’t work professionally with words are sometimes pleased to call carefully moderating one’s speech “lying.” Those of us who work with words know better. You can say the same true thing many different ways, and how you choose to say it can make all the difference between communicating effectively and having the desired effect, or failing miserably.

Back to the debate

Secretary Clinton responded this way to that loaded question:

As I recall, that was something I said about Abraham Lincoln after having seen the wonderful Steven Spielberg movie called “Lincoln.” It was a master class watching President Lincoln get the Congress to approve the 13th Amendment. It was principled, and it was strategic…

Did you see the film? If so, you know there was a lot more to Lincoln than the fine words in the Gettysburg Address. He may have been the most skilled, determined, clear-eyed, illusionless man ever to hold the office — and the most effective. (The only two men I can imagine coming close to him in these regards were FDR and LBJ.)

The film shows Lincoln involved in the noble task of permanently saving our country from the stain of slavery, going beyond what fine words or even four years of unbelievable bloodshed could accomplish. The Emancipation Proclamation had been a stratagem in winning the war (and one he had held back from issuing, with flawless timing, until the political climate was ripe for it), an ephemeral, self-contradictory thing that did not truly free the slaves. He needed something that went far beyond that; he needed to amend the Constitution.

And he pulled out all the stops — all the stops — in getting that done. Set aside the unseemly spectacle of promising government jobs to lame-duck congressmen — that was routine horse-trading in that day. Let’s look at the central deception — and the word is apt — that was essential to getting the 13th Amendment passed.

Lincoln knew that once the war ended, Congress would see little need to ban slavery — and the war was in danger of ending before he could get it done. In fact, a delegation led by Confederate Vice President Alexander H. Stephens was on its way to Washington to sue for peace. It would in fact have arrived if Lincoln hadn’t ordered Union troops to detain it some distance from the capital. While the delegation cooled its heels, Lincoln worked feverishly to get his amendment passed.

At a critical moment in the debate in Congress in the film, a rumor spreads that there is a Confederate peace delegation in the city. This threatens to defeat the amendment. Lincoln tells Congress that not only is there no such group in Washington, but that he does not expect there to be. He conveniently leaves out the fact that the reason he doesn’t expect there to be is because he has issued orders to that effect.

Another instance in which Lincoln has a public position differing from his private position is with regard to Republican power broker Francis Preston Blair. The reason the Confederate delegation started on its journey to begin with was that Lincoln had reluctantly allowed Blair to reach out to Richmond. Why had he done that? Because Blair urgently wanted peace, and Lincoln needed his support to keep conservative Republicans in line on the amendment.

So… Lincoln did these things — playing every angle, and saying what needed to be said to the people who needed to hear them –, and rather drawing our disapprobation for having done so, he is rightly revered.

As I said above, the only two presidents I can see even coming close to Lincoln in terms of political skill and effectiveness were Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson. Which reminds me of a contretemps from 2008. An excerpt from my column of January 20 of that year:

It started when the senator from New York said the following, with reference to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.:
“Dr. King’s dream began to be realized when President Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It took a president to get it done.”
The white woman running against a black man for the Democratic Party nomination could only get herself into trouble mentioning Dr. King in anything other than laudatory terms, particularly as she headed for a state where half of the voters likely to decide her fate are black.
You have to suppose she knew that. And yet, she dug her hole even deeper by saying:
“Senator Obama used President John F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to criticize me. Basically compared himself to two of our greatest heroes. He basically said that President Kennedy and Dr. King had made great speeches and that speeches were important. Well, no one denies that. But if all there is (is) a speech, then it doesn’t change anything.”…

Hillary Clinton was not my choice for president that year. Several weeks later, we endorsed Sen. Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination (right after endorsing John McCain — whom we would later endorse in the general — for the Republican).

Her point was that fine words (such as those with which her opponent excelled) are well and good, but if you want to see a good thing get done, you need someone who will roll up sleeves, dig in and do what it takes. Which LBJ never shied away from.

When she was a fresh grad at Wellesley, Hillary Clinton was dismissive of politics being the art of the possible. As she grew up, ran into brick walls of opposition and in other ways found how resistant the world could be to fine words and finer sentiments, she learned. Her concept of what it took to get things done — and of what things were doable — matured.

Hence what she said in that leaked speech.

I don’t say this to defend Hillary Clinton personally. As I said, I wanted to raise a point that we might discuss were we in a different situation. But we’re not in a different situation. Right now, our representative democracy faces supreme degradation, and possibly worse, if Donald Trump is elected. So we have that appalling threat to deal with, and fine points and ethical ambiguities are not the order of the day.

So pretend that speech — the one to the paying audience, not to Wellesley grads — was delivered by someone else. Think for a moment about the ideas being expressed, not the person expressing them.

It’s a question that all of us should wrestle with as we grow and mature. When I was a young and cocky editor, very free with my thoughts on everything, and to hell with whether others agreed, my then-boss posed me a question: Would you rather be right, or effective?

Of course, I wanted to be both. But what about when you can’t be?

Our proud American tradition of anti-intellectualism


There’s a piece in The Washington Post today about the rise of denial in our society, as in denial of climate change, the efficacy of vaccines, the Holocaust.

What grabbed me, though, was the subhed “Anti-intellecualism on the rise.” That drew me because my study of history all those years ago in college deeply impressed me with what a powerful theme that has been in our history (particularly coming into its own when the flat-Earther Andrew Jackson beat John Quincy Adams in 1828).

Anyway, to quote from the piece:

In the United States, anti-intellectualism dates back to the founding fathers, when Thomas Jefferson’s Democratic-Republicans favored the wisdom of the common man over the expertise of the elites, embodied by Alexander Hamilton. Since then, the American population has tended to support a belief that ‘regular people’ know best and experts are suspect. This notion flares up when we think that our core values are under attack, as with McCarthyism, and today — with immigration, cyber security and other national concerns — it seems to be back with a vengeance….

Yeah, we’ve noticed. Although the chief evidence, it seems to me isn’t suspicion of vaccines, but the rise of Donald Trump, to whom facts are inconvenient, hostile things.

And let me hasten to say, had I lived in Jefferson’s day, I’d have been a Federalist…

Sure, Hillary ‘won’ the debate, but does it matter?


To most people who know anything about debating, or about national and international issues, or about the presidency, Hillary Clinton pretty much cleaned Donald Trump’s clock last night.

She was serious, focused, informed, composed, presidential. He was thin-skinned, blustery, illogical, inarticulate, uninformed — the usual.

But does it matter? Does it make a difference? In 2016, that is the operative question.

I’ve had several conversations with folks this morning, and everyone has more or less agreed with this assessment. But I tend to speak to well-informed people.

