Category Archives: History

Come on out and help us Remember Pearl Harbor

Photograph taken from a Japanese plane during the torpedo attack on ships moored on both sides of Ford Island. View looks about east, with the supply depot, submarine base and fuel tank farm in the right center distance. A torpedo has just hit USS West Virginia on the far side of Ford Island (center). Other battleships moored nearby are (from left): Nevada, Arizona, Tennessee (inboard of West Virginia), Oklahoma (torpedoed and listing) alongside Maryland, and California. On the near side of Ford Island, to the left, are light cruisers Detroit and Raleigh, target and training ship Utah and seaplane tender Tangier. Raleigh and Utah have been torpedoed, and Utah is listing sharply to port. Japanese planes are visible in the right center (over Ford Island) and over the Navy Yard at right. Japanese writing in the lower right states that the photograph was reproduced by authorization of the Navy Ministry.  U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph.

Photograph taken from a Japanese plane during the torpedo attack on ships moored on both sides of Ford Island.

As y’all know, I help the S.C. Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum publicize its events. But I too often forget to let y’all know about them ahead of time.

I was telling Bryan Caskey about this one yesterday, and he was interested (although he had a conflict), so I thought I’d pass it on to the rest of the gang.

Since I already wrote a release about it, I’ll just save myself some typing by sharing that with you:

Join us at the Relic Room to Remember – and learn about – Pearl Harbor

COLUMBIA, S.C. – “Remember Pearl Harbor!”

Who could forget? It wasn’t just the “date that will live in infamy,” but the moment when America turned on a dime and was permanently transformed. We went instantly from being a nation of isolationists who didn’t want to hear about the problems of Europe and Asia, to a war machine of unprecedented power – and after that, the leader of global efforts to prevent such a conflict from ever emerging again.

On this Dec. 7, the South Carolina Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum will host a Pearl Harbor Day program that will help both young and old better remember, and understand, the meaning of that day in 1941. The program will certainly be about memory, but also about lessons learned.

Admission is free to the entire program.

Here’s what’s on the schedule for that Saturday:

10 a.m. to 3 p.m. – Living History and WW2 Weapon Displays. In the Atrium, living historians will impersonate a wide range of participants in the conflict, and talk to attendees about their different roles. Military equipment, including small arms, from the world’s largest conflict will also be on display. In addition to the re-enactors there will be real-life heroes, members of the Military Order of the Purple Heart. You can thank them personally, and support the work of this association of combat-wounded veterans.

11 a.m. to 2 p.m. – WW2 Education Stations. At stations within the museum gallery, volunteers will offer short lessons in basic World War II skills include aircraft silhouette identification, code-breaking, and other sailors’ tasks, which could make the difference between victory and defeat. Get your “Qualification Card” signed for the “Battle of the Atrium Sea.”

2 p.m.  – “Guadalcanal: US Marines against Imperial Japan, 7 August 1942-8 February 1943.” Fritz Hamer, the museum’s curator of history, will explain the bloody but vital struggle for the island of Guadalcanal. This is a lecture for adults while younger participants join in the simultaneous wargame out in the museum’s atrium.

2 p.m. – “The Battle of the Atrium Sea.” Kids can sharpen their tactical thinking, controlling their own pieces of the Pacific theater, laid out on the atrium floor. Will the defiant Americans or the mighty Imperial Japanese fleet win the day? It’s going to be up to you! (Battle participants may be limited by available units in the scenario.)

3 p.m. – “Atrium Sea After-Action Review.” We’ll look over the “battle” fought in the atrium and compare it to actual Pacific War fights. What happened, and why?

Come on out and help us remember the day that we must never forget.

About the South Carolina Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum

Founded in 1896, the South Carolina Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum is an accredited museum focusing on South Carolina’s distinguished martial tradition through the Revolutionary War, Mexican War, Civil War, Spanish-American War, World Wars I and II, Vietnam, the War on Terror, and other American conflicts. It serves as the state’s military history museum by collecting, preserving, and exhibiting South Carolina’s military heritage from the colonial era to the present, and by providing superior educational experiences and programming. It is located at 301 Gervais St. in Columbia, sharing the Columbia Mills building with the State Museum. For more information, go to https://crr.sc.gov/.

Did you notice how I slipped in and oblique mention of the Postwar Liberal Order? Sneaky, huh?

As you see, the program is broader than merely remembering Dec. 7 — it covers portions of the long road back.

For my part, I’m tentatively planning on attending Fritz’ lecture on Guadalcanal. Most of what I know about that comes from fiction: Battle Cry by Leon Uris, and The Thin Red Line by James Jones. I’d like to place my understanding on more of a factual footing…

My best new follow in a while. Currahee!

Shared this on Twitter, might as well share it here:

Guarnere feed

Top Five History-Based Holiday Ideas

big shoe

The controversy over Columbus Day got me to thinking of history-based holidays we could have, if only we thought a little harder. They’re not in order of preference, but in calendar order:

  1. Rubicon Day — OK, so this didn’t happen in America. But Julius Caesar’s decision to cross that creek with his troops had a huge effect on something that matters to Americans. It ended the last republic we would see for 1,000 years. But I’m also thinking we could have some fun with it. We could have toga parties each Jan. 10, and go around saying “iacta alea est” to each other. Maybe not your idea of a good time, but maybe we could make a drinking game out of it.
  2. British Invasion Day — No, it’s not about 1814. It’s about 1964, and this holiday would be pure fun. We’d celebrate it on February 9, the day the Beatles first appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” We’d all play music by the Beatles, the Stones, Herman’s Hermits, the Animals, Freddie and the Dreamers, Peter and Gordon, and so forth. We’d have theme parties in which we’d all dress like the invaders, and go around saying “gear” and “fab.” And if you said bad things about the holiday, we’d all say you were “dead grotty.”
  3. Lincoln’s Birthday, Feb. 12 — Yes, bring it back, and repeal this “President’s Day” nonsense, in order to drive home the fact that he was our greatest president, and is largely responsible for America being America, having thrown off its original sin via that war that we fight on until the slave states’ unconditional surrender — and making sure it didn’t end until the 13th Amendment was passed, so that all that bloodshed served a purpose. Sorry about the run-on sentence…
  4. Smallpox Day — This is sort of related to the idea of “Indigenous People’s Day,” but I actually have three reasons to mark the day. First, it seems to me that the most horrific public health disaster in human history (way bigger than the Black Death) was back in the 16th century when 95 percent of the native population was wiped out by European diseases for which they had no resistance — usually before the victims had even encountered the Europeans. Something so awful should be remembered. My second reason is celebratory — celebrating the fact that we’ve been so successful at wiping out the disease that a rite of passage of my childhood, the “vaccination” (that’s what we called it; we didn’t know what it was for), is unknown to today’s children. Third, as a warning — that it could come back some day, and we need to fully prepared to wipe it out again if it does. This would be on May 17, the birthday of Edward Jenner.
  5. Independence Day, July 2 — So that we’d be celebrating the actual day that Congress voted to declare independence, not the day that the document’s final edits were approved. This is personal, because John Adams is my fave Founder, and this was day that HE thought should be celebrated, after his weeks of hard work arguing the Congress into taking this momentous step — debate during which Thomas Jefferson, who gets the glory, sat there like a bump on a log. Harrumph…
One idea for celebrating Rubicon Day.

One idea for celebrating Rubicon Day.

Of course Columbus discovered America — a fact which, in itself, makes him neither a hero nor a devil

Look, people… If it makes you happy, Columbus was wrong, the Bugs Bunny version notwithstanding.

