Category Archives: Personal

Here’s how the scar is coming along…


Doug, or someone (I can’t seem to find the email now) said I should give y’all an update on how the Red Badge of Stupidity is coming along.

I was reminded again this morning when Pat Littlejohn of the SC Center for Fathers and Families told me I had kind of a Frankenstein thing going on.

The doctor who took out the stitches assured me it would make for a real “tough guy” scar, since it’s vertical, and doesn’t blend in with the wrinkles when I furrow my brow, which you see me doing above in an effort to look at the camera. Sort of like the mark you’d get from someone breaking a bottle on your head in a barroom brawl in an old Western. Except it the Westerns, no one ever had any marks on them in the next scene…

As for other effects, I’m still kind of scatterbrained, but no one will think that’s out of the ordinary…

An act of God kept The State from winning that Pulitzer



That is to say, a second act of God, less than four weeks after the first.

You may have read in the paper that those of us who were on the newsroom staff that nearly won the Pulitzer for our coverage of Hurricane Hugo in 1989 are being honored with a reception at The State today.

We should have won it. We did a bang-up job in those days and weeks before and after the landfall on Sept. 21, not only covering every possible angle of the damage and its impact across the state, but providing lots of “news you can use,” telling people where and how to get help or give it, updated daily.

It was a heady time, characterized by strong teamwork. A couple of my fellow editors got to go down to the ravaged coast with the reporters and photographers, and I was envious of them. I was stuck at the office, helping supervise and coordinate coverage and get it into the paper.

But then, on Oct. 17, the second act of God — or the fickle finger of fate, if you prefer — struck. A 6.9-magnitude earthquake hit San Francisco during the World Series. The fact that it was the first earthquake captured live on television — because of the Series — riveted national attention on that disaster in an unprecedented manner. The San Jose Mercury News, our Knight Ridder sister paper, also did a bang-up job. Remember the quake beginning as my wife’s cousin Tim McCarver was narrating highlights from the previous game? Remember the images of the pancaked overpass? Yeah, everybody else did, too. They got the Pulitzer for General News Reporting, leaving us as one of the two finalists.

Since then, The State has only come close to a Pulitzer twice. Both times, the finalist was Robert Ariail, during the years that I was his editor. So I was close to the situation all three times that The State was close to a Pulitzer. But that one in 1989 was particularly bittersweet, because it would have been a win for all of us, Robert included. We wanted to win for The State as an institution, and for Tom McLean, as that was his last year as executive editor.

We didn’t make it, but we went down swinging. And we remember what we did together fondly. Not that we’re ghouls, fondly recalling a disaster. It’s the camaraderie, the Band of Brothers aspect that generates the positive feeling.

Here’s the list of people being credited with that finalist showing:

Hugo Alumni include:
Jeff Amberg
Susan Ardis
Robert Ariail
Dottie Ashley
Perry Baker
Pat Berman
Warren Bolton
Lee Bouknight
Margaret Bouknight
Claudia Brinson
Rosie Brooks
Bobby Bryant
Clint Bryson
Pat Butler
Bob Cole
John Collins
Betty Lynn Compton
Jeffrey Day
Tim Dominick
Carol Farmington
Thom Fladung
Holly Gatling
Bob Gillespie
Doug Gilmore
Kay Gordon
Richard Greer
Frank Heflin
Bill HIggins
Dawn Hinshaw
Gordon Hirsch
Bobby Hitt
Deborah Lynn Hook
Bhakti Larry Hough
Bill Hughes
Page Ivey
Joe Jackson
Bill Kelly III
Lou Kinard
Michael Kozma
Dawn Kujawa
Clif LeBlanc
Michael Lewis
Mike Livingston
Diane Lore
Salley McInerney
Norma McLean
Tom McLean
Jim McLaurin
Jeff Miller
Michael Miller
Bill Mitchell
Dave Moniz
Will Moredock
Fred Monk
Loretta Neal
David Newton
Jennifer Nicholson
Margaret O’Shea
Paul Osmundson
Levona Page
Charles Paschal
Lezlie Patterson
Beverly Phillips
Ginger Pinson
Charles Pope
Bertram Rantin
Dargan Richards
Bunny Richardson
Maxie Roberts
Bill Robinson
Pat Robertson
Cindi Ross Scoppe
Michael Sponhour
Bob Stuart
Beverly Shelley
Steve Smith
Bob Spear
Bill Starr
Linda Stelter
Clark Surratt
Rick Temple
Rob Thompson
Ernie Trubiano
Jan Tuten
Helene Vickers
Nancy Wall
Brad Warthen
Neil White

I wonder how many of us will be there this afternoon…


Pew thinks I fit in the ‘faith and family left.’ Interesting…

When I saw the headline at The Fix, “Proud to be an American? You’re probably not a true liberal,” I thought, Well, that’s yet another reason why I’m not a liberal.

