Category Archives: In Our Time

My speech to the Naval Academy alumni

There are no pictures from my talk, so, since this was a naval group, here's a picture of a ship -- one my Dad served in, long ago, USS Noa.

There are no pictures from my talk, so, since this was a naval group, here’s a picture of a ship — one my Dad served in, long ago, USS Noa.

Today at noon at the Palmetto Club, I spoke to the Midlands Chapter of the United States Naval Academy Alumni Association.

It’s a good group, consisting of a bunch of former naval officers (including one admiral), and they let me speak about whatever I wanted, although I understand that what most groups want me to talk about is politics and/or the media.

I like to keep my remarks short because I prefer to devote as much time as possible to questions — not because I’m generous about answering questions, because I simply feel more comfortable doing that. When I’m answering questions, I know I’m talking about something that interests my audience, and I can do it all day it you let me. So I relax.

But I have to prepare some remarks, and this time I went a bit overboard, leaving time for only about four questions (each of which I answered at length, of course). I really need to time myself on these things going forward, to increase Q&A time.

Here’s what I had written down, and — after some off-the-cuff remarks about today’s news about The State‘s new publisher — I read most of it, with a few tangents. So, since I don’t like to spend time writing anything without publishing it, here are my notes:

US Naval Academy Alumni Assoc of the Midlands
Thursday 19 April at noon

We are living in a strange time.

It’s a time when everyone is more closely connected than ever, at least on a superficial level, but we are being blown apart by the very factors that allow us to connect.

Distrust of institutions, distrust of the ideas that have animated our country and given it meaning from the beginning. Distrust of expertise. Distrust of facts, distrust of reality.

There’s a quote attributed to Daniel Patrick Moynihan, one of the most thoughtful people to grace our politics in the second half of the 20th century. He said:

“Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.”

At the time when he said it, it was just an assertion of common sense. People repeated the quote because it so succinctly stated a basic truth. We congratulated ourselves on understanding this. We knew what a fact was, and we knew what an opinion was, and we had a general agreement on where the dividing line was between the two.

No more.

Growing up when I did, in the postwar world, I was fortunate to live in a time when we all had a shared daily source of facts – the newspaper.

Newspapers in America started life as disreputable things, at least by the standards in place by the time I came along. They existed to push partisan points of view. In the first years of our republic, the papers run by Hamilton’s Federalists existed to tear down Jefferson and Madison’s Democratic-Republicans, and vice-versa. And there were no boundaries.

Journalism continued to be wild and wooly throughout the 19th century, and in many places, well into the 20th. But then they started to get “respectable.” They started trying to treat Democrats and Republicans fairly and impartially and at arm’s length on the news pages, and keep opinion strictly confined to the editorial page. And increasingly, to be nonpartisan on the editorial page as well.

I’d like to say that this happened out of nobility, but there was also a selfish factor at work: Publishers figured out they could make more money if everybody – Democrats, Republicans and independents – read their papers. So objectivity became the order of the day.

And it had a good effect, to the extent that people’s understanding of public life was formed by newspapers, and to a great extent it was: Everyone, regardless of their political views, had a shared set of facts to work from. Everyone was entitled to his opinion as to what to DO in light of the facts, but the facts belonged to everybody, and were no respecters of persons.

We all tacitly accepted what my favorite Founding Father, John Adams, had said: “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”

However fiercely we might have held and expressed our opinions, they rested on a shared belief in the same facts, the same reality. And however wrong we believed them to be, we were able to respect other people’s rights to THEIR opinions.

And while our debates, and our elections, were lively, they were civil.

Facts were things presented to us by experts, by people trained to understand what was important, to investigate it, and to present it in an easily understood format. (talk about what editors went through in deciding how to present the news [this turned into a lengthy digression, talking about stuff like this]). Their ability to make these decisions and follow through on them in a hurry was honed in a hard school, daily, over years of pressure.

And they tended to come up with the same facts, and presented them very similarly. (My experience comparing on a daily basis in the 80s.)

Now, nobody needs an editor. Let me correct that. Actually, one of the old truisms of journalism is that everybody needs an editor, all the time. But we have technology today that fools people into thinking they don’t need an editor. Now, everyone is his own editor, and publisher.

This is very democratic – small d. It’s also the way madness lies, because nowadays, everyone is persuaded that he is indeed entitled to his own facts, and everyone else’s facts are “fake news.”

The “news,” as many people experience it, is no longer curated by people who have an understanding of what is important. Worse, there is no skeptical editor telling the reporter, “You don’t have that story nailed down, so I’m not running it.” Not on many of the “news” platforms of today. Not on Facebook. Not on Twitter. (And I can say that even though I love Twitter, which I can elaborate on later if you care.) And not on the plethora of websites out there that exist to cater to your preferred version of reality.

This has driven our national politics, the level most susceptible to these forces, mad. From the left to the right, although the rightward version currently holds power. And the madness is seeping down to the state level.

I could give a lot of examples of this, but I’ll give one: sanctuary cities. The number-one legislative priority of the governor of our state these days is to pass a law against “sanctuary cities” in South Carolina. Never mind that there ARE no sanctuary cities in South Carolina; the governor wants to force cities to actively PROVE that they are not sanctuary cities – in other words, he would accomplish nothing but increase the amount of stupid, pointless, bureaucratic red tape in government.

Reality doesn’t matter. Facts don’t matter, in a new world in which people choose their own facts.

