Category Archives: Personal

Yo, Starbucks on Gervais! I’d love to run your Twitter account for you

Y’all know of my unrequited love for Starbucks. “Unrequited” because in order for it to be requited, Starbucks would need to advertise here on my blog. I can hardly think of a better fit, given all the free product placement I’ve already provided over the years.

But now I have a different proposition: Please, Starbucks, let me run your local Twitter feed.

I’m referring here in particular to the Starbucks in the Vista, at Gervais and Lincoln. I follow the store on Twitter, and it has not posted a thing since 2012. Sept. 4, 2012, to be precise. And that one was merely a reTweet.xw38lV2J

I realized this because I went to the Twitter feed to find out whether the store was open today — which, ya know, would have been a really handy bit of info to post on Twitter.

Fortunately, the phone number was included on the feed, so I called them, the way people did in the 20th century, and found out that no, they are not open, on account of the water problem.

I have a proposition: Let me take over your Twitter feed, and I will post at LEAST daily, on the average, in return for the following considerations:

  • An ad on my blog, at the discount rate.
  • Two free cups of coffee a day for the duration of the arrangement.
  • One pound of coffee beans a week.

That’s it. I think you’ll find that this would be far more cost-effective for you than using a significant portion of an FTE to get this job done. And you’d be hard-pressed to find a barista who would be as good at Twitter as I am. I am, after all, one of the Twitterati. I mean, I teach people how to Tweet and everything.

Think about it, @SbuxGervais. This is a sweet deal I’m offering here.

Drone pictures of Lake Murray dam with gates open

dam 1

I thought these were pretty cool images shared by the National Weather service yesterday evening, which I just saw. Here’s the caption info:

Drone images of the Lake Murray Dam Spillway. These floodgates have not been used since 1969. Photos courtesy of Ebben M Aley.

Technically, have those floodgates ever been used? Wasn’t the dam rebuilt a few years back? Of course, maybe the floodgate part is original equipment; I don’t know.

Finally, I can see the thing that caused the flooding in my area.

Here’s hoping letting off that pressure did the trick, and the dam remains strong.

Speaking of which, in my household we got to contemplating this passage in The State this morning:

SCE&G operates the lake originally built for hydropower 85 years ago but now a major source of recreation and drinking water for the Columbia area….

Which raises the question — are those good enough reasons to have those millions of tons of water poised over us? Couldn’t we get drinking water some other way?

Needless to say, you and your recreation seem kinda low priorities to me at the moment.

drone dam

Saluda River recedes to late-Sunday levels

recedingWell, this is encouraging.

I went down to check the river this morning (8:53 a.m.), and the water had receded to about where it was Sunday evening. The Quail Hollow pool was now visible, although full of filthy river water, and garbage bins that had been floating on Monday were on dry land. Well, not dry land, but merely soggy land.

I apologize for the dimness of the pool and surrounding area. There was this strange yellow thing in the sky that was too bright to look straight at, giving off an intense radiation that caused a backlighting problem.

Anyway, things are looking up in Quail Hollow.

Meanwhile, I’m working from home today. The twins are here because their school is out, and I just didn’t want to spend the day on the other side of the river from them and J. I don’t think there will be further trouble, but who knows. The edges of the road into our subdivision doesn’t look too great…

Now, the Quail Hollow pool is completely inundated

Monday morning, 10:38.

Monday morning, 10:38.

Here’s how I’m keeping track of the rising water…

There was the picture I took of the Quail Hollow pool — which is normally right next to the Saluda River — at 1:09 p.m. Sunday.

Then there was the one I took at 5:18 p.m. Sunday.

This morning at 10:38, the pool was no more to be seen.

Now, let me put this in perspective — especially for my kids in Thailand, who are worried about us: This represents a rise of a couple of feet in about 17 hours. It would still need to rise two or three yards to reach the street, which is the lowest-lying road in Quail Hollow — which is what, 50 feet or so from the high ridge that we are on.

So we’re fine. Our neighbors who spent the night with us because they were told to evacuate checked on their house this morning and there’s no water anywhere near it.

We’re fine.

In fact, watching this slow rise of the river through these images is sort of reassuring. If not regular and normal, it as least has a slow, plodding predictability to it. So we’ve got that going for us, which is nice.

Flooding in my neighborhood, Quail Hollow

These are the tennis courts at Quail Hollow in West Columbia on Sunday a little past midday.

They’re right next to the Saluda River, which you can see rushing in the background. I guess technically, all of this is now the Saluda River.

That loud buzzing is an alarm coming from a transformer that’s right next to me. I don’t know what it means, but I’m being careful not to touch the water.

Our house is one block from the river, but way up a steep hill.

We drove around the neighborhood a bit more, and then, as we returned to the house at 1:30, the sun came out. Don’t know whether that means the worst is over, or not.

More pictures below…

Now THAT’S what I call extra lemon! Good job, Lizard’s Thicket!


OK, first, I know I shouldn’t be drinking a jumbo (why do they have to call it “jumbo?” I ask for a large; they repeat it back to me as “jumbo”) sweet tea, in light of my current dietary goals.

But set that aside, and allow me to give some props to the Lizard’s Thicket on Elmwood, for going above and beyond.

I didn’t used to drink much sweet tea, because it was frankly too sweet for me. Then I discovered a couple of years back that I could tolerate any amount of sugar as long as there was enough lemon in it. And that, in fact, super-sweet tea with plenty of lemon was really good stuff.

So — and yes, this is how bad habits start — I started ordering sweet tea “with extra lemon” instead of my usual water or unsweetened tea.