At least, not as the term is popularly defined. There are a lot of points of alienation between me and today’s “liberals” beyond the fact that Michele Obama set my teeth on edge when she said, “for the first time in my adult life I am proud of my country…”

And yet, the study upon which the piece was based, by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, says I fit in a category that has “left” in its name.

Specifically, it thinks I fit in the “Faith and Family Left,” one of eight “political typologies” into which it separates Americans. The category is described thusly:

The Faith and Family Left combine strong support for activist government with conservative attitudes on many social issues. They are very racially diverse – this is the only typology group that is “majority-minority.” The Faith and Family Left generally favor increased government aid for the poor even if it adds to the deficit and believe that government should do more to solve national problems. Most oppose same-sex marriage and legalizing marijuana and most say religion and family are at the center of their lives. Compare groups on key issues.

So, Pew thinks I’m a black preacher or something. OK, I’m certainly more comfortable being that that I am as “Solid Liberal” or “Steadfast Conservative.” I’m even pleased with the “Faith and Family” part, but I could do without the “left” part. Because you know how the current “left” and “right” repel me.

Pew’s questionnaire forced me into that box with questions that had no right answer. Take this one, for instance:

bad choices

Like the Kulturkampf battle between faith and science, this is framed as a false and unnecessary choice. I don’t hold either of those positions. I clicked on the second one because I HAD to choose. But as you know, my belief is that we have not given up privacy and freedom in order to be safe from terrorism — which the libertarians believe is false. Since we haven’t been asked to do that, then it obviously isn’t necessary.

But a casual observer would read that response and think that I’m in the Edward Snowden camp, arguing against surveillance programs. Which is 180 degrees from where I am, as you know. I think the NSA programs are fine. I just don’t think they intrude on our privacy or freedom.

What I needed was an option like, “Our current security measures are fine, and don’t infringe our privacy or freedom. Anyone who thinks otherwise is deluded.” That I could have clicked on happily.

There were a bunch of questions like that. Which causes me to doubt the value of the survey.

And yet, when I had glanced at the categories before I took the survey, my first impression was that if I fit in any of them, it would be the one called “Faith and Family” leaving out the “left” bit.

So maybe there’s something to this method after all.

Maybe you should take it, and see where you end up. Here’s the link.

The 2014 Political Typology: Polarized Wings, a Diverse Middle

The passing of Howard Baker


This came in a little while ago from The Washington Post:

Former senator Howard H. Baker Jr. of Tennessee, who framed the central question of the Watergate scandal when he asked “what did the president know and when did he know it?” and framed portraits of history with his ever-present camera while Senate majority leader and White House chief of staff, died June 26 at his home in Huntsville, Tenn. He was 88.

The cause was complications from a stroke, said longtime aide Tom Griscom….

That’s me with Baker in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1980. I had just arrived to cover him as he campaigned for the presidential nomination. It’s a shame that he didn’t do better than he did.

And it’s a greater shame that there are so few pragmatic centrists like Baker left — a fair-minded conservative who did not hesitate to grill the Nixon administration to discover the truth.

We still have Lamar Alexander, who comes out of that same commonsense Tennessee Republican tradition — people who gained high office before the Reagan revolution, and before the hardening of ideological positions on both ends of the spectrum. Our own Lindsey Graham is made from a similar mold — although, being of a later generation, he is more marked by the partisan wars than Baker ever was.

But the Howard Bakers, the Sam Nunns, the Scoop Jacksons… they’re all gone. And we’re worse off for it…

Did you vote today? Were you the only one there?


Well, I did, and I was the only voter at the time. I was greatly outnumbered by poll workers, poll greeters, and media. It was 8:41 a.m., and I was the 46th voter to take a Republican ballot. Exactly one person had voted in the Democratic runoff.

