Category Archives: Popular culture

Shakespeare, he’s in the alley, but Dylan’s got a Nobel Prize


Dylan at the Civil Rights March on Washington, August 28, 1963.

Finally, the Nobel Prize for Literature goes to a writer whose work I both know and appreciate:

Bob Dylan was named the surprise winner of the Nobel prize for literature in Stockholm today “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition”.

Speaking to reporters after the announcement, the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, Sara Danius, said she hoped the Academy would not be criticised for its choice.

“The times they are a’changing, perhaps,” she said, comparing the songs of the American songwriter, who had yet to be informed of his win, to the works of Homer and Sappho.

“Of course he [deserves] it – he’s just got it,” she said. “He’s a great poet in the English-speaking tradition. And he is a wonderful sampler, a very original sampler. He embodies the tradition and for 54 years now he has been at it, reinventing himself constantly, creating a new identity.”

Danius said the choice of Dylan may appear surprising, “but if you look far back, … you discover Homer and Sappho. They wrote poetic texts that were meant to be listened to, performed, often together with instruments, and it’s the same way for Bob Dylan. We still read Homer and Sappho, and we enjoy it. Same thing with Bob Dylan – he can be read and should be read. And he is a great poet in the grand English tradition.”…

Trying to remember the last time this happened for me, I looked back at the list of past winners.

Let’s see: There was V.S. Naipaul in 2001 — I’ve been meaning to read something by him, but haven’t gotten to it….

Ah, William Golding in 1983! Pass me the conch, and I’ll tell you what I know about him.

I’ve read one book by Gabriel García Márquez (1982). Didn’t like it. Even though I thought it would be awesome, being about Simón Bolívar, whom I had been taught to revere in history classes in Ecuador. Instead, it was just… unpleasant… wearying.

1976 — Surely I’ve read something by Saul Bellow… nope. But I have read Bernard Malamud and Chaim Potok, in my defense.

1969-1971 — A three-year streak! I mean, I’ve read “Waiting for Godot,” The Gulag Archipelago and at least one poem by Neruda.

Steinbeck in 1962! Now we’re talking…

1957 — I’ve read The Stranger by Camus. Didn’t like it.

We’ll stop with Hemingway — the one person on this list I have really read avidly — in 1954. That covers my lifetime.

As far as my being able to relate, Dylan blows all but Hemingway away. (And yes, I’m embarrassed to admit this way that no one will say to me, “you’re very well-read, it’s well known.” But this is a blog where we tell truths, is it not?)

This is amazing. Something is happening, and I don’t know what it is. No, wait: I do. Boomers are finally truly in charge. Yay, us! It’s gear, it’s fab, it’s boss, it’s tuff, it’s righteous. Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend a hand, etc….

The interesting debate we could have had, under other circumstances


Let’s set aside for a moment this contest of character and pretend we have the luxury of talking about ideas in this presidential election.

Were that the case, the most interesting moment in last night’s debate would have come at this point:

RADDATZ: … This question involves WikiLeaks release of purported excerpts of Secretary Clinton’s paid speeches, which she has refused to release, and one line in particular, in which you, Secretary Clinton, purportedly say you need both a public and private position on certain issues. So, Tu (ph), from Virginia asks, is it OK for politicians to be two-faced? Is it acceptable for a politician to have a private stance on issues? Secretary Clinton, your two minutes…

Let’s set aside the loaded wording of the question (“two-faced”), and look at the underlying issue, which speaks to the nature of leadership and the ways we communicate in a representative democracy.

Can an honest person have a public position that differs from what he thinks in his heart of hearts? Yes, he (or she) can. In fact, there are times when he or she must.

As a longtime editorial page editor, I’m quite familiar with this. Most of the time, our editorial position was consistent with my own personal position. But we operated by consensus — I was not the only member of the board — and what we ended up with was not always exactly what I thought. I deferred to my colleagues, at least to the extent of modifying the position so that we could get everybody on board. And once the decision was made, I did not publicly say things to contradict it, because that would have militated against our consensus. I had a duty as leader of the board not to undermine its positions — even on the extremely rare occasions when our official position was very different from my own, such as when we endorsed George W. Bush over John McCain in 2000.

But my care with my utterances in order to keep the board together was nothing compared to what a president faces.

The president of the United States daily, if not hourly, faces situations in which it would be grossly impolitic, unwise, and even harmful to the country to say precisely what he or she personally thinks or feels about a situation. A president must be diplomatic, not only with representatives of other nations, but with multiple contending and overlapping constituencies right here at home. This is why a president is surrounded by people who are talented at helping choose precisely the right words needed to help move things in a desired direction. It would be grossly irresponsible, indeed a dereliction of duty and perhaps a deadly danger to the country, for a president simply to spout off from the gut without pausing to temper the message (see “Trump, Donald”).

People who don’t work professionally with words are sometimes pleased to call carefully moderating one’s speech “lying.” Those of us who work with words know better. You can say the same true thing many different ways, and how you choose to say it can make all the difference between communicating effectively and having the desired effect, or failing miserably.

Back to the debate

Secretary Clinton responded this way to that loaded question:

As I recall, that was something I said about Abraham Lincoln after having seen the wonderful Steven Spielberg movie called “Lincoln.” It was a master class watching President Lincoln get the Congress to approve the 13th Amendment. It was principled, and it was strategic…

Did you see the film? If so, you know there was a lot more to Lincoln than the fine words in the Gettysburg Address. He may have been the most skilled, determined, clear-eyed, illusionless man ever to hold the office — and the most effective. (The only two men I can imagine coming close to him in these regards were FDR and LBJ.)