Yeah, the Earth was round, as every educated person of his day knew. Only low-information types thought otherwise. But the scholars of the day also knew how big the Earth was, and why Columbus’ idea of sailing west to get to the East Indies was a pipe dream.

But because he was dumb enough to insist on proving his point, he accidentally discovered the New World — and almost no other development in human history has had such wide-reaching consequences, for good or ill.

Consequently, I consider efforts to downplay his “discovery” of the New World a bit on the silly side. Such as this reference in an interesting piece by the NYT’s Brent Staples:

It also tied Italian-Americans closely to the paternalistic assertion, still heard today, that Columbus “discovered” a continent that was already inhabited by Native Americans….

Allow me to make a “paternalistic assertion.” Yep, he did discover America. And everything that has happened since arises from that fact.

A digression…

Right now, I’m reading the book Guns, Germs and Steel, and it’s fascinating. Basically, it attempts to determine the underlying factors that caused certain parts of the world to be “discovered,” and ultimately dominated by, people from other parts of the world.

The whole book aims to answer a question posed to the author by a New Guinean politician named Yali back in the ’70s. When Europeans “discovered” New Guinea a couple of centuries back, the people there were technologically still in the Stone Age. The local people were blown away by the physical artifacts of a modern society — ranging from steel axes to soft drinks — which they referred to collectively as “cargo.” Yali asked the author:

“Why is it that you white people developed so much cargo and brought it to New Guinea, but we black people had little cargo of our own?”

Jared Diamond’s attempts to answer the question are deeply fascinating.

The book spends considerable time on one incident in particular, back in 1532. You may know the story of how Spanish explorer Francisco Pizarro took the Incan emperor prisoner, accepted a ransom from the Incas of a vast amount of gold, and then killed the emperor anyway. Aside from dwelling on some “woke” aspect of this encounter, such as the obvious fact that these Spaniards were a__holes, Diamond asked why it happened this way. In other words, why didn’t Incan emperor Atahuallpa go to Spain, take King Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, prisoner and hold him for ransom? A variation of Yali’s question.

And no, the answer isn’t that Atahuallpa was a nicer guy, or for that matter that American Indians were on the whole nicer than white guys (although again, Pizarro and crew didn’t exactly create a great first impression for the rest of us white guys).

Nor is Diamond satisfied with, the Spaniards had guns and steel swords and horses. The book aims to understand why people from Europe had guns and steel swords and horses. For that, he goes back to when homo sapiens first spread out over the Earth, and in certain places gave up hunting and gathering for farming, and different kinds of farming in different places, and the effects that had on the development of technology an complex political structures, and so on.

I highly recommend the book.

But my point is that, whether you personally see it as a good thing or a bad thing, Columbus’ discovery of America was definitely a thing, and one of the most consequential pivot points of history. If you want to explore just how consequential, I recommend another book, which I’ve recommended before: 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created, by Charles C. Mann.

What happened on Oct. 12, 1492, was monumental, and certainly worth marking with a special observance. It changed the world as almost nothing else that has ever happened did. Where people get all bollixed up is when they try to assign moral value to the event.

I don’t know why people do that. Discovering America doesn’t make Columbus a good guy. It doesn’t really make him a bad guy, either. Some other stuff he did after he got here makes him look pretty bad — especially to someone with a 2019 worldview. But like him or hate him, the thing he did, what he stumbled onto, has enormous global significance. He did something amazing, but it doesn’t make him a hero. Or the devil.

The arrival of Europeans, with their relative immunity to certain diseases like smallpox, had horrific consequences for the native population of this hemisphere. What happened was so horrible that it staggers the imagination: 95 percent of the population died out.

But just as discovering America doesn’t make Columbus a hero (to me at least he was not), he can’t really be blamed for everything that happened to the people who lived here, however badly he may have treated the natives he encountered. (Which was pretty damned badly.) He didn’t say, “Hey, let’s go to China (where he thought he was headed) and infect the local people so they all die out.” In fact, most of the people of this hemisphere died over the next few decades long before they came into contact with whites — the germs spread across these continents much faster than people did. People of European descent didn’t even realize on what scale this happened until quite recently (and to learn more about that, read Mann’s prequel, 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus.)

Of course, people can play games with the word “discovered.” They can say, those Asian people who crossed the land bridge 15,000 years ago “discovered” America, or even say the first Europeans to discover America were actually the Vikings. Or St. Brendan the Navigator. But none of those events opened this side of the world to the other side, mainly because the world wasn’t technologically prepared to bring that about.

So, as a historic event with repercussions for the entire planet, the moment that America got discovered — in the sense of the planet learning of its existence and being affected by it — well, that happened 527 years ago this week.

Feel about it any way you like, but that’s the way things unfolded….

Landing_of_Columbus_(2)

It’s Johnny’s Birthday

Once again, it is John Lennon’s birthday.

I always remember it, and not the other Beatles’ birthdays, not merely because it comes six days after my own. It’s because of Nueve de Octubre, and that looms large because when I was a schoolboy in Ecuador, we always got a whole week off for it — while only getting a day and a half for Christmas.

At the time, I thought that it was Ecuadorean Independence Day. I mean, it would have to be at least that, right — who would take off a whole week for anything less?1024px-Escudo_de_Guayas.svg

But it turns out that it’s only when the province of Guayas, which contained the city of Guayaquil — where I lived — declared its independence from Spain. Not the whole country.

Bonus fact ripped from today’s headlines: Guayaquil is now effectively the capital of Ecuador, since unrest in Quito caused el presidente to have to relocate the seat of government.

Now you know.

Let’s close with one of John’s better songs…

Uh, should we rethink this democracy thing?

He IS known by three letters, but they aren't "AOC"...

He IS known by three letters, but they aren’t “AOC”…

I’ve confessed before that, unlike most American editorialists, I was always kind of ambivalent about urging people to get out to vote. Which made me kind of an iconoclast, if not a heretic.

This simple expression of civic piety (You know the drill: “No matter how you vote, vote!”) tended to stick in my throat, and here’s why: If you have to be goaded to do something as basic to your duty as a citizen as vote, then are you really somebody that I want to see voting?

And today, I’ve received a press release that makes me even more hesitant to urge the average apathetic America to get out there and have just as much a say in who our leaders are as I do. The headline on the email was, “18% of Americans believe AOC authored the New Deal.”

Before you call me a horrible elitist, just look over some of these numbers:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 9th, 2019
MEDIA CONTACT: Connor Murnane
PHONE: (202) 798-5450

America’s Knowledge Crisis: A Survey on Civic Literacy

Washington, DC — A national survey commissioned by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) draws new attention to a crisis in civic understanding and the urgent need for renewed focus on civics education at the postsecondary level.

Some of the alarming results include:

  • 26% of respondents believe Brett Kavanaugh is the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, and 14% of respondents selected Antonin Scalia, who died in 2016.
    • 15% of the college graduates surveyed selected Brett Kavanaugh.
    • Fewer than half correctly identified John Roberts.
  • 18% of respondents identified Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), a freshman member of the current Congress, as the author of the New Deal, a suite of public programs enacted by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930s.
    •  12% of the college graduates surveyed selected Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
  • 63% did not know the term lengths of U.S. Senators and Representatives.
    • Fewer than half of the college graduates surveyed knew the correct answer.
  • 12% of respondents understand the relationship between the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment, and correctly answered that the 13th Amendment freed all the slaves in the United States.
    • 19% of the college graduates surveyed selected the correct answer.