Of course, I HAD to take a GOP ballot, having voted Republican two weeks ago. But had I not been wrongly, unfairly forced to do that (you should be able to vote in both primaries, any time), I would have anyway. I don’t think there was anything on the Democratic side other than superintendent of education, and I didn’t have an opinion on that choice. (Had I voted in that, lacking a view of my own, I likely would have accepted The State‘s recommendation and gone with Tom Thompson. As you may know, I generally, but not always, vote a straight State paper ticket.)

Whereas on the GOP side, I not only had superintendent of education and lieutenant governor, but a hotly-contested county council race.

On my way in I did something I don’t usually do, which is reveal how I was going to vote. Chalk it up to that knock on the head the other day; I cracked under questioning. And since I did it in the presence of the press, I’ll share it with you. I stopped to say hey to Tim Dominick from The State — he shot the picture below at my precinct (I hope The State won’t mind my sharing it — here’s the link to where I got it). He was chatting with a lady who urged me to vote for Bill Banning, for county council. Not feeling like being cagey, I said I would.

That shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who read this story, or who otherwise has been paying attention. A key excerpt:

Anti-tax and limited-government groups are helping Tolar…

In other words, Tolar is sort of the tea party option. I mean, seriously. Anybody who thinks taxes are too high in Lexington County is not likely to get my vote.

Anyway, please share your voting experiences today. You don’t have to say how you voted. Unless you want to. And even then, you don’t have to…

Quail Hollow precinct, right before or after I was there. Photo by Tim Dominick of The State; click on it to read the story at

Quail Hollow precinct, right before or after I was there. Photo by Tim Dominick of The State; click on it to read the story at

Frankenstein selfie: I’m doing fine now. Really…

phiz1Shot this selfie over the weekend, when I was airing out the stitches.

It looks worse than it feels. The black eye looks a little worse than above since I shot this (see below, from today), but it’s going to be fine, too.

I’m back at work today, anyway, and have had a busy day. I might still wait a couple of days before working out again…


Am I about to run out of good ‘West Wing’ episodes?


I’ve been thinking about the passage above from The Once and Future King. The boy Wart has just met Merlyn for the first time. Merlyn, who experiences time backwards, asks how long it’s been since they met. When the boy tells him, he is deeply saddened, because he is about to lose his dear friend of many years.

In my own strange temporal distortion, made possible by Netflix, I am experiencing “The West Wing,” a series that everyone else saw a decade ago, for the first time. What is old to everyone else is fresh and new to me. And it has renewed me physically as well as regaling me mentally — it’s made me enjoy working out every night, and getting in shape.

But I just discovered something upsetting. I had heard that the series was only as wonderful as what I’ve been experiencing during the years that Aaron Sorkin wrote it. I had looked forward to a full seven seasons of delight, watching the episodes each night while striding away on the elliptical. But I happened to discover that Sorkin stopped writing them at the end of the fourth season.

I watched “Life on Mars,” the 21st episode in the fourth season, Tuesday — the night before my accident. There are only two episodes left in the season. Had I not banged my head, I would have watched them both by now, and would be feeling rather bereft.

Are my friends about to abandon me? The lovely Ainsley, appealing on so many levels, including the all-important UnParty level, has already left, without a warning and with no goodbye, replaced most disappointingly by Matthew Perry. (Donna seems to find it an acceptable substitution, but I lack her glandular bias.)

I look forward to getting back up on the elliptical, but I dread running out of good episodes. I would hate to see the quality decline — it would be like being bitterly disappointed by a friend. And I’m not sure what to do if I no longer have good episodes to watch. I’ve tried getting into other series available for streaming on Netflix. I watched the first episode of “Dexter,” which many have praised, but was quite disappointed. I’ve tried getting into the various series in the “Star Trek” canon, but I doubt I’ll ever be a Trekkie.

There’s got to be something else out there as delightful as these four seasons of “West Wing.” But I haven’t found it yet. And doubt that I shall. It rivals my previous uncontested favorite series, “Band of Brothers” and to me, exceeds “The Sopranos.”

I sense a long quest before me…

Will my friends all abandon me now?

Will my friends all abandon me now?

A full day of wonderful meals in Thailand

My daughter — the one in Thailand, in the Peace Corps — posted today on her blog to let us know how well-fed she is, in keeping with the military junta’s happiness campaign.