I keep thinking about the first Kennedy-Nixon debate in 1960. Debate experts said Nixon won. So did most people who heard it over the radio. But those who saw it on TV said Kennedy won. And that was the new factor that the professionals, the experts, didn’t take into consideration.

Today, the new factor is that a significant portion of the electorate has gone stark, raving mad.

A debate like what we saw last night would have been inconceivable in 1960. Regardless of whether you think Nixon or Kennedy won, both of them did an excellent job by any informed standard. It would have been completely impossible for someone like Donald Trump to be on that stage. (Some would say it would be impossible for someone like Hillary to be there, but such people are looking at the superficiality of gender. The fact is with regard to factors that matter, she fits comfortably into the Nixon-Kennedy set of candidates.)

No one like Trump would be the Republican nominee. No one like Trump would have made any kind of showing in the primaries. Anyone as blustery and undisciplined as Trump would have been lucky to have been allowed to sit in the audience and watch.

So the difference between him and Hillary Clinton last night is far, far starker than the minimal contrast between Nixon and Kennedy. It’s not a contest between two qualified candidates. It’s between a qualified candidate and a nightmare.

But our politics are so messed up today, the electorate’s Kardashian-numbed sensibilities so accepting of the unacceptable, that the fact that she beat him like a drum last night — in the eyes of the knowledgeable, the thoughtful — may be as irrelevant as Nixon beating Kennedy on points. More so.

Trump’s support is such an illogical phenomenon that one cannot logically predict the effect of the debate.

And that’s yet another very, very disturbing thing about this election…


What’s different about Hillary Clinton this time

Where's Waldo -- I mean, Hillary? When I shot this way back in May 2015, she was surrounded by the usual suspects, from the SC Democratic Women's Council.

Where’s Waldo — I mean, Hillary? When I shot this way back in May 2015, she was surrounded by the usual suspects, from the SC Democratic Women’s Council.

Today, our good friend Doug (who for some reason is calling himself “Douglas” this week) Ross got me going when he said this about Hillary Clinton:

She is running to win the votes of her faithful followers…

Which made me say no, not this time…

I think that was true in 2008 — very much so. It’s one of the things that made Sen. Barack Obama look so good by contrast. At that time, her support base seemed made up of:

  • Diehard loyal Clintonistas who, for instance, still saw Bill’s impeachment as something that the “vast right-wing conspiracy” had done to THEM, rather than arising from Bill’s actions.
  • 1970s-style feminists who were just excited as all get-out because she was a woman, pure and simple.
  • The Democratic Party’s angriest partisan warriors who were hyper-anxious to “take the country back” after the Republicans holding the White House for 8 years.

By contrast, Barack Obama ran as not only the post-racial, but post-partisan candidate who wanted to lead us beyond the bitter sniping of the Clinton and Bush years.

This time, though, it’s different. Not necessarily because she, Hillary Clinton, is different, but because of the overall political environment in which this campaign is occurring. It’s pushed her into an entirely different role.

Now, she’s not the representative of an old ’60s-’70s “New Left” — she in fact spent most of the past year fighting to  survive a huge challenge from someone who represented that far more than she ever had.

But nothing recast her role as much as the way Trumpism took over the GOP.

Circumstances have conspired to make her the sole representative remaining from either party of the broad, moderate governing consensus of the post-1945 America. There’s a category into which you can fit every president (and most if not all major-party nominees, but especially the presidents) we’ve had since FDR, regardless of party. And she is the only person left — now that the likes of Jeb Bush and John Kasich are long departed from the scene — who fits into that category, or even lives in the same universe as that category.

So yeah, you’ve got the standard Clintonista hangers-on, sure. But you’ve also got independents like me, and you’ve got pretty much the entire Republican national security Establishment, all rooting for her to win this.

Because she’s all that’s left for any of us…


My Pocahontas connection: Eat your heart out, Elizabeth Warren!

Donald Trump mocks Elizabeth Warren by calling her “Pocahontas.” Not a classy move on his part on a number of levels, although she did sort of ask for it by claiming to be an American Indian when she had no proof that she was.

Nor can I make such a claim. Despite extensive work on my family tree, I’ve found nothing to contradict the finding from a DNA analysis one of my daughters sent off for, which among many other things said we had, alas, zero Native Americans in our genetic background. (She initially doubted the results when they showed extensive Scandinavian involvement, but I’ve since corroborated that in my work on the family tree. Vikings, you see.)

But, while I’m not blood kin, Pocahontas herself — a.k.a. Matoaka, a.k.a. Amonute, a.k.a. Rebecca Rolfe — is now in my family tree! This will no doubt cause Sen. Warren to turn green with envy, and prompt Donald Trump to start calling me “Powhatan” (which would be inaccurate, but do you think that would stop him?). Were he to take note of me, that is, which I hope he doesn’t.


Pocahontas by Simon van de Passe, 1616

To show how I got there, I should probably first share with you how I got back to that era of history. You may not want me to, but I did all this work, so I’m going to share it anyway.

Some time ago, my mother said she had heard we may be related to Richard Pace, who is famous for having warned the settlers of Jamestown of an impending Indian attack.

She was right. In fact, according to the connections I’ve found on various databases on the Web, he was my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather. Yes, 10 “greats.” That is to say, he was one of the 2,048 10th-great grandfathers that each of us is allotted. It seems extremely unlikely that I’ll ever know them all, since after six years of work my entire tree, including many such non-blood digressions as the one that led to Pocahontas, consists of 1,649 people.

Mom had heard about the possible connection from one of her first cousins, and after he called me showing interest in what I had found, I sent him the following simplified description of how we get back to the hero Richard Pace.

A note about my methods, which would no doubt draw scornful laughter from historians and professional genealogists. I do this for fun, using resources at my fingertips. I don’t establish these connections by rooting through musty archives for physical documents, which would no doubt play Old Harry with my allergies. I Google, and I root around in the many extensive genealogy databases out there — the ones that don’t charge for the privilege (my tree resides on, which allows me to build it for free; I don’t plan to start paying until I run out of easy free connections) — until I find a connection, and then proceed from that. Some of what I find is contradictory, so I hunt further until I’ve resolved the contradiction, at least to my own satisfaction as a restless hunter eager to move on. When I find two birth dates for the same person, I choose the more reasonable one and add “circa.”

The search for Richard Pace was unusual in that I was trying to get to him. Usually, I just find whomever I find, searching backwards in time. Deliberately trying to connect to someone can be problematic — the first time I did it, as noted below, I ignored some glaring discrepancies to get there. I believe I have it on more solid ground now.