The film shows Lincoln involved in the noble task of permanently saving our country from the stain of slavery, going beyond what fine words or even four years of unbelievable bloodshed could accomplish. The Emancipation Proclamation had been a stratagem in winning the war (and one he had held back from issuing, with flawless timing, until the political climate was ripe for it), an ephemeral, self-contradictory thing that did not truly free the slaves. He needed something that went far beyond that; he needed to amend the Constitution.

And he pulled out all the stops — all the stops — in getting that done. Set aside the unseemly spectacle of promising government jobs to lame-duck congressmen — that was routine horse-trading in that day. Let’s look at the central deception — and the word is apt — that was essential to getting the 13th Amendment passed.

Lincoln knew that once the war ended, Congress would see little need to ban slavery — and the war was in danger of ending before he could get it done. In fact, a delegation led by Confederate Vice President Alexander H. Stephens was on its way to Washington to sue for peace. It would in fact have arrived if Lincoln hadn’t ordered Union troops to detain it some distance from the capital. While the delegation cooled its heels, Lincoln worked feverishly to get his amendment passed.

At a critical moment in the debate in Congress in the film, a rumor spreads that there is a Confederate peace delegation in the city. This threatens to defeat the amendment. Lincoln tells Congress that not only is there no such group in Washington, but that he does not expect there to be. He conveniently leaves out the fact that the reason he doesn’t expect there to be is because he has issued orders to that effect.

Another instance in which Lincoln has a public position differing from his private position is with regard to Republican power broker Francis Preston Blair. The reason the Confederate delegation started on its journey to begin with was that Lincoln had reluctantly allowed Blair to reach out to Richmond. Why had he done that? Because Blair urgently wanted peace, and Lincoln needed his support to keep conservative Republicans in line on the amendment.

So… Lincoln did these things — playing every angle, and saying what needed to be said to the people who needed to hear them –, and rather drawing our disapprobation for having done so, he is rightly revered.

As I said above, the only two presidents I can see even coming close to Lincoln in terms of political skill and effectiveness were Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson. Which reminds me of a contretemps from 2008. An excerpt from my column of January 20 of that year:

It started when the senator from New York said the following, with reference to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.:
“Dr. King’s dream began to be realized when President Lyndon Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It took a president to get it done.”
The white woman running against a black man for the Democratic Party nomination could only get herself into trouble mentioning Dr. King in anything other than laudatory terms, particularly as she headed for a state where half of the voters likely to decide her fate are black.
You have to suppose she knew that. And yet, she dug her hole even deeper by saying:
“Senator Obama used President John F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to criticize me. Basically compared himself to two of our greatest heroes. He basically said that President Kennedy and Dr. King had made great speeches and that speeches were important. Well, no one denies that. But if all there is (is) a speech, then it doesn’t change anything.”…

Hillary Clinton was not my choice for president that year. Several weeks later, we endorsed Sen. Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination (right after endorsing John McCain — whom we would later endorse in the general — for the Republican).

Her point was that fine words (such as those with which her opponent excelled) are well and good, but if you want to see a good thing get done, you need someone who will roll up sleeves, dig in and do what it takes. Which LBJ never shied away from.

When she was a fresh grad at Wellesley, Hillary Clinton was dismissive of politics being the art of the possible. As she grew up, ran into brick walls of opposition and in other ways found how resistant the world could be to fine words and finer sentiments, she learned. Her concept of what it took to get things done — and of what things were doable — matured.

Hence what she said in that leaked speech.

I don’t say this to defend Hillary Clinton personally. As I said, I wanted to raise a point that we might discuss were we in a different situation. But we’re not in a different situation. Right now, our representative democracy faces supreme degradation, and possibly worse, if Donald Trump is elected. So we have that appalling threat to deal with, and fine points and ethical ambiguities are not the order of the day.

So pretend that speech — the one to the paying audience, not to Wellesley grads — was delivered by someone else. Think for a moment about the ideas being expressed, not the person expressing them.

It’s a question that all of us should wrestle with as we grow and mature. When I was a young and cocky editor, very free with my thoughts on everything, and to hell with whether others agreed, my then-boss posed me a question: Would you rather be right, or effective?

Of course, I wanted to be both. But what about when you can’t be?

NOW Trump’s in trouble: DeNiro’s on his case

At the end of the week, I did a blog post for ADCO about this video that a bunch of celebrities did to urge people to vote.

Not until today did I see the outtake from what Robert DeNiro said about Donald Trump. It’s just a tad more restrained than in his performance below.

So, ya think Bobby’s kinda ticked at this guy? A li’l bit, li’l bit…

Today’s mystery earworm: ‘Misty’

This one had me going for more than an hour this morning, and I feel great relief that I finally got to the bottom of it.

I heard the song as a jazz instrumental on the Muzak system at the Cap City Club at breakfast this morning, during a lull in the conversations going on around me. I knew it was an old standard (meaning, from before my time), one that was as familiar as my own heartbeat, but could… not… place it!

Trying to sing along in my mind, I thought the lyric at one point said something about “puppy on a string.”

