Category Archives: Personal

CRC honors Jack Van Loan, Nikki Haley

Jack Van Loan in 2006.

Jack Van Loan, flying back-seat in a civilian aircraft in 2006.

Today at our annual luncheon at the convention center, the Greater Columbia Community Relations Council (of which I am a board member) honored my good friend Jack Van Loan and our governor, Nikki Haley.

Jack received the Milton Kimpson Award for a lifetime of service to his country and to this community. As you’ll recall, he was an Air Force pilot who was shot down, captured, tortured and held prisoner for several years at the Hanoi Hilton, where he became fast friends with fellow prisoner John McCain. Since moving to Columbia in retirement (he’s originally from Oregon), Col. Van Loan has been a community leader particularly in the Five Points area, and is the guy who built the annual St. Pat’s Day celebration into the huge event it is today.

We honored the governor with the Hyman Rubin Award for her leadership last year after the killings at Emanuel AME in Charleston — for the way she led us in mourning and honoring the dead, and for (in my mind, especially for) doing the unlikely thing and leading us, finally, to take down that flag. Her leadership during last fall’s floods was also mentioned at some of the meetings I attended.Nikki Haley

Now I’m going to tell a tale out of school, and if it significantly bothers a consensus of my fellow board members, I’ll take it down…

Some very good people who are deeply invested in the cause of the CRC contacted board members in recent days to protest our honoring Gov. Haley. In one case, we received a long and thoughtful letter reciting a litany of reasons why, because of her policy and political actions in office, she did not embody the spirit of Hyman Rubin, or of our group.

I can’t speak for the rest of the board, but I can speak for myself on this. My reaction was that the protests were thoughtful and respectful and stated important truths. Most of the items counted against the governor were things that I, too, disagree with her about.

But I strongly believed that we should give the governor the award. (And while I didn’t poll everyone, I haven’t yet spoken with a board member who disagrees with me.) Our group is about community relations, particularly in the sense of fostering better interracial relations, and what the governor did last year did more on that score than I’ve seen from any elected official in recent years. Despite what some believe, she did not have to do what she did. I did not expect her to do it, right up until the miraculous moment when she did. Based on what I have seen over almost 30 years of closely observing S.C. politics, what she did was a complete departure from the norm.

So I was pleased to see her receive the award. She was unable to attend personally, but she sent along a video clip in which she thanked us quite graciously.

Congratulations, governor. And thank you for your leadership…

FYI, the UnParty almost ran its first candidate this year

The candidate that wasn't, posing on the State House steps (for the ADCO website, NOT for a campaign!)

The Candidate Who Wasn’t, posing on the State House steps (for the ADCO website, NOT for a campaign!)

Actually, “almost” is a little strong, but the UnParty’s unleadership did think about it a good bit. (You think Ethan Hawke was good as Hamlet? That was nothing compared to this.)

I just got off the phone with both Micah Caskey and Tem Miles, who are in a runoff for the GOP nomination for Kenny Bingham’s House seat. I plan to post something about both of them before the day is over. (OK, so it took me until the next day.)

But before I do I should tell y’all something that I’ve mentioned to a handful of people, but not to you or the world at large:

When I heard that Kenny Bingham, my representative, was stepping down, I immediately thought about running for the seat myself — as an independent, of course. (I’ve told Messrs. Caskey and Miles this.)

Ever since I left the paper, I’ve thought about the fact that, after all these years of telling politicians what they ought to do, maybe I should get off the sidelines and do something myself.

The most logical office for me to run for would be the House. My understanding of state government and issues is far greater than my knowledge of local government. And the idea of trying to raise the resources needed to run as an independent for Congress, especially in my über-Republican district (represented by Congressman-For-Life Joe Wilson) was too high a mountain to contemplate climbing. Anyway, I think people should hold other offices before aiming that high.

And the state House would be easier than the state Senate.

But I wasn’t interested in running against Kenny (or my senator, Nikki Setzler), largely because I think he’s done a good job over the years. Also, I didn’t see how I could beat him.

So this seemed like my chance. And a good one, in one sense, even though an independent is always at a disadvantage: If I ran, I would run overtly against both political parties. I would tell voters exactly what I think of the parties, and that I was running because I didn’t want Columbia to become any more like Washington than it was. (I’d tell them a lot more than that, but that would be the thrust of my elevator speech.)

I’d be running against my opponent’s parties, not the opponents themselves.

If that pitch was ever to be effective, it would be in a year in which voters are highly disaffected from the parties — with most Republicans picking a non-Republican for president, and almost half of Democrats going with a non-Democrat. And when disgust with the partisan gridlock of Congress is at an all-time high.