In any case, here’s what I sent my first cousin once removed. Note that I start with my great-grandfather (and his grandfather) Charles Lexington Pace, who was an undertaker in Marion, since we’re both well familiar with him:

I’m sorry to take so long to get back to you. Shortly after we spoke, I went to look at the family tree, intending to describe to you our connection to Richard Pace, and I discovered a major error.
We have several ancestors named George Pace. One was born about 1765. My error was that I had put someone down as his father who, going by the dates, could not possibly be his father. That called into question the entire connection to Richard Pace of Jamestown.
So I had to wait until I had some time to meticulously go back and figure out where my mistake was. I still don’t know why it happened, but GOOD NEWS: After some hours of web surfing, I’ve established that we probably still are directly descended from Richard Pace.
I say “probably” because I have no physical documents proving it. All I have is statements on web databases that Person A was the son of Person B, and so forth. Some of this stuff seems shaky, and who knows for sure after all these generations?
But most of these connections make sense. There is only one generation where it seems a little doubtful, but I think that’s because we aren’t sure of their birthdates. I have George Pace (grandfather of the other George Pace) being born in 1702, but his son William being born “about 1716,” when George was only 14. Worse, I have William’s mother — George’s wife, Obedience Strickland Pace — being born “about 1715” — just one year before her son! But I’m assuming that since both dates say “circa” before the dates (which changes to “about” when I enter it), then Obedience was likely born several years earlier, and her son William several years later.
There’s plenty of reason to believe William was born quite a few years later, since his son, the younger George, wasn’t born until 1765. (Maybe. Another source gives a wide range of possible dates for him.)
Anyway, here’s what I have, starting from Papa Pace and going back in time, from son to father to grandfather, etc. If you click on the names, they will take you to web pages where I got some of the information. A lot of these come from the database, but some of the more recent are from other sources:
Charles L. Pace, born 1831
Richard Pace, born about 1793
George Pace, born 1765 — another source says “estimated between 1723 and 1783” (he was originally from Virginia or NC, and was the first to move to SC)
William Pace, about 1716 (a shaky approximation, based on when his parents were born)
Richard Pace II, about 1636
George Pace, about 1609 (born in England — his father apparently brought him to Virginia)
Richard Pace Jr., about 1580
THAT Richard Pace, born around 1580, is the famous one who saved the settlers at Jamestown. Here’s a Wikipedia page about him, which mentions his descendants George and Richard II.
I’ve continued to poke around in what’s available on the Web, and the earliest possible Pace ancestor I’ve found is a man named Peter Pacey, who was probably born in the early 1400s. (My source says “estimated between 1390 and 1450,” which is a pretty wide range, but not all that unusual with this kind of data.)
I hope you enjoy looking over all this material. Let me know if you have anything good to share back with me. It’s always good to have more information…

Oh, as to Richard Pace’s role at Jamestown, here’s his Wikipedia page. His warning to the governor apparently saved Jamestown, but not the settlers in surrounding areas. Many were killed, including some other direct ancestors of ours — the parents of the wife of Richard’s son, George.

This historical marker in Surry County, Virginia, tells some of my ancestor's story.

This historical marker in Surry County, Virginia, tells some of my ancestor’s story.

It was in researching more about that couple who died in the attack — the Rev. Samuel Maycock and his wife, the former Mary Pierce — that I found my way to Pocahontas.

Mary Pierce had a sister named Jane, who was born in 1605 in Heacham, England and died in Virginia in 1635. I don’t always bother with siblings of direct ancestors, but in this case I did, and was rewarded with a fun fact:

Jane Pierce married John Rolfe, with whom you are probably familiar. Jane was his third wife. His first wife was Sarah Hacker. His second, who died in 1617 back in England, was Pocahontas. Thereby making her, as Ancestry succinctly puts it, my “wife of husband of 11th great-aunt.”


Stuff like this is what makes genealogy fun, which is what causes me to spend a ridiculous portion of my weekends doing it.

Speaking of fun…

Now that I’m back in this part of the tree, I’m going to go back a couple of generations and try again to nail down my connection to John Pace, who served as jester to King Henry VIII and his daughter Elizabeth I. Wikipedia says he was “probably a nephew of English diplomat Richard Pace.” That Richard Pace was my 13th-great-grandfather, if my information is accurate. He had a brother named Thomas, but I can’t find any indication that John the Fool was his son.

But while I haven’t been able to prove the connection, which I would love to do, history — that is to say, Francis Bacon — does record a couple of his jokes. The first one doesn’t make sense to my modern ear. Here’s the second:

‘Pace the bitter fool was not suffered to come at the Queen because of his bitter humour. Yet at one time some persuaded the Queen that he should come to her; undertaking for him that he should keep compass. So he was brought to her, and the Queen said: “Come on, Pace; now we shall hear of our faults.” Saith Pace: “I do not use to talk of that that all the town talks of.”’

I’ll pause until you’ve stopped laughing. If Comedy Central had material like this, they wouldn’t be mourning the departure of Jon Stewart so.

He may have been called a “bitter fool,” but I think ol’ Uncle John was a caution. After all, I’ve been accused of much the same failing myself.

A 1628 woodcut supposedly depicting the Indian attack of 1622, from which Jamestown was spared due to intel obtained by my ancestor, Richard Pace.

A 1628 woodcut supposedly depicting the Indian attack of 1622, from which Jamestown was spared due to intel obtained by my ancestor, Richard Pace.

Trump’s huge, but not ‘massive,’ problem with Catholics

Catholics were the first to feel nativist hostility: Bill 'the Butcher' and his Know-Nothing pals in 'Gangs of New York'

Catholics were the first to feel nativist nastiness: Bill ‘the Butcher’ and his Know-Nothing pals in ‘Gangs of New York’

First, a bit of pedantry.

My first boss in the newspaper business after college, Reid Ashe, was an MIT-trained engineer, which affected his approach to newspaper editing. A pet peeve for him was the improper use of the word “massive.” Something could be big, and imposing, and extensive, and impressive, but if it did not have actual mass, it was not massive.

I’m sure he would have hated this hed in The Washington Post this morning: “Donald Trump has a massive Catholic problem.” Well, no, he doesn’t, Reid would say. It may be “yuge,” but it is lacking entirely in mass.

So. Moving on…

After that bad start, it’s a pretty interesting story. Obviously, I’m far from the only Catholic who can’t imagine how anyone can morally justify backing Trump. As far as I knew before reading this, it was just me and the Pope. And some friends and family members, of course. But if I’d thought about it, I’d have assumed there were a lot of us.

Which there are. An excerpt:

Yes, the man who once feuded with the pope (how soon we forget that actually happened) is cratering among Catholics.