But that couldn’t be right, could it? Obviously, it would have to be the cliche, “puppet on a string.” Unless, of course, it was a play on the cliche, but I doubted it was. So I started searching on my phone for songs with lyrics containing the phrase, and had trouble getting past the song of that name. Actually, there’s more than one song by that name, although I don’t think I ever heard this one, I’m happy to say.

Then I decided that the last words in the verse were “so much in love.” (Those words turned out to be “holding your hand,” but my words would have worked there just as well, evoking much the same feeling.)

Of course, that produced this. Great pop song, but definitely not what I was seeking.mv5bmtizmtmzotg5n15bml5banbnxkftztcwotc0nzyymq-_v1_uy268_cr40182268_al_

So I gave up trying to figure it out detective-fashion (Tom Sawyer would be ashamed of me) and decided to close my office door and hum it into the SoundHound app on my phone. Since I couldn’t remember the crucial first three notes (“Look at me” in the lyrics), SoundHound wasn’t at all sure what I was humming, but it suggested that maybe, just maybe, I was trying to hum “Misty.”

YES! Finally, I can turn to other things and get on with my day.

Oh, and by the way, the lyric I remembered as “puppy on a string” was “kitten up a tree.” But you can see the association, right? Please say “yes.” Anyway, “puppy” was definitely closer than “puppet.”

That was a toughie…

On ‘truthiness’ and the 2016 election


What is truth?” asked Pilate, and washed his hands. Sometimes I ask the same question, because it’s not always as simple as people like to think it is. At least, not in politics. (As a Catholic, I accept that the One of whom Pilate asked the question did trade in actual Truth.)

I had the chance to explore that a bit over at WACH-Fox studios this morning. Cynthia Hardy asked me to participate in a discussion of truth, lies and the current presidential election for the weekly TV version of her OnPoint show. Catch the show on WACH Sunday morning at 8:30. (Hey, you can DVR it, can’t you?)

At this point, I don’t recall precisely what was said during the taped segments, because we were talking about all this before and after the taping, and during breaks. But here are some of the points I made at some time or other while I was there:

  • Someone raised the question of why, with so many of his statements being easily proved to be false, Donald Trump’s followers still accept, and even cheer, them. I mentioned the point, made here so often before, that even though most of us once accepted Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s dictum that “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts,” people today believe they are entitled to the “facts” they prefer, and gravitate toward those who offer them such.
  • Continuing on that point, I said we should think in terms of the Stephen Colbert concept of “truthiness.” Trump regularly says things that are wildly untrue, but his supporters eat it up because his claims strike them as “truthy.” It’s what they want to be true, and they appreciate him for saying it is, and never backing down on the point.
  • I tend to look askance at all these people who propose to do “fact-checking” in real time. First, even if one can determine incontrovertibly whether a statement is true or not, getting the job done frequently takes a lot of time. Not all facts can be instantly Googled. And sometimes — quite frequently — there is no pat answer. Some things are demonstrably untrue — for instance, we are spending tens of billions updating our nuclear arsenal, in direct contradiction of something Trump said in the debate Monday night. On the other hand, some assertions are more slippery, more matters of opinion. For instance, the NYT tried to “fact-check” Mrs. Clinton’s assertion that the U.S. needs an “intelligence surge” to stop homegrown terrorists before they act. The Times said we already collect and share more intel than ever. Perhaps so, but if something happens because we didn’t know something that might have enabled us to prevent it, how can one say we had enough intel? That said, there is the eternal debate over how much we need to protect people from snooping. Since Snowden, we’ve unfortunately erred in the wrong direction on that, but striking a balance will always be difficult. Bottom line, I can give you a pretty good answer to whether what she said was true if you give me 1,000 words or so to do it. Anything less and I’m shortchanging you. But be forewarned that the answer will contain a lot of my own opinion. Why? Because it’s that kind of question.
  • Elaborating on that: People who think it’s easy to separate fact from opinion should try editing editorial pages for a couple of months. The challenge is this: You’re publishing a lot of stuff written by nonprofessionals with strong opinions — letters to the editor and their big brothers, guest columns. If you’re me, you’ll have a rule against letting people make assertions of fact that are false in the course of expressing their opinions. Frequently, in the proofreading process, one of the editors — some of the top, most experienced journalists in South Carolina, when I was doing it at The State — would cross out something in a letter or oped because it was false. But then a terrific argument would ensue as we editors disagreed over whether that point was a matter of fact, or of opinion. In the latter case, we’d allow the writer to say it. These matters were never easily settled, because if you’re intellectually honest and doing your best to be fair to people and not dismissive of their views, it’s complicated.
  • It’s seldom black and white. Even lies have gradations. That’s why The Washington Post‘s pinocchio_1respected Fact Checker feature has levels. A “lie” can earn one, two, three or four “Pinocchios,” with four denoting something that is completely false. Then there is the rare “Geppetto Checkmark” for things found to be completely true. And these judgments are subjective. I forget the “fact” in question, but a couple of months ago, they gave Donald Trump four Pinocchios for something that, having read their findings, I thought should only have earned him two or three. (Of course, even if they had amended that would, Trump would still be the all-time record-holder for four-Pinocchio statements.)

I could go on and on, but there’s real work to be done. I’ll check back in and see what y’all think…

Sure, Hillary ‘won’ the debate, but does it matter?


To most people who know anything about debating, or about national and international issues, or about the presidency, Hillary Clinton pretty much cleaned Donald Trump’s clock last night.

