Category Archives: Personal

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

Cindi Scoppe’s 8th annual cake party

cake

She surveys her handiwork with satisfaction just before allowing her guests to plunge in.

What does Cindi Scoppe do when she’s not producing the best print commentary — nay, the best political journalism — in South Carolina?

She bakes cakes.

Cindi shared this shot taken by a priest who observed, "She laughs uproariously at things that aren't even funny."

Cindi shared this shot, which reflects what Tucker Eskew once said about her: “She laughs uproariously at things that aren’t even funny.”

Not just a cake here or there. She bakes a lot of cakes. And not your yellow cake out of the Duncan Hines box. She bakes, from scratch, such things as “Cookie Dough Brownie Cake” and “Caramel Almond Torte” and “Orange Cheesecake” and “Apple Sharlotka” and “Pistachio Baklava Cake” and on and on.

And she does it all at once.

Several score of her closest friends were reminded of this over the weekend at her 8th annual Advent cake party. She served 25 cakes in all.

She took off all of last week to complete the task, even though that meant doing the whole week’s editorial pages ahead of time. What of that? Those cakes weren’t going to bake themselves.

Cindi… needs this outlet. What’s more, she deserves it. She works long hours at the paper doing the work of eight people. Then she takes home mind-numbing documents such as legislative bills and academic studies and reads every word of them on nights and weekends.

Someone out there who knows this about her may object, “But she’s diabetic.” True, and I think that may have something to do with the… intensity… of her cake fixation. But there was never a diabetic who more assiduously kept track of her condition or addressed it more readily. More than once, I’ve seen her hike up her skirt and give herself a shot of insulin in the thigh because there was a slice of cake before her that needed eating. (Once, she did this in the governor’s office over lunch. I thought Mark Sanford was going to fall out of his chair.) Cindi’s just a very matter-of-fact person who deals with things, eats her cake and moves on.

I asked her for some stats — how much sugar, for instance. She said she had no idea, but she did offer, “I want to say around 25 pounds of butter.”

She sent me all the recipes. I count, let’s see, 99 eggs, plus the yolks of two others. One recipe, chocolate mousse cake plus chocolate buttercream frosting, called for eight eggs.

Needless to say, I wasn’t eating any of this, or even coming into contact with it. Nothing is more deadly to me than dairy products and eggs. But I took a plateful home, since my wife couldn’t make it to the party. She appreciated it.

Bud Ferillo (seen at the far left in the photo at top) took this somewhat blurry shot. See how dangerously close I was to the cakes?

Bud Ferillo (seen at the far left in the photo at top) took this somewhat blurry shot. See how dangerously close I was to the cakes? Not to mention that very sharp pink knife she’s wielding.

Bennettsville boy makes good

And no, I’m not talking about Hugh McColl, or even yours truly, who was considered to have done fairly well in the wider world until I got laid off. (You doubt my celebrity in the place of my birth? Consider that I was once invited to address the Rotary at Bennettsville’s now-defunct Farron’s Restaurant — which was not defunct at the time. Of course, the invitation did come from my uncle.)

No, I’m talking about Aziz Ansari, whose celebrity now exceeds Hugh’s, and even mine.

The above moment in the pilot of “Parks and Recreation” was a sort of milestone for our hometown. It was, I believe, the first time a recurring character on a prime-time network show said to the world, “I am from Bennettsville, South Carolina.” The fact that he followed it up with “I am what you might call a redneck” hardly takes away from that proud declaration. We Marlboro Countians have a great appreciation for irony.

The irony goes deeper, however, than the assertion that the Indian-American is from Bennettsville and not, as Amy Poehler’s character had guessed, a Libyan.

The fact is that Aziz — since he’s a homeboy, I feel free to call him “Aziz” — has greater claim to Bennettsville than I do. Sure, I was born there (while he was born in faraway Columbia), but only because my mother went home to have me while my father, a newly minted Naval officer, was attending a school in San Diego. I grew up thinking of it as home because it was the place I returned to each summer to visit my uncle and grandparents between new postings to places where I would live for a year or so and never return to.

The one time I lived in Bennettsville almost year-round was the 1967-68 school year, when I was in the 9th grade at (also now defunct) Bennettsville High School. So if you walk down Main Street, you may not be able to find anyone who knows me, although you may run into an older person who will remember me as the boy who yelled right out at the preacher in church, completely cracking up the congregation, in the middle of an otherwise stultifyingly boring sermon in 1957. No, I’m not making this up. I have it on good authority that when my name comes up in B’ville, if it does come up, the conversation inevitably moves to the yelling-in-church incident. I’m quite the local legend for that. It probably surprised no one that I became a writer of opinion; I am after all The Boy Who Didn’t Know When to Shut Up.

But Aziz actually grew up there, and attended Marlboro Academy, which (irony again) is where most of the white kids went after BHS was finally completely integrated at the start of the 1970s. (When I was there I had black classmates in homeroom and P.E., but we were then under the “Freedom of Choice” system in which everyone declared which school they wanted to go to each year, and only the very bravest African-Americans dared to say that they wanted to go to the “white” school — something I didn’t really appreciate at the time; I actually thought the school was integrated.)

So his Bennettsville credentials may be more solid than mine, but at least I can say I was a Green Gremlin (possibly the quirkiest, coolest school mascot ever), and he was not.

So there.

Anyway, have any of y’all seen his new show on Netflix, “Master of None?” It’s pretty funny. Not something you want to turn on until after the kids have gone to bed, but funny. Check it out and we’ll discuss it here…

Hurrah for Jarvis Klapman!

Look at those beautiful green lines of flowing traffic!

Look at those beautiful green lines of flowing traffic!

The story on the front page of The State about flood-related traffic jams seemed a bit out of sync to me (although I understand plenty of others continue to have trouble), because I read it right after my easiest crossing of the river since the floods.

Opening Jarvis Klapman really made a huge difference. I left the house worried that I was going to be late because I had less than an hour to get downtown… and it was a breeze. I couldn’t believe how well things were flowing on Sunset, until I saw the reason why — cars whizzing overhead on the Jarvis Klapman overpass.

You really don’t appreciate a simple thing like having a 15-20-minute commute until you lose it for a few days. And I would never have thought that closing Jarvis Klapman — which is never particularly crowded — would turn Gervais, Meeting, Sunset, Knox Abbott and Blossom into parking lots at rush hour.

So I’m happy.

How are y’all’s traffic situations going?

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!

lemon

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

wayback

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.

Enjoy.

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.

aria150708_cmyk.a9jur3w44n7w8ww8k04ssow04.6uwurhykn3a1q8w88k040cs08.th

My granddaughter the scientist

experiments

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!