Before I open up to questions, I want to point out that our problem with personal-preference facts isn’t entirely a creation of the Internet. There are a lot of other unfortunate trends of recent decades that have brought us to this divided state.

To pick on another medium, before the Web there was 24-7 cable TV “news,” and now there’s more of it than ever.

This had two very bad effects on the country.

First, it elevated local news into national news. Once, news directors only needed to fill half an hour. Now, they have to fill 24 hours, and they’ll use any “news” they can get their hands on. So it is that stories of weird, disturbing crimes and small-time public corruption – things that would never have been reported beyond a local news market — became national news stories. Accordingly, people think the world is much more menacing and corrupt than they used to think, because they’re exposed to much more of it.

This makes people distrustful of everyone and everything – the streets aren’t safe! they’re all crooks! – and they no longer perceive the most important thing that should be understood about news: News is the unusual, the weird, the departure from the norm. Increasingly, people think what they see on sensationalized TV news IS the norm. Because it’s on ALL THE TIME!

Secondly, no matter how hard they try, these stations can’t come up with 24 hours of NEWS news. So they fill the rest with opinion. It might be an interview with an “expert,” or a panel of highly opinionated talking heads yelling at each other. In any case, increasingly the viewer ceases to distinguish between this yacking and NEWS. Worse, increasingly, people who watch this stuff begin to tar real journalists with the same brush. They think everybody’s pushing an angle, even when they’re reporting the news straight.

I could keep on, but I won’t. I’d like to hear your questions, so we can talk about what interests YOU….

My initial inspiration for my topic was this column from earlier in the week by David Brooks, about how in this age of hyperconnectivity, loneliness is at an all-time high in our society. But as you can see, I digressed from that almost immediately. To correct that, I threw in an elaboration on his theme. Brooks’ column is better, of course, because it’s a column, rather than rambling notes…

The parting gift I got for speaking. It will look great with some rum and ginger ale in it.

The parting gift I got for speaking. It will look great with some rum and ginger ale in it.

Again, what is WITH people who worship celebrities?

Yes, that headline is a blast from my past, from my earliest blogging days, when I looked at this picture of some Michael Jackson fans waiting breathlessly for news of a verdict in his 2005 trial on child molestation charges.michael_jackson_fans

I didn’t get it then, and I don’t get it now. Yeah, I can understand someone liking the guy’s music, and being amazed by his dance moves earlier in his career.

But to care about somebody you don’t even know to that degree? How do people get to be that way? What is missing in people that they try to fill the void with celebrity worship?

Anyway, I was reminded of it after running across one item after another about an allegedly (I can’t seem to find video of it, so I can’t confirm its awesomeness) awesome performance by Beyoncé over the weekend. The web is filled with headlines such as “Beyoncé makes history at Coachella” and “What It Was Like to Be in the Audience for Beyoncé’s Historic Coachella Show.”

In my effort to understand this no doubt amazing event, I first had to look up “Coachella,” because I had never heard of it before — something that amazes my wife, by the way, but there it is. To me, it sounded like a name the Disney people would give to a wicked stepmother/sorceress sort of villainess. Like “Cruella De Vil.”

I’m hip. I’m with it. I’ve heard of Bonnaroo. But this was a new one on me. So I’ll just have to take others’ word for how “historic” — how like Caesar crossing the Rubicon, and the 13th Amendment, and the Yalta Conference — this event was. I am, however, willing to learn — if someone can direct me to video of the lady’s stupendous performance.

It would have to be historic, for onlookers to wear expressions such as these (sorry about linking to it rather than showing it, but I can’t afford Getty’s prices). Those folks look like they are witnesses to the Transfiguration, and are as overwhelmed and addled by it as Simon Peter was. (I found that picture on an NYT piece headlined “Beyoncé and the End of Respectability Politics,” which I was tricked into reading by the fact that it was in the Opinion part of my NYT app.)

Someone will no doubt point to some cultural touchstone from my own youth, and say something like, “Look at how audiences reacted to the Beatles!” But that will not score many points, because — while I think the Beatles were great, unique, unprecedented, even historic (or at least historical) — I always thought the screaming-teenybopper phenomenon was ridiculous, too. It was… uncool.

But aside from having never been a teenage girl, I think maybe I just was never really young in that sense. My wife will back me up on this, since she’s known me since I was 19. (Alla you kids get offa my lawn. And get a grip on yourselves.)

But seriously: What makes people get so worked up by entertainers and other celebrities?

Zuckerberg: Looking like a Stranger in a Strange Land

This was the picture that inspired the Tweet, although almost any picture of him would do...

This was the picture that inspired the Tweet, although almost any picture of him would do…

Sorry I haven’t had much time to post.

Here’s a Tweet I sent couple of days ago that I meant to share. Heinlein fans among you might appreciate it:

Do you see what I mean?

Does becoming a billionaire before you’re an adult make you look like that? Maybe it keeps you from developing the usual lines and furrows that show human character.

Again, it’s not his youth. It’s… something else. He’s an unusual-looking guy, and I can’t quite figure out what it is. But it reminds me of descriptions of the Man from Mars in Stranger in a Strange Land, such as when Jill Boardman is trying to figure out her own impressions of Michael’s countenance:

Jill

Tim Kelly on how he got fired by DHEC

Do y’all remember Tim Kelly, pioneer South Carolina blogger? He was one of a number of folks who gave me pointers back when I started this nasty habit in 2005. His blogs, in his case from a liberal Democrat’s point of view, included “Crack the Bell” and “Indigo Journal.”