Back in 2012, GOP nominee Mitt Romney lost the Catholic vote by just 2 points, 50 percent to 48 percent. And the GOP has actually won the Catholic vote as recently as 2004 and in 5 of the last 11 presidential elections.

But Trump trails among Catholics by a huge margin. A new poll from the Public Religion Research Institute released this week shows him down 23 points, 55-32.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll released earlier this month painted an even worse picture for Trump’s Catholic support. He was down by 27 points, 61-34.

If you compare the difference between Romney’s margin among Catholics in 2012 and Trump’s margin among Catholics this year, the 25-point difference is tied for the biggest shift of any demographic group in the Post-ABC poll….

This is significant because Catholics make up a quarter of the electorate.

A number of reasons are offered for this, including the Donald’s tiff with the Pope. But the most convincing is the most obvious: Catholics — particularly Irish and Italians — were the very first targets of the nasty nativism that forms the core of Trump’s appeal. And they (I use “they” instead of “we” because I’m a convert, so this narrative forms no part of my personal heritage) haven’t forgotten.

These lads are unlikely to back you, Donald.

These people’s descendants are unlikely to back you, Donald.

What newsrooms used to look like, long, long ago

The sardonic Managing Editor Bill Sorrels presides at his desk in the middle of the newsroom (he had an office somewhere, too). You see Dave Hampton running somewhere in the background. Note the decor.

The sardonic Managing Editor Bill Sorrels presides at his desk in the middle of the newsroom (he had an office somewhere, too). He’s apparently reading one of the proofs I fetched. You see Dave Hampton striding in a blur across the room in the background. Note the go-to-hell decor — the unmatched linoleum, the rivers of proofs tumbling from spikes on the Metro Desk behind the M.E….

Having just wrestled with the new definitions of an old word, “reporter,” here are some images from the very start of my newspaper career, so very long ago. When reporters were reporters.

After I dug out those pictures from 1978 to go with this post, I started poring through some old negatives, thinking yet again about digitizing them (and again overwhelmed at the enormity of the task), when I ran across something I had forgotten existed.

Apparently, I took my camera to the paper one night during those several months I worked at my first newspaper job, back in 1974. I was a “copy clerk” at The Commercial Appeal in the spring and summer of that year, while a student at Memphis State University. That means I was a “copy boy,” with the title adjusted for the political correctness that was coming into fashion at the time (but which for the most part did not touch this newsroom). And indeed, we did briefly have one girl join us boys standing at the rail, ready to jump when someone called “copy.”

wire machines

Copy Clerk David Hampton, later longtime editorial page editor of The Jackson Clarion-Ledger, in the wire room.

We were among the last copy boys in the country, since new technology was doing away with the need for someone to run around doing the stuff we did. Which meant reporters no longer had anyone to lord it over.

I just found these three exposures, found on one short strip of 35 mm film in a glassine envelope. I don’t know whether I took more, or where the rest of the roll is.

Anyway, I appeared to be documenting what I did at the paper by taking pictures of my friend and fellow copy clerk David Hampton doing the same tasks I did every night.

You can see Dave hurrying across the newsroom on an errand in the background of the photo at top, which shows one corner of the newsroom from the perspective of the managing editor’s desk. This part of the room is mostly deserted, with a reporter casually conversing with an assistant editor over on the Metro desk. This is 7:15 p.m., shortly after most of the day side people have left. The place would have been bustling about an hour earlier. Dave and I would be running for the next six or seven hours. (I wish I’d gotten a shot of the whole newsroom when it was full of people — but I probably would have been yelled at. That would not have been a novel experience, but I preferred to avoid it.)

In the foreground of the photo is the late Bill Sorrels, the managing editor, with a characteristic smirk on his face. I had him for a reporting class at Memphis State. His “teaching” technique consisted of telling stories from his reporting days, and stopping in mid-story to go around the room asking everyone, “So what did I do next?” and smirking when they got it wrong.

Bill would look over the galley proofs I brought him with that same expression, and then call out embarrassing critical remarks to reporters and editors about the mistakes they had made. (This was the kind of old-school place where grown men were chewed out and ground into the floor in front of everybody by their bosses.) The only actual work I ever remember seeing him do was on Aug. 9, 1974. He called me over and gave me a piece of paper on which he had scrawled, “Nixon Resigns.” He told me to take it to composing (on the next floor) and have it typeset in our biggest headline type (probably about 96 points), then have them shoot a picture of that and blow it up until it went all the way across the front page — then bring it to him to approve before they set it in metal and put it on the page. Probably the most “historic” thing I did in that job.

Above and at right, you see Dave in the wire room checking one of the 10 or 12 machines there that chugged out news from across the world non-stop — back in the days when ordinary people didn’t have access to such via Twitter, etc. We were the nursemaids to those machines, making sure the paper and ribbons never ran out, that they didn’t jam, and that the stories were ripped off the machines and taken to the editors who needed to see them.

Below, Dave is in the “morgue,” in later more polite times known as the “library,” where he’s been sent to fetch something, probably a photo, that someone needs to go with a story they’re working on. Given the size of the envelopes, these are probably mug shots, or maybe metal “cuts” that were already made to run in the paper previously. We saved those, when they were of repeat newsmakers, to save time and metal. They were uniformly 6 ems (picas) in width.

Another world. I never again worked in such an old-school environment. This was the old Commercial Appeal building, torn down decades ago. The long-defunct Memphis Press Scimitar was up on the fifth floor, if I recall correctly. Most news copy was still written, edited and processed in the old way — typed on manual typewriters, the pages strung together with rubber cement, edited with pencil, and set in metal type by noisy linotype machines up in the composing room. Once the type was set for each story, individual proofs would be pulled of each story, before they were placed on the “turtle” that held the full page — which we would run down to the newsroom. There was a lot of running back and forth.

This place was already an anachronism; it would have been completely recognizable to Ben Hecht’s characters in “The Front Page” It was what the makers of “Teacher’s Pet,” which I saw on Netflix the other night, were going for in the newsroom scenes. (Nick Adams played the copy boy in that film, itching for his shot at becoming a reporter. He was excited to get to write some obits one night. For us, the transitional job was to be the copy clerk who did the “agate” — rounding up police blotter, marriages and divorces, property transfers and other routine list-type copy and typing it up to go into the paper. I got to do that once, when another guy was out, and felt I had taken a huge step up.)

But new technology was creeping in. The non-news departments wrote on IBM Selectrics, and their copy was scanned and set in cold type, and pasted up on paper pages. And maybe some of the news copy as well — I see a Selectric behind Sorrels on the Metro desk. And a couple more on the rim of the copy desk at right.