ACTA’s What Will They Learn? report, an assessment of 1,123 general education programs scheduled for release tomorrow, helps to explain America’s civic illiteracy. Our analysis of 2019–2020 course catalogs revealed that only 18% of U.S. colleges and universities require students to take a course in American history or government.

”Colleges have the responsibility to prepare students for a lifetime of informed citizenship. Our annual What Will They Learn? report illustrates the steady deterioration of the core curriculum. When American history and government courses are removed, you begin to see disheartening survey responses like these, and America’s experiment in self-government begins to slip from our grasp,” said Michael Poliakoff, president of ACTA.

The survey was conducted in August by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, and consisted of 15 questions designed to assess respondents’ knowledge of foundational events in U.S. history and key political principles. The respondents make up a nationally representative sample of 1,002 U.S. adults. To view the full survey results, click here >>


ACTA is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to academic freedom, academic excellence, and accountability in higher education. We receive no government funding and are supported through the generosity of individuals and foundations. For more information, visit GoACTA.org, follow us on Facebook or Twitter, and subscribe to our newsletter.

If that doesn’t give you pause about this universal suffrage thing, then you’re not reading it right.

No, I’m not talking about taking away anyone’s right to vote. But data such as this makes me think twice about urging the average non-voter to exercise that right. At least, I hope the ones who credit AOC with the New Deal are non-voters. Ditto with the 63 percent who don’t know how long the terms of senators and House members are, even though that’s not quite as slap-you-in-the-face ignorant as the other thing…

I am appalled that this man represented my country at the D-Day commemoration

1118px-Into_the_Jaws_of_Death_23-0455M_edit

As y’all know, I generally don’t like to let the sixth of June go by without acknowledging it in some way. The events of that day in 1944 stagger the imagination, and loom large in my concept of my country and its place in the world.

It’s not just the bold stroke at dislodging Hitler from the Continent, from the world. For that matter, I’m not even sure it was the decisive battle of the war; I remain too ignorant of the titanic struggles on the Eastern Front to be able to peg that with confidence. Serious students of history can have lively arguments about that.

But it was monumental. In fact, it was, on almost any measurement or any scale, just possibly the most impressive thing the human race has done in one day in the past century. It’s absolutely astounding, not just as the aggregation of personal acts of courage it took, but the fact that human beings worked together that well to do a supremely difficult thing that was eminently worth doing. (So yeah, for me there’s a huge communitarian aspect to it.)

A thing that hope for future freedom depended on to such a degree…

So I like to take note of it, I feel obliged to take note of it, particularly since I live in a world in which far too few people even care about having a concept of historical context, of what it took to form our present existence. And the 75th anniversary, likely the last major milestone that any of those few remaining veterans will see, is particularly important.

But I haven’t written about it before this late hour because I haven’t wanted to share the cloud of negativity that has overshadowed this event for me this week, this year.

All week, we’ve been building up to it. The man this country elected president has been slouching toward Normandy ever since the weekend, spewing his vulgarity, his grossness, his self-absorption and disregard for decency before him like the burning fuel from a flamethrower.

I’ve been so embarrassed for our country that Queen Elizabeth, the prime minister and other dignitaries of the best friend this nation has ever had have been forced, by respect for our relationship, to entertain this supreme vulgarian. The Brits have been doing what decency and respect for friends demands, and the fact that they’re having to lavish all this on Donald J. Trump is our collective fault for electing him.

I’m not going to recite all the mortifying things he’s said and done this week while representing our country among civilized people abroad. Go read about them yourself, here and here and here and on and on. I call your attention in particular to his constant evocation of himself, which is the only person on the planet he cares about.

All that has been bad enough.

But to know that this person was going to head our delegation to the commemoration of the Normandy landings was so much worse.

This was a day for taking stock of our country and what it has stood for, what it has meant to the world back before the ugly resurgence of “America First.”

This was a day for humbly acknowledging Courage and Honor and Duty and Sacrifice. And we sent a man who does not know what those words mean, who does not care that he does not know, a man who in fact is the embodiment of the opposites of those virtues.

Seventy-five years ago, we sent such good men over there, the best we had.

Look what we sent this week.

And yes, yes, I know we sent D-Day veterans as well, and I stand in awe of them. No one, not even Trump, can take the slightest scrap of honor from them. But look who we sent to stand in front of them…

D8ZT_ZxXUAEf2dM

Unlike earlier princes, Baby Archie will always know his place

Shakespeare's earlier version of Game of Thrones.

Shakespeare’s earlier version of Game of Thrones.

I’ve lost track of how many of my ancestors were beheaded, or killed in battles fighting on the wrong side in the real-life Game of Thrones that was medieval Britain. One led a failed rebellion against Bloody Mary. Another, whose name I forget, fell alongside Richard III at Bosworth Field.

I’d search and tell you, but there’s a huge inadequacy in the Ancestry tree database: You can search by people’s names, but if there’s a way to search by cause or place of death, I haven’t found it.

I bore you yet again with my genealogy fetish because the birth of Prince Harry’s baby boy has got me to thinking about royal succession.

The morning Baby Sussex came into the world, I had started the day watching the tail end of the most recent episode of GoT on my Roku while working out on the elliptical. That wasn’t long enough, so I started watching something I recorded awhile back from PBS — Part 1 of Shakespeare’s Henry VI, the version that kicks off the second Hollow Crown series.

I saw the scene in which a group of lords display their allegiances by plucking either a white or red rose from the bushes in a garden in which they’re standing, then go off in a huff to start fighting the Wars of the Roses.

Henry V’s uninspiring offspring sits on the throne, but the Yorkists — also being Plantagenets — have a pretty strong claim to the crown, seeing as how Prince Hal’s Dad had taken it away from their line by force (see Richard II.

But you can make an argument either way, and they did. A lot of people died in the process, including some of my ancestors and almost certainly yours, too.

Today, it’s so simple. We know where Harry’s new son stands in the line of succession — he’s seventh. Nobody disputes this. It’s all so definite, so certain. You can look it up on Wikipedia.

On the one hand, it seems hugely ironic that it’s all so cut-and-dried, now that it doesn’t matter at all who the monarch is. There’s no power in the throne at all.

Of course, on the other hand, I suppose that’s why there’s no controversy about it. Who cares? Why fight about it?

I suppose if the king or queen suddenly had virtually absolute power again, the succession would suddenly become all fuzzy, or at least disputed.

In that alternative universe, 30 years from now young Archie — yes, that’s what his parents have decided to name the new royal — might be drawing his sword against King George, claiming that the crown should have passed to Harry’s line after the untimely death of King William.

I expect that Lord Jughead and Sir Moose would back his claim. But he could not rely on Sir Reggie, Earl of Mantle, who would likely play both sides.

And whether he ended up with Lady Betty or Countess Veronica would depend entirely on which could cement the more important diplomatic alliance…

archies-archonis-story_647_020916061213

That was a big crowd. Not the biggest, but pretty big…

I shot this at 10:43 a.m. If you have a pic of when the crowd was bigger, please share.

I shot this at 10:43 a.m. If you have a pic of when the crowd was bigger, please share.

Apparently, some people weren’t paying attention to what I told them yesterday. Tsk, tsk…

But seriously, folks… I want to thank Norm, and Phillip, and everyone else who cared enough about our schools to turn out for the demonstration today… even though I doubt it will help, and it could even hurt. My view of all this is that what’s going to happen on education is going to happen regardless of demonstrations.

The good news is that lawmakers this year have made more of a good-faith effort to help public schools than I’ve seen in 20 years.

The bad news is that they didn’t get it done this year. Which worries me, because there was so much momentum for it — even Henry, of all people, got on board — and I worry whether the mo will still be there in January.