He sort of quit blogging there for awhile and tried going legit. He worked at ADCO competitor Chernoff Newman for quite awhile, then became chief spokesman for DHEC. Which lasted until he posted this on Twitter a few weeks back.

As he says now, in a blog post:

Its not the worst thing ever said about Donald Trump. It’s not even the most profane thing I’ve ever said about Donald Trump.

Tim Kelly

Tim Kelly

But he said it on the official DHEC Twitter feed, thinking he was on his own account: “But, oops, wrong browser window, and I was toast.”

Yeah, I’ve done that myself. Just not with such, ah, explosive content. In fact, that’s why I recently purged my iPad Twitter app of a couple of client feeds I had been managing. I’d discovered that occasionally the app would just spontaneously flip over to one of those other accounts without my knowing it. Which is kind of scary.

But Tim’s experience far exceeds any cautionary tales I can share from my own experience.

Ironically, Tim was surprised again by Twitter — he had forgotten that his long-dormant blog was set to post the headline and a link to each post automatically.

I say “ironically” because Tim was the guy who originally taught me that was possible. In fact, he’s the guy who talked me into going on Twitter. When I asked him why on Earth I’d want to do that, he said, “To promote your blog.” And then he told me how, and I started doing it right away.

Anyway, Tim thinks he may be onto a new line of work that he will find more personally rewarding than what he’s done in the past, even if he doesn’t get rich doing it. I hope that’s the case…

Here’s an idea: Why not just leave out the allergens?

Why would SOY sauce contain more WHEAT than soy?

Why would SOY sauce contain more WHEAT than soy?

Normally I would not post to ask the world to adjust to me and my food allergies, but here’s a case where it seems to me it wouldn’t cause anybody any trouble, or not much trouble, so I’m going to ask….

On the whole, this is a great time (if there ever is a great time for such a thing) to have food allergies. The world has become a far more understanding and accommodating place.

When I was a kid, eating out was like walking through a minefield. And if I tried to enlist a server in my cause, all I would get is a blank look. I came to believe that most people on the planet had never heard of food allergies, and when I tried to tell them, it was just the most outlandish thing they’d ever heard of.

And usually, they didn’t get it at all. Sometimes, they’d try to show they understood by saying, “So you don’t like cheese…” To which, if I were in an explanatory mood, I’d say, No, that’s not it. I don’t have the slightest idea whether I would like cheese or not. I’ve never had it. I suspect, based on the smell and my knowledge of how it is made (by letting milk spoil), I would not like it at all. But that is entirely beside the point. If you serve me cheese and I don’t know it, and eat it,I may die. At the very least, I’ll get really sick here in front of you, and it won’t be pretty. So just don’t bring me anything with cheese on it or in it…

… you freaking moron, I didn’t add, athough I wanted to.

But often, I just let it go, not wanting to converse about it any more than necessary. In fact, whenever possible, I’d avoid the conversation altogether. I didn’t eat out any more than I absolutely had to, and when I did I went to places I had been before and ordered things I knew were safe.

Now, at the slightest mention of an allergy problem, most waiters and waitresses become so attentive it’s slightly embarrassing. Some of them go fetch the chef and bring him out to interview me at some length.

As I say, embarrassing. But it’s gratifying to have them on board in the cause of not poisoning me.

Sure, there are some idiots out there who are dismissive of these things — watch, some of them will comment on this post — and regard allergies as a character flaw. But their ilk is rapidly become extinct as our species evolves.

This is also a good era for avoiding hazards with prepared, packaged foods. When I was kid, if I wanted a milk substitute for cooking or just to put on cold cereal, I had to use soy-based baby formula — something I had to make sure the other guys never knew, because they would have given me the business, as the Beav and Wally would say.

Now, there’s soy milk and almond milk and coconut milk and cashew milk and several other kinds, and it’s available everywhere, not just in specialty food shops. You buy it and take it home, and nobody looks at you funny.

Better than that… and here I’m finally getting to my point… makers of prepackaged food have started calling attention to allergens in their ingredients! You don’t have to read all the ingredients any more — just look at the boldfaced listing of allergens at the end! This saves a lot of time.

But it makes me want more…

There are a lot of food products out there that are sometimes made with allergens and sometimes not. And I suppose sometimes the allergens make a difference. Other times, I doubt that they do.

Take soy sauce, for instance. What would you think would be the dominant ingredient in soy sauce, aside from water? Soybeans, right?

Wrong. Unless it’s listed as “gluten-free” soy sauce, as often as not, the next ingredient after water is wheat. Which, aside from being a threat to people with celiac disease, is also an allergen. And while I don’t have celiac (although some in my family do), wheat is one of the things that I’m allergic to. Not as dangerously allergic as I am to milk and eggs, but it can cause my asthma to act up. (One of the things about having a bunch of food allergies is that you become a connoisseur of reactions — I know what allergen I was exposed to by how I react. With wheat, my breathing passages tighten up.)

To my knowledge — and if you know different, say so — there is no appreciable difference between soy sauce made largely with wheat and soy sauce that’s all soy.

So, here’s my question: Why not just leave the wheat out of all the soy sauce? Why go to the trouble and expense of purchasing and adding that extra ingredient, then having to put warnings on your labels about it?

It would never have occurred to me years ago to ask this, because I assumed that to most people, food allergies were such a mystery that it would be asking too much for a food product manufacturer to know something was an allergen and leave it out.