She was serious, focused, informed, composed, presidential. He was thin-skinned, blustery, illogical, inarticulate, uninformed — the usual.

But does it matter? Does it make a difference? In 2016, that is the operative question.

I’ve had several conversations with folks this morning, and everyone has more or less agreed with this assessment. But I tend to speak to well-informed people.

I keep thinking about the first Kennedy-Nixon debate in 1960. Debate experts said Nixon won. So did most people who heard it over the radio. But those who saw it on TV said Kennedy won. And that was the new factor that the professionals, the experts, didn’t take into consideration.

Today, the new factor is that a significant portion of the electorate has gone stark, raving mad.

A debate like what we saw last night would have been inconceivable in 1960. Regardless of whether you think Nixon or Kennedy won, both of them did an excellent job by any informed standard. It would have been completely impossible for someone like Donald Trump to be on that stage. (Some would say it would be impossible for someone like Hillary to be there, but such people are looking at the superficiality of gender. The fact is with regard to factors that matter, she fits comfortably into the Nixon-Kennedy set of candidates.)

No one like Trump would be the Republican nominee. No one like Trump would have made any kind of showing in the primaries. Anyone as blustery and undisciplined as Trump would have been lucky to have been allowed to sit in the audience and watch.

So the difference between him and Hillary Clinton last night is far, far starker than the minimal contrast between Nixon and Kennedy. It’s not a contest between two qualified candidates. It’s between a qualified candidate and a nightmare.

But our politics are so messed up today, the electorate’s Kardashian-numbed sensibilities so accepting of the unacceptable, that the fact that she beat him like a drum last night — in the eyes of the knowledgeable, the thoughtful — may be as irrelevant as Nixon beating Kennedy on points. More so.

Trump’s support is such an illogical phenomenon that one cannot logically predict the effect of the debate.

And that’s yet another very, very disturbing thing about this election…


A little Ragnar to balance out Adaline: That’s fair, right?

I didn’t watch “The Age of Adaline,” but since the Amazon Prime account is in my name (it was a Christmas gift), Jeff Bezos et al. asked me to rate it.51jk64xwsjl-_ss300_

So I asked my wife, and she suggested 4 stars. I considered protesting — you’re sure that’s not overly generous? In my book, 4 stars is semi-awesome, like “Vertigo” or “Conan the Barbarian” or “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” (the movie version — the Alec Guinness TV version is 5 stars).

After all, I only gave the first season of “Vikingsthree stars.

I don’t really know anything about “The Age of Adaline,” but the image with it scares me a bit. Starry-eyed young woman in extreme closeup with handsome young man with neatly trimmed beard? It’s got Hallmark-channel romance written all over it. Even with the sci-fi premise, do I want Amazon throwing a whole lot of these at me?51yatcl-w3l-_ss300_

But I want my wife to find movies she wants to see, too — I’m not a selfish monster, or at least not that much of a selfish monster — so I went ahead and gave it 4 stars.

Then, I went back and upgraded “Vikings” to 4 stars, too. Just to balance things out, make sure Amazon suggests stuff I like as well. “Vikings” has young men with beards, too, but the beards are wild and weird and blood-encrusted and tied into bunches for scaring those wimpy Saxons. Proper beards.

So more Ages of Adalines will come our way, but there will be leavening — with battleaxes!

I’m not one to choose the minimum number of pieces of flair

The Wall Street Journal had a fun piece today about the fad of re-enacting the printer-smashing scene from “Office Space.” Above, you see the spoof produced by the Ted Cruz campaign a few months back. Here’s the original.

But the story was accompanied by a short (only five questions) quiz about “Office Space,” and unfortunately, I missed one. When I guessed the minimum number of pieces of flair, I guessed too high.

Which is not a bad thing if you’re an employee of Chotchkie’s. Seriously, what do you think of a person who only does the bare minimum?

But it’s not good if you’re a huge “Office Space” fan.

So if it’s all the same to you, I’d rather not talk about my flair…


Wrap your head around this: 1,300 more USC student beds

Peter Ustinov (on the right) in "Logan's Run."

Peter Ustinov (on the right) in “Logan’s Run.”

I was struck by this yesterday, but didn’t get around to sharing it until now:

The University of South Carolina will add around 1,300 new beds in privately owned student housing properties in time for the fall 2016 semester, seventh-most in the country.

A study by student housing and apartment market data provider Axiometrics found seven of the 10 university markets expecting the most new beds were in the Southeast or the Southwest. Arkansas led the way with an anticipated 2,319 new beds.

Several new student-oriented apartment complexes have recently opened in Columbia, including: Park Place, located at Blossom and Huger streets, with 640 beds; Station at Five Points, located at Gervais and Harden streets, with 660 beds; and 650 Lincoln Phase Two, with 297 beds.

Nationwide, a total of 47,700 new beds are scheduled for come to market in time for the fall semester….

Everybody else in "Logan's Run" Jenny Agutter, anyway...

Everybody else in “Logan’s Run.” Or Jenny Agutter, anyway…

Hey, I don’t care about nationwide. I care about the fact that, as many additional students as we’ve absorbed downtown in recent years, 1,300 more are moving in right now!

And that does count hundreds or thousands more that we can see under construction!

Already, walking down Main Street makes me feel like Peter Ustinov in “Logan’s Run.” This is bizarre.

Where are they all coming from?