But some restaurants have an odd idea of “extra lemon.” Sometimes I’ll get only a couple of slices — whereas “extra” is at least three, right? That’s how many I get when it’s self-serve — I don’t want to be greedy; I just want to offset the sweetness.

But today, the Lizard’s Thicket on Elmwood gave me tea with seven slices of lemon in it! More than twice as many as I would dare to grab for myself!

Now that’s what I call service. And since I didn’t realize it until after I got back to the office and therefore didn’t get to thank them, I’m posting this…

Once again, photographic proof that Mike Miller and I are two completely different people

Mike and me

That’s me on the left. Not my left, YOUR left…

Here we go again, y’all.

Last night, I stopped by the First Thursday event on Main Street, partly because I wanted to drop by Kyle Michel‘s law office and rummage through the discs he was prepared to part with. Kyle, the son-in-law of my old boss Tom McLean, is the Rob Fleming of Columbia, and much of the space in his office is taken up by his amazingly extensive record collection. Each First Thursday, he puts a couple of tables out on the sidewalk in front of his office, laden with boxes full of LPs he’s prepared to sell. (Last night, I came away with a mono LP of Trini Lopez’ greatest hits.)Trini-Lopez-Greatest-Hits---S-504697

Crossing the courtyard of the art museum on my way toward Main Street, I heard my name called, and it was Mike Miller, standing chatting with Tim Conroy — yes, he’s one of those Conroys, brother of Pat — and Phill Blair, co-owner of The Whig (and one of my elder son’s best friends).

Mike immediately reported that it had happened again. Just minutes before in a shop on Main Street, a woman had mistaken him for me. He did his best to persuade her that he was this whole other guy who had also worked at the newspaper, and she allowed as how yes, she recalls there was a Mike Miller who wrote about the music scene for the paper, but she had felt certain that the man in front of her was Brad Warthen.

This is ridiculous, people.

This happened to me — being mistaken for Mike, I mean — three times in one week back in 2012, in the wake of Mike’s run for city council. I have since posted photographic evidence that we are not the same person. That should have settled it, right?

Evidently, that photo wasn’t persuasive enough. So I asked Tim Conroy to take a picture of us together, right then and there, to put an end to the persistent rumors that Clark Kent — I mean, Mike Miller — and I are the same person. He obliged.

Please share this with your friends and neighbors, so we can clear up this misunderstanding. Thank you for your attention to this matter.

A trip through the Wayback Machine


While working on a presentation later this week on the subject of blogging, I went back and looked at some of my early efforts.

Specifically, I went back to January 2008, my peak blogging month ever.

Looking back, I’m fairly impressed.

If you want to go back and explore, just click on the image above, you’ll go back in time, and you’ll find the links work (or at least SOME of them do) and everything.


Speaker’s statement on other State House monuments

My attention is not focused on Tillman's statue at this time.

My attention is not focused on Tillman’s statue at this time.

I meant to post this yesterday when it came in, before it was in the paper:

Speaker Lucas Statement on Debate Over Public Monuments and Buildings

(Columbia, SC) – Today, House Speaker Jay Lucas (District 65-Darlington) issued the following statement to reiterate his position surrounding future debate over public monuments and memorials.  In light of the recent tragedy, several South Carolina universities and colleges have formally asked or suggested the General Assembly address changes or exceptions to the South Carolina Heritage Act.  This law, which passed in 2000, protects all monuments, historical markers, street names, and buildings named for historical figures or events.

“The South Carolina House of Representatives will not engage in or debate the specifics of public monuments, memorials, state buildings, road names or any other historical markers. The General Assembly, the House in particular, made it abundantly clear during the debate of the confederate flag that the only issue they were willing to discuss was the placement of the battle flag on the north lawn of the State House. We reached a swift resolution last week and in doing so put an end to this discussion. Debate over this issue will not be expanded or entertained throughout the remainder of my time as Speaker.”

I’m satisfied with that, and I fully understand that the speaker, who just did yeoman’s work on getting the flag down, would be uninterested in any more battles over stuff on the State House grounds.

Before I move on, however, just to get certain points on the record, I wish to make these observations:

  • I have never promised NOT to advocate to remove other items from the State House grounds. What I have said (or at least what I thought) was that the Confederate flag that flew there until a week ago was in its own, special category, qualitatively as well as quantitatively different from anything else on the grounds in terms of its political significance. And that is why I have concerned myself with that and only that with regard to the grounds.
  • If I were ever to advocate to remove or amend (as Todd Rutherford suggests) anything on the grounds, it would be the Ben Tillman statue. My longtime newspaper was founded to fight the Tillman machine, and its first editor was murdered by one of its capos. My own ancestors, who actually lived next door to Tillman in Washington, took a very dim view of him. And my ancestors and newspaper were right: He may be the nastiest piece of work ever to wield political power in his state. Which puts him, rather like the flag, in a special category of his own.
  • I have NO interest in fighting such a battle at this time. I’m enjoying the reconciliation and togetherness that bringing down the flag has engendered in our state, and I intend to bask in it for the foreseeable future. I have NEVER been guilty of the kinds of intentions that neoConfederates ascribed to flag opponents — some sort of Orwellian desire to remove all reminders of the Confederate past. I’ve never been even slightly interested in that, and I would not want in any way to give them a reason to think their “slippery slope” argument was even vaguely justified. And even though Tillman is a separate issue from the Confederacy, I’m not interested in addressing him for now. And probably not for the rest of Lucas’ tenure as speaker, although I’m always open to a good argument.

Fun to be on the page with Robert (and Cindi) again

better page

“They’re back and they’re bad!”

“When they get together, Trouble comes a-runnin’!”