But now I can see, on every prepackaged food, that manufacturers know which ingredients are allergens — they point them out on every label.

So… why not just leave them out? Granted, few of us out here are allergic to this or that ingredient, but why not just make a product that everybody can safely eat?

This won’t work with everything — for instance, soy itself is an allergen. (In fact, I’m slightly allergic to it myself, but so slightly compared to my real allergies, I ignore it and just try to consume soy in moderation.) I’m not asking that anyone leave the soy out of soy sauce.

But it seems eminently reasonable to me to ask, why not just leave out the wheat, always?

Why not just make ALL soy sauce "gluten-free?"

Why not just make ALL soy sauce “gluten-free?”

Death to emoji! Rage against the death of the word!

This has engendered a certain amount of discussion on social media, so I thought I’d share it here as well:

Of course, I meant “emoji,” because I wasn’t just talking about faces. I had thought “emoji” was just the cutesy shortening of “emoticon” — and my purpose was to wage war on cutesiness — but Wikipedia said not to confuse them.emoji

“Emoticons” are just the hypersimplistic, stylized representations of human facial expressions. And while I don’t much like them, they don’t irritate me the way other tiny images placed in Tweets and texts in place of words do. Things like slices of pizza and party hats and such…

Years ago, I read an article about how Umberto Eco — the semiotician who is best known as the author of The Name of the Rose — was predicting the advent of a post-literate society. This was a couple of decades ago, long before emojis. I seem to remember him talking about the Medieval days when, say, a pub called “The Fox and Hound” would mark itself with images of those animals instead of words, since the proprietor knew most prospective patrons would be illiterate.

Eco predicted we were headed back toward that darkness.

Lately, we hear regularly about the post-literate world that’s coming into being. Increasingly, our devices respond to voice and facial recognition more than typed input.

Well, I’m not going to sit still for the dying of the word. I’m going to rage, rage against it…

download (1)

 

I don’t know what to do to please you, Google…

They’re back at it.

Again, I’m getting these notifications from Google Adsense:

Dear Publisher,

This Google Publisher Policy Report gives you an overview of recent activity related to violations found on specific pages of your websites. As enforcement statuses may change over time, please refer to the “Page-level enforcements” section of the AdSense Policy Center for the current list of active violations.

Please note this report doesn’t cover violations that may happen on an overall site or account level. You may be notified by a separate email if site or account level violations are found. Ads will continue to serve where no policy violations have been found, either at the page- or site-level.

In the last 24 hours:

  • New violations were detected. As a result, ad serving has been restricted or disabled on pages where these violations of the AdSense Program Policies were found. To resolve the issues, you can either remove the violating content and request a review, or remove the ad code from the violating pages.

Further details on enforcements can be found in the AdSense Help Center. To learn more about our program policies, please view the AdSense Program Policies.

Kind regards,
Google Publisher Policy

Of course, none of those links will take you to a page that says, here’s the problem with have with this post. No, each time I get one I have to remember the roundabout, counterintuitive way I had figured out earlier.

After I do (remember it), I find myself once more at a notification that tells me they have a problem with this post — again — which of course is ridiculous. Here’s what they say about it:

expand_less

Violations

Dangerous or derogatory content

Status

Restricted ad serving help_outline

Enforcement date

Mar 11, 2018

Past review outcome

Policy non-compliant (Mar 6, 2018)

How to resolve this

Click on the violation name to learn more about it. You have two resolution options:

  • Fix the violations and request a review 
    After you make adjustments to your page so that it’s compliant with AdSense policies, you can request a review.
  • Remove the AdSense ad code from the page 
    Pages without any AdSense ad code will be automatically removed from the Policy center within 7-10 days. No other action on your part is needed.

If you think that these policy violations do not apply to this page, you can also request a review. Reviews typically take 1 week but sometimes can take longer.

So again, I request a review from Google. The next day, they say my appeal has been denied, and absurdly, my post continues to be “dangerous or derogatory.” Which, of course, it is not. It is a post about something that someone, somewhere, thought was derogatory, and my post patiently explains why anyone who thinks that is mistaken. Which is the kind of thing you talk about on an opinion blog.

So I click on the “Request Review” again, my theory being that if I keep asking, an actual human will review the situation and realize that yes, this is the kind of thing one discusses on an opinion blog, and therefore there is nothing inappropriate about it.

But I get another robo-answer that I remain in violation.Google-favicon-2015

So the status of that post will continue to be “Restricted ad serving.”

All right, fine. Who cares if Adsense ads don’t show up on that one post from more than seven years ago? I’m willing to leave it at that.

But Google isn’t. They keep sending me the notifications.

My next step — my only ethical option I can see — will be to see if I can “Remove the AdSense ad code from the page” without blowing up my blog or something. Something I do not know how to do. But I’ll try. And then see if they’ll leave me alone.

But if I can’t figure that out, what then? The notifications, of course, come from a “noreply” email address. So I can’t have a conversation with a person. Of course…

How does McAfee keep doing this?

McAfee 2

I have Webroot on my laptop. That’s my antivirus software. I’ve had it since I got the computer. I’ve never installed or tried to use any other security software on this particular platform.

So how come McAfee periodically — as it did this morning, until I stopped it — launches itself and starts scanning my computer?

I’ve never asked it to.

Yeah, I get that computers often come with such software. But I never activated it. So how come?