Kenley Young’s review of ‘Suicide Squad’


Haven’t decided whether to go see “Suicide Squad.” That’s that super-villain movie with Will Smith and that hot girl who for some reason is made up like one of the Baseball Furies from “The Warriors.”

Kenley Young, formerly of The State and a vocalist you may know for fronting several local bands in recent years, offered his take on it on Facebook today, and I share it:

‪#‎SuicideSquad‬: Not a good movie, but not as bad as the reviews indicate — although at this point I feel like Warner Bros./DC should just recycle that as a tag line for the rest of their lineup. “Meh.”

First, a couple of admissions: I’m a DC guy, and I desperately WANT to see its cinematic universe succeed. (Its TV and animated universes are unmitigated successes already, and the company deserves credit there.) Secondly, I was among a handful of fans who thought “Man of Steel” was a pretty decent movie. (Well, two-thirds of a decent movie, because that third act — aka “Transformers VI” — was truly awful.) Still, omnipotent goodie-two-shoes Superman is a hard sell these days, and I felt that first installment held some promise and that the films would improve from there.

They, um, have not. Not that “Suicide Squad” doesn’t have bright spots: Margot Robbie and Will Smith are fun to watch and, at times, compelling. And Viola Davis, as always, seriously classes up the joint. I hope they all stick around. But the plot’s ludicrous, even by comic book standards; the gun violence is tough to stomach (not sure why superpowered “meta-humans” need so much ammo); there’s a fair amount of blatant misogyny; and Jared Leto as The Joker just doesn’t really do it for me.

That’s not his fault entirely; Leto’s clearly a talent. I just think we’re not far enough removed from Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning turn in the role. That was only eight years ago. Before Ledger, it’d been almost 20 years since we’d seen Jack Nicholson run away with a film like that, in a piece of pop performance art for the ages. Anyone’s portrayal of the greatest villain in comics will forever be measured against that backdrop. It’d be a daunting task for any actor. Plus, “Suicide Squad” has plenty of other issues; Leto’s not really the one weighing it down.

Clearly, since its “universe” launch, Warner Bros. has yet to churn out a 100 percent enjoyable — or even fully coherent — DC film. The forthcoming “Wonder Woman” may break that streak; the trailer looks terrific, early buzz is good, and I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt. (Sadly, the same was all true for “Man of Steel.”) Either way, it’s probably the last shot they’re gonna get for me. Diana of Themyscira, I believe in you and am rooting for you.

Maybe the Wonder Woman movie will be better...

Maybe the Wonder Woman movie will be better…

‘Think light’ if you want to wrestle Shute

Yes, another “Vision Quest” reference.

Blame my elder son this time. He brought the above weigh-in video clip to my attention because he knew it would remind me, as it did him, of the big weigh-in scene in the movie. (Oh, and to you adolescent boys out there — don’t bother watching the above clip; you never get to see anything. For an ultimate fighter, who you might think would be about as bashful as a Viking shieldmaiden, she’s very demure.)

“Think light,” said Kooch (a great secondary character, by the way). And Loudon did.

Speaking of which…

I’m nowhere nearer to being able to wrestle Shute than I was the last time I mentioned it.

But I learned this week that I shouldn’t worry, because my weight, at 180-something, remains way under the national average now:

Americans aren’t growing taller, but their waistlines are growing wider. A new federal report reveals that U.S. men and women weigh about 15 lb. more than they did 20 years ago.

In the report, published Wednesday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics, researchers looked at data from 2011 to 2014. They found that the average man, who’s about 5 ft. 9 in., weighs 195.7 lb., and the average woman, almost 5 ft. 4 lb., weighs 168.5 lb. For men, that’s about 15 lb. more than average in 1988–94; women are now more than 16 lb. heavier. Men and women’s heights were about the same two decades ago….

This is a puzzle, though, because 75 percent of us reporting eating healthy

If the Martians come, could they take Trump with them?

"Take me to your Donald!"

“Take me to your Donald!”

From The State today:

Asked about the odds of Hillary Clinton winning South Carolina in this fall’s presidential election, Clemson University political scientist David Woodard replied: “It’s more realistic that we’ll be invaded by Martians.”

South Carolina has not voted for a Democratic presidential candidate in four decades, and pundits do not expect that streak to end in November….

I don’t expect it to end, either, especially when the Democrat is one who sometimes seems tied with Obama as the one the SC right most loves to hate (since Ted Kennedy is no longer around).

But if only there were a way that South Carolina could refuse the win to Hillary without giving it to… the Creature.

Since it’s more likely that the Martians will invade, let’s hope that when they do, we repulse them and in retreating, they take Trump with them. Which would be a double victory for Earth!

Wishing away reality of 2016: Top Five Fictional Presidents

Notice how I chose an image that included Leo, my very FAVORITE character from the show?

Notice how I chose an image that included Leo, my very FAVORITE character from the show?

2016 is such a political annus horribilis, the choices before us is so dispiriting (although quite clear), that we may choose to escape into fiction, and dream of better choices, or at least better presidents.

Over the weekend, The Wall Street Journal indulged in such wistfulness, listing “44 Fake Presidents From Worst to Best.” As the paper explained:

The 2016 U.S. presidential campaign has often seemed stranger than fiction. On the eve of the national conventions, it’s a fitting time to look back at fictitious presidents from movies and TV shows. We watched dozens—and ranked them, based on their accomplishments in on-screen office. The best commanders-in-chief rise to the challenges presented by plot twists. They make tough decisions, defeat evil forces and save the nation. The worst don’t uphold the duties of the fake presidency so well. They waffle and whine, lie and cheat, give in to temptation. Based on those loose criteria, here is our complete ranking of 44 fake presidents.