“Confederate Agenda II: Just when you thought it was safe to read the paper again…”

I’m thinking taglines for a cheesy sequel buddy action flick after seeing the page today in The State with Robert Ariail paired with me once again — my column with his cartoon. A lot of friends have commented on that — favorably. Although when Mike Fitts said it was “Just like old times,” Neil White, being himself, responded that “they were celebrating Throwback Tuesday over there.”

“It’s Throwback Tuesday. Don’t turn that page!”

Anyway, it’s great to be back with Robert in print today, even though it’s only today. And to be back with Cindi Scoppe, of course. I’ve been working with her off and on since the weekend, strategizing about what I was going to write and the best time to run it, then working together through the editing process. And I was aware that she was writing two editorials that would run with my piece — this one congratulating the Senate, and this one exhorting the House to follow the Senate’s example — whereas Robert’s cartoon was more of a nice surprise.

Now that was even more like old times. I haven’t even seen my buddy Robert this week, but working on this with Cindi was a very pleasant return to the alternative universe where everything is as it should be.

I even called her to ask for a PDF of the page today, to have a souvenir of the occasion (nowadays, things don’t seem real without a digital version). An inferior JPG image is above. Click on it, and you get the PDF.

My granddaughter the scientist


Yesterday, when my youngest granddaughter and her little brother arrived at our house to spend the day, she got right to work, asking my wife, “What liquids do we have?”

The scientist at 5.

The scientist at 5.

So my wife gathered oil, vinegar, milk and other things together, and my granddaughter started meticulously measuring amounts, calling them out to my wife in milliliters, and mixing the liquids in different concentrations in little plastic cups.

My wife’s job was to write down the amounts and observations. My granddaughter would draw the results next to the notations, when she found them visually interesting.

She kept saying, “I love doing this! I love it!” My wife observed that that was a good thing, since she wants to be a scientist.

She’s five years old, and just finished 4K at the local Chinese-immersion charter school. So she also speaks Mandarin, and hasn’t started regular kindergarten yet.

Our girl’s wicked smart.

Today finally IS ‘a great day in South Carolina,’ as we witness a host of miracles in the State House, of all places

the group

Today, the state of South Carolina leaped out into uncharted territory, launching itself from the 19th century right over the troubled 20th, and into the 21st. And it wasn’t even kicking and screaming.

It is, without a doubt, a miracle that today, Gov. Nikki Haley called for the Confederate flag to come off the State House grounds ASAP.

That is HUGE. That alone would have me walking around the State House (as I was just moments ago) saying, “What state am I in? Really, help me: Where am I?”

Today truly IS “a great day in South Carolina.”

NOTHING like this has ever happened in the 28 years that I’ve covered politics and government in South Carolina. Nothing even close to it. What happened today broke all of the rules of what does and does not happen in South Carolina.

Today, the state’s political leadership got together and said, “Hey, let’s just stop all the usual b.s.” Just like THAT (imagine me snapping my fingers)!

But I didn’t witness just one miracle today beneath the dome, with a storm raging outside and thunder crashing. Really, it’s impossible to count how many I saw. I’ll use a biblical accounting method and say seventy times seven. Or more than the stars in the sky…

Let’s just count a few:

  • Nikki Haley, elected as the darling of the Tea Party, standing there and saying “It’s time to move the flag from the capitol grounds,” and saying that if the Legislature doesn’t do it while it’s already here in town (through a proviso, or somehow amending the sine die resolution), she’s going to call them right back to deal with it. And meaning it. Wow. God bless her.
  • Joe Riley, freighted with grief as mayor of a Holy City in mourning, standing there right with her and not having to say a thing because Nikki Haley is saying what needs to be said. So that second march won’t be necessary, Mr. Mayor.
  • Mariangeles Borghini, Emile DeFelice and Tom Hall, the regular folks who pulled together the impromptu, haphazard rally Saturday, standing there witnessing it. Afterwards, I had to go over to Ms. Borghini, a recent immigrant from Argentina, and say, “You know, you don’t normally get what you ask for this fast in South Carolina.” But… maybe you do, now. Who knows? Everything we all knew about SC politics just went out the window. And you know that second rally they’re planning on the flag for July 4th? It just turned into a celebration, instead of another small step on a long, sweaty road.
  • Jim Clyburn standing at her right hand, in total agreement with her on the most divisive issue that I’ve dealt with in my decades in South Carolina.
  • Tim Scott and Lindsey Graham, who within the last few days was mouthing the usual stuff about how we had to understand that for some folks it’s about heritage, standing there on her other side. Mark Sanford, who was saying the same stuff a couple of days back, standing behind them.
  • Sen. John Courson, long the Confederate flag’s best friend in the Senate (except when Glenn McConnell was around), standing there with all of them. (Mind you, John has always been the most reasonable voice of that caucus, but he’s still the guy with multiple Confederate flags in his office, and is sort of the embodiment — the sincere embodiment — of the “honor the war dead” argument that has kept the flag up.)
  • South Carolina Republican Party Chairman Matt Moore and Democratic Party Chairman Jaime Harrison — one white, the other black, sort of like their parties — standing literally shoulder-to-shoulder and grinning without reservation, in complete agreement with each other on the issue that has most surely divided them since we turned into a two-party state, since long, long before either of these young men even knew what Democrats and Republicans were. Moore, who was mouthing the usual “it’s not the time” stuff a couple of days ago, now saying, “We can’t change our past, but we can heal our future.” And Harrison, who can usually be counted on for the usual “if it’s Republican, it’s bad” stuff, telling me “I have nothing but respect for Gov. Haley. She’s doing the right thing, and she’s doing it for the right reasons.”
  • Mind you, Haley and Sanford and Graham and Scott and Courson and Matt Moore all represent the Republican Party that essentially came to power on the issue of keeping the flag up. The GOP took over the House after the 1994 election. The party got an unprecedented turnout in its primary that year in part by, in the national year of the Angry White Male, putting a mock “referendum” question on the primary ballot asking whether the flag should stay up. One of the very first things the party caucus pushed through after assuming control of the House was legislation that put the flying of the flag into law, so that no governor or anyone else but the Legislature could ever take it down. (You might say, why bring that up at such a wonderful moment. Here’s why: To let you know how big a miracle this is.)
  • Democrats and Republicans who have spent the day working sincerely together in multiple meetings today, not to posture and get the other side to vote against something so it can be used in the next election or to raise money, but to solve an issue that cuts right through the heart of South Carolina, and defines the differences between them. I asked House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford whether he has EVER been in such extraordinary meetings as he has been in today, with leaders of both parties determined to reach agreement on such a heavy, politically impossible issue and put it behind us for good. For a second, he almost reverted to the usual, starting to say, not while this governor has been in office… But I said, no, I mean EVER. And he said, no. He has never experienced anything like this on any issue.
  • Drivers going past the flag on Gervais and not just honking their horns in celebration at the flag coming down, but playing monotonal tunes on their horns, a regular symphony of honking. Such giddiness is as unprecedented as all the rest of us. It’s almost like our local version of the Berlin Wall coming down.
  • J.T. McLawhorn, president of the Columbia Urban League, telling me, “Things can change in a moment.” Meaning ANYTHING, no matter how intractable, no matter how long-lived. In South Carolina, the most change-resistant state in the union.
  • The way the sentiment that it was too soon to talk about such a hairy political issue, when we haven’t buried the first victim of the Charleston massacre, had just evaporated. Rep. James Smith, D-Richland, told me that Clem Pinckney “himself would say, ‘Do not lose this moment.'” This was, as the governor had said, the way to “honor the nine blessed souls that are now in heaven.”
  • The way the entire world was there to see it and hear it. And yeah, I’m sure that’s one huge reason we’re seeing this happen so quickly — was best to come out and say this now, while the world was watching, so that everyone would know of the miracle that had happened in South Carolina. But it was still something to see. I estimate this media crowd was about twice the size of the one that witnessed Mark Sanford’s public confession upon his return from Argentina six years ago this month.
  • To hear the booming voices of people spontaneously crying out, “Thank you, governor!” as she left the podium. (Presumably, those were the non-media types, and there were a lot of them on hand.) And no, I don’t think that was planned. It sounded heartfelt to me. Just like the applause that interrupted the governor, and which she had to wait for the end of, after she spoke the fateful words, “It’s time to move the flag from the capitol grounds.”
  • The way nobody was hedging, or qualifying, or talking about half-measures. In the state that normally doesn’t change, and when it does it does so in the tiniest, hesitating, gradualistic baby steps, the governor was like, Let’s just go ahead and take it down, and lawmakers of both parties were like, Yeah, let’s, and the rest of us were like Keanu Reeves, going whoaaaa

How did we get here, and so fast? I don’t think we can explain it in earthly terms. A friend who gave me a ride back to the office after the miracle said she felt like maybe, just maybe, it started when those family members stood in that courtroom the other day, looked at the (alleged) brutal killer of their precious loved ones, and forgave him. I nodded. Maybe so. Maybe that was the beginning of some sort of chain reaction of grace, which led to this.

I don’t know.

Yeah, a lot has to happen before this thing is done. But I think it’s going to happen. I asked James Smith whether he thought, based on his interactions with those involved, the consensus to act was solid. He nodded: “Rock solid,” he said. I believe him.

Elliott Epps on his friend Clementa Pinckney

On Wednesday, the Greater Columbia Community Relations Council had its big annual community luncheon at the convention center. I was there, as a member of the Council, but I had not made a reservation, so I took pot luck in being assigned to a table. I ended up with one at the back that had to be added because we had such a big crowd. I knew a couple of people at the table, but met some new ones as well, including an older (slightly older than I am, that is) black lady named Minnie (sp?).

Elliott Epps

Elliott Epps

Our outgoing chairman, Elliott Epps — former head of City Year, and a classmate of my daughter in law school — opened the event with a gag from the news: He said that yes, he was a Caucasian male, and he was not asking us to believe he was anything else. So people laughed, and I said something to my tablemates to the effect of, “Elliott, we can tell!” Minnie smiled and said something like, “I don’t know; he looks just like some of my cousins.” And true, he does have dark hair, but that’s about it.

At that moment, we could still have a laugh about things in the news, even things in the news that bore on race.

Hours later, that would all change.

This morning, CRC Executive Director Henri Baskins sent out a note to all board members letting them know about the statement I had drafted yesterday. Among the responses was this personal reflection from Elliott, which he has also posted on Facebook. I asked him whether I might share that with y’all and he generously agreed:

I have been numb today. Clementa Pinckney was my best friend from graduate school when we spent two years together getting a Masters in Public Administration at the University of South Carolina. Two months after leaving City Year Boston in 1997 I met him when he was 24 and I was 26 when we both started grad school. He and I worked as office assistants in the office of government and international studies in order to get the tuition reduction. This man at 24 had his own congregation in Jasper County; had his own constiuents in Jasper, Beaufort and Charleston county, was taking a full load of graduate degree classes; but still managed to work 20 hours in office with me making copies and stuffing faculty boxes. The humility. The grace. The strength. He epitomized the servant leader.