If I would ever have a chance, that is. My chief handicaps would be:

  • Running as an independent, period. Despite all that disaffection, voters in this country for the most part have no practice at wrapping their minds around the concept of an independent candidate. It takes a lot of explaining, which means you start out in a hole. You run as an independent in a Republican district like mine and people assume you’re really a Democrat and trying to hide it. (Sure, I’ve written thousands upon thousands of words explaining my distaste for both parties, but how many people will go read all that?) Beyond that, it’s a hugely difficult task logistically — you have to gather thousands of signatures on petitions to get on the ballot. (At least I think so — I didn’t get to the point of actually going to the election commission and finding out all the rules.)
  • Raising the money. Because I simply cannot self-finance, even partially. I can’t spend what I don’t have. And raising money is hard for me, just as it’s hard to go out and sell ads on the blog. Not my forte. (I have raised money with some success — such as when I was on the Habitat board. But asking for money for a cause like that is far easier than when the cause is me.) Which means I’d be ill-equipped to overcome the difficulties that an independent would have with fund-raising to start with.
  • This is the biggie: There has possibly never been a candidate for public office in South Carolina who is on the record (on the easily-accessible record) on as many issues as I am. And none of my positions have been crafted to help me win elections. (In fact, I’ve spent a lot of time urging pols to do the right thing even when the right thing is unpopular.) I don’t regret any of them, but the fact remains that there are thousands of cudgels out there for an opponent to beat me with. And while every one of my opinions is chock full of nuance and careful rationale that I think would help if the voter bothered to go read it, a lot of them could be misrepresented with devastating effect.

But those aren’t the things that cooled my ardor to run. Two factors stopped me. (Or at least, stopped me so far. I’m 90 percent sure I won’t run. Let’s see how this runoff ends up. But the truth is, I’ve now waited so long that I’ve made the already-long odds close to impossible.) Here they are:

  1. Some people I liked — and who I thought would be strong Republican candidates in the general in this Republican district — filed to run. I liked Bill Banning when he was my county councilman, and was sorry to see him lose his seat. And I had breakfast with Micah Caskey (I was curious to meet him because my mother was friends with his grandparents and great-grandparents in Bennettsville) a couple of months back. I agreed with practically everything he had to say about why he was running. And oh, yes — he’s a combat veteran. I didn’t talk with Tem Miles until today, but knowing I liked both Bill and Micah, and that they would both be formidable opponents, was enough to seriously discourage me.
  2. I had a bad spring with my asthma. For the first time in years, it wasn’t under control, and I couldn’t do my daily workout — and undertaking a campaign of going door-to-door nights and weekends was just unimaginable for me. I’m better now, by the way, but I lost a lot of precious time. You’ve got to feel GREAT to undertake something like this, and I didn’t there for awhile.

So anyway, now you know where things stand — or might have stood. I thought you should know this stuff before I write about either of these candidates, which I hope to do within the next 24 hours…

When I told Kenny Bingham himself that I might run, he was kind -- he didn't laugh.

When I told Kenny Bingham himself that I might run, he was kind — he didn’t laugh.

I was denied the right to vote for lack of a photo ID!

direct mail

My colleague Lora Prill at ADCO brought me some of the primary-related mail she’s received at home. This is about a third of it, she says.

As you know, I’ve been pretty dismissive over the years of the respective positions of both Democrats and Republicans regarding voter ID. (Basically, I think Republicans came up with it to address a virtually nonexistent problem, and Democrats exaggerate the degree to which it amounts to an insurmountable obstacle.)

So my Democratic friends should really enjoy the irony of this:

Today, I was denied the right to vote for lack of a photo ID!

But I’m not going to picket the State House or anything, on account of it being, you know, my fault

Basically, I showed up without my wallet, something I realized when I walked into the polling place, approached the check-in table, and reached into my jacket for it. I announced my problem, was told, “You’d better go home and get it.”

Which I did. But I did it on the way downtown, and didn’t go to the polling place again, as I no longer had time. (Get this: I searched all over, and finally found it in a pocket of a pair of pants I was wearing on Sunday. Which means I drove around all day yesterday without a wallet. Sheesh.)

But I’ll go back this evening. Which makes me a little nervous. I usually vote first thing, so that I don’t have to worry about something coming up to prevent me from making it by 7 p.m.

Also, I don’t get to walk around all day with one of those “I voted” sticker, which, square that I am, always makes me feel a little bit proud of myself.

So, that’s me. How about you? Did you vote yet? How was it? Were there lines? Were there technical glitches? Share…

Sorry, SC Democrats! I see no point in voting in your primary — a matter of geography, you see

unnamed

Got the above via email over the weekend.

Nice of you to think of me, SC Democrats, but I see no point in voting in your primary.

If I lived in Richland County, it would be different, as Cindi Scoppe noted in her recent column, aptly headlined “SC voters have one chance to make a difference, and it’s not in November“:

Unless you are so partisan that you can’t bring yourself to vote in a primary for the best or at least the least bad candidate in the other party, you should go where the elections are being decided. I always vote in the Republican primary when we have statewide contests, because those races are decided in the primary. This year I’m voting in the Democratic primary, because there are no statewide races and I live in Richland County, where all but one of the legislative and local contests are among Democrats. If I lived in Lexington County, I would vote in the Republican primary, for similar reasons.