You may be surprised to learn that Frank Underwood didn’t come in last. That dishonor was reserved for Cliff Robertson’s “President Jack Cahill” from “Escape from L.A.,” which I confess I’ve never seen. Oh, I’ve thought about seeing it, but “Escape from New York” was so perfect (the talented Miss Adrienne Barbeau!) that I just didn’t want to risk the disappointment. Call me Snake

F.U. was next to last.

But the fictional presidents who got the lowest ratings don’t interest me as much as the ones who got the highest.

Unfortunately, the WSJ got it wrong. They did not pick Jed Bartlet as No. 1. He came in second (which at least tells us he wasn’t completely snubbed for being a liberal icon) to…

Harrison Ford’s President James “Get off my plane!” Marshall, who kicked terrorist butt in “Air Force One.” OK, he was awesome. And as you might imagine, I loved his foreign policy (spelled out in his “Be Afraid” speech in Russia at the beginning). If you’re gonna have a fantasy president, he should definitely be one who takes no guff from the bad guys.

But Jed was all-around great. I didn’t agree with all his policies, but I liked the general thrust, and the thought that went into them. You could definitely see why all his people loved him like a father. When’s the last time we got that from a real-life president, or a candidate? FDR, I’d say. Or maybe we even have to go back to Father Abraham, who embodied it best.

I also felt like the list didn’t give enough love to a sentimental favorite, “President” Dave Kovic from “Dave.”

So here’s my own slightly amended Top Five, which I invite you to answer with your own:

  1. Jed Bartlet from “The West Wing.” No contest. Think about it: He’s a president who loudly complains to God, in Latin! He’s the all-around best ever, which even Republicans can see — just ask Ainsley Hayes. And I think of him as real, not just some figment of Aaron Sorkin’s imagination. After all, Sorkin created the title character in “The American President,” and he’d never make my list.


    “Well, let me finish, Dmitri…”

  2. President Merkin Muffley from “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.” Yeah, I’m being a little bit ironic here, but he was just so reasonable and inoffensive: “Now then, Dmitri, you know how we’ve always talked about the possibility of something going wrong with the Bomb… The Bomb, Dmitri… The hydrogen bomb!… Well now, what happened is… ahm… one of our base commanders, he had a sort of… well, he went a little funny in the head… you know… just a little… funny. And, ah… he went and did a silly thing… Well, I’ll tell you what he did. He ordered his planes… to attack your country… Ah… Well, let me finish, Dmitri…” This was sort of a forerunner of Chance the Gardener in “Being There.”
  3. The President from “Fail-Safe,” the serious version of “Dr. Strangelove.” Because he’s Henry Fonda! Wouldn’t you vote for Henry Fonda to be president under pretty much any circumstances? I would. So what if he ordered the U.S. Air Force to drop nukes on American cities? He was in a tight spot! You had to be there! And besides, he’s Henry Fonda, Mr. Roberts! And because, near as I can recall, Gary Cooper never played a president. Or did he?
  4. “President” Dave Kovic from “Dave.” Possibly the most likable fictional president in our history, even though his “a job for everybody” goal may have been a bit pie-in-the-sky. And he’s an “outsider” who gives the word a positive spin (which is hard to do with me) — Trump without the malevolence and proud cluelessness, Bernie Sanders without the class resentment.
  5. President James Marshall from “Air Force One.” He’s certainly way better than the president in my very favorite Wolfgang Petersen flick, “In the Line of Fire.” And in the “atavistic presidents who personally lead us into battle” category, he beats out President Thomas J. Whitmore from “Independence Day” because think about it: All Whitmore did was give a give a speech and fly an airplane — there was no hand-to-hand, and no firing of automatic weapons. The wimp.

OK, that’s my list, just based on these 44. There may be someone not on the WSJ list that I should have included, but I’m drawing a blank.

And yeah, it’s all white guys. I don’t think I saw any of those pictures in which a woman had the job (tried watching Veep, but couldn’t get into it). And while I love Morgan Freeman, I’m not a fan of “Deep Impact.” He was better as God than as the president. He was a pretty fair acting president in “Olympus Has Fallen,” though.


OK, so he ordered a nuke strike on U.S. cities. But hey, he's Henry Fonda!

OK, so he ordered a nuke strike on U.S. cities. But hey, he’s Henry Fonda!

Right! What’s all this, then…? What are you on about?

Our regular contributor Jeff Mobley raised this question today on Twitter:

What followed was a clip showing the end of David Cameron’s presser when he announced he’d be leaving as P.M. After which he walks into the house humming to himself.