Clementa Pinckney

Clementa Pinckney

He and I both entered our dating phases with the women we were to marry. What a fun time! We went to each other’s weddings. He introduced me to a lifetime friend, mentor Steve Skardon which led to get me a job for the Palmetto Project to work on improving race and community relations. He is the only person I have walked door to door for a large part of James Island when he ran for State Senate. Later we had our oldest children a year apart. When my mother got cancer, Clem drove to Aiken and prayed with her and over her, holding her hand weeks before she died. Sadly years later his mother died also of cancer.

Clem probably drove more than anyone in this state that was not a professional truck driver. When I knew him his blue car was seriously over 300,000 miles. His district when he was elected to the SC Senate is bigger than the state of Rhode Island.

As I watched all of the coverage and I heard the President, Congressman Clyburn, his colleagues in the SC Senate and the House, and so many people talk about Clemnta this was not how it was supposed to be. Clementa was always pulled between politics and the church. I always wondered and thought from our discussions about the future and our dreams that he would either be Bishop of the AME church or the successor to Congressman Clyburn to represent SC in Washington. All of those leaders speaking about Clementa was not weird because I always expected because of his gifts that he would be talked about by them and with them. But never in my worst nightmare like this. Not about this. What a terrible, terrible waste.

Someone from the SC Senate said I thought beautifully, “Out of all of us. How can this happen to gentlest? How can this have happened to the best of us?” He called him the “Conscience of the Senate.” The book by Norman Vincent Peele entitled “Why do bad things happen to good people” could in this case be renamed “Why do the worst things happen to the best people?” My thoughts go to Jennifer, Eliana and Malana. We must lift them and the other families affected by this chaos.

It is time to mourn but when we move forward we need to follow Clemnta’s lead and listen to that incredible voice in our heads and our heart when we work together on how to solve this. I miss you Clem!

The Golden Age of Television Overload

Good riddance to you both! Now can I have my life back for awhile? And could somebody turn up the lights?

Good riddance to you both! Now can I have my life back for awhile? And could somebody turn up the lights?

Pope Francis recently disclosed that he hasn’t watched television since 1990. Which means he’s like way behind on “Game of Thrones.” Among other things.

I’m beginning to think His Holiness is onto something. I’m feeling… a bit out of control with my own binge-watching lately. Wouldn’t I be a better person — more productive, more attuned to the needs of those around me — if I stopped watching Netflix, HBO NOW, the downstairs TV, the upstairs TV, the Roku, the Apple TV, the iPad and on very rare occasions, actual broadcast television?

The Pope has enough on his plate keeping up with matters relating to this world and the next, much less Westeros and all those other fictional universes out there.

Today, the front of the Arena section of The Wall Street Journal raises the question, “How Many TV Series Can Your Brain Take?” An excerpt:

“Game of Thrones,” which will leave multiple story lines dangling for a year with Sunday’s season finale, is notorious for befuddling even ardent fans with its many clans, lands and simmering subplots. But it’s just one of many shows taxing the memories of audiences who have been flooded with complex story lines and crowded character ensembles.

“Orange Is the New Black,” which returns Friday for a third season on Netflix, uses more than 20 characters to populate a fictional women’s prison with inmates and staff. On “Orphan Black,” finishing its third season on BBC America this month, lead actress Tatiana Maslany plays six different characters, all clones, in a sci-fi conspiracy story. New viewers have to absorb dense mythologies if they hope to jump aboard returning shows such as CBS’s summer series “Under the Dome,” which, in its coming third season, might finally explain why a bubble is encasing the town of Chester’s Mill.

The deluge of compelling shows means fans have to be good at time management to keep up with the best offerings. But they also are grappling with the limits of memory. How many shows (and knotty plots and twisting character arcs within) can we keep track of at once? In a binge-watching world, where we aren’t limited to weekly installments of network TV shows, is there a limit to the number of narratives we can keep straight?

Actually, I don’t think that frames the question correctly. Binge-watching doesn’t cause the problem of having trouble keeping up. What I find is that failing to binge-watch makes it harder to know what’s going on.

Dramatic series are written for binge-watchers, not for people who watch an episode, walk away and lead real lives, then come back in a week or more to try to pick up the thread again. That is part of what makes the new breed of shows so absorbing — they pull you into a complicated world, and if you can’t stay there until the season (at least) is over, you’re likely to be disoriented when you return.

For instance — when the third season of “House of Cards” came out several months back, I did what I had with the first two seasons. I started watching to see what everybody was talking about, then got fed up with it and quit, and then, when curiosity built up enough, came back and pushed through the rest of it.

SPOILER ALERT! Consequently, when I saw the season finale the other night, I was somewhat at a loss: Why was Claire leaving Frank? Yeah, they had been slightly weirder together the last few episodes — which means five percent more than their usual standard, which is creepy as all get-out. But what precipitated this blow-up? Surely nothing that had happened recently had showed her anything she didn’t know about her husband. Not to mention that she’s no bargain herself on the decent-person scale.

If I’d watched it all straight through, I think I might have a good feel for it. But as things stand, I don’t.

Not that it matters, right?

Last year, David Carr wrote in The New York Times about the problem of “Barely Keeping Up in TV’s New Golden Age.” I could really identify:

The vast wasteland of television has been replaced by an excess of excellence that is fundamentally altering my media diet and threatening to consume my waking life in the process. I am not alone. Even as alternatives proliferate and people cut the cord, they are continuing to spend ever more time in front of the TV without a trace of embarrassment.

I was never one of those snobby people who would claim to not own a television when the subject came up, but I was generally more a reader than a watcher. That was before the explosion in quality television tipped me over into a viewing frenzy….