Exactly.

Cindi and I agree politically about as much as any two people you’re likely to know, which means that she doesn’t care which party wins in November any more than I do. But she cares about having her vote count, which is why she votes in the Democratic primary where she lives, and I vote in the Republican over in Lexington County.

So that we get a voice in the actual election. Because where I live, the Republican primary is the election.

I’m glad my girls are home from Tel Aviv

A shot one of my daughters took in Jerusalem.

A shot one of my daughters took in Jerusalem.

My two youngest daughters returned over the weekend from a friend’s wedding in Tel Aviv — that is, one is back home here, and the other is back in Bangkok.

I was relieved when they were back in their respective homes. I didn’t really worry about them being in Israel on a rational level. Even when there is a terrorist attack in a given city on a certain day, 99.999 percent of the citizens are unharmed by it.

When I think about the odds of coming to harm in a relative “trouble spot” in the world, I think of my experience covering the simultaneous fire and police strikes in Memphis in 1978. It was a huge national story, and if you followed it on TV you’d think the city was on fire, with no one to put the fire out or keep order. And yet, most people were entirely unaffected. I was in a Memphis restaurant at the start of the curfew imposed because of the “emergency,” and the customers being turned away were surprised and irritated — they thought it ridiculous.

At one point, I found myself part of an impromptu press gaggle with a senior official on a street in Midtown. Tired of trying to press my way through the mob, and realizing I wasn’t really getting anything out of it, I stepped away. I walked across the street, and looked back. The clamoring knot of media types made it look like something exciting was going on. That was a shot that might make it onto TV news, if there were no fires to shoot.

Then I conducted an experiment. I turned slowly around, my line of vision passing through all 360 degrees. And all around me was complete, unperturbed peace and order. Only in maybe five degrees was there disorder — and that would have decreased if I stepped a few more yards away.

Ever since then, I’ve kept in mind that perspective whenever I think about the risks of being in a troubled country or city.

So on that level, I didn’t worry about my daughters being in Israel — mostly in Tel Aviv and Jaffa, but with side trips to Jerusalem and the Dead Sea. I knew that they were probably safer there than in peaceful Thailand, what with the traffic in Bangkok (oh, I wish I hadn’t just thought of that).

Besides, I didn’t see any reports of violence anywhere in the country while they were there.

But that was just the rational level. I’m a Dad, so there was a tiny bit of irrational worry while they were there in a country surrounded by people who don’t want it to exist.

So I’m glad they’re back, especially in light of this:

At least four people were killed and five wounded in a mass shooting at an upscale market in Tel Aviv on Wednesday. CBS reported that police were saying that two suspected terrorists had been “neutralized” after the attack at Sharona market, while Haaretz reported that the suspects had been taken into custody.

God have mercy on the victims of this atrocity and their families. To them, of course, it’s little solace that most people in Israel were unharmed.

My girls, posing and mugging in Tel Aviv.

My girls, posing and mugging in Tel Aviv.

OK, it’s time to start the ‘Vision Quest’ regimen

I experienced a shock yesterday. I stepped on my bathroom scale, and it read 187.0.

Yeah, I was fully dressed, including a sport coat, wallet, keys, iPhone and very heavy shoes. But still. Almost 190 pounds? I’ve never come close to that before, and I’ve been weighed at doctor’s offices while similarly burdened many times.

That weight will seem like nothing to you if you’re built for it — saying if you’re a tall, big-boned guy like Doug.

But I’m not. Look at me. I’m a skinny guy. I’ve always been a skinny guy.

This is unfair. I did not earn these additional pounds, most of which are gathered around my middle, making it very difficult for me to perform such everyday tasks as, say, wearing pants.

I put on about 10 of them when I took two courses of prednisone trying to get rid of poison ivy earlier in the spring. Then, for the first time in years (and I suspect there’s a connection here), I started having trouble with my asthma. I’ve had to switch medications, and haven’t fully stabilized yet — which means I haven’t been working out.

If the added weight IS contributing to my breathing trouble, that’s a vicious cycle. I really need the exercise to drop the pounds; changing diet alone won’t do it.

Shute, the undefeated state champ at 168.

Shute, the undefeated state champ at 168.

But I’ve been doing better with my breathing the last couple of days, and so it may be time to begin the push toward a normal weight. Full paleo, of course, and at least 40 minutes a day on the elliptical — that should do it.

The goal, as always with me, will be to get under 168 so I can wrestle Shute, should the opportunity arise. “Vision Quest” speaks to me, as a former (undistinguished) high school wrestler.