I could only answer that I wasn’t sure, but what I truly loved was that perfectly British, clipped “Right!” at the very end… Like that’s that, then! Stiff upper lip, what?  Stay calm and carry on…

back of Cameron

Game of Thrones recap: Finally, the Khaleesi gets off her duff



Actually, there were a lot of “finally” moments in the finale, which is fitting:

  • Arya finally gets to employ her new skills in obtaining what she wants — revenge. That is to say, she had her “My name is Inigo Montoya” moment.
  • As a result, we don’t have to look at Walder Frey’s ugly, nasty, antisocial puss any more.
  • Jon Snow, the bastard who was never treated as a true Stark and who ended last season suffering the ultimate insult-to-injury treatment, finally comes into his own, winning the esteem and devotion of the entire north (if you don’t count Littlefinger, which I don’t).
  • Everyone acknowledges that, as chief Westerosi meteorologist Ned Stark told them so emphatically long ago, Winter is indeed Coming.
  • Tyrion Lannister, whose drinking problem arose largely from his never getting any respect back home, finally gets a promotion — and not a grudging, degrading one like he got that time he was the Hand of the King.
  • All that futzing around with the High Sparrow is at a cataclysmic end, and we know who’s in charge in King’s Landing. True, it’s the wrong Lannister — if the Iron Throne had to be occupied by one of that incestuous pair, we’d all be better off with Jaime (as was noted in commentary after the episode, now that all her children are dead, Cersei has no redeeming qualities at all) — but at least all that uncertainty is over.
  • Samwell Tarly, who has so wanted to become a maester, has that glorious moment beholding the ultimate dream library, which is his to dive into.

And as I said in the headline, the Mother of Dragons finally, finally stops with the big talk and the hemming and the hawing and the messing around with local politics over across the Narrow Sea, and heads toward what she has told us with unrelieved monotony for years is her destiny. Sheesh! About time. At last, the girl will put up or shut up.

Anyway, I found it all fairly satisfying, and now I can happily drop my HBO Now subscription, and not think about it any more until next year. Since, you know, Amazon Prime give me everything else HBO has to offer…

Below, you see Jon being acknowdged as King in the North. Yay. But it reminds me I’d like to see one more “finally” moment. I’d like to see someone finally pay the light bill in Westeros. Why does everything have to be so dark that I can’t tell what’s happening if I try to watch on my iPad in a room with any lights on at all?


Cranston, others are AMAZING in ‘All the Way’

I intend to drop my subscription to HBO Now, as an economizing measure, after the last episode of “Game of Thrones” this weekend. (I’m not giving up much; my Amazon Prime account gives me access to pretty much everything I value about HBO.)

Before doing that, I made a point last night to watch the new HBO movie, “All the Way,” starring Bryan Cranston as Lyndon Johnson.

I was blown away. Wow. I did not know Cranston could act like that. Sure, a lot of it was a brilliant makeup job, but that was just the start. And it wasn’t just the voice impersonation; plenty of people could do that. It was his physicality — the way he positioned and moved his body, the subtleties of his facial expressions, that made him seem to inhabit LBJ.

The constant Grimace of Anxiety

The constant Grimace of Anxiety

Just watching his mouth shape the words was hypnotic. As much as I liked “Breaking Bad,” it persuaded me that he had a limited set of expressions. In the early seasons, I got really tired of that grimace of extreme anxiety that he wore constantly — although, in retrospect, I suppose that was masterful, too, as it so effectively communicated his stress to me, which was part of what I didn’t like about it.

But to watch that jaw and lips and teeth become those of LBJ was astounding.

But the quality of this production extends far beyond Cranston. You’ll also be impressed by Bradley Whitford as Hubert Humphrey, and Melissa Leo as Lady Bird. Frank Langella as Sen. Richard Russell and Steven Root as J. Edgar Hoover are both wonderful as well, but then those guys always are.

There are less impressive parts, of course. The actor who plays Strom Thurmond only has a line or two, but I still fault him for doing too little with it.

But the greatest letdown is Anthony Mackie as Martin Luther King. For one thing, he doesn’t seem old enough. Yeah, I know — MLK was only 35 at the time and Mackie is precisely that age. But King had a bearing that made him seem older than he was.

Perhaps I expect too much, but it seems that in everything I see — the disappointing “Selma” comes to mind — the actors portraying King fall far short of capturing him. Mr. Mackle simply lacks the gravitas — in the shape of his face, his voice, his manner. King had a presence that impressed. Why is there not an actor out there who can communicate it, or at least approximate it?

But let’s not linger on the shortcomings. “All the Way” is excellent, and if you have access, you should take the time to see it.


To give you chills on a summer’s day: Ralph Stanley singing ‘O Death’

My old friend Richard Crowson, a bluegrass musician who is a master at picking anything with strings on it — would likely disown me for admitting this, but I pretty much knew nothing about Ralph Stanley before he died this week.

To give you who are similarly ignorant a little schooling, I share this:

He was a short, gaunt man in a white cowboy hat and gray suit, his features seemingly chipped from granite with a stony gaze to match. When he sang “O Death” at Wolf Trap in 2006 as part of the Great High Mountain Tour, Stanley’s scratchy high tenor made the Grim Reaper sound like an acquaintance of long standing. This traditional lament had revived his career when he sang it in the Coen brothers’ 2000 movie “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” but Stanley’s ghostly vocal made clear that the song was older than that movie, older than the whole history of talking movies.

Even in the 21st century, there was an echo in his voice of 19th-century mining and lumbering (his father worked in an old-fashioned sawmill) and of the 17th-century songs that immigrants from the British Isles brought to the Appalachian Mountains. It was in the southwest corner of Virginia, in Dickerson County under the shadow of Clinch Mountain, that Ralph Stanley was born on Feb. 25, 1927. Together with his brother Carter, two years older, Ralph learned the eerie harmonies of a cappella Sacred Harp singing in church and the spry rhythms of old-time string-band music at dances.