And what a feast. Right now, I am on the second episode of Season 2 of “House of Cards” (Netflix), have caught up on “Girls” (HBO) and am reveling in every episode of “Justified” (FX). I may be a little behind on “The Walking Dead” (AMC) and “Nashville” (ABC) and have just started “The Americans” (FX), but I am pretty much in step with comedies like “Modern Family” (ABC) and “Archer” (FX) and like everyone one else I know, dying to see how “True Detective” (HBO) ends. Oh, and the fourth season of “Game of Thrones” (HBO) starts next month.

Whew. Never mind being able to hold all these serials simultaneously in my head, how can there possibly be room for anything else? So far, the biggest losers in this fight for mind share are not my employer or loved ones, but other forms of media….

I think back to a time before all this. Say, the ’80s. In that whole decade, I can remember watching only one dramatic series on television that in any way compares to the shows I’m juggling now: “Hill Street Blues.” There was that, and maybe “Cheers” — both on the same network on the same night. I was very, very busy with a demanding job in the daytime and a family full of young children at night, and entertainment wasn’t high on my list — which made the lack of high-quality options a good match for my lifestyle. And “Hill Street” was written for people who only visited that world weekly. There were continuing story lines, but everything was episodic. One episode held you for a week.

Lately, I’m juggling, off and on:

  • Blue Bloods” — My only current show written in that old fashioned episodic form, and the only one coming from commercial broadcast television. But I’m watching it the new way. I had never seen it before a couple of months ago, when I started the first season on Netflix. It’s the perfect length for a workout on the elliptical. I’m not quite as obsessed with it as I was with “The West Wing” last year, but I do like it.
  • Foyle’s War” — Watching this on two temporal streams. We just finished the current season of new ones on PBS last night. Meanwhile, we’re almost done with the previous seasons on Netflix.
  • Game of Thrones” — ALMOST caught up. I’ve got one more episode to watch (last week’s) before this Sunday’s season finale. And I’ll be glad to be done with it for awhile. I wanted to be up on the cultural phenomenon, and now I almost am. I don’t find it very satisfying.
  • The Wire” — The best of the lot right now. I’m trying not to spend it all at once. I’m past the halfway mark in the second season.
  • Orange is the New Black” — We were really into this, but my wife and I sort of lost interest during the second season, and didn’t get more than a few episodes into it. With the new season out today, will we get back into it? I don’t know.
  • Daredevil” — Probably the best adaptation of a Marvel franchise ever to appear on television. I’ve only got one episode left in the Netflix season, still waiting to see him in the red superhero costume. The series is taking the origins thing at a stately pace.
  • True Detective” — Got started on this and got sidetracked. Want to finish the season before the new one comes out.
  • Mad Men” — Lost interest a couple of seasons back. There’s just so much moral vacancy one can take. But my wife and daughter say the last season was as good as the early ones, so I’m going to take it back up soon.
  • The Walking Dead” — Haven’t watched it in months, but I do want to get back to it and catch up. I just want to know one thing before I do: Daryl doesn’t die, does he?
  • Justified” — It’s as good as some of my friends here say, but since the only way I can see it is on DVDs from Netflix, I only get back to it periodically. I’m only up to the second or third episode in the second season.
  • Better Call Saul” — Since we don’t get AMC (the only station I miss from cutting back on cable), I bought the season on iTunes when it first came out. So since I paid for it, I really must get back to it and watch the rest of the season at some point. It’s good, but it’s not as compelling as “Breaking Bad.” I’ve just got this investment in it.

It’s over now, but for a few weeks there, we were really into “Wolf Hall” — which we’d watch on Apple TV the night after each episode’s release, because I didn’t want to stay up past 11 on Sunday night. (One good thing about this — it forced me to go ahead and finish reading Bring Up the Bodies in order to stay ahead of the show — which I shoved aside The Guns of August in order to push through.)

Meanwhile, it seems that Netflix releases a new series daily, and some of them are bound to be good. It’s just ridiculous.

Meanwhile, I’ve been trying to read The Guns of August, a really compelling history book, for months. But if I read a chapter in a sitting, it’s unusual. And it was interrupted first by the trip to Thailand, and then by Bring Up the Bodies. Mostly, it’s a couple of pages over dinner. And talk about losing track of characters and story lines — of course, books are supposed to be that absorbing and complex. TV never was before.

Yeah, it’s true, and it’s appalling: I’ve only finished on new book so far this year.

The Pope has the right idea. I just need to summon the self-discipline…

"Daredevil:" Matt Murdock still hasn't fully donned his superhero persona.

“Daredevil:” Matt Murdock still hasn’t fully donned his superhero persona.

Signs, signs, everywhere the signs…

No hand-holding! This, however, is allowed...

No hand-holding! This, however, is allowed…

While y’all have been wondering, “Where’s Brad?,” I’ve been at the beach with my two youngest grandchildren.

And the youngest, my 3-year-old grandson, is quite the playground lawyer.

Yesterday, my wife and I walked him and his big sister down the street to a little municipal park there at Surfside Beach so they could play on the playground equipment.

As we arrived there, he announced, “No holding hands,” and pulled his away from me. Since we were there, I let him go, but I had to ask: “Where does it say no holding hands?”

Without missing a beat, he said in an offhand manner: “That sign over there,” and resumed climbing up on the equipment.

He had indicated one of those signs you find at municipal parks that indeed say such things as, “No bare feet,” and “Children must be accompanied by adult.”

I was impressed. I knew we had used these signs in the past as justification for telling him to do things we wanted. You know, like, “Don’t go up the slide backwards. Don’t look at me; that’s what the sign says.”

Since it worked on him, he figured it would work on us. He doesn’t grok the concept of reading, so it doesn’t occur to him that he can’t con us with that. He doesn’t know that he’s the only person in the group who can’t read the sign.