We’ll see.

But hey, it was a big crowd today. Of course, we all try to mentally compare that to THE big crowd, King Day at the Dome in 2000. And I went hunting for that image, and found it. So here you go…

King Day 2000

Remembering Fritz Hollings

Two great South Carolinians: Fritz Hollings and Lee Bandy. Fritz is probably castigating Lee for what he called 'the Bandy Hurdle,' and Lee is letting it roll off his back.

Two great South Carolinians: Fritz Hollings and Lee Bandy. Fritz is probably castigating Lee for what he called ‘the Bandy Hurdle,’ and Lee is letting it roll off his back.

I was awakened Saturday morning by a notification on my iPhone — Fritz Hollings had died. I didn’t get around to writing something about it that day, or the next day, or the next, because it just seemed like too big a task.

And it was too big a task, remembering Fritz and what he meant to me and other South Carolinians. And I don’t have time to undertake it today, either. So here are some scattered thoughts, rather than a coherent whole:

  • First, he was of that generation — the postwar generation — that believed in using government to get things done. Big things, things that made life better in their state and country. He saw it as his duty. He brought great energy and great intellect to that task, throughout his career. He didn’t let ideology or party or what other people might think of him get in the way of that mission. Young people today by and large don’t know what it was like to have this kind of elected leader, although we still have some around. You know, like Fritz’s younger friend Joe Biden.
  • He may have been the first politician I ever met and shook hands with. Or maybe it was Strom. Or maybe it was a state senator. I just remember being taken by my grandfather to an event in Bennettsville, at the Marboro County Country Club. I was introduced to someone called “the senator.” I can’t remember who it was. Maybe it wasn’t Fritz, because he wasn’t in the Senate until 1966, and surely I’d remember it better if it had been that late. This was probably in the ’50s, so probably Strom. But my point in mentioning it is that he and Strom were both in public office most of my life, and their service extends as far back as I remember and beyond. Say “senator” to me and I picture one of them. Both held some sort of public office well before I was born. And most of that time, they’d have been called “senator.” As in, Boy, shake hands with the senator…
  • Fritz is the reason we have our state technical schools, which in turn are a big reason why we have BMW and other major employers. And the way he got them was so old-school, so pre-Watergate Morality, so whatever-it-takes, so non-21st century, that it is a thing of beauty. Basically, he took a bottle of bourbon with him to visit one of the main obstacles of getting his tech schools passed, Senate Finance Chairman Edgar A. Brown. They drank the bottle together, and when it was empty Fritz had a one-paragraph agreement that founded his tech system. And countless thousands of South Carolinians have benefited.
  • While Hilton Head was booming as a destination for the rich, Fritz Hollings showed the nation aspects of life in South Carolina the Chamber of Commerce wouldn’t have appreciated. Here’s how The New York Times described his “poverty tours” in its obit: “Having grown up in segregated Charleston, attended a segregated college and served in a segregated army, Mr. Hollings had little contact with poor black people and initially opposed civil rights legislation. Guided by N.A.A.C.P. officials, he toured poor black and white areas of his state in 1968 and 1969, and what he saw shocked him: rat-infested slums where families subsisted on grits and greens; children infected with worms, living in shacks without lights, heat or water; a mentally disabled mother of 10 who had never heard of food stamps. ‘There is hunger in South Carolina,’ a solemn Mr. Hollings told a Senate committee. ‘I know as a public servant I am late to the problem,’ adding, ‘We’ve got work to do in our own backyard, just as anybody who’s candid knows he has work in his own backyard, and I’d rather clean it up than cover it up.'” In other words, he faced the real problems of South Carolina without blinking.
  • In the ’80s, the Gramm–Rudman–Hollings Balanced Budget Act constituted the most serious effort to bring the nation’s spending in line with its income in my lifetime. He remained a budget hawk for the rest of his career. When other Democrats were claiming to have produced balanced budgets in the late ’90s, he scoffed — if the budgets were “balanced,” how come the national debt kept growing?
  • They may have named that new bridge after Arthur Ravenel, but I enjoyed this anecdote from my cousin Jason, who remembers how relentless Fritz was in taking every possible opportunity to get South Carolina what it needed: “I drove over the Ravenel Bridge today and remembered Fritz Hollings. When I interned with him, one of my dad’s college buddies was the Deputy Chief of Staff at the White House and was nominated to be Secretary of Transportation. Senator Hollings was the Chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee and would vote to approve the nomination. As I walked out of the Senator’s office to go to the White House to have lunch with Andy Card, the Senator said, ‘Tell Andy Card if he wants my vote, we need a new bridge over the Cooper River. OK boy, go get us that bridge.’ I did, Senator Hollings, I did…”
  • Fritz was known for his, um,  frankness. A lot of people’s favorite story was when he answered a Japanese insult to the American work ethic by suggesting we should draw a mushroom cloud with the caption, “Made in America by lazy and illiterate Americans and tested in Japan.” Another might be when he said to our current governor, “I’ll take a drug test if you’ll take an IQ test.” But my favorite was when he’d just been re-elected after a tough challenge in 1992, and said that now “I don’t have to get elected to a bloomin’ thing. And I don’t have to do things that are politically correct. The hell with everybody. I’m free at last.” Of course, he ran again in 1998 against Bob Inglis, and we voted him in again. You can’t vote a guy like that out of office. People say they like Trump because he’s not “politically correct.” Well, neither was Fritz. But he didn’t sound like an idiot. Therein lies the difference.
  • Fritz was equally frank about what he thought of the press, and his criticism (unlike Trump’s) was right on the money. He fully understood that the press covered politics like sports — ignoring what was important, and yammering endlessly about winning and losing and strategy. My longtime colleague Paul Osmundson shared the picture above of Fritz and our late, dear friend Lee Bandy. Well, Bandy wrote his share of horse-race stories, many while I was his editor. And I well remember the editorial board meetings in which Fritz ripped into Lee for it. The senator complained that he tried and tried to get reporters to write about substantive issues, but “Ah can’t get past THE BANDY HURDLE. THE BANDY HURDLE! All he wants to talk about is who’s up? Who’s down? Who’s winning? Who’s losing? The Bandy hurdle…” And he was right. But don’t blame Lee (who chuckled through these tirades). They all do it. And we editors all share the blame. (This was the bane of my experience with the campaign last year. I wanted to talk about who should be governor and why, and reporters wanted to talk about campaign ad strategy, or which 2020 hopefuls were coming to campaign with us. Yeah, I hear ya, senator…)
  • I first met Joe Biden through Fritz. I’d always wanted to meet him, and since they were friends, one time in the 2000s when I saw Biden was coming to town, I called Fritz to ask him to ask Joe to come by and meet with us. He did, and Joe came by on a Friday afternoon (our hardest workday) and talked for two-and-a-half hours. It was stressful, knowing we’d have to get all those pages out before we left that night, but I enjoyed it, and appreciated that Hollings set it up.
  • I mentioned Bob Inglis. He and Fritz became friends after their contest in ’98. I liked what he said on Facebook: “Over lunch in Charleston in 2015 (we’d long since made up after the 1998 race), Senator Hollings told me that he’d shrunk 2 inches–6’2″ to 6′. I wish I had said, ‘No, Senator, you haven’t shrunk a bit–not in what you’ve meant to SC, not in what you’ve meant to America.’ Farewell, sir.”
  • Speaking of Republicans, when Strom left office and Fritz finally became our senior senator after 36 years, he took Strom’s replacement under his wing. He encouraged Lindsey Graham and had a lot of good things to say about him. I’m thinking he was probably proud of Lindsey when he said all those honest things about Trump back during the 2016 election. And I think he’d be scornful of what Lindsey has become. You’d never, ever have seen Fritz kowtowing to someone like Trump — or to anyone, for that matter.