It was also a crude, rough place that was about as non-PC as anyplace you could find in the ’70s. It’s ironic that they called us “copy clerks” instead of “boys,” because there were few other concessions to modern sensibilities. Culturally, every other newsroom I ever worked in was as removed from this one as though a couple of generations had passed. Although it was 1974, this newsroom would have been more at home in the first half of the century. It was… Runyonesque.

In the following decades, I didn’t miss this place, and was happy to work in a more civil environment. But I’m glad to have had this throwback experience; it gives me something to feel nostalgic about when I watch those old movies made before I was born. Yes, I say, it was just like that — those few months at the Commercial Appeal, anyway….

Dave, fetching a "cut" from the morgue.

Dave, fetching a “cut” from the morgue.

A thumbs-up from Chuck Yeager!

Chuck Yeager X-1

OK, technically it was Mike Fitts whose Tweet got a “like” from the Man at the Top of that ol’ Pyramid. Not me.

But my name was mentioned!

Mike sent this to my attention this morning:

Which I of course immediately reTweeted. After which I saw this, to my delight:

yeager tweet

All right! I have been in contact, however indirectly, with the man with the most righteous stuff in the Twitterverse

Yeager Twitter

Is this whole campaign just a business move for Trump?

Roger Murray at the wheel in 1978. As the compleat journalist, I did my own photography.

Roger Murray at the wheel in 1978. As the complete journalist, I did my own photography, of course.

When I was a young and inexperienced reporter at The Jackson Sun in 1978, I spent a few days covering Roger Murray, who was seeking the Democratic nomination for governor of Tennessee.

It was an immersive experience, one that would seem quite alien to reporters today. I went on the road with him for several days as he traveled across Middle and East Tennessee. (For those of you not familiar, we speak of the Three Great States of Tennessee, and Jackson was located in the middle of West Tennessee.) And when I say “on the road,” I mean something more reminiscent of Kerouac than a typical political campaign.

I rode with the candidate himself, who drove his own car. I was on my own for finding places to spend the night, which wasn’t easy in some of those small towns. One night, I nearly had to double up with the woman from The Commercial Appeal who had joined us in the car for part of the trip. At least, she offered — in a matter-of-fact, platonic way. I must have looked particularly lost. But I managed to get a room of my own.

When on the road like that, I’d write out my story each night for the next day’s paper in my notebook, call it in and dictate it first thing in the morning (it was an afternoon paper), and call in updates and new ledes — from pay phones, of course — before each of the two editions. At one point on this trip, Roger asked if he could read what I’d written for that day (in those days before the web, children, he wouldn’t see the paper until we got home days later), so I handed him my notebook. He read it while driving down a two-lane highway, which I’ll have to tell you was a bit unnerving.

But Roger was like that. He was a bustling, charge-ahead, multitasking kind of guy who operated on full speed whether he was legislating in Nashville or running his business — a private security company — back in Jackson. He had made something of a name for himself chairing hearings looking into the shady doings of Gov. Ray Blanton, and he was trying to parlay that into a shot at the governor’s office.

Speaking at a Democratic rally somewhere east of Nashville. I think this was the rally at which I first met Al Gore. Note all the Butcher and Clement posters.

Speaking at a Democratic rally somewhere east of Nashville. I think this was the rally at which I first met Al Gore. Note all the Butcher and Clement posters.

And inside the bubble — going everywhere he went, seeing everyone he saw — it felt like it was working. There had just been a televised with the other four or five candidates running, and everywhere we went — Democratic party rallies, factory shift changes, talking to loafers sitting on benches around a sleepy small-town courthouse — people said he had been the one who made the most sense. Which made me think that meant they were going to vote for him. But I should have listened to the few who said, “You made the most sense, but I’m going to vote for Jake Butcher or Bob Clement.”

I dismissed those who said things like that, because what they were saying was irrational. But they were the ones telling the truth. I did not yet understand two things about politics: One, voters don’t necessarily vote rationally. Two, the bandwagon effect: Clement and Butcher were seen as the two front-runners, and some people were going to vote for them simply for that reason.

I forget how much of the vote Roger got in the primary, but he came in well behind Clement and Butcher. (Butcher won the nomination, and went on to lose the election to Lamar Alexander.)

I found it shocking. Caught up in the bubble of my first gubernatorial campaign, I had thought he made the most sense, too. That was his slogan, by the way: Murray Makes Sense

Yeah, I know. I’m digressing all over the place. But I’m coming to the point.

A few days after this foray onto the campaign trail, we were visiting my in-laws in Memphis and I was telling them about my adventures on the hustings. My father-in-law, who had a more realistic impression of Murray’s chances than I did, offered the opinion that Murray was just running to raise his profile for the good of his business.

I found that a shocking idea. It seemed dishonest to me, and I didn’t see Roger as a dishonest guy. To my father-in-law, it just made sense. He, too, was a businessman. In retrospect, I’ve had occasion to think he may have been right. Roger was older and more experienced than I (which didn’t take much), and I’m sure had a much more realistic idea of his chances than I did. And whether he intended it or not, the campaign did raise his profile a bit, and may have helped his business. If I remember correctly, not all that long after, he left public office.

Which brings me to my point.

Friday morning, I heard a segment on The Takeaway suggesting that maybe Donald Trump’s whole candidacy has been a business move — something that would not shock me nearly as much as what my father-in-law said about Roger Murray, back when I was so much younger and more naive:

It’s no secret that Donald Trump is in a tough spot heading towards the November general election. Projections from FiveThirtyEight and our partners at The New York Times have former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton commanding a serious lead over the Republican presidential candidate.

So when Trump recruited Stephen Bannon of Breitbart News Network, the conservative alt-right website, as his chief campaign executive this week, it was a perplexing strategy. If you’re failing to attract mainstream voters, why further align yourself with the margins of the right wing?

Sarah Ellison, a contributing editor at Vanity Fair and author of “War at the Wall Street Journal,” suggests that Trump — understanding that a loss in November is imminent — has ulterior motives post-election: To create his own conservative media empire.

This I could believe, especially with Trump. It would explain a lot — such as his running like a guy who wants to make a big splash (to build the brand), then lose.

If, of course, all that trying-to-lose stuff wasn’t a fake.


court square

A classic old-school campaign shot: Murray works the courthouse square in a small town in Middle Tennessee, greeting the loafers — that classic Southern stereotype — and handing out leaflets.

See the most amazing models you’ll ever see

Burl is making sure we notice that the sign says he is "renowned."

Burl is making sure we notice that the sign says he is “renowned.”

So you built a few model planes when you were a kid. A Spitfire, a P-51, an Me 109 — if you had the room, maybe a B-17. You glued all the pieces in the right places, applied the decals, even painted them. If you were like me, you heated the point of a needle and poked staggered machine-gun holes in the wing or fuselage.