I thought it was a very legalistic gambit, for a guy who just turned 3 last month…

I’m overweight again (for me), need to go back to paleo


I saw this ad, being blasted on both sides of the Atlantic for its body-shaming message, and it reminded me: I weighed myself over the weekend, and it’s time to go back to the full paleo diet.

It’s not that I looked at this ad and decided I need to do something because I don’t look like the person in the picture. If I DID look like the person in the picture, I’d have a whole other set of problems — such as standing in front of a mirror looking at myself all day, which would hurt my productivity.

No, I was concerned about this before the picture. This just reminds me.

I’d been feeling like the waistbands of all my pants had shrunk for a couple of weeks now. After gorging myself on ribs Saturday night, I tried the scale at my parent’s house (we don’t have one at home), and it was as I suspected: 181.6 pounds.

That doesn’t sound like much for a guy who’s a fraction under six feet, does it? But it is, particularly if you’ve always had a skinny frame. A guy with a skinny frame doesn’t look good with a gut. And a guy with a skinny frame who weighs more than 180 has a gut.

I looked it up. This chart says that if I have a “light” frame, I should weigh 146-157. If I have a “medium” frame, it’s 154-166. I don’t know what’s perfect for me, but the last time I had really been working out heavily for awhile and felt in super-good shape, I was somewhere in the 160s. You know, in the range for wrestling Shute.

A year ago, I was around 170, maybe a trifle under if I took off my shoes. I was working out every morning, a hard 40 minutes on the elliptical (“The West Wing” on Netflix was helping with that”). I was eating strictly paleo — no grains of any kind, no potatoes, no legumes, just meat, fruit and non-legume vegetables. It’s not the most in-shape I’ve ever been, but it felt good.

I need to get back there.

I don’t know why I’m telling all of y’all this, except that if I say it out loud and have witnesses, maybe I’ll actually do it.

I used to work in a place that… ‘doesn’t even exist anymore’


In a comment way back the middle of last month, Bryan linked to one of my favorite bits in “The Right Stuff” (which is saying something, since I love all of that film). It’s the scene in which The Media (portrayed throughout the film as an overexcited colonial animal constantly emitting motor-drive sounds like the ever-present background noise of crickets in the night) ask Dennis Quaid’s Gordon Cooper, “Who was the best pilot you ever saw?”

Cooper beams, and the viewer smiles with him, because we know the character loves to pose that question rhetorically, and answer it himself with, “You’re lookin’ at him.”

But then he gets serious, and says thoughtfully, hesitantly, in a low voice:

Who is the best pilot I ever saw? I’ll tell you. I’ve seen a lot of them, and most of them were pictures on a wall… back at some place that… doesn’t even exist anymore….

That’s a reference to Pancho’s Happy Bottom Riding Club, a run-down, low-rent bar and grill (as portrayed in the film, anyway) in the desert outside Edwards Air Force Base, where test pilots who had been killed in the line of duty were honored by having their pictures nailed up behind the bar. Pancho’s had burned down a number of years before Cooper became an astronaut.

Well, I just had a moment of wistful remembrance like that of Cooper’s.

I was on my way to an appointment on Market Street, which runs between Bluff Road and Key Road just south of Williams-Brice Stadium. And as I turned off George Rogers onto Key, I was shocked to see that the building housing The State‘s (and The Columbia Record‘s) former offices, there in the shadow of the stadium, was just gone, and something else was being built in its place. Even the little parking lot in front had been dug up.

That was where I worked for the first year I was at The State. We moved to the new building in 1988, and SC ETV bought the building. I knew that ETV had stopped using it, and had seen it looking rather derelict lately.

And most of my memories of The State were down the road in the new building. And I was pretty stressed that one year in the old building, trying to get acclimated to a new paper after my years in Tennessee and Kansas. I didn’t really settle in and start to enjoy myself until after we moved.

Still, it was a bit of a shock.

So I guess I’ll recover the way Gordo did when the journalists were too thick to follow his humble, honest effort to answer the question.

I’ll just give a cocky grin and say, “Who’s the best editor you ever saw? You’re lookin’ at him!”

My piece for the Brookings Institution

When I returned from Thailand, I had an email from Elaine Kamarck at the Brookings Institution:

1477344_10152268988702708_889340808_nI’m reaching out to invite you to contribute a short essay for our FixGov blog at the Brookings Institution. FixGov focuses on new ideas to make government work and identifies and aims to solve the nation’s most pressing political and governance challenges with sensible and realistic solutions.

A major thematic focus area of the blog and our work here at Brookings is improving media capacity.  Given your expertise, I welcome you to author a blog post for an upcoming series that will explain the current state of media in America and propose solutions for reinvigorating the industry, improving local and national news coverage and bolstering media oversight. The series will begin in mid- to late-Spring…

I sort of wondered how they got my name. I learned that, as I had suspected, E.J. Dionne had mentioned me. Which I appreciate.

Anyway, I proposed a topic to them and sat down and wrote it a couple of weekends back, and today it was published.

My topic was the decline of mid-sized newspapers, and why it matters — in terms of not being able to perform (as well) their watchdog role on the state and local level. After mentioning the ironic juxtaposition of the Charleston paper getting a Pulitzer on the same day more staff reductions were announced at The State (which happened after I chose my topic, but gave me a timely peg), I elaborated:

That matters because midsized papers have been the watchdog on the levels of government that most affect our lives. We drown in political news, commentary, gossip and minutiae out of Washington, but there’s no such informational vitality at the state and local level. When there are less than a third as many of you as there used to be, and you’ve added the 24/7 churn of web publishing, it gets hard to do anything more than feed the beast. Enterprise suffers….