She posted quite a cornucopia of enticing dishes. But they also came across, to this benighted Westerner’s eyes, as evidence of just how exotic her surroundings are. That plate of mangosteen and rambutan look like Star Trek props.

I hereby copy and paste her entire post. Shop Tart, eat your heart out:

In accordance with my host country’s happiness campaign (, I would like to share something that makes me SO happy every day in this country: FOOD.  I took pictures of my breakfast, lunch, and dinner the other day with the intention of making everyone back home super jealous of me.  

Mangosteen and Rambutan.  I’m not a huge rice for breakfast person, which is fine because wherever I go in the morning I will inevitably be presented with a large plate of fruit.  On this day, I was accompanying the health clinic to the schools to teach about oral hygiene, when I was  presented with two of my favorite fruits.  Mangosteen, the purple one, is the Queen of Fruits and Thai people say that it makes you cool when you eat it (temperature wise- I don’t want to get all you nerds’ hopes up).  Rambutan is also quite delicious and juicy once you peel those crazy green spikes off. Thai people have really got this whole hospitality thing down.


Pad Gapow- A spicy, garlicy, deliciousy chicken situation


Dtom Yom Gung- A classic, sour shrimp stew made with chili peppers, lemongrass, cilantro, limes mushrooms, etc. Idk I learned to make this the other day but I didn’t take notes. Whoops.


Gang Jut- Pork stuffed inside of large celery-like chutes, boiled with cabbage.


Pad Pak- Fried vegetables.




Rooa- Bamboo, coconut Milk, and mint


Nam Prik Ga Peet with Vegetables- Basically homemade chili sauce
Gang Malagow- A papaya stew with pork


Dtom Gai Baan- Boiled chicken, vegetables, and spices.


Gapow Moo- Spicy Pork


Khay Giaw Pak Da Om- Omelette made with a stringy green


As you can see, I eat pretty well.  I apologize for not cooking, therefore having no idea of the actual ingredients, but you get the “picture”.  Maybe in the future I will try harder.  I did not even include the many snacks I ate that day, including, but not limited to- grilled chicken skewers drenched in a creamy peanut paste, some kind of hot peanut drink, thai doughnuts that we dipped in a condensed milk and some sort of green fluffy stuff, boiled lotus seeds, and a sweetened coconut milk desert with tapioca balls and gelatin noodles.  We joke that I will return to America fat.  That’s fine.  Anyway, hope you enjoyed the pictures, and now you have evidence that I am not starving.  I will post a coup update soon!

I think my favorite would be the Dtom Yom Gung. Being a Southern boy, I’d eat it over rice, like gumbo….

The Red Badge of Stupidity

After the stitches, before changing out of bloody clothes: Feeling disgusted with myself.

After the stitches, before changing out of bloody clothes: Feeling disgusted with myself.

I’m spending a second day at home today, partly because I don’t feel 100 percent, but more than that because I can’t wash my hair and don’t want to go out in public looking grubby.

Wednesday night, I arrived home all eager to change into my workout clothes and get on the elliptical trainer and watch the “West Wing.” I remember going into the bedroom and starting to change, then having people around me making a fuss.

Apparently, my wife and daughter heard this huge “THUNK” and came running. They found me with my pants around my ankles (fortunately, I had not brought any strippers home with me; that really would have been awkward), sitting dazed on the floor with blood running down my face. A puddle of it was forming on the hardwood floor.

As we wouldn’t discover until going to bed that night, my head had hit the bedpost hard enough to knock it loose from the rest of the bed frame, as you can see in the picture below.

Anyway, Mamanem gathered me up and took me to the urgent care, where I got five or six stitches to close the gash over my left eye.

The pain wasn’t bad. Mostly, I just felt like an idiot. I kept saying, “I’m sorry.” My wife kept saying, “Why do you keep saying that?” Well, because it was just all so undignified, and I was causing a fuss.

Aside from the head thing, I apparently wrenched my neck a bit — that hurts more than the wound — jammed both thumbs trying to catch myself, and banged my elbow.

Yesterday, I watched Cpl. William “Kyle” Carpenter receiving the Medal of Honor from the president (a worthy ceremony that helped eclipse the memory of a less-well-advised celebration a couple of weeks back). I saw the more obvious scars resulting from his heroism. Real wounds, horrific wounds, most honorably received.