If you see someone sprinting across the Gervais Street bridge in a rubber suit with Red Ryder’s “Lunatic Fringe” playing in the background, that will be me. (Actually, I think it was John Waite’s “Change” in that scene — see 1:22 on the clip — but people remember the other song better, so…)

1-lAHHlTuhDZVm5fhGhvmCYg

So THAT’S where my platelets went

platelets

I thought this was kind of cool.

The Red Cross sent me an email telling me where my last platelets donation went. I mean, I guess they can’t tell me who got it on account of HIPAA and all, but at least I know where.

Which reminds me. I’d better go eat a big lunch because I’m scheduled to give today, at 5:15. I was supposed to give last Wednesday, but they were backed up that day, so I rescheduled.

I’d better go do my RapidPass — it’s another innovation that saves time after I get to the Red Cross on Bull St. I can answer all those embarrassing questions online. Which is less fun than answering a real person — you can’t ask, “What was that date again?” when they ask whether you’ve accepted money for sex since 1977 — but probably more efficient…

money for sex

Once more, I manage to pass as an earthling…

Just got a call from my internist’s office. After my annual physical in January, he said he wanted me to come back in a few weeks and get blood drawn again. I forget why. Last year he did the same, and then it had something to do with creatinine. I think it was that again.

So I went and had it drawn last week.

Moments ago, someone called to say my blood was “normal.” That was the extent of the information provided.

So there. You’ll have to take back all those things you were thinking about me…

14_1

Hey, you know what ELSE affects how much sleep I get?

sleep

Yeah, I know, I know; I should have fixed this on my phone the last time it happened and I complained about it.

But I forgot. Now that I’ve had this fresh incident, I’ve fixed it. I don’t think it will happen again.

Anyway, I’m kind of a zombie today. I woke up twice during the night because of the poison ivy that is aggressively trying to take over my left leg (I’m going to see my allergist this afternoon to talk over strategies for combating it — boots on the ground will not be off the table, far as I’m concerned).

Then this, at 5:52 a.m. What with all the itching, I never dozed back off for any of the precious hour and 23 minutes left until my alarm went off.

Yeah, I shoulda taken care of this sooner. At the same time, I do want to complain on behalf of people who don’t know how to turn off such notifications.

The category of things that I want news sources to wake me up for is very, very narrow. “Tornado bearing down on YOUR house, specifically!” is pretty much it.

The last thing I need to be awakened for is advice on how to get more sleep…

As if a DST Monday weren’t bad enough

As y’all know, I hate Daylight Savings Time. Hate it.

And the demonic DST gods know that I hate it, and they take it out on me. For instance, in recent years, it has started at randomly chosen, earlier and earlier dates. This enables them to do things like this to me:

On Sunday, my wife, who is from Memphis, flew there to visit her brothers and their families. I needed to get her to the airport by 6 a.m. Which I am more than happy to do. But the DST demons saw that, and immediately decided that would be the night when we lost an hour — because that’s the one weekend I would feel it the most.

Fine. No problem. I can take it as well as dish it out. I went back home from the airport and, after tossing and turning for about an hour and a half, went back to sleep and slept past 11:30. (We had gone to Mass the evening before; it’s not like I was going all heathen or anything.)

Then this morning, at 5:28 a.m. — which in a rational universe (a universe in which everyone understands that noon is at the height of the sun) is actually 4:28 a.m. — my phone goes “DING!” So I pick it up, expecting to be told something important, and I get this:

DST

Really? You had to wake me up to make sure I knew I could have another cup of coffee if I wanted it?

Yeah, I know — I could turn off the notifications for that particular news app. But I turn them on so that I can get timely notification of actual news events. Not so that I can be waked up and told stuff that could most definitely wait until later!

As it happens, I already knew that it was OK to have that second or third cup of coffee. And thanks to this, I needed it today…

‘Everybody’ is not to blame. Just the Democrats and Republicans

There’s a column on The State‘s op-ed page today from an unfamiliar (as in, not a regular) writer: Dick Meyer, chief Washington correspondent for Scripps.

The headline is, “Who’s to blame for Trump’s rise? Everybody.

Dick Meyer

Dick Meyer

Well, that’s misleading. In fact, the column only blames Republicans and Democrats. And of course, they richly deserve it. The rest of us — the great plurality of us, according to a recent Gallup Poll — are let off the hook. (I sent Cindi a note this morning complaining about the hed, but then I saw that the hed probably came with the column — The Commercial Appeal, the Scripps paper where I started my career as a copy boy, ran the piece with the very same headline.)

That poll shows 43 percent of us identifying as independent, 30 percent as Democratic and 26 percent as Republican.

Of course, there are are a lot of folks — such as Republicans, Democrats, the conflict-obsessed media and all those interest groups that fund themselves by goading us all to hate each other — who go out of their way to debunk those numbers. (And indeed, for us in South Carolina especially, it’s hard to imagine that America is only 26 percent Republican.)