And to top it all off, you got some fine plastic fishing line and hung them in mid-dogfight from the ceiling of your bedroom.


No model you ever built or even saw in your life can possibly compare to what’s on display right now at the International Plastic Modelers Society 2016 National Convention & Contest at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center.

I’m confident in saying that because these guys are the best in the world — the guys who make models for museums and for the movies (I ran into a guy who made models for one of the Star Wars movies) and the detail and realism of their work will take your breath away.

Just don’t touch anything.

I learned about it because one of the featured attractions is my high school friend Burl Burlingame, ex-newspaperman and present historian at the Pacific Aviation Museum on Ford Island in the middle of Pearl Harbor.

In fact, he will be leading a seminar entitled “Pearl Harbor Revisited: 75 Years Later” at the convention center Saturday morning at 8:15. You should go try to catch it. Burl is an expert on so many things it’s ridiculous. Not just aviation — he’s the world’s leading authority on Japanese midget submarines. And he designed some of the more amazing stuff on display at the convention — such as unbelievably tiny brass railings for model ships, etched by a process that I do not understand.

And stay to look at the models. It costs $10 to get in ($15 for a family). And if you want to do more than look, and aren’t too intimidated by what you see to ever try building another model yourself, there’s every kind of kit conceivable for sale, from the Revell kits you bought from the dime store as a kid to specialized products for customizing at the professional level — everything for painting, muddying, rusting or whatever else you might want to do to emulate real life.

There are vintage dime-store kits on sale for as little as $5. But if you’d like to buy the new Do 335 A-O Pfeil kit unveiled just this afternoon by Zoukei-Mura (they had a whole team there from Japan; one rep Burl and I talked with kept bowing to us while we chatted), that’ll set you back about $185.

And no, it’s not just airplanes. There are cars, tanks, ships, every kind of military vehicle on wheels, fantasy figures, anything you can think of from Star Wars, and even a display of that monster series Aurora put out in the ’60s (I remember building the Dracula model, and there it was).

And while most of the models are small, this confab is big — I’ve never seen one event take up pretty much all of the Convention Center like this, upstairs and downstairs. (And yet, the modelers tell me there’s an event that happens in England that’s three times as big.)

So you should check it out. Saturday is the last day.

Here are some pictures. Forgive the crudity of these model… pictures. The smallness of the subjects, and the white background on the tables, made it tough for my iPhone:

WashPost gets it exactly right: ‘Donald Trump is a unique threat to American democracy’

That’s one of the best, clearest headlines I’ve read on an editorial in a while. It states the case cleanly and well.

I’ll just quote the first graf:

DONALD J. TRUMP, until now a Republican problem, this week became a challenge the nation must confront and overcome. The real estate tycoon is uniquely unqualified to serve as president, in experience and temperament. He is mounting a campaign of snarl and sneer, not substance. To the extent he has views, they are wrong in their diagnosis of America’s problems and dangerous in their proposed solutions. Mr. Trump’s politics of denigration and division could strain the bonds that have held a diverse nation together. His contempt for constitutional norms might reveal the nation’s two-century-old experiment in checks and balances to be more fragile than we knew….

That is a wonderfully well-crafted bit of truth-telling, and every word of it is skilfully back up, in 13 more paragraphs that are just as good. You should go read the whole thing.

I continue to be astounded that some Democrats as well as Republicans are falling into the usual patterns of thinking this is a normal election, and that normal voting patterns should apply. Democrats speak in terms of Republicans ALL being as bad as Trump, and some perhaps worse. Republicans say he may be no gem, but he’s certainly no worse than Hillary Clinton, if not better.

They are all tragically, grotesquely wrong, and this editorial clearly states why.

The point of it is the same I’ve been making here about the unique horror that Trump represents.

Please read it, and take what it says to heart.

Yes, that’s right: Iraq under Saddam sponsored terrorism

Another of Trump's favorite strongmen.

Another of Trump’s favorite strongmen.

In doing a fact-check on Donald Trump’s assertion that Saddam Hussein was “so good” at killing terrorists (and yes, he got four Pinocchios), The Washington Post reminded us of some history.

Namely, that rather than being some anti-terrorist scourge, Saddam was officially considered by the United States to be a state sponsor of terror.

Because, you know, he was.

What I remember knowing back before our invasion of 2003 was that he used to send $25,000 cash payments — bounties, if you will — to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers who killed Israelis.

Here’s the thing about Saddam, though: He was “so good” at killing terrorists (and he called all domestic opponents of his regime terrorists) inside Iraq. Just because he was “good” at killing anyone he saw as posing a challenge to his absolute control of the country. Frankly — just to stick up for Trump a bit here — I think they could have taken off one of the Pinocchios for that. Even though Saddam wasn’t killing them to make the world a safer place, but to hold onto dictatorial power.

But when it came to terrorists striking at the rest of the world — well, he was all for that.

Anyway, here’s an excerpt from the Post’s story:

Hussein’s regime was a long-standing supporter of international terrorism and was designated as a state sponsor of terrorism by the State Department before the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq.

In 2007, the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA), a think tank for national security agencies, published a five-volume report, “Saddam and Terrorism.” The report, compiled after hundreds of thousands of Iraqi documents became available after Iraq fell, highlighted relationships between Hussein’s regime and regional and global terrorism. The report details how Hussein nurtured relationships with terrorist groups, especially Palestinian ones. (We explored this issue in a 2014 fact-check.)

Among its major findings was that there was no direct connection between Hussein’s Iraq and al-Qaeda  calling attention to the premise of one of George W. Bush administration’s justifications for invading Iraq. But the report found that at times, their short-term goals overlapped….

One of the charges I used to get a lot from my antiwar friends was that we supposedly went to war on the erroneous belief that Saddam was responsible for 9/11. As I always had to explain, that wasn’t something I ever believed or tried to get anyone else to believe. But there was no question that outside his borders, he was often a friend to terrorists…


Obama, groping through the moral twilight of drone warfare

OK, so it's really a picture of the president touring Carlsbad Caverns with his family last month, but it seemed to go with my headline.

OK, so it’s really a picture of the president touring Carlsbad Caverns with his family last month, but it seemed to go with my headline.

Today, the Obama administration owned up to a number of bystanders killed a collateral damage in drone strikes:

The United States has inadvertently killed between 64 and 116 noncombatant civilians in drone and other lethal attacks against terrorism suspects in places not considered active war zones, the Obama administration said Friday.