Seems… intrusive to me…

A cool Google maps feature I had not encountered before

IMG_1369

Yesterday morning, after being awakened by The New York Post, I started trying to figure out where the train wreck was on my iPad’s Google Maps app.

It wasn’t too hard — it was right there where the red marker said “Amtrak train collision.”

That is a pretty cool feature. I wonder how that happens? Does Google have a newsroom somewhere with people who watch the news and place these things manually? And if so, how do they do it accurately? Don’t tell me they have access to satellite imagery in real time? Or do they get it off the coordinates of some reporter who’s there using an Android phone? Maybe. But it’s probably an approximation, based on the description that it’s at Charleston Highway and Pine Ridge.

It’s still pretty cool, anyway…

‘X-ray specs,’ updated

xray_5

Remember the above ad, which appeared so often in comic books back in the day?IMG_3239

Even when I was a little kid who would have thought it awesome to have even one of Superman’s powers, I wasn’t gullible enough to send off a buck for a pair of these specs. Every time I’d see the ad, I’d go, “Could it work?… nahhhh!”

But somebody probably bought them, else they wouldn’t have kept on advertising them. We were pretty dumb back in olden times, weren’t we?

Well apparently, someone is betting that guys (and who else would buy these?) are just as dumb today. This is a screen grab from a video ad that came up between games of Words With Friends. And somewhere out there there’s a guy who’s thinking, “Well, smartphone apps can do some pretty amazing things…”

And surely, they couldn’t have faked that, right?

Note that today as well as before, it’s assumed that there’s one thing that guys would want to use such technology for — the #metoo movement notwithstanding…

Does anybody still look at these security alerts?

CSID

Just got another of those monthly emails from that security service that the state offered us to help us keep our identities safe after the big Department of Revenue breach several years back.

About once a year, I try to log in, and I never remember my password, so I have to go through a bunch of rigmarole to get in, and when I do, all I find is a report on sex offenders in my area.

You?

I mean, does anybody still use this service?

Google has measured me and found me guilty

Google-favicon-2015And there is no appeal, since I have been offered no opportunity to interact with a person and make my case. Never mind facing my accuser, or even getting an explanation of the charges against me. (Ain’t the private sector wonderful? Such accountability!)

Here’s Google’s verdict on the matter I told you about yesterday. You have to hunt for the verdict; the lede is buried (it’s in the second bullet):

Dear Publisher,This Google Publisher Policy Report gives you an overview of recent activity related to violations found on specific pages of your websites. As enforcement statuses may change over time, please refer to the “Page-level enforcements” section of the AdSense Policy Center for the current list of active violations.

Please note this report doesn’t cover violations that may happen on an overall site or account level. You may be notified by a separate email if site or account level violations are found. Ads will continue to serve where no policy violations have been found, either at the page- or site-level.

In the last 24 hours:

  • 1 page-level review request was received. You’ll be notified when the review is completed.
  • 1 page was reviewed at your request and found to be non-compliant with our policies at the time of the review. Ad serving continues to be restricted or disabled on this page.

Further details on enforcements can be found in the AdSense Help Center. To learn more about our program policies, please view the AdSense Program Policies.

Kind regards,
Google Publisher Policy

And my punishment is… that no Google ads will appear on a seven-year-old post. Fine…

What’s the most deserted mall in South Carolina?

space

The other day I mentioned walking at Dutch Square mall, a place that would hardly be standing any more if not for the movie theater and Burlington Coat Factory.

I can remember when it was new, that one semester I was a student at USC, in the fall of 1971. I never actually visited it then — neither I nor any of my friends had a car (now try to imagine that, boys and girls), so what little shopping I did was limited to Five Points and the Main Street area — but I heard reports that it was really something. And when we moved home to South Carolina in 1987, it was still going strong.

Today, not so much. There’s the two businesses mentioned above, some athletic shoe stores, a fitness emporium, some clothing stores with such names as “Urban Fashion,” a nail salon and some places that deal in gold. And a lot of dead space between some of them.

But it’s hardly alone in that regard. A couple of nights later, we decided to take a walk around Richland Mall, after my wife exchanged something at Belk. Wow. First, some of the mall seems to be inaccessible, at least from the end where we were walking — the occupied part that includes Belk, Barnes & Noble, a LensCrafters and a barber shop. There didn’t seem to be a way to get to the part on the other side of Belk, at least from inside. After a couple of circuits around the part we could get to, we quit walking. It was depressing.

My wife raised a question that hadn’t occurred to me: How do they afford to keep the lights on, and climate control operating? I don’t know. That bill has to be huge, even with parts of the mall closed off.

But for sheer emptiness, I’m not sure even Richland can compete with Inlet Square Mall in Murrells Inlet. That was a fairly hopping place just a few years ago, and now it’s like something that’s begging to be used as a movie set. You ever see Logan’s Run, about an entirely underground society? They could have shot that in Inlet Square, probably with room to spare.

The tipping point for that mall was, near as I can tell, the closing of the K-Mart that anchored one end, followed by the disappearance of Steinmart. The amazing thing is that this mall still has a Belk, and yet seems much more deserted than Dutch Square.

This is our brave new world, with Amazon taking the place of all these public spaces. (I wonder — if I asked Alexa the way to a mall, would she know? Would she tell me?) Over the course of December I made a couple of trips to Columbiana. It’s still thriving — that is to say, it’s still active and busy. But I sense a certain fraying around the edges. Filling the former Sears with the men’s department of Belk was a master stroke of hiding the damage, but how long will it be before this place is largely deserted, too?