“Three groups really shaped bluegrass music,” Ricky Skaggs told me in 1998. “Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys, the Stanley Brothers and Flatt & Scruggs. Everyone who came after them was just following in their footsteps. . . . Ralph’s still out there 150 dates a year; he’s the last of the giants still in action.”…

But he is in action no more. And this video sounded to me like a voice from Beyond when I listened to it over my coffee this morning.

What it does is profound. So I thought I’d share…


Recap: Game of Thrones decides to throw us a bone

Having a bad day, Jon? Well, it's the consequence of your own decisions...

Having a bad day, Jon? Well, it’s the consequence of your own poor decisions…

Yeah, I know how other sites give you the Game of Thrones recaps the same night the episodes are first released, but that is SO-o-o-o- 20th Century. I watch them in the modern way — when I feel like it.

So here’s my recap of Episode 9 of Season 6, “The Battle of the Bastards.”


Let’s cut to the chase and deal with the battle itself. Bottom line, the good guys win, which in and of itself is remarkable. For once the writers throw us a bone.

But here’s the thing — they don’t deserve to win. Not tactically speaking. In fact, they do everything they can to throw the battle into Ramsay Bolton’s nasty lap.

What was the one thing that came out of the Council of War the night before? Make Ramsay come to us. He has the numbers; he has the cavalry. Choose your ground, hold it, shape it with trenches and other things that will prevent the enemy from enveloping you, and you have a chance.

Um, remember how the plan was NOT to get enveloped?

Um, remember how the plan was NOT to get enveloped?

So what happens? Ramsay does something entirely predictable — as Sansa said, there’s no way Rickon is walking out of this episode — and Jon et al. do exactly what he wants them to do, what even a split second of thought would tell them he wants them to do. And they do it anyway, without hesitation.

This seems particularly egregious to us as viewers — or me, anyway — because who is Rickon to us? Yeah, in the abstract we know that Jon watched the kid grow up, but we have not been made to feel that. To us, Rickon is just this guy, you know? Has he ever spoken a word of dialogue? Maybe so, but not that I recall. Yeah, he’s the last legit male Stark heir who hasn’t gone north of the Wall and become a hallucinating oracle, but were any of us pinning our hopes on him to save the family fortunes? I don’t think so. The poor boy was a born victim. I didn’t seen any of Ned in him. In fact, I didn’t see any of anybody in him, because we never got to know him.

So we see Ramsay do Rickon in in a cruel manner, but not a particularly cruel manner by Bolton standards. Which we expected him to do. Which, since we don’t know Rickon really from Adam’s off ox, makes it seem especially egregious when Jon reacts by doing everything he can to throw the battle away.

And in fact, he succeeds in that. The battle, as far as the forces Jon went in with, is entirely lost when Littlefinger comes to the rescue — a deliverance we had no reason to expect, making it the plot equivalent of dealing with a nightmare situation by writing, “And then the boy woke up.”

Yeah, it’s satisfying to see Ramsay come to an ignominious, gruesome end. He brought out the cruel beast in us all.

But the good guys had this one handed to them. They didn’t earn it.

Meanwhile, across the Narrow Sea, the Khaleesi is in a fix and her dragons deliver her from it, yadda-yadda. Personally, this girl isn’t going to impress me any more until she finally makes an appearance in Westeros and delivers on all her big talk.

But what did y’all think?

Meanwhile, Daenerys and her dragons, yadda-yadda...

Meanwhile, Daenerys and her dragons, yadda-yadda…

Game of Thrones: A girl tells a man where he can get off

A girl sees that a man failed to pay the light bill again. A girl is out of here...

A girl sees that a man failed to pay the light bill again. A girl is out of here…

Lots of websites, including some run by respectable newspapers (how respectable? in one case, so respectable that Donald Trump has banned it from his campaign), drive traffic by posting weekly recaps of “Game of Thrones.”

Any interest in that here? After all, I stayed up too late a couple of nights ago to catch up on it, and I hate for that lost sleep to count for naught.


I was glad to see that Arya woke up and decided that, after all, she does have a name. Jaqen H’ghar had been one of my favorite characters, based mostly on his idiosyncratic speech habits. But at some point, damn, girl — it’s time to realize you’ve had enough, head home and use some of your new assassin skills on Ramsay Bolton, or someone else who richly deserves it.

OK, so the Khaleesi’s back home. But is anyone besides me tired of waiting for her to actually get it together and head for Westeros? Enough stilted, grandiose talk! Get with the program or put your dragons out to pasture!

As to the scene with the fugitive Ironborn heirs in the brothel (poor Theon!)… Anybody besides me wonder how they cast a scene like that? Do they place an ad asking for “beautiful young women with shapely boobs; no skills required?” Hollywood is a ever-weirder place as we descend further into cultural decadence.

Take a good look at Jon Snow, with his perpetual petulant, worried, put-upon expression. He looks like a boy-band member who didn’t get his bowlful of red M&Ms. Would you follow this guy to almost-certain doom? Neither would most of the noble houses of the North. When Sansa, habitual victim, comes across as the stronger sibling, House Stark is in trouble.

Finally, is Winter ever going to come? There’s a whole army of zombies up there north of the Wall, and did we get to see any this week? No.

Personally, unlike all those fanboys out there, I’d like to see all this get wrapped up….

Seriously, does this face inspire confidence?

Seriously, does this face inspire confidence? Do you want to follow it into battle?