And it made me feel even studiper for tripping on my pants and causing other people trouble…

The damaged bed -- from those marks on the floor, I must have moved the whole thing a bit.

The damaged bed — from those marks on the floor, I must have moved the whole thing a bit.

No news on my identity theft, but I’m fully warned about sex offenders in the area, thank you very much (I think)

sex offenders

Back when the Department of Revenue hacking mess broke, like everyone, I signed up for the monitoring service.

And I get alerts every few weeks telling me I should log in to my account “to view the details of this alert.”

But it seems it’s never about my credit status. It’s always a report on where all the sex offenders are in the metro area.

I continue to be puzzled at this. I don’t see what the connection is to my credit, or identity theft, or anything that I supposedly signed up for.

Maybe they just feel like they ought to be reporting something to me, since there’s no news bearing on my credit status. But why not the weather, or the latest headlines? Why sex offenders? It’s kinda weird. And it makes me wonder… what are they seeing in my credit report that makes them think this is the kind of thing I’m interested in?

Come give blood with me next Tuesday, ya wimps!

This is me giving once in 2011. I'd already been doing it for YEARS by then.

This is me giving once in 2011. I’d already been doing it for YEARS by then.

Today, they called me to ask for my blood again, on account of the fact that I’ll be eligible to do so again starting this Thursday.

I set my appointment for 5 p.m. next Tuesday, May 27 — double red cells, as usual, if my iron is good enough.

And as usual, they asked me that question that always sounds kind of odd — asking me if I could bring a friend.

But not really so odd, when you think of how much blood is needed in this part of the country. We almost never have enough, and have to import from other regions. So the more, the better.

So… for once, I’m asking well ahead of time: Would any of y’all join me in giving, either on Tuesday when I go, or at your convenience.

It’s important. It’s worth doing. Which is why I overcame my “Room 101″-level horror of having blood drawn from my body to become a regular giver, like clockwork.

So join me.

My grandson explains how old he is, more or less


Sunday was the little guy’s second birthday. If any adult at the party asked how old he is now, he flashed a seemingly (but not really*) random number of fingers. It seemed to satisfy the adults, and then he could go back to playing…

* CORRECTION: You know what? I realized that, in the interests of emphasizing cuteness, I described what the little guy is doing inaccurately, and even in a way that made him seem less smart than he is — which I would never want to do. Actually, he is conscientiously doing his best to answer the question. My wife tried to teach him, in the days running up to his birthday, how to hold up two fingers. Seeing that that was kind of tricky for him, she showed him that, as an alternative, he could hold up one finger of each hand. So, you see, what he’s doing in the picture is giving you as complete an answer as he can, covering all possible ways of answering: He’s doing his best to show two fingers with his right hand, while holding up one finger with his left. He just doesn’t understand that it’s an either-or thing.

Mother’s Day thoughts from our baby, in Thailand


Our youngest, with friends in Thailand.

As you may recall, our youngest daughter is in Thailand with the Peace Corps. She’ll be there another two years. So as the family gathered yesterday for a Mother’s Day cookout, she couldn’t be with us physically. But she posted this on her blog:

I love this time of year. Although nothing’s really changing on this side of the planet, my southern blood can feel the dogwoods bloom and the Atlantic Ocean warming up begging me to dive in. It’s when my South Carolina soul is set free — those first few Charleston summer nights spent riding my bike through the cobblestones of the Battery, down alleyways like magic gardens, past beautiful long pastel porches where belles once kissed their beaus by the flickering light of oil lamps.

I’m sure it’s getting to be the perfect weather for a backyard barbeque — which is exactly what I’m missing out on today as my family gathers to celebrate Mother’s Day.

While I wish I could be there, my service in the Peace Corps is a daily reminder to me of my mother’s influence. I often think, as I find myself in shocking situations, how would my mother handle this? And the answer is always the same — graciously, and with style. My mother would smile and calmly treat any human she came into contact with, with the same dignity and respect as the next person, no matter their approach or appearance. I learned from witnessing my mother’s consistent interactions as a social worker and active volunteer that all people deserve equal attention.

I feel that my parents, particularly the long hours I spent alone with my mother as her last baby, are largely responsible for any humanitarian tendencies I may possess. As I dug for grubs at her feet in our backyard organic garden, I learned that the easy way is not always the right way, i.e., cloth diapers for five children is better than polluting the planet with disposable diapers for five children, dryers are unnecessary when you have a sunny sky, and that your recycling and composting piles should always outweigh your trash.