The unintentional deaths came in a total of 473 CIA and military counterterrorism strikes up to the end of 2015 that the administration said have taken between 2,372 and 2,581 militants permanently off the battlefield in countries where the United States is not at war, which would include Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Libya.

The release was accompanied by an executive order, signed by President Obama, designed to give added weight to existing administration standards and procedures governing the use of lethal force and for limiting civilian casualties….

So. 473 drone strikes. At least 2,372 people regarded as enemies of the United States killed. And the tradeoff is as many as 116 folks who were minding their own business, snuffed out without warning by hellfire from the sky.

What do we think about that? Are the attacks justified? Is the tradeoff morally defensible? Can we rationalize killing an innocent person for every 20 terrorists?

The administration released this information in connection with the president’s promise to be more transparent about his “I’ve got a list” program of drone warfare.

By disclosing, he’s pulling us in, sharing the burden. Now that we know, it’s more on us. We, too, are walking about in a moral twilight. How do feel about that?

Excuse this digression….

Are you familiar with the naval battle that occurred outside Boston Harbor between HMS Shannon and USS Chesapeake on 1 June 1813? Up to that point in the War of 1812, there had been several one-on-one battles between British and American ships, and the infant U.S. Navy had won all of them — which had really shaken up the Royal Navy. They were used to fighting the French, and always winning.

Philip Broke, commander of HMS Shannon, had been blockading Boston Harbor for months. He was low on water and other provisions and couldn’t stay on station much longer. But he didn’t want to leave without having had a chance to reclaim the Royal Navy’s honor against the Americans. So he sent a note into the harbor to Capt. James Lawrence of the Chesapeake, challenging him to come out and fight.

Lawrence did so that very day (although coincidentally, on his own initiative, not because of the note). And after a furiously intense 15 minutes of fighting in which 252 men were killed or wounded, Shannon had won. Lawrence, who was mortally wounded in the battle, famously said “Don’t give up the ship!” as he was taken below — but moments later, his men were forced to do just that. He died of his wounds three days later, as his captured ship was being taken to Halifax.

Broke, too, was gravely wounded. He survived, and was made a baronet for his victory, but his injuries ended his active service for good.

This story is told in vivid detail in one of Patrick O’Brian’s novels, The Fortune of War. As you know, I’m always trying to get everyone I know to read these books about Captain Jack Aubrey and his particular friend, surgeon Stephen Maturin, and I recently persuaded my wife to read this one.

To her, Broke’s note challenging Lawrence made no sense.

And yes, it does seem a bit irrational, like two boys meeting on a playground and saying simultaneously, “I can beat you!” and going at it. Boys who’ve heard too many stories about jousting knights in shining armor.

But there was a time when behavior such as Broke’s was universally lauded, held up as an ideal. And I confess I’m atavistic enough to feel admiration for him, while at the same time seeing that whole war as an absurd waste. (I contain multitudes.)

And I have to wonder: Was there not honor in inviting the enemy out to a fair fight, one in which the challenger’s life was on the line as much as anyone’s? A fight in which many were killed, but all were legitimate combatants? Are we better, more rational, more enlightened, more admirable now that we fight wars like this instead?


The initial exchange of gunfire between Chesapeake and Shannon.

Drawing a connection between Trump and Tillman

My old colleague and friend Jeff Miller brought this to my attention, as he had not seen anyone draw a direct connection between Donald Trump and Ben Tillman, although he was “Surprised it took this long.”

The relevant passage:

As the civil-rights movement burgeoned, Wallace repositioned himself to lead the white resistance and famously declared, “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” Wallace, a political innovator of the first rank, pioneered the sublimation of racial rage into hatred of government, not just the federal imposition of black rights in a second Reconstruction, but government meddling generally. This anticipated the politics of Newt Gingrich, Paul Ryan, Ted Cruz, and the Tea Party because it connected Southern racial resentment to the anti-government libertarian economics of the business right. The explicit racism became latent and coded—a dog whistle. The stars of today’s Republican right are all practitioners of this art. But Trump went them one better.

“Trump doesn’t tweet dog whistles, he blasts foghorns,” wrote Washington Post op-ed columnist Eugene Robinson. In this, Trump echoes an earlier band of 20th-century Southern demagogues. Southern politicians such as Mississippi’s Theodore Bilbo, South Carolina’s “Pitchfork Ben” Tillman, and Georgia’s Eugene Talmadge were more blatant and direct than Wallace in demeaning blacks. And like Trump, they relished the fact that they were not about issues—for issues (other than race) mattered little in traditional Southern politics. Instead, they concentrated on providing a venomous, racist form of entertainment for the white working class—another parallel with Trump.

I have to disagree with the premise, though. I don’t think Trump is more overt than Wallace, or that he “blast foghorns” rather than “dog whistles.”

Mr. Articulate

Mr. Articulate?

The truth is that Trump is not articulate enough to blast any message clearly. He is well within the tradition of implying rather than directly stating, at least most of the time.

But that suggests to me one way in which Wallace was superior to Trump: He was far more articulate.

I watched a documentary recently about the annus horribilis 1968, and was struck by one thing: All of the candidates, including Wallace, had such a clear grasp of issues and expressed their views clearly as well.

Wallace was a hateful creep, but he was a hateful creep who could speak in complete sentences. He towers so far over Trump in that regard that it’s startling to go view those old clips, and compare them to the unintelligible mush that comes from Trump’s mouth.

Yeah, I know — you don’t think “erudition” when you hear “George Wallace.” But compared to Trump, he was the Algonquin Round Table

Members and associates of the Algonquin Round Table... Art Samuels, Charles MacArthur, Harpo Marx, Dorothy Parker and Alexander Woollcott

Members and associates of the Algonquin Round Table… Art Samuels, Charles MacArthur, Harpo Marx, Dorothy Parker and Alexander Woollcott

Cranston, others are AMAZING in ‘All the Way’

I intend to drop my subscription to HBO Now, as an economizing measure, after the last episode of “Game of Thrones” this weekend. (I’m not giving up much; my Amazon Prime account gives me access to pretty much everything I value about HBO.)

Before doing that, I made a point last night to watch the new HBO movie, “All the Way,” starring Bryan Cranston as Lyndon Johnson.

I was blown away. Wow. I did not know Cranston could act like that. Sure, a lot of it was a brilliant makeup job, but that was just the start. And it wasn’t just the voice impersonation; plenty of people could do that. It was his physicality — the way he positioned and moved his body, the subtleties of his facial expressions, that made him seem to inhabit LBJ.

The constant Grimace of Anxiety

The constant Grimace of Anxiety

Just watching his mouth shape the words was hypnotic. As much as I liked “Breaking Bad,” it persuaded me that he had a limited set of expressions. In the early seasons, I got really tired of that grimace of extreme anxiety that he wore constantly — although, in retrospect, I suppose that was masterful, too, as it so effectively communicated his stress to me, which was part of what I didn’t like about it.