Yeah, I know one form of economic activity is being replaced by another that’s just brimming with vitality, but there is something about these deserted spaces that were once so filled with life that gives the impression of a dead or dying civilization. It’s like the Roman Forum after the Visigoths were done with it, or the Acropolis, or some Mayan city overtaken by the jungle. All that infrastructure, so recently vibrant and glittering, left to crumble.

Can anyone think of any other mall in South Carolina that is more deserted than the above, yet still standing and open to the public? If so, I might like to try walking there of a cold evening…

Duke Twitter flap: But was it ‘racial’?

blur

I’m musing over terminology after reading about the sportswriter who got himself into hot water at a Duke roundball game on Dec. 2.

Here’s what happened, as I understand it:

  • College Insider reporter John Stansberry made some cracks on Twitter about some students who were right behind him at the game.
  • One of the students took offense, I’m assuming because of his reference to her and her friends as “Asian chicks.” But the student’s explanation of her anger on Facebook wasn’t specific. It may have been the Cheap Trick thing.
  • Duke revoked his credentials for the rest of the season.
  • He became an Unperson. His Twitter account is gone, and apparently College Insider (or someone) has erased traces of his existence. (I base this on the fact that, if I Google “John Stansberry College Insider,” I get a bunch of links that say, “CollegeInsider.com: John Stansberry’s College Basketball Notebook.” But I get a “Not Found” error if I click on them. Down the memory hole, I guess. Like Garrison Keillor.)

All of which seems fairly straightforward in a day when we’re used to people being more or less disappeared for stepping over lines.

But I’m confused by news stories that refer to the incident as “racial” or “racist.”

“Racial” maybe, in the sense that a reference to race was made. But that doesn’t seem to be a primary concern of the young woman who complained. She made a passing reference to herself as a member of the set “Asian women,” but didn’t indicate that that was what bothered her about what the wiseguy did. She seemed mostly bothered about being discussed before the world when all she was doing was watching a basketball game.

But “racist?” I ask because the college paper mentioned this among several instances in a story headlined “‘We were just kind of shocked’: Asian American students report racist comments in recent weeks.”

Yeah, the “Cheap Trick” seems to be kind of snide, presumably a reference to this. But racist? And if this guy is actually part Asian, as the reference to “my Korean mother” would indicate, can it be racist? I don’t know.

I don’t know. The whole thing kind of hovers on the edge of a number of hot-button issues that are in vogue — privacy in a social media age, safe spaces in academia, sexism, racism(?), and so forth — that I thought I’d offer it for discussion.

I do know one thing: If he’d been doing his phony-baloney job and paying attention to the game, we wouldn’t have all of this. But that’s the editor in me….

And I didn’t mean to go on about it this long. But whenever I can come up with anything even vaguely sports-related for you, my dear readers, I try to oblige…

CheapTrick_Live_atBudokan

Finally looked at the Nancy Mace video. Wish I hadn’t…

Nancy Mace, in a photo from her campaign website.

Nancy Mace, in a photo from her campaign website.

Somebody brought this to my attention on Twitter last week. Seeing it was video, I didn’t click on it (I frequently check Twitter in places where that would be annoying to other people), and soon forgot about it.

That is, I forgot about it until Nancy Mace, as expected, won her runoff last night for the GOP nomination for Jim Merrill’s old House seat, District 99. Suddenly more people were mentioning the video.

So I went and found it.

First, for those who need reminding, Nancy is known for three things, mostly for the first:

  1. She was the first female cadet to graduate from The Citadel, back in 1999.
  2. She was Will Folks’ partner for a time in the FITSNews blog. Will handled the content, she dealt with the technical side. (At one point I met with her to ask how they worked that out, looking for ideas for turning this blog more into a business. I tried setting up something similar, but it didn’t work out.) Here’s Will’s coverage of her win last night.
  3. She was one of the crowd of folks who ran against Lindsey Graham in the primary last time around.

Now, conventional wisdom would have it that she’s positioned to cruise into the House. Because, you know, it’s a GOP seat, and they don’t draw them for Democrats to win.

There are only a couple of factors that might stand in the way of that. First, Democrats seem pretty enthusiastic about their candidate, Cindy Boatwright. Second, there’s that video, which has been mentioned quite a few times on social media since last night.

So I went back and looked at it. The first person you see is Nancy Mace:

Perhaps not wishing to share the part about “that’s not her husband… or a man,” a number of Democrats have Tweeted about it separately, especially in recent hours, now that they know whom they’re facing.

Here’s Cindy Boatwright’s statement:

I hope they can get to the point of discussing factors other than this between now and election day Jan. 16. But whether they do or not, this is likely to get interesting…

boatwright twitter

ETV needs to think really hard about its demographics

Bob_Hope,_Bing_Crosby_and_Dorothy_Lamour_in_Road_to_Bali

I’ve read that public broadcasting is in trouble because its audience is aging. (OK, what I read was about NPR, but can’t the same be said about PBS?)

But you’d think they’d want to do something about that, instead of rolling with it to this extent.

Tonight, ETV is offering a deal to donors: Give at a certain basic level, and you get a CD of a documentary about… wait for it… Bob Hope! (Here’s who that was, kids.)

Then, if you give a little more, you get… CDs of all the “Road” pictures with Bing Crosby!

And if you give more, you get more Bob Hope stuff!