I’ve got to get back to work. And when I go home tonight, I need to get back to reading Ron Chernow’s book on Alexander Hamilton. I originally got that book because Fritz called (about something else, probably one of his opeds) and told me how wonderful it was, way back when I was still at the paper. Least I can do in the senator’s memory is finish it…

Free lecture: A ‘tunnel rat’ tells about his experiences

Bowman taking the point.

When his unit was on the move, Bowman generally preferred walking point.

As some of y’all may know, I do some communications work for the S.C. Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum, which is actually one of the most fun things I do these days. I do love me some military history.

But while I’m always up on what’s happening there, I keep forgetting to keep y’all in the loop. I know Bryan would have been interested in some of the recent programs, and probably some of the rest of y’all would have as well.

We’re having a particularly interesting lecture tomorrow at noon, so here’s your heads-up, in the form of the press release we sent out about it:

Vietnam War ‘tunnel rat’ to tell his story in free museum lecture

COLUMBIA, S.C. – They were called “tunnel rats.” Their job was to crawl, alone with a flashlight and pistol, into the tight, claustrophobic tunnels that the Vietcong dug to hide in – and kill the enemy.

The job was voluntary. But once a soldier volunteered for the duty once, he became the expert, and again and again, he’d be called on to slither down into the nightmarish dark.

C.W. Bowman of 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, 25th Division, was one of them. He will tell his story on Friday, March 29, at noon at the South Carolina Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum in Columbia. The free lecture, part of the museum’s Lunch and Learn series, is open to the public.

A comrade helps Bowman climb out of a Viet Cong tunnel.

A comrade helps Bowman climb out of a Viet Cong tunnel.

“Once you go in a tunnel, then any time we found another tunnel, they’d say, ‘Hey Bowman!’” he recalls. For a while there was another “rat” in the unit, but then he stepped on a Bouncing Betty mine, after which Bowman had the job exclusively.

“There weren’t that many tunnel rats. It’s not for everybody,” he notes. “You kind of get marked. You get the mystique of kind of being an insane person. Nobody messes with you.”

That’s not all he did that not everyone would want to do. When his unit was on the move, he always preferred to be the point man. “I’d rather walk point than with the noisy people in the back,” he says.

Aside from that, it was another job where experience counted: “I could see things other people wouldn’t see – booby traps and such,” he said. “You develop a sixth sense. You do. You start reverting back to your animalistic instincts.”

Today, when he tells someone he was a tunnel rat, they look him over with doubt in their eyes. That’s because those tunnels were tight, and he now weighs about 225 pounds. “They look at me kinda funny and get a grin on their faces.” So he tells them they’ve probably put on a few pounds in the last 52 years, too. When he was in Vietnam, he weighed 138 pounds, and had a 28-inch waist.

All of that happened during his first tour, from January-December 1967. When he came back for a second tour, “I got a jeep shot out from under me in Saigon.” It was the beginning of the Tet Offensive.

If you look up the Tet Offensive, you’ll realize that was just weeks after his first tour ended. Yes, he says, “I stayed drunk for 30 days and I went back.”

Originally from Bordentown, N.J., C.W. Bowman has called South Carolina home since 1973. He was drafted into the U.S. Army on Aug. 10, 1966, a month shy of his 20th birthday. After his Vietnam service, he was a drill sergeant at Fort Jackson.

He has a lot of interesting stories to tell. Come hear them on March 29.

About the South Carolina Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum

Founded in 1896, the South Carolina Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum is an accredited museum focusing on South Carolina’s distinguished martial tradition through the Revolutionary War, Mexican War, Civil War, Spanish-American War, World Wars I and II, Vietnam, the War on Terror, and other American conflicts. It serves as the state’s military history museum by collecting, preserving, and exhibiting South Carolina’s military heritage from the colonial era to the present, and by providing superior educational experiences and programming. It is located at 301 Gervais St. in Columbia, sharing the Columbia Mills building with the State Museum. For more information, go to https://crr.sc.gov/.

After reading the release, Bowman wondered whether “anybody’d want to come out and hear a crazy man.” I told him they probably would. For my part, I’ve been fascinated speaking with him about his experiences over the phone, and look forward to meeting him. I hope to see some of y’all there.

Bowman as a drill sergeant at Fort Jackson, after his Vietnam service.

Bowman as a drill sergeant at Fort Jackson, after his Vietnam service.

Top Five ACTUAL National Emergencies

Spanish Flu Pandemic

Spanish Flu Pandemic

As the man who is, to our everlasting shame, president of the United States makes a mockery of the concept, I thought I’d start a discussion of actual national emergencies from our history.

It’s not that easy. I’m sure I’m forgetting something big, but just to get the ball rolling, here’s my quick-and-dirty list of Top Five Actual National Emergencies:

  1. Civil War — I could have said Secession or the Dred Scott decision or the Nullification Crisis, but I’m just wrapping it all together under one heading.
  2. Cuban Missile Crisis — An alternative might be “Berlin Wall Crisis,” but this seems to be the one when a nuclear exchange seemed most likely.
  3. World War II — Not sure whether this should make the short list because the United States’ existence wasn’t threatened the way Britain’s and France’s and so many other countries’ were. But for those living through it, things looked pretty dark in December 1941. In terms of response to a crisis, the nation rose to this one as it did in the 1860s.
  4. Spanish Flu Pandemic — Exactly a century ago, it killed more people than there were military deaths in both World War I and II. Of course, it was worldwide, and not just national, but I included it anyway.
  5. Stock Market Crash, 1929 — I know it was just about money and all, but it was a biggie.

Honorable mention:

  • Burning of Washington, 1814 — Kind of a low point — I mean, the president fled and the Brits burned the White House — but I went back and forth as to whether it should make the list.
  • 9/11, 2001 — We’re still kind of reeling from this one.
  • Watergate — The Constitution withstood a test, and we passed with flying colors. But Americans’ trust in their government has continued to wither.
The burning of Washington.

The burning of Washington.

How’re you doing on those resolutions?

I'm back to reading The Guns of August...

I’m back to reading The Guns of August…

Come on, be honest. Here, I’ll tell a story on myself to give you courage…

I got some Cromer’s peanut brittle in my Christmas stocking (yes, my wife and I do stockings for each other), and it was awesome. I have a diet-related resolution, but allowed an exemption for finishing the stuff in my stocking, which I’m making progress on. But the exemption didn’t cover this: Today I left the office and went and bought another bag of it at Cromer’s. Then, I opened the bag for dessert after eating lunch at my desk. The cellophane accidentally ripped in a way that made it hard to close the bag, so I ate it all.

Fortunately, none of my resolutions dealt specifically with peanut brittle. No, wait. I just remembered that peanuts are banned on a paleo diet, and going paleo was my diet-related resolution.

Oh, well. I won’t do that again. And I’m still going to try to go paleo, going forward. And mostly I’ve been doing well. I haven’t had grits once, and it’s been a whole week, so get outta my face.

Anyway, I’ve got another, more interesting resolution that I hope will lead to some fun posts this year: I’ve decided only to read books I haven’t read before.

That means no more going back and reading Master and Commander over and over. Or Red Storm Rising (actually, I just skim through it to read about the Air Force guy and the three Marines in Iceland), or The Dirty Dozen, or Stranger in a Strange Land, or The Ipcress File, or Dune, or any of the other dogeared things I will pick up and entertain myself with for a few moments, without expanding my mind one whit.