But to watch that jaw and lips and teeth become those of LBJ was astounding.

But the quality of this production extends far beyond Cranston. You’ll also be impressed by Bradley Whitford as Hubert Humphrey, and Melissa Leo as Lady Bird. Frank Langella as Sen. Richard Russell and Steven Root as J. Edgar Hoover are both wonderful as well, but then those guys always are.

There are less impressive parts, of course. The actor who plays Strom Thurmond only has a line or two, but I still fault him for doing too little with it.

But the greatest letdown is Anthony Mackie as Martin Luther King. For one thing, he doesn’t seem old enough. Yeah, I know — MLK was only 35 at the time and Mackie is precisely that age. But King had a bearing that made him seem older than he was.

Perhaps I expect too much, but it seems that in everything I see — the disappointing “Selma” comes to mind — the actors portraying King fall far short of capturing him. Mr. Mackle simply lacks the gravitas — in the shape of his face, his voice, his manner. King had a presence that impressed. Why is there not an actor out there who can communicate it, or at least approximate it?

But let’s not linger on the shortcomings. “All the Way” is excellent, and if you have access, you should take the time to see it.


Sometimes ‘realism’ is taken to unreal lengths

With all the talk about guns in the wake of the Orlando massacre, we got to talking on an earlier thread about the role of firearms in American history, which started me (as a child of the ’50s, who felt naked without a toy six-gun on my hip) to start riffing on that peculiarly American art form, the Western, and how it has evolved.

So I thought I’d expand on the subject in a separate post…

I, and others my age, grew up on unrealistic westerns in which every man went around with a gun in a holster, except for wusses such as shopkeepers or bankers. I’m pretty sure that is an exaggeration, and I suspect that people who went obviously armed were probably looked at askance by the townspeople, although it may have seemed marginally less bizarre than it would today on Gervais Street.

Just as gunfights were nothing like the ritualized affairs we know from movies, with two men approaching down the dusty street, pausing with their hands hovering over their holsters, scrupulously waiting for the other guy to go for his gun before drawing.

Gunfights such as the one at the OK Corral were wild, confused affairs more akin to what happened at that video game storethe other day…

Modern westerns, of course, go for realism.


I’m belatedly watching “Deadwood.” I’m not binge-watching because, as one whose ancestors stuck to Civilization — by which I mean the East Coast — I can only take so much profanity, filth, crudeness, naked avarice and utter disregard for common decency at a time. (As much as it would scandalize my 6-year-old self, I have come to suspect as an adult that had I lived back then, I likely would have been a “dude.” Which wasn’t as cool back then as it sounds today.) Thirty seconds with the “Deadwood” character Al Swearengen (based on a real guy) can make you want to write off the human race as beyond redemption. At the very least, it should persuade a discriminating person to give the Wild West a wide berth.

I would not want to live in the same territory as this guy.

I would not want to live in the same territory as this guy.

Anyway, I’m in the first season, and in the last episode the death of Wild Bill Hickok was depicted — VERY realistically, with him being shot in the back without warning while playing poker.

Such realism is preferable, I suppose. And the clean-cut, 1950s-style western was ridiculous (compare above the guy who played Hickok on TV when I was a little kid and it was my favorite show, the version from Deadwood and the real guy).

Although enough of “Deadwood” and you can start to long, at least a little, for the Disneyland version, with the good guys in spotless white hats.

Or at least for characters you give a damn doggone about. So far the only relatively likeable person on this series is Calamity Jane, and you don’t want your kids in the room when she’s talking.

Bottom line, I’m sure something like everything you see on “Deadwood” actually happened at one time or other in the Old West. But not distilled to this extent, not as unrelenting with the soul-wearing nastiness. Just like, unlike on cop shows, real cops can easily go their whole careers without discharging a firearm in the line of duty.

Surely they had to let up and give it a rest sometime — go through a day with a killing, or maybe speak two sentences in a row without an F-bomb, just to give their profanity mills a rest.

Or else it seems that after a couple of days, they’d get exhausted with it all and skeddadle back East. I know I would have.

Quick: Whose catchphrase was, “Hey, Wild Bill! Wait for me!” The answer is below…

I never knew this photo existed in color

Ali color

I was startled to find the above image in my WashPost app over the weekend.

Startled because I had no idea that a color version of the photo existed.

You see the more familiar version below. While they are almost identical, aside from the color in the one above, they aren’t quite. I imagine they were shot by different cameras that were right next to each other, in the same split-second (although it’s possible that they’re from the same camera and exposed a tiny fraction of a second apart, with the black-and-white version printed from a color negative — but that seems less likely).

But they’re definitely not from the same negative. Note the position of his right elbow — it’s markedly different in relation to the waistband of his trunks. A more dramatic difference — the bald photographer at ringside is seen directly between Clay’s (this is before he was Ali) legs in the color photo, and is off to the side of his right leg in the the black-and-white.

Bottom line, though, which photo do you like better? A silly question, perhaps, but bear with me.

You might say the color one, as it gives you more information.

But I prefer the black-and-white. It just seems more… legit. It’s history, and one thinks of legitimate photos of history as being black-and-white — particularly specific photos one has already seen in black-and-white.

Also, at the time, it was news. And news photos were in black and white back then. (The color one, according to the credit, was taken by Neil Leifer for Sports Illustrated — which unlike newspapers at the time, used color photos.)

Color seems… fake somehow. Like it was a re-enactment. Or like a colorized version of “Casablanca.”

It’s not a rational response, I’ll admit. But that’s how I responded to it…

clay black and white

Just to take note of what happened on this date in 1944

Approaching Omaha Beach, June 6, 1944.

Approaching Omaha Beach, June 6, 1944.

I don’t have anything new to say about it at the moment, but I thought I’d take note of the date.

Today was the day that the United States, Great Britain, Canada and our other allies put 175,000 men onto a hostile shore. Field Marshal Erwin Rommel had done everything he could to keep them off of it, and to ensure that if they did land, they would die.

But we managed it anyway. Or rather, our forebears did.

Who were these guys we sent to do this thing? One of the most interesting paragraphs in Stephen Ambrose’s book about the invasion is this one:


Look at this one sentence again: “He was twenty-six years old, five feet eight inches tall, weighed 144 pounds, had a thirty-three-and-a-half-inch chest, and a thirty-one-inch waist.”

These were little guys! Even after they’d bulked up, their chests were 34.5 inches! Today they’d have to go to the boys’ department to buy a sport coat.

But they got the job done.