How shall I put this? I’m 64 years old — well into my dotage, as the Beatles (I’ll explain later who they were) once reckoned it — and Bob Hope was popular way, way, WAY before my time. I mean, my mother was only 9 years old when the first “Road” picture came out, so I’m thinking it was aimed more at her parents.

When I was young, only Lawrence Welk was more identified with the blue-haired set.

So, what’s the deal here? Why is this the pitch? I’m genuinely puzzled…

I shot this during one of the promotions. I shot it off the old cathode-ray tube upstairs instead of the HD model, because it seemed appropriate.

I shot this during one of the promotions. I shot it off the old cathode-ray tube upstairs instead of the HD model, because it seemed appropriate. A narrator said Hope and Crosby sort of invented the “breaking the fourth wall” thing, so they were cutting-edge. In 1940…

Hey, look! A male model I can identify with…

model male

A lot of women have celebrated the arrival on the modern scene of plus-size models. But Madison Avenue has not bothered to come up with male models who look like normal, ruggedly handsome guys like me — until now.

I saw the above ad on the New York Times website this morning. Don’t you think the guy on the right is a dead ringer — either for me or David Letterman?

Of course, I don’t have the beard at the moment, but maybe it’s time it made a reappearance.

I feel so… validated….

bearded one

 

Tip O’Neill would not know this world we live in

Marsha Blackburn saying she's politically incorrect and PROUD OF IT. Yee-haw...

Marsha Blackburn saying she’s politically incorrect and PROUD OF IT. Yee-haw…

Almost from the moment Tip O’Neill said, “All politics is local,” the statement has been less and less true.

Now, we can confidently say the opposite: No matter how local a race should be, it’s all about the national. Rather than deciding on local issues, such as who is more likely to get the potholes filled on Main Street, all we hear about is the idiotic talking points of left and right from within the Beltway.

A couple of months back, I got on a list. I’m not sure how, but I did. And I know I did because I started getting a new sort of email — appeals for funding to help poor Joe Arpaio, to elect Judge Roy Moore, to poke the GOP Establishment in the eye, to elect this or that person representing the Bizarro wing of the Republican Party, the atavistic fringe that gave us Trump.

It’s been like seeing a portal suddenly open to an alternative universe where the most unlikely of propositions are treated as truth, and everybody’s got a big chip on the shoulder about it.

I’m not sure who is the link between them all. Occasionally there’s a “personal” note from Ed Rollins, and maybe he’s somehow connected to the others; I don’t know. But there’s definitely a sameness to the messages and rhetoric.

Here’s a typical one that came in today:

Friend,

Have you heard? I announced that I’m running for the U.S. Senate and I’m asking for the support of strong conservatives like you.

The Senate is totally dysfunctional. And I’ve decided to do something about it. Too many Senate Republicans act like Democrats. Or worse. And that’s what needs to change. Will you chip in $25 to help send me to the Senate to make the Republican majority act like one?

I’m a hard core, card carrying Tennessee conservative. I’m politically incorrect, and proud of it.

Become a founding member of the conservative revolution, DONATE $25, $50, $100 or whatever you can afford TODAY!

The left is balking at my candidacy because they know I’m the strong ally President Trump needs in the Senate to pass a true, conservative agenda and deliver on our promises to the American people.

My campaign will be a conservative movement fueled by grassroots supporters like you. The Washington establishment is already mobilizing against me.

The next 48 hours will be critical.  We need a strong show of support from conservatives like you. Will you step up and donate today? Every bit helps and no donation is too small!

Help me stand for millions of honest Americans who work hard and play by the rules. Too much is at stake. America needs a conservative revolution. Send a fighter to shake up the Senate and finally repeal Obamacare!

Thanks for your support.
Marsha

Until I got to the third paragraph in the main text of the message, I had begun to despair of ever learning which state this Ms. Blackburn wished to represent in the Senate. And even that was just implication; she didn’t actually say she would be representing Tennessee. (By the way, when I covered Tennessee politics back in the ’70s and ’80s, Tennessee “conservatives” didn’t carry cards to indication their inclinations. Must be something new.)

Maybe she’s downplaying that because she isn’t planning to represent Tennessee other than technically. Obviously, she seeks to represent instead the adherents of an extremist national movement — an artificial, virtual community that could not have existed before the Web.

To someone thus oriented, geography is incidental. It’s about the… I almost hesitate to call it “ideology,” because that suggests there are ideas involved, which implies thought. This woman’s campaign video is rather a litany of gut impulses and anti-intellectual cliches.

This person isn’t sending me this email because once upon a time (more than 30 years ago) I lived in Tennessee. I’ve never lived in Alabama, and I’m still digging myself out from under Roy Moore emails. And it’s certainly not because of anything I’ve ever done, and absolutely not about anything I’ve ever thought. My concept of an ideal senator from Tennessee is Lamar Alexander, who lies at the absolute opposite end of the Republican spectrum.

No, I’m getting this email because, for some inexplicable reason, I got on a list.

And, the current ideology aside, this offends me as a federalist. As y’all know, I often assert that people who live in other states should elect whomever they want to Congress, and it’s none of my business. I’m been thinking this way since back when South Carolinians used to gripe about Ted Kennedy, and folks in his state griped about Strom Thurmond. My attitude was, if South Carolinians wanted to keep electing Strom until the Judgment Day, that was none of the business of people in Massachusetts. And it was none of our business if Massachusetts wanted to keep voting for Teddy.