I’ve got a house full of books that I thought I wanted to read and asked loved ones to give me as gifts, and I’m going to start reading them. I’ve started by returning to Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August. I had bogged down at the start of the part when the Russians mobilized, which was just one cock-up after another (no wonder they had a revolution).

Then, I’ll return to Alexander Hamilton, which I put down right after the Revolutionary War. And while I’m on a Chernow kick, I’m going to dive into Grant. Or maybe I’ll allow myself some fiction between the two.

I’ll be sharing with you what I read.

Meanwhile, do any of y’all have any good resolutions? How are you coming with them?

Some of my many unread books.

Some of my many unread books.

Doonesbury addressed the problem satirically in 1974

A discussion we were having earlier about losing our confidence as a nation made me think of a series of Doonesbury strips from 1974.

Amazingly, I found the exact strips I was seeking on the web. I hope whoever holds the copyright will regard this as Fair Use (it certainly seems so to me).

The characters of the strip are having a costume party. Here’s the first strip:

best1

That was followed the next day by this:

best 2

You can see the same point elaborated upon by the third strip, below.

We were talking previously about how the main character in “The Newsroom,” which I had belatedly started watching, bemoaned the lost greatness of our country, saying in part, ““We built great, big things, made ungodly technological advances, explored the universe, cured diseases and we cultivated the world’s greatest artists AND the world’s greatest economy. We reached for the stars, acted like men. We aspired to intelligence, we didn’t belittle it. It didn’t make us feel inferior….””

And I wondered:

And why don’t we do stuff like that any more? Why did we lose our confidence? Was it just Vietnam, or what?

Well, it seems that way back in 1974, Trudeau was sort of saying, yeah, that was it. And saying it in a way that would probably please no one.

Think about what an edgy thing that was to do back in 1974, with the war still going on — but after the U.S. had disengaged militarily (No, Virginia, the war did not “end” when we stopped fighting it.)

No wonder so many papers ran it on the editorial page. There were no other comics like that. And few editorial cartoonists could match this kind of depth and subtlety.

And think about the irony in the message Trudeau was laying out — among the folks who loved his strip (as opposed to the legions who hated it — the real reason so many papers put it in editorial), it was axiomatic that the Vietnam War was an awful thing, that our having gotten involved there was a blot on the national reputation.

And yet here the cartoonist was mourning what we had lost when the enterprise failed. I thought these strips were great at the time, but I wonder now what others thought of them.

In any case, it’s impressive…

bummer

Why do people expect history to be so simple?

The Post and Courier this week reports on the latest Winthrop Poll, which finds that South Carolinians “remain divided” over what Civil War monuments and Confederate symbols “even mean.”

“Even” as though knowing what they “mean” is a simple matter. That point is mentioned in the lede, but the story doesn’t get back to it until the last graf:

While half of all respondents said they view the Confederate battle flag as a symbol of Southern pride, a sharp racial divide still exists. The Winthrop poll found 55 percent of whites view it as Southern pride but 64 percent of African Americans view it as a symbol of racial conflict….

Well, I’ve got news for you: Everybody’s right. It is a symbol of “Southern pride.” It is also a symbol of racial conflict. The two things are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they are inextricably linked. As I wrote in 2015, just before the flag came down from the State House grounds:

And what did the flag mean? We know. Oh, news reports will affect that priggish, pedantic neutrality peculiar to the trade: “Some people see the flag as meaning this; some see it as meaning that.” But we know, don’t we? It is a way white South Carolinians — some of us, anyway — have had of saying that, despite Appomattox and the civil rights movement: We can do this. We don’t care about you or how you feel about it.

It was a way of telling the world whose state this is

There you have it: both pride and racial conflict.

Oh, and was I saying there was no such thing as a different sort of pride, that in the martial manliness of one’s ancestors? No. That’s all mixed up in there, too. Not that that makes it innocent. Pride is, with good reason, listed as first and most serious of the Seven Deadly Sins. So, you know, not necessarily something to puff your chest out about.

The fact that people do feel so proud of or validated by their ancestors puzzles me. I don’t feel better or worse about myself because I’m descended from Charlemagne (as is, statistically, every person of European ancestry on the planet). I do get a kick out of tracing how I’m descended from him (several ways, in fact, which is also unremarkable), generation by generation. It’s a puzzle, and fun to solve. But am I a better person for being directly descended from him, or from Henry II, or William the Conqueror? Of course not. In fact, while I may not be quite as hostile to monarchy as Mark Twain, I believe there is at least some historical basis for Huck Finn’s assertion that “all kings is mostly rapscallions, as fur as I can make out.”

Queens, too, as I was reminded when I went to see “The Favourite” at the Nickelodeon over the weekend. (Or at least, it was true of those around the queen.) As Huck explained, “Take them all around, they’re a mighty ornery lot. It’s the way they’re raised.” Or perhaps more relevantly, as Hank Morgan said, “Yes, Guenever was beautiful, it is true, but take her all around she was pretty slack.” (One of my favorite Twain lines ever, a perfect example of his way of dragging down romantic pretension with modern matter-of-factness.)

Nor, of course, do I feel bad about myself to be distantly related to such people. I don’t feel responsible for who they were or what they did in the slightest.

Anyway, back to the Confederacy and how we remember it…

That these symbols are about black and white, in the skin color sense, is undeniable. But it’s an error to view them as black or white in the sense of being all this or all that. The world is a more complicated place.

And yet, even smart people are pulled toward trying to make everything all one way or the other.

General Stan McChrystal seems to think so. He thinks you’ve got to go all one way or all the other, as he wrote in The Washington Post recently. His column started this way:

Lee mugFrom my earliest days, Robert E. Lee felt close at hand. I attended Washington-Lee High School in Arlington, Va., and began my soldier’s life at Lee’s alma mater, the U.S. Military Academy. Today, if Lee still lived in his childhood home in Alexandria, Va., we would be neighbors. So it felt appropriate, when I was a young Army lieutenant, that my wife bought me an inexpensive painting of the famed Southern warrior. And from the wall of the many quarters we occupied over 34 years, Lee’s portrait was literally watching over me. Through the lens of military history and our seemingly parallel lives, he was my hero — brilliant, valiant and loyal….

And then, two grafs later, he says:

In the summer of 2017, my wife, Annie, urged me to take down the picture. Disgusted by the images of hate and white supremacy that had descended on Charlottesville in the form of angry, torch-bearing men, she felt that Lee’s picture risked offending guests to our home by sending an unintended message of agreement with the protesters who had sought to preserve a statue of the Marble Man. Initially, I argued that Lee was an example of apolitical loyalty and stoic adherence to duty. But as days passed, I reflected on the way that Lee’s legacy looked to people who hadn’t grown up with my perspective or my privilege. So, on an otherwise unremarkable Sunday morning, I took the painting off the wall and sent it on its way to a local landfill for its final burial. Hardly a hero’s end….

Hardly, indeed.

What do I think? I think if one entertains frequently, one should not have a portrait of Lee hanging where guests would see it, because while a picture is worth a thousand words, they may be different words to different people, and your intent in displaying the image could be wildly misunderstood. And most of us prefer not to be misunderstood.

But consigning it to the trash seems a bit extreme. And I’m not sure what it accomplished. His guests wouldn’t know he had had a portrait of Lee but had thrown it away — unless he told them, which seems a rather priggish, preening, self-congratulatory thing to do. Otherwise, it’s a personal act, and personal statement. And one would think that the respect for Lee that McChrystal had harbored all his life up to that point would keep him from doing such a thing.