My mother taught me a sense of social responsibility, but what’s more is she taught me how to live. She showed me by example the importance of prioritizing and maintaining a positive outlook. When she was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer, she fought it so gracefully that I never questioned her survival. A steel magnolia if you ever saw one.

I’ve come a long way from my childhood, which I spent totally preoccupied with my mother’s activities and whereabouts. Sure, all children are concerned with their #1 caretaker’s well-being, but my interest was border-line stalkerish. Maybe I was just spoiled, but I couldn’t stand for her to be out of my sight for a minute, and I needed constant validation of my status as the baby. I still do. Some things you never grow out of. While I have some minor personal goals for my life, the one over-arching theme is to make my mother proud. At the end of the day that’s what I really care about. That’s what would make me happy. I know in order to do this I must try to live selflessly as she does, not missing an opportunity to make my life worthwhile. This doesn’t come as naturally to me, but I am trying.

When I was little, I would stare at my mother’s face and marvel at her beauty. Now I’m wise enough to marvel at her strength. Each day I spend in Thailand is a test — a beautiful, delicious, sweaty test filled with smiles and laughter, but a test nonetheless. One that forces me to channel my mother from the other side of the world.

I wish all the mamas a happy Mother’s Day and I miss you from Thailand!

Bee Gees tune makes my hypothetical band’s playlist

Last night, I was watching an episode of “The Americans” and it ended with a song in the background that was a pleasant-enough-sounding ballad, but for one thing: It seemed to be very close to something very familiar, and something that I wanted to hear, but it never got there. It was too busy being artsy, too free-form, too showy in its refusal to be anything like the original.

I now know it was Roberta Flack’s version of “To Love Somebody.” It was pleasant, but considered as a cover of that song, it was awful. It left out all the best bits, such as the change when it launches into “you don’t know what it’s like,” and then when it takes it down a notch, for “to love somebody.”

Everything that made the song special was missing, including the appealing rhythm of the verses, in between the aforementioned best bits.

Frankly, I hadn’t ever realized how special the song was, until it had been stripped of what made it that way.

So I’m unilaterally adding it to the playlist for my band, for when I have a band. I’m not consulting my bandmates on it, because I don’t have any, and it wouldn’t do to start having artistic differences before we even get together.

I’m even thinking of going out on a limb and adding “I’ve Gotta Get a Message to You,” because I’ve always known that was great, even though it was by the Bee Gees. After all, the Brothers Gibb were pretty good before disco (he said defensively).

This is coming together well. Before long, I’ll have a complete playlist for my ultimate cover band, and that will give us a head start when I get around to actually putting the band together. Don’t you think?

Back when my two youngest were ‘the little girls’


My youngest daughter, the one who’s in Thailand now, adopted the above image as her new profile picture on Facebook. As I said in response, this is one of my favorite pictures I ever shot — perhaps one of my favorites that I ever saw.

It shows my two youngest. This was back when they were known in the family as “the little girls.” We had the three “big kids” who were close together in age, then a five-year gap, then the little girls.

Now they’re grown, like the big kids.

This was also back when I was still using my Nikon 8008, an awesome camera that now sits in a drawer because dealing with film is such an expensive hassle. I used to shoot black-and-white all the time — this was probably shot either on Tri-X or T-Max — which I would develop at home, and make my own prints. I would close off a bathroom that had no windows, set up my enlarger, put towels down at the crack under the door, and spend a whole Saturday printing.

This is one of those prints. The resolution is a little soft (actually, we would have referred to focus and grain rather than “resolution”), but that’s the way it was with 400 ASA film with ambient light indoors. But that’s one of the things that makes the picture work.

Tempus fugit.

From the Weird Coincidences File…


Over the weekend, I was in the Atlanta area for the funeral of my first cousin, Jack Avery. The silver lining in such sad occasions is that we get to see kinfolk we haven’t seen in years.

My brother and I sat up Friday night visiting with my aunt — Jack’s mother — and his sister and members of her family. And we got on the subject of talking about how various members of the extended family are related to each other. We spoke, for instance, of the family legend that we are related to Captain Kidd (there are some Kidds in the family tree), although none of us know exactly how, even if there’s any truth to it.