(Mind you, I would have liked to have had a viable alternative to Strom — the last such opponent may have been my distant cousin Bradley Morrah, and he wasn’t all that viable — but that was our concern here in South Carolina, and outsiders could butt out.)

This, by the way, is one of reasons I oppose term limits. I think a lot of the support for term limits comes from people who are offended by some of folks other people elect. But other people have the right to vote for whomever they choose.

But I’m digressing now…

For most of the last few decades, this unhealthy interest folks have taken in whom other people elect has taken the form of conventional partisan obsessions. People who care passionately which party controls Congress therefore feel they have a stake in other peoples’ congressional races. Now, this same phenomenon has a new, more virulent, form — it’s become about extreme political subcultures, rather than big-tent parties.

And I’m telling you, folks, it’s not good for the republic…

‘Fake news’ proliferates (even — gasp! — here on this blog!)

Douglas

There’s “fake news,” and then there’s fake news. I’ve seen a number of widely different varieties in recent days.

First, a digression: I’ve always had mixed feelings about the value of competition.

Yeah, I suppose it keeps you on your toes, makes you try harder and reach new heights, etc. But in the news business, I’ve always worried about it, because the pressure to get it first can cause you to go with something too soon, and get it wrong.

I worried about that even back when there were only two news cycles in each day — a.m. and p.m. You had all those hours to work on something and get it right before you had to go to press, or, in case of broadcast, go on the air. But knowing that if you didn’t go with it today you had to wait another 24 hours created its own kind of pressure to go with what you had.

The best way to avoid letting that pressure get you into trouble was the old nostrum, “When in doubt, leave it out.” Better to leave a hole in a story, an unanswered question, than give an answer you weren’t completely sure about.

Now, with the Web and social media, there is no “cycle.” Deadline is always right now, and if you delay a minute, you take the risk of getting beat by 59 seconds.

And that produces screw-ups like CBS reporting that Tom Petty was dead early on Monday afternoon, when he didn’t actually die until 8:30 that evening — and it wasn’t officially released until midnight.

(This was particularly problematic for old media that still follow cycles. The State had a piece in Tuesday morning’s paper all about how CBS had messed up by reporting that Petty was dead when he wasn’t — and not a word about the fact that Petty actually was dead. That’s because his death was announced after press time, but hours before readers would have the chance to read the story. Very confusing.)

As “fake news” goes, that was of the honest-mistake variety. We saw an example of the more malevolent kind within that same 24-hour period. It’s the sort that arises from the modern phenomenon of everybody being a publisher — meaning that there are no rules, and no fussy editors saying “When in doubt, leave it out.” And everyone believes what they want to believe, however unlikely, according to their political prejudices.

I’m talking about the way right-wing trolls eagerly identified an innocent man as the Las Vegas shooter, simply because he was someone who fit a narrative that was appealing to them, and he had apparently been married to a woman with the same name as the actual shooter’s girlfriend:

Geary Danley was not the gunman in Las Vegas who killed at least 50 people late Sunday. But for hours on the far-right Internet, would-be sleuths scoured Danley’s Facebook likes, family photographs and marital history to try to “prove” that he was.

Danley, according to an archived version of a Facebook page bearing that name, might have been married to a Marilou Danley. Police were looking for a woman by that name in the hours after the shooting, but later saidthey did not think she was involved. To name someone as a mass murderer based on that evidence would be irresponsible and dangerous. But that’s exactly what a portion of the far-right Internet did overnight.

The briefest look at the viral threads and tweets falsely naming Geary Danley as the attacker makes it easy to guess why a bunch of right-wing trolls latched on to him: His Facebook profile indicated that he might be a liberal….

But even that, as filled with bad faith and malevolence as it was, seems less deliberate than another kind of shameless spreading of “fake news” that is all around us these days, feeding systematically on reader gullibility.

A couple of weeks back, I was watching TV and my wife was in the room looking at her iPad when she told me that The Rock, Dwayne Johnson, was killed doing a stunt on a movie set. (I’m thinking she saw this on a Facebook ad.) I said something like “Wow, I wonder why they let him do something so dangerous.” Then I made an observation about Vic Morrow and the way he died, and forgot about it.

Then, at some point the next day, it occurred to me that I’d seen nothing about the star’s death in any of the papers I had read on my iPad that morning. So I went looking, and saw that it was a hoax.

Then, this week, the same hoax started showing up in the Google Ads right here on my own blog. Click here for the screenshot.

Oh, and have you read about the passing of Michael Douglas? I have, many times. To make the weirdness even richer, when I looked up “Michael Douglas death hoax,” I found a site that fed me… you guessed it… an ad with the misspelled news of “The Rock’s” alleged death (see above).

By the way, you want to be careful Googling Michael Douglas — you might get true stories that tell you way more than you want to know.

Where does this leave us? In a situation in which we could use some old-school, skeptical editors standing between you and the lies. But that’s not going to happen. The technology exists, and it can’t be put back in the tube. Anybody can instantly publish anything for the whole planet to see, without any professional standards being involved whatsoever.

So what we need is more intelligent, skeptical readers. But let’s not hold our breath for that new species to evolve. As last year’s election showed us, and every day since confirms, there are a thousand suckers born every minute…

By the time I read this story in The State telling me reports of Petty's death were false, he was actually dead.

By the time I read this story in The State telling me the report of Petty’s death was erroneous, he was actually dead.