I actually have a similar anecdote to tell. Our editorial board room — at least, that’s what we called it back when there was an editorial board — was decorated with past leaders of The State, all from pre-Knight Ridder days, when it was a family owned paper. One of those gents from bygone days wore a small Confederate Flag pin on his lapel.

Occasionally, I would call guests’ attention to it. I wasn’t too worried about them thinking we were neo-Confederates ourselves, given our unmistakable position regarding that flag. I just appreciated the irony, and invited them to do so as well. Eventually, one of our publishers decided to remove it. And I thought that was fine, too. Whether it was there or not did not affect me or who I was or what I thought. But I’m fairly sure he didn’t throw it in the trash. I think it ended up in an unused office, leaning against a wall among unneeded furniture. I don’t know what happened to it since then.

Anyway, I don’t understand why McChrystal thought it had to be one way or the other: Lee all good or Lee all bad. Seems to me it would be more accurate, and more nourishing to the mind, to regard him as one of the most remarkable and fascinating people in our history.

But there it is, that compulsion to see things as all one way or the other.

Let me drag in one more thing — something of a digression — and then I’ll be done.

The same newspaper ran a different item that touched upon this same phenomenon.

It was headlined (at least, in the iPad version I read — other versions treated it more as a subhed) “The Confederacy was built on slavery. How can so many Southern whites still believe otherwise?

It was a long-form magazine piece that involved the reporter following a committed neo-Confederate named Frank Earnest (a name that on its own had to make him an irresistible subject to the reporter and his editors) over the course of a year.

This sort of describes the relationship of the writer and his subject during that year:

As we got better acquainted that week, he explained to me why he thought the Civil War happened, beginning with his core belief that slavery wasn’t the main reason for the conflict. Instead, he argued, secession was a constitutionally permissible response to years of unfair tariffs and taxes imposed on the South by a tyrannical federal government.

Frank considers most journalists to be misguided liberals, and he said he wouldn’t be surprised if I harbored anti-Confederate sentiments. I told him, politely, that the narrative he believes in is an ancient load of bull — that it was promoted by the Confederacy’s adult offspring, the architects of Jim Crow, to burnish their fathers’ legacy and help foster the rebirth of legalized white supremacism in late-19th-century Dixie. Frank said nah, that’s not true. So I said I’d let him tell me his side of the story. I said, “You can explain to me why I’m wrong.”…

Frank tried, and of course failed. His problem is that the facts are not on his side. Just a quick glance through South Carolina’s official declaration of the causes for secession will tell anyone with an open mind that. You don’t have to read it all. Just count the number of times “slave” appears in the document. I’ll go ahead and tell you: 18 times. It was kind of, you know, on their minds.

You may find the piece interesting, particularly as it deals with some of our struggles here in SC over the flag.

But speaking of flags, there was one disturbing thing about the piece. The writer repeatedly referred to the “Stars and Bars” when he apparently meant what we commonly call the battle flag or naval jack, the one dominated by the St. Andrew’s Cross.

One of the most maddening things about debating with neo-Confederates is that they suppose we are ignorant about the “War of Northern Aggression.” In their view, we believe it was about slavery because we just don’t know the facts. They’re wrong, of course, but it would be nice if people who presume to write long pieces in major national publications about how wrong the poor benighted Southerners are would get basic facts right.

I thought about writing to the guy to point out his error, but I knew I’d come across as one of those obsessed neo-Confeds myself unless I did a lot of explaining, and I didn’t feel like it, so I didn’t. And I didn’t need to — someone, possibly Frank Earnest himself — set him straight, so the piece is now accompanied with this editor’s note:

Correction: In an earlier version of this story, the term Stars and Bars was used to refer to the most commonly acknowledged Confederate flag. In fact, Stars and Bars refers to a different Confederate flag.

Duh. Meanwhile, Frank Earnest is more sure than ever that them libs who run down the Confederacy just don’t know the facts. Sheesh…

The flag commonly known as the "Stars and Bars."

The flag commonly known as the “Stars and Bars.”

No, seriously, Nikki: I’ve been tuning it out, too

My response this morning to a headline about Nikki Haley may have come across as mocking, or at least facetious:

But the truth is, I HAVE been tuning it out. Or at least, not tuning it in.

Last night, I dropped in as usual to check on my parents, and they were doing something I never do — watching network TV news — and my mother said something about Cohen being sentenced to prison, while none of the others in all this mess had to do time… and I said I didn’t think that was right. I thought I’d heard the other day on the radio that someone had just finished serving a brief sentence and was getting out…

But I couldn’t name the guy. And I really wasn’t sure about it. It was something I had half-heard, without actively listening… although I tend to have good retention of stuff I heard without paying attention — it’s the secret to how I got through school.

When I hear the name of the guy who just got out of jail, I picture this guy. So don't go by me on this...

When I hear the name of the guy who just got out of jail, I picture this guy. So don’t go by me…

(For the purposes of this post, I did a little Googling. Apparently, four people have been sentenced to time behind bars. This was the guy who just got out, after a ridiculously short sentence — 12 days. I can’t tell you anything else about him. Whenever I hear his name, I picture this guy, so don’t go by me.)

Here’s the thing: The whole enterprise seems kind of pointless to me. I mean, I think the Mueller investigation needs to continue, for very serious reasons: We need to know all we can about the Russian effort to disrupt our elections — the 2016 one and especially future ones. We need to get a LOT more savvy about that stuff, and stop being so absurdly gullible as a people.

But I’m not terribly optimistic that that’s going to happen in a post-truth America.

And anyway, I sense that the reason other people pay so much attention to this investigation and its resultant prosecutions is that they think it has bearing on Donald Trump’s fate.

It doesn’t, near as I can can see. If you’re counting on, say, impeachment, dream on. Impeachment is a political act, and the Senate is in thrall to Trump. And even if the Dems had succeeded in capturing the Senate, impeachment would not have been a viable option. It probably would have exacerbated the sickness in our body politic that produced Trump.

The political significance of the Cohen prosecution has nothing to do with violation of campaign finance laws. It has to do with him paying off a porn star at Trump’s behest. That’s something we knew before the election, and it had zero effect on the people who voted for him. As it continues to do.

That’s how low we have sunk as a country. And you might say my dropping of names of Watergate figures was an act of nostalgia on my part, a longing for a time when facts mattered, and the nation had standards.

I watched “All the President’s Men” again the other night. Such a wonderful film, on so many levels. The wistfulness I feel watching it goes far beyond remembering the days when newspapers were healthy and vital. It goes to a time when, if the public learned that people in and around high public office did bad things, that was it.

Once it reached the Oval Office, and the non-denial denials weren’t working any more, Nixon was toast. And being the master politician he was, he knew that. So he resigned. And in retrospect we can see that maybe he did so in part because of something missing today — a sense of honor, a wish to avoid putting the country through the trauma of impeachment.

We didn’t lose that all at once. It took time. And Democrats who congratulate themselves on still having standards should remember that 20 years ago one of their own did NOT resign, despite having been caught in impeachable acts, including brazenly lying to the American people.

Things are worse now, of course. Facts at least still mattered a bit in 1998. They don’t now, with a shockingly large portion of the electorate.

I appreciate what Mueller is trying to do, and I appreciate him, as sort of the last Boy Scout, a guy who still believes in the importance of facts.

But I just can’t get interested enough to follow the details. So I’m like Nikki there…

 

 

The Three Musketeers (plus Beth Bernstein)

Joel Lourie, James Smith, Beth Bernstein and Vincent Sheheen pose before portrait of the late Sen. Isadore Lourie.