Somehow, we got on the subject of Patty Hearst. We are related to the Hearsts, rather distantly. The Hearsts lived in the Abbeville and Greenwood areas long before they went West.

My great-great-great grandmother, born in Abbeville in 1798, was a Hearst. Her grandfather, John Hearst, was William Randolph Hearst‘s great-great grandfather — and Patty Hearst’s great-great-great-great grandfather. A family genealogist once told my Dad that he was Patty’s fifth cousin, and the way I read the family tree, I think that’s right.

Making me her fifth cousin once removed. I suppose I could have applied for a job at Hearst Newspapers when I got laid off from The State, but I was just too proud to rely on nepotism.

Anyway, after having had that conversation, the first I’d had with anyone about the Hearst connection in years, we went to the funeral home the next day. We were a little early, and I found myself walking up and down the hallway. Noticing a stack of books sitting on a side table just outside the room where we gathered for the visitation — books there for no more relevant purpose than to imbue the decor with a homey feeling — I of course bent down to read the covers.

What I saw is pictured above. Note the one on the bottom.

I thought that was kind of weird…

Mrs. Landingham, we hardly knew ye

The West Wing by Habzapl

Wow. Last night, I watched the Season Two finale of “The West Wing” not once, but twice. It was one of the best episodes of any TV show that I’ve ever seen.

Just thinking about Mrs. Landingham telling Jed, for the second time in their long association, that if he didn’t want to proceed because he didn’t think it was right, fine, she could respect that, but if he didn’t try because it would be too hard, “Well, God, Jed, I don’t even want to know you”… well, I get goose bumps right now, just typing it.

On a previous thread, we were talking, in the context of the military, about what it means to live for a purpose greater than yourself. Well, this TV show is getting to me, and it’s on that level.

I’ve been watching this show nightly while working out, and loving it. (I never saw it when it was on the air.) It’s probably not good for my mental health, though, because I’ve become so very jealous of those characters and what they have together. I don’t always agree with the things they’re trying to do, but that’s beside the point. The fact is that they get to do it as part of a group of people just as committed to serving their causes as they are. And what they do actually has an effect on the world around them.

I mentioned that Ainsley, the young Republican lawyer who joins the staff, is possibly my favorite character (my second favorite may be Toby, although I really like Leo, too). She disagrees with this bunch of Democrats even more than I do, and is a wonderful foil for them. But she, too, is a member of the group; she feels the sense of mission perhaps more purely than they do — because she is there solely in order to serve her country, rather than the president’s party or anything like that.

It’s no accident that the episode I saw last night uses Dire Straits’ “Brothers in Arms” to such effect. That’s the appeal of the show. These people are all brothers in arms, in a cause greater than themselves.

The show creates in me a longing. I couldn’t serve in the military for medical reasons. I’ll never be a senior adviser in the White House because, Ainsley aside, you not only have to be a partisan, but a professional partisan, to get there these days.

But I know there are people in this world who have something like what those characters have, and I’m deeply envious.


Daily Beast: ‘The U.S. Military Is a Socialist Paradise’

Free health care.

Free health care.

Often, when talking to people who are horrified, appalled, mortified at the notion of a single-payer health care system — or who show contempt for the very notion that the government can do anything constructive — I speak of the way I grew up as a Navy brat during the Cold War.

I spent relatively little time in the cocoon of the military base — a couple of years in the run-down old Navy base in New Orleans (few amenities; most of the WWII-era buildings were boarded up), a couple more at MacDill Air Force Base, a place I only ever had to leave to ride the bus to my high school (my brother attended an elementary school on-base). The Army and Air Force, with their large garrison communities, always seemed to have the best recreational facilities and other amenities. The Navy’s focus was at sea.

But whether I lived on- or off-base, I had access to certain basics, such as free health care. My Dad gave his service to his country, including going to war, and in return he and his were taken care of. It made sense, and it worked.

Well, I see that Jacob Siegel at The Daily Beast has taken it to another level, with a piece headlined, “The U.S. Military Is a Socialist Paradise.” An excerpt:

It probably comes as a surprise to many, but the army may have more in common with Norway than Sparta.

The U.S. military is a socialist paradise. Imagine a testing ground where every signature liberal program of the past century has been applied, from racial integration to single-payer health care—then add personal honor, strict hierarchy, and more guns. Like all socialist paradises, the military has been responsible for its share of bloodshed, but it has developed one of the only working models of collective living and social welfare that this country has ever known….