Indeed, when you Google “percentage of electorate that is independent,” the first three links you get are headlined something like “The myth of the independent voter.” Basically, those essays break down the group identifying as “independent” and show most as leaning one way or the other, in terms of voting habits. These doubters say as little as 5 percent of us are truly hardcore independent.

That is in turn misleading. Of course independents vote for Democrats and Republicans; most of the time they aren’t offered anything else — and when they are, those “independents” are even more blindly ideological than the Dems and Repubs (say, Libertarians).

And if they vote more often for members of one party or the other, that can often be no more than an accident of geography. For instance, I vote mostly Republican. Why? Because I live in Lexington County. If I want any say at all in local or state government, I have to vote in the Republican primary. In fact, I think I’ve only voted in one Democratic primary since I moved to my current residence in 1997 — and that was the presidential primary in 2004, when there was no Republican alternative. I cast that vote proudly for Joe Lieberman. I knew he was going to get creamed here, and I wanted him to have my vote at least.

You will seldom see, especially out of the partisan cauldron of Washington, anyone giving us independents any respect. When they’re not debunking us, they’re insulting us. They think we fail to pick a side between the two rabid, snarling packs because we are apathetic and don’t bother to be informed. They completely miss the fact that many of us are independent precisely because we do pay attention and do think, and therefore do not buy our opinions prepackaged off a shelf.

But Washington journalists — who like to keep the options down to two extremes, because that makes it easier to cover politics like sports — generally ignore us. Our existence is inconvenient to their simple paradigm. Thus, they refer to Republicans and Democrats as “everybody.”

All of that said, and passionately believed, I wonder if it isn’t in the end true that “everybody” is to blame, including us.

I mean, say we independents do make up 43 percent of the electorate. What have we done to stop these whack jobs in the two parties from making a complete hash of our country’s politics?

Must give us pause.

One way in which I’m like Trump supporters

The other day, Karen brought my attention to this piece by Tom Friedman, trying to explain Trump supporters.

I was struck by the opening:

Donald Trump is a walking political science course. His meteoric rise is lesson
No. 1 on leadership: Most voters do not listen through their ears. They listen
through their stomachs. If a leader can connect with them on a gut level, their
response is: “Don’t bother me with the details. I trust your instincts.” If a
leader can’t connect on a gut level, he or she can’t show them enough
particulars. They’ll just keep asking, “Can you show me the details one more
time?”

Trump’s Republican rivals keep thinking that if they just point out a few
more details about him, voters will drop The Donald and turn to one of them
instead. But you can’t talk voters out of something that they haven’t been
talked into…

Huh. So, in a way, I’m a lot like Trump supporters, according to Friedman.

Not in the “listen through their stomachs” bit. I’m more likely to use my head. But I’m definitely less about the details.

George_HW_Bush_saying_-Read_My_Lips-_(screenshot)Over the years, I’ve come to look for someone I trust to make good decisions, whatever comes up. I’m less about what specific proposals the candidate makes. What a candidate actually encounters in office often has little to do with the concerns expressed during the campaign. In fact, the fewer promises, the better — promises can back an officeholder into corners and commit him to courses that are unwise under the circumstances. See “Read my lips; no new taxes.” Bush made the right decision, but the unwise promise not to do so got him into trouble.

I care more about how a candidate’s mind works, along with experience and a good history of having made sound decisions while accumulating that experience.

Since I do that, I still can’t imagine how anyone arrives at thinking Trump is the guy to trust. But I’m with them on caring less about details of proposals…

 

I’m on my quarterdeck attending to duty, I assure you, sir…

Commander182-580x250

Bud, and then Bryan, raised the alarm yesterday over my absence. Bryan wrote:

No, I haven’t heard from him at all. I even asked him for a book recommendation on the Aubrey-Maturin series, and he never responded.

I hope he’s okay.

That sounds alarming, indeed. But come on, y’all know that I frequently fail to post on the weekend, and yesterday I had business in my hometown of Bennettsville and didn’t get back to the office until 4:30 or so — at which time I promptly gave y’all an Open Thread with more topics than ever before.

But yeah, there was a lot going on over the weekend in politics, so it seemed weird for me not to be commenting, but I assure you I was attending to duty, for the most part, and am now back aboard, pacing the quarterdeck and scanning the horizon for a suitable prize.

Oh, and as to Bryan’s question:

I’m picking out my beach reading in advance. I’m thinking about starting the Aubrey-Maturin series. (Yeah. I’ve never read those books. Hangs head in shame.)
Which three would you recommend starting with, and in which order?