And then I got to this point:

So, with newspapers shrinking and blogs unlikely to replace them, who is going to watch our state legislatures and city halls across the country? Increasingly, no one. Or worse, the wrong people…

That’s when I got into the fact that it was great that the S.C. Policy Council stayed on the Bobby Harrell story until action was taken. But I found it disturbing that an ideological group that doesn’t want to tell us where its money comes from was playing a role once played by broad-interest newspapers supported transparently by the ads you saw every day.

But you know what? Just go read the whole thing. Then, if you like, come back and we can discuss it further.

Burl’s lifelong passion started at the usual age


Y’all know that my high school classmate Burl Burlingame gets to build model airplanes and rebuild real airplanes — cool ones — for a living. Doug and I have both been to his museum, and seen his handiwork.

So where did it all begin?

As with most of us, Burl started building models as a kid. And today, he posted photographic evidence, with this explanation:

Clearly, the pop-culture image of the model-airplane enthusiast as a callow dweeb is completely self-inflicted, and completely at odds with our self-image as the only cool kids in school:

I’m wondering — is that behind your house in Foster Village? I ask because the background looks a lot like the view from my backyard when we lived in that subdivision. We had this unbelievable view of both Pearl Harbor and the Waianae range in the background. (The lots were terraced so that our backyard lawn was higher than the roof of the house behind us, making for an amazing panorama of southwestern Oahu.)

In fact, I’m flashing on a memory here. Unlike Burl, I wasn’t a master builder of models. I didn’t paint the pilot or other small details. I’d put on the decals, of course, but beyond that my finishing touches didn’t extend beyond maybe heating the point of a pin and using it to melt machine-gun holes in the wings and fuselage.

I definitely didn’t bother with details on the little model of a V1 buzz bomb that I test-flew in that backyard in Foster Village. I built it around a firecracker, wedged into the fuselage tightly by wrapping toilet paper around it, and threaded the fuse out through a hole before final gluing. (The V1, a fairly featureless rocket, was way too boring to look at, and there were no more than five or six pieces in the kit — the only thing that made it worth building was to blow it up.)

Then I took it out there, lit the fuse, and threw it. It worked — green plastic blasted everywhere. But it was over so quick, it didn’t seem worth the time it took to build the model, even as simple as it was. So that’s the last time I did that…

By the way, that’s a SPAD XIII. Burl had to tell me that, after I wildly guessed that it was a Sopwith Camel…

Counterculture heroes, or, Back when radical was chic


I think Ginsberg was sitting among us in the amphitheater waiting to be introduced here.


Several years ago, my wife gave me a scanner with an attachment for scanning negatives and slides. I had wanted this in order to start digitizing my vast stash of 35mm film from several decades of personal and professional photography.

I’ve never really undertaken the task systematically. The idea of trying to match up separate strips of film in glassine envelopes even to the point of getting them together in their actual rolls, much less trying to assign dates to each roll to get them in chronological order, is just too Herculean. Especially since scanning a single exposure at sufficient resolution to ensure good enlargements takes a couple of minutes.

But I do leaf through my negatives randomly from time to time and blow up a forgotten image from long ago. I was doing so over the weekend, and ran across these images from about 1973 or ’74.

Here you see two counterculture heroes of that generation, both of whom were participants in a speaker series at Southwestern at Memphis, now known as Rhodes College. We have Allen Ginsberg of “Howl” fame, and Daniel Ellsberg of the Pentagon Papers. This was when my wife and I were students at neighboring Memphis State University, now known as University of Memphis. (What is it about Memphis and constantly changing the names of colleges?)

At least this shot of Ellsberg was in focus.

At least this shot of Ellsberg was in focus.

No, I don’t think Southwestern had a rule that your name had to end in “sberg” for you to speak there. But both were very much counterculture heroes at the time — Ginsberg as a writer and (more importantly) as the biggest surviving light of the Beat Generation, Ellsberg as the antiwar activist and forerunner of Julian Assange and Edward Snowden.

Not that they were heroes to me, mind you. But I was a student journalist, and they were big newsmakers. So I showed up, with my camera. (Also, my wife reminds me, the young woman who was our maid of honor in our wedding had been involved in bringing Ginsberg to the campus. I don’t know whether she was involved with Ellsberg.)

Also, the Beats loomed large in the legend of my wife and I getting together. We met at a party (at Southwestern, actually) that my wife and the future maid of honor were having for mutual friends who were getting married. During the party, J and I discovered that she was reading a Jack Kerouac biography even as I was reading On the Road for the first time. And the rest is history. (I had had that copy of On the Road for a couple of years, but had waited until that moment to read it.)

By this time, Kerouac and Cassady had been dead for years, so Ginsberg was the best we could do.

Anyway… I got to thinking about these photos this morning when I was reading this interesting review of a book, Days of Rage, about the violent fringes of American radicalism during that period. If you can get past the WSJ’s pay wall, you might want to check it out.

No, there’s no one-to-one comparison here. Compared to the likes of Bill Ayers (the Obama buddy!), Bernardine Dohrn and Terry Robbins, Ellsberg and Ginsberg were relatively tame. I mean, they didn’t want to blow anybody up or anything. What we had on that Memphis campus was more like “Days of Mild, Trendy Disaffection” than “Rage.”

But it still reminded me of these pictures, so I thought I’d share…

When I shot this, I thought I had an awesome picture -- I had caught Ellsberg looking RIGHT AT ME in the wings. Only later did I see that he was out of focus. Ah, the limitations of real film and manual-focus SLRs...

When I shot this, I thought I had an awesome picture — I had caught Ellsberg looking RIGHT AT ME in the wings. Only later did I see that he was out of focus. Ah, the limitations of real film and manual-focus SLRs…