It’s not a terribly original idea, and I think he takes it a bit far. And does pure socialism have, as he notes, a strict, chain-of-command hierarchy? Is it informed by personal honor and devotion to duty? I suppose it could be, but those concepts suggest something other than an economic system to me. And there’s a good bit of Sparta in the life, for the active-duty people.

Anyway, I thought I’d share the proposition with you…

I’m taking little white pills and my eyes are still itchy


And I write that headline with apologies to Dave Dudley. (You know, “I’m takin’ little white pills and my eyes are open wide…“)

How are y’all doing with the pollen? I’m not doing so great.

Of course, I take my usual double-adult dose of Zyrtec every night (my allergist decided years ago that 10 mg wasn’t enough for me), plus the Singulair that I take to keep asthma away but which I also find has an antihistaminic effect (I tried to quit taking it a couple of years back, and my nose was like Niagara Falls).

But at times like this, I have to get over-the-counter reinforcements, which in our house we just refer to as “little white pills.” Every drug store sells a house-brand version. They’re these generic tablets of chlorpheniramine maleate (antihistamine) and phenylephrine HCL (decongestant — and not the one you can make meth from). Essentially the same two drugs as in Alka-Seltzer Plus, minus the aspirin.

I find that they help admirably most of the time, but usually not until I’ve taken them every four hours for a day or so. After that, I can taper off some. Yesterday, I had been taking them at the prescribed intervals for quite a few days, and started having pretty bad symptoms again after only a couple of hours. And I’ve found in the past that sometimes if you push the envelope a tad — taking another dose after only three hours, just once or twice — you can get back on top of it. So, I tried that once or twice.

None of the tricks were working last night. Today, I’m feeling the effects of overwhelming hay fever and maybe a little too much of each of these drugs in my system, plus a largely sleepless night probably brought on by both of the first two factors. Then there’s the caffeine that I’ve tried to keep myself going with today. There’s nothing like feeling a little jittery from too much coffee while still having trouble keeping your eyes open and putting one thought in front of another…

I’m sure I’ll be better tomorrow, though. Right?

That’s me. How are y’all doing?

Hey, iTunes! Where are all of MY tunes?!?!?

iTunes panic

OK, I’m trying to suppress the panic here…

I was already pretty ticked off because the only tunes that showed up on my Apple TV were ones that I had “purchased” (either for money or by redeeming a free song from Starbucks or something) from iTunes.

Whereas, most of the music that was in iTunes on my PC laptop and my iPhone and my iPad were songs I owned before iTunes was invented — things I bought long, long ago, either on CD or vinyl (I have a turntable at home that hooks up to a computer and converts vinyl to MP3s). Stuff I had every right to. I liked that this music was in iTunes because it meant it wasn’t subject to the ravages of time and rough use as they affect vinyl and CDs — and they were available to me on multiple platforms, wherever I went.

The number of songs I had “purchased” from iTunes were insignificant. I mean, unless someone has given me an iTunes gift card, why would I spend money on something I could hear on Pandora or Spotify for free? (Especially, especially, especially if I had already paid for it once, twice or three times in my lifetime?)

Anyway, this state of affairs got worse when I got a new iPhone a month or so ago. Everything transferred over from my old iPhone just fine. But recently I noticed that all of MY music (the music I owned before iTunes, from vinyl and CD) was missing.

So today, when I connected the iPhone to my PC in order to transfer some photos, and iTunes automatically launched, I thought, “I’ll try to fix this.”

I did this by clicking on “Brad’s iPhone” in iTunes, scrolling down to options, and clicking off the button that said “Sync only checked songs and videos.” And then I clicked “Apply.”

I got a dialogue box that I can’t seem to get back again now, but I think it said something like “Do you want to erase the iTunes profile on your phone and replace it with the one on your computer?” I said “yes,” because that’s what I wanted to do. And I ran it.

And now, I still don’t have any of MY tunes on iTunes, and a bunch of them (but strangely, not all) have disappeared from my laptop as well! For instance, all of the Beatles albums — just gone!

They’re all still on my iPad. So now I’m scared to connect the iPad to the PC, lest I lose them. (And yeah, I suppose I still have copies of these things somewhere, in some form, but getting them onto iTunes represented a lot of time and effort.)

Any minute now, I’ll start freaking out.

Anyone have any advice?