Here’s my response — and I hope others among you will be interested as well, because I’m always glad to have someone else to discuss the books with:

Start from the beginning. They are chronological and sort of like one super-long novel, although O’Brian didn’t intend it when he started out:

  1. Master and Commander — Nothing at all like the movie, which was actually based very loosely on the 10th book, The Far Side of the World. It starts with Lt. Jack Aubrey being assigned to his first command, the 14-gun sloop Sophie, and meeting his soon-to-be best friend, Dr. Stephen Maturin. The actions that sloop engages in track closely with Cochrane’s with the Speedy, including the memorable fight against the Gamo, renamed in the book the Cacafuego. Which you’ll recognize as scatological if you talk foreign, which Maturin does and Aubrey doesn’t. (O’Brian would later say that if he had known the series would go on so long he would have started earlier, with Jack as a midshipman. It apparently didn’t occur to him to go back and write prequels after the series gained a following. He was scrupulously careful to keep to a realistic time frame from the first book to the final fall of Bonaparte.)
  2. Post Captain — This one is in parts weirdly like Jane Austen, in which our heroes, stuck on shore during the brief peace with France, try their hand at being country gentlemen and become romantically entangled with a family of young ladies reminiscent of the Bennets in Pride and Prejudice, but with interesting variations. But don’t worry, lads — there’s still a good bit of action here and there — and quite a lot of character development important to later books. This and the first book are the two longest, and if there’s one in the series that will seem perhaps a tad too long, it’s this one, but be patient — the pace quickens after this. And the good bits are very rewarding. Be advised that the relationships with the ladies severely test Jack’s and Stephen’s friendship. (A constant theme of the books is that Jack is far better off at sea, well out of the sight of land and away from such complications — while Stephen, ever the lubber, is least at home aboard ship.)
  3. HMS Surprise — For the first time Jack commands the frigate he will love the most for the rest of his career. You also learn more about Stephen’s secret life — he is something more than an accomplished physician and respected naturalist. This is one of my very favorites in the series, chock full o’ action and human drama from Port Mahon to Bombay.

So, there you have it. Get busy reading — quick’s the word and sharp’s the action.

I’ll expect a full report upon your return. Before you have your clerk write it out fair, have Stephen look it over — he’s a learned cove.

Hereof nor you nor any of you may fail as you will answer the contrary at your Peril…

Where I saw my first (and last) cockfight

cockfighting

 

This news today…

Cockfighting could be a felony in home of fighting Gamecocks

In a state where the flagship university’s mascot is a fighting gamecock, some legislators are trying to toughen the penalties for cockfighting, something that’s illegal in all 50 states.

But South Carolina is among nine states where the crime is only a misdemeanor, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Legislation considered Wednesday by a Senate panel would make second and subsequent convictions a felony, punishable by up to a $3,000 fine and five years in prison.

Animal-rights activists say cockfighting is cruel, a haven for gambling and drug use and desensitizes children who might watch it to violence. But game fowl breeders contend cockfighting is a centuries-old tradition that’s no more cruel than hunting sports, and that breeding the birds is a source of pride….

… reminded me of a old grainy photo I recently ran across while digitizing family pictures.

It’s not much to look at, not least because of its Polaroid-level quality. My mother was taking pictures around our house (actually, the spacious upstairs part of a duplex) where we lived in Guayaquil, Ecuador, from 1962-65. By the notes she wrote on the backs, she sent them to relatives in the States to show them where we lived.

This shot was apparently sort of an afterthought. It shows a scruffy vacant lot that could be seen, if you looked diagonally across a side street, from the back terraza of the apartment. On the back, she wrote:

This is an ugly vacant lot across from porch “B”. The trash man comes every day & if he has a lot of paper he burns it there.

You can barely see one of the dry mountains in the distance.

Not much to see, but whenever I read about the cockfighting issue in the paper, I think of that lot.

It was the only undeveloped lot within blocks of us, and therefore something of a magnet for my buddy Tony Wessler (an Air Force brat who lived about six blocks away) and me. We lived a fairly adventurous, Huck Finn life outdoors, since there was no television to speak of. There was little of nature there, as the houses didn’t have yards — just courtyards surrounding by walls that were only a yard or so from the houses. Tony and I would cross blocks by running along those walls and, where feasible, climbing from the walls to the flat concrete rooftops and running over the actual houses.

See that house to the left of the vacant lot? We almost got caught on that one. The roof was divided for some reason by a cement wall about three-feet high. Vaulting it, I banged my knee right on the funny bone and collapsed on the roof. The resident heard us and called out, “Who is that?” Fortunately, we managed to get over to the next roof before he caught us.

Anyway, unpaved ground was a rarity, and we liked this bit of it.

One day on that lot, we saw a tight circle of men gathered in excitement around some activity in the dusty middle. These were working-class men, not the sort who lived in this relatively affluent part of town. Maybe one was that trash man my mother mentioned. Others could have been the pushcart vendors who worked our neighborhood, calling out the varieties of bananas and other produce they sold.