Joel Lourie, James Smith, Beth Bernstein and Vincent Sheheen pose before portrait of the late Sen. Isadore Lourie.

Joel Lourie texted me  this picture taken at the Lourie Center on the day of the primaries.

My reaction: “The Musketeers and their lady friend. And your Dad!”

Back when Joel and James Smith were first in the House in the ’90s, I used to refer to them as “the Hardy Boys,” partly because of their youth (Cindi Scoppe and I referred privately to Smith as “young James” and of course we knew Joel’s father before we knew him) but because they were inseparable allies, always working together, whatever the issue. On more than one occasion, I’d be interviewing one when he got a phone call from the other one.

Then, about the time Joel moved to the Senate, the duo became the Three Musketeers with the addition of Vincent Sheheen.

Then, starting sometime before Joel’s retirement from the Senate, Beth Bernstein became part of the group.

I don’t have a nickname for the four of them, but Joel does. Noting that back in the ’70s his Dad Isadore and other Richland County Democrats used to refer to themselves as “the Home Team,” Joel titles this photo “the New Home Team with the original coach.”

Whatever you call them, they’re a happy crew after the results of Tuesday’s voting came in…

Good for you, John Brennan…

I very much appreciated this column today from John Brennan, former director of Central Intelligence, headlined “I will speak out until integrity returns to the White House.” An excerpt:

My first visit to the Oval Office came in October 1990, when I was a 35-year-old CIA officer. Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had invaded Kuwait two months before, and President George H.W. Bush wanted to discuss the implications of a U.S.-led military coalition that would ultimately push the Iraqis out.

John Brennan

John Brennan

I remember the nervousness I felt when I entered that room and met a president of the United States for the first time. By the time the meeting ended, his intellectual curiosity, wisdom, affability and intense interest in finding the best policy course to protect and promote U.S. interests were abundantly evident.

Over the next quarter-century, I returned to the Oval Office several hundred times during the administrations of Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. The jitters that accompanied my first Oval Office visit dissipated over time, but the respect, awe and admiration I held for the office of the presidency and the incumbents never waned. The presidents I directly served were not perfect, and I didn’t agree with all of their policy choices. But I never doubted that each treated their solemn responsibility to lead our nation with anything less than the seriousness, intellectual rigor and principles that it deserved. Many times, I heard them dismiss the political concerns of their advisers, saying, “I don’t care about my politics, it’s the right thing to do.”

The esteem with which I held the presidency was dealt a serious blow when Donald Trump took office. Almost immediately, I began to see a startling aberration from the remarkable, though human, presidents I had served. Mr. Trump’s lifelong preoccupation with aggrandizing himself seemed to intensify in office, and he quickly leveraged his 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. address and his Twitter handle to burnish his brand and misrepresent reality.

Presidents throughout the years have differed in their approaches to policy, based on political platforms, ideologies and individual beliefs. Mr. Trump, however, has shown highly abnormal behavior by lying routinely to the American people without compunction, intentionally fueling divisions in our country and actively working to degrade the imperfect but critical institutions that serve us….

I’ll have to stop excerpting there because I suspect I’m already pushing the outside of that ol’ envelope on Fair Use.

Suffice to say that eventually he notes that people question why he keeps speaking out on this subject. They seem to think it’s not fitting for a career intelligence officer to be mixing in politics this way.

Those people don’t get it. And the amazing thing to me is that there are so many people who still don’t get it. They think this is politics as usual — sometimes your guy wins, sometimes the other guy wins.

That’s why we need people such as Brennan who are outside the stupid Democrats-vs.-Republicans game to tell us that the problem we face right now is most assuredly NOT about that game.

For the first time in the history of our nation, the most powerful position in the world is held by a grossly unqualified, unfit, unstable man with no priorities but serving himself and what he perceives to be his personal interests. For the first time in living memory and probably ever, our chief magistrate is a person that devoted public servants such as Brennan cannot possibly respect.

And that has to be said again and again until the people who don’t get that — and amazingly, such people are legion — finally do get it…

The ghost of Tom Wolfe in New Yorker editor’s early work

I just sort of ran across this by accident the other day, and enjoyed discovering it.

I was thinking about Daniel Patrick Mohnihan, someone I admired greatly. And for whatever reason, I was thinking about stories I used to hear about his drinking. So I Googled it.

And I ran across this profile from 1986. It mentions rumors of drinking, but only in passing. That’s not why I’m sharing it. I’m sharing it because I thought, wow, here was a journalist who was even more impressed with Tom Wolfe than I was. The piece begins:

Has teevee land ever seen a man so tickled as Daniel Patrick Moynihan?DanielPatrickMoynihan

As he describes the plight of the American family to Phil Donahue, the senator’s knees lock and his shoe tips wag. His bushy brows hump up like two millipedes on a twig, then ascend to his thatchy forelock. When the audience applauds him, Moynihan applauds back. And as the clapping flattens into a roar, his mouth goes pursy, forming a fleshy Irish rose.

His daughter Maura — late of Harvard and the rock group the Same — has seen the look before. “Dad’s mouth gets like that when he’s happy,” she says.

After the show, Moynihan lumbers toward the elevator. He is a towering sight — 6 feet 4 inches — and surprisingly trim. He is one of those men whose waggy midlife jowls make them seem far heavier than they are.

“Saddle up, children!” he yells tinnily, and the entourage shuffles over to meet him. There is something antique, something mythological about Moynihan. The theater he has become — the herky-jerky Anglo-speech, the bow tie slightly askew, the tweedy caps and professorial rambles — they all make him seem vaguely not there, a figure not of the present but of an unreal history, an American Edmund Burke taking dominion on the Hill….

So who was this writer who so ably impersonated the Cool-Write King himself?

Well, it was David Remnick, who has been editor of The New Yorker for the past 20 years, back during his Washington Post days.

Anyway, I enjoyed reading it and thought I would share…

Something off-putting about those ‘patriotic’ uniforms

unis 1

I thought about posting this on Memorial Day itself, but decided to wait.

For me — a guy who’s all about some patriotism and support for the military (and if there’s a spectator sport I love, it’s baseball) — there’s something off-putting about those special uniforms MLB players donned over the holiday weekend.

It’s not just that it’s so contrived, such a cheesy, sterile form of tribute to men who died in the blood and noise and fury and filth and noise of battle. They did not wear clean, white uniforms with camouflage numbers. They did not wear caps that look as much like what a deer hunter would wear as anything you’d see on a soldier.

But there’s also something… decadent, something last-days-of-Rome about it.

Of course, I’m guilty of romanticizing baseball. I think of it in very anachronistic terms as a humble, pastoral game played by plain men who did it for the love of the sport, guys who maybe had one uniform to their names, and that uniform made of wool that caused them to roast in the summer sun. (And they liked it, as Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man would say.)

I just can’t help thinking of all the money spent on these uniforms that these players will probably wear only once. Which makes me think about how much — way too much — money there is in professional sports today, so much that vast sums can be thrown away on PR gestures that, as I said above, seem inadequate to the kind of tribute our war dead deserve.

I’m not blaming MLB here. This occurs in a context in which the fans, the entire society, seem to have lost all sense of materialistic restraint.

You, too, can have a genuine copy of the jersey your hero wore for one game for only $119.99. Or, if you’ve really lost your marbles and have more money than anyone needs, you can have the actual jersey that a player wore, for $2,125! Unless someone with priorities even further out of whack outbids you!

It just all seems kind of nuts to me. And vaguely offensive. Does this make any sense to anyone?

distasteful