We could barely make out what had them so excited, but we caught brief glimpses of the two gamecocks going at it while the men yelled, gesticulated and placed their bets.

We wanted to get a better look, but couldn’t.

I suppose this “desensitized” me as a child, because I don’t look back in horror. And the idea of chickens fighting doesn’t appall me the way, say, dogfighting does. Maybe because I have some empathy for those guys who didn’t have a whole lot of entertainment in their lives. Or maybe because daily, coming down Sunset between home and downtown, I find myself caught behind those miserable, smelly trucks carrying hundreds of filthy-looking white chickens on their way to the slaughter. Talk about desensitizing… giving a chicken a fighting chance seems less cruel by comparison.

And before you ask, no, I don’t eat chicken. I’m allergic to it. This horror is the fault of the rest of y’all, he said smugly…

Should a serious independent vote today, or next week?

As I’ve said so many times before, 2008 was the dream year for an independent: The most moderate candidate won both parties’ nominations. It was the no-lose election for people like me. Having endorsed both in their respective primaries, we endorsed McCain in the general, but just barely. When Obama won, as expected, I was totally fine with it.

This, of course, is the year from hell — not only for us independents, but for real Republicans and, to a certain extent, Democrats. They, and we, are beset by fascists and socialists, and none of us know what to do about it.

ballot

At least Trump’s name was last. That will lose him a FEW votes…

So, what should a thoughtful, serious independent who truly cares about the country, who wants to avert disaster (or at least fight an honorable rear-guard action), do — vote today, or next week?

I voted today, and persuaded my wife to do the same. I’ve contacted my kids — the ones who live in this country — and simply reminded them that unless they’re voting next week, to remember to do so today.

For myself, I just feel like a vote in the GOP primary does more for the country. I can’t affect who comes in first or second, or even third, but I think every vote really counts in terms of which “mainstream” candidate comes in behind Rubio. And that can affect who drops out next, and who survives to contest with Rubio for the real-Republican mantle. In other words, it can affect who is left when there is only one mainstream candidate left, who can then have the votes to overcome the two nightmares, Trump and Cruz.

But I don’t see my vote, and the votes of my family and friends, having much impact on the Democratic outcome. Either Hillary, the last mainstream candidate on that side, wins by a landslide here, or she’s toast. Either the great mass of people in that primary back her, or it’s essentially over. If she fails to win big here — again — then where can she win? Small groups of voters voting one way or the other just can’t affect that contest.

This is a fairly wobbly argument, I realize. I could knock it down myself without much effort. But the same can be said for every other argument I’ve thought of. So after making the argument to my wife, I didn’t bother my kids with it. I know one of them is for Bernie, and another told me he plans to vote next week, to which I said fine and left him alone. Another has voted today, and another plans to do so later today. My daughter in Thailand did not arrange to vote absentee, to my knowledge.

Basically, I just wanted to make sure that if they don’t definitely plan to vote next week, they should remember to do so today. Not that they’d forget, but you know how parents are, even with adult children — dress warmly, eat right, remember to vote…

The thing is, all the likely scenarios for outcomes here in South Carolina are so unsatisfactory in this nightmare year that I’m not inclined to push my own thinking too hard on anyone.

But I’ve laid out for you the course I’ve chosen. What do y’all think? Is it the best, or least bad, course for a true independent in 2016, or is there a better plan?

I’ve already made GREAT STRIDES on New Year’s resolutions

Or one of them, anyway…

Lately, I’ve become all-too-accustomed to weighing in at over 180 (sometimes well over) on the rare occasions when I do weigh myself — at doctor’s offices, or when I’m at someone else’s home and they happen to have a scale in the bathroom.

That is not my fighting weight, not by a long shot. In fact, when last I was weighed for any sort of ritual combat — when I was on the wrestling team in high school — I was about 132. The year before that, I was in the 115 class — and just as tall as I am now. I was a scrawny kid.

But that was more than 40 years ago, and now that my uncommon genteel figgar has matured, I see my fighting weight as more in the neighborhood of the 160s. In fact, I recently decided — once again — to set my sights on being eligible to wrestle Shute. That, as I’ve mentioned before, is a “Vision Quest” reference. Awesome movie. Anyway, it means weighing in at less than 168.

So I resolved to go back on my paleo diet in the new year, and to keep myself honest, I asked for and received one of those spiffy digital bathroom scales for Christmas.

And this morning, I discovered a wonderful thing: My clothes, which I am always wearing when I step on other people’s scales, weigh a lot.

I weighed myself after showering, shaving and getting dressed — everything, including blazer, sweater, mobile phone, keys, shoes — and as is too often the case, the tally was 180.7.

But just moments before, having stripped to take my shower, I was only 172.4. Which really made those 20 minutes or so I’d just finished on the elliptical seem worthwhile.

Look how far I’ve come already! Just 4.4 more pounds, and Shute is in serious trouble! And I’ve got the whole year to do it in!

Yeah, I know. But allow me to savor this little victory…

This is Shute, the guy who is in such imminent danger.

This is Shute, the guy who is in such imminent danger.

I’ve been way busy on this week off

My great-great grandparents, C.L. and Mattie Pace, with their three eldest children, before my grandmother was born.

My great-great grandparents, C.L. and Mattie Pace, with their three eldest children, before my grandmother was born.

Just to let y’all know I haven’t forgotten about you…

I’m off from work this week, ,which should mean plenty of time for blogging. And indeed, I’ve spent most of the week busy at my laptop.

My Uncle Braxton in formal uniform, about the time of the Korean War, in which he was a tank platoon commander.

My Uncle Braxton in formal uniform about the time of the Korean War, in which he was a tank platoon commander.

But rather than writing about the events of the day (and I think you’ll agree with me that these days have been pretty uneventful), I’ve been writing about things that happened 60, 70, 80 and more years ago.

My Mom has been working on family memoirs. Every since her brother Braxton suggested the project, she’s applied herself very industriously, and I am her typist. I thought I would be wrapping up the typing phase today, but Mom just handed me 20 more fairly densely-packed pages, so my goal now is to finish before going back to work Monday.

I’ve been pausing in the typing every few pages to work on scanning in a great trove of family pictures. Eventually, I plan to create a family website for relatives far and near, consisting of my Mom’s work and perhaps other members’ contributions.

This project has had precedence. I’ll get back to blogging more regularly ASAP.

Just to give y’all an extra treat… Most of what I’ve been helping to chronicle deals with things that happened before I was born (and I’ve learned a great deal from it). But on a separate track, we’re in the middle of having family home movies and videos digitized. Below you see me in a low-res image from an 8 mm film. I’m strolling in a park in Charleston in 1956. In those days, you see, a gentleman kept his bow tie on for such activities…

balloon

Did you read my comments in the NYT?

Over the weekend, the NYT finally ran that piece by Richard Fausset, in which he quoted me on the subject of the Confederate flag.

Some people are nationally recognized experts on quantum physics. Others are sought after for what they have to say about macroeconomics. Me, I’m seen as a boffin on South Carolina’s cheesy, nylon, fake Confederate flag.

Hey, it’s something. And if anybody’s got an idea on how to monetize this, my super-power, I’m listening.

Anyway, here’s my bit in the story:

The museum is also full of Confederate battle flags that were used by South Carolinians during the war — unlike the flag that was removed from the State House. That makes the whole issue of honoring the State House flag in the museum particularly absurd to critics like Brad Warthen, a former editorial page editor at The State in Columbia, who now blogs about South Carolina politics.

Mr. Warthen has noted that legislators, years ago, mandated that the flag be made of nylon, rather than cotton, to keep the colors from fading. He ridiculed this as ahistorical and “cheesy.” (One of his old columns began with altered lyrics to the song “Dixie”: “Oh, I wish I was in the land of nylon.”)

Like many here, Mr. Warthen believes that spending millions to display the flag makes little sense in a state that is struggling to find funds for road and infrastructure repairs (much needed after catastrophic flooding in October), educational initiatives and changes to a scandal-plagued Department of Social Services.

“Our state’s spending needs are legion,” he said. “It doesn’t really matter how you feel about the flag. It’s a ridiculous waste of resources.”…

I tweeted about this Sunday morning, and Phillip Bush responded:

Yeah, it’s pretty cool. This may be my first time in that august publication. I’ve been in the WSJ once or twice, but not, as I recall, in the Gray Lady. It’s nice to be quoted in a paper where they call you “mister.”

But think about it: Donald Trump is in there every day. So, you know…

Word peeve of the day

What’s the news across the nation?
We have got the information
in a way we hope will amuse… you…
We just love to give you our views — La da tee da!
Ladies and Gents, Laugh-In looks at the news!

— “Laugh-In”

A new feature, which will appear when I feel like it.

This is a minor one, a subtle one. It doesn’t bother me as much as some others. Still, it just seems… odd.

I saw it in a cutline today in The State, but I don’t mean to pick on my friends there; I see it everywhere…

It said that “The Force Awakens” will be “opening Friday around the country.”

Around the country? Why not across the country? Or even, perhaps, throughout the country?

Say “around the country” and I picture a path that runs through Canada, the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf, Mexico and the Pacific.

“Around the world” makes sense. “Across the world” does not. But ours is a continental country, one that can be seen in its entirety from one side of the planet. One crosses it; one does not bypass it.

Yeah, I know — it’s not a big deal. And it can make sense, thought of a certain way. (You could argue that the film opens here and there all over the country, or around it, as opposed to following a single, straight line across it.) It’s just a peeve of mine, not because it’s necessarily wrong but because, most of the time, it fails to be the best word…

ACROSS

ACROSS

AROUND

AROUND